On Oct. 26-27, Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center will hold a conference at Old South Church, the flagship church of the United Church of Christ (UCC) in Boston. Old South’s decision to allow its worship space to be used by Sabeel is only the latest instance in which a prominent UCC institution has helped legitimize an anti-Zionist organization that traffics in anti-Judaic themes. Despite complaints from mainstream Jewish groups in the
To distract the general public and her congregants from serious and legtimate concerns about Sabeel’s rhetoric and agenda, Rev. Nancy Taylor, pastor at Old South Church, has emphasized the participation of Archbishop Desmond Tutu as the event’s keynote speaker, stating in a Sept. 9, 2007 sermon, that her church “will not close its door to this holy and courageous man” who “has earned the right to express his views on this most painfully contested part of the world.”
the Archbishop and Sabeel use the language of apartheid to desccribe the situation of Palestinians and because they promote a program of selective investment in Israel as a means of applying pressure. Our Jewish friends experience these as a threat to the security, and as an affront to the dignity, of the state of Israel.
What Rev. Taylor did not convey in her sermon is that Sabeel leaders, activists, and supporters do not merely “criticize” Israel, but describe Israel in Christ-killing terms. They portray Judaism and Zionism in contemptuous light, and mischaracterize Jewish history in a manner that serves to undermine Israel’s legitimacy. In short, Sabeel has proven particularly adept at portraying
And while Rev. Taylor emphasized the involvement of Archbishop Desmond Tutu in the upcoming event, she did not communicate to her congregation the concerns raised about Sabeel's leader, Rev. Dr. Naim Ateek. In addition to using deicide imagery in reference to Israel, Rev. Dr. Ateek has portrayed modern Judaism as a tribal religion indifferent to the suffering of non-Jews, suggested that instead of pursuing the creation of a Jewish State in the Middle East, Zionist leaders in the 1800s should have chosen to remain in Europe as it became more democratic. Moreover, Rev. Dr. Ateek has portrayed Zionism – the Jewish search for self-determination and safety in the
Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center was founded sometime in the late 1980s or early 1990s (accounts differ on the exact date) by Anglican Priest Rev. Dr. Naim Ateek, author of Justice and Only Justice: A Palestinian Theology of Liberation (Orbis, 1989). The group and its sister organization in North America – Friends of Sabeel, North America (FOSNA) – organizes national and regional conferences in both the United States and Canada where speakers portray Israel as an apartheid state and excuse Palestinian terror attacks against Israeli civilians. The organization, which also hosts international conferences in
Sabeel’s narrative about the Arab-Israeli conflict can be distilled to one sentence issued in a 2005 letter signed by the Rev. Canon Dr. Richard K. Toll, chair of FOSNA, who wrote: “End the occupation and the violence will end.”
This narrative has been proven false by history. There was ongoing Arab violence against
Nevertheless, Sabeel has exhibited a resilient capacity to influence the “prophetic witness” of mainline churches about the Arab-Israeli conflict. Under the influence of Sabeel and other activists, the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s General Assembly voted to initiate a campaign of “phased, selective divestment” from companies that did business with
Sabeel activists were present at the 2005 church-wide assemblies of the United Church of Christ and the Disciples of Christ that passed resolutions asking
Sabeel has also been active in the Episcopal Church, which has engaged in an ongoing campaign to portray
Aside from the dishonest and false “end-the-occupation-and-the-violence-will-end” narrative offered by Sabeel, the most salient characteristics of the group’s message are its tendency to traffic in anti-Jewish rhetoric, its efforts to undermine the legitimacy of Jewish sovereignty, its support for a one-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict and a willingness to excuse or portray Palestinian violence targeted at civilians as part of a liberationist movement, when the people responsible for this violence proclaim their desire to destroy Israel. The group has also proven adept at enlisting the aid of
Opposition to Jewish Sovereignty
One troubling theme in Rev. Dr. Ateek’s writing is that by pursuing sovereignty in modern
On page 101 of Justice and Only Justice, Rev. Dr. Ateek writes:
What is quite clear from a Palestinian Christian point of view … is that the emergence of the Zionist movement in the twentieth century is a retrogression of the Jewish community into the history of its very distant past with its most elementary and primitive forms of the concept of God. Zionism has succeeded in reanimating the nationalist tradition within Judaism. Its inspiration has been drawn not from the profound thoughts of Hebrew scriptures but from those portions that betray a narrow and exclusive concept of a tribal god. Consequently, the finely worded Declaration of Independence of the State of Israel is no more than a mask behind which these retrogressive ideas hide.
