A rabbi and strong advocate for Palestinians’ rights told me this: "When you Christians start talking about divesting from Israel, it sounds to us as if you are undermining Israel’s economy and thus Israel’s existence. We close ranks."
The General Conference of the United Methodist Church convened in Tampa last week. I’m not one of the 988 delegates who have descended on Florida to do the work of our church, nor of the 4,000 hosts, bishops, pages, translators and myriad lobbyists there to help. My participation is limited to following the proceedings from 1,000 miles away.
Still, my emotions have been all over the place. And judging from Twitter and Facebook, this roller coaster of highs and lows is almost universal among those who are there. The stakes feel high this year, higher than usual.
"Between now and Election Day," writes Peter Beinart, "anti-Mormonism is going to be the Democratic Party’s constant temptation for one simple reason: there are votes in it." I'm not sure I'd call it the party's "constant temptation," but Beinart is certainly right that bigotry against Mormons remains a politically potent force in the U.S., and that the Democrats aren't above exploiting it.
But is Beinart right that the Democrats have a bigger religious bigotry problem here than the Republicans do?
Arabic is an official Israeli language. About half of Israeli Jews have heritages stemming from Arabic-speaking countries. Despite this, only about 10 percent of Israeli Jews understand Arabic well, even though one poll indicated 58 percent of Israelis think it is important to learn the language. The Israeli school system teaches a formal version of the language, not the dialect used on the streets. Gilad Sevitt has attempted to rectify this gap with a series of free YouTube videos teaching Arabic with the name Madrasa (school in Arabic). The language instruction videos have become popular, especially with 18- to 34-year-olds. Palestinians, Jordanians, and Saudis have also used it in reverse, to teach Hebrew. Groups have formed on Facebook and in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv to study the videos together (The Christian Science Monitor, July 17).