Author - Publishing

Sasso’s Misrepresentation of Facts Harms Civil Debate

Originally published on July 23, 2017, INDY STAR.

As a political science professor for over three decades, my research, teaching and community engagement has sought to further understanding about religion and politics. As such I must respond to a recent op-ed in the IndyStar by Dennis Sasso. Sasso’s vitriol against that with which he disagrees, be it the Jewish tradition or Vice President Mike Pence’s constitutional conservatism, is disappointing. Certainly a healthy democracy benefits from vigorous debate on contentious issues. But Sasso has a habit of misrepresenting facts and manufacturing history that serves neither to improve public discourse nor further civil debate. Sasso grounds his belief system in what he calls “progressive Judaism,” an ideology similar to both Hellenistic Greek and modern secular opposition to the Jewish tradition. His progressivism invariably involves wild proclamations such as equating Jewish Orthodoxy with “a Turkish model of religious nationalism,” a claim that conflates Jewish belief with the Islamic drive to establish a caliphate.

One might argue from a progressive view that classic liberal constitutionalism and Jewish tradition are old fashioned, backward and opposed to progressive ideas. These criticisms demand a serious response. But it is difficult to take seriously Sasso’s outlandish attacks and his claim that Orthodox Jews are making new political demands and changing the rules for religious practice in Israel with “dire consequences for democracy.” The truth is that Orthodox Jews are defending the Jewish tradition from the radical changes Sasso supports. In the past, Reform Jewish opponents were quite open and honest about their desire to destroy traditional Judaism. Sasso, who in the past has publicly denied the fundamental tenets of Judaism, should simply admit his opposition to the tradition. His ideology will not rest, and will tolerate no opposition or reasoned debate until the Jewish tradition is no more.

Perhaps if Sasso had a better fundamental understanding of Jewish beliefs he would recognize that traditional Jews have a great appreciation for American constitutional norms. In an essay published in an Israeli newspaper he accused Pence and others supporting the Religious Freedom Restoration Act as being extremists and bigots opposed to American ideals and Jewish ethics. The law reinforced First Amendment protections including those essential for Jews who sought to maintain their ability to act in the public square in accordance with their religious beliefs. Certainly reasonable questions could be raised about the implications of the law. But Sasso was enraged by Pence’s support for the law, which he characterized as giving “a private business the right to restrict or limit services to LGBTQ persons on religious grounds.” The law did no such thing. Law Professor David Orentlicher criticized attacks on the law as “serious misperceptions of what a RFRA actually can do,” stating that in fact “RFRAs have posed little, if any, threat to the public.” Regardless of the facts, Sasso had no trouble misrepresenting a law reinforcing classic First Amendment rights in order to promote his agenda.

Serious and reasonable debate about fundamental beliefs and particular policies should be welcomed. Sasso’s fabrication of the truth to promote his ideology is neither serious nor reasonable.

Elliot Bartky

Department of Political Science associate professor

Indiana Purdue University, Ft. Wayne

Hugh Fitzgerald: Rabbis Stand Up For Their “Hoosier Sisters and Brothers Who Are Muslim” (Part One)

Originally posted at Jihad Watch, J BY

In Indianapolis, a billboard was recently put up that has caused quite a stir.

It has been denounced as an “anti-Islam” billboard, because it lists six things about “the Perfect Man” (a clear reference to Muhammad, known in Islam as al-insan al-kamil, the Perfect Man), who (I quote verbatim the billboard): “1) married 6-year old 2) slave owner and dealer 3) rapist 4) 13 wives, 11 at a time 5) beheaded 600 Jews in one day 6) tortured and killed unbelievers.”

The Board of Rabbis of Indiana was outraged by this billboard, and produced a collective letter denouncing it:

The Indiana Board of Rabbis denounces the anonymously posted billboard on Interstate 465, which attacks Islam by denigrating its prophet. We repudiate the billboard’s reference to Jews as a justification for its disparaging message.

Jewish tradition recognizes the vast power of words to create or destroy. The Jewish sages of old likened “the evil tongue” to murder. The right to free speech in America does not give license to the dissemination of hatred.

We call for the billboard’s immediate removal. We stand in solidarity and friendship with our Hoosier sisters and brothers who are Muslim. And we will continue to promote tolerance, understanding and good will among all the faith communities in our state.

So the rabbis, while self-righteously declaring that “We stand in solidarity and friendship with our Hoosier sisters and brothers who are Muslim,” did not address any of the six charges made against Muhammad, nothing about their falsehood or their truth, did not try to refute even one, as if to do so were unnecessary. But they did “call for the billboard’s immediate removal,” a nice demonstration of their commitment to free speech. And there was this bizarre claim: “We repudiate the billboard’s reference to Jews as a justification for its disparaging message.” The reference to Jews was this: Muhammad “beheaded 600 Jews in one day.” That was indeed the case, as everyone who has read the passages about the Banu Qurayza in Ibn Ishaq’s biography, or in the sahih (authentic) hadiths, knows. In Yathrib (Medina), Muhammad had 600 to 900 male members of the Banu Qurayza, a Jewish tribe, bound and then beheaded, all in one day. He was present throughout.

