One oft-cited principle of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Churches is a commitment to the free and responsible search for truth and meaning. Unfortunately, the preaching of Rev. Tim Kutzmark, who leads the UUA church in Reading, Massachusetts, fails to meet this standard. His commentary about the conflict is free, but not responsible.
In particular, Rev. Kutzmark, who has preached on how Christian anti-Semitism laid the groundwork for the Holocaust in Europe, ignores altogether the role Muslim attitudes toward Jews play in fomenting violence against Israel. He portrays Israeli policies as a delayed and misplaced response to the Holocaust and not a response to the threats currently faced by the Israeli people. He also portrays Zionism as a racist and colonialist cause whose leaders are intent on perpetrating a genocide against the Palestinian people.
One hint of how far Rev. Kutzmark is willing to go to denigrate Israel is his decision to show his congregation Occupation 101, a dishonest, propagandistic film that distorts essential facts of history and depicts the Arab-Israeli conflict as solely the fault of Israel.
Additionally, the pastor has portrayed Palestinian leaders who have routinely trafficked in anti-Semitic propaganda and have repeatedly called for Israels destruction as if they are the Middle Easts answer to Martin Luther King, a man who engaged in non-violent protest to achieve civil rights for African Americans in the United States.
The overall effect of Rev. Kutzmarks narrative is to depict anti-Zionism, or hostility toward Jewish sovereignty and self-determination, as a legitimate and progressive cause in the U.S.
Rev. Tim Kutzmark, is a prominent figure in the public life of Reading and surrounding towns. He played a prominent role in leading the charge against anti-Gay activists who recently threatened to picket a showing of The Laramie Project (a play about the death of Matthew Shepard who was murdered in Wyoming in 1998) at Reading High School. Moreover, his sermons are broadcast on the local cable television station in Reading and are posted on both his churchs website and at podcast.com.
In this respect, Rev. Kutzmark is emblematic of the UUA, a 220,000-member denomination created in 1961 with the merger of the American Unitarian Association and the Unitarian Church of America. The UUA, a non-creedal religious movement that affirms the worth of all human beings, is one of the most activist religious organizations in the U.S. In an essay about the Unitarian Universalist Association that appeared in Pulpit and Politics: Clergy in American Politics at the Advent of the Millennium (Baylor University Press, 2004), John C. Green describes UUA clergy as dynamos of liberal politics in the United States, with their extensive and diverse engagement in public affairs being strongly rooted in their liberal faith and related perspectives on politics.
The UUA and its antecedent denominations have played a significant role in placing a number of issues onto the political agenda of the American people. Unitarians and Universalists were, according to Green, at the forefront of political reform in the nineteenth century. Green writes:
Both groups were among the earliest and most vocal opponents of slavery, they were deeply involved in efforts to reform prisons and improve working conditions for women, and they were among the strongest proponents of a strict separation of church and state.
In recent times, Unitarian-Universalists were at the forefront of a variety of social struggles, including racial and cultural diversity, equality for women; the rights of gay, lesbian, and bisexual persons; and other progressive causes. (Page 276)
The UUA has also worked to place the Arab-Israeli conflict onto the agenda of the American people. In 2002, the denomination issued a social justice statement that condemned settlements, land confiscation and house demolitions, and attacks on civilians whether by suicide bombers, F-16 or helicopter gunships, or any other means. Additionally, the resolution called for a just peace that includes two viable secure states
based on the 1967 borders.
Like resolutions passed by mainline Protestant churches in subsequent years, the UUA failed to hold Palestinian leaders accountable for their refusal to negotiate in good faith at Camp David in 2000 and for failing to accept the Clinton Parameters in 2001 (which would have led to the creation of a Palestinian state and the removal of the vast majority of settlements in the West Bank).
The UUA resolution was remarkable, however, in that it offered a prominent, robust and unequivocal call for Palestinians to immediately stop suicide bombings and all attacks on Israeli civilians, condemned expressions and acts of anti-Semitism and acts of terror against Jews.
To be sure, the resolution posited a false equivalence between Arab and Israeli violence the former can indeed often be described as attacks on civilians, but the latter are attacks on militants in which civilians are sometimes killed but even with this false equivalence, the UUAs condemnation of Palestinian violence and anti-Jewish hostility did go farther in acknowledging the moral failings of Palestinian and Arab leaders than most other progressive church institutions.
Sadly, such nuance has not made its way into the sermons of Rev. Kutzmark, who has used his position and influence to broadcast a distorted narrative about the Arab-Israeli conflict to his congregants and neighbors.
