by James M. Wall
(New Comments Posted Below)
An appalling shallowness has descended over Mainline Protestantism.
Episcopalians, United Methodists and Presbyterians are actually debating how they should deal with the Israeli Occupation
Martin Luther King, sitting in that Birmingham city jail, would most certainly inform these prelates that there is no debating evil. A brutal military occupation is not open to debate.
It is a disturbing spectacle. The collective ignorance displayed by many of the men and women—though, thank God, not all—who govern these denominations, boggles the mind.
The issue, my dear Christian friends, is justice, pure and simple. And yet, there they are, these robed religiosos, dripping with interfaith piety, proclaiming that the simple act of divestment of church funds is too harsh a tactic to use against Israel’s settlement obsessed, right-wing government.
What do they teach in seminary these days? Have those Old Testament professors who lead their Israeli-sanctioned “study groups” to the Holy Land removed the prophets from their syllabi?
Here is the Episcopal News Service report on the current presiding Episcopal bishop explaining why she, and the church that elevated her to denominational leadership, oppose the simple, non-violent tactic of targeting divestment of church funds from US corporations that profit from Israel’s military occupation:
Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori urged Episcopalians to “invest in legitimate development in Palestine’s West Bank and in Gaza” rather than focusing on divestment or boycotts of Israel, during a March 25 “Middle East Peacemakers” luncheon in Los Angeles.
“The Episcopal Church does not endorse divestment or boycott,” the presiding bishop told more than 200 people gathered at the California Club in downtown Los Angeles. “It’s not going to be helpful to endorse divestment or boycotts of Israel. It will only end in punishing Palestinians economically.”
She also called for “a two-state solution with a dignified home for Palestinians and for Israelis” and for “deeper engagement, people of different traditions eating together, listening to each other’s stories,” she said, adding that the interreligious, multi-ethnic gathering hosted by Bishop J. Jon Bruno of the Diocese of Los Angeles was an example of what is possible.
Punishing Palestinians economically? That statement is an incredible display of ignorance of the political realities of a brutal military occupation.
Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori wants investment in Palestine, not divestment from Israel’s occupation. Who proposed that approach?
Sounds very much like the warden of the world’s largest outdoor prison inviting church members to come inside the prison and do their good works.
Cottage industries in cell block six?
Starting April 24, delegates to the United Methodist Church General Conference will debate the issue of using targeted divestment as a legislative tactic against injustice.
The United Methodist and the Presbyterian national churches have labored for many years to develop resolutions that focus tightly on US corporations that profit from the Occupation.
One of these corporations, Caterpillar, produces heavy equipment that Israel uses to build its apartheid wall, a wall that has nothing to do with security and everything to do with stealing even more Palestinian land.
Caterpillar also produces those monstrous bulldozers that tear down Palestinian homes, another “security” measure that is really designed to tighten the Occupation noose.
An Israeli soldier drove one of those American-built bulldozers over an American citizen, peace activist Rachel Corrie, on March 16, 2003, as she tried to stop an attack on a Palestinian home. In death, this young woman has become a symbol of non-violent courage to Palestinians.
Not so in the US, where neither action nor formal government protest was taken against the army that killed her.
And yet, here is an Episcopal bishop, standing before 200 of her fellow Episcopalians actually calling for Palestinians and Israelis to “eat together and listen to one another’s stories”.
This is blatant Israeli propaganda. These words were not uttered in the spirit of Amos; they sound more like an American politician scrambling for Israel Lobby money than they do of a Christian leader who must at some point in her career reflected upon, and perhaps even preached on, the call from Amos 5:4 to “let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never failing stream!” (NIV).
The saddest thing about this failure of a church leader to grasp the reality of injustice is that she offers palliative words that sound more like a Southern bishop of the 1950s begging the segregated and segregator to live together peacefully.
Bless you bishop, but there are people in Palestine on protest hunger strikes. Others are dying under the boot of a brutal occupying army. This is not a problem that will be addressed by our “eating together and talking to one another”.
For an example of the pepper spray at work, see the Ammar Awad Reuters photo above of Israeli soldiers spraying a Palestinian protestor at Damascus Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem.
This attack on the protestor took place on Land Day, when Palestinians remember their land losses.
Richard Silverstein, who writes the Tikun Olam web site, posted this photo from the New York Times and adds:
The Times headline for the slideshow presentation of Land Day images that includes this one was: Protesters Scuffle With Forces.
I don’t see protesters scuffling with Israeli forces. I see Israeli border police mauling unarmed Palestinian demonstrators. I see them pepper-spraying one at point-blank range.
That headline confirms once again that the New York Times is not just biased on this issue on behalf of Israel. It is simply an Israeli hometown paper. Its perspective is always that of the home team, that is, Israel.
Silverstein is Jewish, one of many Jews who knows the damage that the Occupation does to Israelis as well as to Palestinians. Fortunately, Silverstein is also a blogger with a large following.
Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori knows better than to speak of the Palestinian issue in the language she used. One of my sources who follows this issue with diligence, wrote to say:
It was she who, perhaps three years ago, visited Gaza, was duly appalled, and vowed to press with all of her and her church’s authority, to end the sadistic blockade and occupation of all of Palestine.
It mystifies me that she can ignore the precedent of, and successful use of BDS, in the closest parallel, South Africa. Schori has succumbed to expedience or the copout of “interfaith” wishy-washiness-cum-cowardice.
How can one have any hope for justice and a viable existence for the Palestinians in the face of such cavalier disregard for the well-known and often courageously expressed recitations of the “facts on the ground” created by the Zionist enterprise?.
