Palestinian Anglican priest, Rev. Naim Ateek, once again displays the courage of the prophets of old – telling it like it is!
The US Episcopal church had an historic opportunity at their recent General Convention to take a stand with the suffering in Palestine by getting behind the worldwide Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS). They voted ‘no’.
Of course the decision was framed as being ‘pro-dialogue’ and ‘pro-ecumenism’ rather than ‘anti-Palestine’ but Rev. Ateek doesn’t pull any punches. He labels it a simple failure to stand for justice!
The ‘no’ was hard to resist, of course, when the Episcopal Bishop of Jerusalem himself was warning delegates of potentially negative repercussions for the church in Israel should the Episcopalians take a stand with Palestine. It’s part of a sad history where the oppressed get shafted while the church hangs on to its thirty pieces of silver.
Interfaith Trumps Justice
Naim Ateek’s response to the Episcopal Bishops’ vote
Although I expected disappointing results from the General Convention of the Episcopal Church
USA, I was, nevertheless, heartbroken when I heard the news and discovered that our Bishops,
yet again have failed to take a stand for justice.
I was asked to attend the General Convention as I have done a number of times in the past. I apologized, frankly because I felt deeply that under our present church leadership justice does not stand a chance. The concerns of the Bishops that masqueraded under the guise of “interfaith relations” or their “ability to reach out to people on both sides of the conflict…allowing [them] to be peacemakers” or “positive investment and not divestment” are tantamount to what we un-affectionately call “The Interfaith Ecumenical Deal.” The agreement is to have polite conversations and wonderful dinners with the Jewish establishment organizations provided we remain silent about justice for the Palestinians. The “ecumenical deal” looks impressive from the outside but in actual fact it silences the prophetic and smothers the truth.
In the House of Bishops, interfaith concerns trumped justice—-again.
In debating the issues that relate to Palestine and Israel, the Bishops’ seemingly well intentioned words are clichés which the victims of injustice are sick and tired of hearing because they are simply hot air, or cries of “peace, peace, when there is no peace.” Their words are void of meaning and an insult to all those who have a sense of justice and have “eyes to see and ears to hear” the reality of the oppression of the Palestinians at the hands of the Israeli government.
Of course, this is not the first time that people that hold authority in the church and have the power to make a difference and affect change use flimsy logic so that not to act during a critical situation. Obviously the Episcopal Bishops had their reasons. However, from the perspective of the victims of injustice their silence on our conflict is perceived as betrayal. The Bishops in essence took a stand to support the status quo. They refused to see or were unwilling to respond to the dire situation on the ground.
We as Palestinians are daily humiliated by the Israeli forces; our human rights are violated daily; our homes are demolished daily by bulldozers manufactured in the United States; our olive trees are uprooted on a daily basis; our land is confiscated and turned over into illegal settlements daily; our young people languish in Israeli jails with no legal charges or due process for months on end; our teenagers are taken from their beds in the middle of the night and imprisoned by the Israeli army on an average two by night; and the Israeli government continues its daily violations of international law while the nations of the world remain silent. Is this not a Kairos moment for the church to speak a prophetic word of justice?
There are two questions that every bishop needs to answer before God: Who, in his or her opinion, has benefitted from the bishops’ vote, the Palestinians or the Israeli government? And whom did the Episcopal Church USA protect through its vote, the oppressed or the oppressor?
When all is said and done, it is basically fear that prevents Bishops and governments, or for that matter anyone, from taking a stand against the rich and powerful and on behalf of the weak and marginalized. It takes strong leaders with the courage that Jesus Christ and the prophets modeled for us to champion the cause of the oppressed and that is precisely where the church must take its stand. Sadly that did not happen.
I believe this is a shameful breach of our baptismal vows. Our vows are clear: “Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?” Instead of a resounding “yes”, our Bishops’ response was a resounding NO. This is without a doubt how it looks to our Palestinian people including the overwhelming majority of Palestinian Christians. May God have mercy on us! We need to renew and take seriously our baptismal vows.
