While much of the antisemitism and anti-Israeli activity in North America and Europe is led by Muslim organizations, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, the phenomenon is spreading among church groups and older (above 30) people thanks in part to Rev. Naim Ateek.
Ateek, an Anglican priest who formerly was the Canon of Jerusalem’s St. George’s Cathedral The Martyr, is the founder in 1989 of the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center, also in the city. He helped pen the Kairos Palestine document, a manifesto by Christian Palestinians, and most recently wrote A Palestinian Theology of Liberation, (Orbis Books, 2017) published by Maryknoll, a Catholic organization located in New York.
In order to understand Naim’s impact on Christian communities throughout the world, it is important to remember that the Anglican Church represents the Church of England. Anglicans are the third largest Christian group in the world (after Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox). In North America, the Anglican Church (85 million members) also reconstituted itself as the Episcopal Church (85 million members) and the Presbyterian Church (75 million members); in Canada it is represented by the Church of England in the Dominion of Canada. In Scotland, it is known as the Scottish Episcopal Church of Scotland. The Anglican Church is associated with other Protestant churches throughout the world.
Ateek travels widely lecturing in churches and universities, and his toxic political theology, therefore, reaches a broad audience. Moreover, because of his position and support from the church, his views are widely respected. An examination of what he preaches, however, based on the following quotes from his book, reveals a message of hatred and ignorance.
Ateek condemns Israel as a “settler colonialist state” which seeks “to dispossess the Palestinians – Muslims and Christians – of their land and replace them with Jews,” who engage in “ethnic cleansing and annihilation.” He criticizes Judaism as a form of “tribalism,” a “racist theology” practiced by people who worship “a god who has been created in the image of those who are thirsty for revenge,” based on “exclusive biblical texts that are being used to justify the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.”
He justifies “Palestinian resistance” as “the right to resist the evil of illegal occupation of our country.” Therefore, “We must work for the liberation of the oppressors as well as the liberation of the oppressed.” This struggle, he insists, follows the path of liberation taught by Jesus, and, in a sneaky effort to create empathy, he insists that “Jesus was a Palestinian” – a century before the Romans changed the country’s name from Judea after crushing the Bar Kokhba rebellion in 135 CE.
Although careful to espouse “nonviolent resistance,” which he identifies with the “First Intifada” (during the late 1980s) – including throwing stones and gasoline bombs (which resulted in the deaths of about 100 Israeli civilians and 60 IDF soldiers, and more than 1,000 Palestinians killed by intra-Arab fighting). He ignores the violence and terrorism of the “Second Intifada” (2000-2003) – during which over 1,200 Israelis were killed and over 10,000 seriously injured. And he ignores the PLO and Hamas Covenants which call for Israel’s destruction, as well as Palestinian terrorist organizations.
Inexplicably, he does not mention the persecution of Christian communities under Palestinian Authority and Hamas rule.
“The faith Nakba [the “catastrophe” of Israel’s establishment – md] has made it clear that if the Palestinian Christian community wanted to reinvigorate its religious life, it was essential to reexamine the meaning of its faith and Christian responsibility in light of Israel’s oppression of its people,” Ateek writes. Resistance is “the will of God … as expressed in the message and life of Jesus Christ.”
Towards that end, Ateek calls for “a system of economic sanctions and boycott to be applied against Israel… to put an end to Israeli occupation of Palestine…”
“Justice for Palestinians,” he proclaims – but not for anyone else. Justice, for Ateek, is “ending the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land (in 1967),” including “East Jerusalem,” a Palestinian state, and the “Right of Return” for Palestinian “refugees” and their descendants based on UNGA Revolution 194.
Because of “Western guilt” and to “speed up the implementation of the Balfour Declaration… the rights and wishes of the Palestinians” were ignored and the State of Israel was declared (the “Nakba”). Palestinians were the easy scapegoats… compelled to pay the price [for the Holocaust --md] by their dispossession and loss of homeland… Palestine and its people were sacrificed on the altar of Western guilt.”
“One cannot exaggerate the psychological influence that the Holocaust exerted in the creation of the state of Israel. If the Nakba necessitated the emergence of Palestinian liberation theology, the Holocaust was an essential part of its background.”
According to Prof. Gerald Steinberg, president of NGO Monitor, a Jerusalem-based research organization, “Sabeel, Kairos and DCI-PS (Defense for Children International-Palestinian Section) are three components of a wide NGO network that propels the ‘Durban strategy,’ whose objective is the ‘complete international isolation’ of Israel as an ‘apartheid state.’ ” (“Blood libels and delegitimization,” Jerusalem Report, June 17, 2013)
Dexter van Zile writes (“Rolling out the anti-Zionist Catechism,” JCPA, 2012): “Ateek and Sabeel have become the most effective anti-Zionist evangelists in the American mainline churches today,” including World Council of Churches (WCC), Disciples of Christ, United Church of Christ, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian and Episcopal church organizations, and the Quakers (Society of Friends).
Dan Diker observes (“BDS Unmasked: radical roots, extremist ends.” JCPA, 2016), “…many church-linked international NGOs are major donors to radical BDS-supporting NGOs – for example, Christian Aid in the UK, Sweden’s Diakonia, and the Interchurch Organization for Development Cooperation (ICCO) in the Netherlands.”
Yet, Jewish organizations have failed to counter Ateek effectively. Some have published monographs, papers and blogs about him and Sabeel, but these efforts reach few, and remain in the archives of good intentions. Some American and UK Jewish leaders do not even know about the problem; others rely on interfaith “good will.”
No organization, however, has consistently engaged and challenged the churches and institutions which support Ateek and Sabeel. Writing opeds and providing information on websites are not enough. Failure to actively and systematically confront Ateek has allowed him to spew his “theology” of hatred and bigotry.
As former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks explained: “Antisemitism is not about Jews. It is about anti-Semites. It is about people who cannot accept responsibility for their own failures and have instead to blame someone else… The appearance of antisemitism in a culture is the first symptom of a disease, the early warning sign of collective breakdown… Antisemitism means denying the right of Jews to exist as Jews with the same rights as everyone else. The form this takes today is anti-Zionism.” (The Mutating Virus of Antisemitism)
Ateek and his supporters are not only a ‘Jewish problem;’ they are – because they undermine communal trust and respect – a Christian problem. Using his version of Christianity as a mask for his political/theological agenda, he savages the fundamental values and tenets of the religion which he claims to serve.
Protesting Ateek is not a violation of his free speech; it is a call for intelligent and honest speech. It is a protest against hatred and propaganda and a call for integrity and truth. That can be an important learning experience.
The author is a PhD historian, writer and journalist in Israel.