Rev. Dr. Ateek then invokes a 1967 assertion by Chief Rabbi Nissim, head of Israel’s Sephardic Jews that Israel should not return the territories taken in the recent war as a “clear indication of how far the Jewish religions has been influenced by the Zionist ideal and the nationalistic tradition.” Ateek continues:
It has been done at the expense of the prophetic tradition and the suppression of the higher tenets of Judaistic faith and the God who was portrayed by the prophets as the God of righteousness. (Justice and Only Justice, page 101).
In his effort to portray Zionism, and its allegedly negative influence on Judaism, as a primary cause for the continued existence of the Arab-Israeli conflict, Rev. Dr. Ateek uses Rabbi Nissim as a symbol for all Israelis and for official Israeli policy. He also distorts history. It was not Rabbi Nissim who made a land-for-peace deal impossible in 1967. Instead it was the Arab leaders who issued the “Three Nos of Khartoum” stating there would be no negotiations with
If Rev. Dr. Ateek had acknowledged this history, it would have undercut his suggestion that the continued existence of the war is rooted in how Israelis understand and practice Judaism, which he offers on page 102 of Justice and Only Justice:
From my perspective as a Palestinian Christian, Zionism is a step backward in the development of Judaism. What the Jewish community had finally and unequivocally rejected in the second century A.D. with the defeat of the Zealots, many Jews [See note below.] have accepted eighteen hundred years later. This has been done at the expense and even weakening of the higher principles and demands of the Jewish religion. Ethical Judaism with its universalistic outlook has been swamped by the resurgence of a racially exclusive concept of a people and their god.The tragedy of the state of
is that it has locked itself up and entrapped its people in an impasse from which there is no escape as long as it espouses this exclusivist understanding of God. Israel[Note: Page 204 of Rev. Dr. Ateek’s dissertation, where this passage appears, uses the phrase “most Jews.”]
The Jewish people, like any other sovereign nation, must struggle with the demands of security and concern for human and civil rights. On this score, Israel’s record is not perfect, but it compares favorably to other states in the world, particularly its adversaries in the Middle East where one-party dictatorships are the norm, the oppression of religious and ethnic minorities official policy and the imprisonment of dissidents a regular occurrence. The presence of numerous Jewish human rights groups in
The Jews, whose prophetic tradition as well as their long history of suffering qualify them to play a peacemaking role, have acquired a new image since the creation of the State of Israel in 1948. By espousing the nationalistic tradition of Zionism, they have relegated to themselves the role of oppressors and war makers. By so doing they have voluntarily relinquished the role of the servant which for centuries they have claimed for themselves. This has been a revolutionary change from the long held belief that Jews have a vocation to suffering. (Justice and Only Justice, page 160 -- emphasis added).
Just as troubling is Rev. Dr. Ateek’s insistence that Jewish sovereignty contradicts the vocation of the Jewish people to suffer. It is one thing for Jews to embrace the notion that they have a vocation to suffer, but it is another thing altogether for Rev. Dr. Ateek, a Christian and a proponent of Palestinian nationalism to invoke this belief in an obvious attempt to undermine the legitimacy of Jewish sovereignty in the Middle East.
In addition to portraying Zionism as contradicting the calling of the Jewish people to suffer, Rev. Dr. Ateek portrays the move for a Jewish State as a miscalculated and erroneous response to Jewish powerlessness in 19th century
I believe that the background to the Zionist movement was good, but it got corrupted and I hope it will be redeemed. I can appreciate the noble reasons for the rise of Zionism among European Jewry. Theodor Herzl (1860-1904), the founder of Zionism and his friends must have deeply felt the plight of their Jewish brethren. Anti-semitism was a menace. One can only admire Herzl’s perception of the problems and determination to do something about it rather than sit back and complain. The Jewish religious leaders had passively accepted their people’s predicament, but the secular Zionists were not going to be apathetic to the agony and misery of their brethren.
