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An open question for the JVP: Why do you make common cause with (y)our enemies?

(I sent this blog entry directly to JVP leadership.)

es, this question is an accusation.  I won’t pretend otherwise. You are my Jewish brothers and sisters, and I am living in Israel where some six million of your Jewish brothers and sisters — almost half of the Jewish people — face a virulent strain of annihilationist politics on our borders and in the broader region.

I must get one thing off the table up front: I do not question your right, moral or civil, as a diaspora Jewish organization to criticize — even harshly — the policies of Israel’s government.  No government is above criticism, no politician is above the law. The issue of how to criticize, however, is a legitimate one for honest debate.  I feel compelled to write this blog entry, because I am deeply troubled by your partnership choices.

My question is far deeper. For me, personally and literally, it is an existential one.  This has to do with your partnering with a number of organizations to produce an ad campaign calling for the United States to stop all military aid to Israel.  These ads are now appearing on the sides of San Francisco’s iconic cable cars and elsewhere.  Nice placement, by the way.

Two of your partners in this endeavor are American Muslims for Palestine and Friends of Sabeel of North America.  In my view, these groups are beyond the pale of what any organization that describes itself as “Jewish” should be partnering with.  Here are my reasons:

On December 21, 2010  AMP issued a press release announcing a rally marking the second anniversary of Operation Cast Lead.   The last sentence of the release declared:

Palestinians are more determined than ever to fight on until total liberation, until every refugee can return, until the land of Palestine is free from the river to the sea!

This statement is unequivocal.  There is no room for Israel in this vision of “peace” promoted by your AMP partner.

This is not the first time you  co-sponsored programming with AMP.  Last winter you partnered with them and Sabeel (see below) in a similar ad campaign in San Francisco.  Your slogan: “Be on our side.  We are the side of peace and justice.”  Really?  AMP seeks our destruction, sorry, “liberation” from the “river to the see.”  Peace?

Furthermore, AMP has at least one board member, Osama Abu Irshaid, who was involved in pro-Hamas activities in the U.S.  He was editor of Al-Zaytounah, published by the now-defunct Islamic Association for Palestine (IAP), which with the Holy Land Fund, was a member of the Palestine Committee, court records show. This committee, other court records show, was created by the radical Muslim Brotherhood — Hamas’ parent body — to assist  Hamas politically and financially.  This is the side of “peace and justice?”

Dear JVP, some more questions:
  1. Were you aware that AMP takes such a clear position calling for Israel’s destruction?
  2. If not, now that you know, will you distance yourself from this organization and have no further dealings with them?
  3. If you don’t, should I take that as meaning you condone this position? 
  4. Do you see that AMP’s purpose for calling for an end to U.S. military aid to Israel is to forward the goal of weakening Israel so it no longer can defend itself against terrorism or hostile armies?

Lest I be accused of either fear mongering or delusional fantasy, I direct you to just one (of numerous) annihilationist statements made by Iranian President Ahmadinejad.  On August 27 (last week) he said that “Egyptian-Iranian relations in the post-Mubarak era will eliminate the presence of the Zionist entity.”  According to the Ahlul Bayt News Agency, under the headline “Ahmadinejad: Egyptian-Iranian alliance can eliminate Israel,” he made these comments in an interview with Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV where, “Ahmadinejad addressed Egyptian society, expecting that Egypt will play a key regional role in the coming period.” 

One more thing: please take a look at this headline from today’s Ha’aretz: IAEA: Iran reaches breakthrough in suspected nuclear weapons push.

Not fantasy.  Not fear-mongering.  Just cold, hard reality: one of Iran’s chief foreign policy goals is Israel’s “elimination.”

My read of things: your partner, the AMP, seeks to weaken Israel militarily (as do you).  This would greatly benefit Iran and other hostile states whose goal is to liberate Palestine “from the river to the sea.”  Given the fact that Israelis are willing to fight for their right to exist, this slogan has only one  meaning: war.

How is this the “side of peace”?

Naim Ateek

egarding your other partner in this ad campaign, Friends of Sabeel of North America.  The J. Jewish Weekly describes FOSNA as the “chief sponsor of the local campaign.”  Sabeel is the Palestinian Christian organization in eastern Jerusalem whose founder, Anglican Canon Rev. Naim Ateek, created the ideology of “Palestinian Liberation Theology.”

This is not the first time you co-sponsored a program with FOSNA.  In March 2010, you partnered with them in a major regional conference at the First Presbyterian Church in San Anselmo called “A Time for Truth; A Time for Action.”  Over 500 people attended.  Ateek was a keynote speaker.  At this conference and in his other speeches and writings, Ateek uses language that is overtly anti-Semitic.  I myself attended this conference and I heard him repeatedly attack Judaism (not Israel or Zionism, but Judaism) as a “tribal theology.”  He said,

And the way using some of the texts in the Hebrew Scriptures, or Old Testament, unbelievable!  Twisting, taking a tribal theology and making it the biblical theology.   I don’t believe, you know it starts, you know we have tribal theology, but it moves on to a universal theology where God is concerned about all people, not only one segment of humanity. (my emphasis)

And, again:

Those texts [Jewish Scripture] represent a tribal understanding of God, which we don’t have today… Old Testament and New Testament, we share the Old Testament with Jewish people.  And the heart of it, how do we re-interpret the text, is it an exclusive theology of land or an inclusive theology of land… It’s a theology that opens up the whole world.  For us Christians ‘God so loved the world’!  It doesn’t say ‘God so loved the Jewish people.’

In both instances Ateek was engaging in Christian Replacement Theology or Supersessionism, which asserts that Christianity is the fulfillment of promises in the Jewish Scriptures and as such has superseded Judaism in becoming the “New Israel.”  As such, Jews are rejected by God.  I shouldn’t have to rehearse here the terrible consequences throughout the centuries this theology has had for Jews.

But, just to explain a little: supersseionism is part of a larger body of Christian polemical texts called  Adversus Judaeos (Latin for “Against Judaism”) which were “written from the first century to at least the eighteenth century CE” according to the Dictionary of Jewish- Christian Relations published by the Cambridge University Press.

Over the decades since the Holocaust, mainline Christian denominations have revised their theologies, and have come out with strong statements against supersessionism.

But Ateek seems determined to bring back supersessionism.  A comparison of Ateek’s theme that “tribal” Judaism gave way to “universal” Christianity shows similarities to classic supersessionist polemics.  Melito of Sardis (d. 180 CE) said :

“The people [Israel] was precious before the church arose, and the law was marvelous before the gospel was elucidated. But when the church arose and the gospel took precedence the model was made void, conceding its power to the reality . . . . The people was made void when the church arose.”

And it was Martin Luther who argued:

Listen, Jew, are you aware that Jerusalem and your sovereignty, together with your temple and priesthood, have been destroyed for over 1,460 years?. . .  For such ruthless wrath of God is sufficient evidence that they assuredly have erred and gone astray. . . . Therefore this work of wrath is proof that the Jews, surely rejected by God, are no longer his people, and neither is he any longer their God.

Compare Martin Luther’s accusation that Jews “assuredly have erred and gone astray” and “rejected by God,” with Ateek’s accusation that Jews “twist” the meaning of the Scriptures while God does not love the Jewish people.

More.  In his book Justice and Only Justice, Ateek wrote:

The particular has become universal. The blessing of God’s concern for one people is universalized to encompass every people and every land…  The tragedy of many Zionists today is that they have locked themselves into the nationalist concept of God. They are trapped in it and they will be freed only if they discard their primitive image of God for a more universal one…

This is a lazy and distorted interpretation of Judaism, which Ateek broadly paints as “primitive” and “tribal” compared to the refined “universalism” of Christianity.  For Ateek, the “primitive” Jews will escape this “tribal” trap only when they adopt the universal, which coming from the mouth of a Christian theologian means the Christian concept of God.

The most violent accusations in the Adversus Judaeos literature is the charge of deicide, holding “the Jews” responsible for killing Jesus Christ.  Centuries of anti-Jewish massacres, expulsions and forced conversions were based on this charge, which literally demonizes Jews for plotting against and murdering God on earth.  John Chrysostum said in the 4th century, strongly criticizing Christians who befriended Jews:

The Jews killed the Son of your Master… Will you so dishonor Him as to respect and cultivate His Murderers, the men who crucified Him?

Naim Ateek wrote in the 21st century:

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 Palestine…

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. Palestine has become one huge [G]olgotha. The Israeli government crucifixion system is operating daily. Palestine has become the place of the skull…

Some apologists for Ateek have argued with me that the imagery of Jesus being crucified by his oppressors is the core of liberation theology.  I counter that perhaps this imagery made sense in Latin America where peasants were fighting against oligarchs in a predominantly Roman Catholic society.  But, the moment you transfer this imagery to Israeli Jews, you are trading in anti-Semitism.  The history of this deicide imagery is far too thick to dismiss as easily as some would like.

Throughout his writings and presentations Ateek the theologian refers to the founding of Israel in theological terms, as an “original sin.”  He did so several times at the JVP co-sponsored Sabeel conference.  As Rabbi Yehiel Poupko wrote of Ateek’s use of such theologically charged language:

Have not enough Jews died for the application to them of a notion of an original sin, an enduring evil?  The Jewish people, who for two thousand years were accused of deicide, are now accused by Naim Ateek of murdering a whole people in that one land in which Jews were alleged to have killed Jesus?

Dear JVP, such are the partners you have chosen to work with in pursuit of your agenda.

In the J Jewish Weekly’s Letters section, Cindy Shamban, writing in JVP’s name , defended the ad campaign while ignoring your partners Sabeel and AMP.  She wrote,

The national Jewish Voice for Peace position is to urge the U.S. government to suspend all military aid to Israel until it ends its occupation of the West Bank, Golan Heights and East Jerusalem. U.S. military aid has allowed Israel to continue its financing of the illegal occupation of Palestinian lands in the West Bank, Golan Heights and East Jerusalem and the ongoing siege of Gaza. The local chapter felt strongly that the message of Israelis and Palestinians working together for peace and justice was important to share with the general public because that image is rarely if ever seen in the media.

That’s a fair debate to have.  Obviously I oppose your position for the reasons stated above.  Now, if  JVP was running this ad campaign itself, then we could hold a reasonable, even a civil, debate over whether it is right for diaspora Jews to call for the military weakening of Israel in a region where an Iranian president pursuing nuclear weapons calls for the formation of a regional alliance with Egypt and presumably others (perhaps Turkey?) to confront and eliminate Israel, meaning me and my family.

The problem is your partnerships with AMP, Sabeel and a host of other anti-Israel organizations and causes makes me think that, at bottom, your commitment to the safety of the nearly six million Jews here in Israel is lacking.  Your support of the Gaza Flotilla, for instance, whose organizers have clear ties to Hamas and other radical Islamist groups, is beyond my understanding.  (See my July 8 blog (Flotilla, “Flytilla” are not about peace; but challenging Israel’s right to exist) for photographic evidence of the Free Gaza Movement leaders receiving medals of honor from senior Hamas leadership.)

In the same blog I also quoted Adam Shapiro, a Free Gaza Movement leader, saying:

Free Gaza is but one tactic of a larger strategy, to transform this conflict from one between Israel and the Palestinians, or Israel and the Arab world…to one between the rest of the world and Israel… Our ground is the whole world.  And that’s where our resistance has to be.  The whole world… We already have a third intifada.  It’s going on right now. It’s going on all over the world.

Dear JVP: Is that your goal, too, to turn the entire world against Israel?  If not, why do you support the Free Gaza Movement?

You also support the BDS Movement, whose stated goals are the elimination of Israel, not just ending the occupation, unless you accept the BDS definition of “occupation” as including the State of Israel.  Do you?  I wonder.  As I wrote in my Ha’aretz piece Destructive agnosticism, last December,

JVP’s website declares: “Our mission statement endorses neither a one-state solution, nor a two-state solution … we have members and supporters on both sides of this question, as well as many others who, like the organization as a whole, are agnostic about it.”

By word you are agnostic on whether we should exist.  By deed, meaning your partnership choices, you appear to be quite sure on this question: Israel should disappear from the scene.

Dear JVP: What are your red lines?  Do you have any? 

Given your partners — the AMP that overtly seeks our destruction “from the river to the sea,” Sabeel whose founder engages in classic Christian anti-Semitism, the BDS Movement which you support, and a host of others — I am not sure you understand how your giving them a Jewish shield, what I have come to term “Jew-washing,” enhances their agendas.  And that is the biggest tragedy of all.