The bishops’ vote is also a slap in the face of any bishop or any person who has a sense of justice and the courage to take a stand. It is a slap in the face of Archbishop Tutu who has said repeatedly that Israel’s injustice against the Palestinians is worse than apartheid.
In spite of the disheartening Bishops’ vote, I can still give thanks to God for the prophetic voice that was clearly heard from another sister church. The United Church of Christ General Synod was meeting about the same time as the General Convention of the Episcopal Church. Thankfully, the UCC Synod by an overwhelming majority voted for boycott and divestment. And last year, the Presbyterian Church and the Quakers took a similar decision. The United Methodist Church has taken an important step in the same direction; and I believe that we will see other denominations following suit.
Indeed, God continues to speak and many faithful people hear God’s call and respond to it. We are certain that the prophetic responsibility will never die and there will always be people who, in faithfulness to God and in love of neighbor will strive “…to do justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly with God.” People who have a sense of justice know that the movement of history is toward justice in the world. The words of Martin Luther King are pertinent in this regard, “The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” a lesson our Episcopal bishops need to learn.
The General Convention has also given us a new sign of hope. Indeed, the election of Bishop Michael Curry as the next Presiding Bishop is a sign of hope. We are hoping that his African American background gives him a sense for justice because of the injustices he has been forced to endure. We pray that through his leadership the sun of righteousness and justice will shine again on our Episcopal Church and the prophetic voice will again resound and our church will resurrect the prophetic and will once again, courageously, speak truth to power and the God of love, justice and peace will be glorified.
President of the Sabeel Board
Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Centre
Only a Jew of Uri Avnery’s credentials could get away with comparing the US Congress to the German Reichstag under the Nazis! Perhaps he’s being tongue-in-cheek? Even so, the comparison is chilling.
In truth, if you watch the video of Netanyahu’s speech with the sound muted and just follow the interaction between audience and speaker it is quite scary! As Avnery points out, politicians in Israel’s Knesset would never fawn over their Prime Minister the way US members of Congress do! Of course this makes the speech in Congress all the more valuable for Netanyahu’s target audience – the voters back home. Even so, the tens of thousands of Israelis who subsequently rallied in opposition to Netanyahu and his anti-Palestinian militancy suggests that the strategy didn’t work.
One thing that hadn’t occurred to me until I read Avnery’s commentary was that the vacuous nature of Netanyahu’s speech may have been due to drastic last-minute revisions in the prepared text! Perhaps he realised that the leaked Mossad cable – revealing Israel’s official intelligence assessment that Iran is not building a nuclear weapon – could not be ignored? It is hard to work up a head of steam in fear-mongering when everybody knows that what you’re saying has been flatly contradicted by your own intelligence community!
I hope and pray that these are Netanyahu’s final days and that someone with a heart for peace will take the helm in Israel soon, before it is all too late!
by Uri Avnery
SUDDENLY IT reminded me of something.
I was watching The Speech by Binyamin Netanyahu before the Congress of the United States. Row upon row of men in suits (and the occasional woman), jumping up and down, up and down, applauding wildly, shouting approval.
It was the shouting that did it. Where had I heard that before?
And then it came back to me. It was another parliament in the mid-1930s. The Leader was speaking. Rows upon rows of Reichstag members were listening raptly. Every few minutes they jumped up and shouted their approval.
Of course, the Congress of the United States of America is no Reichstag. Members wear dark suits, not brown shirts. They do not shout “Heil” but something unintelligible. Yet the sound of the shouting had the same effect. Rather shocking.
But then I returned to the present. The sight was not frightening, but ridiculous. Here were the members of the most powerful parliament in the world behaving like a bunch of nincompoops.
Nothing like this could have happened in the Knesset. I do not have a very high opinion of our parliament, despite having been a member, but compared to this assembly, the Knesset is the fulfillment of Plato’s dream.
ABBA EBAN once compared a speech by Menachem Begin to a French souffle cake: a lot of air and very little dough.
