Ecumenical body launches attack on critical Jew at Greenbelt festival
This contains 1) an article by Mark Braverman, Jewish speaker, writer ; 2) the CCJ attack on Braverman and defence of zionism; 3) a riposte to CCJ and letter to its director by Robert Cohen. Plus Notes and links on CCJ.
Justin Welby, head of the world Anglican church as Archbishop of Canterbury. He is also a President of the Council of Christians and Jews which seems appropriate as his father and two grandparents were Jewish. He is, said the Times of Israel, eligible to live in Israel under the right of return (unlike, they didn’t say, the Palestinians). It seems unlikely he had much to do with CCJ attack on Mark Braverman (below), as it only meets once a year.
By Mark Braverman, blog, Politics of Hope
September 06, 2013
I’ll use this this posting to share a bit about the stir that was caused by Greenbelt’s invitation of me and others (including Sami Awad of Holy Land Trust) to speak, and the Festival’s hosting of the Kairos Britain launch. The Council of Christians and Jews, a UK advocacy group that, in close coordination with the Board of Jewish Deputies — a Jewish advocacy group that bears some resemblance to our Anti-Defamation League — created a lot of critical press in advance of the Greenbelt Festival, claiming that it presented a biased and unbalanced view of Israel. They also accused me, and by implication the Festival, of fostering anti-Semitic attitudes and speech. The full statement is [below].
Stay tuned for further postings. In the meantime, timed to coincide with the Jewish High Holy Days, here is my response to the CCJ’s charge that in challenging Zionism I have committed a “sweeping rejection of traditional Jewish teaching” and revived “the oldest form of Christian anti-Judaism.”
RESPONSE TO CCJ STATEMENT ON ISRAEL/PALESTINE PROGRAMMING BY GREENBELT
In its recent comments on my remarks at the 2013 Greenbelt Festival, Council of Christians and Jews has charged that in asserting that the actions of the State of Israel are immoral, I am laying “collective guilt” upon the Jewish people and as such I am committing “the oldest form of Christian anti-Judaism (How as a Jew I can do such a thing is an interesting question. Is CCJ suggesting that I am no longer a Jew, the implied question being: can one say the things I am saying about Israel and still be a Jew? — but that is another discussion). The reference to collective guilt is of course an allusion to the historic deicide charge, the assignment to the entire Jewish people, in perpetuity, responsibility for the crucifixion of Jesus. The evocation of the deicide charge in this context is something that gets my blood boiling. It’s a particularly ugly bit of Christian-Jewish history, something that caused my people untold suffering over the ages. Furthermore, it is a distortion of history and indeed of Christian theology that is a great Christian sin, not only against the Jews but against the heart of the Gospels. Apologists for the State of Israel’s illegal and immoral acts invoke this particular bit of Jewish-Christian history when they want to bring out the heavy artillery against those who challenge the status quo of unconditional support for Israel. Do they do this cynically, knowing full well the logical absurdity of connecting criticism of Israel with blaming Jews for the crucifixion and choosing to play this card because they know the effect it will have on Christians, or do they actually believe this? The first option makes me angry. The second makes me deeply sad. The fact that apologists or “defenders” of the State of Israel, and this includes not only professional advocates like those at CCJ but also some Jewish academics and clergy, appear unable to make a distinction between taking responsibility for current Jewish sins and the charge that the Jews killed Jesus – or, by the way, between the Palestinian call for boycott divestment and sanctions and the Nazi anti-Jewish laws — is an indication of how stuck we are in our past suffering and how catastrophic this is for the Jewish people today.
Robert Cohen has done a superb job of responding to CCJ’s charges, speaking for himself and – not officially but in my view very much in spirit – on behalf of the Greenbelt organizers, and I cannot add to or improve on what he has written in his blog, Micah’s Paradigm Shift. I will however, point out that I have been misquoted and will offer a few words about that.
CCJ has misquoted me as saying the following at Greenbelt:
“My people behind that wall – and I include Jews outside of Israel as well, because the wall is psychological and it is spiritual – have learned to hate.”
