Post-apartheid South Africa has played a special role in the Palestinian struggle. Nelson Mandela was a personal friend of Yasser Arafat – a man who he saw as being on a parallel struggle for justice and freedom for his people. And as the church helped lead the struggle to end apartheid in South Africa, so it comes as no surprise that South African church leaders have come in firmly behind the ‘Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions’ (BDS) campaign against the Israeli government.
Defenders of Zionism are quick to ridicule any comparison between South African apartheid and the State of Israel’s policies that favour Jews over Arabs. As South African pastor, Rev. Dr. Moss Nthla, points out though, he is in a better position than most white people to judge whether the apartheid label is valid. He and other South African church leaders suggest, in fact, that the Israeli system of racial discrimination is actually worse than what they experienced under apartheid!
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The following statement is impressive, in my view. What is more impressive though is the very fact that this team of church leaders from around the world took the time to travel to Gaza and stay there for a five-day period!
The presence of these men in Gaza at such a dark time in Palestine’s history speaks far more loudly than the most eloquent statement! Let’s pray that this is the start of a trend that may lead to a visit of the Pope to Gaza.
Here below is the statement released by Co-ordination of Bishops’ Conferences in support of the Holy Land, who have just completed a five day visit to the region.
January 15th 2014
“As bishops from Europe, South Africa and North America we came to the Holy Land to pray with and support the Christian community and the cause of peace. In Gaza we witnessed the deep poverty of the people, and the courageous presence of the small and vulnerable Christian communities there.
Gaza is a man-made disaster, a shocking scandal, an injustice that cries out to the human community for a resolution. We call upon political leaders to improve the humanitarian situation of the people in Gaza, assuring access to the basic necessities for a dignified human life, the possibilities for economic development, and freedom of movement.
In the seemingly hopeless situation of Gaza, we met people of hope. We were encouraged by our visit to tiny Christian communities, which day after day, through many institutions, reach out with compassion to the poorest of the poor, both Muslim and Christian. We continue to pray for and support the priests, religious and laypeople working in Gaza. They exercise a ministry of presence, care for disabled children and the elderly, and teach the young.
Their testimony of faith, hope and love gave us hope. This is precisely the hope needed at this moment to bring peace, a peace that can only be built on justice and equity for both peoples. Palestinians and Israelis desperately need this peace. For example, in the Cremisan valley the route of the security barrier threatens the agricultural land held for generations by 58 Christian families. The current peace talks come at a critical time. Now is the time to ensure that the aspirations for justice of both sides are fulfilled.
We urge public officials to become leaders of hope, not people of obstruction. We call upon them to listen to the words of Pope Francis, who recently said to the Diplomatic Corps: “The resumption of peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians is a positive sign, and I express my hope that both parties will resolve, with the support of the international community, to take courageous decisions aimed at finding a just and lasting solution to a conflict which urgently needs to end” (13 January, 2014).
As we leave the Holy Land, the bishops and people of the local Church remain in our hearts. They are not alone. Together with them we are people of hope. We pray that the visit of Pope Francis to the Holy Land will reinforce hope in the region. We believe a lasting peace is possible.
Archbishop Stephen Brislin, South Africa
Bishop Pierre Burcher, Scandinavia
Bishop William Crean, Ireland
Bishop Michel Dubost, France
Archbishop Paul-Andre Durocher, Canada
Archbishop Patrick Kelly, England and Wales
Bishop William Kenney, England and Wales
Bishop Declan Lang, England and Wales
Bishop Denis Nulty, Ireland
Bishop Richard Pates, United States of America
Bishop Thomas Renz, Germany
Bishop Janusz Stepnowski, Poland
Archbishop Joan Enric Vives, Spain”
“Like a mighty tortoise moves the church of God!” So the hymn goes (or at least a popular parody of the old hymn).
The ‘Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions’ movement (BDS) seems to be gaining real global traction.
- Gideon Levy has signed on!
- The Israeli McDonald’s franchise has boycotted the settlement of Ariel!
- The EU has made a historic decision to isolate the settlements altogether!
Meanwhile the Anglican Church in Canada has resolved to “educate themselves more deeply” about the Israel/Palestine crisis!
Against the backdrop of history the actions of the European church almost always seem incredibly insipid! Our sisters and brother in South Africa and in Latin America have often been at the forefront of social change, as were our African-American brethren in the US less than a generation ago. But when was the last time a European synod took a courageous stand for justice and peace?
