Anti-Israeli agenda borders on sacrilege
By John R. Regier, Boston Herald, October 27,2007
Increasingly over the years mainline Protestant and Catholic church leaders have tired of the complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian struggle. The situation in the Balkans may be complicated. The tensions between India and Pakistan over Kashmir may be complicated. But the situation in Israel/Palestine is simple: There are Palestinian victims and there are Jewish oppressors.
Boston is about to witness this script playing out yet again this weekend, as Old South Church hosts a conference sponsored by North American Friends of Sabeel entitled “The Apartheid Paradigm in Palestine-Israel” and headlined by Episcopal Archbishop Desmond Tutu. There will be no effort to be fair to both sides. Sabeel’s choice of the hateful word “apartheid” in the conference title is clearly designed to inflame rather than to elucidate.
Today will mark the second of two days of nonstop bashing of Israel. Israel will be portrayed as a colonialist oppressor. Palestinian national aspirations will be celebrated; Jewish national aspirations will be ignored, if not denigrated. The endless wars waged by Arabs seeking to wipe out the Jewish state will be characterized as aggressive wars provoked by Israel. There will be no mention of suicide bombings, except possibly to justify them as understandable expressions of rage.
My concern is not that these things will be said. I prize free speech, even speech that I hate. What distresses me is the acquiescence of church leaders in this simplistic script. The pleas of the local Jewish community not to countenance such inflammatory rhetoric regularly fall on deaf ears, even though liberal church leaders ordinarily bend over backward not to offend groups within the community. It is somehow acceptable to offend Jews.
I understand the special affinity that American Christians have for Palestinian Christians. Like many other Christians, I grew up thinking of Israel/Palestine as the Holy Land, and I hope one day to walk where Jesus walked. But we must not permit this affection to become a blind spot, either in overestimating the importance of Palestinian Christians, whose minuscule numbers make them essentially irrelevant to the politics of the Middle East, or in excusing their excesses.
Sabeel, for example, which styles itself as an ecumenical liberation theology movement, promotes a retrograde anti-Jewish theology of supersession that has long since been repudiated by mainstream Christian denominations and uses rhetoric (“Jesus is on the cross again with thousands of crucified Palestinians around him.”) that can only serve to inflame anti-Jewish prejudice.
After centuries of anti-Semitism, much of it spawned by church leaders, modern-day Christians have a particular obligation to help make the world a safer place for Jews. This means being thoughtful and sensitive in how we approach Judaism theologically, but it also means listening, really listening, to Jews when they talk about what Israel means to them and why they are so concerned about its safety and security.
Not all criticism of Israel, of course, is anti-Jewish. I find much to criticize in Israel’s administration of the occupied territories, and there are robust and ongoing debates within the American Jewish community and, needless to say, among Israelis themselves about the policies of the Israeli government. But it is arrogant and condescending for American Christians to become partisans in this geopolitical struggle without at least acknowledging its complexities. More inflammatory rhetoric is the last thing we need.
John R. Regier is a Boston attorney and a lifelong United Methodist.