The assessment of the Zionist leaders regarding the suffering of their people in 19th century
By chiding the Jewish religious leaders who “had passively accepted their people’s predicament,” Rev. Dr. Ateek contradicts his previously stated belief that the Jewish people have a call to suffer. But even more amazingly, Rev. Dr. Ateek asserts that if only Jewish leaders had anticipated the democratization of
One of the most troubling aspects about Sabeel’s message is Rev. Dr. Ateek’s use of the story of Christ’s trial and crucifixion as a template for the Arab-Israeli conflict. With this rhetoric, Rev. Dr. Ateek dishonestly portrays Palestinians as innocent sufferers and
Wishing to leave nothing to chance, Herod ordered his security forces to sweep the
area and kill all children under the age of two. BethlehemIn the Christian tradition, Herod’s cold-blooded action is known as the Massacre of the Innocents, and its victims are regarded by the church as martyrs. It is a sobering reminder that the coming of the One whose life represents goodness and truth, peace and justice to the world, provoked an evil response from the ruling power. The innocents were helplessly caught between the domination of a violent man and the reign of the Prince of Peace.The Christmas message for this year takes cognizance of the story of King Herod, the baby Jesus, and the massacre of the innocents. The events of the past three months of protest in have seen the killing of many children, youths, and even elderly people by the Israeli army. We have witnessed the destruction of many homes and businesses and a siege imposed on three million Palestinians. The state of Palestine has been brutally gunning down hundreds of people and injuring thousands whose only crime is their desire for a life of freedom and the independence of their own country from the oppressive occupation. IsraelKing Herod allowed himself to stoop down to the basest of all feelings. He stripped himself of all semblance of humanity when he ordered the killing of innocent children. This scenario is being repeated in a different guise. Almost 40% of those killed have been less than 18 years old. Some younger teenagers died by bullets fired from further away than their stones of protest could possibly reach. These young Palestinians posed minimal threat, no real danger to their killers. Why do Israeli soldiers target protesters in the upper parts of their body, given the use of such powerful weapons? This expresses the intent to destroy, not deter. These deaths are a crime against the value of human life. They dehumanize not only the killers, but also those who command them.At this Christmas time, when we remember the message of peace and love that came down from God to earth in the birth of Jesus Christ, our celebrations are marred by the destructive powers of the modern day "Herods" who are represented in the Israeli government.
By comparing Israeli officials to Herod the king who ordered the murder of infants in
Rev. Dr. Ateek, does not acknowledge this, but instead offers a dishonest description of Palestinian violence against Israelis during the Second Intifada, which was marked by the murder of numerous Israeli civilians. According to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 43 Israelis were killed by terror attacks during 2000, 263 Israelis were wounded, and there were four suicide attacks at this time. A few of the attacks include:
Oct 19, 2000 - Rabbi Binyamin Herling, 64, of Kedumim, was killed when Fatah members and Palestinian security forces opened fire on a group of Israeli men, women, and children on a trip at
near Mount Ebal . Nablus Nov 10, 2000- Sgt. Shahar Vekret, 20, of Lod was fatally shot by a Palestinian sniper near Rachel's Tomb at the entrance to Bethlehem. Nov 20, 2000 - Miriam Amitai, 35, and Gavriel Biton, 34, both of Kfar Darom, were killed when a roadside bomb exploded alongside a bus carrying children from Kfar Darom to school in Gush Katif. Nine others, including 5 children, were injured.
Palestinian gunmen targeted Israeli children for murder during the beginning of the Second Intifada, which Rev. Dr. Ateek downplays with phrases like “three months of protest” and “stones of protest.”
Rev. Dr. Ateek’s defamation of
In this passage, Rev. Dr. Ateek is figuratively blaming
As we approach Holy Week and Easter, the suffering of Jesus Christ at the hands of evil political and religious powers two thousand years ago is lived out again in
. The number of innocent Palestinians and Israelis that have fallen victim to Israeli state policy is increasing. PalestineHere in Jesus is again walking the via dolorosa. Jesus is the powerless Palestinian humiliated at a checkpoint, the woman trying to get through to the hospital for treatment, the young man whose dignity is trampled, the young student who cannot get to the university to study, the unemployed father who needs to find bread to feed his family; the list is tragically getting longer, and Jesus is there in their midst suffering with them. He is with them when their homes are shelled by tanks and helicopter gunships. He is with them in their towns and villages, in their pains and sorrows. Palestine
In these paragraphs, Rev. Dr. Ateek is clearly portraying the modern state of
In this season of Lent, it seems to many of us that Jesus is on the cross again with thousands of crucified Palestinians around him. It only takes people of insight to see the hundreds of thousands of crosses throughout the land, Palestinian men, women, and children being crucified.
has become one huge golgotha. The Israeli government crucifixion system is operating daily. Palestine has become the place of the skull. Palestine
Anti-Semitic language is sinful. If Canon Ateek wishes to put his past rhetoric behind him, I welcome that, but he should repent of what he has done and express an intention to change. By the same token, if he wishes to acknowledge today that his previous suggestion of dismantling the State of Israel was destructive, the way of repentance is open to him.
