Have Church/State Leaders Endorsed Injustice?

by James M. Wall

Kerry Blair crop

The two political leaders pictured here are U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (left) and Middle East Quartet Representative and former United Kingdom Prime Minister Tony Blair.

The two men are walking next to a wall at the Villa Taverna, the U.S. ambassador’s residence in Rome, Italy, on May 9, 2013.

Less than a month later, Secretary Kerry spoke to the World Economic Forum in Amman, Jordan, where he introduced an initiative he hopes will break an “impasse” between Israel and Palestine.

Kerry called his initiative,“Breaking The Impasse.”  He claimed that his plan would:

triple tourism to the occupied Palestinian territories, double or triple Palestinian agriculture production, increase the Palestinian GDP by 50 percent, and foster the construction of a whopping 100,000 new, energy efficient Palestinian homes in the West Bank.

Tony Blair was to be in charge of the initiative.

This is the same Tony Blair who was given an assignment to organize for peace on behalf of the Quartet, which hired him for that purpose. The Quartet is composed of leaders from the United Nations, the United States, the European Union, and Russia.

We have to believe that Kerry’s “ambitious initiative” was developed  on walks like the one Kerry and Blair took last month in Rome. At some point, we must also assume a staffer hauled out a dictionary to make sure the parties involved (both English-speakers) understood that an “impasse” is a “road or passage having no exit; a cul-de-sac”.

Furthermore, a “cul-de-sac”, as we all know, is designed purposely not to be broken.

Communities build residential sections with “cul-de-sacs”, a street with only one entry point. A “cul-de-sac” is designed to keep the neighborhood secure and the children safe.

The specific political”impasse” between Israel and Palestine involves an occupying military power controlling an occupied population. The only way to break a “cul-de-sac” is to turn it into a straight road, an action which Israel has shown no inclination to support.

Since “breaking the impasse” is the goal Kerry seeks, it follows that he must know the only way to end this “impasse” is to tear down the occupation wall and end the occupation.

However, in his speech at the Jordan forum, Secretary Kerry said absolutely nothing about the occupation. He also made no reference to the separation wall that both enforces and symbolizes the occupation.

What Kerry did offer were hopeful points on what capitalism is prepared to do for Palestine. Here from his text are the optimistic predictions delivered to him by experts who studied Palestine’s future:

I raised this issue with the President of China, with the Prime Minister of Japan, with all of our European leaders, and everywhere – with the Brazilian Foreign Minister a few days ago, with the New Zealand Foreign Minister. All of them have on the tip of their tongues the idea that we can make peace in the Middle East and need to, and all of them are committed to be part of this effort in order to change life on the ground.

The fact is that we are looking to mobilize some $4 billion of investment. And this team of experts – private citizens, donating their time – are here right now. They’re analyzing the opportunities in tourism, construction, light manufacturing, building materials, energy, agriculture, and information and communications technology.

This group will make recommendations to the Palestinians. They’re not going to decide anything. The Palestinians will decide that in their normal course of governance. But they will analyze and make recommendations on a set of choices that can dramatically lift the economy.

Political realism demands that all parties face the reality of the problem they seek to solve. No panel of experts can lift a derailed train back on its tracks without heavy equipment to restore the derailed train to its rightful location.

Israel has derailed the Palestinian train and has the power to maintain the derailment. Israel and Palestine are not two equal parties discussing how to resolve their differences. All of the world leaders to whom John Kerry talked, know this. Kerry knows it. Barack Obama knows it.

It is impossible to “break an impasse” without first destroying the elements deliberately put in place to support the impasse.

This failure to face reality calls to mind the same struggle which U.S. mainline denominations fought a year ago .

You perhaps recall how “horror-stricken” the organized U.S. Jewish community was when it learned that there were delegates to church conferences who demanded an end to occupation. These church delegates chose the non-violent tactic of putting economic pressure on the occupying military power by divesting church funds from U.S. businesses that support Israel’s occupation.

That same tactic helped end apartheid in South Africa when outside forces applied economic pressure on the white South African government. In 2012 Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu testified to the parallels between white South African’s treatment of its majority population and Israel’s occupational control of the Palestinians.

Fearing that the parallel between Israel and South Africa could undermine their pro-Israel campaign to replace the tactic of divestment with the softer tactic of investment, the organized U.S. Jewish community joined forces with their local church friends to denounce divestment.

They offered instead, the more positive (“can’t we all just get along”?) tactic of investing church funds in businesses that benefit Palestinians who live  under Israeli military control.

