Written Testimony of Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, President of Interfaith Alliance
The House Committee on Foreign Affairs
Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations
for the Hearing Record on “Anti-Semitism: A Growing Threat to All Faiths”
February 27, 2013
As a Baptist minister, a patriotic American and the President of Interfaith Alliance, I submit this testimony to The House Committee on Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations for the Hearing Record on “Anti-Semitism: A Growing Threat to All Faiths.” A national, non-partisan organization, Interfaith Alliance celebrates religious freedom and is dedicated to protecting faith and freedom with members nationwide who belong to 75 faith traditions as well as those without a faith tradition.
Interfaith Alliance focuses not only on religious freedom but also on uniting diverse voices to challenge extremism, toward an end to bigotry and ignorance. One of Interfaith Alliance’s top priorities is combating religion-based discrimination, whatever form it takes, and hatred against religious groups. In the last few years domestically, much of our focus has been on combating anti-Muslim bigotry, as well as bigotry against Sikhs and Hindus. Unfortunately, hate crimes, violent attacks on mosques and temples and Muslim, Sikh and Hindu individuals have too often shown the need for this work, for dialogue, for better education about our neighbors of different faiths. This is not to say that anti-Semitism has ceased to exist in our nation—sadly it has not—but if I have learned one thing, it is the cyclical nature of bigotry against minority faith groups; at one time it was Catholics, at too many times it has been Jews and now it is Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus. Each wave of antagonism against one faith or another leaves indelible blemishes on our country.
Though the scope of this hearing is anti-Semitism abroad and the scope of our work is on domestic issues, we know that bigotry does not stop at national borders. Throughout history, we have too often seen the impact of hatred abroad here at home, and vice versa. I applaud the sentiment of the title of this hearing and would add that bigotry against one group—be it a group that is religious, racial, ethnic or otherwise—should be seen as a threat to any group of individuals who can far too easily fall victim to stereotyping and generalizations of a virulent nature.
Yet, the issues we face here in the United States are not unique to our nation. Bigotry against religious communities can take many shapes depending on the country, the city even, in which we focus our discussion. Nazi and Holocaust rhetoric and the occasional overlap of anti-Israel sentiments with broader anti-Semitism are just a few of the signs that, sadly, anti-Semitism is not yet a thing of a past and indeed continues to morph into new (and sometimes subtler) forms. Similarly, solutions take different forms in different parts of the world based on the facts on the ground.
Though the primary focus of my work—both at Interfaith Alliance and beyond—is here in the United States, it is not my only focus. In the 15 years I have led Interfaith Alliance, I have participated in many international conferences that have informed my work at home—much of it related to anti-Semitism. Participating in two international dialogues hosted by the King of Spain and the King of Saudi Arabia, I witnessed a gaping absence of Jewish participation and a quiet unwillingness to talk about the need for a Jewish presence.
Personally, I have had great opportunities to exchange best practices, share the American experience of interfaith cooperation abroad, and learn from the on-the-ground experiences of colleagues worldwide. Most recently, a trip to Israel with several other civil rights leaders to learn about the conflict between Jews and Arabs taking place in the Middle East was eye-opening and inspiring. Though no simplistic answers suffice when combatting anti-Semitism, I must observe that anti-Semitism could be reduced considerably by the public paying attention to more accurate information about what is occurring in the Middle East. Interactions with Sikhs, Muslims, Hindus and leaders in other traditions have taught me that the problem with anti-Semitism is not inherent in any religion. The problem results from propaganda, poor media coverage, and uninformed political leaders who stir up prejudice.
Across the past 15 years I have not met anybody that wanted to foster anti-Semitism. During the same time I have encountered scores of people who revealed an anti-Jewish bias as a result of misinformation or incomplete information about the truth on the ground in the Middle East and the political and financial support for both Jews and Muslims abroad. With the help of Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders along with supporters from other religious traditions, Interfaith Alliance has sought to serve as an agency of mutual understanding and mutual cooperation. Make no mistake about it though, that work among us, even as among any person or institution doing that work, requires patience and a will to listen to criticism in order to get to a better place.
Whatever the result of this hearing, be assured that I personally and Interfaith Alliance institutionally are willing to do all we can to eliminate the presence of anti-Semitism in the United States. We are delighted you share that goal.
Interfaith Alliance celebrates religious freedom by championing individual rights, promoting policies that protect both religion and democracy, and uniting diverse voices to challenge extremism. Founded in 1994, Interfaith Alliance brings together members from 75 faith traditions as well as those without a faith tradition to protect faith and freedom. For more information visit www.interfaithalliance.org.