It appears however, that neither Rev. Dr. Ateek or the group he founded has any intention of following Rev. Dr. Chilton’s advice. In the Spring 2007 issue of Cornerstone, Sabeel activist Jonathan Kuttab wrotes the following after a dishonest comparison between Christ’s innocent suffering and the plight of the Palestinians:
And lest our friends think we are demonizing Jews or promoting anti-Semitism between the suffering of Palestinians or promoting anti-Semitism by making analogies between the suffering of the suffering of the Palestinians and the crucifixion of Jesus, let me reiterate that those responsible for the evils of the occupation are Zionist entities.
Rev. Dr. Ateek’s use of deicide imagery is not merely a dishonest attempt to make a false analogy between Christ’s innocent suffering and the inevitable consequences of Palestinian terrorism tragically rebounding on Palestinian civilians; it is an attempt to portray
Rabbi Yehiel Poupko, Judaic scholar at the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, described the fears elicited by Rev. Dr. Ateek's use of crucifixion imagery
at a conference about Christian Zionism at
When Christians apply the passion of Jesus of Nazareth to indict the Jews for once again causing others to be crucified, something terrifyingly ominous is afoot. By applying these narratives to the Jewish people today and to the State of Israel, they are [doing so] amid consequences and implications that their use in any other present situation does not engender. No other people have had the narrative of the passion and the crucifixion applied to it as have we the Jewish people. For the past 2,000 years, it is we – forced to exchange places on the cross – who have lived this narrative.
The continued application of the crucifixion today ... perpetuates the worst elements of the Christian teachings of contempt for Judaism and for Jews.
We have just begun in the past few decades to enjoy relations with Christianity that has made profound changes in its attitudes toward us. And now, through the words of these writers, the clock has been turned back. We Jews are once again ever enduring Christ-killers and what this means is that the source of Israeli/Palestinian conflict is a people who for two millennia – we the Jews – have embodied evil.
And that kind of conflict can only be resolved we know how.
The application of the central drama of the New Testament, the Passion and the Crucifixion, the resurrection of Jesus to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict simply doesn’t work. The sacrificial victim always finds him or herself in an unjust situation. He or she is sinless and blameless without error or mistake. Therefore, this sinless death for the Christian has salvific power. Because it is unjust, the act is redemptive and the one who crucifies is as Paul notes, demonic. This paradigm does not fit the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. To invoke this paradigm is to demonize the Jews. ...
There is enough suffering and responsibility to go around, but to place responsibility by the use of the metaphor for crucifixion is to demonize the Jews. This paradigm admits only one possible outcome: the demonic Jew must be destroyed [so] Christ, the Palestinian will be resurrected.
What we are all working for is peace and reconciliation based on compromise. No compromise is possible when the crucifixion is invoked.
For Naim [Ateek], the Via Dolorosa is not simply the route of Jesus through
's Jerusalem , a route we watched being retraced by tourists and pilgrims on our visit. The Way of Sorrow is also a contemporary reality experienced by oppressed people in many contexts, including Old City . One needs to be careful with this symbol, remembering charges of deicide - "Christ Killers" - leveled against Jews by Christian anti-Semites over the centuries. But such a symbol cannot be denied to Christians, for it makes compelling the meaning of suffering and complicity, including our own, and it calls forth a form of non-violent resistance born of resurrection hope. Palestine
The description of Pontius Pilate’s sentencing of Jesus reiterates Jewish treachery. Pilate gives the Jews the choice of pardoning Jesus or the convicted thief Barabbas, and he is answered with a vigorous judgment against Jesus.
Carefully chosen references to controversial passages in the Koran and the New Testament can serve to promote resentment toward Jews and to impugn the Jewish character throughout history up to the present day.
