Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Local 'Peace' Biz

With gross receipts of $91,442, according to their 2007 IRS 990, one wonders what Ann Arbor's Interfaith Council for Peace and Justice is doing with that money. Granted, there are plenty of individuals in this city that make far more money than that every year but as budgets for local peace organizations go, $91,000 is nothing to sneeze at.

In any case, the organization's IRS 990s from 2005-2007 give some clues. Average spending on "THREE MAJOR APPEALS ANNUALLY" and the monthly newsletter was over $25,000 in each of the last two years. The 990s also show that spending on salaries as a percentage of gross receipts jumped from 48.4% and 46.8% in 2005 and 2006, respectively, to 67.2% in 2007. The salary increase from 2006 to 2007 was 35.7%. This came even as gross receipts dropped by about $5,000 in the same period.

Perhaps the salary boost was a reward for Director Chuck Warpehoski's diligent, if dishonest, effort to expel the ICPJ's Middle East Task Force. In late 2006, Ian Macgregor, who was hired as part of a special fund raising effort linked the two, reportedly saying "The conflict with METF" was "affecting fundraising abilities."

The report of Warpehoski's visit to the Beth Israel Congregation's Board of Directors meeting on May 30, 2007, is interesting, too. It says, "He spoke about his group's work and some missteps regarding the Middle East situation." Missteps, indeed, but we got that all worked out didn't we Mr. Chuckles?

Beth Israel is a local bastion of Zionism and, just coincidentally, the 'spiritual home' of ICPJ's current president, Ruth Kraut. In 2007, the synagogue sponsored a trip to Israel where they dutifully posed their children with armed Israeli soldiers. In response to a national anti-torture banner campaign last summer the synagogue didn't display a banner but Rabbi Rob Dobrusin gave a sermon that helpfully explained how to defend the use of torture as "a justified act of self-defense". Neato!

But I digress. What inspired this rant was seeing a leaflet for an upcoming event. The ICPJ is hosting "a Dinner & Movie event" featuring a screening of Knowledge is the Beginning about the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra. Instead of putting those $91, 000 to work for peace and justice, ICPJ does insipid stuff like this so that organizers and participants can feel warm and fuzzy about themselves and each other while actually accomplishing virtually nothing.

And in case you think I'm way off-base in thinking that showing this film isn't peace work then consider the remarks of conductor Daniel Barenboim in the Guardian (UK) last July: " 'The Divan [orchestra] is not a love story, and it is not a peace story,' he says in conversation at La Scala. 'It has very flatteringly been described as a project for peace. It isn't. It's not going to bring peace, whether you play well or not so well.' "

If the orchestra isn't "a project for peace" then I hardly think one can claim that showing a movie about it qualifies. Disturbingly, the Divan orchestra also seems to function as a sort of way station for young Israeli Jews such as Doron Alperin, Noa Ayali, Amichai Grosz, and Kyril Zlotnikov in or going to or from the Israeli military.

Zionists have brutally occupied Palestine for sixty years and the ICPJ still can't bring itself to take a stand for justice or peace in Palestine. Thus, in its special "interfaith" way, ICPJ exemplifies the concerns of the late William Sloane Coffin:
I think the bright flames of Christianity are now down to smoldering embers, if not ashes, of feeling comfortable. The church is pretty much down to therapy and management. There's really little prophetic fire. ... we have mediocre politicians, and the clergy is pretty mediocre also. ... The greatest recession in this country is not economic; it's spiritual. And so the great biblical mandates of pursuing justice and seeking peace are shortchanged.

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