This one just in from the Electronic Intifada. While the church gets so much bad press, it is great to be reminded of the quiet and courageous service of people like Sister Anne.
Who would have thought that the Vatican would smack the knuckles and challenge the hearts of the nuns who have served God and the church in the United States, making the lives of the comfortable more compassionate, making the lives of the poor and oppressed more livable?
After spending three years performing a doctrinal assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious(LCWR), the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (a modern-day version of the Inquisition) has determined that Archbishop Peter Sartain will oversee the reformation of the programs and
affiliations of America’s main organization of nuns, insisting that they conform more closely to the teachings and discipline of the Catholic church. Enough social justice work for these excellent women. Time to drill the people on church doctrine.
Challenging their hearts
This is not surprising to those of us who follow the follies of the thin-lipped Pontiff and his college of cardinals. Of course, they want to put the women back where they belong. Could they have forgotten that their loyalty belongs to the church rather than interpreting the Beatitudes and living by Jesus’s words “whatever you do for my brothers and sisters, even the least of them, you do for me.” (Matthew, 25:40 translation mine). And that is the way these women understand the Gospel, God’s preferential option for the poor. Most sisters spend their lives immersed in the deepest sufferings of our world. They don’t just stop by the soup kitchen on Ash Wednesday for a photo op. Some actually live in shelters with homeless women, orphans or the addicted.
“Their unwillingness to condemn gays and lesbians probably stems from the work they did with AIDS patients in the early 1980s. Back then, the disease affected mostly gay men, and no one was sure how it was contracted. Women religious were among one of the few groups who were unafraid to touch those dying from this unknown, frightening disease. Is there any doubt that, as the sisters bathed and fed these deteriorating bodies, they also noticed the deep and authentic love that these men shared with partners and friends? The sisters also saw anguish suffered by men whose parents would not visit them and the sacramental power of those who reconciled with family before they died. Any disagreements on contraception likely stem from the sisters’ work with poor, homeless and battered women. They harbor girls enslaved in the sex trade, women trapped in abusive relationships and mothers abandoned to poverty. Many sisters still run hospitals and are medical professionals. They have seen firsthand the price that so many women pay for husbands and boyfriends who refuse to wear condoms yet still demand sex. Every day, they see patients who have been date raped or women who bear life-threatening pregnancies.” (National Catholic Reporter, 23 April 2012)
Nuns on the bus
Using a bus as a metaphor is not unknown to activist nuns. In the Sixties they rode the buses during the US civil rights movement. In the Eighties, quietly, without fanfare, they served those afflicted with AIDS. They ran soup kitchens and clothed the poor way before it became chic to drop in on the hungry. And for 15 days the nuns, a dozen or so at a time, are at this moment driving a bus through nine midwestern states to educate people about the devastation ahead if the Republican budget, fashioned by Paul Ryan in the House of Representatives, becomes law. Visiting both the offices of Ryan and Senator John Boehner of Ohio, the sisters will offer an alternative to the Ryan budget. Ready for a teachable moment, a dialogue with the Congress people and members of the press that they meet along the way, the nuns explained matter of factly, “We’ve got to have a better understanding of the impact that it [the Ryan bill] has in terms of Head Start, food stamps, and to people who are on any kind of assistance.” Certainly, they are not riding the bus to teach the Magisterium in Rome. Rather, they are fulfilling their vocation to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the prisoners, as they have done for a lifetime. One suspects that Rome gets daily reports of the bus trip. Possibly the guttsiest of these nuns is Sister Simone Campbell, the executive director of Network, the Catholic social justice lobby, in Washington. Yes, even nuns lobby in these days of trying to grab a moment of attention from the people’s representatives of our democratic government. Sister Simone is also a bit of a provocateur “Catholic sisters have always been out on the edge,” she said with a pleasant smile.. “And quite frankly we have a long history of kind of annoying the central authority.” Thank God for Sister Simone and her merry pranksters.
A nun in prison
In the mid-Eighties I met Sister Anne Montgomery at The Catholic Worker in New York City. Anne was already a stalwart member of the Catholic peace movement, having been a member of the Plowshares Eight, a nonviolent direct action that laid the groundwork for and energized Catholic activists, who confront oppression in all its forms, particularly the shananigans of the US military-industrial complex. Back from serving time for a second Plowshares action, Anne was spending time in New York, speaking about the villainy of war. The day I met her, Anne was washing lunch dishes and talking to a homeless woman who ate her meals at The Catholic Worker. “I’m a sister too,” she told Anne. “We’re all sisters,” Anne replied. Less than five feet tall, her body sturdy as a flower stem, Anne rarely seemed surprised by anyone.
