Blogging Religiously

From a New York point of view


Archive for the ‘Middle East’

No easy peace on gay marriage or the Middle East09.23.11

Catching up with a few things after — during — a very busy week. (I’ve been reviewing hundreds of state education reports. You don’t want to know.)

1. So Archbishop Dolan is fighting mad at the Obama administration over gay marriage. It’s not just that the administration will not defend the Defense of Marriage Act, but how the administration is characterizing those who oppose gay marriage.

He wrote to Obama: “The institution of marriage is built on this truth, which goes to the core of what the Catholic Bishops of the United States, and the millions of citizens who stand with us on this issue, want for all children and for the common good of society.  That is why it is particularly upsetting, Mr. President, when your Administration, through the various court documents, pronouncements and policies identified in the attached analysis, attributes to those who support DOMA a motivation rooted in prejudice and bias.  It is especially wrong and unfair to equate opposition to redefining marriage with either intentional or willfully ignorant racial discrimination, as your Administration insists on doing.”

A staff analysis from the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference (of which Dolan is president) notes that the Justice Department is comparing the Defense of Marriage Act to racial discrimination laws.

The analysis states bluntly: “According to the government?s view, support for a definition of marriage that recognizes that sexual difference is a defining and valuable feature of marriage now constitutes a forbidden intent to harm a vulnerable class of people.  The false claim that animus is at work ignores the
intrinsic goods of complementarity and fruitfulness found only in the union of man and woman as husband and wife.  DoJ?s contention thus transforms a moral disagreement into a constitutional violation, with grave practical consequences.”

2. On the same subject at the state level, NYS Attorney General Eric Schneiderman asked a state court on Friday to toss a lawsuit filed by an evangelical lobbying group that challenges the state’s gay marriage law.

New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms filed the suit in July, contending that the state Senate broke its own procedural rules before its closely watched vote approving same-sex marriage.

According to the AP: “In his motion to dismiss, Schneiderman relies heavily on the separation of powers to argue the court shouldn’t get involved in matters “wholly internal” to the legislature. He also contends the various meetings between executive and legislative branch members, lobbyists and other interested parties were proper under the open meetings law.”

Also, a short article on the NYCF website makes the case that town clerks who have religious objections to same-sex marriage should not have to issue marriage licenses to gay couples. They are standing behind Rose Marie Belforti, Ledyard town clerk in Cayuga County, who apparently wouldn’t issue a license to a lesbian couple.

NYCF states: “They’re putting legal pressure on Mrs. Belforti to sign same-sex “marriage” licenses, but Rose Belforti is standing tall. We know that the fragrance of Rose’s act of obedience is a sweet smell to her Savior.”

3. As the U.N. wrestles today with whether to create a Palestinian state — and all that would mean — the Jewish Week writes about a recent meeting of local Israelis and Palestinians right here in Yonkers.

The meeting was apparently called by the Dialogue Project, “a 10-year-old venture to build relationships between different ethnic and religious groups.”

Dergham Alkhatib, 43, who spent much of his childhood in a Palestinian refugee camp in Jordan, told the Jewish Week that he was “conditioned to hate Jews.” Now he says: ““We have to overcome this miserable history, instead of looking at all Palestinians as terrorists and all Zionists as people who want to steal Palestinian homes.”

After Alkhatib talked about his concern that Palestinian refugees will be taken care of, the JW described what happened:

*****

But Alkhatib’s comment drew an emotional response from Cari Gardner, 66, who said any reference to refugees or a Palestinian “right of return” is something that “triggers” her. She has no idea what “right of return” means, she told Alkhatib, known to friends as Leo. Does it mean that all Palestinian refugees should return, she asked, and, if so, to where — to the West Bank or to within Israel’s pre-1967 borders? Finally, she asked, can’t the refugees simply go on with their lives?

That, in turn, drew an emotional response from Lori, an American convert to Islam whose late husband was Palestinian. Turning to Gardner, Lori said that, while she understands her concern, she likens the feelings of Israelis who fear a massive influx of Palestinian refugees to the feelings of Palestinians in 1948 who witnessed a massive influx of Jews. “How did they feel seeing all these people coming in?” she asked.

Some might see such exchanges, especially between people who know and like each other, as a dismal sign. And many Jews and Muslims believe that such dialogues achieve little, if anything, and serve only to legitimize abhorrent points of view.

Nevertheless, members of the Yonkers group said participating in the dialogue over the years has changed their perception of the other group.

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in gay marriage, Gay marriage in New York, Middle East, Middle East peace, Uncategorizedwith 134 Comments →

Obama meets with Jewish leaders, talks Mid East and health care07.14.09

President Obama met yesterday with Jewish leaders at the White House.

According to the White House:

*****

The President met with more than a dozen leaders from the Jewish community today for approximately 45 minutes. They had a substantive discussion, ranging from Middle East peace efforts and Iran, to reforming our health care system and policies to address global hunger. The President reiterated his unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security, and reiterated his commitment to working to achieve Middle East peace.

