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Global context informs renowned rabbi’s views
An internationally known rabbi who has been a critic of Israel's alleged human rights violations against Palestinians will speak in Honolulu next week.
Rabbi Forman's Hawaii events
Rabbi David Forman will speak at the following events, all open to the public.
» Wednesday, 7 a.m., Open Table Interfaith Alliance, First Unitarian Church, 2500 Pali Highway. "Jerusalem, Holy City of Three Religions."
» Wednesday, noon, University of Hawaii, History Department library, Sakamaki Hall. In "Jerusalem, Holy City of Three Religions," he will talk about the position of Jerusalem, spiritual home to Jews, Christians and Muslims, in the ongoing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. The lecture is sponsored by the UH Fund for the Promotion of Jewish Life and Studies.
» Thursday, 7:30 p.m., Temple Emanu-El, 2550 Pali Highway. In a public lecture on "Three Major Concerns of the Jewish State," he will discuss disagreements among Jews about religious and political aspects of Israel, and the country's relationship with Islamic fundamentalists and with liberal and conservative Christians.
» Friday, 7:30 p.m., at the Shabbat service, Temple Emanu-El, "Israel-Diaspora: Divided by a Common Identity."
» Next Saturday, 7:30 p.m., Havdalah gathering with Congregation Sof Ma'arav, "Living With Terror, Morality Versus Security."
Rabbi David J. Forman, the founder of Rabbis for Human Rights, will be here as visiting scholar at Temple Emanu-El.
He will deliver public lectures about relationships between the Jewish nation and Muslims, with conservative and liberal Christians and conflicts among Jews about the moral and political underpinnings of the Jewish state.
Forman brings the unique perspective of an American who was involved in peace and justice actions, in the 1960s civil rights movement and as a member of Clergy and Laity against the War in Vietnam. Born in Massachusetts, he was educated at Hebrew Union College.
He moved to Israel in 1973, reached the rank of deputy commanding officer in the Israeli army artillery corps and is former director of the Union for Reform Judaism in Jerusalem.
He writes commentary on religious, social and political issues for the Jerusalem Post and other publications in Israel, the United States and other countries. His books include "Jewish Schizophrenia in the Land of Israel" and "Fifty Ways to be Jewish."
"Jews everywhere have the right and the responsibility to speak out against Israeli excesses and stop providing sycophantic sanction for acts that are the antithesis of the Jewish moral tradition," Forman wrote in a column in the Reform Judaism Magazine.
"Having achieved nationhood after almost 2,000 years of statelessness, we Jews find ourselves ruling with an iron fist over another people," he said in the 2003 magazine commentary. "The demolition of Palestinian homes, land confiscations, extended curfews and school closings are but a few of the collective forms of punishment meted out by a government that has lost its moral compass."
That viewpoint might be heartening to a growing number of Americans who have begun saying the same thing. It was a theme of a recent series of seminars and speeches in Honolulu sponsored by Friends of Sabeel and some local university departments.
When the rabbi targets the Israeli government -- and that's just one facet of a "collective, eclectic" body of writing -- it's not with a bludgeon, but with a mirror intended to reflect the flawed image for the state and for Jews around the world to see.
"Israel should be judged by universal standards of moral behavior and political conduct," Forman said in a telephone interview. "If you did comparative shopping in an ethical mall, we'd look pretty good. Compare the democratic state with the military dictators, feudal lords and monarchies around us. We're a good country in a bad neighborhood.
"If they are going to judge us, it's not enough for a Christian church to talk about divestiture (ending investments in companies that do business in Israel) but not say anything about (Chinese oppression in) Tibet," he said. "It's not right to call for United Nations universal scrutiny but not demand the same thing for Sudan and Somalia."
The rabbi said, "I want people to look at it in perspective. I try to present the complexities of the issues." The Israeli-Palestinian conflict "is not a case of black and white. It is a very complex reality."
Forman spoke on "The Role of Religion in Middle East Peacemaking" to the Nobel Institute in Oslo, Norway, and has spoken at United Nations conferences in Dakar, Senegal and Amman, Jordan.
He said Rabbis for Human Rights defends Palestinian as well as Israeli human rights and provides humanitarian aid to victims on both sides.
"We condemn things (done by Israel) based on our moral outrage," said the rabbi. He would like to see Palestinians take a stand when innocent civilians in Israel are killed by Arab bombs and rockets. "I would like to hear them condemn killing because morally it is unacceptable. I wish there was an Imams for Human Rights."