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November 12, 2007
Palestinian 'cultural exchange' backfires in Connecticut
Bob Fishman, executive director of the Jewish Federation Association of Connecticut (JFACT) in Hartford, sent an email to me and others late Friday with an invitation to watch an interview on ABC local news affiliate WNTH TV 8 in New Haven. The email from Fishman and the story on WNTH TV-8 was about a "cultural exchange" by a Palestinian Folklore dance troupe, Al-Ghad. The dance troupe is composed of Christians from the Beit Sahour district on the West Bank. The performance at a Connecticut high school ‘backfired' on their political handlers and radical supporters in Connecticut. It also was an indictment of how far some liberal Protestant church leaders have gone as proponents of replacement theology substituting the icon of Palestinians as the ‘new' crucified Christ figure. The heroes in stopping this latest episode were a grandmother, a retired school teacher, whose frightened grandchildren witnessed the agit-prop theater performance along with an angry young Jewish student who was also present.
As reported in the Hartford Courant, an Al-Ghad performance in Old Saybrooke (a Connecticut shoreline community) triggered outrage when it depicted IDF soldiers beating and torturing Palestinians. It was criticized by high school students, including two grandchildren of Ginger Horton, a resident and retired high school teacher.
Horton spoke up: "[My] grandchildren came home very frightened."
How did this ‘cultural exchange' ever get to Connecticut? The answer can be laid at the feet of Rev. David W. Good, senior minister of First Church Congregationalist (UCC) in neighboring Old Lyme, Connecticut. Good had brought the Palestinian dance troupe to perform the prior weekend at the Third Annual Tree of Life conference -- an interfaith gathering of those allegedly committed to Palestinian Israeli ‘peacemaking'.
One of those ‘peace makers' attending the Music and Dance performance by Al-Ghad was Palestinian nationalist extremist Mazin Qumsiyeh. He was formerly associated with the Palestinian ‘rights of return' advocacy group Al Awda , and was a former Yale Medical School genetics lab director. Qumsiyeh was denied tenure, in part, because of his misuse of university auspices for patently political and, some contend, antisemi tic purposes. Qumsiyeh, a naturalized American citizen, hailed originally from the Beit Sahour district near Bethlehem and is a Lutheran. I have written about his energetic exploits in fostering hate of Israel and Antisemitism at another liberal Protestant church in Connecticut and helped to cancel his appearance at an elite private school in New York City.
Rev. Good to the Hartford Courant account he could see no evil:
Apparently, that was not the feelings of one of a Jewish male student who attended the Al - Ghad performance at his high school in old Saybrooke.
Horton said, "My concern was that it would be stopped, and we stopped it." She also contacted JFACT head, Fishman.
The report noted that Old Saybrooke School Superintendent Joseph Onofrio, who did not attend the high school performance, said a male Jewish student became "emotionally charged and upset" by the visitors' depiction of Jews.
"This was not framed as a political debate; it was framed as a cultural arts experience."
In an email from the Al Awda board member, Dr. Hassan Fouda, a different spin was put on the ‘cultural exchange' fiasco -- it was a violation of ‘free speech and expression':
According to his Wheels of Justice bio, Dr. Fouda went with a delegation from the virulently anti-Israel Council for the National Interest in January, 2006 to monitor the Hamas victory elections and meet with President Bashir al-Assad in Damascus. Dr. Fouda is viewed as an extremist by a rabbi in his home area. Rabbi Carl Aster of Congregation Beth El in New London accused Dr. Fouda of being "the most hate-filled individual I have ever met".
Another performance of the Al-Ghad dance troupe occurred on Friday, November 9th at a second shoreline community church. This time it was at the Episcopal Church of the Holy Advent in Clinton, Connecticut.
The WNTH TV 8 news report included interviews with Fishman of JFACT, the Rev. Russell H. Allen, Minister of the Clinton Episcopal Church and views of the Palestinian Dance group in performance.
Most Arab Christians have fled the Bethlehem, making it predominately Muslim. Bethlehem's Christian Mayor Dr. Victor Betarseh, a dual U.S./ PA citizen and eye surgeon, was elected in 2005 on a Hamas ticket. He was formerly a member of the radical Marxist wing of the PLO -- the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
The two elements in this story that bear closer examination are the extremist political hatred in a public school performance of this traveling Palestinian Dance troupe and, as the WNTH TV-8 news story headlined, threats made against those who filed objections to the public program after their children and others viewed it.
Fishman of JFACT in the WNTH interview wanted balance through opposing views presented at the performance. A further issue was how such anti-Israel and, I suspect, antisemitic materials in music, drama and dance performances by Arab Christians -- a beleaguered minority ironically oppressed by Islamist Imams in the Bethlehem district -- could get into a Connecticut public high school.
The other troubling facet of this national tour of the Palestinian Dance Troupe is that it may be part of a deliberate attempt by the PA cultural and press ministry in Ramallah to gain empathy among mainstream Americans. In effect, a well crafted PR campaign in anticipation of the upcoming Annapolis Middle East peace conference to be convened shortly.
Churches have every right as independent private religious institutions to put on programs that reflect the views of leaders and laity. However, some mainstream Protestant denominations have been in the vanguard of facilitating ‘replacement theology' and 'social action' views that are obsessively political correct. In this current instance they have unwittingly served the ends of fostering traditional Islamist antisemitism.
One only has to look at some of the graphic imagery used by Anglican Canon Naim Ateek of the Sabeel Liberation Theology Center of Jerusalem, currently on another North American tour with stops at UCC churches such as the venerable Old South Church in Boston's Copley Square, and Munib Younans, Lutheran Bishop for Jordan and the Holy Land. Witness use by these churchmen of a figure of a crucified Palestinian surrounded by triple strands of barbed wire. Another, distorted image is one used by a Jewish acolyte of this same contingent, Professor Marc H. Ellis, head of Jewish studies at Baylor University, when he speaks of his son's nightmare of a helicopter attack ship flying out of the synagogue holy ark, when it is opened and Torah scrolls are taken out.
Jews and Christian Zionists, whether mainstream or Evangelicals, should rightfully be concerned that this evil is facilitated by some misguided Protestant leaders.
When American Protestants are led astray by fellow Arab Christians acting as unwitting dupes of Islamist anti-Semites, then I fear for the demise of Western civilization and the Judeo - Christian ethos-so highly prized in the U.S..
Jerry Gordon is a Member of the Board of American Congress for Truth