*****

Participants at the meeting were:

Alan Solow, Chairman, Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations

Lee Rosenberg, President-elect, AIPAC

David Victor, President, AIPAC

Malcolm Honlein, Executive Vice Chairman, Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations

Abraham Foxman, National Director, Anti-Defamation League

Jason Isaacson, Director of Government and International Affairs, American Jewish Committee

Nancy Ratzan, President, National Council of Jewish Women

Kathy Manning, Chair, Executive Committee, United Jewish Communities

Andrea Weinstein, Chair, Jewish Council for Public Affairs

Marla Gilson, Washington Director, Hadassah

Stephen Savitsky, President, Orthodox Union

Rabbi Steven Wernick, Executive Vice President and CEO, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism

Rabbi Eric Yoffie, President, Union for Reform Judaism

Ira Forman, Chief Executive Officer, National Jewish Democratic Council

Debra DeLee, President and CEO, Americans for Peace Now

Jeremy Ben Ami, Executive Director, J STREET


Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in Global hunger, Health care reform, Israel, Jewish leaders, Middle East, President Obama, White Housewith Comments Off on Obama meets with Jewish leaders, talks Mid East and health care

‘I’ve come…to seek a new beginning…’06.04.09

Much of the world is talking this morning about Obama’s speech in Cairo.

I’ll be spending the next few hours talking to people about it.

The picture is of a Muslim family in India watching (AP Photo/Sucheta Das).

I’ll highlight a few quotations and then paste the entire speech below.

A few highlights:

*****

We meet at a time of great tension between the United States and Muslims around the world — tension rooted in historical forces that go beyond any current policy debate.  The relationship between Islam and the West includes centuries of coexistence and cooperation, but also conflict and religious wars.  More recently, tension has been fed by colonialism that denied rights and opportunities to many Muslims, and a Cold War in which Muslim-majority countries were too often treated as proxies without regard to their own aspirations.  Moreover, the sweeping change brought by modernity and globalization led many Muslims to view the West as hostile to the traditions of Islam.

*****

I’ve come here to Cairo to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world, one based on mutual interest and mutual respect, and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive and need not be in competition.  Instead, they overlap, and share common principles — principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.

I do so recognizing that change cannot happen overnight.  I know there’s been a lot of publicity about this speech, but no single speech can eradicate years of mistrust, nor can I answer in the time that I have this afternoon all the complex questions that brought us to this point.  But I am convinced that in order to move forward, we must say openly to each other the things we hold in our hearts and that too often are said only behind closed doors.

*****

Just as Muslims do not fit a crude stereotype, America is not the crude stereotype of a self-interested empire.  The United States has been one of the greatest sources of progress that the world has ever known.  We were born out of revolution against an empire.  We were founded upon the ideal that all are created equal, and we have shed blood and struggled for centuries to give meaning to those words — within our borders, and around the world.  We are shaped by every culture, drawn from every end of the Earth, and dedicated to a simple concept:  E pluribus unum — “Out of many, one.”

*****

Of course, recognizing our common humanity is only the beginning of our task.  Words alone cannot meet the needs of our people.  These needs will be met only if we act boldly in the years ahead; and if we understand that the challenges we face are shared, and our failure to meet them will hurt us all.

*****

Now, make no mistake:  We do not want to keep our troops in Afghanistan. We see no military — we seek no military bases there.  It is agonizing for America to lose our young men and women.  It is costly and politically difficult to continue this conflict.  We would gladly bring every single one of our troops home if we could be confident that there were not violent extremists in Afghanistan and now Pakistan determined to kill as many Americans as they possibly can.  But that is not yet the case.

*****

Unlike Afghanistan, Iraq was a war of choice that provoked strong differences in my country and around the world.  Although I believe that the Iraqi people are ultimately better off without the tyranny of Saddam Hussein, I also believe that events in Iraq have reminded America of the need to use diplomacy and build international consensus to resolve our problems whenever possible.

*****

For decades then, there has been a stalemate:  two peoples with legitimate aspirations, each with a painful history that makes compromise elusive.  It’s easy to point fingers — for Palestinians to point to the displacement brought about by Israel’s founding, and for Israelis to point to the constant hostility and attacks throughout its history from within its borders as well as beyond.  But if we see this conflict only from one side or the other, then we will be blind to the truth:  The only resolution is for the aspirations of both sides to be met through two states, where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security.

*****

America does not presume to know what is best for everyone, just as we would not presume to pick the outcome of a peaceful election.  But I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things:  the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn’t steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose.  These are not just American ideas; they are human rights.  And that is why we will support them everywhere.

*****

Among some Muslims, there’s a disturbing tendency to measure one’s own faith by the rejection of somebody else’s faith.  The richness of religious diversity must be upheld — whether it is for Maronites in Lebanon or the Copts in Egypt. (Applause.)  And if we are being honest, fault lines must be closed among Muslims, as well, as the divisions between Sunni and Shia have led to tragic violence, particularly in Iraq.

