Thursday, May 21, 2009

THE LATEST ISSUE: IRAN AND ISRAEL

Below is a rejection letter from a prominent pastor in Des Moines, Iowa. The response is typical of may church leaders who fear the vehemence and viciousness of the Jewish Federation of Greater Des Moines who will do just about anything to silence institutions as well as people. The rejection, this time, goes to a couple who want to speak about Israel and Iran and our role in a potential debacle or, worse, war. Following the rejection are responses from those of us who disagree about keeping our congregations from ever having to "gasp" when they hear truth spoken to power. When will our churches, synogogues and mosques assert moral leadership in America and stand up for justice and peace?

May 12, 2009

Karla:

Last night at the Plymouth Peace Committee meeting, the request to sponsor your presentation in June came to the attention of the committee. After much discussion about the nature of your topic, the committee felt that your topic is important and should be heard, but not at Plymouth.

Plymouth Peace Committee tries to avoid political commentary and points of view that may not be received well by our Jewish neighbors. As the past president of the Des Moines Area Religious Council, I am particularly sensitive to this problem. It’s almost impossible to separate questions of religion and politics when discussing the Middle East.

The last presentation sponsored by the Peace Committee at Plymouth was a presentation called “Love Your Enemies” by Louie Vitale. Although the slide show at the beginning of the evening was a rather harmless pictorial journal of the development of a cross cultural relationship, the following question and answer period brought up some very pointed political views that made some of our congregation gasp [emphasis supplied]. We are not willing to do that again.

I hope you do find a venue where you can hold your presentation. Please let us know where it is. Some of our membership will want to attend.

Thanks for your understanding.

Faith V. Ferré

Minister of Discipleship
Plymouth U.C.C.
Des Moines, IA
(515) 255-3149
Any speaker who suggests that Iran is not the existential threat pro-Israel war mongers say it is makes the Israel-firsters nervous, and they are pulling out all the stops in their largely behind-the-scenes effort to silence anyone and everyone who speaks against a US attack on Iran, anyone who thinks the US military has better things to do than fight Israel's wars for that rigidly ultranationalistic, militantly expansionist, nuclear-armed state, which, with largely uncritical US diplomatic and economic support, has persistently and systematically engaged in black letter law Geneva Conventions war crimes and crimes against humanity in the illegally Occupied Palestinian Territories for some 60 years. Here's something that may make you gasp, Faith Ferre: http://www.ifamericansknew.org/about_us/etyt.html Too bad Hedy Epstein is not one of your Jewish neighbors. Or this: http://www.ifamericansknew.org/media/footageerasedyt.html Too bad none of these kids are your neighbors. Perhaps you or your gasping congregation could minister to them, or in their behalf?
The article and photos below appear on page 14 of the (current) May issue of The Independent Monitor, the national newspaper of Arab Americans.

Vitale: “The sticky wicket is Israel”

By Michael Gillespie

For The Independent Monitor

4/20/2009 – 977 words

Franciscan priest and activist Fr. Louie Vitale spoke at Plymouth Congregational Church in Des Moines on Sunday, April 19, about his experiences during a visit to Iran in late February and his protest and arrest at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada earlier in April.

Vitale, whose commitment to the practice of active nonviolent civil disobedience in behalf of peace and justice has led to his arrest on more than 200 occasions, offered his perspective on the prospects for peace in the Middle East and Southwest Asia.

“Let’s be honest about it,” said the 76-year-old priest, “the sticky wicket is Israel. There is so much tension about Israel, and they are all identifying the U.S. with Israel.”

“When [the Israeli December 2008-January 2009 attack on] Gaza was going on, and before when [the 2006 Lebanon War] was going on, everybody knows that the weapons came from the United States,” said Vitale.

“I was in Washington in 2006 when the Lebanon War was going on and it was very clear and I kept waiting for the government to say, for Condoleezza Rice to say, you know we were all calling for ‘a truce, a truce, a truce,’ and she said ‘no truce, no truce,’ well, that doesn’t help,” said Vitale.

