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A Christmas plea to my Christian brothers and sisters

on 16 Comments

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

On this Christmas in the year 2018, hear my confession, and my plea:

I need help.

I need your help.

Many lives are at stake.

It is a big ask.

It would take courage, determination and commitment, love and grace.

In the wake of the Holocaust – the culmination of centuries of Christian anti-Semitism — my People, the Jewish People, felt a deep need for a safe and eternal refuge – a Jewish homeland — and persuaded the Western World to put it in the Holy Land, where we were outnumbered by Gentiles — Christians and Muslims.

Robert Herbst

We were historically powerless.  We were traumatized and fearful.  We thought our safety lay in accumulating power – military, economic, financial and political power – and in cleansing from our part of the Holy Land the Palestinian Christians and Muslims who had lived on the Land for millennia.  The notion of a Jewish homeland, where Jews would always be free to live among the other Peoples of the Holy Land, quickly morphed into a Jewish State which privileges Jews over all other peoples.  My People passed scores of laws discriminating against Palestinians in rights and resources.  We relegated millions of Palestinians to refugee camps where they have languished for generations.  We put millions of Palestinians under military occupation and rule.  We imported tens of thousands of Jewish religious fundamentalists who settled on Palestinian lands, thinking that our People – the Chosen People — were meant by God to rule over all of the Holy Land, from the River to the Sea.

In identification with our oppressors, we became oppressors ourselves.  We have become the most powerful nation – militarily and economically – in the Middle East.  But we have lost our Jewish religious, moral and ethical principles requiring us to refrain from oppressing others and to treat the stranger among us as our own.

We remain traumatized and fearful.  We now also fear those we have oppressed, that they might wish to do to us what we have done to them.

We are turning even more inward, more inured to killing, to maiming, to our own oppression of others. We put down Palestinian violent resistance to our oppression with an Iron Fist, and put down non-violent Palestinian resistance – the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) of Palestinian civil society – with arrest, detention, deportation, intelligence and hasbara (propaganda) operations abroad designed to punish and marginalize such resistance.

We have lost our way.

We are losing our children who, with the clear eyes of the young, see the truth of what we have wrought, what we have done to others, and what we have done to ourselves.

We need help.

We need your help.

You, who in the “Exceptional Nation” of my birth, — a Christian nation — have helped facilitate, finance and otherwise support this oppression, which has resulted in the reduction of the Christian population of the Holy Land from 11% to under 1% now.

I therefore beseech you, as you celebrate Christmas this year and enjoy the New Year and every New Year to come:

Speak up to your Jewish Brothers and Sisters!

Engage us in dialogue.

Those of you who have been to the Holy Land and seen with your own eyes the plight of Palestinians living under occupation, discrimination and oppression, speak up!  Express your concern, and your opposition to our oppression.

Those of you who have not been there, but who have read about conditions in the West Bank and Gaza, ask us questions.

Ask us how we justify what we do there.  Not just to the world, but to ourselves.

Ask us in interfaith meetings, of both clergy and laity.  Wherever you encounter us, speak up!

As I said, this will take courage, not to remain silent out of fear of offending us, or because of guilt over Christian anti-Semitism by your forebears.  We need you and your intervention.

Recognize our fear and trauma, but speak truth to our power.  Talk to us critically about what we are doing to the Palestinians.  Not once, not twice, but over and over again.  Oppose what we are doing, not out of hate, but out of love.

Love of truth, and of all our fellow men, women and children, who deserve to live with freedom, human rights and dignity.

Like the Jew whose birth you celebrate today, help us to recognize that we are one human family, and that we all must speak truth to power, wherever it oppresses rather than lifts people up.

Merry Christmas!

Robert Herbst

Robert Herbst is a civil rights lawyer. He was chapter coordinator for Westchester Jewish Voice for Peace from 2014-2017,

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16 Responses

  1. Citizen on December 25, 2018, 8:58 pm

    Thank you, Robert Herbst. I for one, will do all I can to help.

  2. Marnie on December 25, 2018, 10:57 pm

    ‘Oppose what we are doing, not out of hate, but out of love.’

    You’re not asking much are you? Opposition will never be seen as anything but hate! Marc Lamont Hill gave a very passionate speech at the UN and was promptly removed from CNN because their handlers cannot abide opposition. He has been vilified as antisemitic. Shame on jews who allow racist jews to be their mouthpiece. I think you’re preaching to the wrong choir Mr. Herbst.