Freedom of religion is central to the ability of peoples to live together.  We must always examine the ways in which we protect it.  For instance, in the United States, rules on charitable giving have made it harder for Muslims to fulfill their religious obligation.  That’s why I’m committed to working with American Muslims to ensure that they can fulfill zakat.

*****

I am convinced that our daughters can contribute just as much to society as our sons.  (Applause.)  Our common prosperity will be advanced by allowing all humanity — men and women — to reach their full potential.  I do not believe that women must make the same choices as men in order to be equal, and I respect those women who choose to live their lives in traditional roles. But it should be their choice.  And that is why the United States will partner with any Muslim-majority country to support expanded literacy for girls, and to help young women pursue employment through micro-financing that helps people live their dreams.

*****

And HERE IS THE WHOLE THING:

(more…)

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in Cairo, Middle East, Obama, Speech to Muslim worldwith Comments Off on ‘I’ve come…to seek a new beginning…’

The week that I missed05.18.09

I’m back. Hope you had a good week.

I’m about half way through my 1,500 new emails. The worst part is that my email storage is full and I can’t send any emails until I empty it out.

So if you’re waiting for a response from me — as so many people are — please keep waiting.

Here are some odds and ends as I try to catch up with the news:

1. While I was on furlough, I read a stack of magazines from the past few months. In the Jan. 5 New Yorker, there was a quirky story about two rabbis who fly around China checking out factories that produce kosher food. Over $1 1/4 billion worth of kosher-certified foods are exported from China every year. Who knew?

Anyway, the article noted that one of the rabbis was drinking a Coke, and that the Orthodox Union has certified Coca-Cola as kosher since 1993. The article raised a very interesting question: How can you certify a product when its formula is a closely guarded secret? The answer: “Grunberg explained that the Coca-Cola Company presents the O.U. with a long list of ingredients to be approved, including some that are red herrings, just to foil any industrial spies who might be masquerading as rabbis.”

Fascinating, no?

2. I was in Macys buying socks and noticed a T-shirt that said: “FREE speech thought religion expression”

It had a very interesting design for some reason I checked the tag: “Made in Pakistan”

I couldn’t help wondering where in Pakistan it was made? Whose factory? Do the people there believe in all those freedoms — or even know what they are? What would the Taliban think?

3. I wrestled with whether or not I have to see “Angels & Demons.” I don’t think I do. Although it’s the number one movie this week, I haven’t heard any serious talk about the plot or any connections between the story and the real world.

I read “The Da Vinci Code,” saw the movie and wrote about it several times because I heard people wondering whether the plot was true — or based in truth or somehow connected to truth. Many people read it as historical fiction.

Not so with A&D, I think. We’ll see how things develop — and whether I need to see Tom Hanks running around like a mad man. I hope he got a different haircut this time out.

4. I read some of the coverage of B16’s trip to the Holy Land. Somehow, neither what he said nor the reactions to what he said surprised me. Some Israelis were not satisifed with his comments about the Holocaust. Well, B16’s not a great communicator. When it comes to highly symbolic moments, people still expect JPII. But B16 is a different guy.

He favors a Palestinian state and finds the Wall to be a sad sight? Who could be surprised by that?

Benedict is 82 and gave 28 speeches during the trip. He had no major gaffes that I’m aware of. Give the guy some credit.

5. The NYS Assembly’s passage of a bill to legalize gay marriage sets the stage for a fascinating debate in the Senate.

The NYS Catholic Conference calls the Assembly’s move “terribly misguided:” “Marriage is not simply a mechanism with which to provide people with benefits. By creating same-sex ‘marriages,’ the state is endorsing the notion that procreation is completely disconnected from marriage and that a nontraditional family structure serves a child as well as a traditional one.”

The Orthodox Union is “gravely disappointed:” “Legal scholars on both sides of the same-sex marriage debate agree that codifying same-sex marriage without providing robust religious accommodations and exemptions will create widespread and unnecessary legal conflict that will “reverberate across the legal and religious landscape.” We have already seen religious congregations, social welfare agencies and youth groups which object to same-sex unions penalized by authorities in states where such unions have been legalized.”

6. I wish I was around last week to write something about Obama’s Big Day at Notre Dame, which crystallizes the Catholic Church’s struggles over abortion like nothing else (Yes, I know that many Catholics would say that there is no struggle and that Catholics who disagree are dead wrong).

I haven’t had a chance yet to really digest Obama’s remarks. Maybe after I clean out my emails…

7. Finally, I am a finalist for the Religion Writer of the Year Award given out by the Religion Newswriters Assocation. A nice thing.

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in Angels & Demons, Benedict XVI, Catholic history, China, Coca-Cola, Freedom of religion, Historical fiction, Holocaust, Kosher certification, Middle East, Notre Dame, Obama, Pakistan, Papal trip, T-shirt, The Da Vinci Code, The New Yorkerwith 1 Comment →

Search