Anne is one of those teachers who spins one around without a whisper of reprimand. When I complained about the dreariness of mopping the kitchen floor three times a day, she reminded me of the value of communitiy. “Whatever issue you work on is connected to all other issues.” Mopping the floor is bringing peace to the world? “Remember what Dorothy Day taught us. We need to live in community for this work of justice and peace. We want the world to become a community, so we try to do that ourselves. We want to form a community conscience that can take a stand on these critical issues.” When I got that shamed expression that Anne must have seen many times on many faces, she squeezed my shoulder. “We all need other people to help us.”
Nuns in the tombs
A few weeks later in New York at the office of a New York senator, a group from a peace community in New York performed a simple action on the Feast of the Assumption, praying the rosary for the US to end its constant intervention in other nations’ sovereignty. A number of us risked arrest and ended up in the Tombs. Most of our companions in the large holding cell were hookers. “Let me get this straight,” one woman looked at us wide-eyed. A nun who was the principal of a Catholic grade school and a first-time activist, began to cry. One of the hookers put her arm around the woman, who was well dressed in a summer-weight navy suit and silk scarf. “My pimp can get you out,” she offered. “No, I don’t mind being here. It’s just, well, how can I lead the Pledge of Allegiance again?” Nobody had an answer. “The liberty and justice for all part. It’s a lie.” She prayed throughout the night, her lips moving silently, while some of us sang folks songs. Our new friends talked and joined in the singing, and the night passed slowly. Twenty-four women with one toilet in the middle of the cell does not create a silent night.
Nuns behind the apartheid wall
In the mid-Nineties, after another sojourn in a federal prison, Anne joined the Christian Peacemakers Team and went to live in their community in al-Khalil in the West Bank. A tiny apartment with foam-rubber mattresses on the floor and a computer on the table, the place was shared by the eight team members and whatever friends might drop in for a few days. The top-floor apartment is located in H2, the part of Hebron that is under Israeli military control, and where the settlers are multiplying monthly. Less than a week before 11 September 2001, a note written in the CPT diary, described a situation, when Anne and another CPT member, Kathy Kern, were attacked near the small settlement of Avraham Avinu. I offer the entry because it is devoid of melodrama and self-pity.
“A group of 10-12 settler boys, ranging in ages approximately from 7 to 12
years old then ran at the two women, shouting “F– you” and as well
phrases in Hebrew. As they began picking up small stones and throwing
them at the women, the two CPTers asked the soldiers to call the
police. The soldiers just laughed and made ineffectual attempts to stop
the boys from throwing stones, water, and sand at the women. One of the
boys came around the back of the concrete blocks where the women had sought
protection and began hitting Kern with a rod made of some light metal.” (Private correspondence from CPT.)
Anne stayed and witnessed until some young settler hoodlums threw a large rock at her. The stunning blow wrecked her shoulder. She was evacuated back to the States, and the Palestinians in Hebron still talk about her courage. I am glad that she was not there to see Shuhada Street shops closed up, their doors bolted closed by the Israeli soldiers. I am glad that she did not witness the water tower on the roof of the CPT building filled with human excrement by the settlers. I am glad that we have some of her diary entries from her time there.
“I returned to Hebron on 2 September prepared for a worsening situation – for confusion rather than clarity, problems rather than solutions. I was not prepared to follow so immediately a path of tears and blood through the streets in the evening, walk frightened children to school in the morning and climb over rooftops with the grieving relatives of two Palestinians, both shot in the head, one man while attempting to carry the younger boy for help. As so often happens, with roof and street vulnerable to both settler and army guns, exact facts are elusive, but not the pain of children breaking into tears in the street or of a grandmother gesturing her grief over a boy she had helped raise from infancy.
“As always happens, even under curfew, the pain and confusion spread from house to house and also among the soldiers (two had previously suffered wounds, one’s leg badly shattered by a pipe bomb.) The following morning, unsure of new orders, the soldiers at first prevented some children from going to school. Other children dashed past the soldiers in frightened little groups while we watched to prevent harassment. As the children finally rushed into the school the principal called out a warning, not about what they might carry in, but about what they might find “planted” there – not to touch.”