The rabbis interpreted the mention of a massacre of Jews as something it clearly wasn’t intended to be — they described it as being exploited as “justification for its [the billboard’s] disparaging message.” No, it wasn’t meant as “justification” It was an important example of Muhammad at his murderous worst. Why shouldn’t it be mentioned? These rabbis must believe that one should never overlook antisemitic murders — except, it appears, if the murders are ordered by Muhammad, who was surely one of history’s most influential antisemites. What would they have thought if someone listing Muhammad’s deplorable acts had left out any mention of his anti-Jewish atrocities? Would that have pleased them? Wouldn’t such an omission have outraged the rabbis of Indiana? Or are they so far gone that any mention of Muhammad’s anti-Jewish acts would have infuriated them, as “not helpful under the present circumstances of rampant islamophobia”?

What those rabbis did not do is claim that they had carefully looked into the claims on the billboard,, and found them without foundation, nor did they give any indication that they would be interested in finding out whether those charges were true. It was the mere making of them that provoked their outrage. Perhaps they assumed that they all had to be false, for how could Muslims revere as the “Perfect Man” someone who had done the following: married a six-year old; had a total of 13 wives, 11 of them at one time; committed rape; beheaded (or had beheaded) 600 Jews; owned slaves; tortured and killed unbelievers? If those charges were true, what would that lead any sensible person to conclude about Islam? Still, one would like to know why those deeply distressed rabbis thought they had no responsibility, before calling for the billboard to be taken down, to do some research themselves, to see if one or more of those charges were true. Apparently they listen to a Higher Authority — and that Higher Authority is Muslim.

So let’s do what neither the rabbis, nor the reporters for the IndyStar, appear to have thought it necessary to undertake: that is, to find out what evidence, if any, there is for the six charges.

The first charge: did he “marry a 6-year-old”? Most Sunni scriptural sources accept that Aisha, the daughter of Muhammad’s friend Abu Bakr, was married to Muhammad when she was six, but continued to live with her parents until the age of nine, when she went to live with Muhammad and the marriage was consummated — that is, nine-year-old Aisha had sexual intercourse with Muhammad when he was 53. There are many sources in the Hadith for this. The most authoritative of all collections, the Sahih (authentic) Bukhari, states that Aisha was six years old when she married Muhammad, and nine years old when they consummated the marriage (Sahih al-Bukhari, 7:62:64). Do the indignant rabbis even know who Bukhari was, or why his mention of Aisha’s marriage carries such great weight? Does their ignorance make them at all uneasy? Or do they not care?

The second charge is that Muhammad had a total of 13 wives, with eleven of them the most he had at any one time. The main source for this is the Sira (biography of Muhammad) of Ibn Ishaq. All Muslim authorities agree that Muhammad had at least eleven wives. See, for example, Anas bin Malik, who testified that “the Prophet used to visit all his wives in a round, during the day and night and they were eleven in number.” But in total, over his lifetime, he had at least two other wives. Some Islamic sources even claim he had a total of fifteen wives. But the main point has been made. Muhammad took many wives (and in addition to his wives, he had several concubines at any one time), and allowed himself many more wives than he allowed his followers who, while polygamous, had to stop at four. The word “misogyny” comes to mind. And so does the word “hypocrisy.”

The third charge is that Muhammad committed rape. Is there evidence to back this up? It’s hard not to think that the only word for what he did when he forced himself on his slave girls, those women “whom his right hand possessed,” who were always available, is “rape.” But let’s consider just one such case, that of the beautiful Jewish girl, Saafiya, who was part of the booty Muhammad took when he raided the Khaybar Oasis. The same day that her father and uncle had been killed by Muhammad’s men, and her husband tortured to death in front of her, and all of her other male relatives also put to death, Muhammad had sexual intercourse with her. It’s related in the hadith of Muslim (who with Bukhari is considered to be the most trustworthy of hadith scholars): “That [same] day Saafiya’s husband was tortured and beheaded in front of her eyes, her father and brothers were killed, her sisters, cousins, and mother were given away to jihadis as booty and then Mohammed still wearing bloody clothes with the blood of her relatives, had sex with her.”

Would anyone describe what Muhammad did to Saafiya as consensual sex? Of course not. Yes, Muhammad raped Saafiya, and we can find in the hadith and sira other examples of his having non-consensual intercourse with women “whom his right hand possessed.” Muhammad was a rapist many times over. And how should we describe Muhammad’s intercourse with a nine-year-old girl? Was she capable of giving “consent” to that intercourse, or should we describe what he did with little Aisha as “rape”? Did the good rabbis of Indiana bother to look into this charge or did they regard it as so implausible — how could “the Perfect Man” also be a rapist? — that they felt there was no need to do so? What do they make of the story of Saafiyah? Or that of nine-year-old Aisha and 53-year-old Muhammad? Anything? Nothing?