I guess I should be thankful that this very moderate resolution put before the Canadian Anglican synod was actually passed. Certainly if one judges by the comments on The Anglican Journal website there are no shortage of church members who continue to equate opposition to state-sponsored violence in Israel with Antisemitism.
Perhaps that is what keeps us all so timid? Indeed the church does have a dreadful history of Antisemitism. Even so, God help us if our guilt about past sins intimidates us to the point where we remain silent in the face of institutionalised racism and abuse.
Anglicans pass hotly debated Palestine – Israel resolution
After a long and passionate debate, the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada meeting in Ottawa has passed a resolution on the issue of peace and justice in Palestine and Israel.
The resolution reiterates the established positions of the church, which “recognize the legitimate aspirations, rights and needs of both Israelis and Palestinians to live in peace with dignity within sovereign and secure borders; condemns the use of all kinds of violence, especially against civilians; calls for an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian Territories (West Bank and Gaza); and calls upon Israel, as an occupying power, to recognize the Fourth Geneva Convention, which forbids the transfer and settlement of its citizen in occupied territories. ”
However, it also calls on Canadian Anglicans to take some new steps, including educating themselves more deeply.
The resolution commits the church to act with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada and other ecumenical partners to:
- enable deeper church-wide awareness of and response to the call of the Kairos Palestine document: A Moment of Truth
- educate the church about the impact of illegal settlements on the lives of both Palestinians and Israelis; about imported products identified as produced in or related to the illegal settlements and misleadingly labelled as produced in Israel; about the complexities of economic advocacy measures
- explore and challenge theologies and beliefs, such as Christian Zionism, that support the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories
- explore and challenge theories and beliefs that deny the right of Israel to exist
- and strengthen relationships with Canadian Jews and Muslims, to resolutely oppose anti-Semitism, anti-Arab sentiments and Islamophobia.
Debate ranged among members, from some who said the resolution went too far and demonstrated left-wing or anti-Israel bias, to those who said it did not go far enough in addressing the oppression of Palestinians suffering under an apartheid system.
There was also a concern that this resolution followed in the footsteps of a United Church of Canada resolution that called for a boycott of goods produced in the occupied territories that are labelled as Israeli products. Bishop Michael Ingham of the diocese of New Westminster responded, saying this resolution “calls for nothing approaching that. It calls us to learn more about these products.”
The motion passed with the support of 73 per cent of the almost 300 members.
Another resolution was also passed that invites Anglicans to observe Jerusalem Sunday on the seventh Sunday after Easter. The day will be used to give special attention to the work of the Anglican church in the Holy Land and to take up a special offering as a gift to the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem.
It is horrible to see the ‘anti-Semetism card’ being played again in an attempt to silence theological discussion within the church. This is not to say that theological debate doesn’t sometimes mask blatant racism. Indeed Martin Luther was notorious for it. Even so, the debate going on in the Church of Scotland (as in so many churches around the world) is one that has to take place, as it strikes at the heart of the church’s commitment to both the Bible and to social justice!
It seems that the Zionist lobby has long been able to rely on church councils to add their blessing to the Palestinian occupation, but church bodies are systematically withdrawing their support, one by one, and it is evidently making some of the political power-players nervous.
The great danger is that if bodies claiming to represent the Jewish people continue to equate criticism of the state of Israel with an attack upon their race, this could lead to a resurgence of genuine anti-Semitism! That church needs to guard against this. In the meantime, these Jewish advocacy groups need to reconnect with the struggle for human rights for all people and not just territorial rights for the state of Israel!
Church of Scotland accepts controversial report on Israel/Palestine
by Ira Glunts and Adam Horowitz
Today the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland accepted the controversial Church and Society Council report on Israel/Palestine titled “The Inheritance of Abraham? A Report on the ‘Promised Land,'”which has been widely and angrily condemned by Jewish groups and the Israeli government as anti-Semitic and anti-Israel.
There was a lively debate about the theology and politics in the document, as well as about the friction the report caused between the Church of Scotland and the Jewish community. It became apparent that an overwhelming majority of the delegates favored the report when a counter-motion, which recommended rewriting the document for next year’s assembly, was almost unanimously defeated in a stand-up vote. A Church press release says:
The Church of Scotland’s General Assembly today, May 23, debated a revised version of its report, ‘The Inheritance of Abraham?’
Presenting the report Rev Sally Foster-Fulton, Convener of the Church and Society Council said: “This is primarily a report highlighting the continued occupation by the state of Israel and the injustices faced by the Palestinian people as a consequence. It is not a report criticising the Jewish people. Opposing the unjust policies of the state of Israel cannot be equated to anti-Semitism. “
The revised report was overwhelmingly accepted by the General Assembly., Mrs Foster-Fulton said: “The on-going conflict in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory has been an issue close to the heart of the Church of Scotland – we have a long relationship with the region and have many friends there.