By the time I visited the CPT team in Hebron in 2004, unbeknown to me, Anne was planning another action that would send her to prison for a final Plowshares action, her eighth major nonviolent direct action. I was going to stay for a week, getting the feel for the work and getting to know the community. My tasks were simple. In the morning, holding tight to the small warm hands of trusting Palestinian children, the team would walk the children to their school. With our cellphones at the ready in case we needed a “police escort,” we walked past the jeering settlers of Kiryat Arba. Of course, some days the schools were closed, or there was full curfew set by the Israeli military. While I was there the grazing field for the sheep had been seeded with poison by the folks at Kiryat Arba, those followers of God’s commandment to do unto to others. In the company of angels and the members of the CPT, I spent a couple of very hot afternoons crawling across the field looking for tiny white clumps of poison, hoping to find them before the sheep did. I was relieved to catch a servise back to East Jerusalem where all I had to face were looney haredi who like to spit at women in jeans, a teeshirt, and a Crucifix around the neck.
Nuns without visas
I dare not be too specific in talking about the nuns and priests who remain in the Occupied West Bank without visas. The Israelis have refused to renew their visas, some of them after serving in the Holy Land for 30 years.
Submitted by Alice Bach on Mon, 06/25/2012 – 05:00
Jim Wall’s essay this week is a doozie, a veritable doozie indeed. Be sure and read the reader comments, also. You may find yourself leaving a comment of your own.
In this week’s essay, Jim alludes to his conviction that Iran is not our enemy. He reminds us about the upcoming national conferences of the Presbyterian and Methodist Churches who plan to make concrete proposals for Holy Land peace within months. Jim, an ordained Methodist clergyman, closes his essay with a letter written by John Wesley, an Anglican Priest, to a man named William Wilberforce which is a letter that could have been written to each and every one of us. “If God be for you, who can stand against you?” John and his brother, Charles, were among the original founders of the Methodist Movement in Great Britain. They were known for the “methodical” ways they organized their lives. They made promises, etc.
I, also, like to quote John Wesley (b 1703 d 1791). He was a highly educated man who spent much of his time with disadvantaged people. And he thereby developed an unusually comprehensive world view. I enjoy telling the story of how Wesley attended a prayer meeting one evening in a very poor district of London and “felt his heart strangely warmed”. He began to regard the whole world as his parish. On one occasion he was asked by an Anglican Bishop: “Why will you not be content with a reasonable piety?” Wesley made several missionary trips to the American colonies, and visited Georgia every chance he got. Jim Wall was born in Georgia (Monroe), as some of you know, and so was I (Swainsboro). Wesley remained an Anglican Priest throughout his lifetime. Methodists got themselves organized, and, unfortunately, there eventually was a schism. It’s a sad, sad chapter in Anglican Church History that our noble institutions, with our treasured traditions, were unable to accommodate all the energy (spirit) that was generated by the Methodist Movement. Not to worry. We Anglicans have learned a lot over the years, and our best days are ahead of us. Our General Convention will be meeting again soon. We can contact Jim at his website: Wallwritings.
John Wesley –a spiritual father of the BDS campaign?
“Throw Their Dirty, Filthy Ships Out of the Water!”
by James M. Wall
In the 2006 movie, Amazing Grace, John Newton shouts these words at William Wilberforce, a member of Parliament who was the leader of a 19th century fight to force the British government to bar British ships and ports from participating in the slave trade.
The “dirty, filthy ships” to which Newton refers are slave ships which sailed from England to Africa and then to the New World.
Newton (Albert Finney) delivers his demand to his younger friend Wilberforce (Ioan Gruffudd) at a time when the younger man was faltering in his struggle against pro-slavery members of Parliament
This conflict is captured in precise and dramatic detail in the film, as Wilberforce and his allies in the Parliament, and from anti-slavery groups, visit slave ships and meet with former slaves.
John Newton had been the owner and captain of one of those ships. Following a major storm in the Atlantic that almost sank his ship, Newton repented of what he knew was a great sin, the mistreatment of fellow human beings.
Newton returned to England to become what he later termed, “an old preacher”. He also wrote hymns, the most famous of which was Amazing Grace, which contains the line, “I once was lost but now I am found, was blind, but now I see”.
Newton had known Wilberforce for many years, constantly encouraging him to continue his long abolitionist struggle, first to bar all slave ships from English ports and then to eliminate slavery throughout the United Kingdom.
