revised   06.07.30 --  Please reload/refresh....On the web since.1997.     Israel statement  NoWriteAboutIsraelChronicle     Sep 16, 2001

click for information about these symbols of world religions and liberation movements


to see new material, please use your refresh/reload button
Is Vern Anti-Semitic? rev 031119
The offending column is followed by correspondence 
with officials of the Jewish community,
the November 14 opinion in The Jewish Chronicle, and others.
Vern's writing appears in blue; other writers appear in red.
Additional material appears in black. This color-coding is to make following the correspondence easier to follow.
Vern's position statement appears at this link.

478. 031029 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Huston Smith looks for commonality

No teacher of world religions is regarded with greater affection than Huston Smith. Even before the 1996 PBS series with Bill Moyers on what Smith calls ``the wisdom traditions,'' Smith was widely known for his book, ``The World's Religions,'' which has sold millions of copies to several generations. His impeccable personal relationships with many faiths, through family connections and travel, make his scholarship a love affair with humanity as well as the divine.

   Smith was in town last week-end to honor Elbert Cole, his 1938-39 roommate at Central Methodist College, on Cole's retirement as director of Shepherd's Centers of America. Cole founded the movement in 1972 to provide seniors with new opportunities to learn and to enrich society.

   Cole asked Smith to help those at the conference to understand commonalties among Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Smith said these faiths were revealed by the same God but took different forms as appropriate to the language, culture, and times of those to whom they were given.

   He noted historical respect between Muslims and Jews, but that the boundary between Christianity and Islam has often been contested, which has led to persistent stereotypes, one of which is that Islam is a violent religion. Smith presented a scholar's view that Islam may have been less violent than Christianity, but recently violence has been nurtured within Islam.

  In an interview later, Smith said resentment of the West in the Muslim world arises in part from the way the West conquered it and chopped up it up into artificial states like Iraq and Israel, and from the West's support for corrupt and oppressive regimes.

   As he spoke to me, Smith seemed almost overwhelmed by sorrow over the Middle East where there is ``too little land and too much history.'' Where formerly the American Jewish community questioned Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories, ``now it is silent'' as Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, "by his actions, seems determined to force the Muslims into such a desperate situation that they will leave and Israel will take all the land.''

   Smith described these as ``shocking, disgusting, and tragic developments'' that impede interfaith relations because those concerned hesitate to speak for fear of being called anti-Semitic.

479. 031105 EXCERPT from the column of the following week

   NOTE. An area Jewish leader wrote me to complain that my column last week makes readers think ``that the American Jewish community doesn't question settlements and supports Sharon in his desire to force Muslims to leave Israel so they can take all the land.''
   The column actually referred to Muslims leaving the ``Palestinian territories'' rather than Israel, but I do apologize for failing to note that many people in the Jewish community here do not support the expansion of settlements.

1. critic


You wonder why the Jewish community sometimes has an issue with you. Putting Iran and Israel with the words corrupt and oppressive in the same sentence might just make a few people wonder how you really feel about the democratic Jewish State of Israel.

And then using quotes from Smith that make readers think that the American Jewish community doesn't question settlements and supports Sharon in his desire to force Muslims to leave Israel so they can take all the land certainly doesn't advance your supposed cause to bring Jews and Muslims together.

I am disappointed that you refer to the enemy of Israel as Muslims (there are Christian Palestinian suicide murderers as well) and that you don't even mention why Israel is at war with people who kill innocent men, women and children on buses and in cafes.

Better luck next time in your efforts to foster peace and understanding...

[official of a major Jewish organization in Kansas City]

1. response

Dear [Name]--

All of your points are worthy of consideration.

1. Smith did specifically name Iraq and Israel, together. I had never thought of the creation of Israel in the same way as Iraq, but in a general sort of way -- both states being created by Western powers -- I see his point. It startled me and I like the challenge of contemplating a fresh way of looking at an old situation. As for Israel being corrupt and oppressive -- read the Israeli newspapers. As you know, even Jews have been denied certain rights unless they are Orthodox.

2. I am very aware that many of my Jewish friends question the settlements, but I think the thrust of what Smith was saying has the ring of  truth to it -- the JCRB ad, for example, does not allow much latitude for those of us (Jewish and non-Jewish) who support Israel but question the Sharon policies. Perhaps I should have helped Smith be clearer that he was referring to the stance taken by many leading pro-Israeli organizations in America rather than every single Jewish person. However, he spoke to me  in great pain about how he can no longer discuss these matters with Jewish friends who are themselves not officials of Jewish organizations. There may be more truth than falsehood in the impression the column gives.
    The remedy to my column is a much more visible protest against Sharon by American Jews. I frankly share Smith's disappointment that this has not happened. It seems to me that the American Jewish community could exercise considerable influence over the Israeli government as well as encouraging our own to take a more reasonable approach to the intolerable toleration of the growth of the settlements and the provocation they set off, through financial measures at least. I cannot see much moral justification for the expansion of settlements under Sharon. It was he, if I remember my history, who had much to do with the initiation of the settlements in the first place.

3. I do not agree with you that quoting Smith -- to the effect that Sharon "by his actions" seems to be establishing the facts on the ground to realize the hope of some settlers and other fanatics to take all the land -- fails to advance my desire to bring Jews and Muslims together. I think giving Smith a voice in my column provides a rare opportunity for the Jewish community to see how others see them, and thus I should be thanked for extending the benefit of honesty to my friends in both the Jewish and Muslim communities. You will note that I also mentioned that Smith said "recently violence has been nurtured within Islam." I would like to remind both Jewish and Muslim communities that violence is no answer. Is my friendship with Jews conditioned on keeping silent about what someone as distinguished and knowledgeable as Smith says?

4. Of course you are right that there are Christian Palestinians as well as Muslim Palestinians. At least some Christians remain. I think you are right that my column is defective in this way, and while I have made this point in other columns, it should have been acknowledged in this one as well.

5. If I were to mention why Israel is "at war," I would have to mention why Palestinians have resorted to suicide bombings. Such an account is beyond the scope of my column. It would also lead to a discussion of the morality of the strategy -- such as, what is the best way to protect Israelis? Most of the world has the opinion that the violence against Israelis might be reduced by abandoning the provocative settlements. This seems to be an important element in the so-called Road Map advanced by the US Bush administration with the others of the Quartet. Even Thomas Friedman has said that every military strategy offered by Sharon has failed (NYTimes Oct 16). The war Sharon is fighting (and, in my view, initiated since he, not Arafat, broke off the Taba talks, not to mention the provocation of the Temple Mount visit) has increased the violence. Remember, he promised when elected to eliminate the violence in, what was it, two months? Three years later, the tragedy worsens, with over twice as many Palestinians killed as Israelis, many of them as innocent as the Israelis.

6. I hope you saw my column on Sukkot.

7. One way for the Jewish and Muslim communities to grow together is for each of them to admit their own sins. I hear a lot from Muslims denouncing those who misuse their faith as a justification for violence. I don't hear much from the Jewish community in Kansas City denouncing Israeli sins.

8. You have every right to make others aware that you regard my column as seriously flawed. I earnestly hope you will use this occasion to write an "As I See It" column or letter to the editor setting forth your own questions about settlements and letting the readers know that many Jews question the Sharon government.

With appreciation that you took the trouble to write me, and
With continuing admiration and best personal wishes,


2. critic

Dear Rev. Barnet, I read your Wednesday column with great dismay. If Israel is an "artificial" state, then so is the United States. Too little land in the Middle East? Israel makes up a fraction of a percent of the land mass of the Middle East. Too much history? Are the Jews to apologize for having survived? You seem to suggest (albeit behind the voice of Mr. Smith) that Arab hostility toward Israel is Israel's fault. How, then, explain that hostility before Israel so much as put up a single settlement? And you need to listen better to the "American Jewish" community. The day it is silent -- on Israel or any other issue -- is the day, I'm convinced, the messiah will arrive. There is anything but silence on Israel's settlement policies. But there is virtual unanimity that the attempt to demonize and delegitimize Israel -- the only state in the world subject to such treatment -- is nothing more than old-fashioned Judeophobia.

[not an official of the Jewish community]

2. response

Dear [Name],

    0. First let me say how grateful I am that you wrote. [Personal compliment omitted on this public web site.]

    1. I think you make a very good point about the impression the column gives regarding disagreements within the Jewish community about settlement policies. After this was pointed out to me by another writer, I prepared a note for my next column apologizing for this impression.
    However, it is fair I think to note that the JCRB/AJC, to mention one organization, has done little to legitimize such discussion and seems instead to wish to eliminate it. The ad the agency produced last year was painful for many of us who support Israel and wanted to sign a more even-handed. I do not read much from Jewish leaders here criticizing the settlement policy. I append a recent report about criticism in Israel which may interest you, though I am  sure you are well informed.

    2. To me, your other concerns seem to be less on the mark. Yes, the US could be considered an "artificial state" but the REASON Smith brought up the artificiality of Israel and Iraq is to EXPLAIN why Muslim resentment. I think in the context my column provided, Smith's comments make sense, whether we agree with them or not.

   3. I think what Smith means by his often repeated phrase, "too little land, too much history," is simply that various interests are competing. I see no favoritism in the comment.

    4. Just because Jews, thank God, have survived (and made great contributions to the world, including to Islam) does not  justify the settlement policies. I am surprised you would seem to think that survival justifies any behavior on Israel's part.

     5. I do not know enough history to judge whether Arab hostility is Israel's fault, but if you read the column another way, I think you might see that Smith lays the blame not on Israel but on the colonial designs which did not  take adequate account of the situation "on the ground." I never heard him once say anything that could fairly be interpreted as Judeophobic. He spoke lovingly of his  daughter who converted to Judaism -- before she met the Jewish  man who became her husband, and other family relationships. If you read his book The World's Religions, you surely will find that he engenders enormous and deserved respect for Judaism.