The fourth charge on the billboard is that Muhammad “beheaded 600 Jews in one day.” This is a reference to the killing of all the adult males of the Jewish tribe of the Banu Qurayza in Yathrib (Medina). The Banu Qurayza had taken no side in the fight between Muhammad and the Meccans who besieged his forces in Medina. Nonetheless, once the siege was lifted, with the Meccans having withdrawn — thereby depriving Muhammad of the chance of booty — he ordered that the inoffensive Banu Qurayza be attacked. For 25 days Muhammad’s forces besieged the Jewish tribe until it finally surrendered. Muhammad then ordered that all males who had reached the age of puberty should be seized, bound with rope, and beheaded. Between 600 and 900 were killed. There is some evidence that Muhammad personally engaged in the slaughter. Not only does the earliest narrative bluntly say that the apostle “sent for them” and “made an end of them,” but there is also support for this in the Qur’an. Qur’an 33:26 says of the Qurayza, “some you slew, some you took captive.” The “captives” were the women and girls, taken as sex slaves. The Arabic “you” is in the plural, but the Quran is supposed to be Allah’s conversation with Muhammad, so it makes no sense that he would be excluded. In any case, to make the point again, just as we can say that “Saddam Hussein killed 182,000 Kurds” without meaning that he did so personally, it is perfectly understandable to say that Muhammad “beheaded 600 Jews” (Abu Dawud 4390). And in fact, over his life, Muhammad was responsible for the deaths of far more Jews than just those of the Banu Qurayza.

The fifth charge on the Indianapolis billboard is that Muhammad “tortured and killed unbelievers.” By that is clearly meant that he ordered that certain people be tortured and killed, not that he did it himself. One example of this is from an authoritative hadith collection, the Sahih Muslim:

“They were caught and brought to him (the Holy Prophet). He commanded about them, and (thus) their hands and feet were cut off and their eyes were gouged and then they were thrown in the sun, until they died.” (Sahih Muslim 4131). This account is also confirmed by at least three other narrations.

Another such example is that of Kinana of Khaybar, a Jewish man from whom Muhammad wanted to extract information about hidden treasure. Some of the treasure was given up by Kinana. But Muhammad suspected that more was hidden, and he ordered one of his followers to torture Kwinana until he revealed where the treasure was hidden: “‘Torture him until you extract what he has.’ So he [the follower] kindled a fire with flint and steel on his chest until he was nearly dead. Then the apostle [Muhammad] delivered him to Muhammad b. Maslama and he struck off his head, in revenge for his brother Mahmud.”

And there are so many other assassinations ordered by Muhammad, particularly of those who had mocked him, such as the poetess Asma bint Marwan, or sown doubt about him, as did the 120-year old Jewish poet Abu ‘Afak, or appeared to be disloyal to him, like still another Jewish poet, Ka’b ibn al-Ashraf — all three of them killed on Muhammad’s orders. The list of those he ordered to be murdered is very long (Bukhari 56:369, 4:241). So it’s true: Muhammad did have men and women killed, and some tortured as well. Would the rabbis of Indiana wish to exculpate Muhammad because he merely ordered people to be tortured and killed, and didn’t do it all himself? Didn’t we hear something of the sort from Adolf Eichmann?

The sixth charge is that Muhammad owned and traded in slaves. Could that possibly be true? Why, yes it could. In one famous hadith, he trades two black slaves he owned for one white slave whom he wanted to free:

There came a slave and pledged allegiance to Allah’s Apostle on migration; he (the Holy Prophet) did not know that he was a slave. Then there came his master and demanded him back, whereupon Allah’s Apostle (may peace be upon him) said: Sell him to me. And he bought him for two black slaves [whom Muhammad owned] , and he did not afterwards take allegiance from anyone until he had asked him whether he was a slave (or a free man) (Sahih Muslim 3901).

He also gave sex slaves to three followers who later succeeded him as caliph: “The apostle gave Ali a girl called Rayta; and he gave Uthman a girl called Zaynab; and he gave Umar a girl whom Umar gave to his son Abdullah.” (The two sources for this are Ibn Ishaq’s biography of Muhammad, and Ibn Kathir, the author of a celebrated commentary to the Qur’an). He encouraged his men to rape enslaved women (Abu Dawood 2150, Quran 4:24) and to take as many sex slaves from captured women as they wanted.

And even when Muslims concede that Muhammad was a slave-owner, in his defense they say that he urged better treatment for slaves, or they “contextualize” the slavery by saying that “it was the common practice of those times.” That may well have been, but it does not refute the charge that he bought, sold, traded, and captured slaves, without the slightest moral qualms.

Muhammad’s life was a succession of warfare, plundering, and killings. In the last ten years of his life, he engaged in 65 military campaigns and raids. He murderously practiced what he murderously preached: “Fight everyone in the way of Allah and kill those who disbelieve in Allah.” (Ibn Ishaq 992). He ordered the killing of captives taken in battle (Ibn Ishaq 451). He took female captives as sex slaves. He ordered the killing of those who mocked or spoke against him. He ordered the torture, before killing, of Kinana of Khaybar. He was ferociously against the Jews. What do the rabbis make of this history? I don’t think they make anything of it. I think they are deliberately refusing to learn about Muhammad, for fear of what they might find out. It’s an unbearable thought, that they might then have to take issue with, beg to differ from, even question entirely, the received version of Islam fed them by their “Hoosier sisters and brothers who are Muslim.”

