Christian Use of Jewish Voices to Defame Israel

Sabeel’s Jewish Defenders


Despite its obvious hostility toward Israel, Sabeel, like several other Christian “peacemaking” organizations has proven itself adept at enlisting American and Israeli Jews in its campaign to demonize Israel. Jewish activists, who offer a narrative of Jewish self-reform and Israeli concessions leading to an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict are a steady staple at Sabeel conferences, where sadly, very little Palestinian self-criticism is displayed.


For example, Marc Ellis, director of Jewish Studies at Baylor University in Texas has appeared at Sabeel conferences displaying Powerpoint images of a helicopter gunship flying out of the Torah to document how Israeli use of force and sovereignty has affected Jewish identity. To further his argument, Ellis has displayed at Sabeel conferences the text of a letter written by one of his sons to an Israeli diplomat asserting that the modern state of Israel is using force in a manner similar to the Nazi regime:

If you are too ignorant to step out of your position for one second and see that the Israelis are using brute force to oppress the people, just as the Nazi regime once used against the Jewish people, then I don’t think you can be helped.


Professor Ellis’s theme – that Jewish sovereignty and power has undermined Jewish and identity and worship – fits in with the analysis offered Sabeel’s founder Rev. Dr. Naim Ateek, who has asserted that Zionism has “hijacked” Judaism. In fact, Professor Ellis helped Rev. Dr. Ateek get his doctoral dissertation – in which he asserts Zionism has corrupted Judaism – published as a book – Justice and Only Justice (Orbis, 1989). Predictably, Professor Ellis’s critique of Jewish-power and its impact on Jewish identity is well-received at Sabeel events.


Another Jewish activist whose narrative of Jewish self-reform leading to peace is Jeff Halper, founder of the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions. Halper, (who speaks wistfully of the one-state solution which means the elimination of Israel as a Jewish state) appears at Sabeel conferences decrying Israeli policies in the West Bank and Gaza Strip while downplaying Arab hostility toward Jews and Israel by portraying Palestinian violence as a resistance to oppression while failing to acknowledge to acknowledge the desire of groups like Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad to destroy Israel.


In Halper’s view, there is no difference between terrorists who target civilians while hiding behind and Israeli soldiers who try to avoid killing civilians while attacking legitimate military targets. For example, at Sabeel’s October 2008 conference at Old South Church in Boston Halper told the audience

If we define terrorism as killing, wounding, harming, attacking innocent civilians, Israel is greatly more culpable than the groups we call terrorists.


Halper, like Ellis has invoked the notion of Israelis-as-Nazis. At Old South Church he said that while the Israeli public supports a two-state solution, successive Israeli governments have confused the Israeli public into thinking there is no political solution and no one to negotiate with on the Palestinian side of the conflict.

They don’t believe that peace is possible. The Israeli government has done the same thing that the Bush Administration is trying to do – mystify the conflict, to depoliticize it so that there’s no solution – the problem is them. [Applause.] And if the problem is them, then of course to put it in very harsh terms then of course the only solution is the Final Solution. [Emphasis added.]


The sight of Jews and Israelis accusing Israel of Nazi-like intentions and policies toward the Palestinians lends credence to Sabeel’s assertion that the Arab-Israeli conflict is largely the result of Jewish sovereignty and intransigence – not repeated Arab attempts to deny the Jewish people a sovereign homeland of their own.


The willingness of these individuals and groups is part of a larger phenomenon detailed by Kenneth Levin in The Oslo Syndrome: Delusions of a People Under Siege (Smith and Krause, 2005).


Levin, a psychiatrist, describes how Israelis and Jews outside of Israel embrace a narrative of Jewish self-reform and Israeli concessions leading to peace out a desire achieve a sense of master over circumstances over which they have no control, which in this case is intractable Arab and Muslim hostility toward Israel.


Under these conditions, American Jews and Israelis sometimes embrace an unreasonably critical attitude toward Israeli policies as having fueled the conflict; thereby giving Israelis the power to end the conflict unilaterally through self-reform and peace offers.

Both the self-deprecating and the grandiose distortions of reality have a common source: A wish to believe Israel to be in control of profound stressful circumstances over which it, unfortunately, has no real control. Genuine peace will come to the Middle East when the Arab world, by far the dominant party in the region, perceives such a peace as in its interest. Israeli policies have, in fact, very little impact on Arab perceptions in this regard, much less than the dynamics of domestic politics in the Arab states and of inter-Arab rivalries. Israeli strength may deter Arab assaults and fend them off when deterrence fails and assaults occur, but it cannot force peace. This is a painful reality that does cast its shadow over life in Israel. Some Israelis are so pained by it that they prefer to take refuge in delusions of Israeli culpability, the subtext of which is that the proper self-reforms and concessions by Israel can and would suffice to win peace, despite all evidence to the contrary. (The Oslo Syndrome, page xv.)


In addition to exaggerating Israel’s sins (and by extension its ability to bring about an end to the conflict), Levin reports there is a tendency to condone or minimize Arab expressions of hostility toward Israel to maintain the illusion of control.


Levin’s work helps explain the abundance of Jews and Jewish groups willing to defend Sabeel’s founder Rev. Dr. Naim Ateek’s use of deicide imagery in reference to the Jewish State. For example, Prior to Sabeel appearance at Old South Church in Boston in October 2007, local activists from Jewish Voice for Peace issued a flier asserting  that Rev. Dr. Ateek’s references to the crucifixion are “homiletic, focusing on the suffering of Palestinians at the hands of the Israeli government” and not directed at the Jewish people as a whole. (The problem with this analysis is that those who would defend Israeli policies are by extension, defending the crucifixion of an innocent people.)

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