Methodists overwhelmingly defeated measures calling for divestment from companies that allegedly enable Israel's "occupation" of the West Bank. The resolutions, targeting companies like Caterpillar, which manufactures tractors, and Motorola, which manufactures security systems, had drawn much media scrutiny before last week's United Methodist Church General Conference in Fort Worth, Texas.
Jewish groups were even more offended by a background document prepared in connection with the motions than they were by the notion of divestment itself. According to Jewish groups, the document was dismissive of Jewish concerns about anti-Semitism and ventured into "replacement theology," the belief that Christianity has superseded Judaism.
An alliance of grass-roots church activists, who nurture ties to the Jewish community, helped defeat five divestment resolutions, often in the early stages of the conference. The activists also helped pass resolutions opposing the proselytizing of Jews and promoting Holocaust awareness and the fight against anti-Semitism.
Ethan Felson, associate executive director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, a public policy umbrella group bringing together national and local organizations, attended the conference. He credited outreach by Jewish groups across the country to sympathetic Methodists and called the defeat of the resolutions a "turning point."
"The church has spoken that they don't want this one-sided approach to their witness," Felson said Friday, the final day of the conference. "This wasn't about a national campaign, it was about community to community. This was about relationships."
U.S. Orthodox Rabbis Assail Israeli Rabbinical Court on Nullifying Conversions
American Orthodox rabbis slammed the decision by an Israeli rabbinical court to nullify conversions by an Israeli Orthodox rabbi.
The Rabbinical Council of America (RCA) said Tuesday that the ruling, which retroactively nullified the conversions performed under the auspices of Rabbi Chaim Druckman, was "entirely beyond the pale of acceptable halachic practice," is a violation of "numerous Torah laws" and constitutes a "massive desecration of God's name."
"The RCA is appalled that such a ruling has been issued by that court," according to a statement by the organization.
According to the RCA, it has received assurances from Israeli Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar that the ruling by the Rabbinic Court of Appeals has no legal standing.
The episode is the latest to rouse concerns over who is authorized to perform conversions recognized by the Jewish state.
In February, the RCA announced an agreement with the chief rabbinate recognizing 15 American courts and some 40 Orthodox rabbis in North America authorized to perform conversions. A group of liberal Orthodox rabbis said the agreement represented a capitulation to the increasingly stringent standards of the Israeli rabbinate.
Jewish Groups Mobilize For Myanmar
Both the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) and B'nai B'rith International have opened disaster relief funds to send aid to the Southeast Asian country of Myanmar, formerly called Burma, where at least 22,000 people have been killed and millions left homeless after the May 3 cyclone.
The JDC's International Development Program, which responds to natural and manmade disasters providing immediate relief and long-term assistance, collects funds on a nonsectarian basis. The JDC is helping some of the region's estimated 10 Jews.
The B'nai B'rith disaster relief fund will allocate $10,000 to help IsraAID send 10 relief workers, including paramedics, doctors, nurses and water specialists, to Myanmar. The team is cooperating with the local United Nations office and Israel's embassy in the region.
Tel Aviv-based IsraAID, the Israel Forum for International Humanitarian Aid, is an umbrella organization of more than 35 Israeli and Jewish nongovernmental organizations active in development and relief work.
For more information, contact the JDC at www.jdc.org or (212) 687-6200; or B'nai B'rith at www.bnaibrith.org/support/disaster_relief.cfm.
To donate to the LA Federation's Emergency Relief Fund, call (323) 761-8200 or send a check to: The Jewish Federation, 6505 Wilshire Blvd. Los Angeles CA 90048. Please make checks payable to The Jewish Federation with the words "Myanmar Relief Fund" in the memo line.
To contribute to AJWS, visit www.ajws.org, or call (800) 889-7146. Checks can be sent to: American Jewish World Service, Burma Relief, 45 West 36th Street, 10th Floor, New York, NY 10018.
London Mayor Critical of Israel Loses Bid for Re-election to Third Term
Ken Livingstone, a frequent critic of Israel, was beaten in London's mayoral election.
The Conservative Party's Boris Johnson received 53.2 percent of the vote last Saturday to 46.8 for Livingstone, the Labor incumbent. Johnson was sworn in the same day.
Livingstone has accused Israel of "ethnic cleansing" and refused to apologize after comparing a Jewish journalist from London to a Nazi concentration camp guard.
The first person to serve as the mayor of London, a post created in 2000, Livingstone served two terms.
Johnson has worked to understand the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and has been a supporter of Israel. He opposed a call last year by Britain's University College Union to boycott Israeli colleges and universities.
During a trip to Israel in November 2004, Johnson visited Tel Aviv's Carmel Market shortly after a suicide bombing and toured the West Bank security fence, according to the Jerusalem Post.
Judaism Trumps Nationality Among Israelis
Jewish identity takes precedence over national identity for most Israelis, a poll found.
According to the survey in Tuesday's Israel Hayom newspaper, 65 percent of Israeli Jews identified primarily as Jews and only then as Israelis, whereas 14 percent said the reverse. Nine percent said they don't know in which order they identify.
Asked whether they want Israel to be more Jewish or more democratic, 47 percent said the former and 43 percent the latter, with the rest undecided.
The poll reflected mixed feelings among Israeli Jews about their country's future as it celebrates its 60th Independence Day, though most made clear they would not want to live elsewhere.
Asked to rate their "personal mood" on an ascending scale of one to 10, the average number given was seven. The "national mood" was a more gloomy 5.8. Fifty percent of respondents said they feel Israel is moving in the "wrong direction" and 36 percent said the country is moving in the "right direction."
But 87 percent said they would want their children to grow up in Israel, and 70 percent said they have no foreign passport and no plan to apply for one. The survey had 561 respondents and a 4.1 percent margin of error.
Iran Tops U.S. State Terror List
"It will come as no surprise to hear that Iran remained the most significant state sponsor of terrorism," Dell Dailey, coordinator of the State Department's Office for Counterterrorism, said last week in releasing this year's country reports on terrorism.
"Iran provides aid to Palestinian terrorist groups, Lebanese Hezbollah, Iraq-based militants and Taliban fighters in Afghanistan," he said. "Despite its pledge to support the stabilization of Iraq, Iranian authorities continue to provide lethal support, including weapons, training, funding and guidance, to some Iraqi militant groups that target coalition and Iraqi security forces and Iraqi civilians. In this way, Iranian government forces have been responsible for attacks on coalition forces."
Dailey also named Syria as a state sponsor of terrorism, noting its support for Hezbollah.
Reno TV Reporter Files Discrimination Suit
Danita Cohen-Breen lost her morning anchor job at KOLO-TV after refusing to work extra hours without extra pay. She claims in her discrimination complaint filed last week with the Nevada Equal Rights Commission that Robert Page, the new news director, referred to her being Jewish when he demoted her, according to The Associated Press.
"I have a Jewish name, and it was at this time Mr. Page asked me if I was Jewish," Cohen-Breen said in her complaint, quoted by the AP. "I informed him that I was. Mr. Page stated that Jewish people are stubborn and sometimes needed to be humbled."
Cohen-Breen says in her complaint that she was replaced as anchor by a visibly religious Christian woman and that two other Jewish station employees were fired.
Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency