Monday, September 10, 2007

Fair Witness Deplores Statement By Rosemary Radford Ruether

from Christians for Fair Witness on the Middle East (website here):

Christians for Fair Witness on the Middle East deplores a statement entitled “Beyond Holocaust and Nakba Denial: Toward Compassionate Co-humanity” by Professor Rosemary Radford Ruether which recently appeared on the Friends of Sabeel, North America website.

“Sabeel has a long history of denying the legitimacy of the Jewish state and employing supersessionist themes, classic anti-Semitic themes and the use of deicide language in its characterizations of Israel,” according to Fr. James Loughran, S.A., Director of the Graymoor Ecumenical & Interreligious Institute. “We therefore find any claim on the part of this organization to be seeking ‘compassionate co-humanity’ somewhat disingenuous from the outset.”

The lack of a genuine search for “compassionate co-humanity” is evidenced at the beginning of Prof. Ruether’s article where she attempts to explain Holocaust denial by alleging that the Jewish history with Nazi Germany has somehow been transformed into an Israeli sense of entitlement to a “state built on Arab land.” “Prof. Ruether is a scholar. She should acknowledge that the modern state of Israel was not ‘built on Arab land,’” says Rev. Dr. Bruce Chilton, the Bernard Iddings Bell Professor of Religion at Bard College. “After World War I what had previously been territory of the Ottoman Empire was divided into what are now 21 independent Arab countries and one Jewish state based upon both peoples’ centuries’ old ties to this land. The boundaries drawn have sometimes proven problematic, but it does not help to distort history further.”

Curiously, Prof. Ruether uses a purported anecdote about some anonymous settlers in Gaza ten years ago to add credence to her premise that a Holocaust driven mentality shapes Israeli policy. This anecdote strikes Fair Witness as too conveniently supportive of Ruether’s point to be credible, especially where she puts quotes around statements then attributed to “the settlers.” Did they all cry out these alleged statements in unison? The statements, even if actually made by some Israelis, are irrelevant. Comments by random Israeli settlers express neither Israeli policy nor national perspective. Fair Witness is dismayed by Prof. Ruether’s disingenuous attempt to suggest they do.

While Fair Witness disapproves of a tendency on the part of some to overuse the Holocaust as a rhetorical and political tool, this in no way renders Ruether’s insidious use of this historical tragedy to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the Jewish state permissible. “The world did not need the Holocaust to justify the creation of a Jewish state. Jews, just like the Palestinians and all other peoples, have the right to constitute an autonomous and sovereign political community,” says Sr. Ruth Lautt, Fair Witness National Director.

Ms. Ruether’s article includes the sensationalist and baseless claim that Israeli leaders such as David Ben-Gurion planned the ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948. While she provides no citation for this invidious accusation, it appears to be based upon a letter written by the former Prime Minister to his son. “Ben-Gurion’s letter has recently been widely misquoted,” says Dexter Van Zile, who has carefully researched the matter. “The actual Hebrew text (as reported by Efraim Karsh, Professor of Mediterranean Studies at the University of London, on pages 50-51 of Fabricating Israeli History) reads ‘We do not wish, we do not need to expel Arabs and take their place … All our aspiration is built on the assumption that there is enough room in the country for ourselves and the Arabs.’”

“How carefully did Prof. Ruether research her sources?” questions Van Zile. “You can’t level an accusation as heinous as intentional ethnic cleansing based upon what appears to be nothing but shoddy scholarship.”

Prof. Ruether also resorts to drawing the contrived parallel between the Palestinian “Nakba” and the Holocaust. “There would have been no Palestinian or Jewish refugees had the Arab nations accepted the U.N. partition (under resolution 181) of the British mandate,” points out Rev. Dr. Roy W. Howard, pastor of Saint Mark Presbyterian Church (USA) in Rockville, Maryland. “Prof. Ruether leaves that piece of history out of her narrative. She also neglects to point out that the ‘expanded state of Israel’ resulted not from some (implied) Israeli landgrab -- but from a war that followed the combined Arab armies’ attempt to destroy Israel.

Prof. Ruether’s final point is that the respective suffering of the Jewish and Palestinian people holds the potential for building a mutual respect on which a peaceful solution could be constructed. “It is a shame that this hopeful aspiration, with which we concur, is merely tacked onto the flurry of distorted historical narrative by which Ruether delegitimizes Israel’s standing and thereby undermines the very outcome she claims to seek,” laments Rev. Dr. Peter Pettit, Director of the Institute for Jewish-Christian Understanding at Muhlenberg College.

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