    6. I doubt that the explanation you seek -- for hostility to Israel before the settlements began -- would be difficult to discover. I am not saying it is justified, but there are explanations. I do not believe those explanations include substantial anti-Semitism, but rather grow out of property, water rights, and such disputes. [personal comment of respect omitted from this public web site]
    At any rate, regardless of history, it is clear that the current flash point are the settlements. I am glad many worry about  the best way to protect Israelis. Most of the world has the opinion that the violence against Israelis might be reduced by abandoning the provocative settlements. This seems to be an important element in the solaced Road Map advanced by the US Bush administration with the others of the Quartet. Even Thomas Freedman has said that every military strategy offered by Sharon has failed (Nighties Cot 16). The war Sharon is fighting (and, in my view, initiated since he, not Aright, broke off the Tab talks, not to mention the provocation of the Temple Mount visit) has increased the violence. Remember, he promised when elected to eliminate the violence in, what was it, two months? Over two years later, the tragedy worsens, with over twice as many Palestinians killed as Israelis, many of them as innocent as the Israelis. See the account I append to my email for an up-to-date assessment.

    7. I do hope you distinguish criticism of Sharon from attempts to "demonize and delegitimize Israel." I worry that people of unquestionable good will like Smith themselves become demonized in expressing their desire for peace and security for Israel and others in the region when they dare to question Sharon's policies. In this context, your implication of Judeophobia may not be merited.

    *. Again, I appreciate your thoughtfulness in writing. I hope my comments, while they may be disagreeable, somehow provide you with a different perspective at least on the intent of the column. If I can do anything else to reassure you of my deep regard for the Jewish tradition and desire for the integrity and security of Israel, please let me know. As I say, I have prepared an apology on the  point I mentioned at the outset. I also ask you to look at the many columns I have written highlighting the Jewish tradition with deep respect. Please write again about this if you wish, and certainly at any time you feel I have been unfair.

Vern Barnet (Guardian article appended)
Our strategy helps the terrorists, army chief warns Sharon

Fierce rebuke exposes rift between military and government

Chris McGreal in Jerusalem
Friday October 31, 2003
The Guardian

Israel's army chief has exposed deep divisions between the military and
Ariel Sharon by branding the government's hardline treatment of Palestinian
civilians counter-productive and saying that the policy intensifies hatred
and strengthens the "terror organisations".

Lieutenant-General Moshe Ya'alon also told Israeli journalists in an
off-the-record briefing that the army was opposed to the route of the
"security fence" through the West Bank. The government also contributed to
the fall of the former Palestinian prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, by
offering only "stingy" support for his attempts to end the conflict, he

Gen Ya'alon had apparently hoped his anonymous criticisms would strengthen
the army's voice, which has been subordinated to the views of the
intelligence services in shaping policy.

But the comments were so devastating that he was swiftly revealed as the

The statements - which a close associate characterised to the Israeli press
as warning that the country was "on the verge of a catastrophe" - will also
reinforce a growing perception among the public that Mr Sharon is unable to
deliver the peace with security he promised when he came to office nearly
three years ago.

The criticism is made all the more searing because Gen Ya'alon is not known
for being soft on the Palestinians. As deputy chief of staff, he called the
latest conflict the second stage of Israel's independence war.

The general warned that the continued curfews, reoccupation of towns and
severe restrictions on the movement of Palestinians, combined with the
economic crisis they have caused, were increasing the threat to Israel's

"In our tactical decisions, we are operating contrary to our strategic
interest," Gen Ya'alon said. "It increases hatred for Israel and strengthens
the terror organisations."

Earlier this week, army commanders in the West Bank told the military
administration in the occupied territories that Palestinians had reached new
depths of despair, which was fuelling a hatred for Israeli that had little
to do with the propaganda so often blamed by the government.

"There is no hope, no expectations for the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip,
nor in Bethlehem and Jericho," said Gen Ya'alon.

The commanders warned that the situation was strengthening Hamas, a view the
Israeli intelligence services agreed with. But while the army sees the
solution as easing most oppressive elements of occupation, the Shin Bet
argues that rising support for Islamist groups is a reason to keep the
clampdown in place. This is the preferred option of the defence minister and
Gen Ya'alon's predecessor as army chief of staff, Shaul Mofaz.

Mr Sharon and Mr Mofaz were reportedly furious at the general's statements
and initially demanded that he retract them or resign. But the political
establishment apparently decided it would be better to deride Gen Ya'alon.

Anonymous sources in the prime minister's office were quoted in the Israeli
press complaining that the army chief was trying to blame the politicians
for the military's failures.

But army radio reported yesterday that the foreign minister, Silvan Shalom,
agreed that there needs to be a substantial easing of restrictions on the
Palestinian population. The deputy prime minister, Ehud Olmert, was also
reported to have backed the general's view.

Gen Ya'alon also waded into one of the most contentious issues of the day by
saying the army had recommended a less controversial route for the steel and
concrete "security fence" through the West Bank.

He said the military had warned that the fence, which digs deep into
Palestinian territory, caging some towns and villages and cutting farmers
off from their land, will make the lives of some Palestinians "unbearable"
and require too many soldiers to guard it.

Further questions were raised yesterday after the chairman of parliament's
defence budget committee revealed that the cost of the fence could triple to
£1.3bn - or 3% of the national budget - if Mr Sharon fulfils his plan for
the fence to run around Jewish settlements and the length of the Jordan
valley so that it encircles the bulk of the Palestinian population.

In response to questions about Gen Ya'alon's comments, the army's chief
spokeswoman, Brigadier General Ruth Yaron, said they reflected a debate
within the military.

"No uniformed officer has expressed criticism of the government. The
articles reflect fundamental deliberations within the army, in light of a
complex reality," she said.

3. critic

Dear Rev. Barnet,

I must affirm the sentiments expressed in an e-mail you received earlier today from [name omitted on this public web site], regarding the comments of Huston Smith.

As an American Jew, I am opposed to Israeli settlements on the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip. It is ridiculous for anyone to say that Jews in America, Israel and around the world have stopped voicing opposition to these settlements.

At the same time, I am fully aware that there are two sides to this conflict and Israel does not shoulder all of the blame. How else does one explain the founding of the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1964, at a time when the entire West Bank and Gaza Strip were under Arab control? Many persons in the Arab world were intent on destroying Israel long before these settlements existed.

To say the least, I found your reporting of Smith's remarks one-sided in the extreme.

[ not an official of the Jewish community ]

3. response

Dear Mr [not an official of the Jewish community]:

    As I told [your friend], I am very grateful when people write me about a column I have written. I think it is extremely important for all of us in a democracy to share our perspectives with each other, and to call each other to account when we make indefensible statements.

    I append my response to [your friend]. You will note that I have prepared an apology regarding the impression my column gives that the American Jewish community supports the settlements. You will also note that I don't think that some in the local Jewish leadership have done much to encourage discussion on this point. The effort has been to align with "fundamentalist" Christian churches and -- perhaps more recently "mainstream" churches -- to mute criticism of current Israeli policies.

    In addition to my apology, I wonder if you think that a remedy for the widespread impression voiced by Smith may be for Jewish persons such as yourself to make your objection to the settlements known to such Jewish leadership as the JCRB/AJC and to the public.

    I am not an expert on Middle East history, but my impression is -- to respond to your question about the founding of the PLO -- is that the Palestinians in that organization sought the destruction of Israel at that time. Much has changed since then, and -- alas -- much remains the same.

    I presume [your friend] shared his email with you, so I imagine [he] will not mind my sharing my response to him. I am sending him a copy of this email.

    Again, I really appreciate your taking the trouble to write about the column and hope you will  write again in this important commitment we have to fair exchange. This is critical around issues which cause us to experience our pain and aspirations so deeply.

Vern Barnet

4. critic

Dear Vern,

Your recent article in this weeks Star once was very troubling. I won't bother to even try and dispute the inaccuracy and blatant lie to the point of those who  are critical of Israel being labeled anti-semitic, or deal with the myth of the settlements being the primary reason why there is not peace between Israel and the Palestinians. I will only ask you why you so totally ignore what is truly anti-semitic and unhelpful to Moslem-Jewish relations by not denouncing the remarks of the now former Prime Minister of Malaysia? You consistently seem to find room in your column to give ink to those critical of Israel, but in no way seek whatever moderate Moslem voices may exist to criticize those followers of Islam who seek to destroy the chance of Islamic-Jewish-Christian peaceful coexistence. Shame on you! You give me little faith with which to believe your credibility as an honest broker for interfaith  programs of peace in this community.

Senior official of a major Jewish organization]

4. response

Dear [Name],
    I appreciate your writing me directly and expressing your perspective.
    I would ask you to read the column one more time, and some of the issues you raise may be placed in a little different light. I have prepared an apology for one way in which the column failed to reflect the range of opinion within the Jewish community in response to a very thoughtful and helpful comment I received from [Name].
    Let me point out some areas where I would ask you to please reconsider the way you have read the column. Since you attack my integrity as well as my report on Smith's remarks, I will request that you consider my work in the community.

    1. You raise the issue of whether those who are critical of Israel are in danger of being labeled anti-Semitic. (Actually, your complaint misreads the column. I did not write that those who criticize Israel are labeled anti-Semitic, but rather that Smith said ''those concerned hesitate to speak for fear of being called anti-Semitic.)  The column was more narrowly focused, not on criticism of Israel but, as I understand Smith, on Sharon policies. I would agree with you that generalizing that ALL of those who are critical of either Sharon or Israel are NOT in danger of being characterized as anti-Semitic, but certainly SOME are, and I am one example, having been labeled as such by some in Kansas City, and I know many others who feel inhibited in this way. Smith does not say  that criticism results in such labeling, but he did say that the FEAR of being called anti-Semitic impedes interfaith relations. I believe he is correct. It seems pretty obvious, actually. Please do not distort the words that actually appear in the column.

