Israel: A Sin Against God?

The Religious Left adds new weaponry to its call "for peace."

Leftist church prelates in the United States continue to rally on behalf of the Kairos Palestinian Document of 2009. The document was crafted by Palestinian Christians bemoaning the Nakba (“catastrophe”) of Israel's founding and condemning the West for not recognizing Hamas. At the same time, the document calls Israel's so-called occupation a "sin against God" and urges partial divestment against the country.

Recent enthusiasts for the Kairos Palestinian Document (aka "Kairos") include the heads of the United Church of Christ (UCC) and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), who together represent about 2 million U.S. church members. The Episcopal Church's Peace Fellowship has also praised Kairos while some U.S. rabbis understandably condemn it.

"Palestinian Christian leadership have taken the bold step of declaring this a Kairos moment, a designation not of chronological time, but of opportunity ripe for momentous action, and a moment that can be lost if the opportunity is not seized," rejoiced UCC and Disciples officials, including UCC President Geoffrey Black and Disciples President, Sharon Watkins. They gleefully compared the Kairos Palestinian Document to other ostensibly similar demands for social justice made in apartheid South Africa, Central America, and elsewhere.

Church prelates Black and Watkins hailed the Palestinian document as "powerful" and aptly responsive to the "painful reality of more than 40 years of Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza."  The UCC and Disciples chiefs declared their full concurrence with the Kairos Document’s supposed affirmation of "non-violence" and rejection of  "extremism."  Of course, the "extremism" which concerns Kairos the most is Christian and Jewish, not Islamic.  Black and Watkins celebrated Kairos' call for Palestinian Christians to "resist evils, including, in their case, the occupation of Palestinian lands."  They also urged, with Kairos, a boycott of "products that are produced in illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank," which is essentially an incremental step towards the full anti-Israel divestment that hardcore religious leftists prefer, despite political defeats in recent years.

One such defeat was the Episcopal Church's rejection of anti-Israel divestment.  But officials of the denomination's unofficial but influential Episcopal Peace Fellowship (EPF) voted in early May to support divestment and the Palestinian Kairos proclamation.  The EPF, which includes Episcopal Minnesota Bishop Jim Jelinek, backed "an economic and commercial boycott of products linked to oppression of Palestinian people and occupation of their land." Interestingly, EPF was founded in the 1930s to oppose military resistance to Hitlerism. (Read my associate Jeff Walton's article here.

“Economic sanctions can inspire a more useful dialogue and negotiation towards a just and lasting peace in the Middle East,” intoned the supposedly peace-minded Episcopalians.  "Respect for the dignity of every human being, alongside a vision to put aside the violence of terrorism, oppression and military force is key to moving negotiations forward for a lasting peace for all involved.”

Not all EPF members agreed with the group’s latest anti-Israel push. Washington, D.C. Episcopal Bishop John Bryson Chane, who has himself helped host Iranian ayatollahs at the National Cathedral, still found EPF's call for divestment too "flawed and dangerously unhelpful at this particular time in history." He also told Episcopal News Service that sanctions would "further hurt the critical development of the economy of Palestine and increase the marginalization of the Palestinian people."

Meanwhile, the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) recognized that Kairos' appeals to peace and impartiality are superficial covers for intensified anti-Israel campaigns. In their response to Kairos last month, the rabbis observed that Kairos "claims that leading Israel into isolation is the only way there can be a peaceful solution in the Holy Land."  And while Kairos professes both to condemn Palestinian "terrorist bombing" and Israeli "economic and military violence" against Palestinians, its recommendations predictably demand action only against Israel.

Showing more perceptiveness than church leftists who claim they support Israel, the rabbis noted that Kairos "consistently objects to 'the Occupation,' without making clear that it is referring exclusively to lands occupied by Israel and in dispute since the Six-Day War of 1967."  The rabbis warily but logically observed that Kairos implicitly is "rejecting the very notion of a Jewish State."

The astute rabbis also noticed that Kairos claims to reject violence but still offers "respect" and “high esteem for those who have given their life for our nation,” which seems to praise Palestinian suicide bombers. The rabbis likewise observed that Kairos carefully puts Palestinian terrorism in quotation marks.

Admitting that Kairos was endorsed by relatively few Palestinian Christians, the rabbis accurately observed that it has significantly gained high profile endorsements from mainline Protestant elites in the U.S.  The "acceptance and endorsement of this document by certain other individuals and church groups with which we have enjoyed harmonious interfaith relations has been surprising, disturbing and profoundly disappointing," the rabbis declared.  They also warned that "CCAR would require serious reflection before continuing our common cause with any Church body or organization that endorses or continues to endorse Kairos."

The Religious Left in the U.S. does not care much for Israel's survival but is generally concerned with the value of cordial interfaith relations with Jewish groups in the U.S.  Partly for this reason, anti-Israel divestment campaigns have met defeat in all major U.S. liberal-led denominations. Maybe the CCAR will help to caution the Religious Left away from its casual endorsement of often very raw anti-Israel rhetoric disguised as appeals for peace and mutual co-existence.