This distorted narrative was readily apparent in the worship service he led on Jan. 18, 2009 (Martin Luther King Sunday). During this service, Rev. Kutzmark inveighed against Israel in both his opening remarks and a longer sermon. He also showed a brief clip of Occupation 101, a dishonest and distorted movie which according to previous CAMERA analysis, gives a representative from Naturei Karta, a fringe group which has curried favor with Holocaust deniers in Iran the opportunity to assert that only Zionism is the problem in the Middle East. (This film was shown in its entirety after the service. Child care was provided.)
In his opening remarks, Kutzmark purports to provide a contextualized view of the Arab-Israeli conflict. He begins with the assertion that very little happens in this world without a context.
Hundreds of rockets fired by Hamas militants into Southern Israel do not occur without a context. The disproportionate attack by the Israeli government against the children and women of Gaza doesnt occur without a context.
With this passage, Rev. Kutzmark is promising to provide context for a wrong Israel did not commit. Despite his suggestion to the contrary, Israel did not target children and women during the recent fighting in the Gaza Strip. Hamas, on the other hand, intentionally attacks Israeli civilians while hiding behind civilians it is charged with protecting in a clear attempt to elicit anti-Israel calumny from peacemakers in the West.
Rev. Kutzmark helps Hamas achieve its goal by downplaying the threat Israel faces from its adversaries. Southern Israel has not been the target of hundreds of rockets as he reports, but thousands of rocket attacks over the past decade. Since 2001, 3,984 rockets and 3, 943 mortar shells have been launched at Israel from the Gaza Strip, many of these fired after Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip since 2005. By describing thousands of rocket attacks as hundreds, Rev. Kutzmark denies his audience one of the very things he purports to give them context for Israeli behavior.
Subsequently, Rev. Kutzmark introduces a number of tropes to inoculate himself from the charges of anti-Semitism such as Zionism is not the same thing as Judaism; To criticize the Zionist agenda is not the same thing as criticizing the Jewish faith; and that to Listen to a Palestinians truth does not mean one hates or dismisses Jews. Rather, Rev. Kutzmark states:
[I]t means that we are willing to understand that anyones inherent humanity can be lost or ignored.
It means that we are willing to admit that many indigenous peoples around the world have had their stories erased when their land was occupied. The attempted erasure of the Palestinian people stands in a tradition of colonialism and oppression that looks at native and indigenous people as expendable and removable.
To be sure, criticizing Zionism is not the same thing as criticizing the Jewish faith, but this is beside the point. One can affirm great respect for the Jewish faith and still level discriminatory and defamatory charges at the Jewish people and their institutions, which is exactly what Rev. Kutzmark does when he describes the Palestinians as the victims of an attempted erasure that stands in a tradition of colonialism and oppression.
Rev. Kutzmarks portrayal of Zionism as a colonialist movement that regards native and indigenous people as expendable and removable denies the hopes of many prominent Zionists to live in peace with the Arab inhabitants in Palestine. It also ignores the fundamentally different choices made by Israeli and Arab leaders in the aftermath of the 1948 War.
When Jews from Europe started migrating into Palestine in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Zionists such as Martin Buber had hoped to come as pioneers who promoted economic growth and material well-being of Arabs while at the same time building a homeland for the Jewish people. They were not acting out of a desire to colonize and oppress, but to live in peace with the Arabs.
Buber was so intent on rendering the Zionist movement acceptable to the Arab inhabitants of Palestine that he called for the death sentences imposed on Arabs who murdered Jews during the 1929 riots to be commuted. (See his 1929 essay The Wailing Wall republished in A Land of Two Peoples [University of Chicago Press, 2005, p. 94.]) And in 1944, when the Holocaust was at its height, Buber argued that Jewish immigration into Palestine should be contingent on dispelling the Arabs fear of a Jewish majority that will determine their fate
(A Land of Two Peoples, p. 168). In other words, Buber privileged Arab fears of a Jewish majority over the lives of European Jews. This is not the thinking of a colonialist leader intent on genocide.
