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Liberation theology and the war in Gaza

Israel/Palestine
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Leonardo Boff

Leonardo Boff

This is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.

To many, Leonardo Boff is a prophet. As a Brazilian Roman Catholic liberation theologian for many years, Boff is respected on the religious left for his outspoken critique of injustice within and outside of the church. His influence is so wide and his ideas so radical that some years ago he was censored by the Vatican in Rome.

In a wide-ranging interview in Iglesia Descalza, Boff spoke about the new Pope with ease and respect. His words and endorsement carry currency in Brazil and beyond:

Times have changed and thank God we have a Pope who, for the first time in 500 years, responds to reform, responds to Luther. Luther launched what we call the Protestant Principle, which is the principle of freedom. And this Pope lives it. And he doesn’t see Christianity as a bunch of truths that you adhere to, but as the living encounter with Jesus. He distinguishes between Jesus’ tradition — that set of ideals and traditions — and the Christian religion, which is equal to any other religion. He says: “I belong to the Jesus movement”, and not to the Catholic religion. Such statements are outrageous to traditional Christians, but are absolutely correct in the theological sense — what we always said and were persecuted for.

And I’m glad that the Church is no longer a body that embarrasses us, but a body that could help humanity make the difficult crossing to a different kind of society that respects the rights of nature, of the Earth, concerned about the future of life. I myself have been in touch with the Pope and his central theme is life. Human life, that of the earth, of nature. And we have to save it, because we have all the tools to destroy it.

Though Boff’s words on the Pope, especially his opening to gays and abortion, are important and in Catholic circles controversial, no doubt his reflections on Gaza – and Jews – will also garner attention. Though short, they are worthy of further reflection:

This pope is absolutely contemporary and necessary. I think he’s the only world leader who is listened to and eventually could mediate this war of criminal massacre that Israel is carrying out against Gaza.

And I think much of the blame rests with Obama, who is a criminal. Because no drone (unmanned aircraft) attack could be done without his personal license. They are using all sorts of weapons of destruction. They’ve closed Gaza complete, it has been turned into a concentration camp, and they will destroy it. So you have a country that was the victim of Nazism and uses Nazi methods to create victims. This is the great contradiction.

And the United States supports them — Obama and all the presidents are victims of the great Jewish lobby that has two branches: the branch of the big banks and the media branch. They have enormous power over the presidents who don’t want to alienate them and follow whatever these radical extremist Jews united with the Christian religious Right say. This is combined with a president like Obama who hasn’t the least bit of humanitarian feeling, the compassion to say “stop the slaughter.”

Boff’s places the blame for Gaza on several levels. Israel is the most obvious to blame, so much so that it is largely unstated. Instead, Boff singles out Barack Obama for blame and circles back toward Israel and Jews – those who were victims of Nazis are now using Nazi methods to create the victims of Gaza. Boff notes the “great contradiction” without explanation. This, too, is obvious.

Then Boff becomes more specific. He links Gaza, Israel and Obama with the “great Jewish lobby,” the branches of which consist of the banks and the media. Boff characterizes the Jewish lobby as consisting of “radical extremist Jews” who, notably, are united with the Christian religious right. So if Boff is seen as promoting a conspiratorial sense of history – which no doubt he will be – Jews are present, along with Christians. Obama and perhaps by extension the United States is located at the center.

With the surge of feeling about Israel and Jews surrounding the Gaza war and Israeli policy toward Palestinians in general, what are we to make of Boff’s brief comments? This is important especially because the Jewish establishment has consistently tried to taint liberation theology with the broad brush of anti-Semitism. This is the case even though liberation theology has for the most part steered clear of the Israel-Palestine issue. For many years, the Jewish establishment has focused on liberation theology’s use of Jesus as the liberator of the poor. Perhaps subconsciously the Jewish establishment knew that liberation theology’s commitment to the poor of the world would inevitably involve a critique of Jewish power in Israel and beyond.

Will Boff’s calling out of the Jewish lobby and radical extremist Jews be relegated to the stereotypes of Jewish control of the global economy and media? Or will those who are interested in the suffering of the Palestinian people place themselves in solidarity with Jews of Conscience who are battling the same forces Boff calls out perhaps in a language that needs a deeper encounter.

After all, like most peoples, including the citizens of Brazil – and as Boff knows well from his own experience with the Catholic Church – Jews exist on both sides of the empire divide. For every Jewish lobbyist there is a Jew of Conscience – and sometimes more.

