Blog: The Politics of Hope

The Two State Illusion, Racism in Israel, and Jewish Hubris

On October 16 The Christian Century published my review of Rashid Khalidi’s Brokers of Deceit: How the U.S. Has Undermined Peace in the Middle East. (Here is the text of the review). The fact that the Century reviewed Khalidi’s book is an indication of the media’s increasing willingness to present viewpoints that challenge the very basis of Israel as a Jewish ethnic nationalist entity. This shift reflects the reality that once you address present-day violations of Palestinian rights, you see that the 1967 occupation of the West Bank and Gaza was the continuation of the program of ethnic cleansing that began in 1948 and continues to this day with the annexation and carving up of the West Bank and the inhuman siege of Gaza. You begin to understand that the dispossession of the Palestinians was the inevitable outcome of the project to set up a state for the benefit of one people.  It is also becoming frighteningly clear that oppression and frankly racist policies on the part of Israel are not limited to occupied areas, but to the territory within the de facto borders of the State of Israel prior to the 1967 war.

Israel’s new racism

A recently released documentary demonstrates this with horrifying vividness. Ali Abunimah, Palestinian writer and activist and publisher of the Electronic Intifada, has reported on a video entitled “Israel’s New Racism: The Persecution of African Migrants in the Holy Land,” produced by Max Blumenthal and David Sheen, a piece solicited — and then rejected — by the New York Times.  According to Blumenthal, it has since gone viral on YouTube, with close to one million views. The ten minute piece documents vicious, racist attacks on African residents of Israel incited by prominent demagogues and several members of the Israeli Parliament. The piece presents voices, not only shrieking in public demonstrations but speaking calmly in office interviews, proclaiming that Israel is the land of the Jews and that non-Jews (especially those with black skin) are not welcome. The video is shocking — but it is not surprising. From our twentieth-century perspective, we understand all too well that ethnic nationalism breeds racism – that it is racism – and that oppression and violence – the bloody as well as the structural, state-sponsored kind – is the inevitable result.  In his recently published Goliath:  Life and Loathing in Greater Israel, Blumenthal documents Israel’s escalating move to the political right, into what many would described as fascism.  The problem, as I pointed out in my 2011 blog post about Peter Beinart and his brand of “progressive Zionism,” (a piece accepted and then rejected by The Nation), is not the occupation, nor is it the religiously-based racism of fundamentalist Jewish settler-colonists — the problem is a state founded on an ethnic nationalist ideology.  “The late and deeply mourned Tony Judt,” I wrote then, “got it exactly right in his NYRB piece back in 2003: ‘The problem with Israel [is that]…it has imported a characteristically late-nineteenth-century separatist project into a world that has moved on, a world of individual rights, open frontiers, and international law. The very idea of a ‘Jewish state’—a state in which Jews and the Jewish religion have exclusive privileges from which non-Jewish citizens are forever excluded—is rooted in another time and place.’”

For over half a century, much of the world, with the U.S. in the lead, has accepted and supported this anachronistic and, by Judt’s definition, illegitimate political entity. A central point of Khalidi’s book is how language has been used to deny the reality of a State of Israel that, by virtue of its founding principle of a Jewish homeland in historic Palestine has never been willing to share the territory. Khalidi describes the history of U.S. involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as “a carefully constructed realm of obscurity, a realm in which the misuse of language has thoroughly corrupted both political thought and action.” He documents how U.S. policy since the 1970s has embraced that denial by sponsoring a “peace process” that has advanced Israel’s expansionism, demonstrating how, I wrote, “language functions to obscure the reality of a colonial settler project that has resulted in the dispossession of the indigenous Palestinians…language used to maintain the destructive illusion of a process of negotiation between equal parties, rather than the reality of a powerless, stateless, occupied people at the mercy of a highly militarized state supported by the world’s only superpower.”  Despite the futility of this approach to peacemaking, Khalidi points out, our government has pursued it doggedly, bowing to domestic political pressures and to Israeli stubbornness and persistence.

But things are changing. For an increasing number of Americans, the realization is dawning that the story they have been told is a distortion and that our government’s policies are bad, not only for the Palestinians, but for the citizens of Israel. Mainstream journalism, which, like politics, responds to the wind of public opinion, is reflecting this shift.  Ian Lustick’s September 14 New York Times opinion piece “Two State Illusion” represents a sea change in NYT editorial policy with respect to Israel. Lustick’s piece was followed closely by Yousef Munayyer’s “Thinking outside the two state box” in the New Yorker’s online edition. “The reality now,” wrote Munayyer, “is that there is a single state. The problem is that it takes an apartheid form.”  Rather than solving the problem that it was intended to solve, which is security and freedom from fear for Jews, Israeli policy has condemned the Jewish citizens of the State of Israel to continuing conflict. “It’s time” Munayyer writes, “to start thinking outside the Zionist box and look for solutions that secure the human rights and equality of all involved, not just the political demands of the stronger party.”

On a recent panel, which they shared with Jeremy Ben Ami of J Street (watch it or you access unedited transcripts of the entire panel presentation) Lustick and Munayyer spell out the political danger of clinging to the possibility that negotiations can bring about a fair and sustainable two state solution. The addresses by Lustick and Munayyer are riveting — and an excellent adjunct to Khalidi’s book. A key point made by both of them is that the implausibility of a fair partition at this point not only makes the negotiations pointless, but worse, perpetuates the conditions that make two states impossible, playing into Israel’s hands even more effectively than handing them the entire territory on a silver platter.  In contrast, Ben Ami’s words give us a good look at the arguments that must be mustered to hold on to the “two-state illusion.”  It is pretty much the brand of “progressive Zionism” that Peter Beinart has been offering up to preserve the Zionist dream: nothing is impossible if we wish for it hard enough and believe in it deeply enough. Commitment to the idea of Jewish nationalist homeland trumps reality, and certainly any commitment to equality for Palestinians, despite the language to the contrary — duly served up by those committed to saving Zionism — about full commitment to a state of their own for Palestinians.

Sad Zionists

Recently, Beinart, in his blog Open Zion, has adopted a strategy similar to that demonstrated by J Street in its recent annual conferences:  broaden the tent to competing points of view, in particular to those advocating some version of Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS).  In her recent piece in Open Zion, “If you want two states, support BDS,” Kathleen Peratis freely admits that her commitment to two states has her standing “on very narrow ground…that the current peace process is at best a Hail Mary.”  “Sad Zionists,” is how she describes herself and those who cling to “our liberal Zionist dreams.”  My question to Peratis is this: how sad are you willing to be? Are you willing to tolerate the sadness of letting go of the concept that an ethnic nationalist entity, a concept carried over from the late nineteenth century, is the answer to anti-Semitism?  Are you willing to mourn the understandable mistake of political Zionism as the solution to our historic suffering, a forgivable (if and when we acknowledge the mistake) but all the same catastrophic wrong turn? Are we willing to be sad enough?  And having tolerated that sadness, are we then able to contemplate, as I wrote in my critique of Beinart, that “[t]he end of Zionism will not be the disaster that so many Jews – and some Christians — fear. Rather, it will open the Jewish people to a future where the Other is embraced, rather than back to a past in which armies are mustered, walls are built, and enemies, real and imagined, are vilified and attacked. “Saving” Zionism by trying to make it into something it is not takes us in precisely the wrong direction.”

Like other progressive Zionists, Peratis sees commitment to political Zionism as integral to Jewish identity. What I find most unsettling, however, is not Peratis’ sentimental clinging to the “liberal Zionist dream” or the even more dangerous notion that “Fortress Israel,” as Israeli historian Ilan Pappe has characterized the state, keeps Jews safe (indeed, it makes not only Jews, but the entire world less safe). As the title of her piece makes very clear, Peratis wants to say yes to (what she calls) BDS because it will help the two state solution. Here is what Peratis does not get:  BDS is a Palestinian project. It is a call from Palestinian civil society, endorsed at the time of its inauguration in 2005 by 108 Palestinian political parties, unions, associations, coalitions and organizations representing Palestinian refugees, Palestinians under occupation and Palestinian citizens of Israel. The goal of BDS is Palestinian human rights, not the preservation of the Zionist project. If we, as Jews, choose to support BDS, it has to be as world citizens (and if we are Americans, then in particular U.S. citizens) joining a global, universal human rights movement, a movement to say “No” to apartheid in our time. What hubris — what chutzpah — to attempt to co-opt the Palestinian call for BDS into supporting the failing, fundamentally flawed and, in the present scenario — it must be said — racist and anti-human rights cause that is the two state solution today.  Holding on to two states is holding on to the Jewish state. And holding on to the Jewish state means suffering the consequences of such a project, consequences on such horrific display in the Sheen-Blumenthal video.

Is that sad enough for you?

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Talking about Israel at the Greenbelt Festival in the UK – a Yom Kippur Meditation

Dear Subscribers,

I’m back.  It’s been a long time.  Where have I been?  Helping found and run Kairos USA, writing a new book, and moving from Washington DC to wonderful Portland OR. Lots of travel with the team at, in the US and internationally.  So there is a bit of catching up to do.  I’ll begin by working backwards and posting something from my time last week in the UK at the Greenbelt Festival. How to describe Greenbelt?  How about as a Woodstock for followers of Jesus? — a 4-day gathering of over 20,000 people of all ages that has been held annually for 40 years.  I was honored to have been invited to give some talks and to participate in the launch of Kairos Britain. A future post on the emerging global kairos movement is in store.  For now, I’ll use this this posting to share a bit about the stir that was caused by Greenbelt’s invitation of me and others (including Sami Awad of Holy Land Trust) to speak, and the Festival’s hosting of the Kairos Britain launch.  The Council of Christians and Jews, a UK advocacy group that, in close coordination with the Board of Jewish Deputies — a Jewish advocacy group that bears some resemblance to our Anti-Defamation League — created a lot of critical press in advance of the Greenbelt Festival, claiming that it presented a biased and unbalanced view of Israel.  They also accused me, and by implication the Festival, of fostering anti-Semitic attitudes and speech. The full statement is here.  Very worthwhile reading is the excellent response by Robert Cohen, a British Jew who I had the pleasure to meet and hear speak at Greenbelt and who puts out a very fine blog.

Stay tuned for further postings.  In the meantime, timed to coincide with the Jewish High Holy Days, here is my response to the CCJ’s charge that in challenging Zionism I have committed a “sweeping rejection of traditional Jewish teaching” and revived “the oldest form of Christian anti-Judaism.”


In its recent comments on my remarks at the 2013 Greenbelt Festival, Council of Christians and Jews has charged that in asserting that the actions of the State of Israel are immoral, I am laying “collective guilt” upon the Jewish people and as such I am committing “the oldest form of Christian anti-Judaism (How as a Jew I can do such a thing is an interesting question. Is CCJ suggesting that I am no longer a Jew, the implied question being: can one say the things I am saying about Israel and still be a Jew? — but that is another discussion). The reference to collective guilt is of course an allusion to the historic deicide charge, the assignment to the entire Jewish people, in perpetuity, responsibility for the crucifixion of Jesus.  The evocation of the deicide charge in this context is something that gets my blood boiling. It’s a particularly ugly bit of Christian-Jewish history, something that caused my people untold suffering over the ages. Furthermore, it is a distortion of history and indeed of Christian theology that is a great Christian sin, not only against the Jews but against the heart of the Gospels. Apologists for the State of Israel’s illegal and immoral acts invoke this particular bit of Jewish-Christian history when they want to bring out the heavy artillery against those who challenge the status quo of unconditional support for Israel. Do they do this cynically, knowing full well the logical absurdity of connecting criticism of Israel with blaming Jews for the crucifixion and choosing to play this card because they know the effect it will have on Christians, or do they actually believe this?  The first option makes me angry. The second makes me deeply sad. The fact that apologists or “defenders” of the State of Israel, and this includes not only professional advocates like those at CCJ but also some Jewish academics and clergy, appear unable to make a distinction between taking responsibility for current Jewish sins and the charge that the Jews killed Jesus – or, by the way, between the Palestinian call for boycott divestment and sanctions and the Nazi anti-Jewish laws — is an indication of how stuck we are in our past suffering and how catastrophic this is for the Jewish people today.

Robert Cohen has done a superb job of responding to CCJ’s charges, speaking for himself and – not officially but in my view very much in spirit – on behalf of the Greenbelt organizers, and I cannot add to or improve on what he has written in his blog, Micah’s Paradigm Shift.  I will however, point out that I have been misquoted and will offer a few words about that.

CCJ has misquoted me as saying the following at Greenbelt:

“My people behind that wall – and I include Jews outside of Israel as well, because the wall is psychological and it is spiritual – have learned to hate.”