Buber was not alone in his concerns about Jewish relations with Arabs in Palestine. Paul Mendes-Flohr, who edited A Land of Two Peoples, writes:
It would be erroneous to view Bubers moral alertness to the Arab question as unique. Buber had no monopoly within the Zionist movement on moral concern for the Arabs of Palestine, nor was his a lone voice. From the very beginning of Zionist settlement in Palestine there were members of the movement who were aware of the Arab question, appreciating the moral and political implication of the Arab presence in Palestine. (Page 4)
Zionists who pushed for Jewish statehood including Theodore Herzl, Chaim Weizman and David Ben-Gurion repeatedly acknowledged the presence of Arabs in Palestine and expressed a desire to live in peace with them. For example, in a 1947 essay titled Preparing for the state published in Rebirth and Destiny of Israel (Philosophical Library, 1954), Ben-Gurion wrote:
This is our native land; it is not as birds of passage that we return to it. But it is situated in an area engulfed by Arabic-speaking peoples, mainly followers of Islam. Now, if ever, we must do more than make peace with them; we must achieve collaboration and alliance on equal terms. Remembering what Arab delegations from Palestine and its neighbors say in the General Assembly and in other places, talk of Arab-Jewish amity sounds fantastic, for the Arabs do not wish it, they will not sit at the same table with us, they want to treat us as they do the Jews of Baghdad, Cairo and Damascus.
These hopes for peaceful co-existence were dashed by the 1948 War, which was preceded by numerous Arab calls for Israels destruction. But even after Israel won its independence in the 1948 war, Zionist, (now Israeli) leaders made a decision that Rev. Kutzmark seems unable to acknowledge. They chose to build a Jewish state that included a significant Arab minority whose leaders had recently promised to destroy Israel.
Arab and Muslim leaders in the Middle East made fundamentally different choices. In the aftermath of the 1948 War, they refused peace, rendered their countries effectively Judenrein a fact Rev. Kutzmark acknowledges (see below), and continued to call for Israels destruction. Arab leaders reaffirmed this decision after the Six Day War in 1967 during a meeting of the Arab League held in Khartoum. At this meeting, they issued the Three Nos of Khartoum no negotiations with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no peace with Israel. And as the decades progressed, they provided financial and material support for terrorists in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip intent on murdering Israeli civilians.
By way of comparison, Zionist leaders expressed a desire to live in peace with the neighboring Arab state called for by the UN partition plan in 1947. Israeli leaders called for peaceful coexistence when they declared Israels independence in 1948. They sued for peace after winning the Six Day War in 1967 only to be met with the Three Nos of Khartoum mentioned above. And in the 1990s, Israeli leaders acknowledged the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people and offered the Palestinians statehood at Camp David in 2000 and accepted the Clinton Parameters in 2001.
And yet, despite all this, Rev. Kutzmark obliquely asserts it is the Palestinians (whose population has quadrupled since the 1948 War) who are victims of an attempted erasure a polite version of the accusations leveled at Israel at the UNs conference on racism in Durban South Africa in 2001, where Israel was falsely accused by anti-Israel extremists of genocide and ethnic cleansing accusations which served to legitimize the Second Intifada that had begun the previous year. In other words, Rev. Kutzmark has in the name of peace affirmed the lies told by Muslim and Arab extremists in the Middle East to justify the murder of Israeli civilians.
Rev. Kutzmarks legitimization of Palestinian violence against Israel continued when he displayed a brief clip of Occupation 101 after his opening remarks. The clip included a number of distortions that downplay Arab hostility toward Israel. For example, Phyllis Bennis, a well-known critic of Israel, tells viewers, The Palestinians, they were not the Nazis, they were not responsible for the Holocaust, but they were the ones who paid the price.
In fact, Palestinian leaders did play a role in the murder of European Jews in Europe. As documented in numerous websites and books, including Jennie Lebels The Mufti of Jerusalem: Haj-Amin el-Husseini and National Socialism (Cigoya Stampa, 2007), the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, courted the Nazi regime in his effort to keep Jews from Palestine. As a result of his relationship he recruited Bosnian Muslims to serve in Waffen SS units in 1943. These units were responsible for the murder of Jews in Croatia and Hungary, and as a result, Yugoslavia had called for the Grand Mufti to be charged with war crimes for his recruiting efforts, but he escaped prosecution by fleeing to Egypt in 1946.
During the Holocaust, al-Husseini sent letters of complaint to officials in Germany, Bulgaria and other countries of Europe that prevented the escape of thousands of Jewish children from the clutches of the Nazis. For example, in 1942 he lobbied against a proposal to exchange 10,000 children for German prisoners of war held in Allied camps. When Husseini got wind of negotiations between German leaders and delegates from Jewish organizations in Bratislava, he contacted Adolph Eichman who nixed the deal.
In 1943 he put a stop to a deal that would have freed Jewish children from Bulgaria, Rumania and Hungary. And later that year, he torpedoed an effort to have Jewish children in Bulgaria sent to orphanages in Italy, and instead had them shipped to Poland, where they were murdered. Husseinis letters of complaint to European leaders amounted to death warrants for thousands of Jewish children.