This is not a new phenomenon. For example, in his book, Semites and Anti-Semites, Bernard Lewis quotes Kamil al-Shinnawi who wrote the following in an Egyptian newspaper in 1963:
I as a Muslim do not accuse the Jews of killing Jesus, since the noble Quran lays down that they neither killed nor crucified him but only a likeness shown to them.But the historic facts confirm that the Jews fought against Christ and pursued him and sought his blood and that they accused him of lying and making false claims and denied that he was the awaited Messiah, and the priests assembled in Solomon’s temple and sentenced him to death by crucifixion … and they sent their sentence to the Roman authorities to be put into effect.This was about 1934 years ago, and from that day the Jews went on boasting that they had killed and crucified Christ, and the Quran came and confirmed that they had neither killed nor crucified him, but Christian belief holds the Jews guilty of the crime of killing and crucifying him. … The Christian religion holds firm to its belief that the Jews shed the blood of Christ because they admitted their guilt and boasted of it, and because of their treatment of Christans and people in general, like murders and bloodsuckers. I as a Muslim and not shocked by the Jewish claim that they are innocent of the blood of Christ, since this claim accords with my religious beliefs, but I wonder that induces these vagrants today to try and clear themselves of a crime which they admitted perpetrating nearly two thousand years ago. Why do they insist on clearing their conscience of the blood of Christ, at a time when so many fingers are pointed at them to demand justice for the blood of Kennedy?
Lewis also quotes a commentary about an impending visit to
Some two thousand years ago the Jews crucified Jesus, after beatings, humiliations, and tortures that heap shame on mankind everywhere. And fifteen years ago, in the most cruel manner, the Jews overran
. They attacked its innocent unarmed civilians and subjected many of them to the most villainous atrocities. Thus do the Jews prove their responsibility for the infamies of their forebears, and for the crucifixion and humiliation of Christ nineteen centuries ago. Palestine
More recently, in 2004, some commentators in the
'Adel Hamooda explains that all the Jews supported the priests insofar as the crucifixion of Jesus, some openly and others silently. He then focused on the symbolism of the Devil in the film saying: “In every scene where the Devil is depicted, he appears behind Jews. He is not seen behind Judas Iscariot, or behind the Roman soldiers or their commanders. He appears only behind the priests and the murderous Jews. This is Mel Gibson's clear and courageous message that needs no explanation or interpretation.”
Ateek is strongly criticized by both the Jewish community and conservative Christians for his work to raise the plight of Palestinians in international consciousness. In so doing he uses imagery of the cross, as is customary for liberation theologians and others. Centuries of charges of deicide against Jews, a tradition of which Christians must – and in many cases have – offered sincere apology with repentance, have made it necessary for modern Christians to be very careful about how we speak of the crucifixion, especially in a land as holy to Jews as to Christians. But as Christians we cannot be asked to relinquish our theology of suffering, known to us first and most powerfully in the death of Jesus, because it is in our knowledge of where God is in suffering that we understand both our own suffering and our guilt in that of others. This is a part of what it is to be Christian, and a part of the lens through which we see the world.
The dehumanization of people through the use of negative and trivializing stereotyping. This act contributes to violence against certain people because they are seen as less than human.
Contrary to what some people may feel—and this will come as a shock to many others—the PLO has always proposed the ideal solution for
: one united and democratic state for all Palestinians and Jews. Interestingly, the Palestine , which prides itself on being the champion of democracy, has never accepted this proposal. United States
I still believe that this solution is feasible. It is the best and easiest to implement. However, in line with the biblical injunctions above, I would have to agree, with
to reject it. Israel insists above all on being a Jewish state. As part of a democratic, binational Israel , the Jews would eventually become a minority in the country. Furthermore, many Jews so distrust the Palestinians that they would not wish to consign their future to them. So in spite of all of its attractiveness, the idea of a binational state must be discarded. (Page 165-166) Palestine
Eventually, Rev. Dr. Ateek’s reluctant support for
After the horrors of the Shoah, it is understandable that the idea of
Ultimately, Sabeel’s narrative is that Jewish sovereignty, not Arab efforts to deprive the Jewish people of their homeland, is the cause of suffering in the
... Sabeel often compares the Palestinians to the crucified Jesus, and Israel to his murders, alluding to the ugly and false deicide charge against all the Jewish people - a concept rejected by prominent historians and repudiated by the Roman Catholic Church and other Christian Denominations.
The Sabeel center is a significant problem in the search for a balanced approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This is a group that plays to the political fringe. By virtue of how it operates, Sabeel removes itself from the universe of people in the interfaith world who are working constructively for a fair and constructive conversation about the