    • Citizen on December 26, 2018, 9:30 am

      Agreed. Why Not a Probe of ‘Israel-gate’?

    • Citizen on December 26, 2018, 10:17 am

      Just a few weeks ago Mr. Herbst showed us here at MW he is very aware of the cost of opposition to non-Jewish Americans–perhaps you missed this: A free Palestine from ‘the river to the sea’: a call for justice from Marc Lamont Hill, with consequences

    • Stephen Shenfield on December 26, 2018, 10:20 am

      Response to Marnie and also eljay below:

      We can and must preach to more than one choir. Christian Zionists are a huge force and their weight in the pro-Israeli camp is growing. More and more Jews are turning away from Zionism, but that does not seem to be true of Christian Zionists. We must try to get through to them too.

      How to do it? I have been corresponding with Christian Zionist theologians, but the results are hardly anything to write home about. Evidently I don’t yet have the knack. Perhaps Mr. Herbst does? He is writing for an audience that is highly philo-semitic and is blissfully unaware of many things that are important to us, such as the existence of anti-Zionist Jews. All that is hard for you to stomach. I too find it hard to stomach: I consider philo-semitism just as harmful as anti-semitism (and closely related to it).

      But then he is not addressing you/me/us, he is addressing them — i.e., Christian Zionists. However, do Christian Zionists read Mondoweiss? I think not. I wish Mr. Herbst success in getting his appeal to the people for whom it is designed.

      • eljay on December 26, 2018, 2:48 pm

        || Stephen Shenfield: Response to Marnie and also eljay below:

        We can and must preach to more than one choir. Christian Zionists are a huge force and their weight in the pro-Israeli camp is growing. …

        … he is addressing them … ||

        Your point is taken (although I stand by my comment).

        || … I wish Mr. Herbst success in getting his appeal to the people for whom it is designed. ||

        I second that sentiment.

  3. Marnie on December 26, 2018, 6:39 am

    ‘Recognize our fear and trauma, but speak truth to our power.’

    That should be conditional. Sorry, but the fear and trauma has been shoved down the collective throats of humanity in order to keep people looking over there and not over here. A palestinian child gets shot in the back – fear and trauma again? A wounded unarmed palestinian is shot in the head and the shooter congratulated on video – fear and trauma, again? A disabled palestinian man is summarily execuated – fear and trauma, again? 4 palestinian children playing on a beach and blown up – fear and trauma, again? 500+ palestinian children killed – let me guess, fear and trauma? A mother, father and baby burned alive – don’t tell me, fear and trauma? Exactly how many crimes is ‘fear and trauma’ supposed to cover?

    • Citizen on December 26, 2018, 9:16 am

      How about “recognize the cycle of abuse, but end it”?

  4. Misterioso on December 26, 2018, 8:56 am

    This recent article seems timely:

    “Remember: Christ was a Palestinian refugee” Al Jazeera, Dec. 25/18, by Hamid Dabashi
    (Hamid Dabashi is the Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University.)

    “And when the angels said, ‘O Mary, indeed Allah gives you good tidings of a word from Him, whose name will be the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary – distinguished in this world and the hereafter and among those brought near [to Allah]'” (The Quran 3:45).

    “There is something beautifully sacred about the moment in the Quran when the angels inform Mary she is about to give birth to Jesus. Angels bring her the good news. They tell her of how ‘He will speak to the people in the cradle and in maturity and will be of the righteous.’

    “The sublime innocence of Mary at hearing this news can hardly be better captured in any scripture: ‘She said, ‘My Lord, how will I have a child when no man has touched me?’ [The angel] said, ‘Such is Allah; He creates what He wills. When He decrees a matter, He only says to it, ‘Be,’ and it is'” (The Quran 3:47).

    “God Himself, according to the Quran, teaches Christ: ‘And He will teach him writing and wisdom and the Torah and the Gospel.’ (The Quran 3:48).

    “Based on these and other Quranic passages, Muslims should have no theological problem marking, celebrating, rejoicing at the birth of Christ as a prophet sent by God.

    “For every age, a ‘different’ Christ.”
    “All of these may appear as strange and outlandish in a world plagued by religious bigotry and historical illiteracy. Generations of European depiction of Christ as a blonde-haired, blue-eyed white man have made it difficult for European and North American Christians today to imagine him for what he was: a Jewish Palestinian refugee child who grew up to become a towering revolutionary figure.