“The Church has kept on thinking about ways we can contribute to a just and peaceful solution. The report we bring to this year’s Assembly has already caused no small amount of controversy. The Church and Society Council has learned a great deal from dialogue with Jewish community which followed the initial release of the report.
“We would like to thank members of the Jewish community who sat down with us and were gracious in their concern. We present a revised version today with a preface that sets the report more in context. While acknowledging that some of the original language, on reflection, was misguided, I want to affirm that the report remains robust. It offers new insights – ones that have come through the experience of those suffering the continuing injustices of occupation. I look forward to the debate and, I hope, to continuing discussion after today exploring the issues and ideas brought forward in the report.”
The recommendations for action are mild compared to the resolutions passed by the Presbyterian and Methodist conventions in the U.S. this year. There is no mention of even limited boycotts of settlement products. Neither is church divestment from companies like Caterpillar and Motorola an issue here, as it was at the church meetings in the U.S.
The controversy is mostly about the theological views expressed in the “Inheritance of Abraham” which justify the conclusion that God did not promise any land to the Jewish people. Specifically, what offended some Jews was the argument that the teachings of Jesus and the New Testament somehow supersede or invalidate the apparent bequest of the land of Israel to the Jewish people found in the Hebrew bible or Old Testament. The report concludes:
… that Christians should not be supporting any claims by [Editor’s note: “Jewish or” was here in the original version] any people to an exclusive or even privileged divine right to possess particular territory. We believe that is a misuse of the Hebrew Bible (the Christian Old Testament) and the New Testament to use it as a topographic guide to settle contemporary conflicts over land.
After a hastily convened meeting with representatives of British Jewish organizations, the church said it had recognized that “some language in the report caused controversy in some parts of the Jewish community,” but the views expressed were “consistent with views held by the Church of Scotland over many years.”
Still the church agreed to revise the document which it had suddenly removed from its website. The new version, which was accepted today, was less critical of the government of Israel and of certain aspects of the Jewish religion, but maintained the conclusion and most of the theological argumentation which was so vociferously objected to by Jewish critics.
The new report is unlikely to mollify those who railed against the original, but most critics have been suddenly silent, choosing not to respond publicly to the revisions. However, Ben Cohen, a Jewish-American, writing in the Israeli daily, Ha’aretz, (paywall, 10 free articles with registration) made it clear that he is still offended:
Influenced by Sabeel’s theology, the Church of Scotland elevates the situation of the Palestinians, reinvented as Jesus’s own people, far above the grotesque plight of Christians elsewhere in the region. It’s a stance that is bound to ensure that the Church’s Jewish interlocutors remain fearful of its true intentions. The bluntly anti-Semitic phrasing of the original report may have been removed, but the delegitimization of Judaism – not simply political Zionism – remains very much intact.
Cohen also slams Mondoweiss:
Just as the original version relied heavily on the work of marginal Jewish anti-Zionist figures in staking its moral and theological orientation, so does the new one. Within the Jewish community, the anti-Zionist website Mondoweiss is regarded with a mixture of derision and contempt; nonetheless, the Church of Scotland want [sic] to persuade us that it’s an authoritative source on both the political and religious aspects of Judaism. Readers will search in vain for a quote from a mainstream Jewish thinker, whether that’s the Rambam, Rashi, or U.K. Chief Rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks
The reference to this site relates to the fact that the current version of the “Inheritance of Abraham” includes a long quote from a 2012 post written by Marc Ellis, which is part of his ongoing “Exile and the Prophetic” series. (see p.8 of revised report and original post.)
The Ellis addition appears to substitute for the ideas of the Jewish writer and activist Mark Braverman, whose thoughts have been largely excised from the current version of the church document. The deleted excerpts of Braverman’s ideas include a critique of Jewish “exclusivism” and “exceptionalism,” in addition to an admonition to Jews to “repent for the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians between 1947 and 1949.” Also, the necessity of Christians to acknowledge “wrongs done to the Jewish people” does not appear in the present document. (See pps. 6,7 in original)
Ira Glunts is a retired college librarian who lives in Madison, NY.
Hopes are running high world-wide that the new Pope will bring sweeping changes both within the church and to the church’s relationship with other religious and political bodies. At such a critical juncture for the future of Palestine, the leaders of both Fatah and Hamas in Palestine will be keen to establish a positive relationship with the new Pontiff.
