Solidarity with Dishonesty
Some years ago, a document produced and distributed by an Australian religious denomination caused upset, offence and outrage.
Purporting to be an information backgrounder on Israel, it contained a number of false, provocative, contentious and unambiguously dishonest statements concerning Jewish and Israeli history in support of an overtly political agenda.
|Supercessionist: Sabeel Centre founder Naim Ateek|
Further, it attributed a range of both hackneyed and novel negative characteristics to Jews and to contemporary Israel.
It is only fair that I record that the document did not have the support of too many within the church beyond the author and a small group of his political allies. This became evident when Jewish community members and prominent church figures discussed the document.
While these discussions uncovered a deep well of goodwill, the author’s justification for writing what he acknowledged to be factually false or questionable revealed a problem far greater than a single action taken by a handful of dishonourable individuals.
The author, an ordained minister of religion, justified his document by saying it was motivated by his understanding of his religious commitment to show “solidarity” with the “oppressed”.
His theory, which he presented as his theology, was that there was a struggle in the Middle East between the powerful and the weak, the oppressors and the oppressed, the generally guilty and the substantially innocent. Israelis were wrong, Palestinians right.
Having drawn this conclusion, he adopted what he called a “solidarity model”, in which he was permitted, if not directed, to do anything in his power to help the “oppressed”.
When I directly asked him, in front of his employers and colleagues, if that included making tendentious and tenuous statements, he stunned us all by saying that it did.
Subsequent to this incident, I have encountered numerous variations of this theme, including from individuals who occupy positions which, in the public mind, would identify them with morality and honesty.
Some educated religious figures parrot slanders such as Israel being part of an apartheid social construction. Scholars of Judaism depict the religion quite falsely as a cult of vengeance. Sermonisers avoid any negative comments about terrorism, racism, violence, misogyny, homophobia or any other ill identified with Israel’s enemies, while depicting Israel’s efforts at protecting its citizenry as somehow symptomatic of a corrupt and evil society.
When I have the opportunity to directly discuss these terrible abuses of moral authority, I am generally given one of three responses: 1) a variation of the “solidarity model” wherein anything supporting Palestinians is justified; 2) a defensively expressed assertion that the action may be bad but the motivation is good because it may help protect the lives of Christian minorities in Muslim-majority countries; or 3) an unreconstructed antisemitic view that Judaism and Jews are anachronisms that have been superceded by Christianity.
The third rationalisation is consistently linked to one group of Middle East Christians, centered around the Sabeel Centre in Jerusalem, which has developed a theology of replacement, supercessionism and radical reinterpretation of Christian religious texts, under moral cover of concern for the rights and needs of Palestinian Christians.
In their modern-day, non-military crusade against Israel, they often enlist anti-religious Marxists or eccentric pseudo-theologians of a clearly non-Christian bent, or simply rehash dishonest propaganda.
Of course, they are not unique in abdicating morality in a misguided belief that this is theologically justified, but the sin is made worse by their garb of integrity.
I value the public interventions made by those who put moral and human considerations above considerations of personal benefit. However, anyone who abjures truth and genuine human compassion when it comes to Israel necessarily brings their motivation and integrity in all other areas into question.