What I said was in the context of a discussion about the effect of the wall on the Jews of Israel.  I said that the Jews living behind the Separation wall (that is what Israel calls it — in Hebrew, hafrada — separation, which can also be translated apartheid) are in a sense the most profound victims of the barrier. When looking for a license translation services, check out and learn more.  My point — made in the context of my story of the Palestinian child who asks her mother, “Why do they make the Jews live behind that wall?” — is that the wall may be stealing Palestinian land, but what the child sees is that it is really stealing the Jews’ souls. I did not say that the Jews “have learned to hate.”  My words were: “They live behind a wall of soul-killing racism.”

It’s a nuanced difference but it’s key.  My point was not to characterize Jews as hate-filled or acting in a hateful way. It is the wall that is the subject of my words, not the attitudes of Jews about Palestinians.  I am not commenting about Jewish character or beliefs, but about the structure of separation and occupation that creates the conditions under which people learn to hate and fear.  Living behind a wall such as that constructed by Israel effectively makes people into racists.  And the point is that Israelis don’t see themselves that way.  The ugly comments you can hear Israelis making about Palestinians (dirty, thieves, bad parents) and the fear-based beliefs (they want to kill all of us, they hate us, want to push us into the sea) originate because they do not know the Palestinians.  That’s what the wall does, and it does it with chilling and horrible effectiveness. Israelis don’t know that they are racists any more than the Afrikaners identified themselves as such.  I have a friend raised in South Africa, of old Afrikaner stock, who tells me, “I didn’t know about apartheid growing up. In a sense there was no apartheid for me.  It was the air I breathed, the water I swam in.”  The American soldiers who went off to fight in Vietnam, returning shattered psychologically and spiritually because of what they witnessed and in many cases what they did, did not identify the Vietnamese soldiers and civilians as human beings – they were “gooks”  — a less-than-human enemy towards whom the American values and even laws governing respect for human life and dignity did not apply. This is what Israel needs to be rescued from, and we only have to look to the Jewish prophets and to the Gospels to find the roadmap for that rescue mission:  speaking truth to power and nonviolent resistance.

So besides my horror and my anger about what Israel is doing, my heart hurts for my people.  And out of that I call for the wall to come down and for Israel to become something that is sustainable (the current course is a fast lane to self destruction — morally, politically, spiritually) and that can provide a decent future for its citizens.

This week begins the holiest season in the Jewish calendar.  In ten days time Jews the world over will stand in the synagogue on Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), beat their breasts (literally – we do this) and recite the vidui – the confessional prayer:  We have sinned, we have betrayed, we have stolen, we have spoken falsely… It is a confession recited in the first person plural – and only so. Indeed, unless there is no other option, Jews are required to stand before God as a member of the congregation, of the collective whole of the people.  We pray as a collective, we confess as a people.  We take responsibility for ourselves as a people.  What Israel does in my name is my responsibility and I have the right and the duty to speak to it, not only to my own people but to Christians, who, in following the teachings of that prophetic and fiercely faithful Galilean Jew of 2000 years ago, share the responsibility to seek justice, love mercy, walk humbly, and above all to put compassion for those who are suffering today – “the least of these my brothers” in Jesus’ words, above all other responsibilities.

Next week Jews will stand before the Ark of the Covenant in countless synagogues and pray for forgiveness.  When I do that I will, like every other Jew in the synagogue on Yom Kippur, have in front of me physically the scrolls of the law, but in reality what I stand before is an 8 meter-high wall of concrete and steel that now stands between me and my maker, between me and my faith, and between me and my sisters and brothers in Palestine who in their call for justice and coexistence are calling me – and my Christian brothers and sisters in the UK and around the world – to faithfulness.  We Jews can be forgiven for our sins – this is without question – but we must begin by acknowledging them.

Mark Braverman

September 4, 2013

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Will Israel’s tent protesters awaken to the tents that came before theirs?

The following appeared first in Zochrot, was then picked up by Mondoweiss, and I humbly follow in their footsteps.  Take the time to read this piece by a young Jewish Israeli woman — it is the only-just-begun-to-be-spoken unspoken heart of Israel.

Will Israel’s tent protesters awaken to the tents that came before theirs?


It is the corner of Shenkin and Rothschild Boulevard, Friday afternoon. We and our Palestinian guests – a group of “Illegal Sojourners” in the ugly Occupation Jargon – have had a lovelyday of sightseeing and swimming. Now we are on our way to be entertained lavishly by one of us who is blessed with a flat and a roof in the coveted heart of Tel Aviv. On the way there we pass a new and exciting tourist attraction: the huge tent camp which keeps mushrooming in the boulevard and which has the great service of spray foam insulation Philadelphia Pennsylvania.

Our guests, some in pious head gear, listen attentively to the story about middle class Jewish youngsters with no place to live, to study and to work from. The tents are so many, so small. They nod in amazement, expressing sympathy or perhaps even some pleasure over the new potential for solidarity. The sharp tongued one is quick to come up with a punch line none of us would have thought of: “Hada Muchayem Lajiyin Israeliyin!” – “A refugee camp for Israelis!” she exclaims.

We laugh at this smart crack. No similarity at all, to be sure – or maybe just a little something, after all. The young people of Rothschild (may Allah help them, may their protest yield fruit), are supposedly able to get up any time and move back to the grim life they were accustomed to before settling into the sizzling Boulevard.  However they are condemned to life in the lower end of the Israeli chain of housing – with no property, and no option from William Pitt to buy, no land and no roof of their own. Some of the women we have with us this evening –exuberant, full of curiosity and passion for fun – have been living in “real” refugee camps most of their lives. Some were born there, others  got married and moved to share the fate of large families condensed into crumbling homes that were started as temporary tents at the outskirts of towns and villages in the West Bank many years ago.

Next evening, at the great Saturday Night Demonstration of the housing crisis, angry signs and voices point at the many housing perks bestowed on the settler community and the ultra-orthodox. It is not hard to recognize the many billion investments in the settlements all over the territories occupied by Israel since 1967 as assets robbed from the welfare of the next generation of Israelis. Blunt sectarian favoritism is to be blamed for the neglect suffered by every hard working citizen not aligned to one of the “preferred” sectors, who has not been blessed with parents of deep pockets.

It is far more difficult and painful to point at the basic choice of Israel to be a state for only one sector, defined by its religion, as the basic cause of this country’s many malaises, including the housing situation. Undeniably, the cost of this choice is incredibly heavy in financial, military and human resources.  Israel’s present rulers constantly wave its “Jewish State” identity as a concept superior to any pretence it ever had to be a just, democratic and peace seeking society. They incite and radicalize, but they had really not started any new path. They merely carry on a tradition that started when this state started –with blood bath and fire – as an entity unable to tolerate anybody perceived as “Other” according to the rabbinical code.

Most young people in the tents do not wish to hear this but a large part of the most coveted addresses in our non-stop city actually belong to landlords who are unable to overcharge, profiteer, or make any use of their assets. Israelis of all ages dedicate their best years and certainly a major part of their tax payments to our state’s continuous and stubborn effort to prevent these owners from practicing their property rights. Jaffa and its surroundings, Manshia next to the Charles Clore promenade, Sumeil on the corner of Arlozorov and Ibn Gabirol, Jamussin of Bavli and the Akirov Towers and Sheich Moanis of Ramat Aviv and the University, all are real estate under the Israel Land Administration, which have the firm obligation to make them available to Jews only. It is perfectly ridiculous to hear the Prime Minister and his people puffing angrily against the “cartel” (as they currently call this Administration) which Zionism established for the purpose of preserving the “national lands” for one ethnic group. Aspiring for a free real estate market? Check out form more info.

Israeli governments irregular housing solutions did not start in Ariel, Ofra, Efrat and their hundreds illegal predator copies. Bibi Nethanyahu did not initiate them. He was born into these solutions just like the rest of us, the parent’s generation of today’s angry young men and women. Israel’s venerated founding fathers chose to house hundreds of thousands of long suffering refugees in the homes from which hundreds and thousands of long suffering refugees escaped or were expelled. Next they flooded the country in transit camps (“maabarot”) of miserable tents and shacks, for the masses that were lured to forsake their homes in Arabic speaking countries in favor of improving the demographic balance for the Jews in Zion. These masses were ground to dust in the social habitat that designated them to the role of farmers and laborers, a substitute the gap left by the Palestinians that could only observe, sad eyed, as they still do, from their refugee camps all over the Middle East. The children and grandchildren of these Arab speaking Jewish immigrants grew into a new incarnation – some as fervent religious nationals who despise all Arabs passionately.

“A Home is a fundamental value, it is the base for  everything”  leaders of the Youth rally shouted last Saturday. Their impressive, just and heart warning demonstration called for social justice, rejected charity, and warned against crafty make-belief solutions. “WE HAVE WOKEN UP”, some black signs read, “AND WE SHALL NOT GO BACK TO SLEEP”. One can only hope that the awakening also included an end to the illusion, that only the continuous violent oppression of part of the people of this land can secure the well being of the other part, defined by the “correct” religion.

Perhaps there are no instant solutions to the housing problem, but great public works are certainly an option. This country, like many others, has great resources that should and could support its needy young. A land that knew how to transfer hundreds of thousands in and out, built development towns, transit camps and a huge region of army camps and settlements should not have any difficulty in performing some model projects.

Here is a suggestion for a really easy one: Last Saturday demonstrators were squeezed to the barb-wire coroneted wall of this camp facing Tel Aviv Museum for the Fine Arts made by Behind this eye sore lies a huge and spacious estate, the well guarded, superbly protected shrine of the Middle East’s most powerful army and one of the greatest military forces in the whole world. Why not clear the Kiria IDF headquarters in favor of affordable housing well located for the poor children of Tel Aviv? Its top ranking officers do not really need a workplace so indulgingly urbane for the purpose of planning their next war, during which we shall be instructed to keep quiet (fighting is in progress!) and to stop moaning about the rent. No doubt they will be happy to move somewhere else. It is after all very wrong, they always tell us, to have military facilities in the midst of civilian population. At least we complain bitterly when this is done by Hezbollah and Hamas.

Or maybe the army will not be willing to move so willingly, as it had long ago ceased to be the People’s Army. We, the people, are its submissive subjects, and who are we to deny it the high-rises from which it  looks down on us, all the way from the Azrieli shopping center to Café Dubnov. It is under the hospices of the army that the government is supplies its only generous “housing solutions”:  reaped off Bill’in,  Ni’ilin, Hebron, Beith Ommar, Saffa, Nabi Salach and dozens other hard beaten spots under occupation. It is the army’s unlimited violent might that facilitates the usurping of homes in Siluan and Sheich Jarrach in favor of some chosen members of militant groups with an inclination for affordable homes well located in Jerusalem.

The yellow clouds of tear gas and the unbearable stink of the “skunk” hoses, the armed forces faithful allies, have long ago transcended oceans all the way to the United Nations halls in New York. No longer may transfers, lootings and expulsions be hidden and silenced, as was the fate of the inhabitants of Iraq Manshia (today’s Qiryat-Gat) or Sidna Ali (Herzlia Pituah). But likewise, they are the products of the same tough and hollow ideology we were all educated on. These days this ideology is compulsory by law even for kindergarten toddlers. Its repetitive false message, anchored in ancient and unfriendly religion: it is dangerous and forbidden for Jews to live in the vicinity of other people.

The angry residents of Israel’s “refugee camps” all over the country are going these days through an awakening process from the false consciousness that brought them to this tricky junction of the summer of 2011. It is not an easy process, but well worth making the effort to go all the way to the root of our problems. Those of us, who were privileged last weekend to dance, sing and hug on a Tel Aviv rooftop with our friends from the villages and refugee camps of the occupied territories, will never agree to give up the warm human contact with people we once considered enemies. Just think how many good flats could be produced with the assets wasted over the decades on fortifying the dumb concept that all non Jews are a “danger for our demography”.

This piece first appeared at Zochrot. Ofra Yeshua-Lyth’s book “A State of Mind` why Israel should become Secular and Democratic ” is published these days by Maariv publishers.

See also Jeff’s Halper’s recent piece on the Tent City protests.

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My visit to South Africa, part 2: A Moment of Truth for the U.S. Church

Part 2:  A Moment of Truth for the U.S. Church

The first task of a prophetic theology for our times would be an attempt at social analysis or what Jesus would call “reading the signs of the times” (Mt 16:3) or “interpreting this Kairos” (Lk 12:56). Kairos is actually a moment of truth, of discernment, of discovery. It is a revelation of the reality we live in, of what is at stake and our responsibility in that moment.