Francis’ predecessor, Benedict XVI, was somewhat of a failure when it came to Palestinian rights. While the Vatican was always supportive of Palestinian statehood, Pope Benedict made an unfortunate statement in 2006 about the history of Islamic violence that put a lot of Muslims offside. Moreover, being German and growing up in the Nazi era, Benedict was constantly on the back foot with regards to Israel.
Hopefully the new Pope will bring in a new era, but we must not count our chickens before they hatch. It is worth remembering that it is not the Pope but the Curia who control the church, and the Curia has not changed (not yet, at any rate).
The New Pope and Palestine
By: Daoud Kuttab for Al-Monitor Palestine Pulse
What concerns people the most is the political direction that the leader of the world’s more than 1 billion Catholics will take on issues such as women’s rights, relations with other faiths and foreign policy.Electing the leader of the world’s Catholic faithful is always an unpredictable affair. The choice of Argentina’s cardinal, now Pope Francis, has lived up to the mystery.
Palestinians and peoples of the Middle East have been searching hard in the new pontiff’s history to try and figure out where he will stand on the issues that are of concern to them.
Two issues were prominently talked about in this regard. The Jesuit background of the new pope was quickly picked up as a sign that the new leader of the Catholic Church will pay attention to socio-economic issues and not just theological ones.
In the Middle East, Jesuits are known to have established schools of higher education and other projects supporting the poor. His coming from a non-European country (apparently the first time in a millennium) also ensures, many believe, a more internationalization of the Vatican.
The Palestinian leader who congratulated the new Pope was naturally quick to invite the Holy Father to visit the birthplace of Christianity. The congratulatory cable to the Vatican included an invitation to the pontiff to visit Bethlehem. Pope Benedict, as well as Pope John Paul, had visited the Holy Land, including an important visit to the Palestinian city of Bethlehem.
The Vatican has generally been supportive of Palestinian rights and the need to end the occupation of Palestine. But equally the leaders of the Catholic Church have placed tremendous efforts to improve relations with Israel and also with world Jewry.
A recent agreement between the Vatican and Israel was signed that resolved a number of issues regarding Catholic holy sites in Jerusalem and the status of priests in Jerusalem and the area. Some felt that Vatican gave too much to the Israelis, especially allowing them control over the Last Supper room.
The compromise in which the Vatican will retain a symbolic seat on the table was seen as too much of a compromise to an occupying power that took sovereignty by military control.
The Vatican’s auxiliary bishop in Jerusalem, William Shomali, a Palestinian, told the National — an English language newspaper based in Abu Dhabi — that he hoped the new leader would continue with the church’s policy of addressing the difficulties facing Christians in the region, especially in countries such as Iraq, where many have been forced to flee because of sectarian fighting.
Bishop Shomali also expressed optimism that Pope Francis’ Argentine nationality could help breathe new life into the Israel-Palestinian peace process because, he said, Argentina “was a friend of the people of the holy land.”
But perhaps the most important issue of interest in the region is the possibility and potential of Catholic/Christian relations with Muslims. Pope Benedict caused a rift in relations with a statement in 2006 in which he quoted an anti-Muslim thinker’s statement on Islam.
The head of Islam’s leading higher educational institute, Al-Azhar, was quick to welcome the new Pope Francis and has called for change. “We are hoping for better relations with the Vatican after the election of the new pope,” said Mahmud Azab, an adviser to Ahmed al-Tayyeb, grand imam of Al-Azhar.
Arab Christians, while dwindling in numbers, are still an important influential group on Arab nationalism and intellectualism. Christians in areas such as Lebanon, Iraq and Palestine will be looking closely as to what the Catholic Church under Pope Francis will say and do in order to stem the migration epidemic and to encourage remaining Christians to stay in their countries.
Palestinian Christian leaders have been insisting that the emigration problem is turning holy sites and churches into dead rather than living stones. The need to encourage and empower this dwindling group is much bigger than their percentages in society.
Daoud Kuttab is a contributing writer for Al-Monitor‘s Palestine Pulse. A Palestinian journalist and media activist, he is a former Ferris Professor of journalism at Princeton University and is currently the director general of Community Media Network, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to advancing independent media in the Arab region. Active in media-freedom efforts in the Middle East, Kuttab is a columnist for The Jordan Times, The Jerusalem Post and The Daily Star in Lebanon, and has co-produced a number of award-winning documentaries and children’s television programs.
Read more: www.al-monitor.com…