Rabbi cancels plans to speak at BU's American-Jewish center
By TERRI JO RYAN
Tribune-Herald staff writer
(21 September 2004, 1B)
The Reform rabbi scheduled to speak today at the Center for American and Jewish Studies at Baylor University abruptly canceled his plans late Saturday, citing a Palestinian guest speaker the center hosted more than three years ago.
Rabbi David Forman, who was hired this summer to perform the High Holy Day services at the Reform synagogue of Waco, Temple Rodef Sholom, sent an e-mail to Marc Ellis, director of the Center for American and Jewish Studies, saying that an appearance under his sponsorship would damage the reputation of Forman's organization, Rabbis for Human Rights.
Temple officials said Monday they had no way to reach Forman. Repeated e-mail queries to his two addresses were not returned.
Forman said in his Saturday evening note that he was appalled to learn Ellis had hosted a campus visit by Muna Hamzeh, a Palestinian woman who spoke on April 24, 2001, to Ellis' "Hitler and the Holocaust" class.
Her topic was "A Palestinian Perspective on the Holocaust." The week before Hamzeh's visit, Ellis' class also heard from Rabbi Seth Stander of Waco's Reform synagogue, Temple Rodef Sholom; and a German Christian, Susanne Scholz. Both discussed the lasting effect on their lives of the murder of an estimated 6 million Jews at the hands of the Nazis.
Hamzeh's experience as a refugee in her homeland is an after-effect of the Holocaust, she told students then. She even compared her people's treatment at the hands of the Israelis with other oppressed minorities throughout history, Ellis recalled.
"I was in shock that she would be your guest to commemorate the murder of 6 million Jews. I found it not just inappropriate, but obscene," wrote Forman, who added that he took great offense that Ellis would invite into his classroom "someone who would dare put forth comparative drivel between Nazi Germany and the Jewish state in order to make some lame social comment about Israeli guilt and responsibility. Such a comparison defies logic, fact and truth."
Ellis said Monday he has consistently welcomed "different voices" into his academic realm, in the interest of rounding out the knowledge of students on complicated world affairs.
"There is no litmus test for speaking at my center," Ellis said.
The controversial professor has hosted speakers who do not agree with him on the need for a joint Jewish-Palestinian destiny.
"If we are going to ever have peace between Palestinians and Jews, Jews and Palestinians are going to have to encounter each other in their authenticity," Ellis said. "The Center for American and Jewish Studies can and will continue to promote opportunities for these encounters. We want to create a future where Israel is safe and secure and the Palestinians are safe and secure, and they can flourish together.
"All religious leaders should have an interest in entertaining possibilities of peace between Palestinians and Jews. Thus I am disappointed that Rabbi Forman canceled his appearance," Ellis added. "An opportunity to get another viewpoint across to students and faculty has been missed, especially the important Jewish tradition of human rights, and that I regret."
Terri Jo Ryan can be reached at 757- 5746 or firstname.lastname@example.org