Where does this leave us? It leaves us with all six of the charges leveled at Muhammad having textual support in one or more of the Islamic texts — Qur’an, Hadith (especially the “authentic” hadith of Bukhari and Muslim), and the Sira (the biography by Ibn Ishaq, as set down by Ibn Hisham), the history of Al-Tabari, the tafsir (commentary) of Ibn Kathir, and other islamically authoritative sources.

When the rabbis decided to publish their letter, demanding that the billboard be taken down, what did they know, and when did they know it?

ADDENDUM: I just received this email from the Jewish American Affairs Committee of Indiana:

I just wanted to inform you that our group, the Jewish American Affairs Committee of Indiana, did get a letter published in the Indy Star in response to the rabbis’ egregious letter. It was published in print form yesterday (6/18/17) (below):

As officers of the only statewide Jewish advocacy group in Indiana, we feel obligated to respond to the letter signed by 16 rabbis essentially demanding the silencing of any public reference to Islamic hatred of Jews. This message directly contradicts core Jewish traditions as well as fundamental American rights.

The rabbis would be well within reason to recognize historical Christian anti-Semitism, notwithstanding the fact that Christians are today among the very best friends and allies of the Jewish people and Israel. In contrast, Islamic hatred of Jews has not only existed since the founding of Islam but is by far the greatest contemporary global threat to the security of the Jewish people. The world’s most influential Muslim as ranked by a reputable Arab survey is Sheik Ahmed Al-Tayyeb, the grand Sheikh of Al Azhar University, the premier institution of Islamic learning. Sheikh Al-Tayyeb and his predecessors have all publicly professed what could only be described as odious anti-Semitism and argue that the core texts and traditions within Islam support their Jew hatred. These views are ubiquitous in the Muslim world. For example, a recent international poll from the Anti-Defamation League found the top 10 most anti-Semitic nations to be majority Muslim. The European Union reports that Muslims are about 30 times more likely to be responsible for anti-Semitic incidents than their non-Muslim counterparts. By whitewashing traditional and contemporary anti-Semitism, these rabbis reject the central Jewish priority that obligates them to defend Jewish lives.

In addition to spurning Jewish values, the rabbis also deny the fundamental American principle of freedom of speech. They write that “The right to free speech in America does not give license to the dissemination of hatred.” Their statement is patently false and directly contradicts the First Amendment, which allows even Muslim hate groups in the U.S. to disseminate anti-Semitic propaganda.

Elliot Bartky, President
Allon Friedman, Vice President

Jewish American Affairs Committee of Indiana

Rabbis wrong about billboard

Originally posted at Indianapolis Star on June 13, 2017

As officers of the only statewide Jewish advocacy group in Indiana, we feel obligated to respond to the letter signed by 16 rabbis essentially demanding the silencing of any public reference to Islamic hatred of Jews. This message directly contradicts core Jewish traditions as well as fundamental American rights.

The rabbis would be well within reason to recognize historical Christian anti-Semitism, notwithstanding the fact that Christians are today among the very best friends and allies of the Jewish people and Israel. In contrast, Islamic hatred of Jews has not only existed since the founding of Islam but is by far the greatest contemporary global threat to the security of the Jewish people. The world’s most influential Muslim as ranked by a reputable Arab survey is Sheik Ahmed Al-Tayyeb, the grand Sheikh of Al Azhar University, the premier institution of Islamic learning. Sheikh Al-Tayyeb and his predecessors have all publicly professed what could only be described as odious anti-Semitism and argue that the core texts and traditions within Islam support their Jew hatred. These views are ubiquitous in the Muslim world. For example, a recent international poll from the Anti-Defamation League found the top 10 most anti-Semitic nations to be majority Muslim. The European Union reports that Muslims are about 30 times more likely to be responsible for anti-Semitic incidents than their non-Muslim counterparts. By whitewashing traditional and contemporary anti-Semitism, these rabbis reject the central Jewish priority that obligates them to defend Jewish lives.

In addition to spurning Jewish values, the rabbis also deny the fundamental American principle of freedom of speech. They write that “The right to free speech in America does not give license to the dissemination of hatred.” Their statement is patently false and directly contradicts the First Amendment, which allows even Muslim hate groups in the U.S. to disseminate anti-Semitic propaganda.

Elliot Bartky, President

Allon Friedman, Vice President

Jewish American Affairs Committee of Indiana

Let’s Work Together to Stamp out Hatred

Published: Current in Carmel, April 4, 2017

Editor, As a vice president of the Jewish American Affairs Committee of Indiana, the only statewide Israel and Jewish advocacy group, I heartily embrace the Indianapolis Muslim community’s letter (in the March 21 edition of Current in Carmel) in support of the local Jewish community and against acts such as the recent bomb threat at our local Jewish Community Center. May I suggest that the Muslim community commence their stand against Jew hatred by focusing on their own back yard. I write this in light of a recent Anti-Defamation League global survey that found the top 10 most anti-Semitic nations to be Muslim ones. I write this knowing that the first individual charged in the wave of bomb threats to Jewish centers in the U.S. was a self-identified Muslim. I write this knowing that the Islamic Society of North America, headquartered in Plainfield and a signatoree on the letter, was founded by the Muslim Brotherhood, a group dedicated to the annihilation of all Jews. I write this knowing that ISNA as well as at least one other mosque that signed the letter invited anti-Semites to speak to their organizations. My group looks forward to working with the Muslim community to stamp out Jew hatred wherever it may be found. Allon Friedman, Carmel