Allan Boesak, “Kairos Consciousness,” 2011

A moment of truth

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent appearance before a joint session of the U.S. Congress and the shameful behavior of the members of Congress in rising to their feet 29 times to applaud his radical, intransigent positions should shatter any remaining illusions that peace will come through negotiations under current conditions. Politics has failed to bring about a just peace in Israel-Palestine. In fact, the political/diplomatic process, based on false assumptions (Israel will accept a contiguous, sovereign Palestinian state on its borders; the U.S. is an honest broker to the negotiation process) is itself actively advancing the building of Israeli Apartheid.  There is an urgent need to continue to build the international grassroots movement to delegitimize Israeli Apartheid and to exert economic, social and diplomatic pressure on Israel and on the countries supporting its policies, especially the U.S. Historically, the churches have played a significant role in creating political and social change through movements of nonviolent resistance. Examples of this in recent history are the U.S. Civil Rights movement, organized opposition to the Vietnam War, and the movement to end Apartheid in South Africa.

Our situation today is strikingly similar to that faced by a group of South African pastors and theologians confronting the intransigence of the South African government in ending Apartheid. In 1985, they sat down to compose a historic, prophetic document. It had been a long journey to reach that point — the result of a struggle of the churches in South Africa to come to terms with their silence and their sometimes active complicity with the system that had poisoned and brutalized their society. By 1985 the church had finally arrived at a place from which there was no escape, no compromise, and no way back.  The authors of the South Africa Kairos document articulate this in their preamble (passages from the document appear in italics):

We as a group of theologians have been trying to understand the theological significance of this moment in our history. It is serious, very serious. For very many Christians in South Africa this is the KAIROS, the moment of grace and opportunity, the favorable time in which God issues a challenge to decisive action… A crisis is a judgment that brings out the best in some people and the worst in others. A crisis is a moment of truth that shows us up for what we really are. There will be no place to hide and no way of pretending to be what we are not in fact. At this moment in South Africa the Church is about to be shown up for what it really is and no cover-up will be possible… It is the KAIROS or moment of truth not only for apartheid but also for the Church.

Like South Africa in the 1980s, suffering under four decades under the Apartheid regime, the situation in the Palestinian territories after over 40 years under military occupation is serious, very serious. For Israel and the entire civilized world, entering the seventh decade of refugee status for the now five million descendants of the Palestinians displaced by the establishment of the State of Israel, there is no longer any place to hide.

The American context

The situation in Palestine has created this moment of truth for the church on a global level, but churches in different geographical regions face differing contexts, necessitating different Kairos agendas. The context for the Palestine Kairos document is military occupation and the implementation of an apartheid system of dispossession, discrimination and control over all aspects of Palestinian civil society. The context for the Southern Africa Kairos is (1) solidarity with Palestinians living under this apartheid system and (2) the need to unify and energize the church in South Africa by taking on the Palestinian cause. The U.S. context is multifaceted and compelling.  It includes: (1) U.S. responsibility for financing the building of Israeli Apartheid and for shielding Israel from accountability in the international arena, (2) the American church’s acquiescence with our government’s support of Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians, (3) theological support (along a spectrum of conservative, mainstream and progressive theologies) for a superior Jewish claim to the land and the right to expel and/or exert political dominance over non-Jewish inhabitants, and (4) the American church’s renewal movement — its quest to return to the fundamental principles of Christianity.

“The favorable time” is now. The Palestinian Spring has arrived in the form of the Nakba Day protests, the Fatah-Hamas unity deal in Cairo and the upcoming United Nations vote on Palestinian statehood. These events unfold against the backdrop of the 2005 Palestinian call for Boycott Divestment and Sanctions, the Palestine Kairos document of 2009, the 2011 Kairos Southern Africa endorsement of Kairos Palestine, the recent popular uprisings throughout the Arab world, and the growing awareness throughout the U.S. churches of the need for education and direct action to bring about a peace based on justice. The Palestinian and South African Kairos documents provide examples for the American church of what it means to take a clear stance on the theological unacceptability of any ideology, theology, or legal system that that grants the members of one group dominance over another. The parallel to our situation is the sham of the U.S.-sponsored “peace process” and the myths that support it, such as the picture of an Israel that makes “generous” offers – offers that serve only to further its colonialist aims. The implications of this are as clear and inescapable for the U.S. church as they are for Palestinians living under occupation today and as they were for the South Africans three decades ago. Any theology and course of action (or inaction) that supports the oppression of an illegitimate regime has to be replaced with an alternative theology and course of action.

Activity within the American church in support of the Palestinian cause is not new. It has been going on for decades, at local and denominational levels, through educational programs, peace pilgrimages, connections with Palestinian and Israeli civil society organizations, and most recently through boycott and divestment initiatives. However, apart from the work of local taskforces and denominationally-based groups devoted to the cause of Middle East peace, a coordinated, ecumenical effort by the American church as a whole has been lacking. Churches for Middle East Peace is an ecumenical organization dedicated exclusively to this issue, but there is a growing awareness that CMEP’s cautious agenda, limited to legislative advocacy, falls short of the activism needed to meet this Kairos moment. It is time for the U.S. church to takes its place alongside the Palestinian, Southern African, and nascent European and Asian Kairos movements.

Lessons from 1985:  A primer in “Church theology”

Although both the Palestinian and South African documents need to be studied by American Christians, the 1985 South African document, with its focus on church complicity, provides a particularly useful set of guideposts for the U.S. church. To be sure, there are differences in the historical situation and in the particular configuration of the challenges – indeed, South African colleagues tell me that what we are facing now makes their past struggle look like child’s play. But the core issues of complicity and responsibility, and the perfect storm of theology, ideology and civil religion that support the continuation of an oppressive system are startlingly similar.

The heart of  the South African document is its analysis of what it calls “Church Theology:” that is, a theology and set of attitudes, opinions and assumptions that are employed by the church to maintain the status quo and to directly and indirectly support immoral government policies. Church theology tries to create the appearance of opposing injustice and oppression. In reality, however, it is devoted to shoring up the very system that perpetrates the evil:

‘Church Theology’ tends to make use of absolute principles like reconciliation and non-violence and applies them indiscriminately and uncritically to all situations. Very little attempt is made to analyze what is actually happening it our society and why it is happening…Closely linked to this is the lack of an adequate understanding of politics and political strategy.

The document identifies three such “church opinions” or assumptions: reconciliation, justice, and non-violence.


‘Church Theology’ often describes the Christian stance in the following way: “We must be fair. We must listen to both sides of the story. If the two sides can only meet to talk and negotiate they will sort out their differences and misunderstandings, and the conflict will be resolved.

The fallacy here is that ‘Reconciliation’ has been made into an absolute principle. But there are conflicts where one side is a fully armed and violent oppressor while the other side is defenseless and oppressed. To speak of reconciling these two is not only a mistaken application of the Christian idea of reconciliation, it is a total betrayal of all that Christian faith has ever meant.

In our situation in South Africa today it would be totally unchristian to plead for reconciliation and peace before the present injustices have been removed…No reconciliation is possible in South Africa without justice …

This analysis goes to the heart of the problem when applied to the Israel/Palestine conflict. One of the most striking features of the discourse about Israel/Palestine in the United States is the preoccupation with the need for a “balanced” perspective. Here is how this typically plays out:  you may not talk about house demolitions, humiliation at checkpoints, restrictions on movement, the death of innocent civilians, targeted assassinations, or any other examples of Palestinian suffering, without presenting what is usually termed the “other side.” The “other side” is the recognition of the suffering of the Israelis, who have endured five wars, terrorist attacks, and the sense that they are surrounded by implacable enemies. (The fact of Israelis’ fear of annihilation is not in dispute. The question of the reality of the threat, however, is relevant.  Ira Chernus takes up this issue in his recent piece in The Nation, “The myth of Israeli vulnerability”). You may not talk about the dispossession of the Palestinians to make way for the Jewish state without noting historic Jewish suffering or the displacement of Jews from Arab countries. On its face, this seems fair. But in the current discourse, the demand for “balance” is not about being fair. Rather, it is used to blunt scrutiny of those actions of Israel that are the root cause of the conflict. As the South African document so effectively sets out, appeals here to principles of “reconciliation,” “dialogue” and “balance” serve not to advance but to obscure the issue of justice. The example of South Africa clearly demonstrates that it is only when the structures of inequality and discrimination have been removed that activities devoted to reconciliation between the parties can be undertaken.


The very serious theological question is: What kind of justice? An examination of Church statements and pronouncements gives the distinct impression that the justice that is envisaged is the justice of reform, that is to say, a justice that is determined by the oppressor, by the white minority and that is offered to the people as a kind of concession. It does not appear to be the more radical justice that comes from below and is determined by the people of South Africa.

There have been reforms and, no doubt, there will be further reforms in the near future. And it may well be that the Church’s appeal to the consciences of whites has contributed marginally to the introduction of some of these reforms. But can such reforms ever be regarded as real change, as the introduction of a true and lasting justice.

True justice, God’s justice, demands a radical change of structures.

Reform was a major issue for the anti-Apartheid struggle. The offers of reform by the Pretoria government, coming too little and too late, mirrored for the authors of Kairos South Africa the attempts of some of the churches to enact superficial changes that did not address the underlying racial inequalities built into church practice and by which the churches continued to support racist government policies. In similar fashion, “progressive” thinkers among Jews disturbed by Israel’s behavior attempt to find ways to remove or remediate the most egregious and blatant aspects of Israeli policy. These efforts, however, do not address the root cause of the abuses, which arise inevitably from the attempt of Israel to maintain a Jewish majority and to continue Jewish rule over a diverse population. In similar fashion, church bodies attempt to find ways to “balance” or soften the prophetic witness to Palestinian suffering in order to deflect or avoid opposition by Jewish groups and groups within the churches who brand any criticism of Israel as anti-Semitism.


The problem for the Church here is the way the word violence is being used in the propaganda of the State. The State and the media have chosen to call violence what some people do in the townships as they struggle for their liberation i.e. throwing stones, burning cars with AGM Battery and buildings and sometimes killing collaborators. Do you need But this excludes the structural, institutional and unrepentant violence of the State and especially the oppressive and naked violence of the police and the army. These things are not counted as violence… Thus the phrase ‘Violence in the townships’ comes to mean what the young people are doing and not what the police are doing or what apartheid in general is doing to people.

In practice what one calls ‘violence’ and what one calls ‘self-defense’ seems to depend upon which side one is on. To call all physical force ‘violence’ is to try to be neutral and to refuse to make a judgment about who is right and who is wrong. The attempt to remain neutral in this kind of conflict is futile. Neutrality enables the status quo of oppression (and therefore violence) to continue. It is a way of giving tacit support to the oppressor.

The parallels are obvious. Israeli state terrorism is contextualized as self-defense.  Palestinian resistance is framed as terrorism.  Again, Ira Chernus’ recent piece in The Nation is instructive.

The challenge to the American church

The South African document arose from a context of a church – black and white, theologians, pastors and lay leaders – acknowledging its complicity with a tyrannical regime. The document points out that the Bible is very clear about regimes that violate fundamental principles of justice and equality. “A tyrannical regime,” it states, “has no moral legitimacy. It may be the de facto government and it may even be recognized by other governments and therefore be the de jure or legal government. But if it is a tyrannical regime, it is, from a moral and theological point of view, illegitimate.” Thus the church saw no alternative but to oppose the regime itself as unreformable, and to challenge the “church theology” that supported the illegitimate system.

This is where the U.S. church finds itself as it witnesses Israel’s ongoing dispossession and oppression of the Palestinians. It has become increasingly clear that Israel’s goal is not a sovereign and independent Palestine, but the continued colonization of Palestinian lands, the subjugation of its people, and the blocking of any prospect of return for refugees. Like the South Africans in 1985, we are looking today at an Israeli government that has shown itself to be illegitimate according to fundamental religious and humanitarian principles as well as standards of international law. It is the policies themselves, and the government that implements them, that must become the focus of church activity. In the South African case, an appeal to the governments of the world to employ sanctions against the South African government became an increasingly important component of the anti-Apartheid movement. In our U.S. case, it is particularly clear that besides holding Israel itself accountable, we must confront directly our own government’s key role as a supporter of Israel’s illegal, self-destructive and dangerous policies. As was true in the South Africa case, the stakes are very high. The moral imperative for Christians and for all people committed to peace and to social justice is powerful and increasingly urgent:

A tyrannical regime cannot continue to rule for very long without becoming more and more violent. As the majority of the people begin to demand their rights and to put pressure on the tyrant, so will the tyrant resort more and more to desperate, cruel, gross and ruthless forms of tyranny and repression. The reign of a tyrant always ends up as a reign of terror.

