Churches standing up to 'pro-Israel' politicians
September 03, 2010
The Australian Jewish News (AJN) was outraged. Its editorial in late July condemned the National Council of Churches in Australia (NCCA) for a resolution calling on Australians to boycott Israeli goods made in the occupied Palestinian territories.
The AJN wrote that the move contributed to a global campaign to 'delegitimise' Israel and lent 'credence to the perception of an apartheid state.'
Executive Council of Australian Jewry president Robert Goot, in a letter to the National Council of Churches’ general secretary, alluded to the Churches' alleged complicity in the Holocaust. The motion 'revived painful memories for Jews in Australia of earlier times in Europe when churches allowed themselves to be swept up in the tide of popular prejudices against the Jewish people.' Any moves to end West Bank settlements, illegal under international law, were framed as unbalanced and biased against Israel and Jews.
Relations between the Jewish and Christian establishment remain strained despite meetings with representatives to calm the atmosphere.
The Zionist establishment was equally offended by the resolution calling for an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land and cessation of terrorist acts on all sides.
The NCCA’s move is in fact remarkably level-headed and fits comfortably with a growing global movement to increase civil pressure on Israel to reverse its colonisation program.
The boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign is a loosely-connected collection of church groups, activists, Jews, Christians and Muslims determined to act where political leaders have failed. There is no united vision, no definite prescription to solve the conflict and no hierarchy or leadership. Its overall goal is to bring justice for the Palestinians who have been living under occupation for decades.
Susanne Hoder, a member of a 'divestment task force’’ set up by the Lawrence-based New England Conference of the United Methodist Church, recently told the Boston Globe that after first visiting Palestine in 2004, 'I was shocked. I came back with a clear sense that as churches, we shouldn’t be sitting on the sidelines.'
It should be noted that the NCCA is only calling for a boycott of goods produced in the illegal Jewish colonies, not a wholesale boycott of Israel itself. It is a position supported by the US-backed Palestinian Authority and is already having a noticeable effect on the settlers' bottom line.
The response from the organised Jewish community in Australia and beyond has been apoplectic, accusing pro-boycott groups of anti-Semitism and spreading 'anti-Israel propaganda'. However, as explained by American Zionist leader Mitchell Plitnick:
'The pro-Israel, pro-peace movement should be embracing the boycott of settlement products. The reasons are both ideological and practical. Ideologically, we need to draw a distinction between Israel and the settlements, and we need to make opposition to the latter as uncompromising as support of the former… Boycotting settlement products and civil action to divorce Israeli businesses from the settlements are acts that are very much in Israel’s interests and can effectively promote peace. But if we leave such actions only in the hands of those who do not care or are openly hostile to Israel, we are abdicating a powerful tool.'
Increasingly the NCCA is joined by churches across the world. In particular the British Methodist Church agreed this year to a resolution that called for a boycott of goods from Israeli settlements. Christine Elliott, the Church's Secretary for External Relationships, said in an official press release that, 'The goal of the boycott is to put an end to the existing injustice. It reflects the challenge that settlements present to a lasting peace in the region.'
Dr Stephen Leah, a Methodist preacher and member of the churches conference, told the Electronic Intifada that Israeli restrictions on Palestinian movement render impossible the sort of inter-faith meetings that critics of the Methodist motion say they support. It is a view shared by growing number of key unions in Australia who just this year resolved to boycott Israeli goods from settlements. The Australian Jewish Democratic Society has been condemned for similar moves but has defended itself in a recent statement.
Opponents of any kind of BDS remain in denial about the current state of Israeli politics. This includes threats to institute laws to pressure all citizens to pledge loyalty to a Jewish state, fascist leanings of the Netanyahu government, the ongoing siege on Gaza and expansion of West Bank settlements.
BDS is growing, like the surge against apartheid South Africa decades ago, because Western leaders refuse to acknowledge what they are backing. Being 'pro-Israel', understood as in the declarations of Barack Obama, Julia Gillard or Tony Abbott, is simply code for doing nothing.
