One wonders why the anti-Israel movement, including Friends of Sabeel-North America and the Israel Palestine Mission Network of the PCUSA, publicizes the ravings of Naim Ateek of the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Center in Jerusalem.
Oh, yeah, I forgot–it’s because they agree with him.
FOSNA has an article up (to which IPMN links) about his speech to the recent Eighth International Sabeel Conference:
“Empires have always used religion and theology to their advantage,” Naim Ateek told the Eighth International Sabeel Conference. “Israel is an integral part of American empire; in its hegemony over Palestinians it acts and governs as empire.” Ateek is the founder and director of Sabeel, the ecumenical liberation theology center based in Jerusalem.
“Empire” is the in-word with the religious left these days. I guess they’re trying to say that the United States its like the Roman Empire or something. If so, it’s the most inefficient, self-interest ignoring, conquest-avoiding empire in history. Israel’s not much better–instead of expelling, enslaving, or simply killing their enemies on the West Bank and Gaza, they gave over the later to the rule of people who want to exterminate them, and put most of the former into the hands of who had formerly sworn to destroy them. Not a very well run empire, that. They really could have learned something from the Ottomans, or the Muslim Caliphate.
“The United States acted as empire last week with its veto in the U.N. Security Council, overpowering the votes of 14 other nations,” Ateek said. The veto defeated a resolution that condemned Israeli settlement building in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, contrary to U.S. policy stating that settlements are illegal.”
Ateek should stick to whatever it is he allegedly knows, and leave U.S. foreign policy out of it. As Gilead Ini of CAMERA, responding to Harvard government professor Stephen Walt, points out, it has not been official U. S. policy that the settlements are illegal since Ronald Reagan was president. As far as it goes, I’ve often wondered why there is so much stress in the anti-Israel movement about the settlements being “illegal.” I think they were stupid policy from the beginning, but in an region where virtually no regime other than Israel operates on the basis of the rule of law, what difference does “illegality” really make?
“The establishment of Israel was a relapse to the most primitive concepts of an exclusive, tribal God. At its core is the way some secular Zionists interpreted the Holocaust,” Ateek said. “For some, the only authentic response to the Holocaust, religious or secular, Jewish or not, must be total commitment to the security and wellbeing of Israel,” he said.
And here we go off into anti-Semitic territory. Given the generalized adulation of Ateek on the religious left, I’m going to assume that this would be an applause line at a convention of the IPMN or FOSNA or other mainline anti-Israel activist groups. Keep in mind that such groups are made up almost exclusively of political leftists. Now, add to that the fact that for at least fifty years, one of the most dominant mantras of such people has been the right of “self-determination.” Ateek himself has used that expression with regard to the Palestinians. Supposedly, every ethnic group, or at least every national people, have the right to determine their own destiny, to decide their own political, social, economic, and cultural arrangements. It was used to support decolonization in Africa and Asia; it was used to support independence movements in places such as East Timor, Algeria, and Chechnya; it was used to combat apartheid in South Africa and Rhodesia; it was used to oppose American foreign policy in places like Nicaragua, Iran, and Chile. It is one of the guiding lodestones of post-World War II leftism (in many instances, appropriately and rightly), and yet apparently there is one people who do not have the right of self-determination, and whose struggle for a state of their own brings only condemnation. For Ateek, Palestinians have the right of self-determination, but Jews do not. It is just that simple.
As for his claim that the establishment of Israel was expressive of a “primitive concept” of an “exclusive, tribal God,” one could say that this is simply the anti-Judaism of a Christian bigot who accords no validity to Judaism at all. Or one could say that it is simple name-calling. Or one could point out that a quarter of the citizens of Israel are Palestinian Christians and Muslims whose families did not leave during the War of Independence, whereas most of the Middle East is Judenrein, or nearly so, by virtue of the expulsion of almost a million Jews from such inclusive, non-tribal states as Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Yemen, etc. after World War II.
Ateek told the conference that “Israel has adopted a new god, one named Betahone, meaning security. This god is nourished continually by the American empire with the most up-to-date military technology.” Israel’s export of arms is fourth in the world, he said.
Israel’s “god” is security, because it believes in defending its people from those who would slaughter them. It’s a good thing that no one in the West Bank or Gaza is armed, or thinks that their people have a right to security, because that would blow a hole in Ateek’s claim that only Israel “worships” security.
“The God that I have seen in Jesus Christ is not the god of armies, not the violent god found in certain biblical texts,” Ateek said. “It is the vulnerable God of love in Jesus Christ who was nailed to the cross. God is not the god of empire but the nonviolent God who is found in the refugee camps, suffering with the families while the Israeli army carries out its incursions,” he said.
Next question for Ateek: which other biblical texts does he reject? The ones that say God chose the people of Israel to be His vessel for blessing the world? The ones that draw Jesus’s lineage back through the Jewish people to Abraham? The ones that show Isaac rather than Ishmael being the one to bear God’s promises to Abraham to the future? Frankly, the division he draws, at leats by implication, between the Old Testament and the New suggests an adherent of the Marcionite heresy. But Ateek has far bigger political fish to fry than mere theological orthodoxy.
“The power of God is not expressed in war, violence or assassination, not in oppression, checkpoints and Apartheid walls, in lies and injustice,” Ateek said.” The biblical God is full of truth and justice, love and mercy and compassion. This is not the god of `Christendom’ or `Israel-dom.’ The biblical God expresses power through forgiveness, peace and reconciliation,” he said.
“I believe God’s power could be seen in the nonviolence of the recent Egyptian revolution,” Ateek said.
Already the events in Egypt are being mythologized. I wonder what the Coptic Christians of Egypt think of that “nonviolence”:
In any case, Ateek’s rhetoric at this point is nothing more than that. There’s no recognition here of the distinction between Christian and non-Christian polities, nor any analysis of the rightful place of force in the administration of justice and protection of public safety that Paul indicated was a legitimate function of government. It’s just rhetoric in the service of a politician’s cause, which is all Ateek has ever been or had. Same goes for his disciples.
(YouTube link via Dexter Van Zile.)