The South Africa Kairos document was the product of decades of a church struggle to claim its prophetic heart. The U.S. church is now engaged in a process to remain faithful to its core principles. The time has come to name the struggle and to take sides. It is the choice between conservative theologies that hew to exceptionalist doctrines that pervert the words of scripture into supporting oppression, land taking, and even genocide, and a movement of renewal and return to core values of universalism, social justice, and human dignity — the building of the Kingdom of God here on earth. It is the choice between following denominational hierarchies and cautious clergy more concerned with maintaining church structures, protecting funding sources and preserving relationships with the American Jewish establishment, and following the example of the early church in taking a prophetic stance against injustice. The challenge to the U.S. church is as clear as that faced by the South African church three decades ago. Contemporary theologians, historians and social critics have observed that the religious exceptionalism that is the legacy of our Puritan past is being enacted in our support of Israel. They point to how the current dominant American metanarrative driving the “war on terror” interlocks with the metanarrative of a democratic Israel defending itself (and us) from the implacable hatred of an enemy who embraces a false religion committed to hatred and destruction. They point out the parallels to the first century, when a visionary and iconoclastic Palestinian Jew challenged the oppressive political order of his time (represented by the Temple in Jerusalem), calling instead for a Kingdom based on compassion and social justice.

The argument is made that the situation is complex, the relationships multifaceted and fraught with history, and that the conflicts between equally justifiable “claims” or “rights” create ambiguities and conflicting courses of action. Kairos —a moment of truth, of discernment, of discovery” — cuts through these intellectual confusions and moral snares. Status confessionis, as American theologian Robert McAfee Brown has written — a confessional situation — is a time when “the issues are so clear, and the stakes are so high, that the privilege of amiable disagreement must be superseded by clear-cut decisions, and the choice must move from ‘both/and’ to ‘either or.’” The Palestinian document is a cry of pain and a call to action. The South African document holds up a mirror to our complicity and to our responsibility to core principles of faith and humanity.  The church is called – along with those from other faith traditions and the peace community who join it in this struggle.

Here we stand.

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My visit to South Africa Part 1: A confessing church,1985-2011

Part 1:  A Confessing Church, circa 1985

This is the KAIROS, the moment of grace and opportunity, the favorable time in which God issues a challenge to decisive action.
Challenge to the Church (“Kairos Document”), Johannesburg, South Africa, 1985

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.
Kairos Palestine Document, Bethlehem, 2009

Johannesburg, South Africa, April 2011.

Why?  I kept asking them.  Why are you so wholeheartedly and passionately committed to this cause?  Why little Palestine?  You have massive problems here. The post-Apartheid era is proving more challenging in some ways than the struggle to end it, as you endeavor to find a way out of deep structural inequality and seemingly intractable economic divisions along racial lines.

The answers came without hesitation. First: The world was here for us during our struggle. Second: We know what Apartheid is. We cannot stand idly by. This must be our struggle as well.

I was in South Africa for the Kairos Southern Africa –Kairos Palestine encounter. Pastors, theologians and society leaders from Southern Africa, including many of the great – and outside of Africa, unsung – heroes of the anti-Apartheid movement, in addition to younger church people, had organized under the name Kairos Southern Africa. They had invited a delegation of Palestinian Christians, including many of the authors of the Kairos Palestine document, for a conference and a series of meetings with church, civil society and government leaders to launch Kairos Palestine in Southern Africa. But this meeting was more than a simple expression of solidarity with Palestinians struggling for freedom and self-determination. It was an affirmation of the overall mission of the church in Southern Africa. As one of the several non-African/ non-Palestinians and the only North American in attendance, I realized that this extraordinary gathering carried a critically important message for the church globally and in particular the church in the United States. In order to understand that message, we need to understand a bit about the history of the struggle with South African Apartheid.

As early as the late 1950s, statements began to emerge from South African church bodies expressing the fundamental conflict between Apartheid and Christian beliefs and principles. The church was beginning to confront, not only its silence in the face of racist laws, but the fact that it was practicing racial separation and discrimination within its own walls. Most important, the church was calling into question ways in which Christian doctrine had been employed and was continuing to be used to justify policies of separation and discrimination. By the 1980s, uprisings in the townships and brutal suppression by the government of all forms of resistance had brought the country to a boiling point. Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu had assumed leadership of the South African Council of Churches and was taking an increasingly vocal stance against Apartheid.

In 1982 a watershed event occurred. The leaders of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) met in Ottawa Canada. Nine black and coloured pastors from South Africa refused to partake of the Lord’s supper with their white colleagues because they could not do so at home in Apartheid South Africa. The World Alliance got the message: the WARC declared the church to be in status confessionis. Nothing moves, they declared, all other church business takes a back seat, until this betrayal of the core values of our faith is addressed. They then suspended the South African white Dutch Reformed Church member churches from the worldwide church body. These church leaders knew that not only was the church complicit in its silence, but that it had a responsibility for having helped create the very structures of separation and discrimination upon which the current state structures were built, and for having developed the original theological support for racist policies. They realized that this meant that the church was in violation of the fundamental principle of equality under God, the unity of all creation, and the dignity of all living things. In the words of the “Confession of Faith” of the Dutch Reformed Mission Church of South Africa (the “Belhar Confession”), written in 1982 and officially adopted in 1986, “we reject any doctrine which absolutizes either natural diversity or the sinful separation of people…or breaks the visible and active unity of the church…”

The Belhar Confession was followed in 1985 by a towering statement of theological courage, titled “Challenge to the Church” and signed by 150 South African theologians.  Also known as the “The Kairos Document,” it was, in the words of South African journalist and biographer of Desmond Tutu John Allen “soon seen as one of the most important theological documents of its time.” The 1985 Kairos Document signaled the final stage of the struggle that culminated in the end of Apartheid in 1994. South African theologian and church historian John De Gruchy, the author of The Church Struggle in South Africa, has pointed out to me that church struggle has two meanings – the struggle was not only of the church with Apartheid, but with itself. This same observation was made to me by two other central figures in the anti-Apartheid struggle, theologian Albert Nolan and pastor and activist Frank Chikane. From the beginnings of the anti-Apartheid struggle and to its very end, the church was never totally united in principle and in action. But through the efforts of an increasing number of courageous individuals, and as the struggle intensified and the fundamental issues became more and more clear, the church found its prophetic voice, its feet squarely planted on the ground it knew it had to claim.

This is an example of theology in action – theology in response to history. In some circles, and at times when this kind of theology has threatened the church establishment itself, such theology has been dismissed as “contextual,” as if the doing of theology in direct response social conditions somehow diminishes faith or reduces faith to something less elevated than itself. Ulrich Duchrow, theologian and co-founder of Kairos Europa, has this to say about this claim: “Working sociologically does not mean restricting the meaning of biblical texts to so-called sociological questions but rather recognizing that socio-economic and political structures and ways of acting are, according to the insights of the Bible, to be addressed as a decision for or against God. It is the social questions that are theologized, and not the God question that is secularized” (Duchrow, U. Alternatives to Global Capitalism, International Books with Kairos Europa, the Hague, 1995, 142).

During my time in South Africa, this same point was driven home repeatedly in conversations with people and in encounters across South African society. In the words of Edwin Arrison, an Anglican priest and coordinator of Kairos Southern Africa, “Kairos Palestine is a blessing for us.”  Solidarity with the Palestinian struggle, he was saying, puts our South African church in touch with our prophetic, faithful heart. It sets us more surely on the ground on which we as a church live spiritually, ground we have been in danger of losing since the end of Apartheid in our own country. The energy we put into Palestine, he said, does not diminish our energy to deal with our own issues, it augments it. I was told by a pastor from Swaziland that knowing about someone else’s troubles and struggle helps you understand your own — you don’t feel so isolated. For a Southern African, I learned, solidarity with the Palestinian struggle is not about taking on another burden or cause on top of the issues at home. It is not a net gain in responsibility – rather, especially in the context of the monumental challenges facing South Africa today, it makes the load lighter.

I heard Ronnie Kasrils, Jewish South African anti-Apartheid activist and politician, speak to a large group of young people from the black township of Khayelitsha in Cape Town one evening in the presence of the Palestinian and Southern African Kairos delegations. Rousing these black teenagers and young mothers and fathers living under conditions of extreme poverty to the cause of their Palestinian brothers and sisters, Kasrils spoke to the Palestinians on behalf all South Africans: “You are not alone,” he said, “we are with you!  When we were fighting the Boers and were being mowed down in the townships, the world stood with us. When we heard that the people in the USA and the UK were supporting us and standing with us in boycotting South Africa, that meant everything to us. From up there to down here, the love is here for truth and justice and to stand for all people!” And the young people, some wearing “Free Shuhada Street” t-shirts (Shuhada is the main market street in Hebron in the West Bank, closed off to Palestinians to “protect” illegal Jewish settlers), rose to their feet and sang and danced to the hymn “We are Marching over to Jerusalem.”

We were hosted by the Muslim Judicial Council in Cape Town and were told by the Imam that the South African commitment to this struggle this is not only for Palestinians, or for Muslims, but for all of humanity. Officially endorsing the Palestine Kairos document, the leaders of the Council affirmed the need for Christians, Jews and Muslims to live together in peace in the Holy Land, as they had done for centuries.

We met with the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, Thabo Makgoba. Fresh from his recent visit to Bethlehem to address the international meeting of Sabeel, he had been to Palestine, he had seen the occupation, and he offered his full support. We met with the Catholic Archbishop of Cape Town, who had been there, and, fully understanding the importance of working for justice in Palestine, he offered his support in educating South African Catholics about the situation. But the congregation at the Cape Town Cathedral on the Sunday morning following the Kairos meeting had not been there, had not seen the oppression of the Palestinians first hand. And yet when Canon Naim Ateek of Sabeel preached that morning, speaking about the Palestinian plight, the similarities to Apartheid, and of the moral and theological imperative to support the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions campaign, he received enthusiastic applause – not a normal occurrence after a sermon in an Anglican cathedral! The worshipers that morning understood Apartheid because they had lived it. When the General Secretary of the South African Council of Churches met with the Palestinian delegation he was ready with concrete offers to distribute the Palestine Kairos document for study throughout the South African churches, and to work to ensure that pilgrimages to the Holy Land include exposure to the occupation and meetings with peace activists. Like the worshippers in the Cathedral that Sunday, he had not been to Palestine. But he could not fail to feel the pain of the Palestinians and to understand their suffering. And he knew what had to be done.

Kairos Consciousness

Liberation theologian, Uniting Dutch Reformed pastor and anti-Apartheid activist Professor Allan Boesak recently described Kairos consciousness in this way:

A Kairos consciousness is a critical consciousness. It discerns and critiques the situation in which we live. It understands that it is a situation of life and death. There is a conflict – between rich and poor, oppressor and oppressed, powerful and powerless, beneficiaries and victims, those who are included and those who are excluded. In that critique there is no room for sentiment and romanticism – peoples’ lives are at stake. The crisis we are facing is not just economic, social and political, it is a moral crisis…

The situation is one of extreme urgency precisely because the stakes are so very high. This calls for action and we respond with prophetic faithfulness and prophetic daring.

This movement is not simply a campaign in support of one popular struggle.  It is not simply a movement to bring racial equality to one group of oppressed people. It is a global movement to delegitimize an Apartheid system that rivals the one that burned into the soul and the soil of South Africa until only two short decades ago. That regime was brought to an end, as it had to be, by the irresistible pressure of the oppressed people of South Africa and their allies among white South Africans, the global church, foreign governments called to account, and the enduring, persistent and spirit-infused human commitment to justice.

This is not only about Palestine. South African theologian Charles Villa-Vicencio, one of the authors of the 1985 Kairos document, had this to say to me when we met in Cape Town:  “This is bigger than Palestine. It’s the fault line running through western civilization, the point of split in the first century between the followers of Jesus and those who clung to their Rome-granted power base in Jerusalem.”  In other words, it’s about whether religion is used to separate groups from one another and to grant one group the right to dominate another, or whether it is about bringing humankind to a realization of our unity and connectedness.  So the church was born to this. Indeed, the church was born in this. And the church is taking this on, in South Africa, in the U.S., in growing number of centers in Europe.  And it is the church, globally, that will be crucial in ending the system that is destroying Israeli society, has hijacked the Jewish faith, continues to fuel global conflict, and has produced one of the most systematic and longstanding violations of human rights in the world today. What I experienced in South Africa a few short weeks ago convinced me that the energized South African church will be the leading edge of the global movement to end Apartheid in Palestine.

The other leading edge will be church in the United States.

