This summer, several Mainline Christian church denominations will consider divestment from Israel. Some of these denominations have seriously considered it before. Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions proposals, usually referred to by the acronym BDS, are not new. They were implemented against Apartheid South Africa effectively and eventually resulted in the collapse of that system of government. Similar proposals aimed at Israel are extraordinarily problematic and troubling, not only because of their potential impact on the Israeli economy, but because of their impact upon Jewish-Christian relations and their impact on Jewish communities around the world. Why?
Those promoting BDS are primarily advocates for a SINGLE state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Most see the conflict as one in which the entire territory now under the control of Israel is occupied Arab land and should be Palestinian land. Many proposals and documents supporting BDS are deliberately ambiguous about what constitutes “Occupied Palestinian land” so as not to alienate those who desire a two state solution. For the most part, advocates of BDS see Israel, the Jewish state, as illegitimate and do not desire a Palestinian state alongside Israel, but instead a Palestinian state in its place.
Why is all of this relevant TODAY?
There are renewed and strengthened calls for BDS proposals and they are being discussed in some of our local and national church communities right now. This is to no small extent due to the creation of a document known as “Kairos / A Moment of Truth: A word of faith, hope and love from the heart of Palestinian suffering” which was issued in December by a group of Palestinian Christians including the leaders of several Palestinian Christian churches and organizations. While Palestinians certainly continue to suffer, this document is anything but one of love or truth as I will show, but instead seems to be a document of faith and hope in the effectiveness of playing on empathy for fellow Christians and of latent and blatant Antisemitism.
The Kairos Palestine Document calls upon Christians around the world to employ BDS against Israel. Kairos intends to mimic the results of the 1985 document produced in South Africa. Its intention is to compare Israel with Apartheid South Africa, a comparison that not only is grossly in error for a voluminous number of reasons, but also is based in age old Jew hatred and is designed to elicit the response of hatred and suspicion from those Christians who are willing to listen.
In South Africa, the oppressed people were oppressed because of their race. Of vital importance is the fact that they were people who should have been granted the rights of citizens of the state. The Palestinians are not being oppressed because of their race, but because many are actively trying to harm Israelis. Palestinians as a whole remain in a state of war with Israel and therefore Israel must secure itself against them. Those residents of Gaza and the West Bank are not, nor should be considered, citizens of Israel and therefore are not being denied the rights of citizenship in Israel. They are members of a people actively engaged in war, using violence to fight their enemy as well as negotiating for the elimination of their enemy’s state. Those advocating that Palestinians be given the right of citizenship in Israel are actually advocating for that agenda, the end of the Jewish state, a single state solution.
Meanwhile, those Arabs who are citizens of Israel have more rights and privileges by far than the citizens of any other nation in the Middle East and so are hardly being “oppressed.” The analogy with South Africa fails miserably, but those who are ignorant of the realities of the situation could easily be persuaded that Israel is at fault while not checking to see if the accusations are fair. That is the intention of making the Apartheid accusation, namely to tar Israel and rally support against it. The document fails in numerous other areas as well.
●The Kairos Document advocates for the ELIMINATION of the Jewish state, not for a Palestinian state alongside it living in peace. It promotes a SINGLE state solution and therefore is not a document of peace between Israelis and Palestinians at its heart, but is instead an attempt to rally support for a Palestinian victory and the elimination of the Jewish state altogether.
●It pretends that Israel has no legitimate concern for security even while advocating for the very violence against Israel that necessitates that concern—for example:
●It demonstrates in NUMEROUS places SUPPORT for HAMAS, a recognized terrorist organization, as the elected government of the Palestinian people and support for VIOLENT RESISTANCE, even terrorism, as legitimate while at the same time incongruously advocating for “non-violence.”
●It pretends that without occupation there would be no violence against Israel, something proven by history to be outrageously incorrect, with many Jews killed in violence including suicide attacks, even PRIOR TO WORLD WAR II, much less prior to 1967, as evidence of that fact.
●It ignores, because of its single state solution goal, the fact that peace could have been achieved not once but TWICE in recent years alone were it not for the refusal of the PALESTINIAN side to agree to it (2000 and 2007).
●It functionally condemns as EVIL, the Jewish state, and by implication all JEWS who support it, the vast majority of Jews in the world.
●It is a morally and ethically bankrupt document that exploits Christian love and concern for the poor and weak along with tendencies, latent and not-so-latent, toward Jew hatred in order to promote the persecution of the Jewish state and to avoid placing any real responsibility on the Palestinians for the absence of peace.
●It is inherently a document of Jew hatred under the guise of criticism of Israel, something that has become all too politically acceptable.
●It also warps the concept of Liberation Theology, advocacy for the poor and weak, by turning into victimized freedom fighters the defeated Arab armies with their vastly superior numbers, who were bent on the slaughter of Jews both in 1948 and 1967. Let me remind you of a bit of history. King Hussein of Jordan signed a defense pact with Egypt on May 30, 1967, less than a week before the war started. Colonel Nasser of Egypt then announced:
• The armies of Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon are poised on the borders of Israel...to face the challenge, while standing behind us are the armies of Iraq, Algeria, Kuwait, Sudan and the whole Arab nation. This act will astound the world. Today they will know that the Arabs are arranged for battle, the critical hour has arrived. We have reached the stage of serious action and not declarations.
