Monday, March 9, 2009

Why many of our Liberal Christian friends are against us

This article was posted by me to inform leaders in Jewish-Christian relations about the threat to Jewish-Christian relations posed by Sabeel, which is an organization active throughout the United States in advocating against Israel and leading divestment initiatives among church based groups and colleges and universities. It is THE organization behind virtually every major divestment initiative going on in the US today.

This specific article was written in response the posting of Melanie Phillips article about Stephen Sizer's church in England, which surprisingly to her was anti-Israel. It was, as you will see below, far from surprising to me or anyone else in the Jewish community who has dealt with Sabeel.


Shalom All,

I do not find it at all surprising that some member churches of the Church of England should be taking anti-Zionist positions that border on anti-Judaism, if not crossing that line. Such attitudes among not only Anglicans but others are in no small part due to the efforts of Sabeel and its founder Canon Naim Ateek. I even found out that Stephen Sizer's church is an organizational member of Sabeel's network as are many other liberal Christian churches.

Sabeel, an organization whose theological basis is the application of Liberation Theology to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, has been advocating divestment from Israel for many years. Through its publications and programming around the world, particularly at North American universities, it promotes divestment and anti-Zionist views in general. It is through Sabeel that many leaders of the Anglican Church have become anti-Israel. Sabeel believes that there should not be a Jewish state and that all of the land should be Palestine and Palestinian. Under the guise of "peace," Sabeel promotes an anti-Israel agenda that often crosses the line into anti-Judaism.

One of the better treatment's of Sabeel's anti-Jewish and not just anti-Zionist perspective comes from NGO-Monitor concerning a Sabeel conference in Boston in 2007 which you may find at

For example (from the NGO Monitor article:

Use of anti-Semitic imagery [standard anti-Jewish New Testament imagery]
Naim Ateek employs anti-Semitic theological themes and imagery in his speeches and publications, as reflected in his 2001 Sabeel "Easter message": "it seems to many of us that Jesus is on the cross again with thousands of crucified Palestinians around him. […] The Israeli government crucifixion system is operating daily." In a February 2001 sermon, Ateek intimated that Israel was responsible for the death of Jesus (the Palestinians) as infant, prophet and messiah: "Israel has placed a large boulder, a big stone that has metaphorically shut off the Palestinians in a tomb. It is similar to the stone placed on the entrance of Jesus' tomb…" [Footnote 7] In his book Justice and Only Justice, Ateek uses classical anti-Semitic distortions, comparing modern Jews, who "embrace violence, contrary to God’s will," to their "immoral" ancestors. The book claims that Jews now repeat, with “exact precision,” their ancestors’ "murderous sins." [Footnote 8]

7 Message available on Sabeel website: Naim Stifan Ateek, Justice and Only Justice: A Palestinian Theology of Liberation, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, NY, U.S.A., 1989. p.106.

Rabbi Kaufman continues:

And WHAT A SURPRISE, guess whom the NGO Monitor pointed out was leading the UK's divestment campaign for Sabeel??? "Rev. Stephen Sizer (Vice Chair of Friends of Sabeel UK and the major proponent of replacement theology) has led the campaign to enforce the Church of England's Synod vote for divestment." Sizer is the very minister whose church is discussed by Melanie Phillips in the article "Beware the new axis of evangelicals and Islamists." The use of passion plays as a traditional and easy way to portray Jews as evil is also part of Sabeel's grand plan. If you look at Sizer's church website, for example, you will note that he is promoting a trip to Oberammergau for the 2010 play.

Sabeel's ideology spreads easily throughout liberal churches in the West who seek out Arab Christian voices to speak at their conventions and at colleges and universities wherein funds are used to bring in Sabeel-backed speakers. For Christian groups, when they want to know about what is going on in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, who better to inform them than their Palestinian Christian brethren? For university students wanting to know about the problems from a Palestinian perspective, who better than Sabeel, willing to send them an emissary? For college students bombarded by anti-Israel hate speech which has become a major part of the peace movement, who better than to bring in Sabeel, representing Palestinian Christians? Thus, Sabeel and Ateek are given entree while Israel's supporters are often excluded from the dialogue. Thus, national and regional conventions as well as college campuses are often dominated by anti-Israel speakers while not inviting anyone interested in presenting counter arguments much less adept at countering those arguments presented by Sabeel, which functions as an anti-Israel lobbying organization to liberal English speaking Christians.