    “In his exquisite study, Jesus Through the Centuries: His Place in the History of Culture (1985), the eminent historian and theologian Jaroslav Pelikan has demonstrated that, throughout history the image of Christ has gone through successive reformations, from a Jewish Rabbi to ‘Light of Gentiles,’ ‘the King of Kings,’ ‘the Son of Man,’ ‘the Monk who rules the World,’ ‘the Universal Man,’ ‘the Prince of Peace,’ to a liberator who inspired Lev Tolstoy, Mahatma Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr to ‘the Man who belongs to the World.’

    “In the Latin American context, in particular, and through the emancipatory work of liberation theologians, the figure of Christ emerges as the revolutionary leader of the wretched of the earth.

    “The Peruvian philosopher, theologian and Dominican priest Gustavo Gutierrez has revolutionised our contemporary understanding of Christ. In my own work on Islamic liberation theology, I have been deeply influenced by the work of Father Gutierrez, who next to the eminent Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Levinas have brought the prophetic voices of Biblical exegesis to bear on our contemporary lives.

    “For years at Columbia, I have been teaching a book called Don’t Be Afraid, Gringo: A Honduran Woman Speaks from The Heart: The Story of Elvia Alvarado (1989) in which there is a splendid a chapter called: Jesus was an Organizer.

    “The Nazareth-born Palestinian filmmaker Elia Suleiman has a short film called, Cyber Palestine (1999), in which he presents the story of a modern-day Mary and Joseph as they attempt to cross from Gaza into Bethlehem. As a parable of the Palestinian predicament in their own homeland, ‘Cyber Palestine’ captures the quintessence of the story of the birth of Christ under military occupation of the Romans then and the Zionists now.

    “Imagine Christ as a Jewish Palestinian labour organiser refugee from Honduras! Donald Trump and his Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen would probably not have allowed him into the US.

    “Against the grain of history”
    “The dark days of Zionism laying a false claim on Judaism and Palestine alike are happily over. The lies of a gang of European settler colonialists trying to rob Jews of their ancestral faith and Palestinians of their historical homeland have finally come to a crushing defeat when Jews and Palestinians, and Jews as Palestinians, have come together to lay a post-Zionist claim on their ancestral faith and homeland alike.

    “The massive propaganda to cast the resistance of Palestinians to the colonial occupation and theft of their homeland as a battle between ‘Jews and Arabs’ was so dominant in the la la land of the US and even Europe that the very idea that Palestinians are Christians, too, and that Jesus was, in fact, a Palestinian Jewish Rabbi scares and confuses the living daylight out of their slumbering ignorance.

    “The very simple fact that Palestinians have historically been Jews, Christians, and Muslims was hard to digest in that la la land. By extension, also the very simple fact that Christ and Mary are two seminal figures in the Quran has also been seen as a strange proposition in this banality.

    “Jesus was a Palestinian Jew who spoke Aramaic, a language in the same family as Hebrew and Arabic. He came from the same prophetic tradition as Prophets Moses and Mohammad.

    “There are, of course, doctrinal differences between the figure of Jesus as he appears in the Quran and his divinity as understood in Christianity. Here it is crucial to remember the manner in which in both Persian poetry and Islamic mysticism, the figure of Christ expands into the far more pervasive icon of divine mercy. The seminal Sufi master Ibn Arabi (1165-1240) has in his works, particularly in the chapter, The Wisdom of Prophecy in the Word of Jesus, in his masterpiece, Fusus al-Hikam/Bezels of Wisdom, sought to bring conceptual harmony between the Muslim and Christian perceptions of Jesus.

    “Through his doctrine of ‘Oneness of Being,’ Ibn Arabi accommodated the question of sonship in Christian doctrine: Jesus emerges as a ‘Perfect Man’ and ‘the Seal of Saints.’ Ibn Arabi cites the Quranic references to Jesus’ ability to bring a clay bird to life as an indication of the Divine Will.

    “In the Muslim Sufis’ Christology, we have a solid body of evidence in which we see the current animus presumed between various religions of Palestine as political hogwash. We need literary knowledge, historical consciousness, and intellectual responsibility with all of which to dismantle the thick apartheid walls that ignorant hateful people are erecting among us all.

