Kairos Document Same Old Song and Dance

When a group of Palestinian Christians unveiled the Kairos Document at a meeting of the Palestine Israel Ecumenical Forum in Bethlehem in December 2009, they sought to give people the impression that something momentous had taken place. Equating their statement to a manifesto published in South Africa in the 1980s, the document’s authors and their supporters in North America and Europe hoped to portray their statement as a manifestation of the divine breaking into human history in a new and decisive way.

The Kairos Document was nothing of the sort.

Instead of breathing a new word of truth and hope into the discussion about the Arab-Israeli conflict, the authors of the Kairos Document were rehashing and updating anti-Jewish polemics that have long been present in Arab Christian commentary about the Arab-Israeli conflict.

In crucial respects, the Kairos Document is similar to a memorandum issued by Arab Christians in 1967 titled “What is Required of the Christian Faith Concerning the Palestine Problem.” This memorandum, issued on June 18, 1967 – just days after end of the Six Day War – portrayed Israel’s creation as a response to Western guilt over the Holocaust and not a legitimate expression of Jewish self-determination. Morever, it portrayed Jewish sovereignty as a singular obstacle to peace and well-being in the Middle East. Both of these tropes are clearly evident in the Kairos Document.

What the 1967 document underscores is the manner in which Arab Christians have created an intellectual environment where anti-Zionism is an ever-present aspect of Christian peacemaking efforts in the Middle East. It also provides an example of how Arab Christians have imbued the hoped for dismantlement of Israel with the same religious value that some Christian Zionists attribute to Israel’s creation in 1948.

Christian Theologians: Israel Contradicts God’s Plan for the World, Jews

The memorandum was initially released in Beirut on June 18, 1967 over the signatures of four Christian clergymen in the Middle East, the most prominent being Melkite priest Fr. Jean Corbon, a contributor to the Catholic Catechism and Fr. Georges Khodr, a Greek Orthodox Bishop who served as executive secretary of the Middle East Council of Churches in the years after its founding. The text of the statement was reprinted in Christians, Zionism and Palestine: A Selection of Articles and Statements on the Religious and Political Aspects of the Palestine Problem, published by the Institute for Palestine Studies in 1970.

The most startling aspect of the 1967 memorandum is the explicit manner in which its authors deny the Jewish people the right to self-determination on Christological grounds.

Anti-Zionist Messianism

In the grand scheme of Christian salvation history outlined in the memorandum, Jewish statelessness is a good thing – a necessary precursor to the salvation of humanity. According to the authors of this memorandum, who proffer an anti-Zionist messianism, Jews are not entitled to self-determination but are instead called to witness to God’s salvific plan for humanity as understood by Christians. The authors state that the Jewish people were chosen “by the living God in order to reveal his plan for the salvation of humanity in Christ.” They also assert that

The Jewish people have been called to live out in their own history, the history of the whole of humanity. A history in which God saves man. It is because of this that they are not a people with any temporal or political destiny but exist as an example to all of their heavenly destiny. (Paragraph 12)

The authors’ efforts to place the Jewish people into a singular theological category are obvious elsewhere in the memorandum as well. The authors state “The Jewish people is prophetic, not a nation but ‘a witness of God among the nations.’ By its election, it reveals that all men are beloved by God with a love that is elective. By its infidelity it reveals that Humanity is ‘locked in sin.’” (Paragraph 13)

The theologians also assert “The Jewish race was chosen to serve the salvation of Humanity and not to establish itself in any particular religious or racial way.” Consequently, “the vocation of the Jewish people is universal not particularist.” (Paragraph 16) The memorandum continues:

From the Christian point of view it is clear from this that the creation of an exclusively Jewish state of Israel goes directly against God’s plan for the Jewish people and the World. Just as the creation of exclusively Christian states, in former times and to-day, was directly contrary to the calling of the church and the salvation of the world. (Paragraph 17)

From a Christian perspective, the authors report, the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D. and the exile that ensued was a good thing:

The end of the Jewish people as a political entity is a sign of the first coming of the Son of Man and the advent of the Kingdom. Just as the end of the earthly kingdoms will reveal the advent of the Son of Man and end of the World. (Paragraph 19).
It is, therefore, a total misunderstanding of the story of salvation and a perversion of God’s plan for a Christian to want to re-establish a Jewish nation as an exclusive political entity. It would imply the statement that humanity is not called to fulfill the kingdom of God, but merely an earthly destiny. Zionist messanism shows itself to be very much in tune with marxist messianism. It also represents a step backwards towards a medieval mentality where the state and religion were one. (Paragraph 20)
As these quotes demonstrate, the memorandum is remarkable in its discriminatory attitude toward the Jewish people who on one hand are held up as a witness to God’s salvific plan, but on the other hand are a unique representation of humanity’s rebellious and sinful ways. In the logic of this document, the push for self-determination is yet another demonstration of Jewish faithlessness and rebelliousness.
The memorandum’s insistent demand that the Jewish people lean into and embrace statelessness as a witness to God’s sovereignty is clearly discriminatory, particularly in light of the consequences they have endured as a result of having to rely on others for their safety.
The authors attempt to mute the discriminatory impulse that is so clearly evident in their statement by asserting that Jewish statelessness is a precursor to the universal “end of the earthly kingdoms.” (Paragraph 19) The authors fail to suggest, however who should next walk the plank into statelessness.
The memorandum’s idealization of statelessness begins and ends with the Jewish people, For the authors of this document it is Jewish particularity and Jewish exclusiveness that is especially bothersome. The document mentions and laments in passing the existence of Christian nations, but offers not one word about the exclusivity of Muslim states in the Middle East.
Ruether Missed the Memorandum’s Anti-Semitism

The memorandum’s discriminatory attitude toward the Jewish people went unnoticed by Rosemary Radford Ruether who railed against the church fathers for making similar arguments about the Jewish people in their writings in her book Faith and Fratricide (New Seabury Press 1974).

In fact, she and her husband Herman, invoke the memorandum approvingly in The Wrath of Jonah (Fortress Press, 2002) in which she portrays Jewish sovereignty and self-understanding as a nearly singular obstacle to peace in the region. There are times when she acknowledges Muslim extremism and misdeeds in The Wrath of Jonah, but she does not describe it with anywhere near the same level of detail with which she describes Jewish misdeeds. Clearly, her problem is with concrete expressions of Jewish collective identity. Here is the beginning of Ruether’s gloss on the 1967 memorandum:

The major emphasis of the statement is on the spiritual and universal meaning of the Christian faith. Christianity is called to be a witness to God’s salvific love for all human beings. Therefore it must reject any kind of nationalism based on religious, ethnic, or cultural exclusivism. Today this Christian commitment to a spiritual universalism is represented by the secularization of the state. Separation of religion and state resolves the confusing of religious faith with political citizenship that has plagued the monotheistic religions for so many centuries. Political communities must be committed to pluralism, religious and ethnic, giving full and equal citizenship to all those resident within their boundaries, without setting up hierarchies of majority and minority groups. For the Middle East, and for Israel in particular, this means that the optimum goal must be a secular, pluralist state where Christians, Jews, and Muslims can live together as equal citizens. (Page 183)

The Ruethers’ characterization of the 1967 memorandum omits the manner in which it demands that the Jewish people witness serve as a witness to the truth of Christianity. On page 185, the Ruethers provides two extended quotes from the memorandum but conveniently omit the obviously discriminatory passages which deny the Jewish people the right to self-determination on Christological grounds, which would have raised a red flag in light of Rosemary Radford Ruether’s text Faith and Fratricide.

In this manner, Ruether, the scholar who had detailed the manner in which early Christian writers had portrayed the continued existence of the Jewish people as an affront to God’s salvific plan in Faith and Fratricide affirms a document that did exactly that in The Wrath of Jonah published three decades later. Between 1974 and 2002, Ruether had come full circle, just as many mainline Protestant churches had done. In the years after the Holocaust, mainline Protestant churches condemned the use of anti-Jewish polemic in liturgical and theological settings only to tolerate, defend and in some instances, traffic in anti-Jewish polemic in peacemaking contexts.

The Ruethers are clearly obsessed with Israeli sin and not human rights. They reveal this with their use of the word “for Israel in particular” highlighted above. Do the Ruethers really believe that Israel is the one country that needs to be lectured about values of pluralism and secularism more than all the others?

Theme Reworked in Kairos Document

The assertion that Jewish sovereignty is an affront to God’s plan for humanity is also present in the Kairos Document, but the argument is made not on explicitly Christological grounds. Instead it is based on land theology and secular notions of human rights. Predictably both of these hermeneutics (land theology and human rights) are used to interrogate or examine Jewish behavior, but not used to assess Arab or Muslim behavior.

The result is essentially the same as it was in the 1967 memorandum. Jewish self-determination is presented as a unique or singular affront to God’s purposes and the cause of human well-being.

The Land Versus Jewish Self-Determination

The Palestinian Christians who authored the Kairos Document state that their land “has a universal mission.”

