Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Our Complicity In Evil

The Church of the Holy Sepulcher,
Last week—Thursday, February 26,--arsonists set fire to the Greek Orthodox Seminary in  Jerusalem and wrote, in Hebrew, insulting remarks about Jesus on the walls. 
Over the last five years or so Israeli settlers who have moved in to occupy Palestinian villages have not only forced out the occupants, but vandalized Christian Churches, monasteries, and cemeteries.  Two years ago the monastery of the Sisters of Bethlehem was firebombed in a midnight attack, the perpetrators of which left graffiti on the outside walls saying “Price Tag,” “Death to Gentiles,” and “revenge” in Hebrew.  The same terms were painted on tombstones in the Greek Orthodox cemetery in Jaffa.  Israeli settlers vandalized the car of a Catholic human rights lawyer in Jerusalem. 
Vandals left graffiti—in Hebrew—stating that “Jesus is a monkey” on the walls of the Dormition Abbey, a Benedictine monastery that marks the traditional site of the death of the Virgin Mary.  “Jesus is a Son of a Bitch” and “Price Tag” had been sprayed on the Abbey’s walls the year before. 
“Price Tag” refers to a campaign initiated four years ago by Israeli settlers on Palestinian lands to intimidate Palestinians and other non-Israelis into leaving the Holy Land.  It refers to the “price” that Palestinians must pay for their opposition to the expansion of Israeli territory into the towns and villages which they have occupied from time immemorial. 
Now the Israelis want to extend their “security wall” into the Cremisan valley and then expropriate the land there that currently belongs to Palestinian Christians.  The mayor, Vera Baboun, met with Pope Francis to ask his help in preventing this land-grab. 
Why don’t we hear more about these atrocities?  CBS reporter Bob Simon who died last month in an automobile crash in New York did a story back in 2012 on the plight of Palestinian Christians.  Then Israeli ambassador Michael Oren put pressure on CBS to squelch the story before it was even completed.  Simon recalled the incident:
According to Israeli government figures, tourism is a multi billion dollar business there. Most tourists are Christian. Many of them are American. That’s one reason why Israelis are very sensitive about their image in the United States. And that could be why Ambassador Oren phoned Jeff Fager, the head of CBS News and executive producer of 60 Minutes, while we were still reporting the story, long before tonight’s broadcast.  
 Don’t misunderstand me.  I have been to Israel four times.  It is an amazing country.  The Israelis have made the desert bloom.  But there is also tremendous human suffering there, a suffering that former President Jimmy Carter compared to the Apartheid of South Africa until its termination in 1994.  Had Mr. Carter wanted to hit closer to home he could have compared it to the plight of African-Americans in Mississippi or Alabama in the first half of the twentieth century.  The Palestinian peoples who are descended from the biblical inhabitants of Canaan and lived there through the kingships of David and Solomon, through the invasion of the Assyrians, who remained in the land when the Jews were taken to Babylon and when they returned, who survived Alexander and his Greeks, the Romans, the Byzantines, and the Arab invasion of 636 as well as the Turks in the 12th century, are now being driven out—Christian and Muslim alike—by policies that want to purge the land of all who are not Jews. 
Today the Master Builder of this racist theocracy is addressing the United States Congress as the invited guest of Speaker Boehner.  I am not in favor of denying any one Holy Communion, but if I could make an argument that the Eucharist should be withheld from any Christian, it would be for John Boehner’s betrayal of his Palestinian brother and sister Christians.  Don’t misunderstand me, Prime Minister Netanyahu is not personally interested in driving all non-Jews from the land of Eretz Yisrael.  I would have some respect—profound disagreement but still respect—for him if this was a matter of something in which he truly believed.  But the Prime Minister, to keep his Likud party in power, courts support from those nationalist and those ultra-orthodox parties and individuals who want to make Israel 100% an Orthodox theocracy.  (note: not all ultra-orthodox wish to make Israel a theocracy; there are many who believe that the political questions need await the Messiah who will decide. And, of course, the majority of Israelis are secular Jews who have abandoned the idea that the land is theirs by a “divine right.”)  Tragically our own nation has involved itself in Israel’s racist agenda by our unqualified support for Israel both politically and militarily.  It is time that we reexamine our policies toward Israel and come to a more balanced and just stance. 


