Church leaders must be willing to pay a price for Palestinian solidarity

Middle East
on 15 Comments

Well, you can’t say you haven’t been told.

The Christian community in Occupied Palestine has just called time on 70 years of world-wide Christian/Jewish collusion in their oppression and slow demise. In an open letter to the World Council of Churches, they’re demanding a different course of action from their Christian sisters and brothers because, they write, the situation is now “beyond urgent”.

The exasperation of the National Coalition of Christian Organizations in Palestine is understandable. The Church around the world has failed them.

They’ve seen year after year of Holy Land reports, theological reflections, pilgrimages, conference debates, and the occasional divestment commitment. But all this softly, softly solidarity has failed to improve their condition, let alone win their liberation.

Yes, there’ve been plenty of carefully worded and balanced calls for “justice” and “security” for Christians, Jews and Muslims. But no calling out of who has the power, who uses it to oppress, who allows it to continue, who excuses it, who remains silent.

Nor has there been much willingness to incur a collective cost to any Palestinian solidarity, either financially or reputationally from the leadership of Church denominations.

The Ecumenical Deal

Much of this comes down to what the Jewish theologian Marc Ellis long ago described as ‘the ecumenical deal’. It amounts to this: the unwillingness within formal Christian Jewish encounters to question Jewish support for Israel for fear of unpicking decades of interfaith reconciliation following the Holocaust.

Ellis, writing for the journal of Americans for Middle East Understanding back in February 1992 summed up how this has become an obstacle to justice:

“The foundation of the dialogue rests on Christian repentance for anti-Jewishness and acceptance of Israel as central for Jewish identity. Those involved in the dialogue know that it has essentially turned into what one might call the ecumenical deal: eternal repentance for Christian anti-Jewishness unencumbered by any substantive criticism of Israel. Substantive criticism of Israel means, at least from the Jewish side, the reemergence of Christian anti-Jewishness.”

The outcome of the ecumenical deal, Ellis went on to say, is that debate about the oppression of the Palestinian people by Israeli Jews, and its support by “commission or omission” by Jewish and Christian communities around the world is left unchallenged.

Despair

25 years of failed peace process, a wave of Palestinian terrorism at the turn of the century, three major Israeli assaults on Gaza and a Jewish Settler population of now more than half a million has done little to shift the interfaith dynamics that Ellis described a quarter of a century ago.

So it’s hardly surprising to see Christians in Palestine despairing of the endless “hiding behind the cover of political neutrality” and the unwillingness of Church leaders “to offend their religious dialogue partners.” In Palestine they learnt long ago that liberation doesn’t come cheap. What’s required from us they say is “costly solidarity” not “shallow diplomacy”.

And in practice that means:

“That you revisit and challenge your religious dialogue partners, and that you are willing to even withdraw from the partnership if needed”

So brace yourselves. Jewish-Christian dialogue is about to go through the wringer. And not before time.

The cost of Christian solidarity

To reset the Christian interfaith relationship with the Jewish Community will take boldness and courage on the part of Church leaders, local ministers and their congregants. It will take them far from their ecumenical comfort zone.

Long standing relationships with Jewish neighbours and clerical colleagues will deteriorate long before they can be rebuilt with new foundations.
But costly solidarity requires no less.

It means refusing to allow your local  Jewish communal leadership to set the boundaries of permissible debate on Israel.

It means listening to the Christian voice under occupation before the Jewish voice living comfortably, with full equal rights, many thousands of miles from that same occupation.

It means refusing invitations to Balfour Declaration ‘celebrations’ this November.

It means you, not them, deciding what forms of protest are appropriate and fair.

It means you choosing to invest your funds in ethics not in companies profiting from Occupation.

It means your next pilgrimage to the Holy Land may be turned back at Ben Gurion airport.

It means you WILL be branded Israel haters.

You WILL be branded antisemitic.

And when that happens you should refuse to be bullied (because that’s what it is).

You must call the Jewish officials to your office. Ask them to clarify their position. Seek legal opinion. Demand an apology.

Insist that those that accuse you of ‘unfairness’ and ‘lack of balance’ make clear their own position.

What’s their view on the legality of the Occupation and Settlements? Do they recognise the inequality of political, civil and human rights in Israel itself and the Occupied territories? Can they confirm their commitment to freedom of speech in a democracy?