The same could be said about The Speech.
What did it contain? The Holocaust, of course, with that moral impostor, Elie Wiesel, sitting in the gallery right next to the beaming Sarah’le, who visibly relished her husband’s triumph. (A few days before, she had shouted at the wife of a mayor in Israel: “Your man does not reach the ankles of my man!”)
The Speech mentioned the Book of Esther, about the salvation of the Persian Jews from the evil Persian minister Haman, who intended to wipe them out. No one knows how this dubious composition came to be included in the Bible. God is not mentioned in it, it has nothing to do with the Holy Land, and Esther herself is more of a prostitute than a heroine. The book ends with the mass murder committed by the Jews against the Persians.
The Speech, like all speeches by Netanyahu, contained much about the suffering of the Jews throughout the ages, and the intentions of the evil Iranians, the New Nazis, to annihilate us. But this will not happen, because this time we have Binyamin Netanyahu to protect us. And the US Republicans, of course.
It was a good speech. One cannot make a bad speech when hundreds of admirers hang on every word and applaud every second. But it will not make an anthology of the world’s Greatest Speeches.
Netanyahu considers himself a second Churchill. And indeed, Churchill was the only foreign leader before Netanyahu to speak to both houses of Congress a third time. But Churchill came to cement his alliance with the President of the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who played a big part in the British war effort, while Netanyahu has come to spit in the face of the present president.
WHAT DID the speech not contain?
Not a word about Palestine and the Palestinians. Not a word about peace, the two-state solution, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, Jerusalem. Not a word about apartheid, the occupation, the settlements. Not a word about Israel’s own nuclear capabilities.
Not a word, of course, about the idea of a nuclear-weapon–free region, with mutual inspection.
Indeed, there was no concrete proposal at all. After denouncing the bad deal in the making, and hinting that Barack Obama and John Kerry are dupes and idiots, he offered no alternative.
Why? I assume that the original text of The Speech contained a lot. Devastating new sanctions against Iran. A demand for the total demolition of all Iranian nuclear installations. And in the inevitable end: a US-Israeli military attack.
All this was left out. He was warned by the Obama people in no uncertain terms that disclosure of details of the negotiations would be considered as a betrayal of confidence. He was warned by his Republican hosts that the American public was in no mood to hear about yet another war.
What was left? A dreary recounting of the well-known facts about the negotiations. It was the only tedious part of the speech. For minutes no one jumped up, nobody shouted approval. Elie Wiesel was shown sleeping. The most important person in the hall, Sheldon Adelson, the owner of the Congress republicans and of Netanyahu, was not shown at all. But he was there, keeping close watch on his servants.
BY THE way, whatever happened to Netanyahu’s war?
Remember when the Israel Defense Forces were about to bomb Iran to smithereens? When the US military might was about to “take out” all Iranian nuclear installations?
Readers of this column might also remember that years ago I assured them that there would be no war. No ifs, no buts. No half-open back door for a retreat. I asserted that there would be no war, period.
Much later, all Israeli former military and intelligence chiefs spoke out against the war. The army Chief of Staff, Benny Gantz, who finished his term this week, has disclosed that no draft operation order for attacking Iran’s nuclear capabilities was ever drawn up.
Why? Because such an operation could lead to a world-wide catastrophe. Iran would immediately close the Strait of Hormuz, just a few dozen miles wide, through which some 35% of the world’s sea-borne oil must pass. It would mean an immediate world-wide economic breakdown.
To open the Strait and keep it open, a large part of Iran would have to be occupied in a land war, boots on the ground. Even Republicans shiver at the thought.
Israeli military capabilities fall far short of such an adventure. And, of course, Israel cannot dream of starting a war without express American consent.
That is reality. Not speechifying. Even American senators are capable of seeing the difference.
THE CENTERPIECE of The Speech was the demonization of Iran. Iran is evil incarnate. It leaders are subhuman monsters. All over the world, Iranian terrorists are at work planning monstrous outrages. They are building intercontinental ballistic missiles to destroy the US. Immediately after obtaining nuclear warheads – now or in ten years – they will annihilate Israel.