At the time pro-slavery members of Parliament argued that the slave shipping trade brought economic benefit to England. Some even maintained that slaves were content with their lot; others argued slaves were sub-human.
Amazing Grace, directed by Michael Apted, traces the friendship of Wilberforce and Newton. It also examines Wilberforce’s growth as a political leader, and not so incidentally, as a friend of William Pitt, his friend who became Prime Minister at the age of 24.
Pitt was a cautious politician. He was also a supporter of Wilberforce’s idealism. Another important historical figure who is not portrayed in the film, is John Wesley
When I revisited the film this week, less than a week before the United Methodist Conference opens, I was struck by a historical parallel, and most especially, I was moved by Newton’s violent outburst to Wilberforce.
I found myself thinking, we are well past time to “throw this dirty, filthy Occupation out of United Methodist waters”.
Of course, historical parallels are never exact. But it is not unusual for us to see moments from the past resonating with moments of the present.
The current Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is never reluctant to link the Holocaust as a moment in time which constantly threatens to reappear whenever a political action fails to go to his liking.
The matter of Iran’s alleged development of nuclear arms, is a case in point.
I find sufficient evil in Israel’s Occupation to justify a connection between Britain’s 19th century approval of slavery, on economic grounds, and the American support of an Israeli Occupation which continues to imprison the Palestinian population.
On Tuesday of this upcoming week, April 24, the United Methodist Church (UMC) begins its ten-day Quadrennial General Conference (GC) in Tampa, Florida.
High on the legislative agenda of GC is a resolution, Aligning United Methodist Investments with Resolutions on Israel/Palestine.
Contrary to the many deliberately misleading descriptions of this resolution, it is designed to do exactly what it says in its title, “align its church investments with previous resolutions on Israel/Palestine”.
The divestment resolution does not call for a boycott of the state of Israel. It is narrowly focused, an internal church document which mandates that the church’s financial managers (the General Board of Pensions) divest all church fund investments in three American companies that directly support Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian West Bank.
The three companies are Caterpillar, Hewlett Packard and Motorola, a specificity that emerges from more than eight years of study, dialogue with these companies and considerable debate in local “annual conferences”, many of which sent their own versions of the divestment resolution to the GC.
The process is quite methodical, appropriately enough, for a denomination that mirrors the practices of the 18th century Methodist societies which were derisively labeled “methodists” by the Anglican hierarchy, which branded “methodists” as outliers to the established Church of England.
It was this Church that, among other things, banned John Wesley from pulpits of the Church of England, the body in which John and his brother Charles Wesley (author of many hymns) were ordained.
This led the Wesleys to take to fields and tree stumps to proclaim a fresh, new message of salvation and methodical practices that emphasized discipline, personal spiritual growth and social action against sin.
The Wesley brothers instructed their followers to see the Christian faith as an instruction manual for social justice, including Wesley’s strong opposition to the immoral practice of slavery.
Wesley despised slavery. He also knew the work of Wilbur Wilberforce and had followed his career as a politician fighting an uphill battle against the evils of slavery.
The last letter that John Wesley wrote before his death in 1791, was to William Wilberforce, who earlier had been converted under Wesley’s ministry.
Wesley wrote to Wilberforce on February 24, 1791, eight days before Wesley’s death on March 2, 1791. The letter encourages Wilberforce to continue his fight against slavery.
The letter begins with a Latin phrase, Athanasius contra mundum, which translates as “Athanasius against the world”.
Wesley was a theologian to the end. Even in his final letter, he could not resist recalling one of his favorite themes.
Athanasius of Alexandria (c. 296-373 AD) was a early church father who was a vigorous opponent of Arianism (an early Church heresy that taught that Jesus was a subservient and created being).
Here, in its entirety, is Wesley’s final written words, addressed to William Wilberforce:
Unless the divine power has raised you us [sic] to be as Athanasius contra mundum, [emphasis added] I see not how you can go through your glorious enterprise in opposing that execrable villainy which is the scandal of religion, of England, and of human nature.
Unless God has raised you up for this very thing, you will be worn out by the opposition of men and devils. But if God be fore you, who can be against you? Are all of them together stronger than God? O be not weary of well doing! Go on, in the name of God and in the power of his might, till even American slavery (the vilest that ever saw the sun) shall vanish away before it.