Vitale recalled a meeting that occurred during his February visit to Iran. He and the other five American peacemakers who formed the multi-faith delegation led by Quaker David Hartsough met with people from all walks of life, merchants and professors, students and politicians, families and clergy members. They also met for about two hours with members of the Iranian parliament, including several representatives of various minority religious communities within Iran.

“That was a very powerful meeting,” said Vitale.

“Two of them represented the Armenian and Assyrian Christians. There was one representing the Jews and one representing the Zoroastrians, which is the oldest religion out there in Iran,” said Vitale.

“The one who was from Iran representing the Jews was really focused particularly on one our young fellows who is Jewish, and really insisting, ‘You’ve got to talk to American Jews about backing off,’” said Vitale.

During a wide-ranging Q&A that followed his formal remarks and media presentation, Vitale responded to questions and invited comments from the audience.

The Independent Monitor mentioned news media coverage of controversial statements by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, his prominent role in the United Nations conference on race taking place in Geneva, Switzerland, and asked Vitale if, when he was in Iran, he had seen or heard any evidence of anti-Jewish sentiment among Iranians.

Vitale said he believes that reports asserting that Ahmadinejad has called for the destruction of Israel “have been debunked.”

“The bottom line, what they are really trying to say is, ‘There is all this incredible energy directed toward what happened to Israel, but what’s happening to us?’” said Vitale.

“With the U.S. and with Israel, I think the question is the governments,” said Vitale, who pointed to widespread anti-war sentiment in the USA and to members of the Israeli military who have refused to serve in the illegally Occupied Palestinian Territories.

“[Ahmadinejad] speaks in pretty inflammatory language, but our last president spoke, you know, of the ‘Axis of Evil’ and some of the things that were said were very inflammatory,” said Vitale.

In response to Vitale’s remarks about Iran, one member of an audience of about 60, Navid Emami, who has lived and worked in Iowa for many years, offered some observations that drew general applause.

“I am from Iran. … There is a right wing government in Iran now. But there are also progressive movements in Iran. [Former Iranian president Mohammad] Khatami has urged dialog with other cultures and nations. Within Iranian society, the camp of reform, they were really gaining ground, but as soon as Bush went to the Congress with that famous speech about the ‘Axis of Evil’, well of course the right wing took advantage of that,” said Emami.

“This doesn’t happen in a vacuum. If the U.S. would lessen the pressure, Iranians will do their part. But if they feel they are surrounded by enemies, well of course they will support their government because they don’t want what happened to Iraq to happen to them. They don’t want revolution, they don’t want ‘regime change’, but if you leave it to them they will change,” said Emami.

“You are exactly right,” said Emami, “the Iranians are not anti-Semites. Literate Iranians are not against gays or lesbians. Actually, the majority of Iranians are very liberal,” said Emami.

A former provincial of the California Franciscan Friars, Vitale co-founded the Nevada Desert Experience, a movement to end nuclear testing, and Pace e Bene. Pace e Bene invites people to “Imagine a world with dignity, justice, and peace for all. A world with the tools to challenge the spiral of war, poverty and ecological devastation. A world where we apply these tools to our own lives as well as our larger society.”

Vitale, who was pastor of a Catholic church in a low-income neighborhood in San Francisco, CA for 12 years, served a five-month prison sentence in 2007 and 2008 for staging an anti-torture protest at a military intelligence training center at Fort Huachuca, AZ in 2006.

Vitale’s most recent arrest occurred on April 9 when he and thirteen others entered the gate of Creech Air Force Base north of Las Vegas, Nevada singing and prayerfully challenging the remote operation of hunter-killer drone aircraft over Afghanistan and Pakistan. Two Iowans, Rene Espeland, of the Des Moines Catholic Worker Community, and Brian Terrell, of the Strangers & Guests Catholic Worker Farm, Maloy, IA, were among those arrested in Nevada with Vitale.

Vitale told The Independent Monitor that he has no plans to return to Iran, but he noted with a grin that he didn’t have plans for his most recent visit there either.

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