    2. Smith did not say that the settlements were the "primary reason why there is not peace between Israel and the Palestinians." That is your language, not his, and it does not appear in the column. I do not quote Smith on the question of what the primary cause for the lack of peace is because that was not the subject of the interview, nor did he express an opinion about it. The question we were dealing with was interfaith relations, not the primary reason for the conflict.

    3. I did initiate discussion of the remarks by  the now former Prime Minister of Malaysia this week, along with the troublesome Gibson movie, at this week's meeting of the Interfaith Council. With Rabbi Horwitz's support in response to my raising the issue,  a committee is considering how to respond to these outrageous attacks on the integrity of the Jewish heritage. I have previously written about the Gibson movie in a Star column August 13; perhaps you missed that column, so I include it at the end of this response to you. The current issue of my organization's newsletter reports on the controversy about the former PM's remarks. There are many outrages I have not written about in my once-a-week column which is usually focused on Kansas City, not Malaysia.
    The credibility of your criticism is weakened in my view by two additional factors:
    (1) You have not recognized the many columns I have written (including one a few weeks ago on Sukkot) which uplift the value and dignity of the Jewish tradition. Those columns over the years are quite numerous. You have not recognized the extensive discussion of Islamic violence and the  report on anti-Semitism in the 77-page document for which I am primarily responsible, issued Sep 10, 2002, by the Jackson County Diversity Task Force which I chaired, nor does your current complaint recognize that the very column you criticize notes that Smith said that violence recently has been nurtured within Islam.
    (2) The leadership of the Jewish Community Relations Bureau/AJC has appeared to be uncooperative with me in my efforts to expose anti-Semitism in Kansas City when I vigorously and persistently attempted to gain information to condemn the outrageous claim that Jews were responsible for 9/11. I append information about this below. Rick Hellman told me after the incident was reported in The Chronicle that he withheld the details and confirmation of the incident from me (although I was the one who alerted him to the incident) because he did not want me to "scoop" him, and his mother and Marvin failed to respond to my timely requests for information so I could condemn the remarks.
    Nonetheless, as soon as the article appeared in The Chronicle, I found a way, through reporting on a Muslim speaking before the KC Press Club, to include such a condemnation in my column. My column appeared January 22 and said, responding to the report Judy Hellman gave me Jan 3, "When she (Mahnaz Shabbir) was told of a report that a local Muslim had claimed  that Israel and Jews were responsible for the terrorism of 9/11, Shabbir condemned such remarks as anti-Semitic." (KC STar, Jan 22, 2003, page F-4).  I thought the Jewish community would rather have a Muslim condemn such ideas than me, but I made it possible for such anti-Semitic sentiments to be condemned in my column. [Name], your complaint does not recognize my faithful and continuous efforts to expose anti-Semitism wherever I can, and your ignorance or forgetfulness about this most troubling incidence undercuts the credibility of your complaint.
    Specifically, I prepared the following statement for action by the KC Interfaith Council for its first meeting after the Jan 17 Chronicle report, condemning anti-Semitism. The Muslim member of the Council and all other members except Rabbi Horwitz were in favor of adopting the statement. Since we normally act on unanimity, the resolution was defeated out of respect for Rabbi Danny's view.
    "The Kansas City Interfaith Council condemns the statement that Israel and Jews are responsible for the terrorist attacks of Sept 11, 2001. We must constantly be alert to anti-Semitism and prejudice against any faith. The Council also deplores efforts to demean Islam or any tradition because of a few commit horrors in the name of their faith. No tradition can bear responsibility for individuals who commit wicked actions it condemns, and all traditions must work cooperatively to end violence.
    "The Council believes that whenever a report of a statement of bias is made, a delay in investigating it impedes the likelihood of establishing the facts of the case beyond dispute. Prompt investigation provides the best opportunity for faith communities to work together to heal damage such statements might make. The Council also reminds the community that it offers a speakers bureau for those who wish responsible speakers to discuss their faiths."
    The Council requested me to prepare a follow-up report, which I append  below.

     4. Further, you complain that I "in no way seek whatever moderate Moslem voices may exist to criticize those followers of Islam who seek to destroy the chance of Islamic-Jewish-Christian peaceful coexistence." Again, you ignore my work in the community, as well as my many columns on the subject, several resolutions of the Interfaith Council which I prepared, and particularly the discussion on pages 34-38 of the Jackson County report. I particularly want to draw your attention to the item quoted from The Star on page 36 by Tanweer Papa. As he can tell you, I was the one who  urged him to write this piece, and advised him in preparing it. When a Jewish person wrote the Task Force deriding Papa's comments, I sought and obtained the clarification from Papa also included in the Task Force report. Perhaps you have not taken the trouble to read this important document, and I would advise you to do so. Surely you are aware of my vigorous efforts to resolve the misunderstanding between the Islamic School and Hyman Brand. These are two of many examples I could give. And there are the numerous forums around town I have assisted in arranging to give those moderate voices an audience.
    Quite frankly, your statement that I have neglected encouraging the voices of moderate Muslims is not only ignorant but offensive. You say Shame on me. Yet I have heard at almost every meeting of Muslims I have been able to attend a condemnation of violence perpetrated in the name of Islam. I almost never hear a condemnation of violence committed in the name of Israel from certain Jewish leaders in KC, though many of my Jewish friends are horrified by the deaths that take place on both sides, and I deeply respect these Jewish friends for their affirmation of the worth of every innocent human in God's eyes. I wish this widespread sentiment within the Jewish community, unreflected in the JCRB/ADJ ads, were better known. I'll see what I can do about that. So thank you.

You wrote with understandable and admirable passion. I hope reminding you of these various factors will moderate your response as you reflect. I am sending a copy of this to [Name] who wrote me in a constructive manner. And I am very pleased that you took the trouble to write me directly, and I appreciate any opportunity for an open exchange of views. Because of [Name's] helpful critique, I have prepared, as I say, an apology about one point that I believe, on reflection, was poorly handled in this past Wednesday's column. And I certainly would welcome any additional frank exchange with you. I am ready to admit errors and do my best to correct them once they are pointed out to me. I believe democracy thrives with the free exchange of views, and that this process can be mutually corrective. I stand ready to do my part in the dialogue. I hope the length of this response, and the trouble I have taken in preparing it as soon as possible on receipt of your email, indicates the respect I have for you and the organization you represent.
    I certainly would be glad to meet you you in person, not for the purpose of defending myself, but for finding ways in which I can be useful, as I once was, to the official Jewish community. Again, thank you for writing.

Vern Barnet


467. 030813 THE STAR'S HEADLINE:
Sounding the alarm on divisive issues

A recent study says violence, discrimination and harassment against Muslims in the U.S. increased 15% last year. Protestant Senators have accused Catholic Senators of being anti-Catholic because they oppose the nomination of a Catholic to a federal judgeship. Christian conservatives complain about court rulings that "under God" does not belong in the Pledge of Allegiance. In Europe, anti-Semitism seems to be growing.
   Religion, which should bring us together, too often sets us against one another. While it is easy to see someone else's religious prejudice, it is hard to see our own.
   This may be the case with Mel Gibson. His forthcoming film about the death of Jesus has aroused Christian and Jewish concern that relations between the two faiths will be damaged by its portrayal of Jews.
   From articles and websites, friends in Kansas City have contacted me with alarm. The Star's movie critic, Bob Bulter, is following the controversy.
   The film, The Passion, may be released next spring on Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent.
   One may wonder whether the controversy has been created to publicize the movie, but all the articles I have read suggest serious problems with the film.
Scholars who have seen a script are dismayed by it. The New York Times quoted Sister Mary C. Boys, a professor at Union Theological Seminary in New York, as saying, "We're really concerned that this could be one of the great crises in Christian-Jewish relations."
   On the other hand, those who appear to have been predisposed toward Gibson's efforts, including those from the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, reportedly found a preview inspiring.
   Perhaps identifying the problems will cause Gibson to change the final version.
   Christian history includes violent images of both Jews and Muslims, as well as others. In the last century, Christians have worked hard to purge their liturgies and teachings of bias. But a popular movie which could renew the old "Christ killer" charge against Jews and reinforce persistent stereotypes will divide us, not bring us together. National leaders and local people of faith are right to sound an alert.

FEB 8 FOLLOW-UP REPORT [to the Interfaith Council] FROM VERN:

CHRONICLE STORY.-- At a lunch meeting January 24, I meet with Rick Hellman (editor of The Kansas City Jewish Chronicle), and Ahmed El-Sherif (a Muslim), Allan Abrams (Jewish), Diane Hershberger (KC Harmony executive director), and David Nelson (Council chair) about the "Blood Libel" story. Rick said he did not reply to my January 6 inquiry about the alleged statement until the Jan 17 story appeared in his paper because he did not want me to write about it before he did, even though he first learned about it from me, which he called a "tip." I was dismayed that my early effort to reach out to him was seen as competitive rather than cooperative.

   We discussed the fact that many Muslims were prepared to offer their condemnations, and that he knowingly chose not to include such statements in the story although his publication schedule provided no impediment to such inclusion. We discussed the opinion that the way the story was handled and labeled was incendiary and the opinion that the story unnecessarily placed the Muslim community on the defensive. He felt the story was appropriate for the front page and the way it was handled because of the issues it raises for the Jewish community, and said he would welcome follow-up material from the Muslim community. He felt there was no obligation on his part to seek out such condemnations to be published with the original breaking story. He could not explain why the story had been held for three months by the JCRB/AJC which apparently had done nothing with the story during that time. It had not contacted KC Harmony, NCCJ, the Interfaith Council, the Diversity Task Force, for example, and did not return my Jan  3, Jan 6, Jan 11, or Jan 13 inquiries until after the story was published.

   One of the purposes of the Interfaith Council is "to work with media and with educational and religious leaders and groups in promoting accurate and fair portrayal of the faiths."


A January 3 email complaint from Judy Hellman of the Jewish Community Relations Bureau about my column in the Kansas City Star on January 1 included the statement that "A local Imam spoke at an area college recently and stated that Israel and the Jews were responsible for the horrors of 9/11." I immediately requested information so I could verify this and condemn such a statement.

