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UCCtruths

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Largest Reform temple in New England responds to Old South Church

Friday, October 26, 2007

Rabbi Ronne Friedman from Temple Israel, the largest Reform temple in New England, issued this public letter to Nancy Taylor of the United Church of Christ's Old South Church (hat tip to Solomonia for his excellent coverage):
Reverend Nancy Taylor Old South Church 645 Boylston Street Boston, MA 02116

Dear Reverend Taylor,

Although we are on a first-name basis with one another and often work together on issues of justice, conscience and peace within our community, I've chosen to address you formally on this occasion as a symbol of the increased distance between us that is a result of your decision to host the upcoming Conference of the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center at Old South Church.

As you have defended your decision from the pulpit of Old South and in the pages of the Jewish Advocate, you've spoken of Old South's longstanding history of promoting "civic debate." If it is truly your intention to promote civic debate and to do so in a manner that is open, honest and fair, then you have to be true to the expressed purpose of Old South's publicized series, "Getting Religion Right: Beyond Stereotypes and Statistics;" it is also incumbent upon you to offer thoughtful analysis of both sides of a complex issue rather than to defend a conference that promotes polemical attacks representing only one side of the story.

You have written admiringly of Archibishop Desmond Tutu and you have spoken of the UCC's partnership relationship with Sabeel. Although I share your admiration for Archbishop Tutu's courageous stand against the Apartheid regime in South Africa, I am also appalled by some of the stereotypes and prejudices that some of his words reveal. These statements are included in an address that he gave at a Conference co-sponsored by Sabeel and the Episcopal Archdiocese in Boston in April 2002:

"But you know as well as I do that somehow the Israeli government is placed on a pedestal, and to criticize it is immediately dubbed anti-Semitic as if the Palestinians were not Semitic. . .

People are scared in this country [USA] to say wrong is wrong because the Jewish lobby is powerful, very powerful. Well, so what? This is God's world. For goodness sake, this is God's world. We live in a moral universe. The Apartheid government was very powerful, but today it no longer exists. Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Pinochet, Milosovik, and Idi Amin were all powerful, but in the end, they bit the dust."(emphasis added)

Surely the appropriation of a noxious Judeophobic stereotype, the canard that Jews exercise mysterious and malevolent control of world affairs and governments (in this case, the suggestion that Jews can control the government of the United States), ought to be beneath the dignity of a Nobel Laureate. Having to continue to defend ourselves against such spurious charges and allusions is painful indeed. The implied conflation of the "Jewish lobby" in the U.S. with Apartheid South Africa and a catalogue of the worst villains of the last century from Hitler to Idi Amin is hardly an example of civic discourse. It is deliberately intended to provoke, to stigmatize and to demonize. It cannot inspire faith in your expressed intention to move beyond stereotypes. (By the way, the quote from Archbishop Tutu is published by Sabeel on its website.) I do not believe that Desmond Tutu is a Jew-hater, but it is clear that he is not free of subconscious prejudice.

How interesting it would have been had you invited Boston University Professor and Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel to speak opposite Desmond Tutu. Such a meeting between two distinguished international figures (each of whom seek to teach universal moral lessons by sharing the stories of their own personal and particular experience of suffering and oppression) might well have offered the opportunity for civic debate "both perilous and holy." Instead, you have chosen to host a conference in which only one voice will be heard.

And how should we Jews understand and characterize that voice? In your guest column in last week's Jewish Advocate, you identify Sabeel as "a Christian Palestinian organization advocating on behalf of the human rights of Palestinians, both Christian and Jewish." Sabeel may imagine itself as an advocate of Jews (I'll assume that the identification of "Jewish Palestinians" is just a slip), but no mainstream Jewish organization either here or in Israel would accept that description.

When we spoke on the telephone last week, you asked whether the characterizations of the writings of Naim Ateek, the Founder and Director of Sabeel that I cited, were found on Sabeel's website or had been offered by a third party. I can report to you that the following citations appear on Sabeel's website:

From his Easter sermon, April 2001:
"Here in Palestine Jesus is again walking the via dolorosa. . . In this season of Lent, it seems to many of us that Jesus is on the cross again with thousands of crucified Palestinians around him. It only takes people of insight to see the hundreds of thousands of crosses throughout the land, Palestinian men, women, and children being crucified. Palestine has become one huge golgotha. The Israeli government crucifixion system is operating daily. Palestine has become the place of the skull."