And do all of this publicly.

This is what costly solidarity will look like until things change.

Because silence and collusion on a great injustice of our time cannot be the basis of healthy interfaith dialogue.

But what about the Jewish side?

We still don’t have an accepted Jewish vocabulary or conceptual thinking that will enable us to recognise our complicity in Palestinian suffering. That makes the idea of Palestinian solidarity almost impossible for most Jews to contemplate let alone sign up to.

We’re still stuck in a mindset of powerlessness and victimhood that no longer holds true. The dilemma for Jews is that questioning the State of Israel within our Jewish communities risks unraveling the collective sense of who we are and what being Jewish means in the 21st century.

The recalibration on Israel required from Jewish communities around the world is now just as profound as the soul searching that took place within Christianity after the Holocaust. Just as Christians had to look Jews in the eye and ask for forgiveness so that Christianity could move forward, the same will be true between Jews and Palestinians. Again, this is ground well covered in the writings of Marc Ellis.

The future for Jews and Judaism itself is now entirely bound up with our relationship to the Palestinian people. However, we are still a very long way from being ready to confront this truth.

Costly Christian solidarity with the Palestinian people has the potential to speed up a change in Jewish attitudes. But it requires turning the tables over in the temples of ecumenical deal making.

I’m not underestimating how difficult this will be. The Jewish response to costly Christian solidarity with the Palestinians will be hostile and intolerant, at least to start with. The current Jewish leadership of our communities around the world is conditioned to react like this. They have no other language or thinking available to them.

But changing the language of interfaith dialogue is what needs to happen, and the sooner the better. Shallow diplomacy has had its day.

A new basis for Jewish/Christian understanding

So what should the new dialogue look like? How do we keep the good progress made over the last 70 years but throw out the politics of a silent collusion of injustice?

Perhaps a celebration of our creation mythology that makes clear that all humanity is equal in God’s eyes.

Maybe a common commitment to building communities where all faith traditions are respected and honoured.

How about a shared understanding that national chauvinism will always undermine building the Just and Righteous society that Jews and Christians pray for each day.

Or how about a firm belief that solidarity with the oppressed comes with a cost that’s always worth paying.

Otherwise, what exactly are we all being faithful to?

This post first appeared at Patheos site yesterday.

About Robert Cohen

Cohen is a British writer. He blogs at Micah's Paradigm Shift. http://micahsparadigmshift.blogspot.co.uk/

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15 Responses

  1. Citizen
    July 8, 2017, 8:26 pm

    Time for the Pope and other Christian leaders to stand up, and say, “2 wrongs don’t make a right.”
    Otherwise, are you really following Jesus’s way?

    I don’t know how all those Christian leaders can even look any Palestinian Christian, most especially, in the eye.

    • Donald Johnson
      July 9, 2017, 11:51 am

      They almost never have to look them in the eye, so they are more worried about being accused of Christian antisemitism. It probably doesn’t cross their minds that Israel defenders are anti Palestinian racists.

      Also, I watched an online video of the discussion of the anti BDS resolution at the Westchester County legislature a couple months ago. ( I might find the link later.). What struck me was how aggressive the pro Israel side was– one guy who intended to move to Israel soon iirc was blatant with the claim that BDS was antisemitic. The whole resolution assumed that. In contrast, one of theopponents of BDS bent over backwards to try to be conciliatory. He said that if we sat down together we would probably find we agreed on most things. So it was like the Yeats poem, with the best lacking conviction and the worst being filled with passionate intensity. The liberal legislators thought the resolution was a compromise because it spat on the BDS movement, but didn’t require the County to cease doing business with people who boycott Israel.

      That’s the climate in liberal America. It never crosses their minds on this subject that the real bigots are the people pushing anti BDS resolutions.

  2. LHunter
    July 9, 2017, 3:06 pm

    As a Catholic Palestinian I have always been amazed that my church has never been specific in their assessment of what is going on to the Palestinians. Why hasn’t the Pope come out and said that Palestinians are living under an apartheid system, that the occupation must end, that refugees have a right of return, that Israeli policies toward all Palestinians are grounded in racism, and that the Catholic church supports BDS. Instead, they make general statements about all human life being precious and how we should all work towards peace and not conflict.