What I said was in the context of a discussion about the effect of the wall on the Jews of Israel. I said that the Jews living behind the Separation wall (that is what Israel calls it — in Hebrew, hafrada — separation, which can also be translated apartheid) are in a sense the most profound victims of the barrier. My point — made in the context of my story of the Palestinian child who asks her mother, “Why do they make the Jews live behind that wall?” — is that the wall may be stealing Palestinian land, but what the child sees is that it is really stealing the Jews’ souls. I did not say that the Jews “have learned to hate.” My words were: “They live behind a wall of soul-killing racism.”
It’s a nuanced difference but it’s key. My point was not to characterize Jews as hate-filled or acting in a hateful way. It is the wall that is the subject of my words, not the attitudes of Jews about Palestinians. I am not commenting about Jewish character or beliefs, but about the structure of separation and occupation that creates the conditions under which people learn to hate and fear. Living behind a wall such as that constructed by Israel effectively makes people into racists. And the point is that Israelis don’t see themselves that way. The ugly comments you can hear Israelis making about Palestinians (dirty, thieves, bad parents) and the fear-based beliefs (they want to kill all of us, they hate us, want to push us into the sea) originate because they do not know the Palestinians. That’s what the wall does, and it does it with chilling and horrible effectiveness. Israelis don’t know that they are racists any more than the Afrikaners identified themselves as such. I have a friend raised in South Africa, of old Afrikaner stock, who tells me, “I didn’t know about apartheid growing up. In a sense there was no apartheid for me. It was the air I breathed, the water I swam in.” The American soldiers who went off to fight in Vietnam, returning shattered psychologically and spiritually because of what they witnessed and in many cases what they did, did not identify the Vietnamese soldiers and civilians as human beings – they were “gooks” — a less-than-human enemy towards whom the American values and even laws governing respect for human life and dignity did not apply. This is what Israel needs to be rescued from, and we only have to look to the Jewish prophets and to the Gospels to find the roadmap for that rescue mission: speaking truth to power and nonviolent resistance.
So besides my horror and my anger about what Israel is doing, my heart hurts for my people. And out of that I call for the wall to come down and for Israel to become something that is sustainable (the current course is a fast lane to self destruction — morally, politically, spiritually) and that can provide a decent future for its citizens.
This week begins the holiest season in the Jewish calendar. In ten days time Jews the world over will stand in the synagogue on Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), beat their breasts (literally – we do this) and recite the vidui – the confessional prayer: We have sinned, we have betrayed, we have stolen, we have spoken falsely… It is a confession recited in the first person plural – and only so. Indeed, unless there is no other option, Jews are required to stand before God as a member of the congregation, of the collective whole of the people. We pray as a collective, we confess as a people. We take responsibility for ourselves as a people. What Israel does in my name is my responsibility and I have the right and the duty to speak to it, not only to my own people but to Christians, who, in following the teachings of that prophetic and fiercely faithful Galilean Jew of 2000 years ago, share the responsibility to seek justice, love mercy, walk humbly, and above all to put compassion for those who are suffering today – “the least of these my brothers” in Jesus’ words, above all other responsibilities.
Next week Jews will stand before the Ark of the Covenant in countless synagogues and pray for forgiveness. When I do that I will, like every other Jew in the synagogue on Yom Kippur, have in front of me physically the scrolls of the law, but in reality what I stand before is an 8 meter-high wall of concrete and steel that now stands between me and my maker, between me and my faith, and between me and my sisters and brothers in Palestine who in their call for justice and coexistence are calling me – and my Christian brothers and sisters in the UK and around the world – to faithfulness. We Jews can be forgiven for our sins – this is without question – but we must begin by acknowledging them.
By Council of Christians and Jews
The Council of Christians and Jews welcomes the Statement on Israel/Palestine programming by Greenbelt as a helpful public clarification of its position. It is a matter of public record that CCJ approached Greenbelt in March 2013, raising particular concerns about its invitation to speaker Dr Mark Braverman, to the exclusion of voices which might in turn challenge him and prompt a wider more inclusive response. It is similarly a matter of public record that this offer was turned down, on ideological rather than on pragmatic grounds.
