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2010 Jerusalem Conference at the Regency Hotel, Jerusalem, February 16, 2010

GOLDSTONE REPORT AND LAWFARE’S ANTI-ISRAEL THEOLOGICAL TWIN

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, Associate Dean, Simon Wiesenthal Center*

Palestinians and their supporters have launched new campaigns to delegitimize the Jewish State. As Palestinians know they cannot defeat Israel militarily, neither in conventional battle nor even in asymmetrical terrorist warfare, they have unleashed a multi-pronged campaign to wound and weaken, and cause irrecoverable damage, politically, morally and economically.

Today the state of Israel and her supporters are understandably focused on the diplomatic front and the Lawfare campaign against the Jewish State, with the so-called Goldstone Report the “legal” tipping point against Israel. Fast-tracked through the United Nations with the help of the 57- member OIC, it will, by hook or by crook, make its way to The Hague, where “respected” jurists will muse and reflect over whether even Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and other prominent Israeli officials are indeed guilty of crimes against humanity the crime of defending fellow citizens against terrorist wannabe genociders. So palpable is the smell of blood in the geo-political waters, that a peer in the House of Lords can urge an investigation of Israeli behavior in Haiti—no not for the Red Cross and NGOs to learn how to deploy a 21st century hospital amidst total devastation but to check if those clever Jews were really there to steal Haitians’ body parts. No telling what these Israelis are capable of.

Academic’s elite loathing of the Jewish state is well documented, where the jury long ago decided the neo-Nazi Goliath that is Israel was all a mistake—brought on by European guilt for the Holocaust, a mistake that must go the way of its late, spiritual antecedent—apartheid South Africa.

My task here, with the assistance of my colleague at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, is to outline the theological twin of Goldstone/Lawfare.

Theologians and activists in some prominent Protestant churches are seeking to destroy Israel from Above. Their activities threaten to turn traditional friends in churches[1] into enemies, and to erode support for Israel in the United States, the only country of any significance whose population still heavily tilts in favor of Israel. They cast Israel as a theological mistake, conceived in the sin of the last gasp of Western colonialism. This new approach shakes the foundations of interfaith relations.

The mapping of theological war against the Jewish State traces to the World Council of Churches (WCC), an umbrella organization of liberal Protestant bodies claiming membership of 349 church groups and 580 million worshippers. In 2007, it convened the "Churches Together for Peace and Justice in the Middle East Conference” that produced a document known as the Amman Call. While condemning violence, and endorsing a two-state solution, it identified Israel’s “Occupation” as the chief villain in the Holy Land, disregarding seven decades of terrorism and violence directed at Jews—dating back long before Israel captured the West Bank in 1967, back to the 1920s, two decades prior to the Jewish state’s founding in 1948. The Amman Call urged the dismantling of Israel’s security fence that has saved thousands of Jewish, Muslim, and Christian lives by thwarting suicide bombers. Most significantly, the Amman Call denies Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, because it stipulates a Palestinian “right of return.” Israel would be quickly overwhelmed by an influx of millions of third-generation-after progeny of those who fled the fledgling state sixty- two years ago. Israel as we know it would quickly disappear, replaced by another Middle Eastern Mullahtocracy or dictatorship.

The
WCC wasn’t finished. In 2008, a group of theologians was invited to review the theological underpinnings of Christian attitudes towards Israel. No Jews were invited. The resulting Bern Perspective called on Christians to listen to new understandings of Biblical texts, especially those championed by Arabs. All references to a covenant with the Jewish people should be taken allegorically – but not, G-d forbid, refer to the descendants of the Biblical Jews. The Jewish understanding of a connection between themselves as a people and the Land was explicitly denied. In effect, this marked a return to Replacement Theology, in which Jews were stripped of the way they saw their legitimacy, their place, and significance in history, and through which they also lost their rights for centuries in Church-dominated Europe. Now, the WCC would deny the Jewish people their legitimacy. (Naim Ateek of the Sabeel Liberation Theology Center – a partner of several mainline denominations, sometimes called the Desmond Tutu of the Palestinians, goes even further. He refuses to acknowledge any link between Biblical covenants regarding the Land and the Jewish people, but has no compunctions about confirming the curses and execrations of the Bible, and threats of exile from the Land, as referring specifically to modern Jews! They should take heed, he says, to all the Biblical exhortations of the Land spewing out those who sin within her holy borders.)
 
