February 2010. Toronto. Just before Christmas, a ecumenical gathering of Palestinian Christians met in Bethlehem to launch the Kairos Palestine Document, which urges a boycott of Israel.
As option B, the document also approves “armed resistance” as carried out by “some political parties,” clearly meaning Hamas and other terrorist groups. However, the document rejects the charge of terrorism, labelling armed attacks on Israelis as “legal resistance.”
Such “resistance” has included a daily rain of rockets on the men, women and children of Sderot. It includes suicide bombings aboard buses and blowing up teenagers at a discotheque. It includes the assassination of parents and children in a pizza parlour and the mass murder of elderly Jews at a Passover Seder.
The gathering in Bethlehem took place under the auspices of the World Council of Churches, with representatives of Anglican and liberal Protestant churches attending from around the world. The United Church of Canada was there too, represented by Bruce Gregerson.
Anti-Israel activists are claiming the Kairos Document is a unified call for a boycott from the leaders of the Palestinian churches. But this is just the boycotters’ usual misrepresentation.
The leaders of the Jerusalem churches wrote a non-committal response to the Kairos Document, stating “We hear the cry of our children.” While their failure to condemn the document shows their moral bankruptcy, the church leaders have not sunk so low as to actively endorse mass murder.
The signatories do include two impressive sounding names: Michel Sabbah the former Patriarchate of the Catholic Church in Jerusalem and Archbishop Theodosios Atallah Hanna of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem. But these loose cannons represent only themselves.
I asked the Reverend Gregerson why the United Church of Canada attended this gathering. He was quick to point out that the UCC hasn’t actually signed the Kairos Document. He assured me the Church doesn’t support terrorism and said he went to show solidarity with the Palestinians.
When I asked about the document’s endorsement of terrorism as “legal resistance,” it appeared Gregerson hadn’t noticed this before and said he couldn’t comment on it.
He added that he thought the Palestinians were clear about the need for non-violence and said he “felt strongly that the document was built on principles of Christian love.”
To be sure, the Palestinian Christian approach to attacking Israel improves on the Islamist approach. The Christians don’t talk of Jews as the descendents of apes and pigs. Rather, we’re told the occupation: “distorts the image of God in the Israeli,” while descriptions of Israeli “evil” and “sin” salt the document.
There are also some choice Biblical quotes. One compares the Palestinians to the early Christians martyred for their faith, claiming: “For Your sake we are being killed all day long,” thus suggesting that, like the Romans, Israel persecutes and murders Christians.
In contrast to Islamists who proclaim their love of death, the churches speak of “a culture of life.” They even speak of “love and mutual respect.” But in a document that approves mass murder, such words ooze hypocrisy.
Otherwise, the document follows standard Palestinian propaganda.It denounces Israel’s “cruel war against Gaza,” with no mention of the eight years of Palestinian bombardment of Israeli civilians that prompted it.
The document denounces the “separation wall” with no mention of the suicide bombers it’s designed to keep out. It bemoans the thousands of “prisoners languishing in Israeli prisons” with no mention of the crimes they’re imprisoned for.
It calls the occupation a “sin,” ignoring that Israel occupied the West Bank in a defensive war against an Arab alliance determined to push the Jews into the sea.
And of course, the document ignores that Israel has repeatedly offered peace deals giving the West Bank, Gaza, and east Jerusalem to the Palestinians, but that President Abbas and Arafat before him will not take yes for an answer.
I’d like to report that in Bethlehem the Reverend Gregerson reminded his fellow Christians that thou shalt not murder, even if the victims are Jews. But actually he spoke on the supposed risk that churches might be called antisemitic when they merely attempt “to be critical of Israel’s policies.”
In our interview, though, Gregerson agreed that anti-Israel activism is indeed sometimes antisemitic. He draws the line at where criticism crosses into attempts to undermine Israel’s right to exist.
Moreover, Gregerson said antisemitism has been a problem within the United Church. He specifically referred to the “very troublesome” background material to the anti-Israel boycott motions presented (and rejected) at the church’s 2009 national conference.
The material included accusations of bribery and the suggestion that some Members of Parliament are “affiliated with Israel” and shouldn’t be trusted with sensitive government portfolios.
This was not the only time boycott supporters within the Church have made "troublesome" remarks. During a trip to An-Najah University in Nablus in 2006, Karin Brothers reportedly suggested that the “Jewish community” controls media coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
According to the report published by An-Nujah University, Brothers also claimed that the Jewish community oversees Canadian politicians, stating: “Any politician would be targeted if he turned his back to Israel and would lose his job.”
Miriam Spies, another boycott supporter, wrote an article in the September 2009 United Church Observer which claimed that, at a checkpoint between Bethlehem and Jerusalem, Israeli soldiers arbitrarily shoot and kill Palestinians. Her Palestinian guide explained that it just “depended on the mood of the soldiers.”
Accusations of Jews controlling politicians and the media have a long and dishonourable history, while the charge that Israelis murder Palestinians on a whim or for sport looks like nothing but a new version of the ancient blood libel.
I asked Gregerson if anti-Israel boycotts are themselves antisemitic. “I’m not prepared to answer that,” he replied. “I’m an officer of the church, and the Church hasn’t yet answered that question.” He added, though, that one “consideration in rejecting the boycott motions” was that the Church “didn’t want to undermine the existence of Israel.”
That’s good to hear. In the meanwhile, though, on terrorism, the United Church wants to have its cake and eat it too – to reject terrorism while standing in solidarity with Palestinians who endorse it.
Update as of January 2011, the United Church still continues to actively promote the Kairos Palestine Document, with its endorsement of terrorism and all.
This article previously appeared in the Feb 16, 2010 Faculty Forum, an electronic newsletter produced by Scholars for Peace in the Middle East and on the Harry's Place blog in Britain.