Alon Friedman, Vice President Jewish American Affairs Committee of Indiana

 

 

In repsonse to the following:

 

Published:  Current in Carmel, March 21, 2017

Editor, On behalf of the Muslim community in Indianapolis, represented by the mosques and Muslim organizations listed below, we would like to extend our solidarity with the Jewish community. We are deeply saddened and troubled to hear about the recent acts of hate, intolerance and vandalism against the Jewish people in America, including the recent bomb threat at the Jewish Community Center of Indianapolis. We are certain that such actions can cause people to feel afraid and concerned for their safety. It is very disheartening to hear about these senseless and hateful acts. Without our Jewish friends, we would lose, among other things, so much compassion and kindness found here in Indiana. But please know that the Indianapolis Muslim community, a people of faith and moral conscience, is your ally. We will stand alongside you to uphold the values of justice and compassion. Our homes, our mosques and our hearts are open to you. Please let us know how we can help your community during this time of difficulty. We pray for the security of the Jewish-American community who has undoubtedly been shaken by these events. May God fill your hearts with peace. Amen.

Indianapolis Muslim Community Association Al-Fajr Mosque, Islamic Society of North America, Al Salam Foundation, AsSahabah Mosque, Al-Mu’mineen Mosque, RISE Indy, Masjid Al-Taqwa, Masjid-E-Noor, Nur-Allah Islamic Center, Al-Haqq Foundation, Al Hikma Islamic Center

 

 

Mike Pence, Guardian of Jewish freedom

Donald Trump’s VP pick has legislated against BDS and against government control of religious practice

August 18, 2016, 3:10 pm

Originally posted at Times of Israel, August 18, 2016.<

JTA — With the presidential race heating up, a number of progressive Jewish commentators have portrayed the Republicans’ vice presidential candidate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, as a conservative extremist opposed to Jewish beliefs and values. As officers of the only statewide, grassroots Jewish and Israel advocacy organization in Indiana — who also have had the privilege of working closely with Pence and other Indiana legislators of both political parties to pass important pro-Jewish, pro-Israel legislation — we dispute this inaccurate portrayal.

In fact, there is strong reason to believe that such opposition to Pence is much less a reflection of his positions than an indication of how far many Jewish Americans have strayed over recent years from core Jewish beliefs.

Take for example Pence’s demonstrable attachment to the Jewish state of Israel, which he has called “America’s most cherished ally.” In sharp contrast to many of his critics, Pence is a vocal supporter of Israel’s right to defend itself against sworn enemies like Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas. While some of Pence’s opponents support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which opposes the existence of a Jewish state in any form, he recently signed into Indiana law what Israel’s ambassador to the U.S., Ron Dermer, called “the toughest anti-BDS legislation in the nation.”

Why don’t Pence’s undeniably pro-Israel positions help win over his Jewish critics?

Douglas Bloomfield in a recent anti-Pence piece argued that “for most Jewish voters, support for Israel is not a determinative issue but is often around fourth of fifth on their priority list.” Bloomfield is correct when he observes that for far too many American Jews, the security of Israel is of little importance. Pence’s support for Israel doesn’t resonate because much of American Jewry has chosen to distance itself from the Jewish state.

Another example involves social issues related to marriage and family. As it turns out, Pence’s positions on these issues are largely in accord with traditional Jewish beliefs.

An important aspect of traditional Judaism involves discriminating or distinguishing between one thing and others. Of course, the type of discrimination we are referring to is not like the historical prejudice of whites toward blacks. But Judaism involves discrimination nonetheless.

Kodesh, the Hebrew word for holy, implies separating or making something distinct. For practicing Jews this concept applies to dietary practices, clothing, family and marital relations, and keeping the Sabbath. Making distinctions also requires making value judgments. Pence’s religious perspective, which shapes his positions on marriage and family, is also dependent on making distinctions. This type of thinking is disdained by liberal Jews, who have redefined Judaism as rejecting distinctions within the Jewish tradition and in their relations to non-Jews.

Another example involves religious liberty, a concept that has allowed American Jews historically unprecedented space and freedom to pursue their lives as Jews. Pence’s statesmanship has been grounded in the American constitutional tradition of individual rights and limited government, which are required for religious liberty to flourish.

Pence’s opponents, however, are opposed to these classic liberal ideals and support the use of government power to compel people to abandon their religious convictions in the public square. For traditional Jews this in effect means being forced to adhere to whatever happens to be the prevailing social norms. This type of behavior is akin to classical anti-Semitism, which demanded that Jews abandon their discriminating religious beliefs.