To be continued in Part 2,  “A moment of truth for the American church”

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Bursting the Bubble of “Liberal Zionism”

Dear Subscribers,

When Peter Beinart’s “The Failure of the Jewish Establishment” came out in the New York Review of Books last June, I was out of the country and missed the excitement.  I was bombarded with it from a number of listserves, but began to notice that I was avoiding reading it.  And I know why:  I didn’t feel like getting heated up about what I suspected was in the piece.  Well, I finally read it last December, and I did get heated up, and I wrote this essay, which surprises me since I used to buy research papers not a while ago.  I submitted it to several left-wing print and internet periodicals, received acceptances, and then, for some reason, it never ran. Added a “Palestine Papers” lead, and then a lead about Egypt.  Still no luck.  No matter — here it is:

Peter Beinart and The Failure of American Jewish Progressivism:

Bursting the Bubble of “Liberal Zionism”

Mark Braverman

The popular uprising in Egypt that unseated President Hosni Mubarak, together with Aljazeera’s January 23rd release of the “Palestine Papers,” have produced if not a an earthquake, then certainly seismic rumblings in the ground supporting Israel’s control of the West Bank (from within) and Gaza (from without). The plight of the Palestinians is not what motivated Egyptians to take to the streets – yet the complicity of the Mubarak government with the siege of Gaza certainly stuck in the craw of the Egyptian people. Similarly, the Aljezeera revelations that negotiators for the Palestinian Authority had effectively ceded East Jerusalem to Israel and relinquished the right of return for Palestinian refugees would have only reinforced Egyptians’ conviction that the  promised Palestinian State  a has been a snare and a delusion perpetrated by the U.S.-Israel-Jordan-Egypt alliance.

It is a sure bet that any spillover from Tahrir Square into the streets of Ramallah, Jenin, Nablus or Bethlehem will be quickly repressed by the Palestinian Authority. But the future of the inhabitants of the West Bank and Gaza as well as the millions of Palestinian refugees in the occupied territories and throughout the world does not rest with the actions of the client government installed in Ramallah. Rather, the fate of these people –as well of the close to eight million citizens of Israel, is been held hostage to the assumptions and requirements of political Zionism. More than territory and borders, the issue of demography is the key to this conflict. The question of return of refugees has been a red line for Israelis because the introduction of so many non-Jews would spell “the end of Israel.” And so it would, as long as its future is tied to the Zionist idea of a Jewish state. But recognition is dawning that a just and equitable sharing of the territory will mean, not the end of Israel, but its only hope for a future. The release of the Palestinian Authority documents is a further sign that the path to peace requires a confrontation with Zionism itself as a political enterprise. But even within the progressive camp, this realization has been slow in coming. When Peter Beinart’s “The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment” appeared in the New York Review of Books in June 2010, it caused a considerable stir:  here was a young Jewish intellectual boldly challenging the human rights record of the State of Israel. But Beinart’s subject was not Israel’s mistreatment of Palestinians. Rather, he was addressing the failure of the American Jewish establishment to successfully promote Zionism as a viable political program. The piece opens with this declaration:  “Saving liberal Zionism in the United States—so that American Jews can help save liberal Zionism in Israel—is the great American Jewish challenge of our age.”  To this Jewish American, this is an astonishing statement, and it is tragically off the mark.

Born in the heady years after the establishment of the state, I grew up believing that Israel was the key to Jewish survival. But I would suggest that preserving Zionism is not the challenge facing Jews today. Rather, our task is to rescue Judaism from an ideology that has hijacked the faith, continues to fuel global conflict, and has produced one of the most systematic and longstanding violations of human rights in the world today. Despite its romantic attachment to the idea of the “new Jew” — a Jew liberated from the powerlessness and humiliation of the ghetto — in reality Zionism has served to keep Jews trapped in an isolationist, exclusivist past. We must challenge a historical narrative that has yoked us to a theology of territoriality and tribal privilege. We must acknowledge how deep is the hole we have dug for ourselves in the pursuit of our national homeland project.

But it is not for the Jews alone to resolve this crisis. Rather, the prospect of Israel spinning rapidly into rogue state status challenges people from all faiths and nationalities to confront sectarian and particularistic strivings wherever they hold the political process hostage. This is not the challenge that being thrown down by Beinart, however. Instead, he is proposing that rather than questioning the legitimacy of Zionism, we shore it up. Beinart never considers the possibility that Zionism itself is a flawed ideology. Instead, he operates on the assumption that if only Zionism could be implemented in its true democratic and liberal spirit, meaningful change could be created and things would work out. “Yes, we have erred, we have strayed,” — so goes the argument – “but because we are heirs to a liberal, humanistic tradition, we can make this work — and our work deserves to be crowned with success.”

According to Beinart, bad actors have sabotaged the noble enterprise.  The problem, he maintains, lies with overtly racist politicians like Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who proposes transfer of non-Jews (and who recently pushed through the Knesset the targeting of Israeli human rights organizations for special investigations), and ex-cabinet minister Effi Eitam, who wants Arabs out of Israeli politics. Here we have the classic straw man maneuver – very much like progressive Israeli and non-Israeli Jews blaming the “radical fringe” of the settler movement for Israel’s human rights abuses and the “mistake” of the occupation. But settler depredations, permanent occupation of Palestinian lands, brutal suppression of popular resistance, racial laws governing loyalty and land ownership, and de facto second class citizenship for Arabs in Israel are not accidents or unfortunate deviations from Israel’s democratic agenda. The government of Israel is doing precisely what a Jewish state has to do to maintain its Jewish character. Ethnic cleansing and military control of a subject population (also known as Apartheid) have emerged as the only means to address the threat to Israel’s continued existence as a sovereign Jewish state. The abhorrent concept of the Arab “demographic threat” is embraced in Israel by racist demagogues and centrist politicians alike. The sobering truth is that for Israel the line between racist demagoguery and government policy has all but disappeared.

But for the Jewish progressive, the idea that Zionism itself is the problem is unacceptable. A different enemy must be found — and Israel’s fundamentalist Jewish establishment presents itself as the most convenient. Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, former Chief Rabbi of Israel and spiritual leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party is the poster child for those who bemoan Israel’s threatened descent into fascism. Last October Jewish voices the world over issued horrified condemnations when a group of Israeli rabbis, backed by Yosef, issued rulings against renting to non-Jews. Even the Anti-Defamation League’s arch-conservative Director Abraham Foxman weighed in against the “hateful and divisive ideas” of these religious leaders. Lamenting Shas’ growing boldness and influence, Beinart warns against this threat to Israel’s “liberal and democratic order.” The point, however, bears repeating: Shas and Israel’s other religious parties are not unfortunate byproducts of democracy – rather, they are firmly entrenched in Israel’s political structure. Despite its initial conflict with political Zionism, Jewish fundamentalism has shown itself to be frighteningly compatible with the goal of building a Jewish state.

Quoted in a recent article in New York Jewish Week, Beinart expresses concern that his children may have to choose between “blind support” of Israel and their liberal values. But as Jews – and Americans — we do have to choose. Accepting Zionism as a workable, sustainable political program is a kind of blindness. It calls for a striking lapse in critical thinking and the jettisoning of fundamental humanistic principles, and it leads to the political dead end in which we find ourselves today. Israel’s national anthem, “Hatikvah,” (“The Hope”) embodies the Zionist dream and ethos: “The hope of two thousand years, to be a free nation in our land, the land of Zion and Jerusalem.” This yearning is understandable and it is powerful. But I would propose to Beinart and those progressive Jews who cling to this dream that they replace it with one more in tune with the trajectory of history, which points away from nationalism, and certainly from ethnic nationalism. Zionism held a kind of desperate logic for the Jews of 19th century Europe, and seemed valid in the historical and ideological context of the time – but it is wrong and unsustainable today. Only when Israel itself, and the Jewish community that supports it, can begin to let go of these anachronistic strivings can we turn ourselves to the task of recreating Israel as a political entity truly committed to democratic and liberal principles. The late and deeply mourned Tony Judt got it exactly right in his NYRB piece back in 2003: “The problem with Israel, in short, is not—as is sometimes suggested—that it is a European ‘enclave’ in the Arab world; but rather that it arrived too late. It has imported a characteristically late-nineteenth-century separatist project into a world that has moved on, a world of individual rights, open frontiers, and international law. The very idea of a “Jewish state”—a state in which Jews and the Jewish religion have exclusive privileges from which non-Jewish citizens are forever excluded—is rooted in another time and place.”

In his recent book, The Icarus Syndrome, A History of American Hubris, Beinart warns against “pushing ideas further and further, until, like a swelled balloon, they burst.” We have arrived at that bursting point. The end of Zionism will not be the disaster that so many Jews – and some Christians — fear. Rather, it will open the Jewish people to a future where the Other is embraced, rather than back to a past in which armies are mustered, walls are built, and enemies, real and imagined, are vilified and attacked. “Saving” Zionism by trying to make it into something it is not takes us in precisely the wrong direction.

Mark Braverman is author of Fatal Embrace: Christians, Jews, and the Search for Peace in the Holy Land, Synergy Press, 2010. Writing and his blog can be found at

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Two Voices from Israel

Dear Subscribers,

It’s been months since you’ve heard from me. This has not been for want of things to write about. In fact I have been writing quite a bit, and it’s been the demands of these projects and time on the road lecturing that have kept me from the blog. These two pieces just came my way, and have broken through the block.

I am bringing you two Jewish voices from Israel. One is a cry of despair and pain. The other is the story of a man who years ago woke up and set out to do something. I am not saying that in the writing of the first piece the author has not done something. Amnon Dankner, a veteran Israeli journalist, a man of my generation, born in the heady years just before the birth of the state and  part of the mainstream political and journalistic life of Israel, is now crushingly disillusioned, horrified, and in mourning. I am very moved by this piece. There is no light here, no sense from Dankner that he can even turn it around. It is a cry of despair, sadness, anger, and fear. What is striking also is his description of Israeli’s existential terror – the sense of being surrounded, isolated, threatened.  In the political ferment in which we engage around this conflict, we rarely hear this expressed by Israelis themselves, rarely hear about this sense of vulnerability outside the context of a Zionist polemic. Here is an Israeli expressing the desperate feeling of being at the mercy of a government not only unable to protect its citizens, but leading them at breakneck speed toward the edge of the cliff. We are not safe, he is saying — and, what is more, there is a way to safety, but it is in the opposite direction than the one in which we are travelling. Dankner goes on to voice the pain of a man living in a society that is morally bankrupt and descending rapidly into racism. This man was born in Palestine in 1946. He grew up immersed in the dream of redemption, of a talented, brave, suffering people creating something new and wonderful. It is a profound, tragic downfall. And so very sad. I will not choose to use this opportunity to preach about how such a downfall was inevitable because of the nature of Zionism itself  (this will be reserved for the next posting, in preparation). I simply give you Dankner’s profound unburdening.

Eitan Bronstein, born almost a generation after Dankner, is in my view one of the most courageous voices in Israel today. In founding Zochrot, he, along with Israeli historians such as Ilan Pappe, is calling on Jews to wake up to an essential facet of our history – the historical and ongoing dispossession of the Palestinian people to make way for the Jewish state. In this piece, Eitan makes his farewell as Director of Zochrot and tells the story of its founding.

Here are the two pieces:

“Decline to brutality — I am ashamed”  Amnon Dankner, January 7, 2011

“…I am daring to stand up and voice an opinion and even voice it loudly and pound on the table once or twice—this is because I have felt lately that it has become shameful to be an Israeli, and a decent person must feel this shame and blush deeply and clear his throat and whisper to himself the question, what should we do, what should we do, for heaven’s sake, and perhaps even reach far-reaching conclusions.

Because it is fairly clear already that if our life here continues as it has been developing, then decent, moderate, balanced and humane people will not be able to live here. Before our eyes, with growing speed, Israeli society is changing, the political culture is changing, balances are disrupted and checks are tossed to the blazes, in the terrible wind that is blowing in our lives and quickly colouring them in darkening shades of black….” (click for entire piece)

Eitan’s Farewell — January, 2011

“…I started Zochrot more than nine years ago, after leading tours to the site known in Israrel as “Canada Park.” The JNF, with the generous assistance of Canadian Zionists, planted thousands of trees to create a forest that looked as if it were European, and in doing so covered the remains of the villages of Yalu, ‘Imwas and Beit Nuba. The JNF erected many signs in the park, describing the many histories of the location, but for some reason forget to mention the lives that Palestinians led here for hundreds of years, until the 1967 war, during which Israel completed the conquest of the country which it had begun in 1948. At the end of one of those tours, I had the idea to erect in the park the signs that were missing. For example, “’Imwas cemetery,” or “Yalu cemetery.”