I wrote her again on January 6 and received no reply. That same day I also wrote her son, Rick Hellman, editor of The Jewish Chronicle, for any information he might have had. Before noon he wrote back, "This is the first I've heard about this. Thanks for bringing it to my attention. Of course, I would like to find out more about it. Can you tell me what college or person is allegedly involved, or any other information?" I responded by saying that the only information I had came from the source, whom I did not identify.

On January 8 I wrote rabbis and several others in the community for information. One responded with additional suggestions to contact, which I did. I wrote KU Hillel and a scholar at UMKC, I contacted a reporter at The Star. I spent a great deal of time trying to track down the story. No one had information. That same day I wrote Marvin Szneler, head of the JCRB/AJC. On Jan 11, I repeated my request for information to Judy. To date, I have not has any response from her.

I heard nothing from Rick until Jan 16, the night before publication, when he emailed me the text of the story. The next day I picked up the printed version and discovered it was the only story on the front page of the Jan 17 Jewish Chronicle.

On Jan 16 Marvin called my message-only phone, though he has been given my unlisted direct and cell phone numbers and used them in the past. I did not retrieve the message until Friday. His office was closed when I tried returning the call. Respecting the sabbath, I waited until Sunday, Jan 19, to return his call, at his home. I asked him when he learned about the story. He said in October. He said that when people don't want you to talk about something, you have to respect their wishes. Marvin turned the conversation into a rant against my January 1 column, a column which I wrote last April, and about many other things he has complained about before. Instead of seeking to solve a problem and move ahead, Marvin's tone was to rehearse grievances. He, like The Chronicle has done, demeans and belittles my efforts in the community. He praised the interfaith work done by the JCRB/AJC. He promised me to send me the JCRB/AJC statement following 9/11; to date he has not.

I do not understand why Rick's mother shared the charge first with me about the incident, and not with her own son, or why she would seem to expect me to condemn something that no one I contacted seemed to have any information about without giving me an opportunity to verify the information.

I do not understand why the report of a three- or four-months-old incident was the inflammatory front page story (the only story), why it was written in such a way that Jewish friends I spoke with thought it was about an incident that had just happened, and why the Islamic Society was given about a day to investigate the charges and to respond to Marvin's demands in the article (when will you stop beating your wife?) that the Muslim community has been spreading such anti-Semitic statements. I do not understand why my strenuous efforts to obtain information so that I could assist the Jewish community in obtaining Muslim condemnations of the alleged statement were ignored before publication of the article. I do not understand why the story has such urgency that it could not have been held for one more week while  the Muslim community had a chance to prepare an informed response. If as Marvin says, people who don't want you to talk about the story have to have their wishes respected, does this mean that when they do decide to talk, Muslims should be forced into immediate response?

[Professor] Milton Katz [who taught the class where the offensive statements were reported to have been made] told me it would not have bothered him in the least if the story had been delayed so that the Islamic Center had had more of an opportunity to consider a response, and that I could have assisted the Jewish community in bringing Muslims to condemn the statement in question. He was able to keep Rick from immediate publication by insisting that Rick have an opportunity to talk with students. He agreed that it would have been better if I had been called before the story appeared in order to enable adequate Muslim response. It is difficult for me to understand why Marvin did not respond to my inquiry so I could have helped.

If The Chronicle wants to be part of bridge-building, a headline such as "Muslims join Jews in condemning 9/11 accusation" would have been far better than the inflammatory "Blood Libel," front-page headline. Judy, Marvin and Rick all know of my desire to assist any religious community to work things out. The 3-month old incident reported in such a way to give the casual reader the impression that the incident was current, seems to have been designed to place Muslims on the defensive, to make them reactive, instead of using the opportunity to build a bridge. If Rick had the chance to contact Rabbi Abraham Cooper in Los Angels about the story and do internet research, why did he not contact me when I  was the one who apparently first alerted him to the story and have the contacts to make a joint Jewish-Muslim denunciation an effective way of settling the issue, instead of perpetuating and deepening suspicion about motives and hidden agendas? Instead of the focus being on the outrageous statement itself, poor journalism and poor community relations become the

5. FROM THE NEW YORK TIMES  October 28, 2003

A Willful Ignorance

*By PAUL KRUGMAN* [Jewish]

According to The New York Times, President Bush was genuinely surprised
to learn from moderate Islamic leaders that they had become deeply
distrustful of American intentions. The report on the "perception gap"
suggests that the leader of the war on terror has no idea how badly that
war -- which must, ultimately, be a war for hearts and minds -- is going.

Mr. Bush's ignorance may reflect his lack of curiosity: "The best way to
get the news," he says, "is from objective sources. And the most
objective sources I have are people on my staff." Two words: emperor,

But there's something broader going on: a sort of willful ignorance,
supposedly driven by moral concerns but actually reflecting domestic
politics. Surely it's important to understand how others see us, but a
new, post 9/11 version of political correctness has made it difficult
even to discuss their points of view. Any American who tries to go
beyond "America good, terrorists evil," who tries to understand ? not
condone ? the growing world backlash against the United States, faces
furious attacks delivered in a tone of high moral indignation. The
attackers claim to be standing up for moral clarity, and some of them
may even believe it. But they are really being used in a domestic
political struggle.

Last week I found myself caught up in that struggle. I wrote about why
Mahathir Mohamad, Malaysia's prime minister -- a clever if loathsome man
who adjusts the volume of his anti-Semitism depending on circumstances --
chose to include an anti-Jewish diatribe in his speech to an Islamic
conference. Sure enough, I was accused in various places not just of
"tolerance for anti-Semitism" (yes, I'm Jewish) but of being in Mr.
Mahathir's pay. Smear tactics aside, the thrust of the attacks was that
because anti-Semitism is evil, anyone who tries to understand why
politicians foment anti-Semitism -- and looks for ways other than
military force to combat the disease -- is an apologist for anti-Semitism
and is complicit in evil.

Yet that moral punctiliousness is curiously selective. Last year the
Bush administration, in return for a military base in Uzbekistan, gave
$500 million to a government that, according to the State Department,
uses torture "as a routine investigation technique," and whose president
has killed opponents with boiling water. The moral clarity police were
notably quiet.

Why is aiding a brutal dictator O.K., while trying to understand why
others don't trust us ? and doing something to create that trust --
isn't? Why won't the administration mollify Muslims by firing Lt. Gen.
William Boykin, whose anti-Islamic remarks have created vast ill will,
from his counterterrorism position? Why won't it give moderate Muslims a
better argument against the radicals by opposing Ariel Sharon's
settlement policy, when a majority of Israelis think that some
settlements should be abandoned, and even Israeli military officers have
become bitterly critical of Mr. Sharon?

The answer is that in these cases politics takes priority over the war
on terror. Moderate Muslims would have more faith in America's good
intentions if there were at least the appearance of a distinction
between the U.S. and the Sharon government ? but the administration
seeks votes from those who think that supporting Israel means supporting
whatever Mr. Sharon does. It's sheer folly to keep General Boykin in his
present position, but as Howard Fineman writes in a Newsweek
Web-exclusive column, the administration doesn't want "to make a martyr
of a man who depicts himself as a Christian Soldier, marching off to war."

Muslims are completely wrong to think that the U.S. is engaged in a war
against Islam. But that misperception flourishes in part because the
domestic political strategy of the Bush administration -- no longer able
to claim the Iraq war was a triumph, and with little but red ink to show
for its economic plans -- looks more and more like a crusade. "Election
Boils Down to a Culture War" was the title of Mr. Fineman's column. But
the analysis was all about abortion and euthanasia, and now we hear that
opposition to gay marriage will be a major campaign theme. This isn't a
culture war -- it's a religious war.

Which brings me back to my starting point: we'll lose the fight against
terror if we don't make an effort to understand how others think. Yet
because of a domestic political struggle that seems ever more centered
on religion, such attempts at understanding are shouted down.

6. critic [2003 Nov 5]  [appeared in The Star Nov 9]

  for publication in Star, sent in last week

  Huston Smith, as quoted by Rev. Vern Barnet in his column of October 29, says that "resentment of the West in the Muslim world arises in part from the way the West conquered it and chopped it up into artificial states like Iraq and Israel and from the West's support for corrupt and oppressive regimes."

  The idea that Israel is an "artificial" state is just a half-step away from saying that it really should never have been created in the first place and has no right to exist. But when such a quote appears in a column by Rev. Barnet, who never misses an opportunity to smear Israel, this is no great surprise. Perhaps he has forgotten how to critique those who rejected the Oslo accords and the Wye agreements?

  Smith complains that the American Jewish community used to question Israeli settlements, but "now it is silent." Not really. The debate in America about the wisdom of certain settlements--and certainly in Israel--continues actively. Jews tend to be the most self-critical people around, a characteristic which most people find refreshing. It's just that there is a lot MORE noise about the evils of terrorism. And why was Israel such a problem to the Muslim world before the Six-Day War, when there were no settlements? But Rev. Barnet and Huston Smith can't find room for that in their analysis without blaming Israelis, the victims of terrorism and the genocidal education which pervades much of the Muslim world.

  Such foolishness does not promote interfaith understanding, let alone growth within the Muslim community.