Then, on the first day of Chanukah past, a group of Palestinian Christians issued the Kairos Document,
[2] immediately embraced by a slew of Protestant denominations. It calls for a general boycott[3] of
Israel, arguing that Christians are required by their faith to side with the “oppressed” – meaning the Palestinians. It speaks of the evils of the “Occupation”, but is silent on any evils committed by the Palestinians. It links any Jewish connection to the Land only to survivors of the Holocaust, denying 3,000 years of Jewish domicile in the land. Most importantly, connecting the dots to the previous documents, these leaders declare that there must not be a Jewish State, because any religious state has to be inherently racist. It ignores the state religions of England, Norway, Greece, Denmark, Argentina, and Thailand, not to mention the two dozen officially and oppressively Muslim states in Israel’s neighborhood. Kairos launches a new Biblical fundamentalism, in which ‘specialness is reserved’ for Palestinians. The Jews? They are written out of Scripture.

Within days Kairos won accolades from different Protestant and Catholic groups. They most serious impact so far, however, comes from a church whose leadership took pride of first place in the campaign against Israel. The Presbyterian Church (USA) (PCUSA) in 2004 was the first mainline American Protestant group to call for divestment from Israel. The move proved enormously unpopular with the rank and file of the church, and the move was rescinded in 2006. In 2008, its General Assembly considered – and accepted – what everyone thought were mutually exclusive overtures, one pro-Palestinian, and one more balanced. One of them called for greater balance in church policies and material, and a thorough reexamination of PCUSA policy on the Middle East. Nonetheless, the “Special Committee to Prepare a Comprehensive Study Focused on Israel/Palestine” that was subsequently assembled included only one pro-Israel member who soon quit in disgust. The committee of nine had at least seven members and three staffers[4] who had strongly indicated pro-Palestinian views before their appointment. Several were direct imports from PCUSA’s Israel-Palestine Mission Network (IPMN), whose blog has hosted anti-Semitic videos[5] and material from Muslim terrorist groups.

A February 2nd, 2010 press release told the world what to expect from the committee’s report. It will ask the United States government to “employ the strategic use of influence and the withholding of financial and military aid” from Israel. It will concede Israel’s right to exist, but append an apology to Palestinians for that concession! In the words of one member of the committee, “To say this [the right of Israel to exist] is to give Israel a pass on the way Israel was created and denies the legitimacy of the Palestinian people.” Perhaps most importantly, it will enthusiastically embrace the Kairos Document.[6] Altogether, the PCUSA report should be considered as nothing less than a declaration of war on Israel and her supporters.

While suffering enormous losses in membership in recent years, Presbyterians enjoy significant cachet as the quintessential WASP denomination. They are hugely overrepresented in Congress, with thirty-three members in the House and thirteen in the Senate. Within its ranks are some of the staunchest and most reliable friends of Israel, but these members seldom have the stamina to work effectively against salaried propagandists within the church administration. And the new church policy will reverberate across other Christian groups.
 
Why does any of this matter? Unfortunately, these theological attacks fit neatly into the larger insidious campaign to demonize
Israel on other fronts.

 A new report released by the Reut Institute Think Tank, argues that "The Foreign Ministry is built for the challenges of the '60s, not the 2000s. There are no budgets, not enough diplomats and no appropriate diplomatic doctrine."  When it comes to dealing with theology and theologians, Israel is doubly challenged. (Perhaps more than doubly. The theological challenge piggybacks on more “traditional” anti-Israel agitation by some church groups. The Quakers, as well as other so-called “peace” (i.e. pacifist) churches, have conducted a decades-long campaign of hatred for Israel. Within the last weeks, the United Church of Canada (UCC) participated in a kiss-and-make-up session with the Canadian Jewish Congress. It pledged to listen more carefully to Jewish concerns, and distanced itself from a fringe group of Jewish anti-Israel activists who militate for boycott of Israel and full Palestinian right or return. That did not stop a regional branch of the UCC from participating within days at a virulently anti-Israel press conference, together with the Muslim Unity Group, the Canadian Arab Federation, and the Canadian Islamic Congress.)

