Zahra Billoo, executive director of the San Francisco chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations, speaks outside of the U.S. Supreme Court, April 2018. (Photo/Flickr-Lorie Shaull CC BY 2.0)
Zahra Billoo, executive director of the San Francisco chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations, speaks outside of the U.S. Supreme Court, April 2018. (Photo/Flickr-Lorie Shaull CC BY 2.0)

Parsing Zionism; Cutting ties with CAIR; Keeping politics out of synagogue; etc.

Parsing Zionism

Elliot Helman’s Dec. 22 letter to the editor (Letters, “Zionism is not Judaism”) deserves a respectful and thoughtful response.

It is true that not all Jews choose to identify themselves as Zionists. It is also true that Zionism historically provided the scaffolding upon which the State of Israel was constructed.

Zionism has been and remains the national liberation movement of the Jewish people. It is tragically true that modern anti-Zionism has all too often become the mask for Jew-hatred, including calls for the deconstruction and elimination of the State of Israel.

The S.F.-based Jewish Community Relations Council is correct when it concludes that anti-Zionism is used as a dog whistle for continuing attacks on Jews and Israel.

Mr. Helman would be better served if he pointed out that one can be critical of particular Israeli government policies while always affirming the absolute right of Israel to exist as a free, independent nation.

I am a deeply committed Zionist who tries to always be polite while at the same time making it crystal clear about Zionism and its powerful, constructive and essential role in our lives as Jews. Like it or not, that includes you too, Mr. Helman.

John F. Rothmann
San Francisco

Cut relations with CAIR?

(Editor’s note: Billoo is the executive director of the S.F. office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations)

Several recent letter-writers to J. (Letters, Dec. 22) attempted to whitewash the vile antisemitism demonstrated by Zahra Billoo, by defining it downwards as a “call for an end to the Occupation” and “criticism of the politics of Zionism,” and citing shared activity in social justice events as evidence of “cooperation and coexistence.”

Billoo has a long and well-documented history of antisemitic remarks and tweets, including invoking historical antisemitic tropes against Israel such as “Apartheid Israel kills children as a hobby.” (but at least she didn’t accuse Israel of doing it to use in matzah, right?)

She said that people who leave the U.S. to volunteer for ISIS or for the IDF were one and the same.

Her employer, CAIR, was an unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land Foundation case, which resulted in five convictions of individuals for fundraising for Hamas.

Read these words from Billoo’s speech in November slowly and carefully. And realize that they refer to the overwhelming majority of American Jews and our community organizations.

“We need to pay attention to the Anti-Defamation League. We need to pay attention to the Jewish Federation. We need to pay attention to the Zionist synagogues. We need to pay attention to the Hillel chapters on our campuses. Just because they’re your friend today doesn’t mean that they have your back when it comes to human rights … know your enemies, and I’m not going to sugarcoat that they are your enemies.”

These are not the words of someone who is promoting cooperation and coexistence. Our Jewish community institutions should not only continue to call out her antisemitism but need to have very serious discussions about whether they should even participate in any interfaith initiatives in which CAIR is a partner.

Michael Harris
San Rafael

Jews have right to Israel

It might come as news to letter-writers Elliot Helman and Clyde D. Leland (Letters, Dec. 22) that being a free people in our own land is foundational to Judaism.

A spokesperson from CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations) has declared Tel Aviv to be “occupied,” so Helman and Leland might wish to consider the fact that, until 1964, the only people historically referred to as “Palestinian” were Jews.

“Just for political reasons we carefully underwrite our Palestinian identity. Because it is of national interest for the Arabs to advocate the existence of Palestinians to balance Zionism … yes, the existence of a separate Palestinian identity serves only tactical purposes. The founding of a Palestinian state is a new tool in the continuing battle against Israel.” Those are the words of Zuheir Muhsin, late military department head of the PLO and member of its executive council, in a March 1977 interview with the Dutch daily Trouw. Mohsin made clear that the legitimacy of Jewish nationalism, Zionism, must be undermined as part of an endless battle against Israel.

On the other hand, there are ancient Jewish families in Israel today who are direct descendants of priestly families from the Second Temple who managed to escape the 70 C.E. destruction and massacres in Jerusalem. They brought with them stone tablets from the destroyed Temple and placed them in a synagogue in Peki’in. Jewish life in Peki’in continued until the 1930s, when the community was largely wiped out by Arab pogroms. In 1950, however, descendants of one of those ancient priestly families returned to Peki’in.

Jews are indigenous to Israel, having lived there continuously for thousands of years, and that, not some “tactical” consideration, is the unassailable basis for Jewish nationalism (Zionism).