Well stated, and true. Trips by church leaders, who finally see first -hand the ugliness of Occupation, are the best way to break through Israeli propaganda.
But, based on Bishop Schori’s public display of hasbara (propaganda) in Los Angeles, the power of the Israel Lobby trumps the truth.
All is not lost. Another source, who attended the bishop’s presentation, did not find the audience very receptive to her call for kum ba yah.
Two denominations will debate divestment resolutions over the next few months, first, the United Methodists and then, the Presbyterians.
The United Methodist supporters of targeted divestments are encouraged at the feedback they are hearing from the grassroots.
Blocking their way to the passage of a divestment resolution is the denomination’s General Board of Pensions, which objects to non-financial types interfering in their decisions to maximize pension profits.
This body has determined over the years that it will not invest in corporations that profit from, for example, South African apartheid, and that old reliable United Methodist staple, alcohol.
Faced with requests that it extend its no-no list to include three companies supporting the Occupation, the General Board of Pensions has adopted the Episcopal mantra of “eating together and sharing stories”.
Of course, the General Conference has the final say in this matter. Starting April 24, in their Tampa, Florida, meeting, the Methodists will have their chance to remember that its founding parent, John Wesley was not a “get along” guy; he was a justice guy.
This is the same denomination, by the way, that moved its 2012 meeting from Richmond, Virginia, to Tampa, Florida, because Richmond has a baseball team named, “The Braves”, a no-no among United Methodists who have agreed not to patronize locations with sports teams the Methodists believe denigrate Native Americans.
Good for them. Now let us see what can be done about the denigration of Palestinians.
Thanks, Jim. Keep it up! We need these strong words. What good is a church that has lost its salt?
Sounds like you are being a bit too harsh (judgmental) with the good Bishop. There are the systemic justice issues that you and me and others are rightly confronting regularly. And we will continue to do so, believe me!
But there are the human, interpersonal, relational issues that also need to be encouraged. Unless Israelis and Palestinians make more efforts to sit together, eat together and share their stories together, systemic change likely will not happen. It’s got to arise as much from the grassroots as from the politicians. In fact, politicians (the movers and shakers) are notorious for following which way the local winds are blowing. (Of course AIPAC types are buying their votes regularly, as can be seen in the shameful actions of the present US Congress).
We’ve got to change the culture. Minds and Hearts. One of the many problems with the Apartheid wall is that it is even more difficult for average citizens on either side of the wall to interact.
I remember a few years ago, a good “justice” friend was critical of my call for inter-tribal, interpersonal “sharing”. As I thought about it, I think I got back to him with the same sentiments that I am sharing with your/our crowd.
The Bishop is on to something. She’s not all wrong. Don’t bash her too hard. Peace. . . .and justice. JRK
I agree, communicating is good. There isn’t enough of it.
But to be clear, as an American Jew who lost family in Europe at the hands of Christians, I greatly appreciate how many Christians today feel they have to be careful in how they treat Jewish people and Israel.
That said, a problem in the Holocaust was that American Christian people didn’t speak out against strongly enough against discrimination and mistreatment in Europe. As an American Jew, I want Christians to speak out strongly against discrimination and mistreatment wherever it occurs, whether it is directed toward or committed by Jewish people.
What we Jewish people have been doing to Christian and Muslim families in Palestine has been a terrible thing that violates our own principles. Many of us Jews see that we are only trying to achieve security, but while security is important for Jewish families, it is equally important for the Christians and Muslim families of Palestine to have security. Continuing to expel and kill as many Christians and Muslims as we have to in order to achieve security is neither a path toward justice nor a path toward peace.
Security can and will come when we end the discrimination. I hope our Christian brothers and sisters will speak out strongly to their Jewish friends that it is long past time to treat non-Jewish Palestinian families as equals, to knock down the wall, and to begin “deeper engagement, people of different traditions eating together, listening to each other’s stories,” and living together in peace. A two-state “separate but (un)equal” solution is NOT the way to achieve that goal.
Good stuff, Jim. We probably can’t do much to help, given our problems with racism and selfish individualism. Who would listen to an American? Do our churches in any way represent a true witness to peace?
It’s a sad story, Jim. History will bear this out. Church leaders, with rare exceptions, stand on the wrong side of justice movements. It’s something about the institution. The Catholic theologian, Hans Kung, I think described the problem well: “The Church is the cross on which Christ was crucified.” Whatever the issue–war, sexism, slavery, apartheid, military occupation–we can always count on the church for a leisurely march toward mediocrity.
Re: Steve Feldman’s reply
Steve speaks this Quaker’s mind. And I do speak out many times and in many ways. Thanks for your response, Steve.
Bishop Jefferts Schori’s arguments looks very much like the ones advanced by Rabbi Arthur Waskow. See http://www.democracynow.org/2012/3/26/boycotting_israel_mustafa_barghouti_vs_rabbi
I agree with Mr. Wall up to a point, and yet . . . when I was in Jerusalem our tour group met with two women from the Parents Circle-Families Forum, which promotes understanding between bereaved Palestinians and Israelis. These good-hearted people gave me hope that through grassroots connections between those on both sides who are sick of IDF violence and repression things may actually begin to change.
I think we need to a) keep speaking up courageously; b) work to change structures of evil through nonviolent means including divestment; and c) eat together and tell our stories. “There is no way to peace — peace is the way.”