Two Lutheran authors took to the pages of the Christian Century magazine to make the case for investment as the appropriate way for churches to support Palestinians.

Thomas A. Prinz, pastor at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Leesburg, Virginia, and Karl-John N. Stone, assistant to the bishop in the Upper Susquehanna Synod (ELCA) in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, made their case by pitting “positive strategy” against “punitive options”.

Here is part of their argument, published in the Christian Century, April 26, 2012, under the title: “Investment, Not Divestment: How to Help the Palestinians”.

Encouraging economic investment in Palestine is a positive, potentially transformative strategy, and it is to be preferred to the punitive options of encouraging divestment and boycotts of Israel or of companies doing business with Israel. Boycott and divestment are focused on tearing down and punishing one side in a complex conflict rather than on promoting constructive solutions to the conflict and improving lives.

The notion that divestment from Israel will somehow make peace and a two-state solution more likely is based on the misconception that one side bears all the blame and that the actions of one side alone control the future of negotiations.

As the denominations debated the divestment-investment question, the Lutheran duo was up against Archbishop Tutu (belowright), who made it even harder on the Lutherans by citing another giant of the human rights struggle, Martin Luther King, Jr.

Tutu connected the dots in a piece he wrote for The Palestine Olive and other outlets,  May 1, 2012:desmond-tutu crop

 Within the past few days, some 1,200 American rabbis signed a letter — timed to coincide with resolutions considered by the United Methodist Church and the Presbyterian Church (USA) — urging Christians not “to selectively divest from certain companies whose products are used by Israel.” They argue that a “one-sided approach” on divestment resolutions, even the selective divestment from companies profiting from the occupation proposed by the Methodists and Presbyterians, “damages the relationship between Jews and Christians that has been nurtured for decades.”

While they are no doubt well-meaning, I believe that the rabbis and other opponents of divestment are sadly misguided.

My voice will always be raised in support of Christian-Jewish ties and against the anti-Semitism that all sensible people fear and detest. But this cannot be an excuse for doing nothing and for standing aside as successive Israeli governments colonize the West Bank and advance racist laws.

I recall well the words of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail in which he confesses to his “Christian and Jewish brothers” that he has been “gravely disappointed with the white moderate … who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action;’ who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom. …”

King’s words describe almost precisely the shortcomings of the 1,200 rabbis who are not joining the brave Palestinians, Jews and internationals in isolated West Bank communities to protest nonviolently against Israel’s theft of Palestinian land to build illegal, Jewish-only settlements and the separation wall. We cannot afford to stick our heads in the sand as relentless settlement activity forecloses on the possibility of the two-state solution.

If we do not achieve two states in the near future, then the day will certainly arrive when Palestinians move away from seeking a separate state of their own and insist on the right to vote for the government that controls their lives, the Israeli government, in a single, democratic state. Israel finds this option unacceptable and yet is seemingly doing everything in its power to see that it happens.

How did that denominational struggle  turn out?  Episcopalians, United Methodists, Presbyterians, and Lutherans all joined forces with supporters of Israel to approve resolutions that pushed investment over divestment.

Back in the U.S., peace was restored to community interfaith dinners.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has joined forces with capitalism to enforce an injustice. In Kerry’s version of  “breaking the impasse”, a version also adopted by major U.S. Protestant denominations, the U.S. will provide funding for an imprisoned people locked behind an occupation wall.

Does this mean U.S. church and state leaders have agreed to endorse injustice?

The picture at top of John Kerry and Tony Blair is from the U.S. State Department.  The picture of retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu is from The Palestine Olive.

About wallwritings

From 1972 through 1999, James M. Wall was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, lllinois. He was a Contributing Editor of the Century from 1999 until July, 2017. He has written this blog, wall writings.me, since it was launched April 27, 2008. If you would like to receive Wall Writings alerts when new postings are added to this site, send a note, saying, Please Add Me, to jameswall8@gmail.com Biography: Journalism was Jim's undergraduate college major at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. He has earned two MA degrees, one from Emory, and one from the University of Chicago, both in religion. He is an ordained United Methodist clergy person. He served for two years in the US Air Force, and three additional years in the USAF reserve. While serving on active duty with the Alaskan Command, he reached the rank of first lieutenant. He has worked as a sports writer for both the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, was editor of the United Methodist magazine, Christian Advocate for ten years, and editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine for 27 years.
This entry was posted in Episcopal Church, Middle East Politics, Presbyterian Church, The Episcopal Church, United Methodist Church. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Have Church/State Leaders Endorsed Injustice?