The idea of erecting signs wherever Palestinian villages had been demolished by Israel attracted and interested people, and two publications referred to it even before we’d actually done anything: HaKibbutz and Ha’aretz. The many responses from readers – most of them irate – made clear to me that this was a clearly-focused activity whose time had come…

I carried out my first symbolic actions, erecting Hebrew signs alongside the remains of Palestinian villages, during that day trip. I still remember how I had physically to overcome my body’s resistance to making that modest gesture. Here are those photographs, which haven’t been published before.  (click for entire piece)

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Peace, peace, and there is no peace

On October 6 The Washington Post ran a story entitled “A key back channel for U.S., Israeli ties.” The story informs us that “Dennis Ross, a longtime Middle East expert, has emerged as a crucial, behind-the-scenes conduit between the White House and the Israeli government, working closely with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s private attorney – and also Defense Minister Ehud Barak – to discreetly smooth out differences and disputes between the two governments.”

The article goes on to describe how Ross is currently working with “[chief Israeli negotiator Yitzhak] Molho and [Deputy Prime Minister Ehud] Barak on a package of incentives that the Obama administration is offering Netanyahu to extend a settlement moratorium by 60 days to keep nascent peace talks with the Palestinians on track.”

This latest disclosure is another nail in the coffin of the “peace process.” It lays to rest the long-held fiction of the U.S. as an honest broker in these so-called negotiations. This disclosure comes as no surprise. It has already been officially leaked that these “incentives” certainly include Israeli military presence and effective control over the Jordan Valley. What else might be in this package? Guarantee against return of Palestinian refugees? Final annexation of the major settlement blocs, including East Jerusalem? And does it matter? What now emerges into the full light of day is what anyone with eyes to see has observed, certainly since 2000 – that the U.S., far from being an “honest broker” in “peace negotiations,” is in fact Israel’s lawyer – in addition to her banker – on the international scene.  See my friend Jim Wall’s excellent blog on the Ross incentive package. It spells out how the military occupation of the Jordan Valley and the diplomatic guarantees contained in the package complete the bantusization and isolation of the West Bank and Gaza.  And for what?  The extension of a “settlement freeze” that is itself a snare and a delusion (settlement building has continued unabated in spite of the talks)?

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But the illusion continues to hold sway. The evening that the Post article appeared, I attended  an event organized by J Street, the AC founded several years ago as an alternative to AIPAC, the powerful “Israel Lobby.”  On its website J Street identifies itself as “the political home for pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans to advocate for vigorous U.S. leadership to achieve a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”  The event was entitled “Who are the Partners for Peace? Palestinian Perspectives: A Discussion with the American Jewish Community.” The event was moderated by Martin Indyk, former U.S. Ambassador to Israel and lead negotiator at the 2000 Camp David talks. The panel featured three Palestinian speakers, the idea being to bring “Palestinian moderates,” as the program identified them, to the attention of American Jews.  Presumably, this kind of conversation would help to dispel the notion that Palestinians were not interested in peace with Israel and that they were incapable of “working together” with Israelis to achieve a two-state solution. An overwhelmingly Jewish audience filled to overflowing the vast sanctuary at Temple Sinai in Washington DC.  It’s possible that many came out of curiosity.  But I felt, as I did when I attended the sold-out J Street conference in Washington last year, that the Jewish community came to this event out of an increasingly urgent need to find a way to continue to feel good – and optimistic — about Israel. Seeing that there are Palestinians who want peace is a comforting notion:  if they exist, then – given that we Jews also seek this outcome – there is hope.

But this hope rests on yet another fiction, one that functions alongside of that of the U.S. as a good faith broker. This is the fantasy created by the language of “partnership.”  Partnership assumes equality, or at least the possibility of such.  It assumes a  playing field that might approach being level. But an occupier and occupied cannot be partners in a negotiation.  A militarily controlled and economically vanquished people confronting a nuclear power supported by the world’s remaining superpower is not a meeting of partners. The assembled wanted to believe that this partnership is possible — that the only task remaining is to match up the “moderates” on both sides, those willing to hear the other’s narrative (“Tell us what it was like to grow up in a refugee camp” Ambassador Indyk asked one of the panelists).  These would be, presumably, the panelists on the podium and us, the supporters of J Street.

As a member of the audience I asked the panelists to comment on the Post article, asking the question very much in the spirit in which I opened this blog posting. Two out of the three said that they thought back channel was wrong – certainly, said one, a tactical error. The third, astonishingly, answered my question about the Ross “concessions” by saying “I am not so sure about this concept of ‘honest broker.’ What’s an ‘honest broker?” In a negotiation, I am concerned not that the broker be honest, but that he be effective!” This quip drew appreciative laughter. Later this same panelist, in answer to a question about settlements and international law (such as the law declaring illegal the settling of one’s own population on land obtained militarily, and profiting economically on that territory) claimed that, after all, international law can be understood in many ways. This was news to me.  Clearly, I had much to learn about international law.  Certainly, I was learning more and more about what a moderate is.

Ambassador Indyk ended the evening with an appeal to the audience. Peace will never be achieved, he declared, “without all of you.”  This statement mystified me. What did he mean, I wondered? The audience, however, responded this appeal with enthusiastic applause and went off to the reception. What, I continued to wonder (or who) were they applauding? I don’t think it was for panelist Amjad Atallah of the New American Foundation, who, just prior to Indyk’s closing words, ended the panel discussion with an answer to the Ambassador’s question, “will we see a Palestinian state within a year?” “A Palestinian state alongside of Israel,” Atallah answered, “depends on freedom for Palestine. If a settlement looks anything like what we now have on the ground, the ‘Two State Solution’ will be much more terrible than the present situation.”

This is the truth that must be told. The current diplomatic effort will not work, even if, improbably, it produces something called a “peace agreement.” Peace will come, not through political compromise requiring yet more concessions and “flexibility” from the Palestinian side, but through a recognition of the injustice to which the Palestinians have been subjected for over 60 years, and an honest look at the illegitimacy and unsustainability of the political system that is now firmly in place — a system that constitutes a single apartheid state. The current political process, if it “succeeds” at all, seems more and more likely to succeed only in legitimizing this unacceptable reality. Nothing resembling peace will result from this outcome.

A synagogue full of Jews listening to the voices of Palestinians is not a bad thing.  Eventually, the Jewish community will come to understand that the Palestinian people are not our implacable enemy.  Eventually – someday – as a community we will come to understand that Palestinian resistance has been directed not toward Jews, or even toward Israel as such, but toward Israeli expansionism and to six-plus decades of ethnic cleansing, dispossession and denial of human rights. Conversations like the J Street event last week may prove — someday — to have been a helpful part of that process. But these conversations will not produce a solution. For a solution we need to hear the voices of prophets, voices like the voice I heard the next day at a lecture at the Palestine Center in downtown Washington DC.  Rashid Khalidi, the Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies at Columbia University, told us that

“There is reason for deep short-term pessimism about the situation in Palestine and the situation in Israel. Both are endlessly depressing.  But there are signs, I think, of encouraging positive longer term trends in the public sphere in this country. This is not a situation that will change rapidly, however. It took generations and a lot of hard work to establish the myths Israel was built on, and it will take years, and a lot of hard work, to deconstruct them, and for the generations that are not going to change their minds in many cases, to lose their influence.”

“I think it will be a long time before the political situation certainly will change such that we can expect an end to Israeli impunity.  Israel will continue to be protected in pretty much anything it chooses to do by our Congress and by our government. But I think the handwriting may be on the wall. I think that the system of domination and control through the calculated dosed use of violence and overwhelming power that has obtained in the Occupied Territories for over 43 years, a system based entirely on violence, and that has maintained the dispossession of the Palestinian people for 62 years, cannot be hidden forever. Maybe it can’t be stopped, but it can’t be concealed, is my point.  The brilliantly conceived discursive artifice, a citadel of lies, that has concealed this system of power and control for so long is actually beginning to crumble…The day is clearly coming when this status quo will pass. Maybe a long time for that day to come but it is coming.  It is up to Israelis and Palestinians in the first instance to dismantle this iniquitous system, this unjust system, this unsustainable system and to put in place one that is more just. But, the last thing I want to say is while it is essentially up to them there, it is also up to us here. Americans bear a very, very, very heavy responsibility in this matter.  We are the 900 pound gorilla on the Middle Eastern stage.  The United States has upheld this entire discriminatory, unjust structure ever since 1948, ever since the partition resolution of 1947. Clearly, a beginning in new direction at least in the public sphere in this country has begun. I would strongly argue that true peace with justice in Palestine for both peoples that live there depends on the continuation of this process in this country.”

(Click this link for a video and complete transcript of Dr. Khalidi’s address.)

When politics fail, broad social movements arise to change the political wind. This is the movement we see forming on a global basis to end the madness and eventually bring peace to the region. We need voices of prophecy – honest, unvarnished truth-telling.  When Elijah confronted King Ahab over the killing of Naboth and the theft of his land, he did not sidle up to the monarch, put his arm around his shoulder and say, “Ahab, this doesn’t look so good. We need to work on your image — and we need to figure out a better way to get you what you want. Let me talk to the folks in Jezreel and see what kind of a deal I can get for you.”  No – we know what Elijah said:  “Have you murdered and also taken?”  In the Hebrew, the question is asked in three, shattering words — followed by a short discourse on the consequences to follow.

People often ask me: but if not two states, then what? Isn’t one state even less possible?  But the one-state two-state debate is not the conversation that is needed now. We already have one state. More and more Israelis  – including former Prime Ministers – see this, and it is a state that is unsustainable.  The question, as Israeli writer Bernard Avishai asked years ago, is not whether Israel will survive. The question is:  what kind of Israel will it be?  The more the truth is told, the sooner we can begin to answer that question.


An updated edition of Mark Braverman’s Fatal Embrace:  Christians, Jews, and the Search for Peace in the Holy Land is now available.  It features a new Afterword and an endorsement by Marcus J. Borg.

Mark Braverman’s review of Joe Sacco’s astonishing graphic novel Footnotes in Gaza has just appeared in Commonweal Magazine.  The online version is available at

Upcoming:  go to the Events Page for a listing of Mark’s U.S. appearances for the Fall.

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Report from the Presbyterian General Assembly – Part 2, The Jewish Response

Goodbye to the Old Rules

There were two groups of Jewish attendees at the 219th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) in Minneapolis early this month. One was composed of several members of Jewish Voice for Peace, Jeff Halper of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, and me. We were there at the invitation of the denomination’s Israel Palestine Mission Network to support passage of the Middle East Study Committee Report, “Breaking Down the Walls” and other Middle East-related overtures, including divestment from Caterpillar, recognition that Israel’s policies constitute Apartheid, and endorsement of the Palestine Kairos document. The other group was made up of people from the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the Jewish Council on Public Affairs, and the Institute for Christian and Jewish Studies. They were working closely with Presbyterians for Middle East Peace, a group of Presbyterian pastors and seminary professors that had formed for the purpose of opposing these overtures. The strategy they followed was to allow the Presbyterian group to lead the charge, with the Jewish organizations keeping a low profile. Blocking or gutting “Breaking Down the Walls” was the main objective of this ad hoc alliance. The alliance failed to accomplish either objective. I believe that they were surprised at this outcome – Jewish advocacy groups having the final say on Christian words and actions with respect to Israel and Zionism is a time-honored pursuit.  It has been rewarded with success for generations.

Sixty five years ago, the Christian world stood before the ovens of Auschwitz-Birkenau and said, “What have we done?” Since then, Christian-Jewish relations have been driven by the Jewish desire for safety and protection on the one hand and the powerful Christian drive for penitence for millennia of anti-Jewish doctrine and behavior on the other. For Jews, the establishment of the State of Israel has provided the focus of this quest for physical security, dignity, and self-determination. For their part, Christians set about developing a revised theology that renounced the notion that Christians had replaced the Jewish people as God’s chosen, and that granted implicit and in many cases explicit theological justification for political Zionism. The result is that Christian-Jewish “interfaith” relations today follows clear rules – rules that serve to insulate Christians from any appearance of anti-Jewish feeling and that protect the Jewish community from any possible challenge – or even perceived challenge — to unconditional support for the policies of the State of Israel. These rules are playing out in the academy, in the pews, in interfaith relations on the highest levels, and in everyday encounters. They are rendered more powerful by never being stated or acknowledged.

The rules

Fundamentally, there are two rules:

1. “Sensitivity” to “the Jewish perspective” and Jewish self-perception (as defined for all Jews by groups who claim to represent the whole) is paramount. How an action or statement may make some Jews feel trumps all other considerations, values or objectives.

