A Jew, Jesus and Justice for Palestinians: An interview with Mark Braverman

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Mark Braverman is a retired clinical psychologist, who in 2006 decided to devote himself full-time to working on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. His book, Fatal Embrace: Christians, Jews and the Search for Peace in the Holy Land, combines a description of the spiritual and psychological forces which define the conflict, with a memoir of his own personal journey. He believes that American churches have a pivotal role to play in any future resolution, thus he has devoted most of his efforts to working with Christian activists.

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Braverman’s book was quoted prominently in the controversial recent report of the Church of Scotland, “The Inheritance of Abraham? A Report on the ‘Promised Land.’”  This document was widely criticized by the Jewish establishment in Great Britain and by the Israeli government.  We reported on this story, here, here, here and here.  As a result of pressure from the Jewish community, many of Braverman’s thoughts were removed from the revised version of the document.

On May 28, Mark Braverman generously agreed to a telephone interview with Phil Weiss and me, from a motel in North Dakota, while driving cross-country, moving to Oregon.  In the interview Braverman talks about, among many other things, the Church of Scotland’s report, the biblical promise of the holy land to the Jewish people, Jesus’ radical critique of Judaism and why he believes all of these are important in the pursuit of peace and justice in the Middle East.

He is the Program Director of Kairos USA. His website is His previous contributions to Mondoweiss are here.

Mark Braverman’s new book,  A Wall in Jerusalem:  Hope, Healing, and the Struggle for Peace in Israel and Palestine, is due out in November 2013.        


Ira Glunts:  Do you have any connection with the Church of Scotland?  Are you in touch with them?  Were you aware that your work would be extensively quoted in  “The Inheritance of Abraham?” before its publication?

Mark Braverman:  I was invited to speak to a group at the Church of Scotland at their general assembly last year in Edinburgh. I was in Scotland at the time, because Naim Ateek  and I were doing a whole week of lectures at Iona on Kairos. Anyway, they do know me.  They organized a side event, or fringe event, to talk about Kairos at their conference and I was the speaker.  They had a standing-room-only area for people that were just crazy for the topic.  So I got a sense that the Scots are where they are about this.  But also the thing is that they could only have it as a fringe event.  It could not be part of the actual program.  They had it in a church next door, so people came over from the conference; they called it a fringe event and they advertised it. 

Ian Alexander, who I believe is the author of this document, is one of the prime movers of this document.  [See update below for disclaimer.]  He worked for Sabeel, in Jerusalem for a couple of years.  He was a former member of The Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI).  And his job at the church, I believe, is to run their Middle East mission. He is the head of the World Mission Council for the Church of Scotland.   And he has made this his project and he is doing an enormous amount of wonderful work and putting out all kinds of great stuff from the church.  The church has a long-time commitment to this issue and they have appointed someone very strong and very active to put this thing across.  So that’s the background and my own connection to it.

Ira Glunts:  Did you know that your writings would be an important part of the Church of Scotland report?

Mark Braverman:  No I did not.  It was a complete surprise.

Ira Glunts:  That must have been some surprise.  How did you, a Jew from both a religious and Zionist background, become involved with Christian Church activism on behalf of the Palestinians?

Mark Braverman:  Somebody asked me that the other day. Where does all your passion come from about this issue? And I said it comes from being raised as a Jew. I was raised to believe that the core of my Judaism was to believe in social justice, very much in that prophetic, out of that prophetic tradition.  In fact my father who was not a religious man, but who identified strongly as a Jew, was a member of the Anti-Defamation League back in the 50s and 60s when they were the good guys.  I was raised being opposed to prejudice, which was what we called white on black racism in those days.  My dad gave me a very very strong education in social justice.  So that’s one side of it. 

The other side of it was that I was totally raised as a Zionist. If you were a Jewish kid, raised in Philadelphia which had a strong Jewish community, and born in 1948, you’re raised in a very potent combination of Rabbinic Judaism and political Zionism. The two are totally merged. And Israel is redemption and Leon Uris’ “Exodus” was effectively part of the bible, so I absorbed both of those at the same time. And to make a long story short, when I finally saw the occupation, those two things came crashing against each other so I knew what I was seeing and I had to do something about it. But also, having been raised on Zionism, and having been passionate about that story that I had been told then I learned there was a whole other narrative, a different narrative, and this narrative was the story of the Palestinians, who played the part of the enemy in the Zionist story.