Jim- thanks for your prophetic voice, please continue writing
Steve- thanks for your response- a friend of mine from Jerusalem said to me we need more Israeli Jews & American Jews to speak & write against the 44 Years of the Israeli military occupation over the lives of more than 4 million Palestinians in the the West bank, East Jerusalem & Gaza. as an American Palestinian Christian from Israel I feel the same way. we must speak & make a stand for Justice, peace & END to the occupation for the sake of the Israeli Jews & the Palestinian Arabs. Salaam & Shalom
Very important piece Jim.. The cruelties that Israel is committing everyday, in Israel/Palestine, which include house demolitions in East Jerusalem based on religion, confiscation of non Jewish property to build settlements for Jews Only, even roads and buses for Jews Only, require more than mere platitudes from Christians, The ethnic cleansing of Palsetinians, and from their land in East Jerulaslem and the West Bank continue at a rapid rate. Their daily humiliation and oppression only seems to get worse.
As major Jewish organizations support israel no matter what outrages it commits, Christians as a group, remain locked in timidness, fearful of offending Jews. We do Israel and Jews no favor by protecting Israeli crimes.
Our Lord stood up to the money changers in the Temple, and he helped those who were scorned no matter how much the Pharasies objected. He was brave and bold, and appeasement of cruelty was not his way.
Fearless Christians are what the US, Israel, Palestine and the world needs these days. I hope the Bishop and many other church leaders will read this blog. Thank you Jim.
Jim, Thank you for the clear line you draw on those wavering between choosing Justice, and pandering to Caesar.
Would Bishop Schori, for example, have proposed that Jews of Eastern Europe share a bowl of Goulash with their oppressors?
Our problem with Goulash Zionists is not the fact that we cannot share a platter of Hummos together, even though they have been claiming the very invention of Hummos. Our problem is that immigrants, primarily from Goulash countries of Eastern Europe have usurped 78% of our lands in Palestine and dispossessed the majority of our people in 1948, then conquered the remaining 22% of Palestine in 1967 (East Jerusalem, West Bank, and Gaza). And now, they want ALL the land – without its native people, of course.
The ironic issue I see here is that some Christian leaders in the US who demanded for years that Palestinians eschew taking the same violent route American patriots took against the British Colonials, are now hesitating to take the humblest of non-violent methods to struggle against injustice.
As a Christian Palestinian, I am appalled at the hypocrisy of many Christian leaders for disowning the core of our religion – justice – and cowtowing to the power of BAAL
I am puzzled and disturbed as to why I seemingly am unable to copy these emails from you. I have been copying ones to use for a long time. Please let me know what I must do to make a hard copy of this email.
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Thanks Jim. I’m just returning from 10 days in the West Bank with Sabeel. I was in Jerusalem at Damascus Gate on Land Day, and saw dozens of moments like the one pictured. Sabeel staff person Omar Haramy and I went to the demonstration, and he was arrested for waving a Palestinian flag.
Frankly, that demonstration felt far more like the original “march into Jerusalem” of the Galilean dissident Jesus than did yesterday’s pious Palm Sunday processions. May we all find the courage and grace to keep pressuring our churches to stand courageously for justice in Palestine. And at the same time, let us indeed “eat together and hear each other’s stories,” which is always and everywhere necessary (if not by itself sufficient). This Passover would be a good place to start.
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Bishop Katharine’s statement reminds me of nothing so much as the temporizing mendacity of anti-BDS voices toward South African Apartheid in the 1980s. I remember those voices in DC and on campuses, who would never go so far as the right in calling the anti-apartheid movement communist-led, but spoke of gradual elimination of apartheid and protecting the safety and dignity of all sides. But here’s the reality — they only increased the likelihood of a revolutionary bloodbath by their rejection of the nonviolent strategy of BDS, and it was in spite of them (not with their alliance) that the apartheid resistance movements overcame apartheid without violence. Opposition to nonviolent action strategies functions as support for violence — both the violence of the occupying oppressor, and violent resistance and retaliation by the occupied. You get two seeds of terrorism for the price of one empty platitude.
James Wall is making a strong and clear argument for BDS and I appreciate that. As an Ecumenical Accompanier in fall of 2011 the urgency of the human rights situation became clear to me. The Kairos conference in Bethlehem spoke clearly for BDS, and I think it’s crucial to listen to the people on the ground. On the other hand, as EAs we also met with a Jewish group in Sderot, Other Voice. This group of Jewish residents of Sderot pleaded for a solution other than fighting between Israel and Palestine, particularly Gaza. They pleaded for Palestinians and Israelis to sit down and hear each others’ stories. It is their opinion that it is only when we come to see each other as human beings like ourselves that we can we move away from demonization and its result, war. Likewise, Villages Group, a group of Israelis working very hard for Palestinian human rights, has been deeply impacted by what they have seen. The fact is that there can be friendships and that these can be extremely fruitful. I would say that Palestinian Christians have directly asked us to take a strong stand on BDS, but grassroots encounter, if only enough people would do it, would be a game changer. We need both.
Of course there are righteous people in israel who want to treat Palestinians with respect and compassion, but they are not a large group, and have no influence on the right wing, racist government in Israel that has implemented apartheid, oppresses ,imprisons and disregards the human rights of people who had the misfortune of not being born Jewish in Israel/Palestine.
Our government is the great enabler of these policies, and gives billions to the apartheid state of Israel. BDS is a peoples’ movement. It worked in South Africa, perhaps it can work in Israel too, if Christians show some courage and determination, which, unfortunately, they have been lacking big time on this issue and issues of war and peace as well.
