Friday, December 17, 2010

Relationships with Jewish Family and Friends

I have had several people recently to ask about keeping relationships with Jewish friends while at the same time being critical of Israel. This can be especially difficult when dealing with a Jewish member of ones own family. So, for what it’s worth.

I think sometimes we have to opt for relationship rather than issues I have in mind my relationship with one of the most anti-Muslim, pro-Israel men in Georgia. My last blog was in response to his email that said, “it was too bad that Israel did not sink the Mava Marmara. It would have freed the world of 600 terrorist.” Trying to get a sympathetic fact by him is like trying to give a flu shot to a tombstone. So, we do not talk about anything important except kids and doctors. Mark Braverman tells us to give up on the hard liners. Marc Ellis rejects what he calls “the ecumenical deal,” which requires Christian and Jews engaged in dialogue to never mention Israel’s occupation. I have a Jewish friend who is very vocal about “being free to criticize Israel.” Yet, she spends most of her time and energy criticizing those who criticize Israel. I understand the strain on relationships.

Now to the grandmother whose daughter is married to a “fine Jewish man.” I say, Jews are good people, and intelligent. Your grand children have every right to be proud of their heritage. When I was in Mississippi, the issue was civil rights for African Americans and the leaders of this cause came from the Jewish community. I think of those three civil rights worker who were murdered in Philadelphia, Mississippi, two were Jews and the other was African American. Throughout history Jews have been sensitive to the needs of others. It is in their DNA to be caring and to stand up for the poor and oppressed. It’s also in their scriptures, especially the Psalms and the Prophets. Give it a little time and you will win your daughter’s heart and appreciation. Her struggle is not with you, it is with her own faith. My guess is that in years to come, her struggle will be with her children. Many, many young Jews are beginning to question the policies of Israel and some of them are angry. I would also bet that your daughter has never been there and has never seen what is going on in the West Bank and Gaza. The most passionate Jews who cry for Palestinian justice are those who have been there and are shocked by what they see.

Your daughter is absolutely right about anti-Semitism which has been a senseless stain on the Christian church for almost two thousand years. However, there are some in the Jewish community who cannot hear criticism of Israel as anything other than anti-Semitism. For those, I say we can only go on seeking justice without their approval.

Justice for Palestinians is the position of more and more Jewish authors, professors and peace advocates. I have in mind, Marc Ellis, Noam Chomsky, Rabbi Michael Lerner, Joel Kavol, Norman Finkelstein, Ilan Peppe, Gideon Levy, Jeff Halper, Sara Roy, Mark Braverman , Tanya Reinhart, Richard Goldstein and many others These brave people are not seeking to destroy Israel, but believe Israel is on a path of self destruction.

Israel is deliberately starving people, depriving them of medicines, fuel and building supplies, stealing land, and water, creating Jewish only roads that separate families and restrict movement, constructing a wall which surrounds communities separating kids from their schools, farmers from their fields and the sick from medical care, bulldozing homes by the thousands, imposing closures, curfews, and checkpoints, all in the name of exceptionalism. These actions promote anti-Semitism and the reaction of the Arab nations. I cannot understand why the Jewish community is not standing on its heels shouting condemnation of Israel’s anti-Jewish policies rather than debating supersessionism. When have you heard a Rabbi even mention the word “occupation?”

Who is going to speak out for justice if we don’t at least try? Politicians are silenced by the lobby. The Christian right declares that the Jews must drive out the Palestinians for Jesus to come back, even if it means murder, torture, cruelty and theft. The media is seldom “fair or balanced.” Israel’s aggression is reported as a “reaction.” One Israeli soldier held in captivity and everybody knows of Gilad Shalit by name. Netanyahu called it "inhumane," which it is, while the 9000 Palestinians languishing in Israeli prisons are seldom mentioned. Israel’s military is one of the most powerful and brutal on the globe and everybody in the world knows it but citizens of Israel and the US.

