Stuart Littlewood, 17 March 2011
The Board of Deputies of British Jews (BDBJ) is targeting unsympathetic Christians with a new booklet called Zionism: A Jewish Communal Response.
It answers a growing concern amongst Jews that Christians are too ready to dismiss Zionism as a political movement rather than a central facet of Jewish identity.
And in a news release the Board says a survey found that over half of respondents believed that Christians are “becoming less sympathetic to Israel” and fewer than one in five would describe themselves as “Zionist”. Over a quarter see Zionism as “colonialist” and “resulting in racial discrimination”.
Clearly the Zionists’ influence is fading.
The 30-page pamphlet also takes a desperate swipe at the recent Kairos Palestine document issued by Christian leaders. The Board complains that it didn’t acknowledge Jewish connections with the land of Israel. They were not best pleased either that British Methodists quoted Kairos in their decision to support a boycott of Israeli goods.
President of the Board of Deputies Vivian Wiseman, in his introduction, calls the BDBJ booklet “an eloquent defence of Zionism”. The common perception that Zionism was a creation of 19th century European Jewry fails to do it justice, he says. “The connection with the land and the passionate longing for it go right back to Biblical times.”
The BDBJ booklet brings together a group of liberal rabbis who write in terms far removed from the hateful language and policies of the regime occupying the West Bank and Jerusalem and still blockading Gaza.
Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg explains why the land has remained central to Judaism until modern Zionism created a political process that culminated in the UN Partition of Palestine in 1947. But, he says, none of this justifies the oppression or dispossession of others. According to him:
The aspiration of the overwhelming majority of Jews is still best expressed in the words of the Declaration of Independence: “[Israel] will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace … it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights.” He adds:
Where these ideals have been betrayed, there is cause for anguish, outcry and urgent action, not only among Palestinians, but among Israelis, as well as Jews throughout the world. The great majority realize that Israel cannot become the country it aspires to be while ruling over another people.
He argues that a two-state solution is “morally imperative”, as is an end to the building of settlements, the agreement of acceptable borders and “a complete cessation of attacks, both military and rhetorical, against Israeli territory and Israel’s right to exist”.
What Israel must do to achieve such a solution, he says, is justified by the ethical ideals of Judaism and the long rabbinic tradition of “down-to-earth pragmatism regarding the borders of the country”. What exactly does he mean by that? Israel gets to keep what it has stolen and unlawfully colonized? Pragmatism replaces international law?
May no-one speak against Israel’s right to exist? Rabbi Wittenberg surely knows that while the Zionist regime keeps expanding its borders at the expense of its neighbours that right will be challenged.
And I don’t hear him calling for a cessation of Israeli attacks against Palestinian territory or an end to the illegal occupation.
The rabbi then lays into Kairos:
Kairos is unhelpful. It fails to mention the violence unleashed towards Israel from before its very inception… It does not acknowledge the effect of acts of terror carried out in the heart of civic life, on buses, in shops, on the streets and by thousands of rocket attacks from Gaza.
Why should it? Does the rabbi acknowledge the evil work of Jewish terror gangs in the run-up to independence? The land on which Sderot stands was once the Palestinian village of Najd, ethnically cleansed and its population put to flight in May 1948 before the state of Israel was declared. Many of them ended up in refugee camps in Gaza.
Hundreds more Palestinian villages were similarly seized to enlarge Israel’s already generous share of the cake. The land-grab was under way before the ink on the partition was dry.
Have Zionists acknowledged the acts of terror their own forces inflict daily in the heart of Palestinian civic life? They complain about thousands of makeshift rockets from Gaza. Do they never count the state-of-the-art bombs, rockets and shells fired INTO Gaza by their own tanks, jets, helicopter gunship, armed drones and warships? And the resulting mega-deaths and wholesale destruction of key infrastructure in many cases funded by Western Christian taxpayers like me?