    Many Christian Palestinians have been treated with a gentler hand than their Muslim neighbours and have been lulled into a status quo existence. I’ve personally heard many Christian Palestinians say that their existence is better under Zionist rule than it would be under a Muslim theocratic rule never even imagining a secular democratic society let alone fighting to make that the goal. The fear of life under a Muslim brotherhood type of government is or has been greater than their fear of living under a Zionist regime. When I bring up the idea of a secular Palestinian state with equal rights for all they dismiss the idea as fantasy.

    I’m guessing here (because I haven’t lived in Israel since 1967) but it sounds like life has gotten so desperate that they are willing now to gamble on an existence free of Zionism with Jews, Muslims and Christians living side by side in equality. The Zionists have moved so far right that they have not only forgotten about the Christians in their backyard but have purposefully treated them with disdain. There are many articles which have documented/opined on Zionisms need to reign supreme over Christians Palestinians – here is a sample of same.

    https://972mag.com/israels-not-so-stellar-record-on-treatment-of-christians/43325/

    http://mondoweiss.net/2012/03/the-myth-of-israels-favorable-treatment-of-palestinian-christians/

    https://imeu.org/article/discrimination-hate-crimes-against-christian-palestinians-in-the-holy-land

    http://time.com/4036257/christian-schools-israel-discrimination/

    Many churches have taken a stance against Zionism and the poor treatment of Palestinians, the latest being the Mennonites – http://mondoweiss.net/2017/07/mennonite-businesses-occupation/

    Others like the Quakers and Presbyterians support the BDS movement in the hope that a peaceful resolution can be engineered.

    Let’s hope that the Catholic church will follow suit and that American Catholics will take heed. I can’t even imagine how the battle would be fought with the Catholics, Quakers, Mennonites, and Presbyterians on one side and the Evangelicals on the other (https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2016/12/23/evangelicals-side-with-israel-thats-hurting-palestinian-christians/?utm_term=.748e2b023e70 ).

    Great article – Thank you for sharing Robert.

    • Jon66
      July 9, 2017, 11:04 pm

      From Pope Francis:

      “God promised the Holy Land to the people of Israel, Pope Francis said during a public address at the Vatican in Rome on Wednesday in a speech about migration.

      “The people of Israel, who from Egypt, where they were enslaved, walked through the desert for forty years until they reached the land promised by God,” he said.”

      “To attack Jews is anti-Semitism, but an outright attack on the State of Israel is also anti-Semitism,” Pope Francis told Lauder and his delegation. “There may be political disagreements between governments and on political issues, but the State of Israel has every right to exist in safety and prosperity.”

      • MHughes976
        July 10, 2017, 3:47 am

        You do well to draw these remarks to our attention, jon. I came across a website called Jewish-Christian Relations and a long article on the Covenant of Sinai by Hans Hendrix, seemingly well informed and remarking that something of an ecumenical consensus in favour of the idea that the Covenant was still valid, i.e. really that Christian Zionism is an unavoidable commitment for followers of the New Testament, had emerged even before Pope John Paul’s, and now Francis’s, dramatic pronouncements. This is not just excessive enthusiasm by F.
        Hendrix may overstate somewhat but I don’t think he’s so far wrong that the task of constructing a New Testament based anti-Z, at any rate one that will command much support, might be imagined easy.

      • eljay
        July 10, 2017, 7:15 am

        || Jon66: From Pope Francis … ||

        The pope should be ashamed of himself for choosing Jewish / “Jewish State” supremacism over justice, accountability and equality.

    • Nathan
      July 10, 2017, 7:31 am

      LHunter – You seem amazed that the Pope doesn’t see things as you do. However, that’s the world we live in. There are different points of view. It could be argued, for example, that the refugees don’t have the right of return. The Arab League peace proposal calls for an agreed and just solution. “Agreement” means that the issue must be negotiated. It also means that justice has to be defined. The Arab League also doesn’t see things as you do.