In reality, Israel’s second-strike capability, based on the submarines supplied by Germany, would annihilate Iran within minutes. One of the most ancient civilizations in world history would come to an abrupt end. The ayatollahs would have to been clinically insane to do such a thing.
Netanyahu pretends to believe they are. Yet for years now, Israel has been conducting an amiable arbitration with the Iranian government about the Eilat-Ashkelon oil pipeline across Israel built by an Iranian-Israeli consortium. Before the Islamic revolution, Iran was Israel’s stoutest ally in the region. Well after the revolution, Israel supplied Iran with arms in order to fight against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq (the famous Irangate affair). And if one goes back to Esther and her sexual effort to save the Jews, why not mention Cyrus the Great, who allowed the Judean captives to return to Jerusalem?
Judging by its behavior, the present Iranian leadership has lost some of its initial religious fervor. It is behaving (not always speaking) in a very rational way, conducting tough negotiations as one would expect from Persians, aware of their immense cultural heritage, even more ancient than Judaism. Netanyahu is right in saying that one should not trust them with closed eyes, but his demonization is ridiculous.
Within the wider context, Israel and Iran are already indirect allies. For both, the Islamic State (ISIS) is the mortal enemy. To my mind, ISIS is far more dangerous to Israel, in the long run, than Iran. I imagine that for Tehran, ISIS is a far more dangerous enemy than Israel.
(The only memorable sentence in The Speech was “the enemy of my enemy is my enemy”.)
If the worst comes to the worst, Iran will have its bomb in the end. So what?
I may be an arrogant Israeli, but I refuse to be afraid. I live a mile from the Israeli army high command in the center of Tel Aviv, and in a nuclear exchange I would evaporate. Yet I feel quite safe.
The United States has been exposed for decades (and still is) to thousands of Russian nuclear bombs, which could eradicate millions within minutes. They feel safe under the umbrella of the “balance of terror”. Between us and Iran, in the worst situation, the same balance would come into effect.
WHAT IS Netanyahu’s alternative to Obama’s policy? As Obama was quick to point out, he offered none.
The best possible deal will be struck. The danger will be postponed for ten years or more. And, as Chaim Weizmann once said: “The future will come and take care of the future.”
Within these ten years, many things will happen. Regimes will change, enmities will turn into alliances and vice versa. Anything is possible.
Even – God and the Israeli voters willing – peace between Israel and Palestine, which would take the sting out of Israeli-Muslim relations.
For more wisdom from Uri Avnery visit the Gush-Shalom website.
The unbelievable has happened! The Prime Minister of Israel is on his way to the US to deliver a speech to Congress, and scores of Congressmen and Congresswomen are announcing that they have better things to do than attend the speech!
The vice-President led the boycott, followed by Earl Blumenauer of Oregan, and after that the flood-gates started to open! Admittedly, all the boycotters are Democrats, and their public statements suggest that it’s their loyalty to the President and opposition to the political manoeuvrings of the House Speaker that are motivating them to join the boycott. Even so, such a move would have been unthinkable a few years ago!
Who can forget Netanyahu’s address to Congress where he received 29 standing ovations – more than any US President has ever received. That was in 2011 – only four years ago! Have things really changed that much in four years? In truth, things have changed drastically in the last few years, and it’s not that Congress has wised up. It’s the American people who have wised up, and Congress can’t remain oblivious to the voice of the people forever!
In 2012 Norman Finkelstein published “Knowing Too Much: Why the American Jewish Romance with Israel is Coming to an End”. In it he pointed to enormous shifts in public opinion amongst American Jews who were showing ever-increasing disinterest in the foreign state that claimed their allegiance. Surely the best example of this was the influence the Israeli Prime Minister had on the voting patterns of American Jews in 2012 when he voiced unequivocal support for Obama’s Republican rival. Netanyahu’s interventions apparently made no difference whatsoever!