2. The superior right of the Jews to the land is never to be challenged.  One can nibble at the edges — talk about the rights of Palestinians, the need for the land to be shared, etc.  But don’t come close to violating rule #1 – you can’t make us uncomfortable, you can’t bring us too close to looking at the core reasons for the conflict, at the awful consequences of an ethnic nationalist project that has displaced an indigenous population and has created a system that meets the UN definition of the crime of apartheid.

Until recently, these rules have dominated the interfaith discourse in the United States and Western Europe. American Jewish advocacy organizations such as the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-defamation League, the local and national Federations of Jewish Agencies, and the Jewish religious denominations have relied on these rules in mounting opposition to any actions of Christian denominations perceived to be anti-Israel. Through a combination of charging that the Presbyterian Church’s “anti-Israel” actions and statements are anti-Semitic and expressing outrage over the denomination’s “betrayal” of a historic friendship, these organizations have managed to bully the church into withdrawing or watering down efforts to take effective action in opposition to Israel’s policies and to our own government’s support of these policies.

What happened at the Presbyterian General Assembly early this month is an indication that the rules are no longer working.

We will remain partners”

On Friday, July 9, 2010, by an 82% majority, the General Assembly approved “Breaking Down the Walls” — modified but still preserving its strong condemnation of Israel’s human rights violations.  That same day, the Jewish groups who had opposed the report, writing under the umbrella of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, issued a public letter. It reads, in part:  “In recognizing Israel’s security needs while striving to remain faithful to the church’s Palestinian Christian partners, the 219th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) has embraced a more thoughtful approach to Middle East peacemaking.” The letter noted that although several areas of “serious concern” remained, “the General Assembly has modeled a more inclusive voice on the Arab-Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We fervently hope that the new Middle East monitoring committee will meet the GA’s charge for authentic balance in the study of and teaching about the complexities of the Middle East. We will remain partners in this pursuit.”

What a change in tone and tactics! The letter is almost conciliatory, markedly milder in tone than the statements that preceded the conference. Recall that in a website posting in March the Wiesenthal Center called the report a “poisonous document,” one that amounted to “nothing short than a declaration of war on Israel.” Prior to the General Assembly, the gloves had come off – in addition to the Christian Century article I described in Part 1 of this posting, the Middle East Study Committee report and other overtures had been subject to a barrage of attacks, including circulating an internet petition that asked signers to send the following message to Presbyterians: “I am deeply disturbed by the dangerous campaign to delegitimize the Jewish State and her supporters launched by a committee that is dominated by activists openly hostile to Israel. They are poised to place the policy of PCUSA on a collision course with Israel’s survival.” In December 2009, the Central Conference of American Rabbis characterized the Kairos document as supercessionist and anti-Semitic, declaring that “those who would associate themselves with this document and the religious foundation upon which it is based would be erasing years of Christian soul searching and repentance as if they had not been. We expect more from our interfaith partners.”

Contemplating the July 9th JPCA letter, we might ask, where is the outrage, where is the demonization? What has happened to  the bullying, the ultimatums, the preaching, the threats of pulling out of the relationship? Where are the charges that the denomination is making war on Israel and delegitimizing Judaism itself? Reading the letter, one might assume that the church had performed major surgery on the report, removing any shred of language that could be seen as critical of Israel or that threatend its existence or the continued financial and diplomatic support of our country. Or we might assume that, somehow, any such language was now carefully balanced by equal language providing reassurance of support for Israel.

But in fact, the prophetic heart of the document remains. The reason for the change in tone of the American Jewish response is simply this:  the church didn’t back down.

What has changed?

Look at what has changed and what remains in the Middle East Study Committee report:

The report opens with a re-affirmation of previous General Assembly Policies & Statements, preceded by a preamble:

“Given the daunting and mounting obstacles to the viability of a “two-state solution,” and following from the above principles, the 219th General Assembly (2010) affirms with greater urgency our historic Presbyterian stances with specific regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, calling for

  1. an immediate cessation of all violence, whether perpetrated by Israelis or Palestinians;
  2. the end of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories and diversion of water resources;
  3. an immediate freeze both on the establishment or expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and on the Israeli acquisition of Palestinian land and buildings in East Jerusalem;
  4. the relocation by Israel of the Separation Barrier to the 1967 border;
  5. the withholding of U.S. government aid to the state of Israel as long as Israel persists in creating new West Bank settlements;
  6. continuing corporate engagement through the Committee on Mission Responsibility Through Investment with companies profiting from the sale and use of their products for non-peaceful purposes and/or the violation of human rights;
  7. a shared status for Jerusalem;
  8. equal rights for Palestinian citizens of the state of Israel;
  9. the cessation of systematic violation of human rights by any party, specifically, practices of administrative detention, collective punishment, the torture of prisoners and suspects, home demolitions and evictions, and the deportation of dissidents;
  10. the immediate resumption by Israel and Palestine of negotiations toward a two-state solution.

In the section containing new recommendations, the following changes were made to two key recommendations (added text is in brackets, deleted text is in strikethrough):

f. [Endorses the Kairos Palestine document (“A Moment of Truth”) in its emphases on hope for liberation, nonviolence, love of enemy, and reconciliation; lifts the document up for study and discussion by Presbyterians; and directs the creation of a study guide for the document through the appropriate channel of the General Assembly Mission Council.] [Commends for study the Kairos Palestine document (‘A Moment of Truth’), and endorses the document’s emphases on hope for liberation, nonviolence, love of enemy, and reconciliation. We lift up for study the often neglected voice of Palestinian Christians. We direct the monitoring group for the Middle East to create a study guide for the document].”

b. Calls on the U.S. government to exercise strategically its international influence, including [the possible withholding of military aid as a means of bringing Israel to] [making U.S. aid to Israel contingent upon Israel’s] compliance with international law and peacemaking efforts.”

The report then proceeds with an introductory section titled “Rationale.” Here is an excerpt:

“We deeply value our relationships with Jews and Muslims in the United States, Israel, and the predominantly Muslim countries of the Middle East. Yet the bonds of friendship must neither prevent us from speaking nor limit our empathy for the suffering of others. Inaction and silence on our part enable actions we oppose and consequences we grieve. We recognize how great a burden past misguided actions by our government have placed on Christians throughout the Muslim world.

We also recognize that our concern to end support for both violence in all its forms and the ongoing occupation and settlement of Palestine places demands of integrity on how the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) uses its own resources and investments. Let us be clear: we do affirm the legitimacy of Israel as a state, but consider the continuing occupation of Palestine (West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem) to be illegitimate, illegal under international law, and an enduring threat to peace in the region. Furthermore, we recognize that any support for that occupation weakens the moral standing of our nation internationally and our security.”

Another introductory section is comprised letters to five stakeholders, including fellow Presbyterians, American Muslim friends, Palestinian friends, and Israeli friends.  There is this from “Letter to Our American Jewish Friends:”

“For decades we have worked side-by-side in innumerable causes in our own nation for the sake of justice and human well-being. And yet, with the introduction of the corporate engagement process in 2004 (and the use of the word “divestment”), this relationship has been seriously tested.

We want to be sure to say to you in no uncertain terms: we support the existence of Israel as a sovereign nation within secure and recognized borders. No “but,” no “let’s get this out of the way so we can say what we really want to say.” We support Israel’s existence as granted by the U.N. General Assembly. We support Israel’s existence as a home for the Jewish people. We have said this before, and we say this again. We say it because we believe it; we say it because we want it to continue to be true.

And, at the same time, we are distressed by the continued policies that surround, sustain, and consolidate the occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, and the Golan Heights, in particular. Many of us come to this work out of a love for Israel. And it is because of this love that we continue to say the things we say about the occupation, the settlement infrastructure, and the absolute death knell it is sounding for the hopes of a two-state solution, a solution that the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has supported for more than sixty years.

We also want to make it clear that what we say in moral criticism of policies and actions of the Israeli government should not be used as a battering ram against Israel’s right to membership in the community of nations nor to deepen anti-Semitism or any categorical blame of the Jewish people for the ills of the world. As those whose faith originated in the synagogues of the Fertile Crescent, our love of our common heritage is precious. Anti-Semitism has no place in faithful Christian expression.”

The above gives a sense of how disingenuous is the JCPA response. They are spinning a victory when in fact the most “poisonous” and “anti-Israel” recommendations remain in the report. What has changed is some nuance of wording in the recommendations concerning Kairos and U.S. aid to Israel, and the removal of the Jewish and Palestinian narratives that were judged to be “out of balance.” Read the language of the Letter to American Jews –this is the “poisonous document” that wants to make an end to Israel!  If it wasn’t good enough before its adoption by the denomination, why is it good enough now? Given this, one has to wonder about the meaning of the JPCA statement that “we will remain partners in this pursuit.” I believe that these organizations, having failed to achieve their objective, are more than ever determined to block denominational activism. Indeed, the denomination can expect a continuation of attacks and pressure.  Nothing has changed. This spinning of victory says one thing:  we lost this one.  We’ll be back.

But there is a profound change to be observed in the denomination.  Despite the enormous, organized and close to six-month effort of the organized American Jewish community to influence the voters at the General Assembly and to demonize the report, the denomination endorsed it. The modifications to the document were proposed not in response to Jewish lobbying, but because the committee liked the report – understood its value and importance — and made some changes in order to help ensure its passage. The resulting acceptance of “Breaking Down the Walls” shows that “the rules” no longer apply.

This is hugely important because of what it means for the future and continuation of denominational activism and how that will support grassroots efforts at the congregational and community levels. It means that the charge that principled criticism of the State of Israel is anti-Semitic no longer holds water.  It means that emotional blackmail about friendship betrayed no longer sends Christians scurrying to disavow offending actions or language. The charge that criticism of Israel stems from anti-Semitism was always nonsense — as was the obscene charge that language from Palestinian liberation theology that likens the oppressed of Palestine to Jesus on the cross is a revival of the charge of Christ-killers. Are there anti-Semites among us?  Certainly — but surely they are not steering the ship. When Presbyterians — of all people the most committed (many would say to a fault) to order and to considerate, thoughtful procedures — commission a group at great expense to spend two years studying the problem, including traveling to the region to see the situation with their own eyes, this is not done in an effort to “erase Israel.”  To accuse the denomination of being motivated by anti-Jewish feeling and a desire to destroy Israel just won’t wash.

What kind of partnership?

The JCPA letter talks about the partnership continuing – but what kind of partnership?  What does this “partnership” have to do — to use the language of the Study Committee report — with breaking down the walls that divide people?

Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, Director of Interfaith Affairs for the Wiesenthal Center, who was present at the General Assembly, published an article in the Jewish on July 13, five days after the JPCA letter, entitled “Lessons One Rabbi learned from Presbyterian Church (USA).” His tone to the Jewish readership is different than that of the JCPA letter. In the article Rabbi Adlerstein divides Presbyterians into “friends” – those who worked to get rid of what were in his view the “worst” parts of the report — and the unfriendly “heavily pro-Palestinian Middle East Study Committee.”  He accuses the report of accepting the “Arab” narrative and “ignoring” the Israeli, and of blaming everything on Israel’s – here the quotation marks are his — “occupation.” Characterizing the Palestine Kairos document as “a template for anti-Israel activism in churches on both sides of the Atlantic” (it is not), a document that justifies suicide bombing and supports replacement theology (it does neither), the Rabbi takes the General Assembly to task for not repudiating this “notorious” document but instead recommending it for study in churches. Reading this article by Rabby Adlerstein, we have a glimpse of how this “partnership continues.”

The Middle East Study Committee report passed because of Presbyterians’ faithfulness to justice. It passed because the Assembly believed the heart of the report — that justice was being violated. Presbyterians are working to break down walls – between Israelis and Palestinians, between Jews and Christians, and yes, between Christians and Christians – “that stand in the way of the realization of God’s peaceful and just kingdom.”  But as fast as the Presbyterians are breaking down walls, Rabbi Adlerstein is working to throw them back up. In the Jewish Journal piece he issues a call for more “friends” who will continue to battle against all those who seek to “erase” Israel. His world remains a world divided between “pro-Israel” and “anti-Israel.” He closes the article speaking about how the “most painful” part of being at the General Assembly was “listening to Jews who came to passionately endorse every anti-Israel initiative. Our community needs to work harder to understand how to retrieve Jews who today stand at the forefront of delegitimizing Israel [sic] efforts.”

Rabbi Adlerstein is referring to Jeff Halper, the JVPers, and me. He doesn’t get it. We are no more anti-Israel than are the overtures themselves. We were in Minneapolis to support the report and the other overtures because, like the Presbyterians who invited us, we fervently wish for a future of dignity and freedom for Palestinians and for security and peace for the citizens of Israel. We were there because we wish for a time when we as a people can tear down the walls that we have built to separate us from humankind and that cut us off from a recognition of the suffering that we are causing.