      You should note that “apartheid” and “occupation” are contradictory terms. If it’s “apartheid” (two legal systems within one state), then there’s no occupation (a state does not occupy its own territory, obviously). If it’s an “occupation”, then it means that a public is under the rule of a foreign state. Well, that’s not apartheid. Look at the solutions to “apartheid” and “occupation”. To solve apartheid, there should be one state with a single legal system. This is called “the one-state solution”. To solve occupation, there should a withdrawal of forces from the territory in question, and another government takes over. This is called “the two-state solution”. To raise a complaint of “apartheid” and “occupation” in one breath means that one envisions a one-state solution and a two-state solution at one and the same time.

      • gamal
        July 10, 2017, 9:18 am

        The case of Namibia springs to mind, Apartheid and Occupation,

        Mr. Speigelprime on reddit opines:

        “Originally it was occupied by South African troops in 1915 as part of WWI. Namibia was a German colony called German South West Africa and South Africa committed itself to fight with the British side of the war effort. While the South African government wanted to annex the territory the major powers wouldn’t allow for an out-and-out annexation but created it into a League of Nations mandate for South Africa in 1919-1920 (I’ve seen both). Even after WWII South Africa maintained its claim despite UN and other international objections. White settlers did begin to settle there and the racial policies of what would become Apartheid followed (the Germans had also had racial segregation policies in place prior). South Africa tried to incorporate it as a fifth state but did not in the face of international pressure.”

        he links to

        http://www.namib.info/namibia/uk/history/resistance_against_south_africa/index.php

        from which

        “In 1964, the Odendaal-Plan was carried out in Namibia and according to the South African model, ten Homelands were set up. This caused the United Nations to withdraw the mandate of administration from South Africa and to request immediate withdrawal and transfer of control to the UN. South Africa ignored the United Nations’ request. SWAPO called on all Namibians to start the armed fight against suppression. Many SWAPO supporters were taken in or driven into exile.

        August 26th 1966 went down in history as “Namibia Day”. Bloody fights between insurgents and police forces were reported near Omgulumubashe. The South African government proclaimed a state of emergency in the region. In response, SWAPO started the armed fight against South Africa. The scene of the first fights was mainly in Ovamboland. Freedom fighters targeted police patrols and government buildings. The attacks mainly occurred from withdrawal bases in neighbouring Angola.”

        and a Namibian view

        “NAMIBIA’S diplomatic relations with Israel will continue to be controversial especially in the light of that country’s continuing occupation of Palestine.

        We should not forget that Israel was also a big supporter of the apartheid South African regime in its fight to stop independence for Namibia and majority rule in South Africa.

        In addition, it was an open secret that Israel assisted apartheid SA with its ambitious nuclear programme before independence that could have been used to subdue the rising African nationalism in the region.

        In 1994 Namibia and Israel opened bilateral relations. Thus, wittingly or unwittingly Namibia, and also South Africa, are supporting the occupation of Palestine by Israel. By giving diamond concessions to a top Israeli company and by maintaining diplomatic ties with the Israeli state, Namibia is actually sabotaging the struggle of the Palestinian people. We are celebrating apartheid in Palestine.”

        http://allafrica.com/stories/201508140832.html

      • Naftush
        July 10, 2017, 2:02 pm

        To raise a complaint of “apartheid” and “occupation” in one breath means, in the intellectually more honest case, that one envisions the demise of Jewish statehood one way or the other, never mind which, and in the less honest case, that one tosses these words around interchangeably and meaninglessly in the hope that they will somehow cause the Jewish side harm.

      • Mooser
        July 10, 2017, 4:11 pm

        ,” that one envisions the demise of Jewish statehood one way or the other,”

        Yes, people are entitled to envision the demise of Jewish statehood. Why shouldn’t they?

      • MHughes976
        July 10, 2017, 5:44 pm

        It is perfectly possible for the same person to be operating a military government not representing the people of an area and to be pursuing in the same territory or perhaps a subset of it – or perhaps a wider area – a policy of separate racial development under one sovereign power. Namibia in the old days is probably is a good example. One may and should reasonably wish, though cannot always expect in the short term, for both these features to be absent from all societies and may reasonably complain of both when both are present.

      • Talkback
        July 11, 2017, 8:48 am

        Nathan: “To raise a complaint of “apartheid” and “occupation” in one breath means, in the intellectually more honest case, that one envisions the demise of Jewish statehood one way or the other, never mind which, and in the less honest case, that one tosses these words around interchangeably and meaninglessly in the hope that they will somehow cause the Jewish side harm.”

