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August 19, 2011

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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, AUGUST 19, 2011 By Abraham H. Foxman NEW YORK (JTA)--The threat of the infiltration of Shariah, or Islamic law, into the American court system is one of the more pernicious conspiracy theories to gain traction in our country in recent years. The notion that Islam is insidiously making inroads in the United States through the application of religious law is seeping into the mainstream, with even some presidential candidates voicing fears about the sup- posed threat of Shariah to our way of life and as many as 13 states considering or having already passed bills that would prohibit the application of Shariah law. Louisiana and Tennessee were among the first to ap- prove such measures. The bills were based on model legisla- tion issued by the American Public Policy Alliance, an unabashedly anti-Muslim advocacy group that defends Shout down the Shariah myth makers the legislation as seeking to "protect American citizens' constitutional rights against the infiltration and incursion of foreign laws and foreign legal doctrines, especially Islamic Shariah Law." When the legislation was introduced in the Tennessee state Senate in early 2010, the bill defined Shariah as a "legal political military doctrine and system adhered to, or minimally advocated by, tens of millions if not hundreds of millions of its followers around the world." In defense of the bill, state Sen. Bill Ketron said it"deals solely with a single part of Shariah that is strictly political in na- ture," and "in no way inserts itself into the religious laws of Islam." The language was nearly identical to that of similar bills considered in other states, some of which were thinly disguised in terms of protect- ing against "the application of foreign law." All of this anti-Shariah activity has come despite the complete absence of evidence of the unconstitutional appli- cation of foreign or religious law in our judicial system. It has also come with a great deal of political handwringing-- and myth making--about the threat of Shariah overtaking this country. This has led, .in turn, to a false perception among a growing number of Americans that Shariah is a very real threat to our way of life and constitutional freedoms. In fact, these legislative efforts are the proverbial so- lution in search of a problem. The separation of church and state embodied in U.S. and state constitutions prohibits our courts from applying or considering religious law in " any way that would constitute government advancement of or entanglement with reli- gious law. But the anti-Shariah bills are more than a matter of un- necessarypublicpolicy.These to America, where concerns measures are, at their core,, about a "creeping Shariah predicated on prejudice and ignorance. They constitute a form of camouflaged bigotry that enables their proponents to advance an idea that finds fault with the Muslim faith and paints all Muslim Americans as foreigners and anti-American crusaders. It is true that Shariah is being used elsewhere around the world in dangerous ways. While Shariah law can address many daily public and private concerns, it is nonetheless subject to radical interpreta- tion by individuals or groups who subscribe to a more puritanical form of Islamic jurisprudence. Some indi- viduals try to interpret Sha- riah law for their own radical agendas. It raises more serious concerns when it comes to implementing Shariah law in itsentirety, as can be seen with the examples of Iran, Saudi Arabia and the Taliban. But that certainly doesn't apply law" are the stuff of pure paranoia. If the hysteria over Shariah law continues to percolate through our political and social discourse, there is bound to be unintended con- sequences. As we approach the 10th an- niversary of the 9/11 attacks, in an uncertain economy with millions of Americans still out of work, we also face the prospect of a political season in which more political candidates may be tempted to invoke this mythological threat in an effort to pander to bigotry and fear, and to score political points. We stand at a crossroads in American society. We have the option of heading down a path toward a greater tolerance of anti-Muslim xenophobia and fear of the "stranger in our midst," or we can rededicate ourselves to the ideal of an America that is open and PAGE 5. a. welcoming to immigrants as well as minority groups who have been here for decades. Let us hope that the better nature of America will enable us to proceed down the second path and reject those who seek to divide us for political gain, or those who wish to stereotype and scapegoat an entire people because of their religious faith. We should never diminish the very real threat of ter- rorism motivated by Islamist fundamentalism coming again to our shores. But as responsible, free-thinking Americans we must be care- ful to distinguish between the true threats to our freedoms, and identifying their sources, and those who loudly declaim against phantom threats that don't really exist. Abraham H. Foxman is national director of the Anti- Defamation League and author most recently of'Jews & Money: The Story of a Ste- reotype." By Eran Shayshon TEL AVIV (JTA)--Amid global events of the past few years that are changing the world--the rising power of the BRICs economies (Brazil, Russia, India and China), the global economic crisis, the rise of social networks and, most recently, the popu- lar uprisings in the Middle East--Israel and the Jewish world are facing a uniquely difficult challenge with the ongoing assault on Israel's right to exist. This year, the assault co- incides with the Palestinian campaign to secure U.N. recognition of statehood. By David Suissa Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles LOS ANGELES--What do you do if an annoying and exasperating friend gets in trouble and really needs your help? And what do you do if that friend is also a blood relative, like Israel? I often ask myself that question about progressive, pro-Israel Jews Who are furious at the direc- tion in which their beloved Israel is going. Is there a point when they will just decide to "dump" Israel? I got a sobering answer re- cently when I read in Haaretz about a Jew whose "resume reads like a love poem to the world of Jewish activism." Ac- cording to the article byAdam Chandler, this Jew has been "an extremely visible advocate for progressive Israeli and Jewish causes as well as an outspoken watchdog against anti-Semitism." It turns out that a few weeks ago, this progressive, pro- Israel Jewish activist, Daniel Sieradski, announced to his 2A00 followers on %vitter that he had had enough. "I've decided that after 10 years of fighting for a progres- sive Israeli course correction, that our efforts are futile," he wrote in June. "I officially give up. As the Jewish nation proceeds to march off a cliff, I will now go back to caring To help Israel, Jews must broaden the tent The assault on Israel's le- gitimacy, which is attacking the Jewish people's right to national self-determination, is