Year in Review: Could 2017 crises lead to 2018 breakthroughs in peace process, interfaith ties?

Matt Goldberg

The Jewish Community Relations Council concerns itself with many issues affecting Jewish Louisville, and this year has been a remarkable one to say the least, for good and bad reasons.
On the international front, we saw an increase in global anti-Semitism. The rise of far-right groups around the world, particularly in Europe, are disconcerting. Just this week, the Austrian Freedom Party, which has roots in neo-Nazi circles, is now a junior partner in the Austrian government.
In Hungary, the right-wing Jobbik Party, also with anti-Semitic and Fascist roots, has gained seats in that country’s parliament, and a sizeable share of the electorate.
Other countries of Europe – Germany, France, Belgium, Sweden – are seeing substantial rises in anti-immigrant and xenophobic parties and attitudes.
In addition to these right-wing groups, anti-Semitism is emerging elsewhere. Since President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, kosher shops in Paris have been attacked and two synagogues in Sweden have been firebombed.
For Israel, little has changed this year, which is both good and bad. On the security front, aside from occasional attacks, the country remains safe. No major conflagrations with the Palestinians occurred this year. Israel’s alleged attacks against militarily significant sites in Syria have not been answered, and it appears that the Jewish state has created a strong deterrence that is keeping things calm.
Israel continues to grow its military strength and capabilities. It has made diplomatic inroads with previously hostile countries (e.g., Saudi Arabia).
On the diplomatic front, though, a long sought-after peace agreement with the Palestinians seems as far away as ever, and prospects for a renewed peace push are increasingly dim. There is a distinct lack of trust about intentions on both sides, and it is increasingly unclear whether any individual or country can bridge that gap.
The Israeli government has backtracked on an agreement to provide an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall, maintaining the ultra-Orthodox status quo that is negatively affecting worldwide Jewish support for Israel. Again, the prospects for positive developments on this front are slim. The JCRC, along with most other Jewish communities around the world, will be taking further steps to affect change and have diaspora voices heard.
Domestically, developments this year that threaten Jewish values (and laws and programs that express those values) have left many Jews uneasy. Attacks on transgender rights, healthcare, reproductive rights, environmental responsibility and poverty programs will only fuel Jewish efforts in 2018 to do what we can to protect those negatively affected here at home.
Of course, one major U.S. news item that took place this year, which especially concerns Jews, is what happened in Charlottesville, Virginia. We saw anti-Semitism on full display in a manner we had not seen for many years. Neo-Nazis chanting “The Jews will not replace us!” and members of the Charlottesville Jewish community leaving their synagogue by the back door following Shabbat services (and after hiding their Torah scrolls) raise the specter of darker times in our history.
In addition, the equally horrible actions taken against our friends in the African-American, Latino and immigrant communities, and a tepid response from President Trump, all left a loud and clear wake-up call to Jewish Louisville. We should renew our bonds with all groups targeted by those perpetrators in Charlottesville.
Hidden in these challenges, though, could be cause for optimism. Our relations with other faith and ethnic groups are getting better. Charlottesville became a rallying point, not just for Jews, but the entire country, and old alliances are being renewed.
Israel’s improving relations with the greater Arab world (spurred mostly by a mutual distrust of Iran) might – just might – increase the possibility for movement towards a two-state solution. Our efforts with friends in Israel to push for religious pluralism have dramatically increased as awareness and concern of the fraying relationship between Israelis and Diaspora Jews is growing.
We hope 2018 is a happy year for our community here and around the world, and that your hopes and prayers, whatever they may be, are fulfilled.

(Matt Goldberg is director of the Jewish Community Relations Council.)

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