Antony Loewenstein is a Sydney based independent journalist and author of My Israel Question and The Blogging Revolution.
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03 Sep 2010
Good on you Antony Loewenstein. You are indeed a Jew with an open heart and compassion for your fellow man : a rare combination in Australian Jewry of recent decades.
I have just returned from Occupied Palestine after a couple of months volunteering in the Zionazi occupied West Bank. Volunteering as a builder's labourer on the Cinema Jenin project and giving violin workshops in schools in Hebron. I spoke with many many dozens of Palestinians from all works of life & all classes. Men who had been brutally tortured by the racist occupiers; men who had their friends die in their arms in jail as a result of weeks of torture by the Zionazis; men who had had their whole lives destroyed,damaged & hugely diminished by this illegal & brutal & many decade long racist occupation. Each & every one of these men said, in effect : " WE DO NOT HATE THE JEWS . WE HATE THE OCCUPATION."
I am sure you have heard variations on this theme yourself Antony.
My role I saw to be twofold : to tell the Palestinians that they had NOT been forgotten by the world ; and to inform them of BDS !!!
03 Sep 2010
Its about time, is all I can say on the matter.
03 Sep 2010
It maybe better for all churches to get their own house in order before trying to solve all the problems in the world. As soon all churches can say that all paedophiles are purged out of their ranks, then maybe they can start talking about “justice”.
03 Sep 2010
I recently had dinner with a close colleague of mine, and his two teenage sons who attend an expensive fundamentalist Jewish private school in Melbourne. Interestingly, the young men are not nearly as religious as their father, but defined themselves as Jewish by`race`and to an extent by culture.They were strong supporters of Israel on that score.The only currently plausible and remotely equitable solution to the `middle-East problem`is the two State option, with Israel decolonising the West Bank and Gaza completely, and the Palestinians probably needing to drop any meaningful `right` of return.
Alternatively, the international community should insist on a Greater Palestine incorporating Israel and all Palestinian territories, and based on one-person one-vote, and quaranteed by the UN and USA, with international troops on the ground if necessary to keep/impose the peace. But a greater Isreal based on a fundamentally racist and apartheid polity is, and should continue to be appalling and totally unacceptable to all people of good will.
03 Sep 2010
Excellent article. It can never be said too often that opposition to the illegal settlements is NOT opposition to the State of Israel, and that asking Israel to obey international law is NOT anti-Semitic.
03 Sep 2010
Fateh and Hamas do not just want the Israelis to withdraw from the West Bank and the Gaza strip. They want Israel to be eradicated.
"Armed struggle is a strategy and not a tactic, and the Palestinian Arab People's armed revolution is a decisive factor in the liberation fight and in uprooting the Zionist existence, and this struggle will not cease unless the Zionist state is demolished and Palestine is completely liberated." (Article 19 Fateh charter)
"Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it" (The Martyr, Imam Hassan al-Banna, of blessed memory)The Covenant of the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas)18 August 1988.
The notion that Fateh and Hamas draw a distinction between the settlements and Israel is fanciful. As far as they are concerned all of modern day Israel is a settlement. They will not be satisfied until Israel is no more.
In fact Hamas will not be satisfied until all Jews worldwide are exterminated. The following hadith is quoted in article 7 of Hamas's charter.
"The Day of Judgement will not come about until Muslims fight the Jews (killing the Jews)"
You cannot make peace with someone who wants to kill you.
03 Sep 2010
Thank you, Antony, for your courageous stand against racism and oppression.
03 Sep 2010
As a member of the Australian Jewish Democratic Society and a supporter of the motion for limited boycotts and sanctions, I'd also like to make it very clear that I am also opposed to offensive characterisations of Zionists and Jews (Zionazis) which easily go down the slippery slope into outright anti-Semitism through such equivalence because the link between contemporary Jewish life and the huge variety of Zionism is so strong, even for 'post Zionists'. The abuse of language is in exactly the same category as language used by people who conflate Islam and fascism etc.
David Hicks' use of the term Zionazis The equivalence between the oppression actions of the Israeli Army and the Nazis is utterly simplistic, but furthermore, it gives ammunition to the the defenders of the status quo to discredit people who are critical of the occupation.