I realized that the Zionist story I was taught was not working, and I had to do something about it.  So I went back to the United States after my exposure and felt that I had to tell the Jewish community, hey we are really in trouble guys, this is not working, this story we tell is full of lies and distortions.  And a big part of this is admitting it and we have got to do something about this or the whole thing is going to come crashing down.  And, of course, the doors of the synagogue did not exactly fling open in welcome.

Phil Weiss:  Could you give us a time when that was?

Mark Braverman:  2006.  That recently.  I went with an interfaith peace group, The Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR).  And it just blew my mind.  A lot of that just means the whole memoir of that is in the book [Fatal Embrace] — stories like my re-encounter with Yad Vashem, seeing how the Nazi Holocaust story was being misused to promote Israel’s agenda.  Because I went with FOR my network was Christian, very progressive Christians, and we had a covenant that we would come back and tell the story.   But I couldn’t speak in synagogues, but the doors of the churches flung open.  Of course, I was never supposed to go into churches, having grown up as a Jew, they were dangerous places, but now I was speaking in all these churches,  when they heard about Palestine, Christians they said whoa we are supposed to do something about this, this is a ministry, this is a mission.

Phil Weiss:  That’s beautiful.

Mark Braverman:  And just like a neighborhood mission, and like going to Africa or Latin America whatever it is, you heard that the Palestinians are being oppressed and that means we are supposed to do something about it.  Except for one thing, we can’t go here on this one because we’re Christians and this is a Jewish state and we are not allowed to get involved in any way that challenges the construct about Israel and Jewish survival.  

The ecumenical deal just plugged right in here and that’s how I learned about it.  I found myself in situations where I would say to them, look, I can tell you that this is not an act of love to the Jewish people — you have got to do the right thing.  This is a human rights issue, not an interfaith project.  Yes anti-Semitism is bad, yes you bear a lot of responsibility for Jewish suffering, God knows.  But you have got to take that and put it over here and take the human rights issue of the Palestinians and put it over here. 

As Christians, church denominations, congregations and individuals, you know what you got to do – and make no mistake, there is a price to pay because the tragedy of the situation is that if you take on the Palestinian cause you are going to be called the worst names that you can be called by the Jewish establishment.  If you don’t want that to happen, just find another cause.  That’s what’s going to happen.  So people would come to me and say fine we want to take on the Palestinian thing but show us, because you’re Jewish, how we can do this without alienating the Jewish community and have it all be nice.  I said it ain’t going to happen.

There are Jews like Mondoweiss Jews, JVP (Jewish Voice for Peace) and Braverman Jews who will agree with you, but we are not the mainstream of the Jewish community and we are not here to bless your project and you don’t need the Jews to bless your project.  This is a church issue and the church has to put its house in order, and if you wait for the Jewish community to come around to see what kind of trouble you are in, you are going to wait too long.  So if you are willing to accept those conditions please go for it. Please, I’m asking you as a Jew to go for it.

Ira Glunts:  In your mind is “The Inheritance of Abraham?” an example of “going for it”?

Mark Braverman:  Absolutely, it’s a beautiful thing.  I love it, I just love it.  They’re going for it.  And I mean they’re out ahead.  But you know you can see groups of Presbyterians here and fifth column Episcopalians and Methodists getting more and more organized and going for it here, but not the institutional church itself, in those cases the traditional church is fighting them.  It’s different in Scotland.

Ira Glunts:  I was a little surprised that the report was overwhelmingly accepted as opposed to the conferences in the United States where the pro-Palestinian resolutions only had the support of a minority.

Mark Braverman:  Yes, it has been a minority so far, but a growing minority, and it has become a huge internal church struggle.   And I think that’s fine, that struggle like other internal church struggles is an important process, and they are getting somewhere. It’s only going to go in one direction. It’s a church struggle, in Scotland, it’s been different, the institutional church itself has been out in front, and as you can see, it is taking the heat.

Ira Glunts:  Another thing that is very much different in Scotland as opposed to what happened in the United States is that in the U.S. the issue of activism in Palestine was expressed as a political issue only and in Scotland much of the argumentation and much of the controversy stemmed from the theological arguments.

Mark Braverman:  It was all theological!  And I think that was the other thing that was beautiful about it because I believe strongly that the core issue for the churches are biblical and theological.  The thing about this issue is that the politics and the theology converge.  You cannot take this on as a political issue if you are a typical Scot, Englishman or German or American or whatever, for a Christian, without taking on the theological issues, because otherwise they’re a barrier because, and they explain this very well in the document, they go through all the texts, the text in Genesis, if you read those you say, hey, wait a minute, the Jews get the land and God’s will, etc. etc.  So there is significant theological work that needs to be done to say why that isn’t so. Why this is not a land promise that is to be taken literally.  Why there are mitigating circumstances. And the biggest issue, and they do a beautiful job of this and I wish they quoted Gary Burge because he is the guy now, an evangelical Christian and bible scholar.   He teaches at Wheaton College.  The biggest issue and this gets right back to the interfaith thing, because in fact if you take a look at the Old Testament and you go from Genesis right through to the Prophets, there is a development.