Moreover, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem also worked to spread Nazi propaganda into the Middle East through radio broadcasts and leaflets. Clearly, there was a strong and intimate relationship between the Nazis and Israels Arab adversaries in the Middle East, but Bennis speaks as if this relationship never existed.
Bennis assertion that the Palestinians paid the price for the Holocaust evades the issue. The Palestinians have suffered not because of the actions of the Grand Mufti and his associates during the Holocaust, but because of the decision of Arab leaders to launch a war against Jewish self-determination and their ongoing rejection of peace and compromise. Arab leaders bear a large measure of responsibility for the suffering of the Palestinians, a fact the film ignores.
Occupation 101 portrays the Jewish victory in the 1948 War as a fait accompli when in fact it was not. (Clearly the Arabs did not think it was, for they started the war thinking they would win.) For example, the films narrator states that after the UN approved a partition of the British Mandate into a Jewish and an Arab state, Zionist leaders took advantage of their superior military preparation and immediately began occupying Arab cities in Palestine. A slide indicates that Arab military forces numbered only 68,000 and Jewish soldiers totaled 90,000. In reality, the Jewish Army was poorly equipped and poorly trained, largely as a result of Great Britains efforts to prevent Israels creation.
These efforts were outlined in great detail by The Nation in April 1948. In a 30-page article, titled The British Record on Partition, based in part on confidential intelligence reports, the magazine described how British administrators and diplomats in the region encouraged Arab leaders to revolt against the partition plan and allowed foreign Arab fighters and escaped Nazi POWs into Palestine to attack Jews, while at the same time denying Jews the right to defend themselves. The article states:
[British] prejudice against the Jews has been clearly indicated in their refusal to allow the Jews to arm for defense against Arab attack, and their blowing up of Jewish defense posts; in their turning over to the Arabsand to certain deathmembers of the Haganah; in their confiscation of Haganah arms; in their treatment of Jewish defense personnel as criminals. The British have connived at the starving of the Jewish population of Jerusalem by their failure to keep the highways open. They have refused armed escorts to the Jews.
Their attitude to the Arab community is quite different. By British admission, the Arab community has been armed by the British. Arab train robberies, which have been frequent, have been met with shooting over the heads of the robbers. Arab desertions from the police, for the purpose of joining the attackers, accompanied by the stealing arms, have never been prevented, and Arab violators of the peace go unpunished. (Pages 3-4)
The Nation reported that Britains ultimate goal was to sabotage the prospects for the creation of two states one Arab and one Jewish in favor of a federal state comprised of cantons, or an autonomous Jewish canton within a greater Palestine, under King Abdullah of Transjordan. It was a policy the British pursued with naked abandon. For example, when British troops withdrew from Palestine in the months before the 1948 War, they went so far as to inform Arab leaders of their schedule, allowing Arab fighters to take control over police stations and fortifications the moment the British left. This policy, coupled with a refusal to allow Jews to openly train and arm for the impending war, substantially hindered the Zionist cause in 1948. Howard M. Sachar, author of A History of Israel: From the Rise of Zionism to Our Time (Knopf, 1979) reports that on May 16, 1948 two days after Israel declared independence, Jewish forces were helpless to block a Syrian advance on Jewish settlements on both sides of the Jordan river because until then the only heavy weapons that had been unloaded at Haifa were four howitzers of the type used by the French army in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 (page 319).
In light of all its factual misstatements and distortions, no reasonable person can think that Occupation 101
provides its audiences with the context they need to understand the Arab-Israeli conflict. It is a dishonest propagandistic film made with the sole purpose of de-legitimizing Israel
as a Jewish state. For a UUA pastor to show it to his congregation as a legitimate source of information about the Arab-Israeli conflict is a betrayal of trust. His congregation deserves better. So do his neighbors, who view the pastor's sermons on the local cable station.
In his sermon, which began after the clip of Occupation 101, Rev. Kutzmark attempts to portray Palestinian leaders as cut from the same cloth as the leaders of civil rights movement in 1960s America. He invokes the names of Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks and Bayard Rustin, who helped bring an end to Jim Crow in the Old South before asserting that
for the past 60 years, the people of Palestine have prayed, worked for, marched for, spoke out for, and yes, fought for change, transformation, a miracle.
Rev. Kutzmarks suggestion that there is a similarity between the tactics and goals used by the civil rights activists in the U.S. and the actions of Palestinian leaders over the past six decades is more than a historical distortion, it is an insult to the memory of Martin Luther King and his followers. MLK did not plot murders, encourage hijackings, and foment anti-Semitism, as did the PLO.