Offensive language might make you feel good, but spitting at people isn't a way of building bridges. It is critical that both Israelis and Palestinians come together to build a peace partnership. Dredging up WW2 or offensive passages from the Koran to throw at Muslims isn't a way of doing this.
03 Sep 2010
Come on Patrick, the extremism of Hamas is being fed and nurtured by the actions of the state of Israel and the Zionist movement.
Ordinary Israelis (if there are any left) and ordinary Palestinians (if there are any left) simply want peace and justice. Jew, Arabs, and Christians lived peaceably side by side in Palestine for years. What's changed?
03 Sep 2010
the present peace talks are a farce. Until the problems created by the creation of Israel are resolved there can be no peace. There are the refugees from the 1948 war still living in lebanon and Gaza who claim land in Israel. The international nature of Jerusalem must be recognised the invasion of the West Bank and Gaza were illegal and settlers have no right to be there. the fact of being there over 2000 ago is meaningless. The only meaningful solution is some form of one State solution when the economy of the whole region is treated as one. to exist at all Israel has to be subsidised by outside money as well as the palestinians by Arab interests. Hamas controlls Gaza. They cannot be ignored in any peace process.
03 Sep 2010
I too was horrified by the spread of illegal settlements when I was in Israel. The settlers are quite blatantly unjust, and unbelievably so.
Just which goods do the settlers produce and how do we know?
03 Sep 2010
Support the BDS, end the occupation, end the encroachment on Palestinian land, end the atrocities.
03 Sep 2010
Well done, Antony Lowenstein and the National Council of Churches in Australia.
Why is it that moves to alleviate the sufferings of the Palestinian people and assist them to achieve their legitimate national aspirations are always excoriated by some Jews as an expression of 'popular prejudice against the Jewish people'? Why is that criticising - or even asking questions about - Israeli policy is instantly labelled by the same people as 'anti-Semitism'? Are not the Arabs a Semitic people? Several recent books have suggested that the big majority of Jews in Istrael are not ethnically Semitic at all but have their origins in the Caucasus region via Eastern Europe. It would seem that most of the real Semites in Israel and the West Bank territores are Palestinians. So, who is anti-Semitic?
05 Sep 2010
Great job Antony.
It is good to see the Churches taking a principled stand on this issue. My only hope is the religious Jewish community will start to speak publicly about the inevitable damage that occupation does to all parties involved. And has done for the last 43 years.
Instead of defending the indefensible let us see religious leaders call for compassion for all human beings in the regions. Let us call for open dialogue free of hysteria and false claims of anti-semitism or false claims of arm-chair speculation.
Thanks to the work of yourself, Joseph Dana, Max Blumenthal, Phillip Weiss, Adam Horowitz, Yontan Shapira, Anna Waltzer, Jeff Halper, Uri Avnery, Rabbi Arik Asherman and the many others who encourage people to look at the conflict with an open heart and mind to all human beings in the region.
06 Sep 2010
With respect, Trevor, you come on!
The hatred that Hamas has for the Jews has nothing to do with Israel or any occupied land. It can be traced back to the very beginning of Islam. When the Jews of Mohammed's time rejected him as a prophet, he commanded his followers to hate them for ever more. He assured them that the curse of Allah was eternally on the Jews. Time and again the theme of the Jews being cursed and punished by Allah comes through the Koran.
2.61: He (Allah) said: Would ye (the Jews) exchange that which is higher for that which is lower? Go down to settled country, thus ye shall get that which ye demand. And humiliation and wretchedness were stamped upon them and they were visited with wrath from Allah. That was because they disbelieved in Allah's revelations and slew the prophets wrongfully. That was for their disobedience and transgression."
2.65 And ye know of those of you who broke the Sabbath, how We said unto them: Be ye apes, despised and hated!
If this does not convince you, go onto youtube. There you will find clips of imams who openly say that even if Israel did not exist, the Muslims would hate the Jews. Why? Because Allah has commanded them to.