Reading this morning a tract wrote [sic] by a poor African, I was particularly struck by that circumstance that a man who has a black skin, being wronged or outraged by a white man, can have no redress; it being a “law” in our colonies that the oath of a black against a white goes for nothing. What villainy is this?
That he who has guided you from youth up may continue to strengthen you in this and all things, is the prayer of, dear sir,
Your affectionate servant,
I propose no firm historical linkage between slavery and Occupation, but I do propose a linkage between the demand for action called for by John Newton against slavery, and the passage of a divestment resolution by United Methodist General Conference delegates as a 21st century demand for the UMC to halt its financial support of Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian people.
It is well past time to “throw this dirty, filthy Occupation out of United Methodist waters”.
Gunter Grass, by Marcus Brandt in the Guardian
The following poem by Nobel Prize-winning author, Gunter Grass, is causing a lot of controversy. The poem says that a nuclear-armed Israel is a threat to world peace.” Tom Segev has said that Grass is “pathetic” and is guilty about his Nazi past.
What Has to be Said
Why I am silent, silent for too much time,
how much is clear and we made it
in war games, where, as survivors,
we are just the footnotes
That is the claimed right to the formal preventive aggression
which could erase the Iranian people
dominated by a bouncer and moved to an organized jubilation,
because in the area of his competence there is
the construction of the atomic bomb
And then why do I avoid myself
to call the other country with its name,
where since years – even if secretly covered –
there is an increasing nuclear power,
without control, because unreachable
by every inspection?
I feel the everybody silence on this state of affairs,
which my silence is slave to,
as an oppressive lie and an inhibition that presents punishment
we don’t pay attention to;
the verdict “anti-Semitism” is common
Now, since my country,
from time to time touched by unique and exclusive crimes,
obliged to justify itself,
again for pure business aims – even if
with fast tongue we call it “reparation” –
should deliver another submarine to Israel,
with the specialty of addressing
annihilating warheads where the
existence of one atomic bomb is not proved
but it wants evidence as a scarecrow,
I say what must be said
Why did I stay silent until now?
Because the thought about my origin,
burdened by an unclearing stain,
had avoiding to wait this fact
like a truth declared by the State of Israel
that I want to be connected to
Why did I say it only now,
old and with the last ink:
the nuclear power of Israel
threat the world peace?
Because it must be said
what tomorrow will be too late;
Because – as Germans and with
enough faults on the back –
we might also become deliverers of a predictable
crime, and no excuse would erase our complicity
And I admit: I won’t be silent
because I had enough of the Western hypocrisy;
Because I wish that many will want
to get rid of the silence,
exhorting the cause of a recognizable
risk to the abdication, asking that a free and permanent control
of the Israel atomic power
and the Iran nuclear bases
will be made by both the governments
with an international supervision
Only in this way, Israelis, Palestinians, and everybody,
all people living hostile face to face in that
country occupied by the craziness,
will have a way out,
so us too
Translator’s note: The translation is not perfect, but no poem can be translated to its perfection from any language into another.
Father Roy writes: You will recall that in a recent post I referred to Uri Avnery as a “contemporary” Prophet. Apparently I’m not the only person who regards Uri as a Prophet. See the essay pasted below. There are others, of course. The names of Jeff Halpler, Ilan Pappe and Miko Peled spring to mind. A contemporary Jewish Prophet in the USA is Mark Braverman (06:57). Implicit in Mark’s teachings is a call for the International Jewish Community to take the responsibility for preventing an Israeli strike on Iran which would certainly cause another world war.
February 1, 2012
On Monday, I was honored to receive the Leibowitz Prize for “life’s work”, the prize established by the Yesh Gvul soldiers’ peace organization. I was unable to prepare a speech, so I spoke off the cuff and have to reconstruct my remarks from memory. (The laudation speech by the Nobel Prize laureate, Prof Ada Yonat, was far too laudatory for me to distribute.)
First, I wish to thank Yesh Gvul for establishing this prize. Then I would like to thank the distinguished jury, who were so gracious as to award the prize to me and to Hagit Ofran, the granddaughter of Prof. Leibowitz, whose work in monitoring the settlements I have admired for years. And then I want to thank all of you for coming to this ceremony.
Yet at this moment I think of the one who is not here, and whose absence is so unjust: my wife, Rachel. She was a full partner in all I did during the last 58 years, and should have been awarded half the prize – at the very least. She would have been delighted to be here.