This, only a few days after Syrian Defense Minister Hafez Assad said:
• Our forces are now entirely ready not only to repulse the aggression, but to initiate the act of liberation itself, and to explode the Zionist presence in the Arab homeland. The Syrian army, with its finger on the trigger, is united....I, as a military man, believe that the time has come to enter into a battle of annihilation.
Here is where liberal theologians fail and actually do harm.
Behind the BDS efforts in the Mainline Christian community and in the Palestinian Christian community lies an effort to promote, as applicable to the conflict, what is known as Liberation Theology. Liberation Theology argues, in essence, that Christians are duty bound to aid the poor and weak against their oppressors. We, Jews, might simply call this an aspect of Tikkun Olam or perhaps, dealing with its economic aspects, Social Justice. In South America, where it is a dominant religious theology, it is the cry of the impoverished and politically oppressed masses.
Then Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict, argued in a document he produced for the Catholic Church in 1984 that Liberation Theology is basically Marxism with Christian overtones. It argues not for faith or belief but that people should help the lower class rise up against the wealthy, the weak against the powerful. It is a theology of class conflict. Now, many advocates for the basic philosophy would disagree with that sentiment and would argue, as we, Reform Jews, do about our concept of Social Justice, that the goal is a reasonable life for all, not the elimination of capitalism or personal wealth. Regardless of how you might feel about these ideas, the real questions are whether or not they apply to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and what happens when they are applied.
To apply Liberation Theology here implies that the Israelis, the citizens of the Jewish state, are an oppressor people, an Evil people, and not people defending themselves against an enemy seeking their harm. The Kairos Palestine Document refers more than once to Israel’s “PRETEXT” of security, implying that it both lacks a reasonable need to secure itself and that its actions in that regard are purely malicious. Its authors need to argue in this fashion because, if indeed Israel’s defensive measures are legitimate, Liberation Theology cannot possibly apply to the conflict. Given the fact that violence against Jews by the Arab inhabitants of the land occurred in significant amounts, including riots and even mass murder in the 1920s and the infamous massacre in Hebron in 1929, LONG BEFORE there was a Jewish state, the contention that such violence is based upon the events after 1967 or even 1948 is grossly incorrect. In fact, the history of the last century of the conflict provides ample evidence that violence against Jews by Arabs in the land has been primarily driven by the hatred of Jews as a race, even when their numbers were few and Arabs had the power to oppress them.
Yet, the document states that:
In the face of this reality, Israel justifies its actions as self-defense, including occupation, collective punishment and all other forms of reprisals against the Palestinians. In our opinion, this vision is a reversal of reality. Yes, there is Palestinian resistance to the occupation. However, if there were no occupation, there would be no resistance, no fear and no insecurity.
This statement is laughable were it not for the fact that lives are at stake and good people around the world take this statement at face value. On the other hand, one could in fact make the case that Liberation Theology could apply to supporting the Jews against those who would see their harm! The Jews are only not being attacked and killed now, as we speak, by the Palestinians and other Arab nations because the Jews have the upper hand and can and are defending themselves. The Palestinians certainly wish to apply Liberation Theology to themselves because it makes them the victims, pegs Israel as an evil oppressor, evincing age old stereotypes rooted in Jew hatred and encourages American and European Christians to support Palestinians by acting against Israel.
Many Christian leaders with whom I have spoken about this issue think that the application of Liberation Theology to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not only inappropriate, but inherently antisemitic. It obviously should not be the case that only when being oppressed and slaughtered in attempted genocide should Jews find support from Christians. Having gained the upper hand against those who would slaughter them should not suddenly result in the Jews being seen as oppressors, yet for many it seems that Israel’s ability and willingness to defend its population has wrongly resulted in exactly that.
Apparently, however, this problem has failed to be understood by those church groups who have regularly considered and currently consider BDS proposals that seek to harm Israel or consider offering support for the circulation of the Kairos Palestine Document. It is of no little concern to us in the Reform Jewish movement that these same church groups tend to be our closest of friends and allies on our social agenda including the Presbyterian Church, the Disciples of Christ, the United Church of Christ and others, and that these boycott proposals will result in making it difficult, if not impossible, for us to continue working with them in coalitions.
The Kairos document poses perhaps the greatest threat to relations between Jews and liberal Christians that has ever arisen. The Central Conference of American Rabbis’ commentary on the document, should ALARM any in the interfaith community who consider advocating for it, much less support its conclusions. The CCAR is exceedingly liberal in its general, and certainly political, outlook, so it is not coming from anything close to a politically conservative perspective.
