No. those aren’t my words nor my opinion. They are the words of a CAMERA representative telling Palestinian cleric, Naim Ateek why they’ve targeted him so viciously. Canon Ateek is an Episcopalian minister living in Jerusalem who is an Israeli citizen and founder of Sabeel, a group devoted to the principles of Christian liberation theology. Ateek is a strict adherent of non-violence, a supporter of a two-state solution, and believes in Jews, Christians and Muslims sharing Jerusalem. He opposes Palestinian terror and Israel’s use of massive violence to maintain the Occupation.
But you wouldn’t know any of that from the attacks on Ateek by CAMERA. To them, he is an anti-Semite who supports the elimination of Israel. In likening Palestinian suffering to the Crucifixion, the cleric’s opponents claim (without proof) that he likens Israelis to Christ-killers.
Today, Ateek spoke to a Kadima Shabbat service here in Seattle. It was, all in all rather an unremarkable event held in the backyard of Kadima’s new building in a slightly ramshackle former private home under two rather unwieldy umbrellas to shield worshipers from the hot sun. What the Palestinian said would also be rather unremarkable if it had been a sermon delivered in Israel. He began by noting that this was the first time he had been invited to speak as part of a Jewish religious service (he had spoken once before at a synagogue, but after services).
He noted with pleasure that the congregation had sung Hinei Ma Tov U-ma Naim, a song which notes how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together. It reminded him of a Boy Scout Jamboree he’d attended in England along with Israeli Jewish scouts. During the entire trip they sang this song many times together. Clearly the sparkle in his eye indicated the joy of this memory and perhaps more innocent times.
You might think: what could any Jew find that is offensive in this man or his views? If you did, you would be underestimating the poison of rightist pro-Israel groups like CAMERA and Stand With Us. The latter group’s local Seattle office, under the direction of Rob Jacobs and board member David Brummer (who is also social worker at the Jewish federation-supported Kline Galland Home here in Seattle), inveigled the Jewish federation and supposedly liberal communal leaders like Rabbi Daniel Weiner to send a letter two days before the Shabbat event attacking Ateek and Kadima for hosting him.
If SWUwasn’t out to score cheap points, but had really wished to have a discussion about the issue, it and the other signatories could easily have approached Kadima a month ago when it began publicizing the Shabbat talk. By sending their letter 48 hours prior they confirmed their interest in scoring points in a propaganda war against Ateek and any Palestinian leader who presents a viable, moderate face. What is sad is that the federation and these liberal leaders allowed themselves to be co-opted by CAMERA/Stand With Us lies. In effect, the federation became a fellow traveler to SWU’s extremist pro-Israel agenda. In the future, they ought to examine much more carefully any project to which SWU invites them.
After the Canon’s talk, I asked him why he believed that the pro-Israel far-right was so obsessed with him and why they felt the need to lie about his beliefs. He recounted a story of an encounter he had with a leader of CAMERA to whom he asked precisely the same question. The fellow replied : “You’re worse than Hamas.” What he meant was something like the following: We know how to fight Hamas. They are violent. They are terrorists. The world understands what they are. But you are a wolf in sheep’s clothing. People see you and hear your moderate words and believe that perhaps the Palestinians aren’t so bad after all. Perhaps Israel should return the land and give Palestinians a state of their own.
Broken CAMERA and Stand With Them are frightened by a non-violent Palestinian who speaks out strongly against Israeli injustices and in favor of Palestinian non-violent resistance. Non-violence in a Palestinian context is an alien concept to the pro-Israel right. Just look at the meretricious nonsense an otherwise fine observer like Gershom Gorenberg wrote in the Weekly Standard in which he asked where the Palestinian Gandhi was (why he didn’t think of Ateek I have no idea).
To many Israeli and Diaspora Jews there is only one kind of Palestinian: one who embraces violence and hatred of Israel to advance his political agenda. This Palestinian wishes Israel gone and Israelis washed into the sea. To these people, Palestinians are bloodthirsty and cruel. Precisely the opposite of what we know Jews to be: cultured, humane, life-affirming.
So what is CAMERA and SWU to make of a Palestinian such as Ateek? Well, he must be a fake. A two-faced clever impostor who conceals what he really believes and tailors his message to whatever his audience happens to be. To Kadima he is a mild-mannered uncle speaking of the beauty of an Israeli folk song. While to a Palestinian audience he spouts hate and blood.
This is how poisoned the minds of the pro-Israel right have become. I have reviewed in detail some of the attacks on Ateek. They are standard rhetorical operating procedure for ideologues like David Horowitz and Daniel Pipes. You begin with a small fact from the writing or speeches of your victim. But you don’t stop there. You take off on an extended fraudulent manipulation of that fact and turn it into something that isn’t remotely true.
Here is an example. How does Ateek become a “one-stater” in the eyes of the his enemies? He made this statement in one of his books:
It has taken me years to accept the establishment of the State of Israel and its need– although not its right – to exist. I now feel that I want it to stay, because I believe that the elimination of Israel would mean greater injustice to millions of innocent people who know no home except Israel.
If you parse this passage carefully you will note that Ateek does accept a two-state solution, with the caveat that Palestinian suffering causes him to be unable and unwilling to concede that Israel has a right to exist. That is, since Israel’s existence necessitates a great injury to the Palestinian people, he can never concede Israel’s right to exist. But he can concede its need to exist. In other words, Ateek understands that pragmatically Israel must exist (and he said precisely this today in his talk) because of the suffering of the Jewish people.
For some strange reason, Israel and some of its supporters believe the Palestinians ought to bow down and sing Hatikvah celebrating Israel’s existence. That is why Bibi Netanyahu demands that the Palestinians accept Israel as a Jewish state. But this is foolish. For Israel to exist does not require its neighbors to accede to Israel’s self-definition. What does a Canadian care what form of government the U.S. has? And what business is it of theirs anyway? All that is required is for America’s neighbors to accept that we exist and have relations with us on that basis.
Do I wish that Palestinians could concede Israel’s right to exist? Yes. But am I surprised that they cannot? No. Think of the reasons why: Israel has never come to terms with the Nakba and the crime committed against the Israeli Arabs displaced by the 1948 war. If Germany was a state which never repudiated the crimes of the Nazis what would the Jewish attitude toward that country be? We would never make peace with such a Germany.
To be clear, I am not comparing the magnitude of the respective crimes against Palestinians and Jews. But I am comparing the respective responses to those crimes. In other words, until Israel comes to terms with the injustice of the Occupation and the Nakba we cannot expect Palestinians to fully reconcile themselves to Israel.
We can expect them to accept Israel’s existence, but nothing further than that.
In case Ateek’s comments are too vague for some readers, here is a less categorical statement on the same subject:
“The preservation of Israel as a Jewish state is important not only to Israeli Jews but to Jews all over the world. I believe that we must honor their wish and accept it. In fact, the Palestinians should eventually guarantee the survival of Israel by accepting it as a Jewish state”
So CAMERA, Rob Jacobs and David Brumer, why do you lie so shamelessly about Naim Ateek?