In this universality, the meaning of the promises, of the land, of the election, of the people of God open up to include all of humanity, starting from all the peoples of this land. In light of the teachings of the Holy Bible, the promise of the land has never been a political programme, but rather the prelude to complete universal salvation. It was the initiation of the fulfilment of the Kingdom of God on earth. (Paragraph 2.3)
God sent the patriarchs, the prophets and the apostles to this land so that they might carry forth a universal mission to the world. Today we constitute three religions in this land, Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Our land is God’s land, as is the case with all countries in the world. It is holy inasmuch as God is present in it, for God alone is holy and sanctifier. It is the duty of those of us who live here, to respect the will of God for this land. It is our duty to liberate it from the evil of injustice and war. It is God’s land and therefore it must be a land of reconciliation, peace and love. (Paragraph 2.31)

The notion that the Holy Land requires peaceful behavior of its inhabitants seems reasonable enough, depending of course on the willingness of people to apply this hermeneutic in an even handed manner. Inasmuch as the Kairos Document’s authors use this yardstick to measure the behavior of all the inhabitants of the Holy Land and not just Israeli Jews, their statement can be regarded as honest and fair minded.

Instead of assessing the behavior of all of the inhabitants of the Holy Land in an even-handed manner they obscure Palestinian misdeeds behind a veil of euphemism and highlight Israeli policies as the source of the conflict. In addition to asserting that “If there were no occupation, there would be no resistance, no fear and insecurity” the authors state that the “Israeli occupation of Palestinian land is a sin against God and humanity because it deprives the Palestinians of their basic human rights, bestowed by God.” (Paragraph 2.5)

The Kairos Document’s depiction of Palestinian violence, including suicide bombing as “legal resistance” demonstrates that the document’s authors are not seriously interested in using land theology as a fair yardstick to assess the human behavior, but instead are merely using it as a club to attack the Jewish state.

We’ve seen this type of behavior bef ore. In the middle portion of this decade, Protestant peacemakers assiduously portrayed the security barrier built to stop terror attacks emanating from the West Bank as a scar on the landscape of the Holy Land. These same commentators portrayed these attacks that prompted the barrier’s construction as a regrettable and lamentable aspect of the Second Intifada, but did not condemn them with nearly the same force and outrage that they condemned the security barrier itself. In such instances, “the land” was invoked to highlight a Jewish built barrier with a much greater intensity than Muslim and Arab suicide attacks. The holiness of the Holy Land is used as a weapon against the Jewish state and not a yard stick to assess human behavior.

Human Rights Versus Jewish Sovereignty

The authors of the Kairos Document also seek to portray Jewish sovereignty as an affront to human rights in the following passage:

Trying to make the state a religious state, Jewish or Islamic, suffocates the state, confines it within narrow limits, and transforms it into a state that practices discrimination and exclusion, preferring one citizen over another. We appeal to both religious Jews and Muslims: let the state be a state for all its citizens, with a vision constructed on respect for religion but also equality, justice, liberty and respect for pluralism and not on domination by a religion or a numerical majority. (Paragraph 9.3)

On its face, this passage is an admonition to both Jews and Muslims to not impose their religious beliefs on their fellow citizens and to respect the human rights of religious and ethnic minorities in their respective countries. This admonition, however, lacks credibility given the ongoing failure of Palestinian Christians to condemn the mistreatment of religious minorities in Arab societies.

By any reasonable measure, Israel does a much better job respecting the rights of its religious minorities than its adversaries which is one reason why Muslim countries in the Middle East are effectively Judenrein while nearly 20 percent of Israel’s population is comprised of Arabs, some of whom support leaders and movements who call for Israel’s destruction.

By proffering a false equivalence between the consequences of Israel’s Jewishness on the rights of non-Jews and the impact of Sharia law on human rights in the region, the authors of the Kairos Document demonstrate they are not intent on promoting human rights but are instead working de-legitimize the Jewish state by using the vocabulary of “equality, justice, and respect for pluralism.”

Holocaust Not Their Fault

The two documents invoke Western guilt over the Holocaust to de-legitimize Jewish sovereignty. The 1967 Memorandum states that Israel’s creation was the consequence of “European anti-Semitism [that] attained its hysterical climax in the days of Nazi persecution.” The document continues:

After the 2nd World War, the countries of Europe suffering from a guilty conscience, the Jewish communities of the Eastern and central states should have been reintegrated with full civil rights as were other non-Jewish families who had been victims of the Nazis as well. But these states refused to carry out this act of justice.
In their desire to erase this Nazi wrong, they met injustice with injustice. Because the Christians of Europe and America denied their responsibility for a million Jews who were their brothers, they throw one million Arabs out of their homeland of Palestine. “What have you done to your brother?” In rejecting one million Jews and in despoiling one million Arabs, the Christians of the West have committed a double crime which cries to heaven for redress. (Paragraph 5)