It took Christians centuries to launch the Reformation and Counter-Reformation that freed them from bad politics and allowed churches to concentrate on their mission of spiritual teaching and Service. Today, we must call on fair-minded Christians to reject the call to retreat to an atavistic theology. Jews must reach out to Presbyterians and alert them to the efforts of a minority to subvert their expressed will. They will then hopefully reject the Committee report. Our experience over the past five years, we have found that PCUSA’s rank and file is generally committed to fairness and balance. The friends are there. They need to be reached by their pro-Israel neighbors, before the theologically-tinged poison does its irrevocable damage.

Like the anti-Israel diplomatic and academic campaigns already underway, such religious “calls” and “documents” will not improve the life of a single Palestinian, but instead, by denigrating and denying the validity of Jewish aspirations, they could succeed in empowering terrorists and anti-Semites and throw the world of interfaith relations into darkness and disarray.

 

The WCC, Sabeel and PCUSA, have thrown down the gauntlet. The time for Israel and her Jewish and Christians supporters to deal with this new threat seriously!

*Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, the Wiesenthal Center’s Director of Interfaith Relations co-authored this essay

 


 

APPENDIX 1

 

                                                 The Kairos Document (excerpts)

A word of faith, hope and love from the heart of Palestinian suffering

Introduction

We, a group of Christian Palestinians, after prayer, reflection and an exchange of opinion, cry out from within the suffering in our country, under the Israeli occupation, with a cry of hope in the absence of all hope, a cry full of prayer and faith in a God ever vigilant, in God’s divine providence for all the inhabitants of this land. ..
Why now? Because today we have reached a dead end in the tragedy of the Palestinian people. 1. The reality on the ground

1.1 “They say: 'Peace, peace' when there is no peace” (Jer. 6:14). 1.1.1 The separation wall erected on Palestinian territory, a large part of which has been confiscated for this purpose, has turned our towns and villages into prisons, separating them from one another, making them dispersed and divided cantons. Gaza, especially after the cruel war Israel launched against it during December 2008 and January 2009, continues to live in inhuman conditions, under permanent blockade and cut off from the other Palestinian territories.

1.1.2 Israeli settlements ravage our land in the name of God and in the name of force, controlling our natural resources, including water and agricultural land, thus depriving hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, and constituting an obstacle to any political solution.

1.1.3 Reality is the daily humiliation to which we are subjected at the military checkpoints, as we make our way to jobs, schools or hospitals.

1.1.5 Religious liberty is severely restricted; the freedom of access to the holy places is denied under the pretext of security. Jerusalem and its holy places are out of bounds for many Christians and Muslims from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

1.1.6 Refugees are also part of our reality. Most of them are still living in camps under difficult circumstances. They have been waiting for their right of return, generation after generation. What will be their fate?

1.1.7 And the prisoners? The thousands of prisoners languishing in Israeli prisons are part of our reality. The Israelis move heaven and earth to gain the release of one prisoner, and those thousands of Palestinian prisoners, when will they have their freedom?

1.2 Also part of this reality is the Israeli disregard of international law … Human rights are violated and despite the various reports of local and international human rights' organizations, the injustice continues.

1.3 Emigration is another element in our reality. The absence of any vision or spark of hope for peace and freedom pushes young people, both Muslim and Christian, to emigrate. … The shrinking number of Christians, particularly in Palestine, is one of the dangerous consequences

1.4 In the face of this reality, Israel justifies its actions as self-defence, including occupation, collective punishment and all other forms of reprisals against the Palestinians. In our opinion, this vision is a reversal of reality. Yes, there is Palestinian resistance to the occupation. However, if there were no occupation, there would be no resistance.


1.5 The Palestinian response to this reality was diverse. Some responded through negotiations: that was the official position of the Palestinian Authority, but it did not advance the peace process. Some political parties followed the way of armed resistance. Israel used this as a pretext to accuse the Palestinians of being terrorists and was able to distort the real nature of the conflict, presenting it as an Israeli war against terror, rather than an Israeli occupation faced by Palestinian legal resistance aiming at ending it.