        That’s outreagous, Nathan. Don’t they know that one is only allowed to envision the demise of Nonjewish states or to cause the Nonjewish side harm and only if Jews are suffering?

        Just imagine that Jews would live under Apartheid and/or occupation. I mean that would be enough to call for a regime change, no? But if Jews make Nonjews suffer that’s a total different case, isn’t it?

      • Nathan
        July 11, 2017, 8:18 pm

        Again, Talkback, you attribute to me a quote that is not my quote. What is the reason for such dishonesty? I have a comment above. You can quote me and then debate with me. There’s no reason for lying (or, at least, I haven’t figured out your motivation for false quoting).

      • Talkback
        July 12, 2017, 9:37 am

        Nathan: “Again, Talkback, you attribute to me a quote that is not my quote.”

        It was the same mistake. I read Nathan instead of Naftush. This time you even initiated the discussion and then Naftush came in.

        Nathan: ” What is the reason for such dishonesty?”

        The more relevant question is, why do you dishonestly accuse me of being dishonest and dishonestly rule out the possibility that it was a mistake?

        Nathan: I have a comment above. You can quote me and then debate with me. There’s no reason for lying (or, at least, I haven’t figured out your motivation for false quoting).”

        Theres no reason for me to lie. Not even about my mistakes. When it comes to narcissists its different, isn’t it Nathan?

      • LHunter
        July 13, 2017, 10:26 pm

        Nathan “You seem amazed that the Pope doesn’t see things as you do.”

        I am amazed that a man of God doesn’t do more to ease the suffering of the Palestinians given the overwhelming evidence of Zionist atrocities against the indigenous Palestinian population. You are not?

        “The Arab League peace proposal calls for an agreed and just solution. “Agreement” means that the issue must be negotiated. It also means that justice has to be defined. The Arab League also doesn’t see things as you do.”

        http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/03/arab-league-reject-apartheid-system-palestine-170329173919757.html

        Not sure you have any understanding of what the Arab League wants or believes – don’t be lazy – read the above article as I did. They see things a lot like I do.

        “You should note that “apartheid” and “occupation” are contradictory terms. If it’s “apartheid” (two legal systems within one state), then there’s no occupation (a state does not occupy its own territory, obviously). If it’s an “occupation”, then it means that a public is under the rule of a foreign state.”

        Thank you for the lesson. The UN Report written by two US scholars on international law claims Israel is practicing apartheid on all Palestinians – those living in Israel proper and those living under occupation in Gaza and the West Bank. How is that possible? It all depends on how one views things – “… that’s the world we live in. There are different points of view.” The Zionist see the occupied territories as part of Israel (the proof is in the pudding – israel is building residences there for their citizens) – one state. In that geographical area israel practices apartheid according to the authors of the UN Report. Others see the OCCUPIED TERRITORIES (funny choice of words) as being subject to a brutal and violent occupation by Israel. They do not see these territories as being part of Israel proper. Can you see now how it is possible that Israel can be seen as practicing both apartheid and maintaining an occupation? That’s why I mentioned apartheid and occupation “in one breath” – I am aware of the varying opinions and wanted to be inclusive.

        If we took your take on the differences between apartheid and occupation as gospel, then I would argue that the Palestinians living in Israel proper are living under an aparthied system of laws and policies aimed at oppressing the Palestinians because they are non-jews (as concluded by the UN Report). And the Palestinians in the OCCUPIED TERRITORIES would be living under Israeli occupation. Apartheid and occupation side by side all brought on by the Zionist criminals of Israel.

        Naftush “To raise a complaint of “apartheid” and “occupation” in one breath means, in the intellectually more honest case, that one envisions the demise of Jewish statehood one way or the other, never mind which, and in the less honest case, that one tosses these words around interchangeably and meaninglessly in the hope that they will somehow cause the Jewish side harm”

        Yes I envision the demise of a Jewish state as I would if it was a Catholic state that treated Jews like the Palestinians are being treated. I’m against discrimination based on race, religion, culture, gender – are you? do you believe israeli Jews are superior to Palestinians? Zionism and Zionists cause Jewish harm not those who believe Israel is an apartheid state and a brutal occupier.

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