The argument that other governments do things that are bad or even worse, therefore we should not “pick on Israel,” does not hold up. If I am hauled before the judge, it’s a poor defense for me to say, “OK judge, I raped that girl, but Big John up the road raped two girls so it is unfair to judge me.” It makes no sense unless Israel is vying to be the most barbaric state on earth. It is our tax money that pays for Israel’s planes, bombs, and bullets. It’s our government that blocks international law from applying to Israel and vetoes UN resolutions. We, you and I, are involved in everything Israel does. We have a responsibility to speak out. So, keep up your good work, be who you are, and be guided by your moral convictions. Keep on loving your daughter but let someone else deal with her defense of Israel.

Thomas Are
December 18, 2010

Friday, December 3, 2010

A Challenge to the Church

We were a Sunday School class and we talked about “justice.” I was amazed. Many churches all over America can go for years without approaching the subject of justice, especially when it gets specific, like when relating to the injustice inflicted by Israel upon the Palestinians.

In fact, with few exceptions, I mostly agree with Brian McLaren:

My disillusionment was intensified by what was happening in the Christian community in America during the 1980s and 1990s. A large number of Protestant and Catholic leaders had aligned with a neoconservative political ideology, trumpeting what they called “conservative family values,” but minimizing biblical community values. They supported wars of choice, defended torture, opposed environmental protection, and seemed to care more about protecting the rich from taxes than liberating the poor from poverty or minorities from racism. They spoke against big government as if big was bad, yet they seemed to see big military and big business as inherently good. They wanted to protect unborn human life inside the womb, but didn’t seem to care about born human life in slums or prisons or nations they considered enemies. They loved to paint gay people as a threat to marriage, seeming to miss the irony that heterosexual people were damaging marriage at a furious pace without any help from gay couples…They interpreted the Bible to favor the government of Israel and to marginalize Palestinians, and even before September 11, 2001, I feared that through their influence Muslims were being cast as the new scapegoats, targets of a scary kind of religiously inspired bigotry.[1]

But, this church was different. It sponsored a class which struggled with these issues, especially the Israel/Palestinian situation. I left the class encouraged.

Then, I went to the worship service. Being Advent, we sang, "O Come, O Come Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel." How many, I wondered, while singing this hymn made a distinction between Israel of the Old Testament and the modern state of Israel? Multiplied by every church in America, I wondered how much influence our liturgy might have in equating the nation-state of Israel with God and our understanding of ancient covenants. What else could explain our disregard for the plight of the Palestinians at the hands of one of the mightiest military forces on earth?

Every Christmas, millions of Americans sing, “The First Noel,” with its refrain, “born is the King of Israel.” We sing, "The God of Abraham be Praised" with seldom a thought that Ishmael was the first born son of Abraham. We turn to the Responsive Readings and recite, “The God of Jacob is our Refuge." I wondered how many Psalms refer to the "God of Jacob?” Psalm 72:18 reads, “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, who alone does wondrous things.” A few pages over we celebrate God’s victory in battle for God “remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel. (Psalm 98:3) and “Behold, he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.” (Psalm 121:4)

When sexist language became a “no no” in the church, all the arguments, “surely everyone understands that ‘man’ includes all humankind, and that God ‘Himself,’ was not a sexual being,” did not overcome the emotional influence of sexist language. I wonder if the same is not emotionally true of “Israel” as God’s only chosen people, with a real estate deal which lasts forever?

How many make the distinction between ancient Israel and the modern, powerful state? Of course, we are talking more than rhetoric. It is a matter of placing the “power” of Israel over prophetic Judaism. Marc Ellis, who is best described as a faithful Jew, asks, “Can power offer liberation from suffering if another people, in this case the Palestinians, is suffering so that Jews can have power?”[2] Affirming Liberation Theology, Ellis writes:

God is against injustice and against those who structure society in an unjust way for their own benefit. These assertions are cast in theological language, which says that God in the Bible is with the poor and the marginalized and against injustice and wealth accumulated in unjust ways. This biblical God still stands with the world’s poor and marginalized. In the struggle between the poor and the wealthy God takes sides.[3]

Challenging the church, he says, “It is incumbent upon all Christians to do the same.” I agree. We need to be careful with our language lest we cover up God’s call for justice with emotional liturgy.

Thomas Are
December 4, 2010

[1] Brian McLaren, A New Kind of Christianity. (HarperOne, 2010) p.6-7.
[2] Marc H. Ellis, Judaism Does Not Equal Israel. (The New Press, New York. 2009.) p.xix.
[3] Ibid. p.43.