A few paragraphs later, the authors of the 1967 Memorandum condemn Western Christians for their support of Israel:

Western Christians still believe that they can salve their conscience in pitying the fate of the Israelis, in giving them arms and supplies: but History puts yet another question before them: Why are they so sympathetic towards the fate of the Jews they have driven from their homes, when they are never troubled by the fact that millions of Armenians and other Eastern Christians have been massacred and have had to leave their countries? (Paragraph 9)

The Kairos Document written 42 years later raises the same issue when it states that it was an injustice when Palestinians were driven out of their homes as a result of Israel’s creation. “The West sought to make amends for what Jews had endured in the countries of Europe, but it made amends on our account and in our land. They tried to correct an injustice and the result was a new injustice.” (Paragraph 2.3.2)

Both of these statements attempt to portray the Holocaust and the anti-Semitism that caused it as an exclusively European phenomenons. And while it is true the killing took place in Europe, it is also undeniable that the Nazi regime enjoyed a significant amount of support in the Middle East and that one Arab leader, Haj-Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, was responsible for the deaths of thousands of Jewish children during the Holocaust.

As documented in numerous websites and books, including Jennie Lebel’s The Mufti of Jerusalem: Haj-Amin el-Husseini and National Socialism, 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, 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.

And 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. Husseini’s 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 propa ganda into the Middle East and Muslim world through radio broadcasts and leaflets. Echoes of this propaganda have become an enduring aspect of religious and political discourse in the Middle East, most notably in the outlook of the Muslim Brotherhood and its offshoot organizations, Hamas and Hezbollah.

Echoes of Nazi anti-Semitism can clearly be seen in the writings of Muslim Brotherhood founder Sayyd Qutb whose book-length essay Our Struggle With the Jews portrays Jews as a malevolent force seeking to defeat Islam. In his book Nazi Propaganda For the Arab World (Yale, 2009), Jeffrey Herf reports that Qutb’s essay “displayed a striking continuity with the themes of Nazism’s wartime broadcast with the important difference that I was far more embedded in the Koran and Islamic commentaries.” (Page 259). Herf reports that

Our Struggle with the Jews was not a case of Holocaust denial. On the contrary, like the incitement that came over the shortwave during the war, it constituted a justification for an allegedly well-deserved punishment. Just as the Nazis had threatened the Jews with “punishment” for alleged past misdeeds, so Qutb offered a religious justification for yet another attempt to “mete out the worst kind of punishment” to the Jews then in Israel. In terms that his audience understood, Our Struggle with the Jews was a call to massacre the Jews living in Israel. It is evidence of the ideological continuity with the radical Islamist propaganda coming from wartime Berlin. Qutb fused the radical anti-Semitism of modern European history with a radical anti-Semitism rooted in a detailed reading of the Koran. Qutb continued and expanded on the project of cultural fusion and selective appropriation of the traditions of Islam that Husseini and his associates in wartime Berlin had performed. In so doing, he and others breathed new life into the anti-Semitic hatred that had only recently been defeated and morally discredited in Europe. (Page 259)

It is interesting that the authors of both the 1967 Memorandum and the Kairos Document remind Western Christians of their culpability for the Holocaust but remain silent about the role Nazi leaders played in the spread of anti-Semitism in the Middle East. This would, however, require an acknowledgment that anti-Semitism is in fact a problem in the region, which the authors of these documents are clearly loathe to provide. The authors of the 1967 Memorandum in fact denied anti-Semitism was a problem in the region, reporting that “[e]xcept for the persecutions in the Hejaz (western Saudi Arabia) during the 7th Century, the Arabic world has never known anti-Semitism.” (Paragraph 2)

So much for the anti-Jewish riots in Palestine in the 1920s and 30s, attacks against Jews in Iraq in the 1940s and the effort to destroy Israel in 1948 and again in 1967. And so much for the Egyptian government’s decision to publish of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion in the 1950s.

To their credit, the authors of the Kairos Document do not attempt to repeat the lie proffered in the 1967 Memorandum, but that is not to say they can be credited for giving the issue of anti-Semitism in the Middle East the attention it deserves. In their assertion that “if there were no occupation there would be no resistance, no fear and no insecurity,” the authors of the Kairos Document obscure the role anti-Jewish ideologies have played in fomenting violence against Israel, which has persisted even after Israel has withdrawn its troops from the West Bank, Lebanon and the Gaza Strip.


Arab Christians are often portrayed by their co-religionists in the West as a uniquely powerful force for peace in the Middle East. A close examination of the texts they have submitted to the ecumenical community over the past few decades indicates that they do not necessarily offer the message of peace often attributed to them.

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