Rabbi Wittenberg says their long history of suffering and persecution has given the Jewish people “reason to believe that those who declare they want to destroy us mean what they say. Hence these actions and threats have fed those very fears in Israeli and Jewish minds which help to maintain the political stalemate under which the Palestinian people, indeed both peoples, now suffer.”
No occupation, no need for resistance, no problem. What helps to keep political trouble brewing is disinformation and fear-mongering. Tel Aviv has recruited and trained hundreds of social media “warriors” to spread the torrent of propaganda.
The Kairos document’s message
Let’s remember that Kairos was essentially a demand for an end to Israel’s brutal occupation and a challenge to the international community to act. It was released in December 2009 by Christian leaders exasperated at having “reached a dead end in the tragedy of the Palestinian people”, because decision-makers contented themselves with managing the crisis instead of resolving it.
As for the land, Kairos had this to say:
We believe that our land has a universal mission… God sent the patriarchs, the prophets and the apostles to this land so that they might carry forth a universal mission to the world. Today we constitute three religions in this land, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Our land is God’s land, as is the case with all countries in the world… It is the duty of those of us who live here, to respect the will of God for this land. It is our duty to liberate it from the evil of injustice and war. It is God’s land and therefore it must be a land of reconciliation, peace and love…
The document emphasized that the presence of Christian and Muslim Palestinians is deeply rooted in the land’s history and geography, and they have a natural right to it.
It also contained some hard-hitting stuff that must have raised Zionist hackles:
We declare that any use of the Bible to legitimize or support political options and positions that are based upon injustice, imposed by one person on another, or by one people on another, transform religion into human ideology and strip the Word of God of its holiness, its universality and truth.
We also declare that the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land is a sin against God and humanity because it deprives the Palestinians of their basic human rights, bestowed by God…
We declare that any theology, seemingly based on the Bible or on faith or on history, that legitimizes the occupation, is far from Christian teachings, because it calls for violence and holy war in the name of God Almighty, subordinating God to temporary human interests…
And to round off…
Jerusalem is the heart of our reality… Jerusalem continues to be emptied of its Palestinian citizens, Christians and Muslims. Their identity cards are confiscated, which means the loss of their right to reside in Jerusalem. Their homes are demolished or expropriated. Jerusalem, city of reconciliation, has become a city of discrimination and exclusion, a source of struggle rather than peace.
Also part of this reality is the Israeli disregard of international law and international resolutions, as well as the paralysis of the Arab world and the international community in the face of this contempt.
Rabbi Tony Bayfield begins by saying: “It is clear that Jews and Judaism would not have survived and could not survive today without the Land of Israel. It is clear that the treatment of Jews both in Christian and Muslim lands creates an undeniable practical and moral entitlement.”
Does it? Jews and Judaism survived 1,800 years without the land of Israel, and most of today’s Jews, I’m told, have no ancestral links to that land at all. And Jews seem to like it here in the UK. They are allowed to occupy the highest positions and even make our laws. They are not leaving in droves for a squatter home on stolen Palestinian land.
In any case, why should Palestinians have to make huge sacrifices to atone for some Europeans’ crimes nearly 70 years ago?
Rabbi Bayfield nevertheless deserves credit for what he says next:
I am horrified by some strands of Zionism which treat the Bible as an exclusive title deed written by God. I do not regard the Torah as an extra-historical document written by the Divine hand… It is wonderful beyond measure. But it is also limited and flawed… It is not Judaism’s title deed to the land. Nor is it secular history…
The newly re-established State of Israel stands at the very meeting point of two of the largest and most powerful tectonic plates – the Western world and the Islamic world… Israel could, by virtue of its position in relationship to Christianity and Islam, by virtue of its position “at the centre”, become a bridge.
Yes indeed. But the State of Palestine too stands at the meeting point and, thanks to its more reasonable relationship with the two tectonic plates, could make a better bridge.