CCJ’s issue was not with Dr Braverman’s politics, or his views on any number of actions by any Israeli regime. Our issue was that, as is clear from his book, Fatal Embrace, he locates his politics in a context where he sees Zionism as a mistake at best and immoral at worst. For Braverman, the roots of Zionism lie in the traditional understanding of the uniqueness of the Jewish people because of their Covenant with God. Now, Jews have been debating what the Covenant means, and what follows from it, for millennia (one might say: since Abraham). But such a sweeping rejection of traditional Jewish teaching – without challenge from other Jewish voices – is unlikely to bring insight.
Sadly, our concerns were only too justified. In his two talks at Greenbelt, Braverman was insistent that, for him, Zionism must logically lead to ethnic cleansing or apartheid. What is more, he made judgements about the soul or disposition of the Jewish people as a whole, saying: ‘my people behind that wall – and I include Jews outside of Israel as well, because the wall is psychological and it is spiritual – have learned to hate’. CCJ suggests, in sorrow not in anger, that the notion of the collective guilt of the whole Jewish people for the actions of some is not a radical position, but the oldest form of Christian anti-Judaism that there is.
In this context, it is unsurprising that he can see no good in mainstream Jewish-Christian dialogue. Thus, while Braverman welcomed moves ‘to purge Christianity of the toxic, sinful anti-Jewishness that had infested the faith’, his judgement was that the interfaith ‘industry’ which seeks to do this ‘has morphed into support for the longest-standing systematic human-rights violation in the world today. ‘ CCJ suggests that the fact that Braverman is led to such untrue hyperbole in his condemnation of Jewish-Christian dialogue as we know it is telling.
We regard these matters as serious, and thus feel compelled to comment. We hope hereby to draw a line. We look forward to a better quality of discussion with a view to offering a broader and deeper range of challenges to all settled positions next year.
We note that Greenbelt is a wide-ranging ‘arts, faith and justice’ festival, with many emphases. Most participants will not have heard Mark Braverman at all. We join with those who celebrated Greenbelt’s 40th anniversary and add our word of congratulations.
By Robert Cohen, blog, Micah’s Paradigm Shift
September 05, 2013
To those of you marking the Jewish New Year…Shona Tova!
As followers of this blog will know, I try not to trouble my readers more than once a month. But, thanks to comments made by the Council of Christians and Jews (CCJ), I’m breaking my normal blogging regime.
My previous post on the launch of Kairos Britain in which I asked: ‘When will there be a Jewish Kairos moment for Palestine?’ Has attracted more than the usual amount of traffic which indicates I must have hit some nerves (painfully or otherwise) around the blogosphere.
At the same time as I was publishing, the CCJ came out with some particularly misjudged criticisms of Kairos Britain as well as the Greenbelt festival where it was launched, and one of the keynote speakers at the event, the Jewish Israel/Palestine activist Mark Braverman. Some of you may have read Braverman’s book Fatal Embrace. If you haven’t it comes highly recommended, not just by me but from Walter Brueggemann who is widely recognised as an one of the most important Old Testament scholar and theologians of the last 50 years.
Below is the letter I emailed to Revd David Gifford, Chief Executive of CCJ, earlier this week. I address various points they raise in the letter below.
Letter to David Gifford, Chief Executive of the CCJ, Wednesday 4 September 2013
Dear Revd Gifford
Having your read your website’s two statements regarding Kairos Britain, Greenbelt and Mark Braverman, I wanted to share some observations from a Jewish perspective that you maybe less familiar with but one that is just as valid as those you present as mainstream in your statements. I should also point out that I attended the launch of Kairos Britain at Greenbelt and had the opportunity to meet Mark Braverman and others closely involved in the production of the document.
On a general note, let me first acknowledge that the CCJ has done outstanding work over the decades to promote Jewish-Christian understanding following the nadir of Jewish suffering during the Second World War. The CCJ has played a vital role in leading Christian repentance and rapprochement between the two communities in the UK and its regional and local activities are a welcome expression of tolerance and respect for the multi-faith and ethnic make-up of our country.
My concern though, having read your critical reaction to Kairos Britain’s call for the rights and human dignity of Palestinians to be recognised, is that your position is doing a great disservice to the central values of both Christianity and Judaism.
‘Balance’ works both ways
I find it odd that you are critical of the Greenbelt organisers for not inviting a speaker to counter-balance Mark Braverman’s appearance at the festival.
Let me ask you this.