06 Sep 2010
Patrick James, if your view is to be supported (and at present it is a similar one unfortunately supported by Netanyahu) then the only road for Israel to continue oppressing the Palestinians, since they are the aggressors and they want it like that.
06 Sep 2010
Ben Davies, I am not sure what you are trying to say. My point was that the hatred of Muslims towards the Jews has its origins well before the refounding of Israel.
It is a fallacy to think that all would be well between the Jews and Arabs, if Israel withdrew from the West Bank and Gaza Strip, even if Israel ceased to exist, full stop.
The inescapable fact is that pure Islam is deeply anti-Semitic. The Jews are hated and cursed by Allah. The quotes from the Koran in my above post are what this antipathy is based on.
Don't tell me that I have misinterpreted or misrepresented Islam. Go and tell that to the Muslim clerics who have spent years studying the Koran, the ahadith, and Mohammed's life.
As to a way out of the mess in the Middle East, I do not know. But it will take more than anything the Israelis can do on their part alone. Too many people want to see them as the only bad guys. All animosity anyone has towards them is because of the "oppressive occupation". This is so much nonsense. A sizeable number of Arabs and Muslims hate them simply for the fact that they are Jews.
06 Sep 2010
Patrick James if you are going to start vilifying a religion based on a literalist reading of a text then all religious folk - Jews and Christians are equally condemned.
14Moses became angry with the officers of the army…15‘Have you allowed all the women to live?...17Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known a man by sleeping with him.
40 So Joshua defeated the whole land…he left no one remaining, but utterly destroyed all that breathed, as the Lord God of Israel commanded.
By the rivers of Babylon—?there we sat down and there we wept?…..8 O daughter Babylon, you devastator!... ?9 Happy shall they be who take your little ones? and dash them against the rock!
2. [W]hen the Lord your God gives them over to you and you defeat them, then you must utterly destroy them. Make no covenant with them and show them no mercy.
Patrick personal relationships with people of a faith background different to you may help you see we have more in common with one another than differences.
07 Sep 2010
Stewart, I am well aware of the type of verses that you quote from the OT. As an example, God ordered the Hebrews to vanquish and annihilate the Canaanites. But such commands were at a specific time and place, against a specific people. Never did such acts of violence or conquest become part of standard Jewish law.
The bible describes the violence that it was believed God had ordered at that time. There is NO example of God ordering the Hebrews to be perpetually at war with other peoples, or forcing other peoples to become Jews.
Moreover, such verses are now seen to be from another less civilised time. I see no Jews now quoting these verses to justify violence against anyone.
The violence in Islam is unique. As with the Old Testament, Allah showed himself in history and ordered the Muslims to be violent. However, aspects of Islamic violence have become standardized in Islamic law. These laws apply for all times and places. This is because the Koran will not suffer interpretation. It is Allah's immutable word.
So verses such as 9.29 ("Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.") motivate pious, "fundamentalist" Muslims to acts of violence against Jews and Christians here and now.
07 Sep 2010
I am an expatriate Australian living in Asia. I am not Jewish but I stand with Israel -- for an undivided Jerusalem, Israel's absolute right to exist and defend herself as a Jewish nation, and the total legitimacy of continued Jewish settlements on lands Israel has held since 1967.
As for boycotts, well, I chose to boycott all television coverage of the 2010 World Cup, an event which was nothing less than an anti-Israel propaganda coup. The Gaza Freedom Flotilla was a cleverly timed curtain-raiser to the World Cup and the worldwide adulation of Nelson Mandela -- that global icon for Godless world peace and unity (46664 "It's in our hands") and one world religion (Parliament of the World's Religions).
During the World Cup, and afterward for international Mandela Day, the mainstream media -- complacent and utterly compliant -- did nothing to present a balanced, informed picture of what Mandela and his Elders, led by Desmond Tutu (Earth Hour, ONE, U2 360) and Jimmy Carter ("Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid"), truly represent.
07 Sep 2010
Patrick - how can pure-Islam be anti-Semitic if many of the adherents of Islam, ie, the Arab peoples, are Semites.