  Rabbi Daniel Horwitz
  President, Rabbinical Association of Kansas City

6. response [2003 Nov 5]

Dear Danny,
    Thank you for sending me this copy of your correspondence to The Star.
    The last time you wrote The Star, after you comment appeared, you explained that you meant to send it to me in advance of its publication, so I appreciate this advance courtesy. It is thoughtful of you because I think we both want to maintain our personal working relationship even while we may have public disagreements.
    Perhaps you saw my note in my column today, sent to The Star last Friday, adding the information that indeed Jews are discussing the settlements.
    I am sorry that you feel I never miss "an opportunity to smear Israel." You will note in the column you complain about that I also report Smith's view that violence has recently been nurtured in Islam. I do not believe I am slanted one way or the other; I am an equal opportunity offender; but obviously you would be quite likely to disagree, as you do.
    I do understand the history of Oslo and Wye differently than you, and perhaps clarification about what actually happened would be useful for us both.
    The purpose of the three paragraphs which trouble you was not to present an analysis of who is blameworthy in this horrible conflict but to explain to my readers what Smith sees as at least part of the reason that the West is resented in the Muslim world, and to explain a problem in interfaith dialogue. (If any blame is to be implied from Smith's characterization of certain nations as resulting from colonial decisions, I would think the blame would go to the colonists, not to the newly created states themselves. As you have elsewhere pointed out, the United States could also be considered "artificial," but that does not mean it is therefore illegitimate. You may be unaware of my may public statements supporting the right of Israel to exist. Perhaps you are eager to run distances with my words when the words themselves do not travel so well to the destinations to which you seek to take them.)
   The fact that you believe that I never miss an opportunity to "smear" Israel may be an example of the raised rhetoric to which Smith was referring, as perhaps the inflation or stretching of my words, or Smith's, to mean something more clearly worthy of attack.
    It seems there is some difficulty in distinguishing between an explanation and a justification. I might explain why some Arabs mistrust our national policies without saying that mistrust is justified. Seeking to understand another's view does not mean promoting it.
    I hope these distinctions will be useful as the conversation continues.
    I am very pleased that your letter, should it appear, will help to clarify and advertise the fact that the settlements remain a topic of discussion within the Jewish community. I am always glad when readers such as yourself take the trouble to enter into public dialogue about issues that should concern all of us.
    With continuing best personal wishes,
    And with respect for the Rabbinical Association which you head,

7. writer

You are more generous with these critics than I would be. I think your diplomacy will help you take the high road. Your replies are detailed and respectful. My tendency is to focus on the real flaw in the thinking of the critics, something you are not, I don't think, comfortable doing. Here is a sample of how I might target the problem in their thinking.

"Criticizing the particular *behaviors* and *policies* of Israel or the Palestinians or the Americans or the French or the KU Jawhawk basketball team is distinct from criticizing their identity, their rights, their racial or national or cultural characteristics. I don't like many of Sharon's violent policies towards Palestinians and his settlement policies in the West Bank. I don't like the Hamas and Islamic Jihad policy of attacking Israeli civilians, either in the illegal settlements or in (pre-1967) Israel. I think both particular sets of policies and the behaviors they lead to are immoral and counterproductive. Anti-semitic means to oppose Jews. I am not anti-Semitic. I am anti-illegal-violence. The difference is crucial."

I don't think my bluntly stated behavior/identity distinctions nor your diplomatic explanations will convince those who don't want to make such distinctions out of blind loyalty.

[a writer]

8. writer

I appreciate your notes and comments on the recent condition we live in. I am concerned that our Jewish friends in the faith community, a tradition I respect, are too sensitive to see the point. What is happening in Gaza, Rafah, and Jeneen and many other places in the West Bank and Gaza may not get headline news in our mainstream media, but indeed it is reaching millions of people via the internet and alternative ways.
   It is difficult to have a healthy discussion when one side is sensitive to any form of constructive criticism. Instead we may keep the superficial relation going on and not do each other a good service and face up to our obligations and responsibilities towards our community, our country, and most of all our children.
    I would like for our children to remember us in a good way represented in the good life we leave behind us. When you become so protective of your child to the point of not accepting any constructive cretinism from anyone, I think your child is endangered by your own excessive love. It is also a sign of maturity and confidence to have a healthy exchange of views and ideas.

With sincere respect,
[a writer]

9. [published in The Star Nov 9, 2003]

Once again Vern Barnet is telling partial truths in his ongoing Israel-bashing crusade.

Certainly he does not morally equate Israel, a democratic country with a free press, with Iraq, a country until recently under the control of a corrupt dictator who threatened to kill all who opposed him.

Barnet keeps forgetting that:

1) The Jews have been a continual tenant of this area since biblical times. They made their entrance into the land of Israel with Joshua about 1200 B.C., a few years before the "West conquered it and chopped it up into artificial states."

2) The U.N. 1947 partition of Palestine gave both the Palestinians and Israelis land. Had not nine Arab countries launched a joint attack on the newborn state of Israel, the Palestinians would have had their own country 55 years ago. Further, if their Arab brothers had acted in 1948 to relieve the Palestinians' plight, then these unfortunates would not, for the past two generations, have been living in camps of squalor and poverty.

3) Finally: If the Palestinians put down their weapons, there would be peace; if the Israelis put down their weapons, they would be annihilated.

Devra Lerner
Prairie Village

9. response

Dear Devra,
    I appreciate your attempt, published in today's Star, to clarify the misunderstandings that have arisen from Huston Smith's remarks quoted in my Oct 20 column.
    Specifically, I certainly do not -- nor does Huston Smith -- equate Israel and Iraq. I am puzzled how  such an interpretation might be made from a simple reading of the column in which Smith is explaining part of the reason why the Muslim world resents the West. Of course an explanation is not a justification, and seeking to understand how others view us is not an act of agreement with them. As a  matter of fact, you will note that the very column you find troublesome also notes that Smith says that violence has been nurtured within Islam.
    If you would be interested in viewing other critics of the column and my more detailed responses to them, please visit .
    While I certainly regret the impression that I do not support Israel and the forgetfulness of my many services to the Jewish community, I am glad that the column apparently has provoked interest in the kind of  discussion that should occur in a democracy. So even though I do feel your letter implies misrepresentations of my views, I am glad that you wrote and hope that a discussion from mutual respect, though perhaps not total agreement, can go forward.
    In for any reason you are unable to access the website  I mention above, I include below a statement of my views in response to the charge that I am anti-Semitic or anti-Israel. Certainly I hope you will continue to feel free to question anything I have said or written, either by seeking private clarification from me or by raising issues in the public forum.
    Thank you for your efforts to bring clarity to the discussion and for your own significant contributions to interfaith understanding. It is always a pleasure to recall the beauty and power of your work with children's music.
    With every good wish,

10. Confusing Criticism with Anti-Semitism
[Please note especially pargraphs in green.]
IPFFriday By M.J. Rosenberg, Washington, DC, October 31, 2003 wIssue #156

I will never forget my first trip to Israel. I was a teenager and excited beyond words at the very idea of being in the land that had for me, until then, existed only in my dreams.

For me, Israel “began” as soon as I saw the El Al plane that would take me there.  With the blue and white Star of David emblazoned on its tail, the plane itself symbolized the most important thing about Israel: its role as sanctuary for Jews.  Not only did Israel exist, but a fleet of jets could whisk us there if some disaster threatened in the diaspora.

That is why I was disheartened to read in Yediot Achronoth that two weeks ago, El Al began plastering white stickers over the flag on some flights to cover the plane’s  Israeli identity. “In a nocturnal operation, El Al workers covered the Israeli flag and its insignia with special stickers. From the ground the planes appears almost entirely white, with no identifying marks,” Yediot reported.

The reason for this precaution is that El Al, the safest and most security conscious airline in the world, wants to make it more difficult for terrorists with shoulder-carried ground-to-air missiles to know when an El Al plane is taking off or coming in for landing.

It is a sensible measure and one that will probably need to be taken from time to time.  It is also one of the simpler precautions El Al is taking. It is well-known in the airline industry that El Al is also employing measures to ensure that its planes, unlike any other passenger planes except Air Force One and Two, have the ability to deter a missile  attack.

Nevertheless, it is a sad symbol of the times.  Naturally, the people to blame are the terrorists who would not think twice about taking out a civilian airliner when and if they had the chance.  But it also points to the horrors of the Mideast status quo.  Israel has been in a struggle with the Arabs for a half century but, in all that time, El Al perceived no need to disguise its identity.  Only now does it need to fly incognito.

Of course, the same situation that has produced extra caution at El Al has also made Israel a fearful place over the past three years.
In the first nine months of 2000, when Oslo was in effect, only one Israeli died in acts of terror.  But since then, following the termination of Israeli-Palestinian Authority security cooperation, 900 Israelis have been killed.  When traveling abroad, Israelis are told to avoid speaking Hebrew, as a safety measure, and non-Israeli Jews are urged to consider hiding evidence of their Jewish identities.

All this is well-reported. There is a resurgence of anti-Semitism worldwide. It’s ugly and vicious and, like any and all forms of racism, must be combated.

But it is also obvious that some of the danger Jews are now confronting derives not from traditional anti-Semitism but from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  Look at France.   Most of the violent acts of hate that have been directed at Jews there come from French Arabs (Moroccans and Algerians, mostly).

They are directly linked to feelings produced by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and have  little if any connection to that hatred – once common in Europe and so homicidal – based on the idea of Jews as “Christ-killers” and members of a “perfidious race” (i.e. traditional anti-Semitism.)  Certainly, ugly old fashioned anti-Semitism still exists, and the new strain,  exported from the Middle East, is particularly virulent.

But it’s wrong to confuse it with the strong feelings against Israeli policies that have emerged among some mainstream Europeans.  These only became widespread after the outbreak of the intifada.  During the years of the peace process, Yitzhak Rabin was the most popular foreign leader in most European countries and Shimon Peres remains popular. Obviously, anti-Semites do not distinguish between Jews let alone Israelis.

The line separating legitimate criticism of Israeli policies from anti-Semitism is only crossed when criticism of Israel moves from opposition to Israeli policies to calling for the eradication of Israel as a state. After all, the usual stance in criticizing foreign governments is to call for reform or even revolution. But calling for Israel’s annihilation is obviously anti-Semitic; if it isn’t, the word has no meaning.

Thankfully, that is not what most of the critics are saying.  They are criticizing Israel’s policies -- usually its policies in the West Bank and Gaza -- not its existence.  In this they are joined by many, many Israelis. According to today’s newspapers both the IDF chief-of-staff and Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom are saying that Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians are damaging not only to Palestinians, but to Israel’s security.

