A full page advertisement ran in the Sept. 20 edition of the New York Times sponsored by the World Jewish Congress. The advertisement made four points, two with which I agree wholeheartedly, one with which I lack sufficient knowledge to make a decision, and one with which I totally disagree because of the danger it poses to justice.
The two with which I concur are: 1) “We should never have to be afraid to practice our faith,” and 2) “We must never be silent (while people of any faith are attacked).” Amen and amen! The one for which I am not knowledgeable enough to respond is, “We are one people.” I’m not sure if my Jewish colleagues would agree. I’ll simply punt to them to discuss, although I would be greatly interested in the discourse.
The point which deeply troubles me is, “Anti-Semitism and anti-Israel lies must be fought.” The advertisement elaborates by stating: “The age-old hatred of Jews today now disguises itself as anti-Zionism, an irrational hatred of Israel we’ve seen in the halls of the U.N. and on college campuses in the form of the BDS movement. The hatred must end now.”
First, I totally agree lies must be confronted. Our failure to do so has led to a Trump presidency. I also totally agree anti-Semitism is on the rise, demonstrated by tiki torch carrying thugs in Charlottesville whose irrational obsession with Jews led to chants of “Jews will not replace us.” And if I can tie this observation with the advertisement’s point of never being silent, then all people — whether of faith or not — cannot be silent bystanders to anti-Semitism.
However, I do take great issue with the attempt to link critique of a secular nation state by movements like BDS — Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions — with anti-Semitism. To critique a government can never be equated with hating a people. For example, I have been critical of the Castro regime of Cuba; this does not make me anti-Latinx. There is something barbaric about the mantra “my country, right or wrong,” whether that country is Israel, the United States or my beloved Cuba.
I would argue those who are the most pro-Israel — Evangelicals — are also the most anti-Semitic, believing Jews will not be saved during the Rapture and will eventually burn in a lake of fire at the end of times for rejecting Jesus the Messiah. Motivated by an interpretation that Jesus’ second coming will occur after the Jerusalem Temple is rebuilt, they support Israel in achieving this goal, regardless of tactics employed. Their support for Israel exists in spite of their hatred for Jews best demonstrated in their belief and hope of an apocalyptic genocide (read the Left Behind series). The unwavering loyalty of the U.S. to a foreign nation (distinguished from a people of faith) is complicit with the continuous injustices occurring in that corner of the world. Specifically, we must hold accountable both Evangelicals who misunderstand the Book of Revelation and politicians who do not misunderstand the power of AIPAC.
I recognize our anti-Semitic history, cognizant of how our Jewish sisters and brothers suffered at the hands of Christians for centuries; but this does not excuse the oppressed of history wielding the power of the oppressors. While I stand against the oppression caused by anti-Semitism, I also stand against the secular State of Israel, mainly due to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s policies. For decades he has undermined peace negotiations by encouraging settlements on Palestinian designated lands. In addition, his attempt to suppress Arab-Israeli votes exposes his Jim Crow tactics to disenfranchise a segment of the citizenship due to their racial characteristics. Both institutional and physical violence against the Palestinians must be voiced and condemned. Israel’s anti-peace and anti-Arab administration requires denouncement.
But let’s be clear: standing against Israel does not mean I automatically stand with the Palestinians oblivious of how they too have fallen short of the mark. Again, we need to become more sophisticated in our analysis and be able to criticize their actions, denounce the violence of the past and its use in the present. Blatant anti-Semitic rhetoric, which I find in several of their denunciations, only fuels the fires of hatred and distrust. And yet, my preferential option toward the Palestinians is because, overall, they are the ones who are suffering economic and political oppression. As a liberation theologian, I must stand with Palestinians while remaining ready to also criticize their policies. And more importantly, I must be clear that the unjustifiable death of one Palestinian or one Israeli is one death too many, a tragic waste of those created in the image of God.
If we are for reducing (or, dare we dream, eliminating) violence, if we support the two-state solution as the best roadmap toward peace, if we are against the oppression of the least among us, then we must voice our distress at governments, whether Israeli or Palestinian, when their actions and pronouncements lead to greater mistrust, greater oppression and, most importantly, greater violence. To say that critique of a nation state is akin to anti-Semitism is simply naïve, disingenuous and wrong. The Netanyahu administration leaves me no choice but to stand against his hawkish policies and its oppressive tactics. I challenge the government of Israel for its settler colonialism and apartheid policies. And one nonviolent response might very well be by supporting BDS, a Palestine movement inspired by the South African anti-apartheid movement.