When I entered this building, I was greeted by a stormy right-wing demonstration. I was grievously offended to be told that it was not directed against me, but against my friend Muhammad Bakri, the Arab actor who so angered the fascists with his film “Jenin, Jenin”. At this moment he is playing in Frederico Garcia Lorca’s “The House of Bernarda Alba” next door. Probably he deserves this demonstration, but nevertheless I still feel deeply insulted.
I ADMIRED and loved Yeshayahu Leibowitz.
I admired him for his penetrating logic. Whenever he applied it to any problem, it was a beauty to behold. Nothing could withstand it. Often, listening to his words, I asked myself enviously: “Now, why didn’t I think of that?”
I loved him, because of his unshakably moral attitude. For him, the moral obligation of the individual human being was above everything else.
Immediately after the 1967 war and the beginning of the occupation, he prophesied that we would become a nation of work gang supervisors and secret service agents.
Indeed, I always thought of him as Yeshayahu II, the heir of the Biblical Yeshayahu. (Yeshayahu is the Hebrew form of Isaiah.) When I told him this, he got angry. “People don’t understand the meaning of the word,” he complained, “In European languages, a prophet is a person who can foretell the future. But the Hebrew prophets were people who transmitted the Word of God!” Leibowitz, though orthodox and a kippah wearer, did not think of himself in that way.
Like all great men and women, he was a person with deep contradictions. I struggled to understand how a thinker of total rationality could be religious. He explained to me that a person who strictly fulfils all the 613 commandments of the Jewish religion can be completely rational – because religion exists on an altogether different level. As a professor of several wildly divergent disciplines (philosophy, chemistry, biochemistry, medicine), he did not let science and religion encroach on one another.
Once, when somebody told him that the Holocaust had stopped him believing in God, he replied: “then you did not believe in God in the first place.”
STANDING HERE in this hall, I feel some remorse for my part in the utterly absurd fact that he failed to receive the Israel Prize, the highest distinction the establishment can award. It happened in 1993, when Yitzhak Rabin was prime minister. Fresh winds were blowing (or so it seemed) and the official Jury decided – at long last – to award Leibowitz the respected prize.
As it so happened, I was organizing at the time a public meeting of the Israeli Council for Israeli-Palestinian Peace. I called Leibowitz and asked him if he would come and speak.
I must add here that I was always keen to have him at our meetings, for two reasons. First, he was a captivating speaker. Second, when Leibowitz was due to appear, the hall – however big it might be – was always filled to the last seat, the stairs and the windowsills. (However, I always arranged things in such a way that I would speak after him. For good reason: when he rose, he would cut all the speeches of his predecessors to pieces. Using his formidable powers of analysis, he proved that everything they had said was absolute nonsense.)
When I asked him this time, he readily agreed to speak, under one condition: he would speak only about one subject, the duty of soldiers to refuse to serve in the occupied territories.
“Please speak about anything you want,” I replied, “After all, this is a free country – up to a point.”
So he came and delivered a speech in which he compared our soldiers to Hamas, who were then (as today) considered the most atrocious terrorists. This led to a terrific public outcry, Rabin threatened to boycott the ceremony, the jury considered whether it was possible to revoke the award, and Leibowitz announced that he would not accept it. So he never was awarded the Israel Prize, in common with some other people I know.
I ALWAYS enjoyed talking with him. He lived in a modest apartment, crammed with books, entered from a courtyard behind a house in Jerusalem’s Rehavia quarter. Greta, his wife and the mother of his six children, whom he had met at one of the German universities he had attended, kept order. Rachel and I liked her unassuming ways very much.
Whenever he talked, about any subjects, the little wheels in my brain sprang to life. He would drop little morsels of insight all along the way. (Just as an example: “The Germans and the Jews created all their cultural assets when they did not have a state.”)
The relationship between us rested on the fact that we were opposites in many ways. I am as convinced an atheist as he was orthodox – a fact that never disturbed him in the least. I am an optimist by nature (as was my father and my grandfather), he was more of a pessimist. He was 20 years my elder and a multiple doctor and professor, while I never finished elementary school. He came to Germany from his native Riga in his teens, while I was born there.
When, on the morrow of the Six-day War, we both spoke in favor of giving up the occupied territories, we had different reasons. He predicted that the occupation would turn Israel into a fascist state, I was convince that turning the territories over to the Palestinian people and enabling them to set up their own state would put an end to the historic conflict.