Sometimes criticism demonstrates more care than blind “support” does.

This is something American Jews need to understand. If they did, they would not hail as Israel's "stalwart friends" those politicians who cheer on Israeli policies which are harming Israel.  Nor would they honor Members of Congress who introduce or co-sponsor those “Israel: right or wrong resolutions” which demonize Palestinians, offer no ideas for a solution, and help keep both people locked in their current predicament.

That isn't friendship and it's not support. It's just politics.

Israel’s real friends are those who try to help Israel and its leaders end the cycle of violence.
They simply cannot tolerate an El Al that has to plaster over its national colors.  They understand that permitting the deadly stalemate to continue is tantamount to giving up on Israel. And they are telling President Bush that he needs to "ride herd" on Israelis and Palestinians --as he promised to -- to achieve that two-state vision he always talks about.

Prime Minister Sharon said yesterday that he was ready to negotiate with Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia. The Bush administration needs to make that happen and Congress needs to encourage Bush, rather than threaten him if he dares show leadership.

MJ Rosenberg (email:, Director of Policy Analysis for Israel Policy Forum, is a long time Capitol Hill staffer and former editor of AIPAC’s Near East Report.  If you have colleagues or friends who would appreciate receiving this weekly letter, send an e-mail to

The views expressed in IPF Friday are those of MJ Rosenberg and not necessarily Israel Policy Forum.

11. critic: The Kansas City Jewish Chronicle
full page "Opinion" by Rick Hellman, the editor, 
November 14, 2003  [ 1700 words, full page]

[Vern's response below]

Vern Barnet, the "Faith and Beliefs" columnist of The Kansas City Star, felt compelled last week to post a long (9,806 words) article on his Web site titled "Is Vern Anti-Semitic?"

Based on my years of acquaintance with Barnet, including numerous e-mail exchanges and personal meetings, the answer is clearly no, if by anti-Semitism you mean viscerally hating Jews and believing we are spawn of the devil.

Rather, Barnet has established a pattern of insensitivity to Jewish history and current concerns, certainly regarding Israel. He has a supercilious attitude, in which holding Israel to a twisted double standard is couched as concern.

To put it another way, Barnet, who proclaims himself a supporter of Israel's right to exist, is one only in the most theoretical sense: Whatever the Jewish state does to defend herself militarily, he objects to.

He's the type who constantly "understands" and "explains" the "root causes" of terrorism, while ignoring Israeli justification for its actions. Barnet believes there is a moral equivalence between the military actions of a democratic state and the crimes of the Arab terror gangs.

Furthermore, Barnet almost entirely refuses to expose - even to acknowledge or investigate - the role that Islamic theology - emanating from some of the highest authorities in the Muslim world, and not just Osama and some obscure, radical imams - plays in promoting the suicide terrorism acted out in the United States on 9/11 and in the streets of Israel for the past decade.

It's reached a boiling point, as witness Barnet's Web posting and the two letters to The Kansas City Star this past Sunday excoriating him - one from the head of the local Rabbinical Association, Ohev Sholom's Daniel Horwitz.

There was another, even harsher letter that wasn't published in The Star. It was from Rabbi Alan Cohen of Congregation Beth Shalom to Mark Zeiman, The Star's editor.

"Whenever he (Barnet) deals with the Middle East, he becomes very political," Rabbi Cohen wrote. ". ... I only hear the voices of the Palestinians and sorrow for their plight.  I only hear criticism of Israel and never an acknowledgment of the acts of Islamic militants and terrorists against Jewish civilians.

"Please do not continue to allow him to hide his political views under the guise of religious expression.  If you are unwilling to make this change, then a voice should be provided on a regular basis that would offer a balance to Vern's one-sided view."

Bending over backwards
Ironically, the column that drew the recent harsh responses and prompted the "Is Vern Anti-Semitic?" posting was perhaps the first in which the Rev. Barnet has included the opinion (not in his own words; but he often tries to have others mouth his thoughts in his column) that "recently violence has been nurtured within Islam."

But, of course, that couldn't be included, much less expanded upon, without a longer, "balancing" putdown of the Jewish state.

So Barnet continued quoting author Huston Smith, who was in town last month, as saying that "resentment of the West in the Muslim world arises in part from the way the West conquered it and chopped it up into artificial states like Iraq and Israel..." He continued, quoting Smith, "Where formerly the American Jewish community questioned Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories, 'now it is silent' as Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, 'by his actions seems determined to force the Muslims into such a desperate situation that they will leave and Israel will take all the land.' "

This is the kind of gratuitous slap at Israel that has critics complaining, in the words of the letter from Rabbinical Association head Daniel Horwitz of Ohev Sholom, that Barnet "never misses an opportunity to smear Israel."

Let's look at Barnet's columns just this past summer. On June 18, apropos of nothing in particular, he wrote about applying "a psychological model called the 'Karpman drama triangle' ... to what has been happening in the Mideast. Jews, recalling the Nazi Holocaust, resolve never again to play the role of victim and respond to what they see (emphasis mine) as an Arab threat against their nation by switching to the attack mode while thinking of themselves as victims."

Rabbi Horwitz was so offended that he responded with an "As I See It" column the Star published a week later titled "Threat to Israel is real."

On July 30, Barnet used his column to interview a Palestinian Christian, Fahed Abu-Akel, who spoke in town and whose "perspective is shaped by the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, which began when he was 4 years old and living in the Galilean village of Kuffer-Yassif. Israeli troops drove his family from their home. For safety, his father led him and his seven siblings to a mountain refugee camp. But his mother refused to go. 'This is our home, our land and our church. If they want to kill me, they will need to kill me in my own home,' she said. She wasn't killed, and she didn't have to move."

Beg your pardon, Vern? She wasn't killed, and she didn't have to move? Then why print her words in your column, except to smear Israel? Why not talk, as The Chronicle did this summer, to some local Jews who were among the hundreds of thousands forced from their Arab homelands after Israeli independence?

And there are other examples of bending over backwards to smear Israel in Barnet's Kansas City Star columns over the past couple of years.

Burning bridges
If all he did was to continually slam Israel, the Rev. Barnet might not have raised such a fuss in the Jewish community. But when combined with his apologetics for Islam and the unhelpful role he has personally played in several instances of conflict between local Muslims and Jews, this is what makes it possible to seriously question whether Barnet is, in fact, an anti-Semite.

Part of Barnet's 10,000-word Web posting involves me and The Jewish Chronicle, including some misstatements of fact that I won't bother refuting here. Readers may recall our "Blood libel" story from January 2003, recounting an October 2002 incident in which one of the leaders of the local Islamic Society of Greater Kansas City visited a Kansas City Art Institute history class and told students that Israelis, using remote control, flew those planes into the World Trade Center on 9/11.

You'd think Adnan Bayazid's clear admission that he made such remarks would be enough to elicit a condemnation from the Kansas City Interfaith Council, which is a creation of Barnet's CRES (formerly the Center for Religious Experience and Study; now just an acronym). But no, Barnet was angry I hadn't given him a chance to put his particular spin on the incident in The Star before I could publish my unrefuted, unchallenged report in The Chronicle.

And so a condemnation was proposed at the next Interfaith Council meeting. It was a brief condemnation - "balanced," as is Barnet's modus operandi - with a condemnation of "efforts to demean Islam or any tradition because a few commit horrors in the name of their faith" and a slap at the Chronicle for reporting the incident. Rabbi Daniel Horwitz's principled objection tabled the motion.

In Barnet's twisted view, it was the Chronicle's article that was "inflammatory," and not the imam's blood libel. No wonder the question of his anti-Semitism is an open one.

And there have been at least two other run-ins between Barnet and local rabbis, revolving around Sept. 11 and a subsequent commemoration of that cataclysmic act of Islamic terrorist evil.

One year after the tragic events of 9/11, I personally met with Barnet to urge him to consider that support for such terrorism was  (and is) widespread in the Islamic world, including among its most respected theologians, such as Mohammed Tantawi and Yousef Qaradawi. He refused to accept some papers I tried to give him with English translations of Arabic remarks from Muslim leaders justifying suicide bombing. (If you're interested, check the totally accurate Barnet told me he didn't have time for that sort of thing.

Apologist for Islam
Earlier this year, Barnet attempted to whitewash historic, official Muslim oppression of Jews by attacking the work of Bat Ye'or, author of "The Dhimmi: Jews and Christians Under Islam." (See for more information) Barnet did this in the form of two columns featuring visiting university professors Ross Brann of Cornell and John Esposito of Georgetown. Except that, despite Barnet's best efforts, the two never managed (or even really tried) to refute Ye'or's theses. Rather, they sneered about her lack of academic standing and claimed she distorted the historical record. Well, distortion is in the eyes of the beholder. For instance, Barnet quoted Brann on April 2 as pointing to the example of "Shmuel Ha-Nagid, who rose to become a vizier in Muslim-occupied Grenada," as an example of Muslim tolerance. I wrote to Bat Ye'or about this, and she replied:
"It is interesting that Ross Brann cited Shmuel Ha-Nagid as an example of Muslim-Jewish good relations," she wrote. "His son, Joseph Ha-Nagid, took over from his father, but in the great massacre of 1066 he was killed and all the Jewish community perished with him. .... A good example of toleration and harmonious relations!"

So, let's review.  Vern Barnet constantly vilifies Israel while steadfastly ignoring the violence, implacability and corruption of the forces arrayed against her. He downplays the Koranic injunctions and Islamic traditions that have led to the wholesale oppression of Jews by Muslim regimes. (Remember, there is no separation of mosque and state in Islamic law.) And he tries to minimize the current extent of radicalism and support for terrorism among Muslims worldwide.

At some points in his long Web site posting, Barnet implies that terrorism against Israel is justified by Israel's occupation of the disputed territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. But in another place, he implies that, even within its pre-67 borders, Israel has given Arab Muslims reason to attack her.

