Our World: Being kind to the cruel

Williams: In our conversations with Muslim friends, we Christians are rightly challenged to think more deeply.

glick short hair 88 (photo credit: )
glick short hair 88
(photo credit: )
On February 6, the General Synod of the Church of England voted to impose a selective secondary boycott on Israel. Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams supported the motion. This was not Williams's first swipe against the Jewish state. To take just one example of his consistent anti-Israel bias, in June 2004, during a visit to Jerusalem, Williams dismissed protocol and harshly criticized Israel for building the security fence to protect its citizens from mass murder. Britain's Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks reacted angrily to the synod's decision. In an explanatory letter to Sacks, Williams defended his church's move by stating that the church was interested in divesting from companies like Caterpillar - the US firm that produces, among other things, bulldozers that are used by the IDF to demolish structures that facilitate Palestinian terrorism. In his words, "The demolition of Palestinian homes in recent years has been a regular source of controversy, and raises moral issues of some seriousness." In a bit of irony, the Church's vote on divestment from Israel came three days after British Muslims held a demonstration across the street from the Danish embassy in London that raised a few "moral issues of some seriousness" of its own. Demonstrators held signs saying "Jihad against European Crusaders!" and "Europe, Europe, you will pay, annihilation is on its way!" Among their catchy slogans the demonstrators yelled, "UK, you will pay, 7/7 on its way," and "We want Danish blood!" For good measure they threw in, "Khaibar, Khaibar, oh Jew, the army of Muhammad is coming for you!" THE CHURCH of England, subsumed as it was with concern over Caterpillar, had nothing to say about the demonstration. But, then, Williams has a personal history of bending over backwards to please radical Islamist leaders. During a trip to Egypt, he symbolically arranged a meeting with Sheikh Muhammad Tantawi from Al-Azhar University in Cairo, on September 11, 2004. Appearing publicly with Tantawi, Williams apologized for what he referred to as the "unfaithful or careless Christian way of speaking [which] has led Muslims and Jews to believe that we have a doctrine of God that does not recognize the oneness and sufficiency of God." Williams obsequiously added, "In our conversations with Muslim friends, we Christians are rightly challenged to think more deeply." Tantawi himself has been far less tolerant in his statements about Christians and Jews. In March 2003 he said it was the duty of every Muslim to wage jihad in Iraq against American and British soldiers. In 1998, he said: "It is every Muslim, Palestinian and Arab's right to blow himself up in the heart of Israel, an honorable death is better than a life of humiliation." SO THE ARCHBISHOP of Canterbury is morally depraved. Yet, rather than shun or castigate him, Israel's religious leaders are wooing him. Israel's Chief Rabbis Yona Metzger and Shlomo Amar are planning to travel to England to meet with Williams in May. This will be their third visit with him. In remarks to The Jerusalem Post, Jon Benjamin, CEO of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, who is helping to organize the meeting, explained that the proper response to the Anglican Church's divestment decision is "not to break off dialogue, but to intensify it." The obvious question that arises here is: Why does he think that? What does Israel have to gain from having its chief rabbis meet with a man like Williams? Why do Benjamin, Amar and Metzger believe that meeting with Williams will influence his actions, when he voted for divestment after meeting with them twice? If they meet Williams in May, the message they will send is that one needn't treat Israel or the Jews with respect because we will exact no price for our mistreatment. THE CHIEF RABBIS' plan to meet with Williams neatly complements American Jewry's campaign to demonize and marginalize evangelical Christians who are Israel's staunchest supporters. In just the latest example, on Sunday Haaretz published an interview with Reform Rabbi James Rudin, who served for 35 years as head of the American Jewish Committee's committee on inter-religious relations. Rudin recently published a book entitled The Baptizing of America: the Religious Right's Plans for the Rest of Us. In his interview Rudin likened the struggle between conservative Christians and the rest of the country to the American Civil War. He explained: "While America is currently fighting a global war against international terrorism, there is an equally important war going on within the United States. The outcome of today's conflict will decisively determine the future of the American republic. "Christocrats are waging an all-out campaign to baptize America. It is a struggle that will decide whether the United States remains a spiritually vigorous country but without an officially established religion, or whether America will become Christianized." IN HIS BOOK Who Are We? The Challenges to America's National Identity, Professor Samuel Huntington noted that in surveys taken between 1989 and 1996, between 84 and 88 percent of Americans identified themselves as Christians. That is, there is a higher percentage of Christians in America than Jews in Israel. Rudin's statement about the "Christianization" of America, then, is at its base both blind to America's Christian heritage and demographic reality and bigoted against Christians. His allegations against Christians, and similar statements made recently by Anti-Defamation League Director Abe Foxman, are marked with paranoia. Evangelicals themselves do not uphold any designs to turn America into a theocracy. In an interview with Knight Ridder last Saturday regarding the Muslim cartoon riots, Rev. Ted Haggard, President of the National Association of Evangelicals explained, "The appreciation of pluralism is something that every religious group has to grow in. We evangelicals struggle with this issue every time we send one of our kids off to college. But we think pluralism is a high value. "Radical Muslim extremists have to grasp that pluralism is a fact of life for all cultures." AMERICAN Jewish anxiety regarding conservative Christians who support Israel unconditionally is matched by their tolerance and support for liberal Christians who support Palestinian claims against Israel. This contrast was nowhere more clear than in their reactions to statements made by evangelist Pat Robertson and former president Bill Clinton in the wake of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's massive stroke last month. Robertson intimated that the stroke was a divine response to Sharon's withdrawal of the IDF and Israeli civilians from the Gaza Strip. Clinton said that Sharon's stroke "puts yet another obstacle in the path of the peacemakers. And it's almost as if God were testing them one more time to rise again, to keep on." Both men's remarks were ill-mannered and ridiculous. Yet Robertson was excoriated, and Clinton applauded. Writing in the Sunday Telegraph over the weekend, Harvard historian Niall Ferguson argued, "The antagonism between Bible Belt conservatives and secularized liberals is now the most important cleavage in American society." An article in the Forward last Friday indicates that the greatest cleavage is between liberal Jews and conservative Christians. Eric Uslaner and Marc Lichbach reported, "On a feeling thermometer ranging from 0, for extremely cold, to 100, for extremely warm, 37% of Jewish voters rated evangelicals at 0. In 2004... by comparison, only 4% of non-evangelical Christians rated fundamentalist Christians at 0. The average rating of evangelicals was 24 for Jews, compared to a positive 54 for non-Evangelical Christians." SO WHILE mainline, non-evangelical churches in America seem to be lining up these days to divest from Israel, American Jews most detest the Christians who are going out of their way to support Israel. Last week's Torah portion set out the basics of Jewish law. Among other things, we were told, "Put not thine hand with the wicked to be an unrighteous witness." This command contains within it a commonsense approach to life: Be bad to your enemies and good to your friends, otherwise you become your own enemy. Unfortunately, this lesson seems lost on Israeli and American Jews alike.