Excellent piece, Jim — strong, and with an anger burning appropriately. Yes, eating together and sharing stories is a very good thing. BUT — and this is a big and important BUT, in the current context, this “interfaith” activity represents, not just a distraction, not just an avoidance, but an actual barrier to the action that is required. And that action is nonviolent, direct action — resistance. And BDS is the best thing we have. Your reference to Martin Luther King Junior is right on target. His letter from the Birmingham jail was a response to just this kind of plea for “dialogue,” sharing of stories, working through channels. We are beyond that. What we are seeing in positions like that of the Bishop — and she is not alone in this, show me a denomination where the position at the top is not the same — is (1) response to the mounting and very strong pressure from the Jewish establishment and (2) pressure from internal constituents in the church who fear the disruption in the relationship with the Jewish community (as defined by some Jews for all Jews). As awareness of Israel’s folly grows, and the movement to put a stop to it mounts, we can expect this pressure to grow — to become more organized and more massively financed. On this Holy Week, we need to understand that the attacks on nonviolent actions like the divestment initiatives will increasingly take the form, not of vilifying or blaming the Palestinians, or of scare tactics about the threat to Israel, but attempts to define for Christians what their faith requires — what the Gospels in fact clearly present as the appropriate response to tyranny. This is a moment of truth for the church.
An honest engagement with the inconvenient reality. And timely too, as the Church observes “Spy Wednesday,” reading the story of the betrayal of Jesus by none other than his “own familiar friend who broke bread” with him (Ps. 41). However, in light of this and given that the Presiding Bishop visited Gaza, speaking as a former Anglican Vicar of Gaza and founding priest of the parish there which no doubt she visited, I think you were rather muted.
So, speaking of breaking bread, “eating together, listening to each other’s stories,” who is going to set the table? Israel controls the food supply to Gaza, which they maintain below the minimum daily requirement.
In any event, they would have to tell heart-warming stories in the dark, because Israel has recently cut off fuel supplies to Gaza two days prior to the Bishop’s comments. But they couldn’t even do that with families worried about their children dying in hospital because the hospitals are running out of supplies due to that recently tightened blockade of Gaza by Israel. Indeed, despite Episcopalian generosity to their hospital there which she visited, the blockade prevents them from importing the necessary supplies.
The stories could be shared at a table in Tel Aviv, except that Israel won’t give Gazans permits to leave what they dub “the world’s largest prison.”
The Presiding Bishop has seen with her own eyes. What did it profit that she, with the Gazan Church, were “eating together, listening to each other’s stories?”
Better to have said nothing. Her dissembling seems a betrayal of Gaza, and of the ancient church community there which hosted her and their authentic witness to the Cross. That community fasts on Wednesdays in Lent in recollection of The Betrayal.
In our country, these days, one always expects our Congress to cave in to AIPAC–they have even written legislation for congress at times. But when Christian Leadership also caves in to political pressure, and turns it’s back on the brutality and oppression (even of it’s own Christian community), this is indeed a betrayal, and more important, a betrayal of what our founder lived for.
One must stand up to oppressors, no matter who they are. BDS, is the only hope, especially when the US has bowed to AIPAC’s pressure and influence. BDS needs to be expanded, not weakened. Enough is enough.
I don’t know how long people should continue talking about talking when Palestinians are being slaughtered and their homes and livelihoods stolen. Talking hasn’t worked since 1948, and based on all the talking we’ve done since that time, it does not show any prospects of hope in the near future. To the contrary, while Israel’s leaders are talking about peace negotiations, they’ve increased the rate of speed at which they’re bulldozing Palestinians’ homes and expanding Jewish settlements.
In my humble estimation, we have to keep working and hewing away at the pillars that support the Israeli government’s crimes against humanity. Errant and dangerous Christian Zionist theology, biased and venal politicians and three billion plus in U.S. taxpayer money to Israel for military “aid” help prop up the barbaric military occupation of Palestine. And, any theology that uses Jesus’ Name to marginalize a people group should be confronted with biblical truth.
I have hope for Palestine, not because people are talking about liberating her, but I am a descendant of American slaves. I am living proof of what God can do through people uniting and fighting for justice in the face of unjust leadership and laws. I call on all Christians to pray in earnest for Palestine and to do your part—-however God leads you—-to help liberate our Savior’s birthplace and its people! After all, the homeland of the One who died to set the captives free is itself captive.
While on the matter of ecclesiastical responses to the un-Christlike environment being inflicted on Palestine by Israel I’m prompted to relate that several years ago I wrote to the American Catholic bishop who chaired the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee on Middle East Affairs pleading for an enlightened, robust effort on the part of American Catholicism in behalf of social justice in the Holy Land. I was emboldened to suggest several specific actions that the American Church might pursue as well as emphasizing that taking up the cause of justice for Palestine is a moral obligation for the local Church especially given the huge contribution that American Catholic tax money plays in funding this specific injustice. The bishop did graciously get back to me and somewhat apologetically (I thought) said that this issue was handled by the Vatican rather than by the American Church. So by this cursory explanation we have in great part the reason why my fellow U.S. Catholics are the quintessence of unconcern towards suffering Palestine.
I await with interest Jim’s follow up commentary on the outcome of the Methodist and Presbyterian assemblies, while pessimistically expecting that for both of them it will be deja vu all over again.
Jim, thank you for your post. I wrote to our Presiding Bishop last October about some of the issues she raised in Los Angeles last week. I was concerned at the time about her pastoral letter to the Church last October. I never received a reply from her. I am attaching the letter in case you would like to use it.
The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate
815 Second Avenue
New York City, NY 10017
Your pastoral letter this past week added very little to one of the most serious issues in the world today, the Israel-Palestine conflict. Your comments on negotiations were ponderous, to say the least, as though there are two equal parties to the problem instead of the reality of David and Goliath—Palestinians being the weaker party and Israel with its military might, enjoying unconditional support from the U.S. and all the money and weapons a superpower can give.