Barnet always manages to "understand" those who attack Israel; never those who defend her.

Is it any wonder that Barnet has so few friends left in the Jewish community, and certainly among its leaders - those who know him best?

[Vern's response and Vern's answer below]

11a. comment on The Chronicle story above

©Kansas City Jewish Chronicle 2003 Reader Opinions

Date: Nov, 15 2003
    Your editorial has several distortions from history. Shmuel Ha-Nagid was the vazier and commander of the armies of the Granada's Muslim king. It is interesting to note that most of the conflicts were with the neighboring Muslim kingdom of Seville. Joseph took over in 1056. He had most qualities of his father except he was not humble and was born rich which did not go well with other jealous princes who planned for his murder in 1066. This was a dip in Jewish- Muslim relations. After Joseph's death his literature was circulated all over the world and many of his deciples became rabbis in Spain. Jewish- Muslim good relations flourished once again.
    Rev. Vern Barnet has great scholarly knowledge of Jewish- Muslim good relations. He has even taken a study tour of Spain. Your name calling: "Bending Over Backwards" "Burning Bridges" and "Apologist for Islam" are not only insulting to Rev. Barnet and his selfless efforts and work for interfaith dialogue but also to majority of Muslims and Jews who are fair minded and have built good relations in Kansas City community.


11b. comment on The Chronicle story above

©Kansas City Jewish Chronicle 2003 Reader Opinions

Date: Nov, 16 2003

This article and the above response are very thought provoking. My comments are mainly in response to the above letter. I agree that dialogue is good.
    I went off to college as a liberal seeking justice for all races and religions. When I encountered the bitter taste of rejection and experienced the hate and resentment of my efforts to communicate when it was revealed that I was Jewish, I recoiled to listen and observe. Well, it is time for those who are frustrated with the Jews who don't fit their liberal mold to listen and observe.
    And, a good place to start might be to find out the details of the deaths and injuries of the worshippers and bystanders who were targeted in Turkey yesterday. These were people targeted because they are Jews. This was another of hundreds of murderous acts that have happened because of the teachings of one religion about people who practice another faith. To me, this criminal religion driven hate and hypocrisy is worse than the crimes of Hitler, Stalin, and most types of slavery. Of course those were horrible chapters of human history, but at least they were not committing those crimes under the direction of their religious leaders and teachers to do the work of "God".
    Islam has taken humanity to a new low. Congratulations. It will only get worse until Moslems themselves become ashamed and stop it.
    Some of us Jews aren't suckers for every liberal point of view anymore. We know when our "friends" are not speaking out against the wrongs of their own kind with the same frequency and vehemence as they do about the violence against the Palestinians in the "occupied" (war spoils) territories.
   We are a tiny minority that is villified, threatened, and killed with a frequency and to a degree that is intolerable to this reader. Look at a map of the Middle East and look at the population numbers. It is time for Jews to respond with appreciation toward their allies such as the conservative Christian community who support Jews and Israel as it is time to back off from fruitless efforts to satisfy the unquenchable thirst for support and apologies demonstrated by certain racial minorities who have never been there when Jews needed them. It is sad. But, it is true.

Leonard Moss

11c. comment on The Chronicle story above

©Kansas City Jewish Chronicle 2003 Reader Opinions

Date: Nov, 17 2003
I only wish the time and energy some of you spend in to a coordinated effort to discredit one's opinion and argue the past, could be spent in finding common grounds to build the relationships rather than harping on differences to keep the hatred alive. This attitude of the leadership is clearly a disservice to the majority of people who are looking for a peaceful co-existence here in United States. There are many atrocities from both sides in the continuing Israeli-Palestinian conflict throughout its history which could be revisited to continue such arguments for ever providing no purpose other than to incite people to hate each other. While it is important to learn the roots and maintain the identity, it is time to look forward and encourage building relationships instead of name-calling and condemning each other.

Javid Talib

11d. comment on The Chronicle story above

©Kansas City Jewish Chronicle 2003 Reader Opinions

Date: Nov, 15 2003
I am gravely disappointed at the limited polarity of opinion that has become acceptable in contemporary Jewish thought such as that exemplified by the recent rabbinical critique of Rev. Dr. Vern Barnett. I mourn the loss of my life-long experiences with Jews and informed appreciation of Jewish culture as one that pursued Truth and Justice; not just for Jews. I grew up on the Pennsylvania and South Jersey sides of the Philadelphia area since my birth 49 years ago. I had good relations with my Jewish friends, neighbors and relatives, especially my great-aunt's husband and my mother's second husband, even though I am a seventh-generation Muslim American. As a Muslim Imam, prayer leader, with advanced Islamic education, I resent your distorted portrayal of Islam. Since my family is from Illorin, Nigeria, and the Tsalagi (Cherokee) Nation of the United States, I also am a real African American, who wants a return to the pre-1967 days of Black-Jewish struggle for Truth and Justice. I miss the considerate mutuality of our prior relationship and hear little or nothing to match my loss from the Jewish side. Vern adds a refreshing voice to the poles of our conversation and provides a vital bridge between our religious and racial communities that helps us both to be whole.

Taalib-ud-Din al-Ansare

11. Vern's response

     With the extensive material already posted above, a further detailed response may be unnecessary. If anyone has specific questions that cannot be answered by the statement below (posted before The Chronicle opinion appeared) or the documentation presented above, I will do my best to provide a prompt reply.

  Those who care about Israel, including even me. Vern Barnet, have every right, indeed a duty, to express their concern for Israel in appropriate ways when they believe it is being led to futher injury from those who wish to destroy Israel.

My Answer [placed on this website the week before The Jewish Chronicle "Opinion" above appeared -- see two paragraphs above]
 From the earliest age, I learned deep respect for Jews and the Jewish tradition from my mother's teaching and example. My interest in interfaith work grew out of appreciation for the wealth of Jewish wisdom.
    I have always supported the State of Israel's right to exist and to be secure against its enemies. Despite Zionist controversies and the fear that the spiritual meaning attached to "Israel" would be demeaned by a political reality, Israel has become important and cherished not only for Jews but for many non-Jews, including myself.
   I distinguish support for Israel from support for the provocative and ineffective Sharon administration. I deplore the growth of settlements and other counter-productive methods of dealing with Palestinian violence. I believe that the politicization of the Jewish faith occurring in America is dangerous to Jews and to the American ideal of the separation of religion and government, and that it is my duty to my Jewish friends to say so.
    I believe Palestinians have the right to be safe and secure in their own state with compensation for the deprivations and sufferings they also have experienced, as Jews and others expelled from hostile nations should also be compensated.
    I believe violence from either side too often begets further violence, and that constructing peace is more important than continuing the blame game.  Arafat is no Nelson Mandela or Gandhi, but then neither is Sharon. While it may be possible, and even necessary, to identify contributing causes of  violence and the horrors received by innocent people, violence cannot be excused. To be absolutely clear, I condemn all violence.
    I have a deep regard for Islam, and resent the highjacking of that faith by murderers, suicide-bombers, and others who dishonor this noble tradition. I resent the distortion of Muslim history and mischaracterization of the present by some area Christian and Jewish leaders, one of whom told me face to face, "I would like to meet one Muslim who is not a terrorist."
    I have publicly and privately criticized both Jews and Muslims in KC (not to mention Christians!) when I felt their behavior failed to represent the dignity of their faiths.
    I have received both awards and criticism from within all these communities.

    I am glad to be able to participate in meaningful discussions about religious issues because I believe that both spiritual life and democracy mature through exercising an open exchange of viewpoints. I reserve the right, therefore, to learn and to change my mind, and to be honest about where my thinking stands at any one point, and I accord others a similar regard.
    I understand that those with deep and honorable commitments to protect what they hold dear can on occasion read with undue haste what others carefully write, and that preconceptions and apprehensions can lead to distortions of the actual language. I know that any writer, including myself, may not at all times be aware that certain words or phrasings in certain contexts may be interpreted by certain readers in ways the writer did not intend. For my part, I find it very helpful if readers will point out such problems so that such misunderstandings can be clarified.  Name-calling may not be a very useful tool for processing concerns.
   An apology on one point that has been raised appears in the subsequent column, Nov 5. While the Oct 29 column was an accurate report of Huston Smith's comments about impediments to interfaith relations, I believe it would have been more constructive to have found a way to include a note that there is a discussion within the Jewish community about the Israeli settlement expansion. I am committed to do my best to be fair and always invite correction. It is easiest when reasoning and evidence are offered.