    “Merry Christmas everyone! Remember Christ was a Palestinian refugee – a Jewish Palestinian refugee, who is the founding figure of Christianity, and a beloved prophet for Muslims. The rest is commentary.”


  5. eljay on December 26, 2018, 9:14 am

    It strikes me as:
    – odd that Mr. Herbst – born, raised, educated, living and working in America – chooses to identify himself not as American or as Jewish-American but as a Jew;
    – self-hating (as discussed in a recent thread) that he chooses to conflate his Jewish identity with that of Jewish supremacists (Zionists) and their unjust and immoral “Jewish State” project; and
    – anti-Semitic that he chooses also to conflate all Jews with Zionism and the “Jewish State”.

  6. Hatim Kanaaneh on December 26, 2018, 10:10 am

    Thank you, Robert Herbst! This is courageous and honest. And it seems to be addressed to the right crowd. The American and European people, most of whom are Christian, stood and continue to stand behind the Zionists’ ongoing settler colonialist project that Israel embodies. The long-term survival of both the Palestinians and Israelis lies with forcing both sides to return to their senses. Their practical options have narrowed down to the one and only remaining safe and sane escape route: equality and human rights under one secular and democratic system “from the River to the sea,” to quote Marc Lamont Hill. The rest of the world has to force both parties to commit to this solution.

    The only inconsistency in your and my logic here is that we are addressing ourselves to our audience using the traditional religious occasion of Christmas which returns us all to the source of the problem, religious intolerance leading to anti-Semitism and to Zionism as a consequence and then to the Nakba and all that has followed. I am not discounting religion but am advocating for a purely secular focus for the needed one state solution.

  7. nrhunter on December 26, 2018, 11:10 am

    I appreciate Mr. Herbst’s angst but the issue of Zionists in Palestine has to begin with all Jews being honesty about history. The Zionist’s plan to take over Palestine without regard for the peoples resident there preceded the Holocaust by at least 40 years. What happened after the Holocaust was an acceleration of plans well in place before the 1930s. It is dishonest to use the Holocaust to justify Israel’s rape of Palestine.
    The Zionists cooperation with the Nazis (the Transfer Agreement plus others), while providing protection for the majority of German Jews, doomed many eastern European Jews and permitted Hitler’s Nazi government to stabilize in the first two years in power. This ensured a stable and strong Germany sufficient to start WWII and lead to the deaths of multiple millions of non-Jews.
    As a New Testament Jew (see Romans 2: 28, 29), I abhor Zionism and the disaster it has created in Palestine.

    • Misterioso on December 26, 2018, 2:53 pm


      “The Zionist’s plan to take over Palestine without regard for the peoples resident there preceded the Holocaust by at least 40 years. What happened after the Holocaust was an acceleration of plans well in place before the 1930s. It is dishonest to use the Holocaust to justify Israel’s rape of Palestine.”

      Well and truly stated!!!

      Herzl’s diaries not only confirm that his objective was the establishment of a “Jewish state” in Palestine, but that it would be an expansionist state. In the year of his death, 1904, he described its borders as being “…in the north the mountains facing Cappadocia [Turkey], in the south, the Suez Canal [Egypt] in the east, the Euphrates [Iraq].” (Theodor Herzl, The Complete Diaries, 11 p. 711)

      Even more revealing as to how Herzl and his fellow Zionists intended to deal with the indigenous Christian and Muslim Palestinians is his “Charter for Zionist Colonization of Palestine and Syria,” which he drafted between the summer of 1901 and early 1902. Much to his disappointment, however, he was denied the opportunity to present it to the Ottoman Sultanate. Article Vl of the charter called for Istanbul to grant the Zionists, in the form of the Jewish-Ottoman Land Company (JOLC), “complete autonomy, guaranteed by the Ottoman Empire” while Article III gave them in effect, the right to deport the native population to other areas of the empire. Article 111 “[pertained] to the Palestinian and other Arab owners and inhabitants of the three categories of land to be purchased/owned by the JOLC – the large and small private landholdings, the Sultan’s state domain, and the land for which there is no title.”

