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Biweekly Column
Brookline TAB
Brookline, Massachusetts

Federman Arrest Reveals
Divided Jewish Community

Dennis Fox

May 1, 2003

On April 13th, Framingham police arrested Marty Federman after a peaceful protest against Temple Beth Sholom's guest speaker -- evangelist Pat Robertson, founder of the Christian Coalition and host of the 700 Club. As far as I can tell from conflicting reports, the Brookline resident's arrest is unlikely to stand up in court, though predicting becomes difficult as authorities across the country crack down on dissent.

Federman serves on the steering committee of the Brookline-based Jewish group Visions of Peace and Justice in Israel/Palestine, which I belong to. The 55 year-old activist has also worked as Northeastern University's Hillel director, director of education at Somerville's Congregation B'nai Brith, and executive director of Temple Beth Shalom in Cambridge.

Last year I watched Federman, a familiar presence at meetings and rallies, stand his ground against right-wing Zionists hurling invective rather than rational argument. That his position stems from deep knowledge and appreciation of Jewish culture and tradition seems irrelevant to those who target him for abuse.

Most recently, Federman's been speaking about his six-week visit to Israel and the occupied territories. Throughout his visit he emailed detailed, thoughtful, often pained observations unfiltered by media gatekeepers.

I missed the Framingham protest because I went instead to hear Noam Chomsky. Many politically conservative Jews can't stand the influential MIT professor even if they have little accurate knowledge of his views. I wanted to see what he'd say to an audience at the other end of the spectrum, assembled by the New England Committee to Defend Palestine. NECDP's goal is one state from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River.

As it turned out, Chomsky stuck to his position that prospects for bi-national existence disappeared long ago. Decades of hostility among Israelis and Palestinians, he argued, mean the only feasible outcome is two separate states. Moreover, since this represents the international consensus and the position of two-thirds of Americans, Chomsky says it's achievable despite opposition from both sides.

According to polls, most American Jews also support a two-state solution. That can only help, though, if negotiators resolve, rather than sidestep, complex issues. Both states must be equally viable, which means, at a minimum, that Palestine can't consist simply of the tiny, separate, dependent cantons envisioned in past proposals.

Even that truncated version, though, is rejected by Jews who either don't trust Palestinian intentions or won't relinquish fantasies of recreating Biblical Israel. These are the Jews who embrace Pat Robertson.

Although Robertson's Framingham topic was "The Importance of American Support for Israel," the dozen protestors outside criticized his views more broadly. Federman and others with tickets listened peacefully to Robertson's blather about how "evangelical Christians have a visceral, heartfelt love of Israel as God's fulfillment of His plan for mankind and for the Jewish people" and how Israel is a "western outpost in the midst of a medieval form of tyranny."

Afterwards, they distributed leaflets outside asking people to "read what Pat Robertson has to say (but what you won't hear tonight)."

Foreshadowing a recent comment by Rod Paige, President Bush's Education Secretary, one Robertson quote should interest local public-school supporters: "We can change education in America if you put Christian principles in and Christian pedagogy in. In three years, you would totally revolutionize education in America." Similar gems clarify the reverend's opposition to feminism, homosexuality, separation of church and state, and more.

He's entitled to his opinions. Still, as the leaflet concluded, "Being in bed with Pat Robertson can never be good for the Jews!"

Federman says a police officer demanded protestors stop leafleting "because I told you so." They reluctantly complied, but when Federman wanted to go back to meet his friends, the officer said "That's it. You're under arrest." Released on bond, Federman went to an emergency room to treat a neurological condition exacerbated by rough handcuffing. Charged with trespassing and disorderly conduct, his pretrial hearing is May 19th.

Regardless of the outcome, the arrest won't diminish Federman's work against intolerance and injustice. It remains to be seen, though, if it intimidates others who hold the important middle ground.

Reprinted: American Feed Magazine

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