Vern Barnet, 2003

The following statement was prepared at the request of representatives of the Jewish community who told me that they think I am reluctant to condemn Palestinian violence because I fear I might lose Muslim friends. This statement was a good-faith effort to express my support for Israel, its security, and its peace, with all parties at the meeting given a subsequent chance to make suggestions, which we incorporated. Following the issuance of the statement, the response given in red below was made.
   1. Perhaps because of my lack of precision  in expressing myself, some misunderstandings of my views about Israel have arisen. I hope this statement will be useful in clarifying them.
   2. The creation of Israel was important in world history as an admirable effort to create a just society. In Jewish history, it expresses a hope for a place where Jews can be safe from the discrimination, pogroms, and other horrors Jews have known for centuries, undeniably revealed in the Holocaust.
   3. It is essential, then, that Israel be safe and secure. Not only is this important for Israel and for Jews in diaspora, but it is ultimately important for the world.
   4. Terrorism and violence must be condemned and, better, prevented. Exactly how this can be achieved may be a political question, but no one should doubt my commitment to this end.
   5. I hope my work for interfaith understanding might be considered in this light.
   6. Specifically, I have heard the statement that I am reluctant to condemn Palestinian violence because I fear I might lose Muslim friends. My response is simple and unqualified. I have no Muslim friends who do not condemn Palestinian violence. Any person of any faith who  promotes violence would not be a friend of mine. I have condemned violence in the past, I do so now, and I will continue to do so. I condemn all violence, provoked and unprovoked, and I call on all peoples to use only  non-violent methods in response to attacks and oppression. It is especially important for peoples whose members use violence to do all in their power to condemn and prevent violence.
   7. In discussions seeking peace, it is important for all parties to distinguish identifying the possible causes of  violence from justifying violence. Violence cannot be justified.
   8. Jews in Kansas City have played and continue to play a significant role not only in the life and leadership of our community but also particularly in the vision of American religious pluralism. I wish to honor this as part of the genius of the Jewish faith. I am grateful for the many Jewish friendships which have blessed my life in Kansas City.
Vern Barnet, 2005 Nov 7



        Here are my impressions on how I think folks will read your statement:
        Israel's creation as an "admirable effort" is condescending at best.
        You write "call on all peoples to use only non-violent methods in response to attacks and oppression" is an attack on Israel's right to defend herself, and shows a lack of understanding that this is not a cycle of violence, it is campaign of terror upon innocent victims by state supported political entities against women and children of a democratic nation.  That is the unfortunate reality recognized by the majority, including the KC community.
        This might be an opportunity for you to explain why the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been your focus, why you chose to write about "moral clarity" by Israeli leaders, more than the Chechnya conflict, India-Pakistan conflict, human rights violations in Iran, Iraq, Egypt, anti-Semitism in Europe, etc.
        Your "lack of precision in expressing" yourself is disingenuous. You have made your points very clear, over and over in written dialogue with many folks.
        You do not mention anything about Israel in "Old Testament" history, which is acknowledged and used by the overwhelming majority of Christians and Jews.
        I am also unclear what the definition of the "genius" of the Jewish faith means.

An Analysis of the September 16, 2001 Incident
  [prepared Sept 30, 2003, on the basis of contemporaneous documentation]
[2001] Rosh Hashanah 5762; The Terrorist Attack
Rabbi Mark H. Levin, D.H.L., D.D.
Congregation Beth Torah, Overland Park, Kansas

sermon excerpt

"Make no mistake:  the battle for American hearts and minds is well underway.  It is a battle we cannot afford to lose.  We must make it clear to all that thousands of American lives were obliterated in an act of unjustified terrorism leveled not at Jews but at the United States; it was not a religious act but a political act; not because of Israel but because America stands for democracy, pluralism, and everything that fundamentalist, militant Islam and their minions abhor. How will you react if a coworker claims the blood bath occurred because the United States takes the side of Israel?  That very thing happened to me yesterday in a supposedly non-political prayer service set up by Congressman Moore, where a Palestinian spokesperson, who had been told not to be political, unjustly exploited the opportunity to claim that the tragedy involved the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.  The next step would be to blame the power of American Jews, then us personally."  [bolding and red added]

September 16, 2001 Program

The context for Levin's sermon

For years I had worked amicably with Rabbi Mark Levin and other rabbis. Levin was a member of the Jewish Christian Muslim Dialogue Group which I coordinated. He has been a progressive leader and supporter of interfaith work. I thought our personal relationship was of friendship and collegiality. In fact I had excellent relations with the official leadership of the Jewish community. The Jewish Community Relations Bureau had in fact presented me with a "Distinguished Community Service Award" when David Goldstein was the executive of that organization. That good spirit of cooperation and  trust evaporated when Marvin Szneler succeeded Goldstein.
     On September 16, the first Sunday after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, I arranged and led an observance at the Carlson Center's Yardley Hall at Johnson County Community College. An image  of the  program appears in the column left. You will note that I had arranged for Greetings from Christian, Jewish, and Muslim leaders near the beginning of the program. After the program, and after numerous congratulations from many individuals of every faith in the audience, I wanted to be sure I thanked all the participants. I found Levin and Szneler, and before I could thank Levin, he jabbed his finger at me and shouted that I should have controlled Ahmed El-Sherif. I did not know what he meant, but I immediately apolgized for any failing about which I was eager to learn,, found El-Sherif, and he apologized for anything he might have said and wanted to clear up any misunderstanding. I had to push TV cameras away from the dispute because this was not the message of mutual respect that the program itself overwhelmingly conveyed. 

Errors and comments, from minor to major

 1. The event was an observance, not a prayer service. The Interfaith Council is very careful  to be inclusive, and the word “service” is not used on the program. The word “prayer” is used only once, and only as an option under the heading, “A MOMENT OF SILENCE for prayer, meditation, or reflection” in order to be inclusive.

 2. It is imprecise to say that the event was “set up” by Congressman Moore. He had no responsibility for shaping the event, selecting the speakers, designing the program, arranging the music, and such, which was prepared by the Interfaith Council. I did consult with his office, and the event was initiated by the Congressman in that he asked MAINstream Coalition for ideas about how to have a public event on Sept 16 that was inclusive; and from that, the contact between Moore’s office and the Council was made.

 3. Ahmed El-Sherif, the speaker Levin refers to, is not Palestinian. 

 4. El-Sherif was not told not to be political. I did not tell Bob Meneilly or Mark Levin not to be political either. I wish I had, but it did not occur to me. My instructions, which none of them (including Levin) followed, was to present 90-second greetings on behalf of their faith communities.

 5. El-Sherif did not say that the “tragedy involved the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.” He certainly did not say that “the blood bath occurred because the United States takes the side of Israel.”
       In those charged moments, I am confident that the reporter from The Star, Sarah Gerry, would have at least mentioned this in her story, which appeared in The Star Sep 17 with two photos. But no such report was made.

What El-Sherif said was this. He said that the US might need to reexamine its foreign policy. It was later explained to me that within the Jewish community this was interpreted as a way of suggesting the US end its support for Israel. I did not understand it that way, especially since El-Sherif elsewhere in his remarks explicitly said, in front of an audience that included a large number of Muslims, that Israel should be safe and secure. He also said that the Palestinians should likewise be safe and secure. 
      Shortly thereafter, The Star ran a national story with the headline. “Terrorism leads Bush administration to rethink its approach to foreign policy.” The article nowhere mentioned Israel. Instead it gets at what I thought of when Ahmed spoke those words: We must end the isolationist character of foreign policy (ie, Kyoto, missile defense, international criminal court, etc), engage with other nations cooperatively if we are to end terrorism because the US cannot do this alone, and the attack in New York was an attack against civilization at large. It is only fair that even a rabbi, in such charged situations, should inquire what the speaker meant, rather than jumping to hysterical interpretations. I have never had any religious leader jab his finger into the air at me with such hostility.

Levin is careless and has not been completely faithful in his words. *** Informed of such misunderstandings, he said he would mention El-Sherif favorably in his Yom Kippur sermon. Only when later pressed to provide the text of the sermon, did he admit that he had not kept his word, and excused himself by saying it was no longer appropriate to mention El-Sherif. *** He said that an article about the Sept 16 observance would appear in the very next Chronicle. It did not. *** There are many other examples where Levin’s words have not matched reality. This may be unintentional and careless, but it is not possible to rely on his report on what was said September 16. I have an extensive file of email exchanges with him, which I submitted to a third party with his knowledge for professional examination, from which I believe this concern is justified. 
      There were a number of Jewish people in the audience Sep 16, 2001, who came up to me after the event to offer congratulations and appreciation. I know El-Sherif also received congratulations from Jewish families. I doubt that they would have done so if they had heard what Levin and Szneler accuse El-Sherif of saying. Congressman Moore, certainly sensitive to political matters, and others, expressed no concern about El-Sherif’s remarks at the time, and everyone was astonished to learn about the  fuss.
      Nearly two years later, this incident is repeatedly drudged up and misconstrued, though El-Sherif immediately apologized on site for any inadvertent error on his part, and later with a visit and a gift to El-Sherif. Since this misrepresentation continues to infect our community, this analysis is offered. 

—Vern Barnet,

Why I don't write about the State of Israel

In 2003, I interviewed world-beloved scholar and author of the most used book on world religions, Huston Smith. My assignment since 1994 has been to write about interfaith issues. You can find this particular column at

A local rabbi, Rabbi Alan Cohen, sent a private letter to The Star complaining that I should write about religion only, not politics. As a result, I have been advised against mentioning subjects relating to the State of Israel. 

I thought the rabbi was a friend of mine, so I asked to visit with him. It was difficult to get an appointment with him, but after more than a month's delay, we met. 

I promised (and kept my promise) not to argue with him but simply ask questions with a view to understand how he separated politics and religion in the Middle East (it is common for rabbis to preach in support of Israel and raise money for the State in their Shabbat sermons). I went to the meeting with a list of questions on my yellow pad. When it was clear the rabbi did not know that I had mentioned that Smith said that "recently violence had been nutured within Islam,"  I departed from my list of questions to ask one question I did not prepare: "You did read  my column, didn't you?" 

The rabbi said No, he wrote the letter on the basis of excerpts that had been supplied to him.  During the meeting I did not comment on this lack of elementary fairness, to write a complaint about a column without reading it, but simply continued with my questions because I was told, "these are very powerful people." 

My column was followed by a full-page article in The KC Jewish Chronicle entitled, "Is Vern Barnet Anti-Semitic," full of distortions and outright lies. At the time I was head of the Interfaith Council. The first of my many awards in Kansas City for interfaith work came from the Jewish Community Relations Bureau, which until the retirement of its wonderful leader, was a great force for interfaith understanding. The political shifts in Israel also affected the situation here.

In 2011 the rabbi approached me after a panel discussion he helped to arrange about Jewish, Christian, and Muslim scriptures -- with no Muslim on the panel. I think he wanted to confront me because a member of the audience had raised the question of no Muslim participation and wrongly assumed I had planted the question.

The confrontation the rabbi initiated in front of witnesses led to my recitation of the history of his letter complaining about my column and the statement he made during the subsequent discussion I had with him that he had not even read the column he was complaining about, but wrote on the basis of excerpts that had been supplied to him.

His response, with no hint of apology, in front of witnesses, was That's in the past; we need to look forward.

Click on the tree to visit the CRES home page -- and other linked pages.