Genesis is clearly a tribal, divine promise to a family.  You are going to get this land, you are going to get all those cows and cattle, you are going to get rich, you’re going to be my people.  There’s a real estate clause in this covenant.  It’s clear that the land comes with the covenant deal.  And the covenant deal is I am your God, you are my tribe. It’s kind of primitive, yes, kind of primitive. You’re not supposed to say that about the Old Testament, but it’s got stuff in it that’s primitive.  The prophets come along, starting with Samuel, and when you get to Kings they have a very powerful social justice message.  You can find it in the Pentateuch, as well, for sure.  There’s all kinds of stuff that you had to be good to the poor and all the stuff that the prophets pick up on.  But the land promise itself is never taken off the table.  Even the conditionality of it, the divine message that if you stray from my code, I’ll kick you off the land, and you have to be good to the land, you’ve got to be good to the strangers in the land.  You know the Rabbis for Human Rights people people drive me crazy, when they talk about the need to be good to the Palestinians and they quote Leviticus: you have to be good to the stranger and the land.  It drives me up a wall.  Who are they calling “the strangers?!”  In any case, it’s all in the Old Testament that the land promise is always there and the conditionality, I think, does not mitigate it, in fact I think it reinforces it. 

That’s when Jesus comes along as a Jewish reformer:  Temple – gone.  Land promise – gone.  If there is one God and if we got the Torah from God, it’s very very clear that it’s universal and you don’t hang out in this land anymore, you go out to the ends of the earth.  Jesus says nothing about the land.  He talks literally about deconstructing the temple and in concrete terms: “No stone will be left one upon another!”  The Temple in Jerusalem is the symbol of all that has to go.  It is the symbol of the corruption of the client Jewish rulers. That’s gone.  The New Testament completely does away with any land promise and any kind of territoriality.  That is the theology that needs to be done, to develop that space.  The problem is that both Jewish and Christian scholars, these days in this post Nazi-Holocaust era, say, you can’t say that because then that’s supercessionism.  That’s the idea that the church came to replace the Jews, and that doctrine was the ground that Christian anti-Semitism was built on. But it’s not gospel, it’s not Jesus.  That’s second and third century.  It’s all part of the church that threw the Jews under the bus for all sorts of historical reasons and they developed that theology.

Ira Glunts:  I would like to talk about supercessionism a little bit and the relationship between this church document [“The Inheritance of Abraham”] and the Jewish community.  I am a Jew that was brought up in the Bronx in a Jewish Catholic neighborhood, so I understood the concept of supercessionism when I was 7-years-old -  that somehow Jesus’ teaching invalidates Judaism.  Now in this era of interfaith relationships you do not hear too much about that. So as a Jew, I was amazed when the church brought up the topic of supercessionism to support its pro-Palestinian activism.  I was also taken aback when I read that the officials of the Church of Scotland were surprised and bemused by the intensely negative reaction of the Jewish community to the report.

Mark Braverman:  Well they shouldn’t be surprised because it plugs right into the most fundamental existential fear that the Jews have.  We see anti-Semitism everywhere.  We see the world through that lens and starting in the 70s when there began to be some questions about Israel, the ADL developed this whole concept of the “new anti-Semitism.”    What’s the new anti-Semitism? It’s being anti-Israel.  That’s when they started with the idea of the equation of the state of Israel and the Jewish people, and Zionism and Judaism.

Ira Glunts:  Can you define what supercessionism is?

Mark Braverman:  OK.  Supercessionism is that they interpret the bible, they interpret the New Testament as saying that Jesus came to bring a whole new law and a whole new religion.  The original promise or the original covenant between God and the ethnic Jewish people and God and Israel has been superseded or been replaced.  In fact it is called replacement theology.   There is now a new Israel, which is the church of Jesus Christ.  Then that doctrine became the basis for anti-Jewishness.  Not only did we Jews reject God’s gracious gift of his only begotten son, we killed him.  And then we went back to our horrible, archaic religion and Christianity went off to become the new Israel.   And then when the church threw in with the Roman Empire, and persecution of the Jews began in force, that, in a kind of twisted reasoning became the proof of the fact that the Jews were guilty of rejecting Christ – see how they are paying with their suffering! We’re suffering the punishment of God for having rejected Jesus.  That’s supercessionism.