Rev. Martin Luther Kings dream was to see children of all races playing together and his strategy was one of non-violence. The PLOs founding principle was the destruction of Israel and its mid-term strategy was, according to Alan Hart, based on the notion that military action was necessary to fix the Palestinian identity. (Arafat: Terrorist or Peacemaker? Sidgwick & Jackson, 1984, page 124). In other words, while MLK used non-violence action to remind the American people of their higher angels, PLO leaders used violence as a method to unite the Palestinian people against the Jews. How can Rev. Kutzmark speak as if there are meaningful similarities between the leaders of the civil rights movement and the leaders of the Palestinian cause?
Instead of acknowledging the strategic and moral decisions made by Arab leaders in the Middle East, Rev. Kutzmark describes Israels creation as initiating a cycle of violence. He writes:
The world is such a place of painful irony: in order for the Jewish people to find at long last a refuge, the Palestinian people had to lose land, self-determination, and their human rights. In 1948, as Israel was declared, 750,000 Palestinians were expelled, most by force, from their homes and turned into refugees without a land and without a voice. The endless cycle of oppression and persecution began once again, this time with the Israeli government as the oppressor and the Palestinian people as the oppressed.
In an apparent effort to portray Israels creation as the sole source of Palestinian suffering, Rev. Kutzmark exaggerates the number of Arabs forcibly expelled as a result of 1948 War. Professor Efraim Karsh from Kings College in London estimates only 5-10 percent were expelled by Israelis, and these from areas where Israels survival was seriously threatened by armed Arabs, such as in Ramla and Lod. Others chose to leave to avoid the coming conflict. And many Palestinians left their homes because they were encouraged to do so by their own leaders to make way for the destruction of Israel. Rev. Kutzmarks assertion that most of the Palestinian refugees were expelled by force is simply insupportable by the historical record.
Apparently in response to previously raised concerns from one of his congregants, Rev. Kutzmark did acknowledge the existence of Jewish refugees in the aftermath of Israels creation:
To be fair to history, Jews living in surrounding Arab countries experienced harassment and expulsion during 1948, and it is estimated that hundreds of thousands of Jews had to flee their homes in Arab countries after the State of Israel was declared. But to be fair to the cycle, it was the establishment of Israel on Arab land that brought about this Arab backlash.
Here, Rev. Kutzmark ignores two important facts. First, life for Jews in the Middle East, (who had historically been subject to varying degrees of oppression and mistreatment under both Arab and Ottoman Rule), had become increasingly difficult in the Middle East long before Israels creation in 1948. During the 19th century Jews in the region were the target of blood libels, and they became increasingly vulnerable targets of violent massacres during the 20th century. Approximately 200 Jews were murdered in Iraq in June 1941 and in 1945, approximately 140 Jews were killed in Tripoli.
If Rev. Kutzmark were truly serious about being fair to the cycle, he would acknowledge that anti-Jewish hostility and violence was present in the in the Middle East before Israels creation in 1948. By distorting the chronology, Rev. Kutzmark is trying to portray Zionism the push for Jewish sovereignty as the cause of anti-Jewish violence in the Middle East. In fact, anti-Jewish violence in the Middle East existed before Israels creation and the expulsion of Jews served to demonstrate the need for a Jewish state in the region.
His sermon includes other distortions. He states that Israel has never written a Constitution, so there is no constitutional protection for the Arab citizens of Israel. While Israel does not have a written constitution, it does have a basic law regarding Human Dignity and Liberty which outlines numerous rights accorded to all of Israeli citizens, regardless of their ethnicity or religious background. This basic law has had an impact on the status of Israeli Arabs. Writing in Israel and the Family of Nations (Routlege, 2008) Alexander Yakobson and Amnon Rubinstein report:
Since the 1990s, the Arab public has
benefited from the general trend of increasing judicial activism on the part of Israels Supreme Court in its capacity as the High Court of Justice (which hears petitions against public authorities). This trend has resulted, among other things, in greater readiness to scrutinize any official act that allegedly infringes, directly or indirectly, the principle of civil equality. In 1992, the Knesset passed two basic laws dealing with human rights: the Basic Law on human dignity and liberty, and the Basic Law on the freedom of occupation. The then President of the Supreme Court, Aharon Barak, described these laws as a constitutional revolution, since they allowed the Court to apply judicial review on human rights issues to Knesset legislation as well. Since the Court has interpreted the term human dignity broadly, so as to include various rights not explicitly mentioned in the law, including the right to equality, this right is now recognized as a constitutional principle that can be defended in the Supreme Court against any alleged violation, administrative or legislative. (Page 114).