Rabbi Danny Rich reminds us that Judaism has its origins in that part of the Near East bordered by the Mediterranean Sea, the Jordan River, the Negev Desert and the Carmel Mountains. “It is the geographical features of this area which formed the backdrop to the Hebrew foundation myths…”
After expulsion from their ancestral lands, he says, the centre of Jewish life for 1,700 years was to be found in Babylon, in Spain, in France, in the German and Polish lands, and in a number of places that were to come under Muslim influence and/or Arab rule. “It is in this context that the Jewish claim to its ancestral homeland is made out, and its power should not be denied by any persons who consider themselves fair-minded.”
However, he goes on to say:
The Jewish claim is not the only or an exclusive claim. For millennia the Jews in the land had lived alongside non-Jewish neighbours and for some centuries under, until its defeat during World War I, the Ottoman Empire. The arrival of large numbers of Jewish immigrants and the creation of the State of Israel led inevitably to the displacement of some of the contemporary inhabitants… It is certainly fair to say that the Palestinian Arab claim to the land, though different in substance from the Jewish one, has much to commend it…
The Jews were expelled by the Roman occupation in 70AD and again in 135. These days the right of return is regarded as an inalienable right, but it must be exercised as soon as the reason for expulsion (for example, foreign occupation) ceases. An opportunity for the Jews would have occurred in the 4th century AD as the Roman Empire collapsed. They didn’t take it.
The rabbi talks about being fair-minded. What is fair or reasonable about laying claim to the land 17 centuries later, at gun-point?
The Palestinians’ right of return to their homeland is unquestionable because the occupation has not yet ended and the UN endorsed their right.
Rabbi Rich lists Ten Hebrew Biblical Principles, which are instructive to us all regardless of faith. “There is little evidence of these principles being applied on either side of the divide,” he observes, adding:
Any just solution will inevitably require a sharing of the land… At one time a binational state might have been a possibility, but in the absence of support for it from the mainstream of either side partition seems to be the only viable option… The borders of the two entities will need to be negotiated to give territorial contiguity…
Is he saying we bin the first partition and start again?
…And a leading educator
Dan Rickman explains how the secular Zionist movement has converted Judaism’s religious ideals into political ones. He says:
It adopted a view that Jews had to return to history in response to what became known as anti-Semitism… Through this process, it was hoped, Jews would become “normalised”. Zionism depends on the fact that Jewish identity is as people, i.e. based on the “People of Israel” and is not an identity based on religious belief…
He mentions the differences between some ultra-orthodox groups who reject Zionism, the majority who have accommodated to it, and the religious Zionist movement which has adopted it within its own religious framework. “Whilst all these strands are sharply divided, they are in agreement on the ultimate goal which is the restoration of the Temple, and the coming of a Messianic age of peace and harmony for all the peoples of the world.”
The concept of Jews as the Chosen People, he says, should be understood as the mission of Judaism to create social justice for the world, a “repairing of the world”.
Mr Rickman ends by saying he has tried to focus on “what can and must unite Israelis, Palestinians and people of all faiths in our mission to “repair the world” through a shared recognition of Israel as the Holy Land…”
Zionist, forget “repairing the world”. Repair thyself
There is much in the BDBJ booklet that Christians might find appealing. But the fine words of these good rabbis have little to do with how the Zionist regime actually conducts itself in the Holy Land. And the notion that we should all unite under the Zionists’ mission to “repair the world”, given their track record, is too much to swallow.
Zionists complain that the Kairos document contained no acknowledgement of Jewish national aspirations or the ties between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel.
Do we know what Jewish national aspirations really are? No-one, it seems, is prepared to discuss the true extent of the Zionist project for a Greater Israel and its impact. No-one, it seems, is prepared to admit that the Israeli regime doesn‘t want peace until it has seized all the land and resources it needs to fulfill that ambition.
What room will then be left for the Palestinians’ national aspirations?
Rabbi Rich asks how the Hebrew Principles – “these Prophetic ideals” – might be applied in the 21st century to find a just solution. “First, it is to appreciate that there are two narratives, one Jewish/Israeli and the other Palestinian/Arab, and, while they may differ both in ‘fact’ and in interpretation of events, each story must be recognized in any proposed resolution.”
Alan Wiseman’s notes that all contributors to the booklet call for an understanding of other people’s narratives.