  1. abunaalgodon says:

    Rashid Khalidi begins his recently published book, Brokers of Deceit, by referencing George Orwell and the use of language to disguise and mislead. “Breaking the Impasse” should be a major contender for the 2013 Orwell Award.

  2. Jack Graham says:

    Desmond Tutu got it right on the first of May 2012. We should recall John Kerry’s speech to AIPAC in 2004 wherein, as major party candidate for President, he promised never to oblige Israel to enter the peace process, and never to begin an American diplomatic initiative in the Middle East without first consulting the Isreali government. — Jack Graham

  3. AWAD PAUL SIFRI says:

    Thanks, Jim, for an excellent articulation of how Israel’s agents in the US are attempting to divert the train of Divestment.from its tracks.

    As you mentioned, the key first step is to “end Israeli occupation”, as an indispensable first step to make anything else meaningful and workable.

    The politicians and Pharisees (Which is which?) have a severe case of amnesia, when it comes to what F-R-E-E-D-O-M means. What it feels like. What it smells like. What it sounds like. What it tastes like.

    Imagine if the Allied forces in World War II pacified the occupied European countries with a Marshall Plan, while they were still under the occupation of the Nazis. Would that have been “positive” investment, I wonder?
    Would the Zionists and organized Jewry have been satisfied by it?

    It seems to me that Kerry & Co and Churches of BAAL erroneously think that they can feed a chained population intravenously (“Positive investment”) and deaden the pangs for freedom.

    After 65 years of AL NAKBA, Divestment, Boycott, and sanctions are the only non-violent way the “Neo-Romans” who occupy Palestine will react in a positive manner.

  4. Peace, Justice, Freedom says:

    Thanks Jim for bringing the issue of Peace with Justice to the Palestinians.
    Unlike the newly invented piece meal approach. Secretary Kerry is not bringing anything new. This is the ongoing saga handled by previous US
    Secretaries but in different ways. They do not want to connect the broken
    dots of Peace, Justice, Liberty for all, rather they hammer on the security of Israel as if Israel is living under the Palestinian occupation. If one Israeli is
    attacked or killed the whole world should never sleep. But when a whole
    nation is occupied, and homes are being demolished to pave way for more
    Israeli settlements, under pressure from the ultra right movements, and with
    tacit approval of all Israeli rulers, young and old, no one sees these facts.
    Every visit of all US envoys is met with new decision to build settlements, and the apartheid wall was being built one block at a time when those
    Peace “loving” envoys were being entertained at the AIPAC conferences.
    Churches are supposed to really, really, really play the honest role, not
    “let’s stay friends” role. Their conscience should blame them when they sway
    towards injustice.
    Mr. Blair should go down in history as no peace maker. His role in Iraq is a
    testimony to that. But since he was in need of a job, the West nodded to that.

    Divestment in Israel should be the exact method utilized to end occupation, in a most peaceful way.
    Secretary John Kerry, is trying to entice the Palestinians with economic help.
    This should come only after the Israeli occupation ends, that is if The US
    will live to the meaning of democracy the Americans are enjoying, and
    not forbidding that for the Palestinians. The Palestinians should never go to
    the negotiating table without an end not temporary freeze of the settlements.
    and the Issue of Jerusalem is first and foremost one on the agenda. They should never waiver the right of Return to the Palestinians since it is a God
    given right.

    If only, and only the US takes a sincere and honest stand, and tell the Zionist
    leaders, time has come for the Palestinians to have their rightful place under
    the sun, nut under OCCUPATION.

    I hope Archbishop Tito will live to see the Palestinians enjoy freedom, Justice
    and Peace in a fully democratic state with Jerusalem its capitol.

  5. “Tony Blair was to be in charge of the initiative.”

    Jim, thanks as always for your reporting and keen observations. The news passed in the just-above-quoted paragraph of 10 words was my first awareness of it. I simply cannot express my revulsion at the fact that Kerry has anointed the war-criminal Tony Blair to continue his (Blair’s) campaign for Zionism and against the legitimate national, political, and human rights of the Palestinians for a continued extension of time. I am certain of this: Blair will parlay that $4 billion — whether it ever materializes in full, partial or not at all — into direct or indirect vast increases in his material wealth as well as further fawning adulation and honors bestowed on him by the monied classes he serves.