You do raise the issue of justice when you talked about our baptism vows, but it is absent in the rest of your letter. I might add that any reference to our baptism vows must also include the promotion and dignity of every human being, including and especially the oppressed who in this case are Palestinians living under military occupation.
I returned last week from a two-week Sabeel witness trip. In Bethlehem I had tears in my eyes as hundreds of Christians ages 8 to 80 marched into Manger Square playing bagpipes and drums as they celebrated the historic event at the United Nations, perhaps the only place where the international community of nations is willing to give them voice and hear their cry for help.
Please read the enclosed Kairos Palestine document, “ . . . a prayerful call of Palestinian Christians to End the Occupation–“A moment of truth: a word of faith, hope and love from the heart of Palestinian suffering”. Use your own judgment—not what others say about it. Have you read this?
You eventually mention in passing near the end of your letter that Palestinians are living under occupation. But this is the central issue, part of the larger issue, and it is a very dismissive approach to place it in a sub-paragraph. Those under occupation in Gaza and the West Bank can do nothing but wait on those who would determine an outcome, and they have been waiting for forty-four years.
Decades of negotiations have achieved nothing for the Palestinians, nothing for justice or peace. Negotiations have been put before the Palestinian people as a false hope while they watched helplessly on the sidelines as their land and homes continued to be confiscated or destroyed. Bad faith negotiating by those with power is a tactic for maintaining the status quo. I personally observed the first home confiscation in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah a few years ago. On my most recent trip I personally witnessed a total of seven more homes being confiscated. 20 more will be gone in the near future. I joined a protest march with Jewish citizens of Israel who are against the actions of their government on the continued confiscation of Palestinian land for the benefit of Jewish settlers.
I’m very surprised and disappointed that you are not able to understand that there is a much greater way to help solve the problem of peace in the Holy Land than merely giving money to the Church in Jerusalem. I’m sorry that your leadership is unable to help Bishop Dawani to be faithful in his public stance on the issues, so that he won’t get into further trouble with those in charge of the occupation. Intimidation is a successful tactic used against the Church of Jerusalem in all areas of its life today under occupation.
I admire your intellect and have tried to be very supportive of you in your role as presiding bishop, but my advice to you is to move out of the role of one captured by the Israeli story and the wrong idea that Israel has shown an inclination to participate as an equal partner with the Palestinians in negotiating a just peace. It does not help Israelis to be authentic to their own faith or to human rights and justice by supporting the argument for negotiations as they are presently being put forward by the U.S. and its partners. We have been there and done that—over 44 years of talks and more talks. The Palestinians do not have power, military or economic, and have tried the numerous peace plans, summits and talks put before them. Now they are using their influence within the international community of United Nations to plea their just cause, a community increasingly suspicious of the historic power block of the United States and its “most important ally”, Israel.
We are not helping Israel’s future hopes for peace by allowing them to continue their military occupation. Please look back on your trip to Palestine and Israel and especially to the Gaza Strip, and remember what you saw and heard. I was so moved by your presence in Jerusalem and in the Gaza Strip and having my own opportunity to share with you. I thank you for that. In your concern for Palestinian Christians, remember that 85% of Bethlehem has been confiscated for settlements, the apartheid wall, military installations and Jewish-only by-pass roads since I made my first visit there in 1983. The state of Israel has been very good about using negotiations to delay justice, to gain more land, confiscate and destroy more Palestinian homes.
Finally, I ask you to consider a study and comparison of the recent speeches of President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before the General Assembly of the United Nations and with a critical eye ask yourself which statement best upholds God’s requirement to walk humbly and do justice.
May God bless you in your continuing learning.
Faithfully, The Rev. Canon. Richard K. Toll, D.Min., D.D.
Powerful letter, Canon Toll. It’s a a shame she didn’t even respond to it–but perhaps she couldn’t because you gave her undeniable facts.
That even Christians, in our own churches won’t even stand up to zionist pressure, to secure an end to apartheid, house demolitions and land theft of property belonging to non Jews in Israel/Palestine, is a travesty.
If thousands of pastors wrote similar letters, maybe the Bishop would see that she is on the wrong side of this profound human rights issue.
Just several comments: 1) this is a both-and situation, not either-or — both nonviolent action and sitting/eating; both targeted divestment, and targeted investment. How that works out depends on prudence i do not have, but it is crucial that those who want a just peace avoid absolutist thinking. 2) the major issue is how to inform US Christians, most of whom remain either ignorant or misguided — in our area, Sabeel Colorado makes wonderful efforts; as a Catholic prof at a Jesuit university, I’m happy to report that recent issues of the Jesuit national weekly, America, have featured important pro-justice articles. Clearly it is an uphill (and often seemingly useless) struggle, but it’s the minds and hearts of US Christians that must be changed. 3) To that end, is there any way that you (Jim) or anyone else might be able to use the occasion of Holy Week, and this response to your article with it’s focus on mainline Protestants, to get some national media attention?
I add my own thanks to Canon Richard Toll. That Presiding Bishop Schori didn’t deign to respond to his great letter and now has made her very unhelpful comments in Los Angeles is deeply disturbing. If she has been co-opted by something along the lines of an interfaith discourse which has been infiltrated or at least subjected to the control which Zionists are avid to assert, PB Schori had better (i) engage in deep prayer to God and His Son and (ii) mingle with seasoned, more compassionate (and more passionate) earthly interlocutors.
I am also in full admiration of and concert with Canon Naim Ateek’s just-issued letter of righteous indignation to PB Schori, the text of which i was privileged to receive. I’d imagine that it is available at Sabeel’s website: http://www.sabeel.org .
