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ADL Lists Top Issues Affecting Jews In 2005

New York, NY, December 12, 2005 Israel's historic withdrawal from Gaza, the Protestant divestment from Israel campaign, the death of Pope John Paul II and election of Pope Benedict XVI, religious intolerance in the U.S. military and concerns about the religious right's efforts to impose Christianity in the public square were among the issues most affecting the Jewish community in 2005, according to the Anti-Defamation League's (ADL) annual list.

"Israel's historic withdrawal from the Gaza Strip showed the world just how serious and ready it is to make painful compromises toward achieving peace," said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director. "Religious intolerance in the U.S. military, especially at the Air Force Academy, led to a Pentagon investigation and report stating the seriousness of the problem.  And concerns about some on the religious right who seek to impose Christianity in the public square were raised as the nation grappled with issues such as the public display of the Ten Commandments, intelligent design versus Darwin's theory of evolution, and prayer in public schools."

The Issues

  Gaza Disengagement

In August, millions of people around the world watched live television images from Gaza as the Israeli government successfully implemented its historic disengagement plan.  Despite calls for civil disobedience and worse by some Israelis opposed to the withdrawal, protests remained largely peaceful. In the final hours before Israel's deadline for evacuating settlements, Israel's military and police personnel safely removed settlers and activists who refused to leave, showing resourcefulness, sensitivity and compassion.  The disengagement demonstrated to the world the democracy that is Israel.

  The Religious Right in America

Attempts by some evangelical Christian groups to "reclaim America for Christianity" and the larger issue of the role of religion in the public square emerged as a key domestic challenge to the Jewish community.  Their activism has borne out in recent controversies over intelligent design versus Darwin's theory of evolution, prayer in the public schools, judicial nominations, same-sex marriage and abortion posing a challenge to Jews and others who strongly believe that America's religious freedom has thrived as a result of the Constitutional separation of church and state.

  Religious Intolerance in the Air Force Academy

After months of swirling reports and allegations of a pernicious climate of religious intolerance at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, the Air Force in June issued a report that confirmed many of the concerns raised by cadets, staff chaplains, civilian observers and military personnel that a persistent pattern existed at the academy, and that change was necessary.  The report established clear guidelines for religious intolerance in the military, yet the issue shows no signs of diminishing:  As the year drew to a close, 70 mostly Republican members of Congress wrote to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld defending the right of military chaplains to use specifically Christian language in public prayers.

  Death of Pope John Paul II and Election of Pope Benedict XVI

Jews joined with Catholics around the world in mourning the loss of Pope John Paul II, whose compassion, leadership and understanding forever changed the history of the Catholic Church's relations with the Jewish people.  John Paul II's passing in early April was rapidly followed by the election of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as his successor.  On April 19, the close confidante and advisor to John Paul II was named Pope Benedict XVI, ushering in a new era of positive Catholic-Jewish relations.  Among his first acts, the new Pontiff met with Jewish leaders and visited the Cologne synagogue in his native Germany, where he warned of the rise of "new signs of anti-Semitism."

  Protestant Divestment Campaign Targets Israel

Mainline Protestant churches, led by the Presbyterian Church (USA), launched a campaign of divestment against companies doing business with Israel.  In one of a number of anti-Israel divestment initiatives endorsed by Protestant denominations, the Geneva-based World Council of Churches in February voted to recommend that members "seriously consider" a policy of divestment.  The Anglican Church's international advisory board followed with a vote in June, and leaders of the United Church of Christ approved an "economic leverage" resolution in July.

  British Academic Boycott of Israel

In a direct affront to academic freedom, the British Association of University Teachers, at its annual gathering in April, approved a boycott of two of Israel's leading universities, Haifa and Bar-Ilan.  But after loud condemnation by leading academics, students and world Jewish organizations, and after being presented with petitions with thousands of signatures of those opposed to the boycott, the association voted to rescind its boycott barely a month later.  The vote to cancel the boycott was hailed as a "decisive victory" for academic freedom.

  Anti-Semitism and Israel Hostility In Muslim and Arab World

Hostility toward Jews and the Jewish State of Israel by its neighbors in the Middle East continued to grab headlines this year.  In October, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the newly elected President of Iran, openly and brazenly called for Israel's destruction, saying that Israel was "a disgraceful blot" that should be "wiped off the map."  While his remarks were condemned by leaders around the world, Mr. Ahmadinejad refused to back down, and in December, the Iranian leader added to his earlier remarks by suggesting that the Holocaust did not happen and that Israel should be "moved" to Europe.  Meanwhile, in the Muslim and Arab media, the steady drumbeat of anti-Semitism continued apace with ugly caricatures of stereotypical Jews appearing in mainstream newspapers in Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

  Supreme Court Rules on Public Displays of the Ten Commandments

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court issued divergent decisions in two cases involving displays of the Ten Commandments on public property.  In McCreary County v. ACLU of Kentucky, the court ruled that displays of framed copies of the King James Bible version of the Ten Commandments for a clearly religious purpose inside the Kentucky courthouses in Pulaski and McCreary counties were unconstitutional.  In a related decision, in Van Orden v. Perry, the court upheld the constitutionality of a large, six-foot granite Ten Commandments monument as one of a number of displays on the grounds of the Texas state capital in Austin.  Both cases were decided by five-to-four votes.  

  Reform at the United Nations

It was a year of some important developments for Jews and Israel at the United Nations, where Israel has long been isolated and anti-Semitism long ignored.  For the first time since Abba Eban in the early 1950s, Israeli Ambassador Dan Gillerman was given the ceremonial post as vice president of General Assembly.  On November 1, the U.N. General Assembly adopted a landmark resolution designating January 27, the anniversary of the 1945 liberation of the Nazi death camp Auschwitz, as an annual commemoration day for the victims of the Holocaust.

  Anti-Semitic Attitudes Still High in Europe

Despite good faith efforts by government and the international community to counteract the anti-Semitism plaguing Europe, millions of Europeans continued to believe the classical anti-Semitic canards that have dogged Jews through the centuries.  An ADL survey of 12 European countries revealed that a plurality of Europeans believe Jews are not loyal to their country and that they have too much power in business and finance.  The opinion survey of 6,000 adults 500 in each of the 12 European countries found either minimal decline, no change or, in some cases, an increase in negative attitudes toward Jews from its 2004 findings.

The Anti-Defamation League, founded in 1913, is the world's leading organization fighting anti-Semitism through programs and services that counteract hatred, prejudice and bigotry.

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Religion in America's Public Square: Are We Crossing the Line?
Address by Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director

ADL Lists Top Issues Affecting Jews in 2004
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2005 Anti-Defamation League