  1. Thank you for this. Recall too that the dispensationalist nut jobs who influenced American policy under George W. Bush are especially complicit. Evangelicals in this country who subscribe to this sort of "theology" in their uncritical and unconditional support of such policies are courted by Israeli officials -- both religious and secular -- not only for their tourist dollars but also for their political clout in this country, even though they know, ironically, that these kooks are itching for Armageddon, the conversion of the Jews and the second coming of Christ. You might also mention that the shameless kowtowing to AIPAC by craven politicians in this country and the resulting uncritical support of the Israeli state to the tune of countless billions puts American security at risk as it fuels much of the anti-American sentiment among Arab Muslims and provides a rationale for terrorist activities. Finally, in all such discussions a careful distinction must be drawn between anti-Judaism, anti-Semitism and anti-Israeli government. Too often criticism of Israel is conflated with racial and religious prejudice.

  2. I want to begin this comment by saying that I am a huge fan not only of your Anglican history series but most especially of your ecclesial analysis of the Krazy Katholics and the whole despicable anti-Francis platoons and their nuttiness. Specifically, your assessment of the Franciscans of the Immaculate situation syncs completely with the account of a young man of our acquaintance, now happily married, who spent seven years with them and was one of the Friars who asked for the Visitation. So I'm with you on all that! But now, it is extremely generous of you not to wish to deny Communion to the evil Republicans for betraying their Palestinian Christian brothers and sisters, presumably on the same grounds that we should not seek to deny Communion to the sinless Democrats who, some equally decent folks would argue, have done at least as much betraying of brother and sister Christians, born and unborn, at various times and places as their Republican counterparts (I say this as someone who cast his first vote in a presidential election for George McGovern and, much later, stood pretty much alone in admitting I had voted for Mondale-Ferraro!) No mention in your piece of the bat mitzvah massacre of a number of years ago, of Palestinian built tunnels and launched rockets, of the famed Archbishop Hiliarion Cappucci's escapade, including his arrest for gunrunning and his subsequent I'll-advised bestowal of the title "martyr" on Muslim terrorists leading to Paul VI's intervention. Two sides to this sad saga, surely? While I greatly appreciate (not only, I hope, because I completely agree with!) your ecclesial insights and commentary, I do find your (at least as long as I've been reading this blog, so I could be wrong) pro-Democratic Party stance mystifyingly (and for you untypically) uncritical. Who was the commentator who theorized that great institutions are destroyed equally by uncritical lovers as well as unloving critics? I make this observation in that spirit, and as a faithful reader who thanks you for writing this blog and for the time and scholarship you devote to it.

  3. thank you for your comments. I am sort of in the Cardinal Wuerl school of thought that the time to bring crucial issues to confrontation is not during the Eucharistic celebration and so do not believe that any baptized Christian should be denied the Eucharist at that moment. That doesn't mean that evil shouldn't be confronted, only that responsibility for a person's integrity before God is a question that in the end needs to be left to them.
    as for the Palestinian issue, I must admit that I was raised in a parish where one of the priests was a Palestinian Refugee from the 1948 struggle to create the State of Israel. While I try to be fair, like everyone else my own experience gives me certain biases. But I also have to say that living outside the United States for as long as I have and having a circle of friends that literally spans the world has let me see how much the media in our country shapes our biases according to definite political agenda. You are right, of course, that there are two sides to every story and their is certainly blood on Palestinian hands--including those of Christians such as Archbishop Cappucci, but at the end of the day the failure to give the Palestinians a State of their own where they can be free of Israel's state sponsored land-seizures and terrorism makes me very uncomfortable with the carte blanche we give Israel.