Does the CCJ invite Palestinian or pro BDS Jewish speakers to its events when discussing Israel/Palestine in order to achieve ‘balance’? I suspect not.
Greenbelt has taken a stand after many years of listening, consulting, debating and praying about how it should respond to the well-documented injustices taking place everyday in the Occupied Territories. Just as the CCJ has the right to decide how to run its events and who to invite to speak…so does Greenbelt. If you want continuous ‘balance’ then it must work both ways. I’m sure Kairos Britain and Greenbelt could suggest future speakers for CCJ events which, they might consider, would otherwise present one-sided views of the politics and history of the Holy Land during the last 100 years or so.
Zionism and Judaism
I find it even more surprising that the CCJ, despite all it surely knows about Judaism and Jewish history, manages to confuse Zionism with traditional Jewish teaching.
Zionism is a heady mix of European 19th century ‘blood and soil’ nationalism combined with a genuine religious, spiritual and cultural connection to the Land of Israel. There are many ways to understand the attraction of Zionism to Jews, particularly to Eastern European Jews at the turn of the 20th century, but Zionism is very far from being the ‘traditional Jewish teaching’ that you accuse Mark Braverman of dismissing. The traditional understanding of ‘exile’ and ‘return’ involved a spiritual rather than a political route to Jewish salvation. It’s Zionism that bucks Jewish tradition, not Mark Braverman. But I’m sure you must know this.
Israel and the Jewish Diaspora
You quote the following from one of Braverman’s talks at the festival in which he refers to the Separation Wall that cuts deep into Palestinian land in the name of ‘Israeli security': “…my people behind that wall – and I include Jews outside of Israel as well, because the wall is psychological and it is spiritual – have learned to hate”. You appear to present this quote as evidence of Braverman’s anti-Semitism or perhaps some kind of Jewish self-hatred.
For an organisation so familiar with Jewish thinking and attitudes towards Israel you are displaying considerable ignorance on this point. You will know that Israel has always regarded itself as the State belonging to all Jews throughout the world and not just those who are its Jewish citizens. You will also know that successive Israeli Prime Ministers have liked to talk as if they are representing the views of the Jewish people worldwide.
That’s one reason why I, as a Jew, feel personally responsible and have sorrow and anger for what goes on in the name of the Jewish State, even though, living in Cumbria, I can hardly be thought of as responsible for it. I understand exactly the point Mark Braverman is making about the ‘psychological wall’ in modern Jewish self-identity about Israel and how this has led to Palestinians being perceived as the perennial ‘other’ always to be distrusted and often despised. Your accusation is a cheap and badly aimed shot.
As for the CCJ comparing the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign (BDS) to the Nazi boycotts of Jewish shops in 1930s, this is just an attempt to scare off Christians from taking non-violent direct action against discriminatory policies carried out by the State of Israel against the Palestinian people.
After 20 years and more of a failed peace process, BDS is a peaceful, legitimate protest against violations of international law (accepted as such by the UK and US governments).
Attempting to smear this approach by association with Nazi Germany shows a wilful misunderstanding of history and a deliberate misrepresentation of the motives of those showing solidarity with Christian Palestinians and also with Israeli Jews who believe the Occupation is the single biggest threat to the future of their country.
Jewish-Christian dialogue is undoubtedly a good thing until it stops being an honest dialogue and becomes a mutual appreciation society. I’m not sure you are doing the Jewish community, or Judaism itself, any long-term favours by failing to remind the Jewish partners in the dialogue that they should reconnect with the Jewish prophetic tradition. Good friends tell each other when they have made a mistake or are failing to see their errors.
The CCJ believes it is not for Christians to ‘tell Jews what to do’ after centuries of anti-Jewish Church teaching. However, it’s one thing wanting to see the world through Jewish eyes as part of a process of Jewish-Christian reconciliation but what room does that leave for Christians (and Muslims) in the Holy Land who have a very different experience and perception of the State of Israel? At some point the debate has to move beyond ‘understanding’ the ‘Jewish point of view’ (and by the way, there is no such thing anyway – 2 Jews, 3 opinions etc).