This issue arose with Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, or RFRA, which Pence signed into law in 2015. Though Indiana’s RFRA is one of 21 state RFRA laws, Democrats have built an entire campaign against Pence by claiming that his RFRA was designed to deny LGBT civil liberties. At the 2016 Democratic convention, Nevada State Sen. Pat Spearman claimed that Pence “used religion as a weapon to discriminate.” U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts argued that Trump “picked a vice president famous for trying to make it legal to openly discriminate against gays and lesbians.” Hillary Clinton’s campaign characterized Pence as the “most extreme VP pick in a generation,” claiming that “Pence personally spearheaded an anti-LGBT law that legalized discrimination against the LGBT community.”

These claims have been echoed by some Jews. Rabbi Dennis Sasso, whose Indianapolis congregation is affiliated with the Conservative and Reconstructionist movements, asserted that Pence’s failure as governor is most evident in his support of RFRA, since it “allows a private business the right to restrict or limit services to LGBTQ persons on religious grounds.” The Indianapolis Jewish Community Relations Council testified before the state legislature that if RFRA were adopted, “people could use their religion to justify almost any discriminatory action they choose to take in their public lives.” In his article, Bloomfield wrote that Indiana’s RFRA law permits “Indiana businesses (to) refuse to serve gays, lesbians and others by citing religious objections.”

In reality RFRA is nothing like what its critics claim. Indiana University law professor David Orentlicher observed that it was “designed to protect religious practice from discrimination by government.” Orentlicher, a Democrat, is himself a former Indiana state representative and currently a candidate for Congress. Law professor Douglas Laycock, who helped write the federal RFRA law, notes that religious freedom laws are mostly used for a wide range of reasons including “churches feeding the homeless” and “Muslim women wearing scarves or veils.”

“They’re about Amish buggies. They’re about Sabbath observers,” he said.

RFRA neither intends to nor enables the wholesale denial of LGBT rights and does nothing to permit or promote discrimination against LGBT individuals as individuals in the marketplace. In fact, its critics are using it as a smokescreen to conceal their own wholesale rejection of fundamental constitutional and religious principles, including religious liberty. The real, underlying issue that prompted such fury against Pence is that the RFRA may, depending on how the courts rule, permit individuals and businesses to adhere to their religious beliefs on how to define marriage. Supporters of RFRA believe in the classic liberal idea that government should not compel citizens to abandon the free exercise of their religious beliefs in the public square.

It is ironic that an evangelical Christian politician who has demonstrated tenacious support for the Jewish state of Israel, who advocates aggressively for religious liberty, and who supports the practice of traditional Jewish values has been so demonized by individuals and groups claiming to represent Judaism. As American Jewry drifts further from its traditional religious moorings, we should expect to see more of such rhetoric.

Elliot Bartky, Ph.D., and Allon Friedman, M.D., are the president and vice president, respectively, of the Jewish American Affairs Committee of Indiana. Bartkey is associate professor of political science at Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne. Friedman is associate professor of medicine at the Indiana University School of Medicine.

Don’t Believe the Hype: Indiana Jews Revere Mike Pence

Origianlly published at Haaretz August, 8, 2016.

Time and time again, Donald Trump’s running mate proved himself to be an honorable statesman devoted to the U.S. Constitution and a true friend to Jews in Indiana and around the world.

In a recent opinion published in Haaretz, Rabbi Dennis Sasso repeated previous partisan attacks on Republican vice-presidential candidate and Indiana Governor Mike Pence, painting him as a conservative extremist opposed to American ideals and Jewish ethics. As officers of the only statewide, grassroots Jewish and Israel advocacy organization in Indiana who have also had the privilege of working closely with Pence and other Indiana legislators of both political parties to pass groundbreaking pro-Jewish, pro-Israel legislation, we dispute this inaccurate and partisan portrayal.

Mike Pence has a strong and unshakeable attachment to the Jewish people and the State of Israel, which he has called “America’s most cherished ally.” In sharp contrast to many of his critics, Pence is a vocal supporter of Israel’s right to defend itself against threats from Iran and Hamas. Similarly, while many of his opponents support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, Pence recently signed into lawwhat Israel’s Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer called “the toughest anti-BDS legislation in the nation.”

Pence’s statesmanship has always been grounded in the American constitutional tradition of individual rights and limited government and a religious belief recognizing divine providence and the love of fellow humans. The baseless, ugly attacks on Pence represent in large part a broader unease with his religious convictions and advocacy of civil liberty.

Pence’s biggest failure, according to some of his detractors, was his signing into law Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which Sasso characterizes as allowing “a private business the right to restrict or limit services to LGBTQ persons on religious grounds.” Indeed, the law’s passage led to the outright vilification of Pence and a public relations campaign against Indiana by activists far and wide. 

The Indianapolis Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) took a lead role in this defamation campaign despite Jewish community surveys, such as the JCRC’s most recent local survey, showing that only 16% of the local community considered gay rights to be a high priority. Moreover, the JCRC testified before the state legislature that if RFRA were adopted “people could use their religion to justify almost any discriminatory action they choose to take in their public lives.” This testimony contradicts Indiana University law professor and former Democratic State Representative David Orentlicher’s recognition of the “serious misperceptions of what a RFRA actually can do,” stating that in fact “RFRAs have posed little, if any, threat to the public.” Significantly, Orentlicher recognized that Indiana’s RFRA was “designed to protect religious practice from discrimination by government.