It’s a great evil.  After World War II that became the basis for the Nazi Holocaust. It could not have happened without the good solid foundations of this anti-Jewish doctrine, firmly implanted in the culture of Christian Europe. It was handed to the Nazis on a plate. 

And when there was this horror and revulsion about what had happened, after the dust settled and people saw the death camps, then the Christian world, the theologians and the historians, the clerics said, we have got to purify ourselves and we’ve got to purge this toxic horrible stuff out of our religion.   We’ve got to find a way to make our theology still work.   Our theology of personal salvation still works without making it on the backs of the Jews. The Protestants did it first, then you had Vatican II, it was the same process.  Now it is politically absolutely incorrect and impossible to say something, anything that could possibly be interpreted or perceived as partaking of supersessionism when Christians talk about Jews.  That makes it so difficult to criticize Israel, because both the Jews and the Christian Zionists, both in mainstream and evangelical Christian circles, have accepted the definition of what Israel is to the Jews.  That it is an essential part of Jewish identity to be a political Zionist.  And that Israel is an essential part of Judaism.  This wasn’t true before the 40s.  Most of organized Judaism was anti-Zionist before the war. We want to be a faith community like the Protestants! Why would we want to have an ethnic national ideology as part of our religion, what a terrible idea!

Ira Glunts:  So given the history, still the Scottish church wasn’t reticent to bring up supercessionism.  You would think they would have been.

Mark Braverman:  Here is the thing.  And again, you will need some other experts to talk to you about the history of the Scottish Church and why they felt that way.  You should interview Ian Alexander. 

But, I personally believe that we have gone too far in making it the great evil.  The fact is, we are looking at the current situation with Israel using a modern lens — looking back at the idea of what Christians did to the Jews and what Christianity did to the Jews over the millennia, and when you do that you really have to blame supersessionism.  But you know if you go back to the first century context, you look at Jesus as a reforming Jew who was speaking truth to power, to the corrupt Jewish establishment at the time. He was trying to bring his people back to Torah as a Jew.  Torah being the civil code based on compassion and social justice and equality.  Christianity’s roots were as a reforming movement in Judaism and if things had gone differently and the movement had succeeded, rather than creating a split between the followers of Jesus and the Jewish establishment that chose to cling to the status quo with Rome and the Temple, we wouldn’t be in the fix we are in now with this ethnic nationalism, with this separatism and exceptionalism that took years to incubate until Zionism arose in the late 19th century. 

Ira Glunts:  I wanted to ask you about that.  In a section of the original “The Inheritance of Abraham” which was deleted from the revised version, you are quoted as writing about “particular exclusiveness” and “exceptionalism.”  I wonder if you would briefly describe those concepts.

Mark Braverman:  That’s what they cut, because that smacks of supercessionism,  right?  Because here’s the old story that we don’t want to tell anymore. The old story we don’t want to tell anymore is the story of tribal exclusivist Judaism, that legalistic, rigid, tribal exclusivist Judaism, and universal open compassionate wonderful Christianity.

Ira Glunts:  Is that synonymous with Jesus’s radical critique of Judaism?

Mark Braverman:  Yeah, but then what happened was that it got turned into a denigration of Judaism.  Judaism became the foil.  Judaism became all that was bad, legalistic, rigid, uncompassionate, all of that stuff.  And Christianity was the light, it was the good stuff.  You got Jesus, he’s wonderful, he’s compassionate, he walks around in a white robe, and he’s got blue eyes and blond hair. Then you’ve got these vicious hook-nosed Pharisees, right? But that’s all modern stuff. What was happening at the time was Jesus was saying we need to reform Judaism to bring us back to God, because the Roman Empire is trying to take it away from us. The Pharisees, and the whole priestly class, and the Jewish community, Herod in Jerusalem and his son Antipas in the Galilee worked for Rome. So — but we’re not supposed to tell a story that pits Jesus against the Jewish establishment of his time because that sounds like we’re saying that Christianity and Jesus– Jesus was a Jew of course, he wasn’t some kind of proto Christian—that Jesus and Christianity is good, and Judaism is bad.

Ira Glunts:   Let me digress for a second and then we can come back to the report.  You have given some church sermons that are based on the New Testament and I was wondering if you have become a Christian?