Julia Lutch

Great coverage

The story about the kept dishes (“From Germany to America: A family’s legacy, preserved in porcelain,” Dec. 23) and the people involved was inspiring, absolutely fabulous. Your writer did an excellent job. Thank you.

Charles Thornton

Keep politics out of shul

I recently came across Rabbi Raleigh Resnick’s Feb. 17, 2017 opinion piece  “Keep synagogues a safe space, free of political advocacy.”

I very much appreciate what he wrote. It really hit home for us. My wife and I were active members of our synagogue, one affiliated with USCJ (United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism), for more than 10 years. We resigned a few months ago.

I won’t elaborate here, but I offer this note as a plea to those who lead synagogues affiliated with the USCJ — be they rabbis or officers of governing boards — to be on guard against the over-politicization of the shul, the bimah and shul communications.

The use of these venues to promote views on matters of current political and social controversy will inevitably foster a non-inclusive environment which will leave some congregants feeling uncomfortable, unwelcome and marginalized, and which may well cause some to leave the shul (as was the case for us).

And as a matter of pure practicality, does it really make sense to needlessly alienate some congregants? Are USCJ synagogues, particularly small ones, so flush with membership that they can easily afford to risk losing members over matters which are best left for other venues?

So my plea to synagogue leaders is to be extra mindful about fostering an inclusive environment. Such a mindset will go a long way to creating a healthy atmosphere in which everyone feels welcome, and this in turn will help foster the long-term health of the shul.

Robert Blumenthal
Milledgeville, Georgia

Barrier is Palestinian stance

Contrary to the letters penned by Clyde D. Leland and Elliott Helman (Letters, Dec. 22), Zionism and Judaism are inextricably linked. In fact, the entire history of the Jewish people features a longing for the indigenous homelands of the Jewish people, Eretz Israel.

For 2,000 years the Jewish people have ended seders with “Next year in Jerusalem,” and every year on Tisha B’Av we mourn the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem. To reject Zionism is to reject Judaism.

Antisemites like Zahra Billoo are clear that their enemies consist of all Jews, not just Israeli Jews, but also even “progressives” like Leland and Helman.

Leland’s allegations that Israel has opposed a Palestinian Arab state founder on the rocks of history. Israel offered Palestinian Arabs a state of their own in 1948, 1967, 2000, 2001, 2008, 2014 and 2019. Each of these offers was refused because they would have required peaceful coexistence with Israel, something that Hamas and the Palestinian Authority have consistently opposed.

And contrary to any assertions about “Palestinian land,” the historical rights of the Jewish people to their homeland in Israel, Judea and Samaria were codified by the San Remo Conference of 1920, the League of Nations in 1922 and Article 80 of the U.N. Charter. Any land that Israel has given over to the Palestinian Arabs since then was given out of generosity, not out of legal obligation or historical precedent.

Daniel H. Trigoboff
Williamsville, New York

Focus on their true intentions

Nice to see that the ADL has, somewhat belatedly, wised up to the truth about CAIR and its ilk (“ADL spars with CAIR over local Muslim leader’s remarks on ‘polite Zionists,’” Dec. 13).

Anyone familiar with this Muslim advocacy organization has long ago figured out that the face they show to the media (reasonable, conciliatory) is a far cry from their true feelings and intentions.

I suggest J. readers familiarize themselves with the Quranic concept of taqiyyah. In Islam, it is the practice of concealing one’s beliefs when under threat of death or injury.

I’ve yet to meet a rabbi who has any notion of the concept — or recognizes that it is widespread in contemporary Islam.

They can invite us to interfaith, brotherhood breakfasts for a month of Sundays — it’s meaningless! Pay attention to their true intentions — and the dangers they prepare for us.

Dr. David L Levine
San Francisco

It’s a ‘hakenkruez’

I have written about this subject before and am impelled to do so again by the headline of your recent article “Wheatland High takes ‘disciplinary action’ after students’ swastika stunt.”

“Swastika” is a sacred Hindu symbol that has nothing to do with the Nazi hakenkruez that it resembles. Northern European cultures used this symbol for many centuries, even in churches. It did not acquire its antisemitic tone until Hitler adopted it as his emblem. People began to translate “hakenkreuz” into “swastika” because by now, the latter was becoming known through Indo-European scholarship.

Please do not use “swastika” to refer to the Nazi symbol, which should be called a hakenkreuz or simply Nazi symbol. By implication it taints Indians with antisemitism. India is the one country that has welcomed Jews for over a millennia. Please refer to “Growing up Jewish in India” by Ori Soltes.

I am a Hindu with a good many Jewish friends and I would like to stop this misleading use of terms. Many thanks.

Amita Sarin
Rockville, Maryland

J. Readers

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