In short, Israels treatment of its Arab citizens is much better than the treatment of Arabs in Arab-majority countries. Israeli Arabs vote in elections, have their own political parties, serve in the Knesset, and have the right to challenge government actions before the Israels Supreme Court. Rev. Kutzmarks suggestion that Israeli Arabs do not enjoy basic protections of their rights under law is quite simply, laughable.
Predictably Rev. Kutzmark also describes the suffering of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip in the most horrific terms, by describing it as the worlds largest open-air prison and by asserting that it is Israel has caused a historic humanitarian crisis by blocking the delivery of much needed food, water, fuel, and medical aid. He then reports:
This is not hearsay. I stood at the Erez checkpoint at Gaza only two months ago. I spoke with NGO Humanitarian workers from legitimate organizations such as Oxfam who were being denied access to hungry, ill, and terrified civilians inside, the majority of whom were children. In November, only four nations in the world denied the United Nations teams access to assess the humanitarian needs of civilians. In this regard Israel stands in the company of North Korea and Zimbabwe.
In his attempt to portray Gaza Strip as the equivalent as North Korea and Zimbabwe, two countries accused of intentionally starving their own citizens, Rev. Kutzmark fails to mention the presence of personnel from the United Nations Works and Relief Agency (UNRWA) who remained in the territory and spoke to reporters throughout the recent fighting.
Rev. Kutzmark also fails to acknowledge that Israel is not the only country that controls the flow of goods into and out of the Gaza Strip. Egypt controls the Rafah crossing and kept it closed during the recent fighting. There is nothing (aside from its own fear of Hamas) preventing Egypt from opening up this crossing, and yet Rev. Kutzmark holds Israel, and only Israel, responsible for the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip.
And despite his overheated assertions to the contrary, starvation has not been a problem in the Gaza Strip. Israel has allowed food, fuel, water and medicine into the territory. As reported by the Intelligence and Terrorism Information center, between June 22, 2008 and Nov. 4, 2008 (during a lull in the fighting between Hamas and Israel), large quantities of food, fuel, construction material and other necessities for renewing the Gaza Strips economic activity were delivered through the Karni and Sufa crossings. A daily average of 80-90 trucks passed through the crossings
Changes were made in the types of goods which could be delivered, permitting the entry of iron, cement and other vital raw materials into the Gaza Strip. (Day to day details of the supplies delivered to Gaza and the numbers of trucks involved have been published by the Israeli Foreign Ministry and are available here. The figures confirm that the passages were indeed open and busy.)
These deliveries were temporarily halted on Nov. 6, 2008 when Israel shut down its crossings into the Gaza Strip in response to a barrage of rocket attacks that took place on Nov. 4, 2008. Hamas justified this barrage of attacks by pointing to an Israeli attack on a tunnel inside the Gaza Strip similar to the one used to perpetrate the deaths of two soldiers in Israel and the abduction of a third, Cpt. Gilad Shalit, in 2006. Clearly, Hamas actions contributed to Israels decision to restrict the flow of goods into the Gaza Strip, a fact that Rev. Kutzmark seems unable to acknowledge. By way of comparison, goods flow freely into the Fatah-controlled West Bank, which, by the way, has not been a source of rocket fire into Israel.
At the close of MLK Sunday sermon, Rev. Kutzmark returned to his theme of the supposedly non-violent nature of Palestinian resistance against Israel by asserting that a tipping point is coming when a coordinated and widespread movement of non-violent resistance and civil disobedience on the part of the Palestinians would begin. The pastor reports that speaking with activists in Israel/Palestine has led him to believe that:
there is hope that this non-violent mass movement of non-violent resistance to the racist policies of the Israeli Government would bring about the same transformation that has occurred in the United States and in South Africa. The path will be long, painful and difficult, as all paths to justice have been. There is also hope that the European Union and China and India, all rising economic powers in the world, might act on behalf of the Palestinians. Just as the world divested from South Africa and isolated South Africa economically until apartheid ended, there is a growing hope that the world might divest from Israel and impose sanctions and economic isolation until Israel reverses its actions. There is hope.
Tellingly, Rev. Kutzmark asserts that non-violent action will be effective in changing Israeli policies, but he makes no mention of the prospect of such protests causing a change in the behavior of Palestinian leaders. The notion that the Palestinian movement really is or soon will be a cause of non-violent resistance is a persistent theme offered by peace activists to audiences in the U.S. Descriptions of Palestinians engaged in non-violent resistance against Israeli soldiers are a routine part of the program at conferences organized by Friends of Sabeel North America (FOSNA). A Palestinian dance troupe from the West Bank performs under the name Beautiful Resistance before Western audiences. All of this is intended to convey the notion that non-violent protest enjoys a prominent and decisive role in Palestinian society. This is not true.