    To answer your last-paragraph question: Yes.

    There is no justice.

  6. Sec. Kerry understands current facts-on-the-ground better than any Secretary of State before him. Yet, tragically, what he is suggesting is just a bigger version of what came to be known and trumpeted (by the “mustache of wisdom” Thomas Friedman and others) as “Fayyadism”. Yet, PM Fayyad, who’s on his way out and leaving Sec. Kerry and others wondering who will carry the water for the U.S., has repeatedly stated that his agenda depended on a parallel track of ending the occupation. Kerry’s plan may help keep a lid on widespread violence, as Palestinians in different pockets of the West Bank obviously need income and are as sick as everyone else of cyclical violence. What it won’t do is bring about any real peace (or FREEDOM) to Palestine but simply preserve the status quote, which Israelis are perfectly comfortable with, thank you very much. The only thing missing is for Dennis Ross, a study in survival in the fact of abject failure, to come striding in and bless this plan.

  7. Janet Lahr Lewis says:

    Jim,
    Great article. If you could see the huge new multi-story building that they constructed for Tony Blair’s “office” here it would explain a lot about where some of that funding is going.

    Also, if they are to increase tourism to the Palestinian areas, they had better also address the problems that Israel is causing in forcing people to sign a document at Ben Gurion airport stating they will not enter the “West Bank” (areas under the PA.) I wish someone would ask if that includes the settlements like Ma’ali Adumim or Efrat. All the Israeli settlements are in teh West Bank.

    Increasing tourism is not the problem. Getting them past the “gatekeepers” is.
    Janet Lahr Lewis
    Methodist Liaison in Palestine and Israel

  8. Fr. Robert says:

    Jim, a very important article with key insights — thanks. In this season of church assemblies, please continue to keep us focussed on the nature of the forces operating pushing endorsement of injustice.

    Janet’s comments cut to the next level of analysis you hinted at in observing Kerry had nothing to say about the occupation or the wall: until the structural impediments are overcome — the very occupation and all its manifestations — all these plans are doomed, unless they are meant only to serve other interests.

  9. Patricia says:

    Your article on churches lack of leadership on this issue and so many other issues, is the reason I no longer support any Christian Denomination! Although raised in the Methodist Church, I think for the most part that decent human beings have failed to evolve from what ever is being taught. Is it because of to many rituals?

  10. wallwritings says:

    Patricia,

    Since you refer to my writings in your note regarding your decision to no longer support “any Christian Denomination”, I feel I must respond.

    Yours is a personal decision, but may I at least suggest that you are not alone in feeling let down by organized religion. However, those of us who have shared this same disappointment, have made a different decision.

    I lived through the era of racial segregation in the American South, and I was disappointed and angry with my Methodist church at the time because it did so very little to combat segregation. I chose to stay with my church at that time, in spite of its failure to resist segregation. I chose to work within organized religion to do my part to correct this failure.

    These many years later, I confront, as you do, the mistreatment of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. My United Methodist Church General Conference failed to join in the BDS movement to express opposition to that treatment.

    I was disappointed in that decision, but I stay inside that church to do what i can to help move the United Methodist Church, and our entire society, in a more positive direction toward justice for all.

    You must make your own decision, but please, consider the fact that a small majority of United Methodist delegates voted to opposed a divestment resolution at our General Conference. They do not speak for the entire church. Do not let a small number of United Methodists influence you away from a church home.

    There are many United Methodists who share our position on justice. Look around, and you will find them.

    James M. Wall
    Editor, Wall Writings

  11. Howard Cort says:

    Would it be feasible to actualize a major debate, perhaps on prime time
    television, between the “accomodationist” position and the “end the occupation first” position? It might clarify things for the public.

  12. William Gepford says:

    I have listened to other similar “peace” proposals, like Kerry’s, since 1953 (when I went to work in Lebanon) and none of them dealt with the basic issues related to justice. Until the Separation wall and Jewish-only housing are scrapped there will never be peace. Until Israel is ready to give up absolute domination of Palestine, there will never peace. Until true democracy is obtained for both sides, there will never be peace in the area. Let’s stop kidding ourselves. Kerry’s and others’ suggestion of “investment” still skirts the basic issues. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.knew that.. Nelson Mandela knew that. Bishop Tutu knows that. They spoke the truth. It’s time to speak the truth once again. Yes, Howard, maybe the time has come to take the issues public in a major debate.

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