Mark Braverman:  That’s a good question. So you know– Here’s how I’ve taken to answering that question, then I’ll go into it a little bit more. I will say to people and I have learned that I have to say this… when I start a sermon, I’m not talking about my Judaism as something I’ve left or that was part of my past, but I am still a Jew. I am still a Jew, I remain a Jew, I talk about Jesus, I revere Jesus, I am really into Jesus, but  I’m not a messianic Jew, I don’t get into all that messianic Christology. You know, I am a Jew. So I say: I’m not quite sure anymore what you mean when you say convert to Christianity… But I wish that things had gone differently in the first century so I wouldn’t have to be answering that question. 

Ira Glunts:  That’s very funny. 

Phil Weiss:  The way you frame the choice, Jesus versus the Old Testament, my heart responds to Jesus not the Pharisees. I don’t know much about religion, but I ask you, as someone who knows theology and religion well and responds to Jesus, why be a Jew? Why would you say you’re a Jew if these beliefs are so meaningful? Isn’t Jewish some kind of artifact in that case? What does it mean? 

Mark Braverman:  Because I am a Jew. Because I feel like I am a Jew. I think like a Jew. Everything that I am in terms of my values is a part of my Jewish upbringing. Now there’s a dark side that I’ve had to overcome, which is the exclusivism and exceptionalism and the victim mentality and all of that stuff– I have been working very hard to throw that off. But I treasure my Jewish identity, I treasure the fact that my ancestors were Jews, my grandfather was a rabbi– he grew up in Jerusalem by the way. I grew up in a Yiddish speaking household. I’m a Jew. And Christians would say, well you’re a Christian if you confess you believe Jesus Christ was the messiah. Well I don’t think Jesus thought he was the messiah or god or anything, I think that is a misinterpretation of the Scriptures. I think that is sort of a medieval concoction. 

There’s a political point I make. People come to me not in the friendly way that you have, but Jews come to me, or they will talk about me. I don’t know how many times this has happened: We heard that I’ve been accused of converting to Christianity. Now what that means in a Jewish context is the following. The word in Hebrew and Yiddish is schmad.  This translates roughly as “destruction,” “ruin.” It’s like your soul has been stolen. The Christians have done it, they managed to convert you. They stole your soul, they stole you away from the Jewish people.  There’s real history to this, it was real to the Jews for centuries, and not that far back.  That’s why it’s still in our collective consciousness that it’s the worst thing that can happen because Jewish survival is all about staying in the tribe, in the clan and not becoming an apostate to our religion. So to convert to Christianity is not simply a decision, it is an ultimate catastrophic betrayal of your people and of god. OK?  So to say:  Have you converted? … it’s an accusation and not really a question.

But what’s really going on here is they say well, we know you preach in churches and you talk a lot about Jesus, and you’re an anti-Zionist, i.e., you don’t believe that the State of Israel is the best thing that has ever happened to the Jewish people and that it’s necessary for Jewish survival. You have converted to Christianity, you’ve gone over to the other side and as such, I’ve decided you are being used, as someone who is trying to destroy the Jewish people. That’s what’s contained in that question. And there’s something else that’s contained in the question.  You could not possibly be a Jew if you’re saying the things you’re saying. That’s really important. No Jew could say the things you are saying and believe the things you believe and do the things that you do which are so destructive and so dangerous to the Jewish people. That’s what’s contained in the question, “have you converted to Christianity”– or the accusation that you’ve converted to Christianity.

Now it also happens that people come up to me in church after I’ve given a sermon and say, how is it that you get Jesus better than my pastor. I say I don’t know whether that’s true or not—

Ira Glunts:  It’s a nice compliment. 

Mark Braverman:  It is a nice compliment and I will say, thank you very much, and it may be because I have not had the benefit of Christian indoctrination, Christian education, and four years of systematic theology in the Protestant church. Because I can quote Jesus the way that a lot of evangelicals do. When I say evangelical I’m not talking about rightwing wingnut neocon end of time evangelicals. They are not the majority. Most evangelicals simply read the bible and they have much more direct access to the true message of the Gospels.  They read the New Testament, they read the Gospels, they read the Sermon on the Mount, they read what Jesus did, and they get Jesus.  It has so little to do with all the theology built up around it and all the crap that got built up around the church over the ages.  Jesus was awesome. I opened up the New Testament for the first time in my middle age, and this was the book I wasn’t supposed to open, it was like Americans never looking at the Koran — flames would come out and consume me, right? I read it and thought; this is awesome. I get this. He was the best prophet, the best teacher. I totally get this. I’ve read Naim Ateek, the Palestinian priest who founded Sabeel and developed Palestinian liberation theology. Why do they call it liberation theology?  It’s simply Christianity. This is what theology should be, is all about. This is what Jesus was talking about with the poor, it’s about compassion.  It’s the prophets. I know this stuff. It makes sense to me.