The CCAR response states:
A close reading of Kairos reveals that it is anything but a document based on truth. Careful consideration of what it says and what it does not say, of the history it paints and the history it obfuscates, and of the moral yardstick it applies to Israel yet compromises in the face of Palestinian violence, reveals a morally inconsistent and theologically suspect document that speaks only part of the truth, and not always that.
Sadly, this document also rejects or ignores more than a half a century of Jewish-Christian rapprochement and takes its place among other Christian documents which, throughout history, have intended to delegitimize the Jewish people’s continuing Covenant with God, particularly by arguing that our Covenant has been superseded by Jesus and Christianity. Too often, such Church documents have been utilized as pretexts for our persecution, our expulsion, and even our attempted annihilation. Since the Shoah and World War II, and particularly beginning with Vatican II, the Jewish people has come to expect better from our Christian brothers and sisters….
The Kairos Document has been explicitly endorsed by a relative few Palestinian Christian leaders.  However, the acceptance and endorsement of this document by certain other individuals and church groups with whom we have enjoyed harmonious interfaith relations has been surprising, disturbing and profoundly disappointing.
For the contemporary Christian to ascribe to this supersessionist document would be saying to their Jewish neighbors and friends – indeed to the world – that Judaism has no validity as a covenant religion; that the pain and martyrdom endured by countless generations of Jews was for naught; that the world would have been better off without the religious, cultural, spiritual, social, scientific and educational contributions of Jewish people throughout ages; and that the God we worship and serve is no God at all. So many mainstream churches have rejected supersessionism, not only because of the centuries of persecution it has engendered, but because they believe it not to be true.
In short, those who would associate themselves with this document and the religious foundation upon which it is based would be erasing years of Christian soul searching and repentance as if they had not been. We expect more from our interfaith partners. We are forced to wonder whether these Church organizations do not recognize the supersessionist and anti-Semitic nature of the Kairos document or whether they no longer care to share interfaith dialogue with us.
Therefore, the Central Conference of American Rabbis:
1. Declares that Kairos is a factually, theologically and morally flawed document;
2. Insists that the document’s explicit supersessionism and inherent anti-Semitism prevent Kairos from providing a legitimate framework for interfaith dialogue and understanding;
3. Acknowledges with appreciation Kairos’ call to the Palestinian people to reject hate  (as we all must do), to follow the Christian commandment to “love both enemies and friends” and to resist “through respect of life,” as required by cited Christian Scriptures; 
4. Challenges the authors of Kairos to be true to the love and respect of life they endorse and the very scriptures they quote by rejecting as immoral and un-Christian the indiscriminate and deliberately targeted murder of Israeli men, women and children;
5. Again insists that such acts of murder, either as acts of revenge or with the specious designation of “legal Palestinian resistance,”  do indeed comprise terrorism, denounced by people of conscience throughout the world as an unacceptable tool for achieving political ends;
6. Asserts that the Jewish people’s right to national sovereignty in the Land of Israel is primarily established, not by subjective religious belief or fundamentalist reading of Hebrew Scriptures, but by a millennium of national existence and civilization there, followed, even in exile, by nearly two millennia of unbroken physical and spiritual support of and yearning for the Land;
7. Labels as theologically hypocritical and historically dishonest the assertion that the Palestinian people’s historic presence on the land establishes its right of return,  but that the Jewish people’s historic presence, dating back 3000 years, does not establish that very same right;
8. Calls on Christians of good faith to recognize the complexity of the Israeli-Arab conflict, which is complicated by territorial dispute as well as competing allegiances to sacred land, Palestinian suffering and Palestinian terror; and which must not be reduced, as Kairos’ authors do, to an assertion that the Jewish people are in the wrong and that the Palestinian cause is fully just;
9. Calls on all who have endorsed Kairos to look deeply into its words and honestly into their own souls and to recognize and forswear the flawed and distorted picture of reality it paints;
10. Serves notice that the CCAR would require serious reflection before continuing our common cause with any Church body or organization that endorses or continues to endorse Kairos;
11. Re-affirms our commitment to our continuing interfaith cooperation with Christian groups that affirm the continuing, unique Covenant between God and the Jewish people; and
12. Recommits itself to all worthy and legitimate endeavors to bring an end to the suffering of the Palestinian people, to be achieved through negotiations to establish a Palestinian State adjacent to and in cooperation with a secure Jewish State of Israel.
13. Urges our members to educate themselves on this matter and to seek opportunities to share concerns about the Kairos document with their local Christian colleagues and lay people.
I urge everyone to speak with their Christian friends about the Kairos document and to ask them to speak up against it to their church leaders. The Kairos Palestine Document and the inappropriate application of Liberation Theology to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have the potential to do tremendous harm to Jewish-Christian relations by mainstreaming age old prejudices, much less to do harm to the nation of Israel, the Jewish state.
We will not reach a righteous solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through political and economic pressure directed to achieve the same bad solution that has been tried through military means several times before, namely the creation of a single Arab dominated entity in place of Israel and a Palestinian state. Peace will not be found through the demonization of Jews or the Jewish state. It is sad to see people of faith, including too many religious leaders, trumpeting words of war as if they were words of peace.