To be sure, non-violent activism has affected Israeli policy but causes little, if any, change of behavior on the part of Palestinian leaders, particularly those who control Hamas. As hopeful as Rev. Kutzmark might be about the prospects of a non-violent mass movement bringing an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict, campaigns of non-violent activism carried out by Israeli, Palestinian, American and European peace activists typically involve protests and confrontations that draw attention to the actions of Israeli leaders and Israeli soldiers. Palestinian and Arab leaders responsible for the violence, however, are not targets of non-violent peace activism that would draw attention to their behavior, which is a key cause of the conflict.
Aside from the obvious obsession with Israeli policies that afflicts peacemakers, there is another reason why there is very little non-violent protest of Hamas actions. Such protests would likely get the protesters killed. Hamas shoots its opponents in the streets, and throws its adversaries off rooftops. It has hijacked UN trucks carrying international aid and diverts the goods to its supporters. It steals food and fuel and denies Palestinian hospitals of the equipment and supplies they need to operate. It stages blackouts in an effort to portray Israel as a heartless and cruel oppressor.
In short, Hamas is not committed to maintaining the rule of law, respecting the human rights of the people it governs, and it is not committed to peace. It is a mass movement that rules the Gaza Strip by force, murders its opponents and uses the civilian population as a pawn in its effort to demonize Israel and render Israeli civilians as legitimate targets of violence. Hamas primary supporter is Iran, a country whose leaders have repeatedly expressed a desire to perpetrate mass murder of Jews in the Middle East and also oppresses its own citizens. Hamas is simply not a group amenable to admonition and correction by non-violent protesters.
Seeds of Hate
Rev. Kutzmarks MLK sermon was the second of a two-part series. On the previous Sunday, (Jan. 11, 2009
), he gave a sermon titled Seeds of Hate. During the opening remarks of the churchs worship service, the pastor deplored Hamas bloody cries to wipe out the Jewish state before accusing Israel
engaging in a disproportionate, illegal, and immoral act against the women, children, and men of Gaza. All of whom are refugees, all of whom are Palestinians, some of whom are Hamas members, some of whom are militants, some of whom do deplorably fire rockets into Israel. But I stand with the leaders of most major industrialized countries that are deploring the extent of the Israeli governments response. I stand with many religious leaders around the world in deploring the severity of Israels response. And I am ashamed that our country will not speak out in the United Nations. I am ashamed that our own Unitarian Universalist Associations response has been tepid at best. And I am outraged that my tax dollars have been used to supply the weapons, the bombs, the bullets, the tanks, and the military might that has decimated the Palestinians of Gaza.
In this passage, Rev. Kutzmark raises a very difficult question that has bedeviled leaders of democratic countries for a long time: How are democratically elected leaders supposed to respond to the actions of authoritarian mass movements whose leaders are intent on committing mass murder without harming the civilians they oppress?
Israeli leaders are bound by two obligations protect the people they govern, and limit the harm done to civilian populations in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Hamas however, is not constrained by any obligation to protect its citizens and to avoid civilian casualties. Yes, Rev. Kutzmark deplores Hamas rocket attacks but fails to acknowledge the extent Israeli military officials have gone to avoid harming Palestinian civilians. He also fails to acknowledge the lengths Palestinian leaders have gone to put the people they claim to represent and defend into harms way.
One example of the former was the Israeli decision to call off an attack on the home of Mohammed Baroud, a leader of the Popular Resistance Committees who organized rocket attacks against Israeli civilians in November 2006. After receiving a warning from Israeli forces that Barouds home would be attacked, Hamas called for Palestinian civilians women and children to stand on the rooftop of the building in an attempt to shield Barouds home from attack.
Two Michigan-based peace activists, Father Peter Dougherty, and Sister Mary Ellen Gundeck, also stood on top of the building to show their solidarity with Baroud (Associated Press, Nov. 22, 2006). (Note: While Dougherty and Gundeck showed solidarity with Baroud, there are no reports indicating they stood in the streets of Sderot to show solidarity with his victims.) According to the AP report, Human Rights Watch a group with a well-deserved reputation for anti-Israel animus condemned Hamas use of human shields as a war crime. There is no excuse for calling civilians to the scene of a planned attack, an HRW official told the AP.