2.2.2 We believe that the Word of God is a living Word, casting a particular light on each period of history, manifesting to Christian believers what God is saying to us here and now. For this reason, it is unacceptable to transform the Word of God into letters of stone that pervert the love of God and His providence in the life of both peoples and individuals. This is precisely the error in fundamentalist Biblical interpretation that brings us death and destruction when the word of God is petrified and transmitted from generation to generation as a dead letter. This dead letter is used as a weapon in our present history in order to deprive us of our rights in our own land.

2.3 We believe that our land has a universal mission. In this universality, the meaning of the promises, of the land, of the election, of the people of God open up to include all of humanity, starting from all the peoples of this land. In light of the teachings of the Holy Bible, the promise of the land has never been a political programme, but rather the prelude to complete universal salvation. It was the initiation of the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God on earth.

2.3.2 Our presence in this land, as Christian and Muslim Palestinians, is not accidental but rather deeply rooted in the history and geography of this land, resonant with the connectedness of any other people to the land it lives in. It was an injustice when we were driven out. The West sought to make amends for what Jews had endured in the countries of Europe, but it made amends on our account and in our land. They tried to correct an injustice and the result was a new injustice.

2.3.3 Furthermore, we know that certain theologians in the West try to attach a biblical and theological legitimacy to the infringement of our rights. Thus, the promises, according to their interpretation, have become a menace to our very existence. The "good news" in the Gospel itself has become "a harbinger of death" for us. We call on these theologians to deepen their reflection on the Word of God and to rectify their interpretations so that they might see in the Word of God a source of life for all peoples.

2.3.4 Our connectedness to this land is a natural right. It is not an ideological or a theological question only.
2.4 Therefore, we declare that any use of the Bible to legitimize or support political options and positions that are based upon injustice, imposed by one person on another, or by one people on another, transform religion into human ideology and strip the Word of God of its holiness, its universality and truth.

2.5 We also declare that the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land is a sin against God and humanity because it deprives the Palestinians of their basic human rights, bestowed by God. It distorts the image of God in the Israeli who has become an occupier just as it distorts this image in the Palestinian living under occupation. We declare that any theology, seemingly based on the Bible or on faith or on history, that legitimizes the occupation, is far from Christian teachings, because it calls for violence and holy war in the name of God Almighty, subordinating God to temporary human interests, and distorting the divine image in the human beings living under both political and theological injustice.
3.3.4 In addition to that, we see a determination among many to overcome the resentments of the past and to be ready for reconciliation once justice has been restored. Public awareness of the need to restore political rights to the Palestinians is increasing, and Jewish and Israeli voices, advocating peace and justice, are raised in support
3.4.1 The mission of the Church is prophetic, to speak the Word of God courageously, honestly and lovingly in the local context and in the midst of daily events. If she does take sides, it is with the oppressed
4.2.1 The aggression against the Palestinian people, which is the Israeli occupation, is an evil that must be resisted. It is an evil and a sin that must be resisted and removed.

4.2.6 Palestinian civil organizations, as well as international organizations, NGOs and certain religious institutions call on individuals, companies and states to engage in divestment and in an economic and commercial boycott of everything produced by the occupation. …. In this spirit and with this dedication we will eventually reach the longed-for resolution to our problems, as indeed happened in South Africa and with many other liberation movements in the world.

4.3 We call on Israel to give up its injustice towards us, not to twist the truth of reality of the occupation by pretending that it is a battle against terrorism. The roots of "terrorism" are in the human injustice committed and in the evil of the occupation. These must be removed if there be a sincere intention to remove "terrorism". However, it is also a call to repentance; to revisit fundamentalist theological positions that support certain unjust political options with regard to the Palestinian people.

 

6.3 We condemn all forms of racism, whether religious or ethnic, including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia

 

9.3 Trying to make the state a religious state, Jewish or Islamic, suffocates the state, confines it within narrow limits, and transforms it into a state that practices discrimination and exclusion, preferring one citizen over another. We appeal to both religious Jews and Muslims: let the state be a state for all its citizens, with a vision constructed on respect for religion but also equality, justice, liberty and respect for pluralism and not on domination by a religion or a numerical majority.

 

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