The arguments promoted by Sasso and the JCRC grossly misrepresent RFRA. The law neither intends to, nor enables, the wholesale denial of LGBT rights. Legal scholar Douglas Laycock helped write the federal RFRA legislation that was signed into law by President Bill Clinton. He notes that state religious freedom laws are mostly used for a wide range of reasons including “churches feeding the homeless … Muslim women wearing scarves or veils. They’re about Amish buggies. They’re about Sabbath observers.”

The real underlying issue that inspired so much opposition to Pence was that RFRA could, if supported by the courts, allow individuals and businesses to adhere to their religious beliefs on the sanctity of marriage. Instead of openly declaring their position that same-sex marriage must be accepted regardless of one’s religious convictions, anti-RFRA activists avoided an honest debate and instead maligned Pence’s character with spurious accusations.

RFRA’s supporters, on the other hand, believed in the classic liberal notion that government should not compel citizens to abandon the free exercise of their religious beliefs in the public square. As such, RFRA in fact promoted both constitutional rights and traditional religious beliefs. This is precisely why constitutional scholar Daniel Conkle, a supporter of marriage equality, provided the key testimony supporting the legality of Indiana’s RFRA. 

While individuals have the right to argue for the idea of marriage equality, trying to force citizens as RFRA’s opponents did to give up the free exercise of their religious beliefs in the public square is a shameful abandonment of fundamental rights guaranteed to every American. 

There is a similar logic behind other attacks against Pence. For example, rather than acknowledge that some Syrian immigrants could pose a very real threat (as demonstrated now on a daily basis in Europe) to America in light of their anti-Semitic, anti-Christian, and anti-Western upbringing, Pence is demonized for refusing to allow such immigration at this time. Pence’s position is ethical and responsible as it seeks to protect American lives and liberties. This is plainly evident to all but those detractors who place a greater value on abstract universal rights than on the welfare of Jewish and non-Jewish Americans.

It is time that everyone understands the truth about Governor Mike Pence. He is a good and compassionate man. He is an honorable statesman devoted to the U.S. Constitution and its tenets of individual freedom, and he is a true friend to Jews in Indiana and around the world.

Elliot Bartky, Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Political Science at Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne and President of the Jewish American Affairs Committee of Indiana. 

Allon Friedman, M.D. is Associate Professor of Medicine at Indiana University School of Medicine and Vice President of the Jewish American Affairs Committee of Indiana.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, Trump’s VP choice, roots support for Israel in Christian faith

Posted on July 15, 2016 and filed under Israel, U.S., News.

By Sean Savage/JNS.org

After a selection process that more closely resembled a reality television show than the usual political appointments, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump on Friday tweeted that his choice for vice president is Indiana Governor Mike Pence, who beat out flashier contenders such as former House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

For the pro-Israel community, Pence is viewed as a strong advocate for the Jewish state who can bolster Trump’s sometimes shaky relationship with Jewish leaders. Although he has taken on a strongly pro-Israel tone in recent months, Trump had previously raised concern in pro-Israel circles by saying he would take a “neutral” approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Pence, an evangelical Christian, has noted that his strong support for Israel is rooted in his faith.

“Let me say emphatically, like the overwhelming majority of my constituents, my Christian faith compels me to cherish the state of Israel,” Pence said in an address to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in 2009, while he was serving in Congress.

Many analysts believe Pence can boost Trump’s standing among social conservatives and strengthen his campaign in other areas such as executive experience, foreign policy, and navigating the political scene of Washington, DC.

Pence served in the House of Representatives from 2001-13, including on the influential House Foreign Affairs Committee, where he advocated for robust military defense aid for Israel. As governor of Indiana, Pence has continued his steady record of support for Israel. He visited Israel in late 2014 and met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“Hoosiers have cherished our relationship with the people of Israel for generations. As we look ahead, deepening our ties with the people, businesses, and state of Israel remains a commitment that will empower us as partners. Grounded in our shared values and our hope for the future, today our friendship is highlighted by a remarkable entrepreneurial spirit shared between our two nations,” Pence said in a statement ahead of that 2014 trip.

David Brog, a member of the board of directors at Christians United for Israel, which helped sponsor Pence’s visit to Israel, praised the Indiana governor as one of the Jewish state’s “most steadfast supporters.”

“We have known and worked with Mike Pence for years. His faith and worldview have made him one of Israel’s most steadfast supporters, both in Congress and as governor,” Brog told JNS.org. “He would be yet another powerful pro-Israel voice on Donald Trump’s team.”

In addition to his support for Israel, Pence, like Trump, favors an American foreign policy that is centered on robust military strength. He has repeatedly called for large increases in military spending and has criticized Democrats for not using the term “Islamic extremism” when describing jihadists.

Pence had also been a vocal critic of the Iran nuclear deal. In 2015, he joined 14 other Republican governors in signing a letter to President Barack Obama expressing their opposition to the deal.

Pence’s stance on the nuclear deal contrasts with his potential vice presidential opponent, U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), who is rumored to be among presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s finalists for the job.