This is not a rare occurrence. On numerous occasions during the recent fighting, Hamas-controlled Al-Aqsa TV called upon Palestinian civilians to form human shields around the scenes of anticipated attacks. By way of comparison, Israeli forces have routinely warned people away from targets with leaflets and telephone calls to Palestinians. Despite all this, Rev. Kutzmark lays all the blame for the suffering of Palestinian civilians at the feet of the Israeli government and military, effectively rewarding Hamas for its war crimes.
Evading Anti-Semitism in the Middle East
Rev. Kutzmark purports to place Israels response to the rocket attacks and treatment of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip by describing in great detail, the history of anti-Semitism in Europe, with numerous references to Robert Wistrichs book Antisemitism: The Longest Hatred (Schocken, 1994). Sadly, this narrative is largely irrelevant to the recent fighting in the Gaza Strip. Rockets were not fired into Israel from the Gaza Strip because Martin Luther wrote anti-Jewish polemics in the 16th century. Israel did not attack Hamas in an effort to undo the Holocaust but protect the lives of some one million Israelis living within range of rocket fire emanating from the Gaza Strip.
Toward the end of his January 11 sermon, Rev. Kutzmark offers an extended description of the impact of anti-Semitism on Jews today:
The fires of hate burn in our time. In March of 2000, soccer fans at a match in Buenos Aires, Argentina taunt opposing fans by chanting Were going to make soap out of Jews! In January of 2001, leaders in Malaysia publicly blame the down-turn in the Asian Stock Market on the Jews. In March 2001, a political candidate in Austria praises Nazism while running a campaign filled with anti-Semitic attacks. He receives 20.2 % of the vote. On July 11 of this year, feces were spread on the front door handle of a synagogue in nearby Haverhill. On November 12th swastikas were drawn on the holocaust (sic) memorial in San Francisco. On November 15th, a synagogue several miles away from us in West Newton had swastikas spray pained on their entrance. On November 20th, swastikas were scrawled on the gym lockers of Jewish twins at a high school in Saugus, CA. On Monday night of this week, a Jewish congregation in Sweden was attacked and fire bombed. Later this week, a burning car was driven into the gates of a synagogue in Southwest France.
In the Boston area alone, there are two neo-Nazi groups identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center, and this does not include KKK or racist skinhead groups.
Is it any wonder that the ongoing ignorance, hatred, and violence against the Jewish people led to the birth of Zionism? Is it any wonder that the birth of the Zionist movement was inevitable? On a human level it makes perfect sense!
What is remarkable about this passage is that it does not include any description of anti-Semitism in the Middle East, which is a powerful driver of the Arab-Israeli conflict and a much greater danger to the lives of Jews than pro-Nazi graffiti in California.
Its not as if there is a lack of reliable information about this topic. For example, Robert Wistrich, who authored the text that Rev. Kutzmark relies on for his description of anti-Semitism in Europe, has written a booklet titled Muslim Anti-Semitism: A Clear and Present Danger (American Jewish Committee, 2002), which documents the virulent hostility directed at Jews from a number of sources. For example, on page 23, Wistrich reproduces the front cover of a book distributed by the Arab Lawyers Union at the Durban conference in 2001. The cover superimposes the Jewish Star of David over a Nazi Swastika. Wistrichs also reproduces a cartoon published in a Jordanian newspaper in 1994 that shows an ugly Israeli soldier giving his wife a bottle of blood of a Palestinian child as a gift for Mothers Day. Citing a 2000 MEMRI report, Wistrich also reports that a Syrian newspaper accused Israel of sending pretty HIV-positive Jewish prostitutes to Egypt and dispensing chewing gum to arouse sexual lust (page 31).
If swastikas painted on synagogues in the U.S.
are worthy of note, then clearly, this imagery needs to be addressed as well, but Rev. Kutzmark makes no reference to any of this in his sermons. This is not to say he ignores Muslim extremism, only that he ignores it when it is directed at Jews. For example, in November 2005, he preached a sermon titled The Lies of Fundamentalism in which he describes how "six Muslim men wearing black masks attack[ed] three Christian girls. Using machetes, they behead the teenagers. The three bodies, dress in their brown school uniforms are left behind. Their severed heads are found at separate locations two hours later." Muslim fundamentalism is also a problem in the Middle East, but this does not fit Rev. Kutzmark's narrative of Israeli extremists denying Palestinian nationalists of their right to a sovereign state.
Clearly, in his attempt to provide context for the Arab-Israeli conflict, Rev. Kutzmark left out a hugely important factor Muslim hostility toward Jews, and toward the notion of a Jewish state in the Middle East. His failure to address this issue raises serious questions about his commitment to providing his congregants and neighbors with the information they need to understand the conflict he is bemoaning.