Marc H. Ellis
About Marc H. Ellis

Marc H. Ellis is Professor of History and Jewish Studies and Director of the Center for the Study of the Global Prophetic. His latest book is Finding Our Voice: Embodying the Prophetic and Other Misadventures.

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9 Responses

  1. just
    just
    July 31, 2014, 2:22 pm

    Thanks Marc.

    I think that Leonardo Boff is onto something, and I am grateful for it.

    There is one human being that can possibly stop this massacre and this enormous and historic injustice, and his name is President Barack Obama.

    If Israel did not heed, then their well- deserved isolation as a terrorist and pariah state will only grow.

    (Lawrence Haas is given a platform on CNN — Lemon is pitiful, sorry.)

  2. Interested Bystander
    Interested Bystander
    July 31, 2014, 2:34 pm

    Boff looks like a perfectly well meaning fellow judging by his visage. He also comes across like a perfect buffoon here. Obama is a criminal because no drone attack could happen in Gaza “without his personal license?” Gaza is a Nazi concentration camp and all that implies? And the big banks are a branch of the Jewish lobby? Well, that certainly does give ammunition to anyone who wants to paint Boff as an anti-Semite and crack-pot. Boff may well not deserve to be painted with that brush (I have no idea) and may need some pre-emptive explaining and defending. Fine. But it does not seem like he has anything useful to add to the discussion of Israel and Gaza.

    • MTd2
      MTd2
      July 31, 2014, 9:13 pm

      This is the common and obvious views of how things are among socialists here, including me. Note that he didn’t say “the big banks” and “the media”, just the big media that is owned by the fascist scoundrels. So, he is hardly outside the mainstream of his political views among his peers. He actually sound repetitive of the same common views I ever hear. So, I don’t really thing he will actually need any explanation or defense, but I am not sure how he is seen or known outside here.

  3. Citizen
    Citizen
    July 31, 2014, 3:17 pm

    “Then Boff becomes more specific. He links Gaza, Israel and Obama with the “great Jewish lobby,” the branches of which consist of the banks and the media. Boff characterizes the Jewish lobby as consisting of “radical extremist Jews” who, notably, are united with the Christian religious right. ”

    So, I should ask Penny Pritzker if these dots connect?

  4. W.Jones
    W.Jones
    July 31, 2014, 3:49 pm

    Good job quoting Boff. He is a foundational place to start when it comes to Liberation Theology. Of course, it doesn’t mean one must accept everything he says, but in any case, it can serve as a useful starting place.

  5. michelle
    michelle
    July 31, 2014, 4:45 pm

    .
    Obama needs a new master
    though it’s too bad he won’t be his own master
    if he was the goodness within him would show
    .
    No man can serve two masters: for either he
    will hate the one, and love the other; or else he
    will … You can’t serve both God and Mammon
    .
    G-d Bless
    .

  6. Mooser
    Mooser
    July 31, 2014, 5:11 pm

    Personally, I think excessive drinking doesn’t help anything. I’d be very leery of libation theology.

  7. Don
    Don
    August 1, 2014, 12:20 am

    “Or will those who are interested in the suffering of the Palestinian people place themselves in solidarity with Jews of Conscience who are battling the same forces Boff calls out perhaps in a language that needs a deeper encounter.”

    That solidarity is long overdue.

  8. wes
    wes
    August 1, 2014, 7:06 am

    Vatican

    The Roman Catholic Church affirms that genocide took place but states that those who took part in it did so without the permission of the Church.[228] Though religious factors were not prominent (the event was ethnically motivated), in its 1999 report Human Rights Watch faulted a number of religious authorities in Rwanda, including Roman Catholic, Anglican, and other Protestants for failing to condemn the genocide directly – though that accusation was belied over time.[229] Some in its religious hierarchy have been brought to trial for their participation by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and convicted.[228] Bishop Misago was accused of corruption and complicity in the genocide, but he was cleared of all charges in 2000.[230] Many other Catholic and Protestant clergy, however, gave their lives to protect Tutsis from slaughter.[229] Some members of the clergy participated in the massacres. In 2006, Father Athanase Seromba was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda for his role in the massacre of 2000 Tutsis. The court heard that Seromba lured the Tutsis to the church, where they believed they would find refuge. When they arrived, he ordered bulldozers to crush the refugees within and Hutu militias to kill any survivors.[231][232]

    boffin no less,of all matters earthly.a catholic no less with a taste for luther,and a great admirer of the pope.

    i have a question for you.

    what role did liberation theology play
    in rwanda

    just leave your answers below mine.perhaps we could solve the i/p fugwatta or at least make a contribution to peace

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