Refuting the statistics
You cast doubt on the statistics and reports quoted in Kairos Britain which document the oppressive and discriminatory nature of the Israeli Occupation and you suggest that these could be challenged. I look forward to you, or others, attempting to do this. You will find it an impossible task. No doubt the context can be challenged, based on the endless appeal to the Israeli ‘security’ paradigm. In the end though, you just have to count how many Palestinian children have been killed in the last 20 years compared to how many Israelis children have been killed to get a sense of which side should be the most fearful of the continuing situation.
Finally, I would urge the CCJ to reflect on the fact that it is possible to support a Jewish homeland in Israel/Palestine without having to defend (or turn a blind eye) to what has happened to the Palestinians over the last 65 years. A more critical stance on Israel is to the long-term benefit of both Christian and Jewish communities here and in Israel/Palestine. Personally, I have no doubt that the Jewish future, and the future of Judaism itself, will be defined by our relationship with the Palestinian people. This is the single most important issue we face as a community.
You may like to read my considered response to the launch of Kairos Britain at my blog: Micah’s Paradigm Shift: ‘When will there be a Jewish Kairos moment for Palestine?’ Here’s the link.
With kind regards
Kendal, Cumbria, UK
Council of Christians and Jews
Founded 1942 by Founded 1942 by the radical Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple as a counter to antisemitism. Meets once a year.
Current director: Rev. David Gifford.
On Israel and Palestine, Rev. Gifford told the Jewish Telegraph there were two narratives but as for Israel in the media, he noted: “In every conflict there are two narratives and it’s not fair that the Israel narrative doesn’t get a fair crack of the whip.
“It always seems that the reader says, ‘This is the Israeli side and this is the Palestinian side’, then falls on the side of the Palestinians.”
On March 10 2012, he posted this statement on the CCJ website:
“The Revd Stephen Sizer is fully entitled to his views on the Israel/Palestine conflict but he has to be aware that criticism of Israel is one thing while publicizing websites with antisemitic content goes beyond what is tolerable.
CCJ has expressed grave concern to the Bishop of Guildford in whose diocese Mr Sizer is a priest – and has drawn the attention of the Surrey police to what they claim was an action tantamount to encouraging race ‘hatred’.”
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Lord Carey of Clifton b.1935
Former Archbishop of Canterbury
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Revd Dr David Coffey
Former President of the Baptist World Alliance
[Member The Religious Advisory Council, Tony Blair Faith Foundation; Member of the Evangelical Alliance Council. Patron of Embrace ME (Middle East), Patron of Mildmay (HIV charity). Latest book All one in Christ Jesus – a passionate appeal for evangelical unity
Mrs Elizabeth Corob b.1928
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Henry Grunwald OBE QC b.circa 1943
Former President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews [2003 to 2009]
[Co-founder, first chairman and now Vice-President of the Jewish Leadership Council. Criminal barrister at Charter Chambers, London]
Lord Harries of Pentregarth, b. 1936
Former Bishop of Oxford, and former Chair of CCJ
[On the liberal wing of the Church of England]
Rt Revd Dr Christopher Herbert, b. 1944
Retired Bishop of St. Albans and former Chair of CCJ
Dr Lionel Kopelowitz, b. 1926
Past President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews
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Sir Michael Latham, b. 1942
Former Conservative MP and former Trustee of CCJ
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Clive Marks CBE FCA, b. 1932
Former Trustee of CCJ
[He is an honorary life president of the Charity Norwood, patron The Queen.]
Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, b.1932
Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church
[Has called for reform of RC Church, but caught up himself in accusations of covering up paedophilia by clergy.
The Hon Gerard Noel FRSL b. 1926
Author and former Editor of the Catholic Herald
[Son of the 4th Earl of Gainsborough. Wrote biography of the worst Nazi appeaser, the weak, silly, hypochondriac Pope Pius Xll, misleadingly titled Hound of Hitler.]
The Revd Baroness Richardson of Calow OBE
First woman President of the Methodist Conference and cross-bench member of the House of Lords.
R Stephen Rubin OBE in his ’70s?
Chairman of the Pentland Group
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Sir Timothy Sainsbury, b.1932
Politician and businessman
[Youngest son of Baron Sainsbury of supermarkets; Tory MP 1973-97, President of Conservative Friends of Israel, 1997-2005]
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