And what’s true for American Jews is a reflection of the changing tide across the rest of the country. There are exceptions, of course. The Christian right seems to be clinging on as the last bastion of American Zionism. Conversely though, according to the survey referred to in the article below, only 16% of African Americans think their representative should attend the Israeli Prime Minister’s address!
Of course there’s a massive gap between boycotting a talk and seeing the end of the Palestinian Occupation. Even so, it’s a step in the right direction, and we all know that Israel can only ignore world opinion about its treatment of the Palestinian people so long as it has the world’s great super-power unequivocally behind it. But that unequivocal support is equivocating!
The 24 Democrats Who Have Refused to Attend Netanyahu’s Speech to Congress
Their constituents agree.
By Zaid Jilani
When House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) decided to invite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address a Joint Session of Congress on Iran in early March, he probably thought it’d go a lot like it did in 2011. That year, Netanyahu received 29 standing ovations – more than President Obama got during his State of the Union that year.
But Obama turned the tables on Netanyahu, refusing to meet with him just two weeks before the Israeli elections. He also announced that his vice president, Joe Biden, would not attend the address.
Shortly after Obama’s objection, Democratic Members of Congress started to announce that they wouldn’t attend the speech, either. The first was Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), who wrote in a January 29th Huffington Post column that he will “not participate in a calculated slight from the speaker and the House leadership to attack necessary diplomacy.”
Following Blumenauer’s dissent, a steady string of Democratic Caucus members, mostly in the House but in the Senate as well began to announce that they would not attend the speech. Buoyed by poll numbers showing that many of their constituents agree – a plurality of Americans believe Netanyahu’s speech to be “inappropriate” and only 16 percent of African Americans in particular want to see their Member of Congress attend – more and more members are announcing their refusals to attend nearly every day.
To see the list of 21 House Democrats and three Senate Democratic Caucus members who are so far refusing to attend the speech, see Alternet
It must surely be considered the ultimate badge of shame – a word of thanks from Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. It was given this week in response to Australia’s complicity in defeating the Palestinian UN resolution, calling on the world to recognise their homeland by 2017.
It makes no difference that the goal of the Palestinians resolution is entirely in accord with official Australian policy, and it makes no difference that the Australian people are unequivocal in their support for a Palestinian state. The Australian government continues to do what its US overlords tell it to do, thus betraying not only the Palestinian people but her own people as well.
It is hard to avoid the conclusion that here, as in other foreign policy arenas, Australia is intent on fanning the flames of violence and division. We happily send troops to help bomb Iraq again while refusing to allow aid workers to fight Ebola in Africa. We thwart every attempt by the Palestinians to reach a political solution to their crisis while remaining mute about the murderous Israeli attacks on Gaza. Meanwhile, back at home, we dream up new ways to inflict pain on refugees. Indeed it is a shameful time to be an Australian.
Netanyahu lauds US, Australia for efforts to reject Palestinian UN bid
Israel responds to draft Palestinian statehood resolution that failed to pass UN Security Council vote on Tuesday.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday lauded the US and Australia for voting against the Palestinian UN Security Council draft resolution on Tuesday, and praised Rwanda and Nigeria for abstaining.
“I want to express appreciation and gratitude to the United States and Australia, as well as special appreciation to the President of Rwanda, my friend Paul Kagame, and to the President of Nigeria, my friend Goodluck Jonathan,” Netanyahu said when he arrived Wednesday morning to vote in the Likud primary.
“I spoke with both of them, they promised me personally that they would not support this decision, and they stood by their words. That is what tipped the scales,” he added.
The Palestinian resolution calling for a full Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines by 2017, and the establishment of a Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital, did not muster the necessary nine votes Tuesday in the Security Council.
Earlier Wednesday, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman said the Palestinian failure to get their statehood resolution passed Wednesday in the UN Security Council should teach them that provocations and attempts to unilaterally impose conditions on Israel will lead them nowhere.