COMING FROM opposite directions, we both shared the uncompromising demand for the separation between religion and state. This led me to a parliamentary prank. When the Ministry for Religious Affairs was on the agenda, I asked Leibowitz for some comments on the subject. He dictated a statement to my assistant, and when my turn came to speak, I announced that instead of voicing my own views, which were well known, I would read out the opinion of an orthodox thinker, Prof. Leibowitz.
I then read his words: “Under this clerical-atheist government, Israel is a secular state publicly known as religious (in Israel, “publicly known” is a term denoting living together without marriage.) …The Chief Rabbinate is a secular institution appointed by the secular authorities according to secular laws. Therefore it has no religious legitimacy. ..The Ministry of Religious Affairs is an abomination…It turns religion into the kept concubine of the secular authority. It is the prostitution of religion…”
Here the Knesset exploded. The chairwoman of the session was so agitated that she announced that she was striking the words from the protocol. I later appealed, and the words were restored to the record – enabling me to read them just now from the official protocol.
As a speaker, Leibowitz was deliberately provocative. It was he who coined the term Judeonazi, at a time when comparing anything to the Nazis was strictly taboo. He likened certain units of the Israeli army to the Nazi SS, and youth in the settlements reminded him of the Hitler Youth. He called the holiest of holies, the Western Wall, “a religious discotheque”, or, in short, “discotel” (“kotel” means wall in Hebrew.) He used such provocative language to help him break through the crust of established myths.
THE LAST years before his death in 1994 he devoted all his efforts to encouraging soldiers to refuse to serve. We had several debates about this, since I was not quite convinced.
During my army service, I was witness to situations where one upright soldier at the right moment and the right place could prevent atrocities. One shining example: when Nazareth was occupied in 1948, the commanding officer was a Canadian Jew named Ben Dunkelman. He received an oral order from David Ben-Gurion to drive out all the inhabitants. Dunkelman refused to do so without a written order. As an officer and a gentleman, he had promised the mayor at the capitulation meeting that no inhabitant would come to harm. He was immediately relieved of his command, but by the time his successor took over, it was too late to present things as occurring in the heat of battle. No written order was ever issued, of course.
Years later, I obtained a description of the episode from Dunkelman, who had returned to Canada, and Haolam Hazeh published it.
Against this argument, Leibowitz maintained that the most important thing was for individual soldiers to stand up and refuse to take any part in the occupation, whatever the consequences for them personally – imprisonment, ostracism, and worse. When enough soldiers did so, he believed, the occupation would collapse. (Yesh Gvul was founded with this aim.)
A FEW years before his death I had the honor of appearing side by side with him in a book of interviews by the German writer-photographer Herlinde Koelbl. There he defined his political outlook in the shortest and simplest way. I translate from German:
“There exist only two possibilities. The one is war for life and death, in the full sense of the term, in the course of which Israel will become a fascist state. The other possibility, the one that can help to prevent this war, is the partition of the country. Both peoples would have their independence and their states, but not in the entire country.
“I believe that partition will come, if not by an agreement between the state of Israel and the PLO, then through an imposed order. Imposed by the Americans and the Soviets.
“If neither of these happens, then we are heading toward a catastrophe.
“I repeat: there is no third possibility.
“Since the Six-day War, Israel has become a power apparatus, a Jewish power apparatus for ruling over another people.
“That’s why I say in the clearest terms: this glorious victory was the historic misfortune of the State of Israel. In the year of the “Spring of the Peoples”, 1848, [the Austrian dramatist] Franz Grillparzer warned of the path that leads from humanity, through nationality to bestiality. In the 20th century, the German people indeed followed this path to the end. We entered upon this path after the Six-day War. Our essential task is to put an end to this.”
I AM happy to receive this prize together with his granddaughter. It reminds me of another passage in the same interview. “For the short time left to me, I shall stay here. Here in Jerusalem are my children and my grandchildren, and all of them will also remain here.”
That is real patriotism. Dr. Johnson famously labeled patriotism the last refuge of the scoundrel. We see the patriotic scoundrels all around us. But we are the real patriots – patriots like Yeshayahu Leibowitz.
There will not be a second Yeshayahu Leibowitz. “He was a man, take him for all in all, I shall not look upon his like again.”
Read more from Uri at www.gush-shalom.org…