Is there a future for a Presbyterian-Jewish “partnership” that holds hope for progress toward peace? Or will the wide range of American Jewish organizations listed in the JCPA letter follow the lead of the Wiesenthal Center and continue to adopt an “us and them” attitude? Will they continue to fight the growing movement, at the grassroots and at the highest levels, to bring an end to the illegitimate and destructive policies of Israel? If the Presbyterians are to have true partners in their pursuit of social justice, perhaps they can be found among  the 30 American rabbis who wrote to Judge Richard Goldstone when he was blocked from attending a family Bar Mitzvah in South Africa. Or perhaps the church can be joined by by the Jewish writers and artists who brought out the public letter to protest the San Francisco Jewish Federation’s attempt to establish an “anti-Israel” blacklist, or by the 100+ Jerusalem Jews who wrote in outrage to Eli Wiesel when he claimed Jerusalem exclusively for the Jewish people. (For links to these documents, go to “Signs of Hope from the Jewish community.”) Perhaps the denomination could reach out to those Jewish Israelis who, in a cry for help to save them from their own government’s policies, are calling on the world to support the movement for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (LA Times, August 20, 2009, “Boycott Israel”).

These are potential “Jewish partners.”  But I put the term in quotations as a strong caveat. Seeking out “Jewish partners” should not be confused with engaging in “interfaith dialogue.” The struggle for justice in Palestine is not an interfaith project. It is not about repairing the damage of 2000 years of Christian anti-Jewish behavior and maintaining vigilance about anti-Semitism – although these are important and valid activities. Confusing the pursuit of justice in historic Palestine with interfaith reconciliation has provided the basis for “the rules” for over six decades. The struggle for justice in Palestine is, rather, about building a universal community to confront the full range of urgent issues facing humanity and the planet. We are standing before the prophetic work that must unite us—the fact of being Christian, Jew, or Muslim is not important. (But while we’re on it, what about the potential Muslim partners?  See my friend Jim Wall’s recent blog where he takes up this question.)  What matters is whether we are for triumphalism or community, for exploiting the poor or freeing them from poverty, for despoiling the earth or honoring and preserving it.

That’s the partnership I’m interested in. We find it amply described in the Old and New Testaments, the Kur’an, and the Dhammapada. The call for social justice is one that rings out in all our traditions, and it is a call that the Presbyterian Church (USA) answered in Minneapolis. It is the call issued by Reverend Martin Luther King almost 50 years ago from his jail cell in Birmingham, Alabama:

“…the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century.”

King was lifting up a time when the church was “not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society.” Recall that King was responding to an appeal from fellow clergy to back off from civil disobedience. They were asking him to him to work through channels and existing relationships with the white community, arguing that this would yield better results than nonviolent resistance. In his letter King was speaking to the church, but his message went out to all of America – reaching across faith communities and eventually transforming the entire society. For the civil rights movement, the church was the bellweather. It was the organizing force at the grassroots that changed the political wind and brought about the change that politics had failed to achieve.

All of us – Presbyterians, Jews (of all persuasions), Muslims –felt that wind blowing in Minneapolis. Moisten a finger — put it in the air – and you will feel it too.

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Report from the Presbyterian General Assembly – Part 1

Something Wonderful Happened

I’ve just returned from Minneapolis, having attended the 219th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA at the invitation of the denomination’s Israel Palestine Mission Network. The PC(USA) is at the epicenter of the struggle of the Christian community in the U.S. to come to terms with the challenge of the Israel-Palestine conflict.

A victory had already been achieved before the start of the Assembly.  Overtures from presbyteries from around the country urging action on justice for Palestinians would amount to over 40% of the actions considered by the Assembly. These included revisiting the 2004 decision to undertake phased divestment from companies implicated in the illegal occupation of Palestinian land and an overture affirming that Israel’s actions meet the United Nations definition for the crime of Apartheid. A centerpiece of Presbyterian actions was the call to approve the report of the Middle East Study Committee. The MESC, commissioned by the 2008 General Assembly, had produced a 170 page report entitled “Breaking Down the Walls.”  The report documents the committee’s first-hand observation of the Israeli occupation’s impact on Palestinian society and includes specific recommendations, including urging the U.S. government to make military aid to Israel contingent on ending the occupation.

Predictably, the forces of opposition had gathered. As early as February of this year, the Simon Wiesenthal Center attacked the report, calling it a “poisonous document by the Presbyterian Church [that] will be nothing short of a declaration of war on Israel.” This broadside by the Los Angeles-based Jewish advocacy group went on to declare that the report “shakes the foundations of interfaith relations.” This is the tack that has been taken for years by the mainstream Jewish community – both secular organizations like Wiesenthal as well as the religious denominations — claiming that any questions about Israel’s policies or the Zionist project itself partakes of anti-Semitism. The charge of anti-Semitism and the prospect of a disruption in the “interfaith partnership” has been effective in stifling the discourse and in thwarting actions directed at Israel’s policies. Implicit and sometime explicit in these statements is the threat that such “unfriendly” behavior by Christians will result in the removal of Jewish friendship. This strategy has intensified in recent years in response to efforts by church denominations to take a principled stand on the Israel-Palestine issue. Most recently, the biweekly Christian Century published an article by Ted Smith and Amy-Jill Levine, professors at Vanderbilt Seminary. Appearing the week preceding the PC(USA) General Assembly, the article, entitled “Habits of Anti-Judaism” strongly critiqued the MESC report. In the opening to a letter to the Christian Century I wrote the following:

“The intent of the Presbyterian Middle East Study Committee Report “Breaking Down the Walls” is clear: “to break down these walls that stand in the way of the realization of God’s peaceful and just kingdom.” But in their critique of the report published in your June 29 issue, Ted Smith and Amy-Jill Levine of Vanderbilt Seminary strike at the heart of this message. They ask us to believe that the report advocates “a historical narrative that points indirectly to a single state—a new social body—in which a Palestinian majority displaces Jews.”  In a shocking distortion of the Study Group’s evocation of Ephesians 2:14, they claim that “’Breaking down the walls’ in order to form ‘one new humanity in the place of two’ evokes old echoes of theological supersessionism and transposes them into a political key.” “Old habits die hard,” lament Smith and Levine. But it is the habit of crying anti-Semitism whenever Jewish sensibilities are disturbed or the actions of the State of Israel are questioned that we must urgently confront.”  (Full text of the letter.)

The aim of the article was clear – to strengthen the hand of those who wanted to prevent passage of the report. And why not? This is a time-honored approach — it has always worked. I feared that it would prove just as effective in this case. I arrived in Minneapolis convinced that, except for the efforts of a courageous but small and embattled minority within the denomination, the natural commitment to social justice and support for the oppressed on the part of most Presbyterians would again be trumped by concern for preserving the relationship with the Jewish community. I was betting that the tactics of the Wiesenthal Center and the arguments of Smith and Levine would serve, as they always have, to muzzle the conversation and block actions that might offend Jewish sensibilities or be perceived as hostile to the Jewish state.

A thing of beauty

I was wrong. Yes, the concerns about the feelings of Jews when Israel is “attacked” are still there, and they exert a powerful pull on Presbyterians’ decisions. But something wonderful happened last week in Minneapolis.

I watched as the committee charged with studying “Breaking Down the Walls,” and recommending action to the GA debated the matter. I listened to the arguments for and against approval of the report. Those in favor passionately talked about the suffering of the Palestinians under occupation. Those against spoke just as passionately about the report’s seeming “anti-Israel” bias, claiming that to approve the report would be to cut off dialogue with the Jewish community. I noted what seemed like a universe of disagreement between the two positions. I despaired that anyone who, unlike the study group itself, had not seen the occupation with his or her own eyes would understand that the report was not biased – that it was simply telling the truth and recommending that the church respond accordingly.

But something happened. The committee clearly wanted to find a way to have the report adopted. A group from the committee stayed up all night to craft a number of changes. Problems with perceived bias against Israel were fixed. The obligatory language about Israel’s right to exist was inserted.  None of these changes touched the faithful witness and prophetic heart of the report. While strongly asserting the church’s commitment to Israel’s security and wellbeing, the Study Committee’s report as presented to the General Assembly clearly presents the narrative of Palestinian dispossession and suffering.  It asserts that Israel’s actions, illegal and in violation of international law, are an “enduring threat to peace in the region.” It receives the Palestinian Kairos document, a courageous and heartfelt call of Palestinian Christians “from the heart of Palestinian suffering” to the churches of the world, and recommends it for study by Presbyterians. It calls on the U.S. government to end aid to Israel unless the country stops settlement expansion in Palestinian territories.

The report came before the 730+ commissioners on Friday July 9 and was approved by a vote of 82%. When the results were displayed on the screen, the assembled broke into applause – which is against the rules but in this case the moderator, smiling, allowed the spontaneous outburst to go on! The applause, breaking through these restraints, meant one thing:  this is where the denomination wants to go. Then something else unusual happened – the Moderator, Cindy Bolbach, offered a prayer, thanking God for guiding the assembled to this act, for breaking down the walls dividing people and standing in the way of peace.  The thousands of people in the hall bowed their heads in reverence.  They knew that something important had happened.

It is not always clear from down on the floor, in the thick of things. But looking back, I see that the PC(USA) General Assembly is a thing of beauty. This church is committed to tearing down walls. Watching the plenary, one witnessed a courageous and heartfelt struggle with things that matter:  gay and lesbian ordination and honoring of marriages;  benefits for civil union partners;  how to respond to state laws that violate the rights of immigrants. With respect to the Israel-Palestine question, the struggle will continue. Other overtures did not fare as well as the MESC report. Even though overtures to divest denomination pension funds — close to 10 million dollars — from Caterpillar (the company manufactures the bulldozers that destroy Palestinian homes and build the separation wall) have been proposed at every General Assembly since 2004 (actually it passed in 2004 and then withdrawn in the face of a juggernaut of institutional Jewish pressure, but that’s another story), the overture failed. In addition, Presbyterians could  not bring themselves to approve the overture naming Israel’s policies as Apartheid.

But here is the thing: it is clear to me that all but a small minority of the 36 who voted against that overture in committee (the vote was 16-36) agree that Israel’s actions meet the UN definition of the crime of Apartheid. What drove the vote was not the substance of the overture but rather the belief, as stated in a comment on the vote inserted by the committee, “that dialogue is hampered by words like ‘apartheid.’” It was also clear to me in listening to the debate that, despite the stubborn unwillingness to move to divestment, all but a fringe within the denomination agree that Caterpillar is building machines that illegally and criminally destroy Palestinian life and that the denomination must pressure the company to stop (the Assembly did pass an overture that “denounces” the corporation). The issues are not in question. What is in question for a steadily decreasing percentage — again, this is clear if you are paying attention — is the proper method for action.

To the Presbyterians:  learning to love us

Sixty five years ago, Christians, confronted with the horror of the Nazi genocide, began a painful, faithful process of reconciling with the Jewish people. Presbyterians today didn’t choose to be in the difficult position of having to choose between their commitment to justice and preserving their hard-won friendship with the Jews. But the hard fact is that there has been no getting around this conflict. It has come about because of the policies of the State of Israel and the choice, so far, of the American Jewish establishment to adopt a bullying, defensive stance in response to Christian efforts to address the injustice. Under these challenging conditions, you have had to struggle to learn how to love us well and rightly. And that you are doing. The more you call us to account for our sins and challenge us to be true to the values of our tradition, the more you show your commitment to our friendship. The spirit and the specifics of the MESC report are fully in line with Jewish aspirations and beliefs. More than that – in its powerful plea to break down the walls, it takes my people where we urgently need to go today – to tear down the walls – both psychological and physical – that we have erected between ourselves and the people with whom we share a land and a common history. For thousands of years, our survival as Jews depended on building walls.  Now it depends on tearing them down.

In commissioning and producing this precious and faithful document of “Breaking Down the Walls” you have demonstrated your love for us.  It is love in the deepest, truest sense – love as Jesus and Paul teach us to love – love the way Amos and Hosea, Isaiah and Jeremiah taught us when they spoke truth to power and reminded us of our responsibility to our fellow creatures and to the earth itself.  In going back into the fray, year after year, to consider divestment from the companies that are participating in our sin, and to call us to account for building an apartheid state in full view of the world, you are loving us well. This year, the arguments marshaled against these faithful actions of the denomination, calling them biased and unbalanced, claiming that they will disrupt your “partnership” with us, simply sounded tired.

Minneapolis is the beginning of the end of all that.

Coming:   General Assembly, Part 2 – The Jewish response.

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