being waged by a relatively small number of ideologi- cal organizations from the radical left and fundamental Islam. While these "eliminators" are usually a peripheral force wherever they operate, the hallmark of their success has been in their ability to create a zeitgeist--a spirit of the times--of increasing hostil- ity toward Israel. Moreover, their effort to brand Israel as the "new apartheid" has made inroads in alienating Israel from liberal and progressive about everything else I cared about before Israel. Sayonara, Israel. I'm done with you, and I will make sure all my followers know that I'm done with you." As Chandler warns us: "Considering Sieradski's large following and his pioneer status, one might expect his declaration to precipitate a similarwave of emotional and ideological disengagement from Israel by other young, like-minded American Jews." But in Chandler's view, Israelhad it coming: "It's no surprise that progressives are disillusioned. The continuing expansion of settlements and the Boycott Law are manifes- tations of trends in Israel that make it increasingly difficult for many of us to speak in its favor in public forums abroad, on college campuses, even at kitchen tables." Well, what do you readers think? Does Israel really have it coming? Has it screwed up so badly that it deserves to be "dumped" by disappointed Jewish progressives? I took that question to my friend Gerald Bubis' house, where he was hosting a salon in honor of Daniel Sokatch, CEO of the New Israel Fund. After hearing Sokatch rat- tle offa long list of progressive projects that his organization supports in Israel--programs dealing with civil and human rights, social and economic justice, religious pluralism circles, some of which have often unknowingly fueled the political assault on Israel by engaging in "acts of delegiti- mization." In the context of the cur- rent political challenges and a declining sense of cohesion in the Jewish world, Israel in a number of Jewish communi- ties has turned from a unify- ing issue into a polarizing one--even into one that is no longer discussed. The result is that an increasing number of Jews becomes agnostic toward Israel. Furthermore, for many-- especially among younger generations--Israel is not a crucial aspect of their identities, nor does it play a role in their day-to-day lives. Ultimately, the assault on Is- rael's legitimacy has exploited existing dynamics to further drive a wedge between many Jews and Jewish communities and Israel. The instinct of some Jew- ish communal organizations to justify Israel's actions at all times in reaction to the political assault on Israel has only backfired. These organi- zations at times have pushed outside the community's tent those groups that did not unreservedly support all of Israel's actions. Such a closed-tent ap- proach has alienated those Fair-weather Zionists and tolerance, Israeli Arabs and Bedouin citizens, the environment and women's rights--the only questionn my mind was: Is Sieradski out of his mind? Has he not seen the progressive activity hap- pening all over Israel? Sokatch didn't try to hide his dismay with some recent decisions by the Israeli gov- ernment. But the extraordi- nary effect of his presentation was this: Government policy notwithstanding, there's a whole lot of democratic action going on in Israel. In fact, I think a great PR idea to engage young liberal Jews would be to have Sokatch go on college campuses and talk about how his group is helping advance progressive efforts in Israel: helping disadvan- taged children of immigrants integrate into Israeli society; promoting empowerment ac- tivities for women and youth in Arab villages; providing legal help to establish and protect civil and human rights throughout the country; ad- vancing the status of Jewish womenwhose rights have been violated by religious laws; help- ing protect the environment in the Galilee; and so on. Sure, critics on the right have accused the New Israel Fund of supporting groups with anti-Israel views--but that kind of extreme liberal- ism is even more of a reason for progressives like Sieradski not to jump the Zionist ship. Even a paper like the Los Angeles Times, while report- ing on the Boycott Law, tried to keep things in perspective: "Examples of free speech in Israel are easy to find. Arab- Israeli lawmakers frequently attack the government as 'racist' on the Knesset floor... newspaper pundits don't hesitate to launch character attacks against the prime minister." So, here's my question. You're a progressive supporter of Israel and you see the gov- ernment doing things that really upset you. What do you look at--the government's mistakes or the "corrective mechanism" that's working on the ground to correct these mistakes? Do you get demoralized by the faults or rejuvenated by the freedom to fight these faults? When you look at the thou- sands of people protesting right now throughout Israel, many of them sleeping in tents, do you think only of criticizing the government or do you also think of helping the protesters? Someone like Sokatch looks at Israel's faults and says, "What can I do to help?" Someone like Sieradski, after years of helping, now looks at Israel's faults and says, "What can I do but bail?" The truth is, Israel is a mess in progress. It is a country surrounded by enemies that has nevertheless created a concernedwith specific Israeli policies. With no room for them in the community's tent, these critical voices have sought alternative forums in which to air their concerns. It is in the past year, at this fragil time in Israel- Jewish world relations, that the Palestinian campaign to secure U.N. recognition of statehood has emerged. It remains unclear how events in Septemberwill play out. What is clear, however, is that if Is- rael is perceived to be standing alone against the world, the rift between Israel and Jew- ish communities worldwide is likely to widen. Indeed the penetration of this debate to the heart of some Jewish communities creates a unique challenge for Israel-Diaspora relations in the year ahead. This is especially the case within pro- gressive Jewish Communities, in which it is already harder to support Israel. There is a broader impera- tive that underlies the need for a unified global Jewish response. The assault on the right of the Jewish people to national self-determination challenges the most basic components of Jewish identity and the notion of affiliation. In an era of individualism and Help on page 23A civil society like no other in the Middle East. For all its many faults, there is a rest- less energy to rnake things better--what Sokatch calls "democracy in action." Progressive Zionists who don't appreciate this duality, and who end up bailing on Israel, are like friends who only love you when you're not around. David Suissa is a branding consultant and the founder of OLAM magazine. For speak. ing engagements and other inquiries, he can be reached at or. da- This column originally appeared in the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, www.jewishjournal. corn, and is reprinted with permission. 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