Stewart - why drag the Christians in? All those biblical quotations you cite are from the Old Testament. Christians believe that everthing in the Old Testament is to be judged and interpreted in light of the New Testament. You will not find in the New Testament anything anything like the passages urging violence and genocide found in the Jewish and Muslim scriptures. Maybe there really was something uniquely different about Jesus.
07 Sep 2010
Patrick James - Fundamentalists of all persuasions will use religious text or nationalistic ideology to do unspeakable acts to fellow human beings. To crudely generalise and limit this to the Islamic faith speaks more of prejudice than reason.
People interpret the texts differently. I can introduce you to plenty of Muslim friends who would share your same disdain for Muslims that commit violence 'in the name of Islam'. Just as it is easy to find examples of Christians and Jews who use their text to justify violence in the name of their interpretation of their religion.
I say this as a Christian who is well aware of the untold number of people who have died in the name of Christian evangelisation during the European colonization period. As such I am very wary of "casting the first stone".
Sylvester - I raised the issue of Christianity to contextualise Patrick's comments; given his direct attack on Muslims. The Hebrew Bible is still very much a part of Christian thinking and is central to Christian Zionist thinking. Such a view equates Palestinians with Canaanites and denies Palestinians title to land. This is an example of an obnoxious use of religious text.
08 Sep 2010
Stewart Mills, you did not challenge my key point. Islamic texts mandate violence against non-Muslims and their forced conversion to Islam, 9.29 as I quoted above. Show me one text from the Old or New Testaments that mandates the forced conversion of non-believers or eternal enmity with them.
Yes, interpretation is of course key to understanding any text for us in the West, but it is not for traditional Muslims. Just see what happens to any Muslim who suggests that Islam needs to reform itself and reinterpret its sacred texts.
I do know a couple of Muslims and they would have no truck with violence or terrorism. However, they were also woefully ignorant of some aspects of the faith they said that they belonged to. This is not uncommon. Several ex-Muslims, whose books I have read, said that many Muslims do not actually understand what the Koran says. They chant the ancient Arabic without knowing its content. They are also ignorant of Mohammed's bloody history as a warlord.
Check online for Muslim clerics from mainstream Muslim countries, with years of study behind them, confirming that: homosexuals should be killed, adulterers should be stoned, apostates from Islam should be killed, jihad is an offensive holy war to spread Islam.
As long as they can appeal to the Koran, the ahadith and Mohammed's life to justify these violent "interpretations", I am confident my criticism of Islam rests on reason, not prejudice.
08 Sep 2010
Judaism, Christianity and Islam all have a history which includes violence, war, bloodshed and intolerance. The difference is this:
When Jews and Muslims act that way they act in accordance with the foundational historical experience of their religion. The ancient Hebrews seized control of the land of Canaan by conquest and held it by force of arms - just as Zionists today have seized control of the land of Palestine and hold it by force of arms. Mohammed, as Patrick James points out, was a bloody warlord who, amongst other atrocities, routinely ordered the killing of prisoners of war, and his followers rampaged around the Mediterranean basin attacking other peoples.
However, when Christians act in that way - through intolerance, conquests, inquisitions, religious wars - they act contrary to the foundational historical experience of their religion, as evidenced by the behaviour and example of Jesus and the persecution of early Christian communities by Jewish and Roman authorities.
This means that Christians are bound to repent and change but for Jews and Muslims it is business as usual.
After a long and painful history, Christianity has learned some bitter lessons and has, in a sense, grown up in its understanding of what are the ethical demands placed upon it.
We await a parallel maturation on the part of Judaism and Islam. When it comes - if it comes - we will at last see peace in the Middle East.
08 Sep 2010
Sylvester, whatever the rights or wrongs of the Jewish state there can be no equivalence between Islam's and Judaism's sacred texts. Consider what Ayatollah Khomeini said some years ago.