In recent years, in Iowa, such events have taken place around the state with numerous Sabeel backed or associated speakers appearing at universities and colleges throughout the state as well as at local church backed programs. Certainly what is true here is happening elsewhere as well.

At a Sabeel conference held here in Iowa at Coe College, neutral non-Jewish observers from the college belatedly apologized to the local Jewish community about what they felt were anti-Semitic aspects of the program put on by Sabeel. See .

To put it bluntly, Sabeel and Naim Ateek argue that the Palestinians are Jesus and that the Jews are crucifying Jesus again. It is vital to note that most Christian supporters of Sabeel have no clue about the anti-Judaism that is a strong part of Sabeel's teaching and philosophy, but do support its efforts to achieve peace. For example, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) pointed out that Ateek's ideas could be seen as anti-Jewish when he came to speak at a local church in Los Angeles and the church's leadership was offended at the visit being criticized. Please see . After all, here was a man who preaches non-violence and ostensibly desires peace.

My colleague, Rabbi Eugene Korn, has addressed Sabeel, Ateek, and the problems of applying Liberation theology to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the past in an excellent article written in 2005 which may be found at .

Canon Ateek sees Hamas for example as a movement connected to his Liberation Theology . He and Sabeel both act as if violence used against Israel is entirely legitimate, but violence used by Israel to defend its population is entirely illegitimate. Sabeel promotes the Palestinian cause against Israel as if the entirety of the blame for the problems between the two peoples is Israel's. And Sabeel's voice in Anglican Church circles as well as those of other liberal Christian groups is very strong.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu has also taken up the cause of Sabeel and repeatedly demonizes Israel as an apartheid state as if those Palestinians actively at war with Israel should be treated as peaceful citizens of ISRAEL. This is far from the case with black South Africans under Apartheid, who were, or should have been, treated as citizens of South Africa with equal rights. Tutu delivered the keynote address at last year's Sabeel Conference in Boston and is pictured on the organization's header on its website

Those who present Israel as an Apartheid state are advocates for a SINGLE STATE solution in which Israel is eventually eliminated and the Palestinian territories become, along with Israel, part of a single nation of Palestine. While on the surface, Sabeel supports Israel's right to the pre-1967 border, it demands the right of return to ISRAEL for Palestinian refugees. Of course, that would threaten the nation's very existence and certainly undermine its ability to be a Jewish state. The ultimate goal of its policies is to undo the creation of Israel as a Jewish state, but stating that publicly would result in it being called "anti-Jewish" and thus it refrains from doing so.

Since forcing Israel to bring in hundreds of thousands of people hostile to Jews (many of which wish to eliminate Jews from the face of the earth) into the Jewish state would also threaten the very lives, much less prosperity, of those Jews living there, it is not unreasonable to call this argument anti-Jewish even if there is no desire to eliminate the Jewish state. In my mind, the right of return TO ISRAEL by those hostile to its existence as a Jewish state and possibly even hostile to the existence of its Jewish citizenry is not a legitimate point of view for those who desire peace for Jews living in Israel. Yet, many among those truly desirous of peace, not considering the consequences to Jews, advocate for exactly that and act as if they seek peace for both peoples.

Right now, the destructive force in the relationship between Christians and Jews in the Anglican Church is Sabeel, just as it is becoming such a destructive force in the debate concerning Israeli-Palestinian issues in other liberal Christian churches. Sabeel is one of the major challenges to Jewish-Christian relations in my interactions with many groups including the ELCA, the UCC, the United Methodist Church, Presbyterian churches and the WCC. In addition, left wing Jewish groups such as B'tselem and Brit Tsedek v'Shalom along with Rabbis for Human Rights and other peace groups in their opposition to Israel's policies have enabled Sabeel to claim to be a neutral force for peace with Jewish supporters while at the same time advocating for anything but the peace of Israeli Jews and coexistence between a Jewish state of Israel and a Palestinian state. Notably, such Jewish groups find little support among the Israeli electorate.

Many of Sabeel's supporters do not really understand all of Sabeel's stands and simply see it as a PC means to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and hopes of peace. These supporters are incorrect in their assessment of Sabeel and unfortunately they are dramatically growing in number. There is significant fear that those influenced by Sabeel's theology and latent, if not overt, anti-Judaism will have growing influence over the foreign policies of Britain, Canada, and the United States regarding their policies concerning Israel.


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