Here and elsewhere, Naim Ateek has used both explicit and implicit images that echo the New Testament polemic against the Jews, one that we've been forced to defend against for two millennia:

[Excerpted from Sabeel's publication, Cornerstone Issue 24, Spring 2002]

"I believe that any person who is unjustly condemned can be represented by Jesus who was unjustly condemned before the religious and political leaders of his day. By extension, this also applies to nations and whole peoples that are oppressed and condemned to death. Palestinians have been condemned as a nation by Israel, and sentenced to destruction. The accusations of people in power are strikingly similar throughout history to the charges leveled against Jesus in this city -- terrorist, evildoer, a rebel and and [sic] a subversive person. Palestinians are being crucified today for refusing to succumb to Israel's demand for greater concession on land. I realize how terrible and detrimental the suicide bombings have been, and we condemn them. But we know that they are not the cause of the conflict; they are instead the product of an evil and brutal occupation.

Palestinians are killed today because they refuse to agree to live under Israeli domination, under an Israeli system of apartheid that is worse than the apartheid practiced by South Africa."(emphasis added)

In November 2002, he preached a sermon in the chapel at Notre Dame entitled, "The Zionist Ideology of Domination Versus the Reign of God." Are these the ideas that you believe will promote civic discourse? How should my colleagues and I, my congregation and my community, respond to the rhetorical imagery of Sabeel's founder that revives the ancient New Testament charge of deicide against the Jews and clothes it in contemporary politics? How should we respond to the Christian Supersessionism that is consistently reflected in Naim Ateek's oratory?

An even more important question is how you imagine that a conference that addresses a complex conflict and reduces it to a battle between the forces of good (the Palestinians) and the forces of evil (the Israelis) could possibly contribute to civic debate. How do you expect me, my Temple Israel clergy partners and my community to respond?

I want to make it clear that there are many in the Jewish community (both here and in Israel) who are not inured to the suffering of the Palestinian people. The quest for peace and reconciliation in that troubled part of the world is the challenge and the responsibility of Muslims, Christians and Jews. I would assert that voices (whether Jewish, Christian or Muslim) that address only the perceived sins, failings and offenses of the "other" will never move us in the direction of peace.

A story: a great Hasidic rebbe was surrounded by his disciples, each of whom professed their love for the master. He turned to them and said: "Do you know what causes me pain?" The disciples were taken aback by the question for none knew the answer. The master then addressed them, "Do not imagine that you can love me without an understanding of what causes me pain." If Temple Israel of Boston, my clergy colleagues and I are included within the group of Jews whom you describe as "friends," then I would apply a similar litmus test. You can only claim friendship if you understand what causes us pain.

I share this letter with my congregation and hope that you will share it with your Council, for when you spoke at Old South, using as your text, Paul's letter to Philemon on September 9, 2007, you said,
"Part of what is so intriguing about Paul's letter is that this is no private correspondence between himself and the slave owner. He addresses his letter to the gathered church of which the slave owner is a member. This question of relationship and reconciliation, of inequality and the hope for equality, of past hurts and future behaviors, is no private matter. These are public affairs. Members and friends of Old South in Boston, just as Paul found himself standing between two friends - both of whom felt aggrieved, both of whom were sure they were in the right - so too, do we."

I am hopeful that we will speak with one another soon. When we do so, I hope that we will be able to renegotiate the terms of our relationship. At the moment, I do not see you "standing between two friends." Rather, I think that you have taken the position of those that you identify as your partners (Sabeel and Archbishop Tutu) at the expense of the Jewish community. In the words of Isaiah that we share as sacred, "Come let us reason together..." and let us pray that our reasoning will be for the sake of Heaven.

Until then, my wishes to you and the community of Old South for health and well-being,

Rabbi Ronne Friedman

posted by UCCtruths, Friday, October 26, 2007

1 Comments:

"When we spoke on the telephone last week, you asked whether the characterizations of the writings of Naim Ateek, the Founder and Director of Sabeel that I cited, were found on Sabeel's website or had been offered by a third party."

WHAT???

What does that have to do with anything? Is this Rev. so lazy as to comment negatively, and speak falsely about the expressed opinions of others - characterizing them as fringe right-wing statements - without having, herself, checked on their veracity? Did she really feel the need to defend this meeting while at the same time not bothering to actually look at Sabeel's OWN website?

This would be funny - and amazing - were it not so negligent, and were it not done in the service of such a bad cause.
commented by Blogger will, 8:56 AM  

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