"Islam makes it incumbent on all adult males, provided they are not disabled or incapacitated, to prepare themselves for the conquest of [other] countries so that the writ of Islam is obeyed in every country in the world. . . Those who know nothing of Islam pretend that Islam counsels against war. Those [who say this] are witless. ... Islam says: Kill them [the non-Muslims], put them to the sword and scatter [their armies]...Islam says: Whatever good there is exists thanks to the sword and in the shadow of the sword! ... There are hundreds of other [Qur'anic] psalms and Hadiths [sayings of the Prophet] urging Muslims to value war and to fight. Does all this mean that Islam is a religion that prevents men from waging war? I spit upon those foolish souls who make such a claim."
Nowhere does Judaism call on its members to conquer the rest of the world and force them to be Jews.
Stewart Mills, if this is a misinterpretation of Islam, how could one who spent his life studying Islam get it so wrong? Moreover, why do so many other Islamic clerics say precisely the same thing?
Perhaps these men have got it right, and the "Islam is peace" people, unfortunately, have got it wrong.
08 Sep 2010
Joe - I was suggesting an equivalence, not so much between the sacred texts of Judaism and Islam, as between what I called 'the foundational historical experience' of both religions.
Much of the origins of Judaism and Islam is found in war. Christianity, on the other hand, finds it origins in the death of an innocent man of healing and peace who, far from taking life, gave his up for others.
Would that more Christians had followed that beautiful example.
09 Sep 2010
Sylvester, thanks for the clarification. I certainly share your sentiments about the example given by Jesus.
Some idiot Christian pastor is going to burn a whole lot of Korans. This is deliberately provocative and of dubious value.
However, imagine what a statement Muslims could make if they followed Jesus' example of non-violence. Protest loudly, confront with strong words, challenge, but never offer violence or threats to anyone's safety or well-being.
Undoubtedly a significant number of Muslims will react as Mohammed did to the deliberate insult. In the way of the honour and shame culture from 7th century Arabia, blood will be shed.
09 Sep 2010
Stewart Mills, I came across this article. Great reason for hope. It was written by Asra Nomani, a Muslim. I hope the vast majority of Muslims heed her words. A brave voice of moderation.
"On the plan to burn Qurans this weekend, I say to Muslims: Let's get over the symbolic insult and deal with the very real issues of literal interpretations of the Quran that are used to sanction domestic violence, terrorism, militancy, and suicide bombings in the name of Islam.
Gen. David Petraeus has weighed in, saying that the planned burnings by the Rev. Terry Jones' congregation in Florida will endanger U.S. soldiers fighting in Afghanistan. But I believe that there is something that endangers Americans and American soldiers even more: certain passages that—when read literally—pit Muslims against Americans and the West.
We, as Muslims, need to tear a few pages out of the Quran.
I believe the Qurans are being burnt because we, as Muslims, haven't dealt sincerely and intellectually with very serious issues that certain Quranic passages raise, particularly in the West. These include verses—when literally read—that say that disobedient wives can be beaten “lightly,” that Muslims can't be friends with the Jews and the Christians, and that it's OK to kill converts from Islam.
We, as Muslims, need to tear a few pages out of the Quran—symbolically, at least, by rejecting literal adherence to certain problematic verses."
04 Oct 2010
Concern over the treatment of the Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip is legitimate. But right now, Israel is fighting a war against terrorism. Israel is a democratic nation like the United States, and so as long as it is at war, we should not think to engage in boycotts or disinvestment or anything else that would interfere with its ability to achieve victory in that war. Once all the groups like Hamas are defeated, justice for the Palestinians should come of its own accord: if it does not, then harsh criticism of Israel and even remedial action could be considered.
28 Mar 2011
I'm glad I'm not part of the dead orthodoxy of mainstream christian churches. I bet most people who read this article don't have a clue about the history of that part of the world. Everything is interpreted through a marxist paradigm, i.e identify an aggressor (the one with the biggest guns, etc) and then the underdog is the victim, or the poor persecuted people. Forget about history, e.g the fact that refugees are recognised as only 1st generation people, NOT successive generations (UN) but that's okay, UN can change definition when it feels like it. Hey, I have an idea, why not boycott products from the source of all modern terrorism-Islamic nations? Oh, okay then, I forget the west is to blame for everything, cant do that!