But you’re right Phil, the labels don’t make sense. I don’t consider myself religiously Christian or Jewish or maybe even Buddhist, but my wife and my son are Buddhist so I have a lot of Buddhism around me. You know, I’ve considered that those are — Buddhism is a way of life, it’s a way of seeing the world, it’s a way of running your life, a way of walking in the world.  OK, that’s what Christianity and Judaism can be. And I find myself right now in a community, in a faith community, and it so happens that because of where my life has lined up now, I don’t feel comfortable right now in a synagogue because they’re praying to the State of Israel.  But I do feel comfortable in many many churches because they are actively involved in a ministry that is my ministry right now — a particular human rights issue that I am involved with, and the church is the arena that I’m doing it in, and it’s the same bible. The same bible. They quote Psalms, they quote Isaiah, I mean — what’s the difference.  It doesn’t matter!

This is a story I tell a lot, it happened a few years ago when I was just starting out with this work. So I’ve just given a talk at a Catholic church. When somebody in the church finds out that you’re religious, they want to know where you worship.  What synagogue do you go to?  So I said,” You’re sitting in it.”  This is my synagogue, this work that I’m doing now.  And I know that the visionary rabbi on the cross up on the wall, above my right shoulder, he would totally endorse that statement.  So welcome to our synagogue!

Ira Glunts:  . There’s been a trend of critics of the Jewish religion who are Jews, Joel Kovel, Israel Shahak and Gilad Atzmon.

Mark Braverman:  Joel converted right?

Ira Glunts:  Yes, he converted. [see Mondoweiss interview, here] And two Israelis Israel Shahak and Gilad Atzmon have been very very critical of Judaism and its deleterious effect. Phil and I were wondering if you think you’re part of this trend, Jews rejecting Jewish teaching as tribalist, exceptionalist, traditional, unfit for the modern age.

Mark Braverman:  I guess I am part of this sort of the anti-Zionist or post Zionist trend that is represented by Kovel and Shahak and Atzmon. They are coming to their senses, they are seeing that this disaster of Israel has a lot to do with Jewish sensibilities in the modern age and what we’ve done with the trauma of 2000 years of being kicked around and culminating with the Nazi Holocaust. But I am starting to find ways to put it more positively. I think Zionism was an understandable, forgiveable, catastrophic wrong turn, as a solution to anti-Semitism. ….when we can see that and then we can forgive ourselves for it. And then we can go about fixing it. Of course that’s not where Israel is at. That’s not where the organized Jewish community which is in bed with the State of Israel is at… More and more people are seeing that they’re digging the hole deeper and deeper. And the sainted Tony Judt said it best, we have to start to dig our way out of the hole.   Peter Beinart and his ilk are helping us dig it deeper, but that’s a whole other conversation.

Ira Glunts:  I really enjoyed your article about Beinart

Mark Braverman:  Interestingly, The Nation was supposed to publish that, and at the last minute they backed out.

The Jewish progressives are– in some ways they are a bigger problem than the out- and- out Israel right or wrong apologists. I relate them now to Martin Luther King Jr.’s statement about the real problem being not the Ku Klux Klan, but the white moderate. That’s where we’re at now. They want to make the Zionist program work, they refuse to acknowledge that it can’t, and they’re digging the hole deeper. However, I would not–Atzmon and Kovel I don’t know, I haven’t seen everything, I loved Kovel’s book—but it’s certain he’s gotten a lot of flak for it — they start to sound anti-Jewish, antisemitic. I have to struggle with that as well, because you start to say all these classic anti-Jewish things, like “the Jews control Congress with their money” —and that’s the tragedy of it, all these clichés start coming true, with the federations and AIPAC and all that.

But I’m feeling more and more and more– well, here’s the other story. I came back from giving a talk at a church. My wife turned to me; she’s learned to expect surprises from me.  I’m always changing the rules.  And she said, “Are you becoming Christian?” she asked me that question, and again I didn’t have an answer. I wasn’t prepared for the question, but my answer was:  “No, I think I’m really becoming Jewish. I discovered the Jew I was supposed to be for the first time in my life.”