Finally, Jim’s typical excellence, and the numerous on-point and articulate comments above, make me so glad to be (with a nod to Canon Toll’s above phrase!) on the right side of this profound human rights issue!
Thank you, Jim, for giving us the opportunity to comment and read what more people have admirably expressed. I cannot begin to tell you how much gratitude we Palestinian Christians and Muslims feel for the words and deeds of support of so many courageous American and Western Jews and Christians, alike, who dared side with justice and human dignity and the core of their respective religions.
The BDS program has all the elements to become the most peaceful way of combatting Israeli Apartheid and occupation. Its effect is more psychological and symbolic than anything else, but it can be very effective, indeed.
As we discuss the humblest of ways (BDS) to combat Medieval Israeli occupation and state terrorism, Palestinian Christians and Muslims wonder, as they ponder reluctant mainstream Christian support:
– What turns the majority of mainstream American Christians towards supporting Israeli occupation against the descendants of the original native Christians of the Holy Land? Is it treasure? Is it disinformation? Lack of interest? Fear, or smear?
– How come successive US and Russian governments allow hundreds of thousands of “Americans” and “Russians” to illegally settle on conquered lands that are considered illegally occupied lands, according to UN Resolutions, Geneva Convention, Russia, US, and Western countries?
-What happens to 6+ million Palestinian refugees? How can a cultured democratic humanitarian Western society discuss the “right” of Jews to “return” after 2,000 years, while they want to abolish the right of Palestinians to reclaim their lands, homes, farms in Israel ‘Proper’ only 64 years after their dispossession in the Catastrophe of 1948?
– Israel refuses to recognize Palestine, inspite of the fact that the Palestinian Authority recognized Israel and its right to exist?
– How can we tolerate Israeli colonial settlements – any settlements – and an Apartheid Wall that imprisons and strangulates Palestinians in the remaining mangled fragments of Palestine and that cunningly marks increasingly formalized expanding Israeli borders?
– Why are we not up in arms against Israel’s development of over 300 nuclear bombs that are enough to destroy the entire Middle East and turn it into a gigantic Holocaust?
As a Christian Palestinian, I believe that Israel will not be, but has already been an existential threat to Palestine, since 1948. Israel does not “threaten” to, but has A-L-R-E-A-D-Y wiped Palestine off the map. I have come to the conclusion that Israel has thoroughly murdered and mutilated the two-state solution beyond repair because the Zionist state wants it ALL. And it certainly wants it WITHOUT Palestinians.
It seems to me that we should start working on a ONE-STATE solution because Israel wants it that way. Let us talk about the formation of the United States of the Holy Land and let us try to help build a bi-national state that can become a true democracy, once the Zionist Apartheid ideology is dismantled and replaced by democracy for all the natives of the Holy Land:Jews, Muslims, Christians, and Druze.
Thank you Jim, and like you I have never read as many responses to an article that you had posted. I must admit I was greatly disappointed because the Bishop had been in Jerusalem. I met her personally at Sabeel and she seemed such a compassionate person. It is unfortunate that the post sometimes exerts pressure on the person that holds it, but we expected much more from somebody who had been here and seen with her own eyes, and more so from a woman bishop whose election was great news to all of us as women and people of the faith. I think both Dick Toll and Rev. Ateek said it all. What else can I say but that the truth will set us all free, both Palestinians and Israelis. So I hope and pray that no church hiererchy will ever hesitate to expose the truth.
You can’t have dialogue with people when, while they talk, they blow up your homes and confiscate more of your land to build apartheid settlements.
If Non Jews were treating Jews the way Israel treats non Jews, there would be no silence or ambiguity from any part of the the world, including the Christian churches. Apparently the anti gentile laws and policies of the Israel government are not worth struggling against with any kind of vigor. For the Episcapalian leadership, it’s back to meaningless platitudes.
If we want media attention, then Christian leaders should go in front of the Israeli consulates or other prominate places with signs, maps and pictures, and protest, and even use civil disobedience as MLK would be doing. Then you will get attention. We can’t be stifled by a heirarchy that is lacks courage and conviction.
Also, isn’t it high time for Christians to “Lobby” US Jewish Groups the way our denominations are lobbied by them? Jewish Americans have influence over Israeli policies that non Jews do not. Israeli policies of apartheid, land confiscarions and house demolitions based on religion are unacceptable. The pressure should be on American Jews to help stop these policies, not pressure on Christians to be quiet about it.
Bishop Schori’s remarks in Los Angeles simply do not stand up to scrutiny. Neither investment in the parts of the West Bank where the Palestinian Authority handles security for Israel, nor the “breaking of bread” is going to end the occupation, the central issue in the conflict. The first is used by Thomas Friedman and others to sing the praises of P.M. Fayyad, who has had some success, but whose development efforts end where the separation wall begins and cannot hope to build a viable national economy. This was the “incrementalist” approach advocated by Dennis Ross (and lately by Bibi Netanyahu) since Oslo and its results are nothing less than a more entrenched occupation. The second, although positive and necessary for those on-the-ground (not in the fellowship halls of the U.S.) working for peace with justice, is often used as a fig leaf of “progress” by those who would perpetuate the status quo.