“The Palestinian disregard for important countries in the international arena, first and foremost the US, stems from the backing they get form some of the states in Europe,” he said, in an obvious reference to the “for” votes cast by France and Luxembourg.
“Every state that truly wants to move an arrangement forward needs to act responsibly and make clear to the Palestinians that decisions are only made around the negotiating table,” Liberman said.
While France and Luxembourg voted for the Palestinian resolution, two other EU countries – Britain and Lithuania – abstained, illustrating the wide differences on the Mideast that exist inside the 28-state EU.
Liberman praised his ministry for the work it did to thwart the resolution, the second time in three years that Israel dodged a bullet on this issue in the Security Council, and cited Israel’s concentrated diplomatic efforts in Africa, the far East and central Europe. In 2011 the Palestinians failed in their attempt to win full UN statehood recognition in the UN.
In addition to the United States, Australia voted against the resolution on Tuesday. Britain, Lithuania, South Korea, and two of the three African states on the Security Council – Rwanda and Nigeria – all abstained, depriving the Palestinians of their nine votes needed to pass the resolution and force a US veto.
read the rest of this article here
The American people, it seems, no longer give unquestioning support to the state of Israel, even though the US government still does
This shift in U.S. public has been laid bare in recent surveys taken in the US. Amongst the most remarkable of the results is the finding that 39 percent of Americans believe that the U.S. should impose sanctions on Israel if they continue to build settlements on Palestinian land!
The following review from ‘The American Conservative’ downplays the significance of the overall results, suggesting that Americans have always preferred their government not to take sides. What the reviewer finds more startling is the fact that Republicans are now far more keen to support to Israel than Democrats.
What I find even more remarkable is a statistic not mentioned in this review – namely, that Evangelical Christians are the only group in the U.S. who still think that Israel’s Jewish character is more important than its democracy (see here)! Even American Jews valued democracy ahead of ethnicity!
U.S. Public Opinion and Israel/Palestine
Shibley Telhami reviews the contents of a recent survey of American views of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He finds that most Americans still don’t want the U.S. to take sides:
Consistent with prior years most Americans (64 percent) want the United States to lean toward neither side in the conflict, while 31 percent want it to lean toward Israel. But there is a huge difference between Democrats and Independents, on the one hand, and Republicans on the other. Among Democrats, 77 percent want the United States to lean toward neither side, 17 percent toward Israel, and 6 percent toward the Palestinians; among Republicans, those who want the U.S. to lean toward Israel outnumber those who want it to lean toward neither side, 51 percent-46 percent.
The partisan gap on this question is not all that surprising, but the size of the gap is nonetheless remarkable. Three quarters of Democrats say they don’t want the U.S. to take sides in the conflict, while just over half of Republicans want the U.S. to favor Israel. One would scarcely know that from the way their representatives vote and how their party leaders talk about the U.S. role in the conflict. Despite the fact that nearly two-thirds of Americans have consistently wanted the U.S. to be neutral or even-handed in the conflict for as long as the question has been asked, the U.S. has been overwhelmingly supportive of one side in practice.
Telhami points to another result about Palestinian statehood at the U.N.:
What do Americans recommend if the Palestinians take the issue of statehood to the United Nations? A plurality, 45 percent, advocate abstaining; 27 percent support voting against the resolution; and 25 percent support voting for it. Party differences are large with more Republicans supporting opposing the resolution, but still less than half (46 percent).
In other words, almost half of Americans don’t want the U.S. to take a position, and there are almost as many supporters of such a resolution as there are opponents, but it is virtually guaranteed that the U.S. will vote no. On both of these questions, a large majority doesn’t support backing Israel to the hilt, and yet that is what the U.S. will continue to do. This isn’t news. Polls have been finding the same things for decades. Even so, it is useful to be reminded every so often that U.S. policy on Israel and Palestine is wildly at odds with what most Americans claim to want. When Congress and the administration endorse conventionally “pro-Israel” positions, they are doing the opposite of what most Americans prefer.