Ira Glunts:  What were your thoughts when you read the revised version of the “Inheritance of Abraham?”?  Much of the text that referenced your writing had been removed.  Generally, do you think the revisions altered the essence of the document?  Do you think the revisions placated the Jewish critics?

Mark Braverman:  I don’t feel angry or hurt or whatever that they took out those portions where they quoted me. I went back and I looked at the two versions.  And also an article that reports that even with the changes they made in response to the Jewish organization’s outrage.  Guess what?  The Jewish organizations that raised the initial fuss are still not happy.   Big surprise. Yes, they inserted the language saying we’ll talk to you any time, dialogue is good, and the obligatory language about Israel’s “right to exist.” That’s another phrase that drives me nuts.  Countries don’t have rights; people have rights. Countries have responsibilities. So I don’t like this business of people being pressured into saying Israel has a right to exist.  It’s an absurd, stupid thing to say.  All the Church of Scotland was saying was sure, Israel can be around, Israel just has to behave itself like other countries.  We’re not challenging Israel’s right to be there.  We’ll talk to you; we’ll keep talking to you. But then they really didn’t change anything important from the first version. They took out some of the Braverman stuff — fine.  But they stick to their guns. The theology is still there and the core message of it is still there.  The challenge to the land claim and to the exceptionalism, it’s all still there.  And they still achieved their goal, and the proof of it is that the Jewish Board of Deputies or whatever, the Scottish version of that is still unhappy.  If the Church of Scotland would have given the Jewish organizations what they really wanted, they would have taken the heart out of the report, but they didn’t do that, so we’re cool. 

It would have been better for them, which is what we did with the Kairos USA document, to have started off that way. To start off with language that preempts the criticisms that are going to come.  That might have been a mistake, but they fixed it, and they stuck to their guns.  I should say however, that I’ve just read Stephen Sizer’s blog on this same question, and he’s got a more nuanced take on what he sees as significant differences in the two versions – as usual with everything that Stephen puts out, it’s useful reading if you’re really interested in this story, and I think we should be.

Ira Glunts:  How do you see the politics of the conflict developing in the near future?

Mark Braverman:  What do I see happening? I see the peace process is not working because it’s based on completely false assumptions and damn lies. One of them is that Israel is interested in having a sovereign contiguous Palestinian state on its borders.  That this is not true should be obvious by now. Israel is doing what a state committed to being Jewish state has to do.  It’s taken over the entire territory and dealing with the inconvenient reality of non-Jewish inhabitants, and the inevitable outcome is what we have now, which is apartheid.  Although the accepted story is that a two-state solution is on the table, what you have now effectively is one state, an apartheid state, from the Mediterranean to the Jordan.  The reality we have now is the inevitable outcome of political Zionism and Jewish colonial settlement of Palestine, ok?  And the peace process is a complete sham,  It’s not even a sham, the peace process is political theater to keep the process going of ridding the territory of non-Jews or containing and disenfranchising them in some way.

Ira Glunts:  That seems to be well- recognized now.

Mark Braverman:  Talking about negotiations and the so-called peace process, that is letting Israel finish the job of ethnic cleansing.  What we need to see is that it’s unsustainable.  Not only unacceptable under law, but unsustainable.  So what we need is a global grassroots movement that is going to say this is not legitimate. When I saw the Israelis, the Reut Institute, come out with this statement about the need to combat the campaign to delegitimize Israel, I thought that was beautiful.  That they totally got it.  Exactly. What the movement is trying to do is to say that what Israel has become today is no longer legitimate.  It doesn’t mean we are trying to destroy Israel.  But Israel as it is today is not legitimate, it’s an apartheid state.  Is the boycott intended to hurt Israel?  Well yes, in the sense that it is designed to raise awareness and to cause Israel pain – not its citizens but its government. Yes, it’s what we did with South Africa, which was a rogue racist state, an apartheid state. “You want to destroy Israel” say the critics of the boycott.  No – it is meant to save Israel.  We liberated both whites and blacks from the evil of apartheid in South Africa — that’s what we have to do now for Israel.  South Africa is more and more and more an important model for us.  Even though there are differences, differences that make this struggle in some ways even more difficult.  For example, nobody believed that the Afrikaners were the chosen people.  But here we have to deconstruct an entire narrative about the Jewish people and the land that is deeply rooted in Western culture.

Phil Weiss:  The Afrikaners believed that.

Mark Braverman:  Yes, they believed that about themselves, but no one else did. What effectively the entire West believes is that the Jews are the chosen people who deserve the land for any variety of reasons, historical and theological.  We have a lot of work to do. But it’s happening. The church’s role was huge in South Africa. That’s what my new book is about.