The tragic fact is that while the majority of Israelis support the “two-state solution”, this same majority is not willing to do what it takes to remove the settlements, share natural resources or divide Jerusalem, to say nothing of the right of return for Palestinian refugees. The Knesset is increasingly dominated by nationalist – religious parties, whose adherents are on their way to becoming the majority in the military establishment. Also tragically, the U.S. (Congress AND White House) is unwilling to apply the necessary pressure to Israel to force these types of concessions. This is in spite of the fact that it is flies in the face of our national diplomatic and security interests. Meanwhile, the European countries, whose economies are the primary source for Israeli trade, seem unable to step out from behind the shadow of the U.S. Thus, boycott, divestment and sanctions becomes one of the only viable ways to put an end to the occupation through non-violent disincentive, offering Palestinians their long-awaited freedom and saving Israel from itself.
I’m afraid that Bishop Schori, like many today who are fond of quoting King and Mandela, will find herself on the wrong side of history when she had the chance to lead.
Taking exception….Dear All:
Some on this list are aware of the recent criticisms of the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church by former CHRISTIAN CENTURY editor James M. Wall and Sabeel leader Naim Ateek. Others may not be. Mr. Wall and Rev. Ateek took Bishop Schori to task for having said that The Episcopal Church does not support Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) with regard to Israel, and for having suggested that Israelis and Palestinians ought to undertake “deeper engagement, people of different traditions eating together, listening to each other’s stories.” For Jim Wall, the Presiding Bishop uttered “Israeli propaganda.”
A few observations seem in order. First, despite the tone of surprised outrage expressed by Mr. Wall and Rev. Ateek, their fight appears as one calculatedly engaged in, and with a particular agenda in mind. Unless they are more naïve and uninformed than I think, neither can have been much taken aback by Bishop Katharine’s statements, which only formally stated what has been Episcopal Church policy for a very long time. I cannot know their motivation with certainty, but their strictures are consistent with contemporary pro-BDS agitation in relation to upcoming Methodist, Presbyterian and, in July, Episcopal national conventions. At the last-mentioned gathering, 9 Dioceses are prepared to support a resolution with BDS at its core. Is it unreasonable to conclude that the intent of Mr. Wall and Rev Ateek is to make the Presiding Bishop the issue rather than BDS, and to gain sympathy for the BDS movement at the Episcopal Convention? I think not.
Second, if all that Bishop Schori had to say about resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was to urge Israelis and Palestinians to have lunch, I too would have considerably more difficulty with her pronouncements than I do. The evidence however is other. Both in her March 25 speech and her October 2011 Pastoral on the Middle East, Bishop Schori calls for a just 2-State solution, and for the President to allot “significant diplomatic capital” to that end. Standing alone, her October statement that “a just and lasting peace can be achieved only by bilateral negotiations between the two parties themselves” seems inadequate. However, she goes on in the Pastoral to endorse parameters set by the Quartet for Middle East Peace for the resumption of negotiations and to call for a central American role in getting meaningful negotiations going again. The Bishop’s positions are not as forward as I would like them to be, but neither do they leave the Palestinians to their fate. Her critics’ problem seems to be not so much the paths she has chosen as that she refuses to take the one—of BDS—that they insist upon. Hers, supportive of a 2-State solution and vigorous American action in favor thereof, is the more realistic and achieveable.
In their communications, both Jim Wall and Rev. Ateek leave out significant elements which do not quite fit their arguments. Mr. Wall does give a link to the clarifying Episcopal News story, but you have to go there to get a sense of context. Bishop Schori was at a “Middle East Peacemakers” event conducted by the Los Angeles Diocese, and at which representatives of all three Abrahamic Faiths were present and eating together, as was the Bishop of Jerusalem, Suhail Dawani who, along with the Bishop of Los Angeles, expressed his agreement with what the Presiding Bishop had to say. The event was an apparently very successful fundraiser for the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem and its many good works in education and health which benefit the Palestinian people. It was a logical setting for the Bishop to define the Church’s positions, including on BDS, and to suggest that sitting and eating together, as the attendees were doing, was not a bad thing to do.
Ultimately, Jim Wall’s diatribe and Rev. Ateek’s critique are indicative of the chronic inability, and unwillingness, of too many in the pro-Palestinian camp to systematically pursue realistic ends and, in particular, to relate effectively to those charged with institutional or political responsibilities. One of the key premises of the BDS movement is that nothing can be hoped for from the political process, and from the United States Government in particular. That path, indeed a hard one on which to make progress, has been abandoned without having been extensively tried. The alternative path, of BDS, has some clear limitations which go, for the Convinced, largely ignored. Mr. Wall makes much of the South African precedent. However, Israel-Palestine with its two populations largely equal to each other is not South Africa, and it is far from clear that BDS in South Africa was that which brought down the apartheid regime. If change in the political atmosphere is what is needed for advancement of the Israel-Palestine situation, then BDS with its inherent polarizing tendencies is not helpful. It may affect Israeli behavior—usually in a less than useful way—but it has little relevance to changing US policy or to building sufficient mainstream political backing for such change. To the extent that it generates discussion, the discussion is most likely to be in the nature of a shouting match. Better to listen to each other’s stories—and to build broad public support for the hard and realistic negotiations toward a 2-State peace both can live with—with US help. This I think the Presiding Bishop would agree with.
Like President Obama and most Members of Congress, Bishops Schori and Dawani and many other church leaders cannot go where the advocates of BDS would like them to, not least because the proposed path does not promise to be productive. This is the case for other reasons as well, both defensible and edifying, as well as ones less admirable. Those with authority, with the ability to get things done, more often than not have multiple, and often conflicting, pressures laid upon them. Those working to persuade those in power to play a more useful role are well advised to recognize the realities of the political setting, to understand the limits as well as the potential of what can realistically be expected.
