Wednesday, July 14, 2010


+ Recently the General Assembly of The Presbyterian Church (USA) dealt with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. "Breaking Down the Walls," a Report by the Middle East Study Committee was received and mostly accepted. Before the Assembly met, an article in The Christian Century appeared accusing the Committee of an anti-Jewish orientation.  The article is "Habits of anti-Judaism" by Ted A. Smith and Amy-Jill Levine, both Professors at Vanderbilt Divinity School.

I wrote them a letter and await a response.  Here is my letter:

Dear Professors Smith and Levine,

This is a response to your recent article in The Christian Century, "Habits of Anti-Judaism". I applaud you for writing the article even though I profoundly disagree with much of your analysis.

You have motivated me to actually read the report which you criticize. Thank you!

Full disclosure from the start: I'm a retired Presbyterian Pastor who has long been an outspoken advocate for the Palestinians. I am not anti-Jewish but I will admit right from the start that I do find the creation of Israel in 1948 very problematic.

You accuse the report authors of bad theology. I think I would agree with you that there is some bad theology but I think you picked out parts of the report -- what I would call cherry-picking -- rather than deal with all of the report in its full context.

I think I detect some bad theology on your part.

It seems clear to me that you embrace the view that the Jewish people have a special place in God's plan for the planet and, thus, deserve a homeland long denied. Maybe. Maybe not.

I wonder why your crtiticism was so weak on the twentieth century history of the land we now call Israel-Palestine. No matter what we believe about the Bible and the theology of the Chosen People, it seems clear to me that twentieth century politics has far more to do with the development of Israel as a nation-state than does ancient history.

The United Nations recommendations of 1947 were not at all fair to the Palestinians. The seeds were planted in those recommendations for a tragedy. But the 1947 recommendations were far more fair than the facts on the ground since 1948 and especially since 1967. A tragedy indeed.

It seems to me that one can not avoid dealing with the current situation. I understand that Jewish-Christian relations have been horrible for most of the past 2000 years. But creating Israel and unconditionally supporting the slow but steady ethnic-cleansing of Arabs in Israel-Palestine is not necesarily the best way to mend Christian-Jewish relations.

So, I see your criticism's neglect of current international politics as a significant flaw in your analysis.

Theology is fluid, dynamic, not static. How Jews and Christians believe and behave in our times is very important. An honest look at what really happened in the twentieth century is vital.

In one word: COLONIALISM.

What many of us Presbyterians find so erroneous in the unconditional and special support of Israel is the colonialism which made it possible to be created and continues to make it possible. The UK and then the USA created and continue to maintain Israel. (The UN of 1947 was dominated by Colonial Powers; it was not the UN of today).

Israel for all practical purposes is our colony just as South Africa continued to be a colony until the Black majority finally took control. The Native Arab population far outnumbered the Jewish immigrant population in 1948. And, to use a term now so widely used, many of them were Illegal Immigrants.

So, try to look at what has happened and is continuing to happen from the Arab point of view. And then come up with a theology which affirms their rights with as much passion as you affirm Jewish rights.

Finally, the more I look at the Report of the Committee, the more I see how much cherrry-picking you did. You simply failed to deal with the document as a whole. Yes, you found some flaws which do indeed need to be pointed out.

And so do yours!

I may have more to say as I continue to reflect on this very important conversation about very important human beings, Jewish and Palestinian and Presbyterian and many others.

I welcome your continuing contribution to the conversation with the hope that you definitely will do theology with a passion for justice for the Palestinians as well as the Jews.

love, john + + "Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice." -- Martin Luther King, Jr. (a speech containing this famous quote is found at

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