The two sides can carry on swapping narratives until the cows come home – theological chit-chat hasn’t brought a solution nearer. Calling for more sounds like another ploy to buy time for the Zionists to establish more irreversible “facts on the ground” and advance their borders still further.
The rabbis surely have urgent work to do elsewhere, like putting Israel’s own house in order. They could start on its political parties, such as Kadima, which claims a national and historic right to the Land of Israel “in its entirety” and pledges to keep Jerusalem and the settlements, and the ruling Likud Party (mission statement: “the Palestinians can run their lives freely in the framework of self-rule, but not as an independent and sovereign state” and “Jerusalem is the eternal, united capital of the State of Israel and only of Israel”). Any future Palestinian state would have to be demilitarized, without an army or control of its airspace.
That is the uncompromising reality of Zionist ambition, and it is not the path to peace.
They could also address the moral sickness that grips the Israeli military and leads to incidents like this:
An Israeli army officer who fired the entire magazine of his automatic rifle into a 13-year-old Palestinian girl and then said he would have done the same even if she had been three years old was acquitted on all charges by a military court yesterday…
and many others before and since.
A few days ago the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office announced 500 more Jews-only housing units on Palestinian land in a deliberate expansion of illegal settlements, giving yet another middle-finger salute to the international community.
Whatever mission Mr Netanyahu and his ministers are on, it’s not to make peace or “repair the world”. It would seem, therefore, that the BDBJ booklet we’re discussing is little more than a propaganda exercise to soft-soap Christians into coming on-side for the continuing land-grab and the making of Israel’s occupation permanent.
A taste of “social justice for all”
Since the Zionists arrived in the Holy Land with their “Greater Israel” programme and started bulldozing homes and thieving the land, the Christian population has plummeted from 20 per cent to less than 2 per cent. Many who could afford to, have left due to the military occupation and its mindless restrictions on education and business, and the blocking of access to the holy places.
The Anglican Bishop of Jerusalem’s residency permit has been revoked by the Zionist regime for the last six months, making it impossible for him to carry out his duties properly. The UK Foreign Office, the British ambassador and the US State Department all intervened to no avail. The Archbishop of Canterbury on his last visit was allowed only two hours in Gaza. Priests of other denominations are seriously hampered by a minefield of administrative obstacles and so are worshippers.
For our Muslim brothers and sisters it is far worse.
Is this Mr Rickman’s idea of mutual understanding and respect, the Zionist mission to create social justice for all?
And the Church of England’s response? Norwich Cathedral gave the Zionist booklet a platform by advertising a seminar. I went along. And I came away wondering why the Church seems so accepting of the evil that stalks the Holy Land. Is it to appease its partners in the much hyped interfaith relations programme whose activities, as far as I can tell, haven’t made a scrap of difference and may even have cut enough slack, in the name of Jewish-Christian understanding, for the escalation of atrocities committed recently?
Surely the Church understands that, in the pursuit of justice, interfaith dialogue is no substitute for the enforcement of international law and the long-overdue implementation of UN resolutions.
A more useful response to Zionistic overtures, one would have thought, is The Jerusalem Declaration of 2006 by the Latin Patriarch and Local Heads of Churches in Jerusalem:
We categorically reject Christian Zionist doctrines as a false teaching that corrupts the biblical message of love, justice and reconciliation… We reject the teachings of Christian Zionism that facilitate and support these policies as they advance racial exclusivity and perpetual war rather than the gospel of universal love, redemption and reconciliation taught by Jesus Christ.
These are the conclusions of churchmen who have to confront the every-day shock and horror.
Stuart Littlewood is an industrial marketing specialist turned writer-photographer. In 2005 he was invited to write and shoot pictures for a book about the plight of the Palestinians under occupation. ‘Radio Free Palestine’ was published in 2007. For details please see www.radiofreepalestine.co.uk.
- The Author is a regular contributor to RamallahOnline.com. Find more Articles by Stuart Littlewood on RamallahOnline.