Three simple rules ought to be kept in mind: One, don’t ask officials to do things you know they can’t. This includes support of BDS, cutoff of aid to Israel, or efforts to put Israel into the international dock. Two, ask for things they are already at least in theory committed to—preeminently the 2-State solution. Remind them of their promises, and build on what they have already said. Three, frame things, including things which make them uncomfortable, in ways that make it hard for them to say No. The name of the game is persuasion, not bludgeoning into submission, whether you are talking about officialdom or the broad public. This Jim Wall, Rev. Ateek and too many other pro-Palestinian advocates seem not adequately to understand. They also seem not to comprehend that neither the political process nor politicians, especially in the United States, can be bypassed if there is to be hope for a reasonable Israeli-Palestinian settlement. Such a settlement may not be attainable, but without the political actors, nothing can be done. BDS does not offer a credible alternative.
I have taken the pro-Palestinian camp much to task here. I will however add this to make those who call for a 2-State solution uncomfortable as well. It is not enough to defeat pro-BDS initiatives. At the various church conventions and in the general discourse there need to be positive and relatively aggressive resolutions and other efforts to push forward a just 2-State solution and effective American Government support thereof. Tough Love is called for, both toward officials tempted to avoidance and wavering, and toward Israeli and Palestinian negotiators inclined to procrastinate and otherwise put off agreement. This is politics and, as has been said, politics ain’t pattycake.
BDS is not a policy primarily intended to change American foreign policy; it is a policy intended to let Israel know there is a cost (more in terms of international opinion than economics) to its continued violation of human rights, civil rights, international law. Like the boycott used in civil rights in this country, it is intended, at least at one level of implementation, to protest the confiscation of Palestinian land upon which the product was produced. Divestment is intended to encourage companies to change their policies or practices or to stop doing business with entities who threaten or inflict suffering on others. It is for that reason the U.S. currently forbids companies to do business with Iran.
I would want to clarify one misconception you apparently have: you say At the last-mentioned gathering, 9 Dioceses are prepared to support a resolution with BDS at its core. Is it unreasonable to conclude that the intent of Mr. Wall and Rev Ateek is to make the Presiding Bishop the issue rather than BDS, and to gain sympathy for the BDS movement at the Episcopal Convention? I think not.
The PIN resolution, passed by nine dioceses, does not have BDS at its core; it does not commend BDS as church policy (though PIN does endorse BDS); it commends that the church study Steadfast Hope and Kairos Palestine. It commends education in groups in which everyone is free to come to their own conclusion. I encourage you to read the resolution more carefully. I can tell you for certain Jim Wall did not even know of our General Convention this summer; I informed him only last night. I presume Fr. Ateek knows of our resolution, but Naim speaks with passion because he has endured the injustice for so many years and has found the reluctance of either US administrations or the church to say–and mean–”enough” to Israel. He comes by his passion most honestly.
As much as I have advocated for a two state solution, I am reluctantly persuaded by repeated and recent trips through the West Bank that it is no longer possible. It will not be possible to cobble together a viable, contiguous Palestinian state from the isolated bantustands Israel has allowed Palestinians to retain. And, as you know, Israel’s construction on Palestinian land continues unabated. What would you recommend, Ed, that we do to convince Israel this policy of colonization will never bring them the peace and security they long for and deserve? I am really at a loss unless it is to convince them the cost of continuing these policies of confiscation, demolition, colonization is too high.
Whatever the means by which we get there, it is my resurrection hope that the Palestinian and the Israeli peoples achieve a just peace. And I am sure we are both sincere in our efforts to help that peace be realized.
Jim’s piece was not a “diatribe” as you stated. It was a forceful and needed statement to make, because his piece is based on the awful truth of Christian ineffectualness, and he had to take the risk of being “undiolpmatic” in the face of Israel’s overwhelming abuse of the Palestinian people, that gets worse all the time.
It takes courage to stand up to people in high places, whose positions have done virtually nothing to help the oppressed Palestinians.The “peace process” and “two state solution” have been destroyed by Israel’s massive settlement and apartheid policies that have been going on for decades. To be timid towards this oppression, is to be ineffective, and supportive of the destruction of what’s left of Palestine.
Jim, your post is to the point.
I am delivering a copy to the co-pastors of the largest Methodist church in town, two folks who have remained resolutely silent to my correspondence with them about Israel/Palestine and the UMC. I even went to a service to meet them in person and was told by the head pastor the he had not responded because I had not put a return address on the envelope but that he would call me to talk. He never did.
My father was an ordained Methodist who spent his career serving the church. I expect more from the clergy than silence. Perhaps it is too much to expect.
I’m 85 so I know a little of what happened in 1948.The churches had a lot to do with what happened then. They claim to KNOW their religion is the only true one when in fact they know nothing. Religion is a belief & can’t be proven in a court of law. So many people that have a religion say the same thing.My sister & I have a different faith & once she told me that she KNEW she was right. I told her that she knew nothing as she BELIEVE’S shes right as I do with my Christian faith. Neither of us can prove it as religion is a belief and can’t be proven.My Bible tells me to live the christian life to bring otheres to the Lord Jesus not do them harm as was done to the Palestine in 1948.
The palestines & isrealites lived together for over 2000 years & loved one another as they believe that the both have the prophet Abraham as father. which the Bible says is true.
They lived together in peace UNTIL the readical christians drove the palestines from thier homes because they KNEW their religion was the only true one. In reality the KNEW nothing as christianity & all religions is a beiief and cannot be proven.
Let the Palestines return to their rightful homes & then & only then will peace return to this land.Get the corrupt leaders of the Holy Land out & let the people of the Holy land decide what they want. Keep politics out. Gramma Ellen
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