In 2015, Kaine was among a number of Democratic senators who boycotted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to a joint session of Congress about the nuclear deal. Nevertheless, Kaine defined himself as a “strong pro-Israel Democrat” in an interview with The Forward, and also told the Washington Jewish Week following a visit to Israel in January 2016 that Netanyahu “is a key partner” that the U.S. must work with.

In Indiana, Pence signed into a law a bill that formally opposed the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer called the Indiana measure the “toughest anti-BDS legislation in the nation.”

Elliot Bartky, president of the Jewish American Affairs Committee of Indiana, who worked closely with the Indiana State Assembly and Pence in crafting the anti-BDS legislation, said he feels the governor is an excellent choice by Trump.

“Governor Pence has had a long and distinguished track record advocating for Israel and the Jewish people as a congressman and then governor of Indiana,” Bartky told JNS.org. “We fully expect that if elected vice president, Governor Pence will continue to lead the nation with the type of sorely needed moral clarity and courage on this issue that has typified his career to this point.”

Despite his state’s relatively small Jewish community, Pence has promoted economic ties between Israel and Indiana.

“Israel and Indiana share many concerns that Hoosiers cherish,” Pence said last month at the second annual Indiana-Israel Business Exchange. “As our nation’s strongest and most important ally in the Middle East, Israel is also a key partner in our state’s economic growth.”

Governor Pence Signs Legislation Affirming Indiana’s Support of Israel

Indianapolis – Governor Mike Pence today signed House Enrolled Act (HEA) 1378, which requires the Indiana Public Retirement System (INPRS) to divest from any business that engages in action to boycott, divest or sanction the state of Israel. The bill passed with overwhelming bipartisan support in both the House and Senate, and goes into effect July 1, 2016.

“I have long believed Israel is our most cherished ally and as such I am proud to sign House Enrolled Act 1378, which affirms Indiana’s support for the state of Israel,” said Governor Pence. “Israel’s enemies are more emboldened than ever before and with the overwhelming bipartisan passage of this legislation, Indiana made clear that we will not do business with those who seek to inflict financial damage on the people of Israel. I thank Speaker Bosma for leading on this important issue and am proud to show Hoosiers are standing with Israel today.”

According to INPRS, HEA 1378 would require INPRS to divest an estimated $50 million in assets of the $28.3 billion invested by the agency.

Indiana Overwhelmingly Approves Anti-BDS bill

Posted by Arutz Sheva, March 3, 2016

State Senate passes near-unanimous measures prohibiting state dealings with anti-Israel boycotts.

The Indiana Senate near-unanimously approved a bill on Tuesday banning state funds from investing in entities that support the anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

The BDS movement, which aims to demonize, delegitimize, isolate and ultimately destroy the Jewish State has begun to appear in Indiana, especially on college campuses.

The 47-3 approved bill with bipartisan backing proclaims BDS to meet the standards of “extraordinary circumstances necessary for mandatory divestment” by the state’s law.

BDS promotes intimidation, fear and violence across campuses in Indiana according to the bill, and is “unethical and deeply damaging to the cause of peace, justice, equality democracy and human rights for all people in the Middle East.”

The measure, which passed in January by Indiana’s House of Representatives, is expected to be signed into law by Governor Mike Pence, a pro-Israel Republican who served in the US Congress.

The Jewish Affairs Committee of Indiana, which led the lobbying effort for the bill, issued a statement thanking the General Assembly for “placing Indiana among the vanguard of states offering public support for the besieged and democratic state of Israel, our closest ally in the Middle East and beyond.”

Indiana’s bill is one of many bills that have been passed or are currently under consideration in state legislatures that would oppose the BDS movement. Last week, Florida lawmakers also overwhelmingly approved an anti-BDS law in a 112-2 majority.

 

 

Indiana State Passes Anti-BDS Bill

Posted by Virtual Jerusalem, March 3, 2016

The Indiana Senate overwhelmingly approved a bill banning state dealings with entities that boycott Israel or its settlements.

The bill approved 47-3 on Tuesday, with bipartisan backing, defines “the promotion of activities to boycott, divest from, or sanction Israel” as meeting the standard of “extraordinary circumstances” necessary under state law to mandate divestment from a company.

The state House of Representatives passed the measure in January. Gov. Mike Pence, a Republican who was a pro-Israel leader when he was in the U.S. Congress, is expected to sign the bill into law.

“This will place Indiana among the select vanguard of states that have publicly defended the Jewish State of Israel using proactive legislation,” said a statement Wednesday by the Jewish Affairs Committee of Indiana, which led the lobbying effort for the bill.

The bill includes in its definition “territories controlled by the Jewish State of Israel,” effectively including any bid to boycott settlements in its purview.

It is one of over 20 bills that have passed or are under consideration in state legislatures that would counter the BDS movement; not all include language targeting settlements. The Obama administration has said that while it will continue to oppose efforts to boycott Israel, it will not oppose bids that specifically target settlements.

The businesses defined in the bill include commercial enterprises and nonprofit organizations, which would mean that the bill, once enacted, would apply to universities. The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, or BDS, movement has focused its efforts on campuses and scholarly associations.

Funds that would be mandated to divest from businesses that boycott Israel include the retirement funds of teachers and public employees.

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