      Israel Zangwill, the influential Anglo-Jewish essayist and Zionist first believed that the Palestinians would simply “fold their tents and slip away.” It was he who first voiced the lie that Palestine was a “land without a people, waiting for a people without a land.” (Zangwill, Israel, “The Return to Palestine”, New Liberal Review 11, Dec. 1901 p. 627)

      In 1905, Zangwill contradicted himself during a talk in Manchester when he stated that Palestine was “already twice as thickly populated as the United States…. [W]e must be prepared to either drive out by the sword the [Arab] tribes in possession as our forefathers did or to grapple with the problem of a large alien [sic] population….” (Zangwill, Speeches, p. 210, quoted by Nur Masalah, Expulsion of the Palestinians, 1992, p. 10)

      In the February 1919 issue of the League of Nations Journal, Zangwill proposed that the Palestinians “should be gradually transplanted” in Arab countries and at a public meeting in the same year he remarked that “many [Palestinians] are semi-nomad, they have given nothing to Palestine and are not entitled to the rules of democracy.” (Jewish Chronicle, Dec. 12 1919, Masalha, p.14)

      In 1920, Zangwill proposed in The Voice of Jerusalem, that there should be an “‘Arab exodus’…based on ‘race redistribution’ or a ‘trek like that of the Boers from Cape Colony,’ which he advocated as ‘literally the only way out of the difficulty of creating a Jewish State in Palestine.’” He continued: “We cannot allow the Arabs to block so valuable a piece of historic reconstruction….To fold their tents and silently steal away is their proverbial habit: let them exemplify it now.” (Zangwill, The Voice of Jerusalem, p. 103, quoted by Masalha, EOTP pp. 13- 14)

      Other Zionist leaders saw the future Jewish state in Palestine not only free of Arabs, but the first step towards the creation of a much larger country. In 1918, Polish born David Ben-Gurion (real name, David Gruen) described the future borders of the Jewish state as: “to the north, the Litani River; to the northeast, the Wadi’Owja, twenty miles south of Damascus; the southern border will be mobile and pushed into the Sinai at least up to Wadi al-`Arish; and to the east, the Syrian Desert, including the furthest edge of Transjordan.” (Teveth, Ben-Gurion and the Palestinian Arabs, pp. 34-34; Nur Masalah, Expulsion…, p. 87)

      In 1930, when despite ever increasing immigration, Jews privately owned only about four per cent of Palestine, Arthur Ruppin, a pivotal figure in political Zionism wrote that displacement of Arab farmers was inevitable because “land is the most necessary thing for our establishing roots in Palestine. Since there are hardly any more arable unsettled lands in Palestine, we are bound in each case of the purchase of land and its settlement to remove the peasants who cultivated the land so far, both owners of the land and tenants.” (Rashid Khalidi, Blaming the Victims)

      These facts cannot be overemphasized!!

  8. genesto on December 26, 2018, 12:47 pm

    I’ve been doing this for over 15 years now and, yes, if you take up this challenge, you will have to be prepared to be labeled an anti-Semite (if you are a non Jew like me) or a self-hating Jew (if you are Jewish like my wife) many times over. Also, if you are of Arab descent, like me, you will be labeled a terrorist (throw in camel jockey and sand nigger from the most racist of my adversaries). It always hurts, but less and less as time goes on and these attacks are eventually rendered meaningless. But, you will be free of mind and spirit, and that’s worth the sacrifice.

  9. Mustacq Abdullah on December 27, 2018, 1:12 am

    I hear you , Mr Herbst, this very heart wrenching outburst is very touching. It seems that you are not alone in this as more and more people are becoming disgusted at the Zïonist Occupiers of a free Palestine for Jèws, Christians and Muslims. Just last week a group of ‘free holiday makers to the Holy Land’, run by the Zïonist Occupiers, were shipped back because they asked too many questions about the walls being erected on Palestinian land.

    We all hope for a free Palestine before the Romans invaded in 63 BC when Palestine was ruled by tribal leaders and had a harmonious coexistence. How wonderful that would be!

    But the Romans still think they own the land they conquered when they ruled from Rome’s Capitoline Hill. And today the Romans still rule but from Washington’s Capitol Hill. They want to set the terms to suit them and the Zïonists, not the people of Palestine, the Jèw, Christian and Muslim.

    So I say, all these “Peace Plans” they have hatched in the past have failed and all those still to be hatched, like Trump’s too, will fail if they rule out the will of the people. We all should rally against foreign intervention of all kinds world wide – even if they call these invasions by fancy names like “colonialism” or “sanctions” or “regime change”.

  10. Citizen on December 27, 2018, 3:30 am

    I fear in a hundred years people will look back on the former USA as the former Israel’s golem.

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