Ira Glunts:  What’s the church’s role in the U.S.?

Mark Braverman:  In the Israel/Palestine conflict, the Methodists, the Presbyterians, the Quakers, the Mennonites, some of the Catholic orders — the church is doing a couple of things.  First of all, the Methodists got from 0 to 40 percent on divestment in a year—a huge huge accomplishment.  The Presbyterians, except for some dirty tricks that were played on them at their General Assembly, basically, effectively have embraced divestment, and their whole polity is saying, we have to divest from Caterpillar. They’re there. Now it’s not going to mean anything economically to Caterpillar, or to Israel for that matter. But it’s huge because what it does do is to create a constituency in this country that gives our government the political backup to do what it needs to do. Not to stop the money, the money will keep flowing — we will continue to do the military industrial complex thing, the circle of money that goes to Israel and comes back to the military industrial complex, that’s wired, that’s a bigger issue. But our government can use its leverage to change Israel’s policy and there’s some chance that Israel can be brought back from the brink.

Ira Glunts:  Let me wrap up by asking what’s your prescription for future activism? 

Mark Braverman:  Here’s the deal. I don’t think if you come across anybody who starts to say to you, here’s what’s going to happen, here’s what will happen politically in the United States, and here’s how things will start to realign themselves politically between the Israelis and the Palestinians, I wouldn’t listen to that person. That person is a fool, because at this point we don’t know, nobody knows.  My position is all we can do is do exactly what we’re doing, continue to build a grassroots movement that says no to the current reality of building apartheid in our time.   We have to take that down so that something else can come to be. We have to make Israel ungovernable, we have to stop supporting those policies, we have to continue to support the Palestinians and Israelis who are trying to work to keep their civil societies alive.  It’s really up to us here in this country, it’s about Washington and about London and Paris and Berlin and Geneva.  And the churches have a major role to play just as they did in South Africa and in the Civil Rights movement. Those were movements that started in churches. They were directly and unapologetically Christian movements. The Church has to get its own house in order to realize its own power and do its work here. It’s already happening.  The walls are starting to come down.

Ira Glunts:  Mark, thank you very much for doing this thoroughly compelling interview at a not so convenient time for you.

Mark Braverman:   Thank you.  I enjoyed doing it.


Updated 6/7/13: Reverend Ian Alexander, who is the Council Secretary for the World Mission Council of the Church of Scotland, has informed Mondoweiss that he is not the author of the report, “The Inheritance of Abraham?” as was surmised by Mark Braverman. Rev. Alexander also notes that the report was written by the Church and Society Council “with the support of the World Mission Council.” Return to interview.

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Interesting perspective and concepts. I can only hope Mark Braverman is correct when he says the Churches are becoming more and more active with Palestinian human rights issues. His comments about the peace process being a sham and providing cover for Israel to continue to ethnically cleanse Palestinians from the land are spot on. Thank you Ira and Phil for your interview of this remarkable man.

This may be the most incisive and instructive piece I’ve ever read on Mondoweiss, and there have been many. It gets at the deepest foundations of the conflicts in Israel/Palestine, of what following Jesus might have meant, of what it could mean to be a Jew, of what could have been if Jesus hadn’t been hijacked. (Paul may have been the villian there. Recalling that it was he who stopped requiring circumcision for gentile males… Read more »

Thank you for this exciting interview. I agree with much of what he says and I can even feel partial sympathy for the rest. However, as to the statement “yes you bear a lot of responsibility for Jewish suffering, God knows.”, isn’t this an over-generalization about churches? Certainly there are regions and Christian groups across the wide world that simply do not bear responsibility for Jewish suffering. Georgia and Armenia are two of the oldest… Read more »

Thank you so much for this interview. So much resonates — the idea of Jesus as a wise Rabbi — the idea that a wrong turn was taken in Israel for understandable reasons — that last is something I don’t often see on this site. And of course reaffirmation that the ‘peace process’ is a sham. I also needed the reminder that speaking out about the real lives of the Palestinians is necessary but is… Read more »

I am blown away by this post. Extemporaneous from a motel room! A very provocative interview that demonstrates what an incredible amount of thought you have all invested in these issues. Thank you. Some of my reactions to specific points: “Mondoweiss Jews.” “Braverman Jews.” Indeed! The possibility of becoming either makes me want to convert, if it wasn’t for that metzitzah b’peh thing. ……………………………… “Torah being the civil code based on compassion and social justice… Read more »