Don’t Buy What Israel’s Selling: Support BDS

Readings for Third Sunday in Ordinary Time: NEH 8; 2-6, 8-10; Ps. 19: 8-10, 15; I Cor. 12: 12-30; Lk. 1:1-4; 4: 14-21 

In these days of rising right-wing fascism, a dangerous religious alliance has emerged. I’m talking about the supportive relationship between Christian Evangelicals and Israeli Zionists. For many, the basis of the support is the belief that Israel represents God’s Chosen People.

However, today’s liturgy of the word suggests something quite different for Christians honoring the Bible as God’s word. It underlines the point that the phrase “God’s Chosen People” does not primarily refer to a national entity, but to the poor and oppressed in general. It even implies that in our present historical context, the phrase “God’s Chosen” applies more aptly to the Palestinians than to the Zionists who kill Palestinians on a daily basis – without the least objection from our government or from most U.S. Christians. (In fact, since last March, Zionist soldiers have shot with impunity peaceful protestors in Gaza. They’ve killed more than 200 and wounded more than 18,000 — with many crippled for life — since the Palestinian rallies around the “Great March of Return” started on March 30th.)

Right now, this point about the identity of God’s People needs to be underlined because so many religiously-motivated people, and legislators in particular have taken such a strong stance against the Boycott Divest and Sanction Movement (BDS) that activists have directed against Israel to stop the slaughter in Gaza, which has been described as the world’s largest open-air prison camp. The conviction behind the divestment campaign is that a Zionist version of apartheid rivals South Africa’s hated system that economic boycotts, divestment and sanctions helped to bring down in 1994. (President Jimmy Carter’s book on the topic, Peace Not Apartheid, supports that conviction. So do the words I’ll soon quote of Dr. Martin Luther King.)

However, in response, anti-BDS legislators in Congress and in 26 of our states have proposed and/or passed legislation forbidding support of the movement. Anti-BDS legislation prohibits government investments, for example, in companies or in pension funds that support BDS. In some cases, anti-BDS laws even require employees (e.g. public-school teachers) to, in effect, pledge allegiance to Israel despite its genocidal policies.

Nonetheless, (as I said earlier) today’s liturgy of the word calls all of that into question.

Biblically speaking, it’s true that Israel did fit the “God’s Chosen” profile at the time of its origin – in Egyptian slavery (13th century B.C.E.) – and later during its captivity in Babylon (6th century B.C.E.). As poor and oppressed, they were “chosen” as well as when Israel was under the control of the Assyrians (8th century), Persians (6th century), Greeks (2nd century), and Romans (1st century). In all those instances, precisely as oppressed, Israel was the paradigmatic object of the biblical God’s special love and protection. In fact, at Mt. Zion, Moses enshrined in Israel’s law protection of people like them – slaves, widows, orphans, immigrants, the imprisoned, and the poor.

That’s the Law that the scribe, Ezra is remembered as reading to the people for hours in today’s first reading. They had just returned from exile in Babylon. For them “The Law” (the first five books of the Jewish Testament) was a source of joy and strength. After all, those books recounted what for Jews was the liberation of all liberations – from Egypt under the leadership of the great rebel hero, Moses. Now in the 6th century BCE, with Ezra in charge, they were celebrating the end of a long and painful Babylonian Captivity in the geographical area that is now “Iraq.” Ezra reminded the assembled people that in their return to the Promised Land, they were experiencing Exodus all over again. Indeed, he said, it was a time for celebration – for eating, as he put it, rich meats and drinking sweet drinks.

Today’s second and third readings pick up on Ezra’s theme – that God favors the poor and oppressed. However, both Jesus and Paul do so emphasizing the point that Yahweh’s favored ones are not always Jews.

When Jesus said that in his hometown synagogue (in the verses immediately following today’s excerpt), it enraged his former neighbors. “Who does this guy think he is?” the Nazarenes asked indignantly. “We know his family; he’s nothing special. Yet here he is speaking critically about his own people! He must be one of those ‘self-hating Jews’.” Luke says Jesus’ hometown citizens were so outraged that they tried to kill him.

Jesus’ words before the Nazarene’s attempted assassination do not merely underline the identity of God’s chosen as the poor and oppressed rather than exclusively the Jews. The words are also central in terms of Luke’s definition of Jesus’ entire project. In fact, they connect that project with God’s very identity as described throughout the Jewish Testament particularly by the prophet Isaiah whose words Jesus quotes: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind.”

Did you notice the importance of the word “because?” It absolutely identifies the “Spirit of the Lord” with Ezra’s good news to the poor about release from captivity and recovery of sight. Jesus is saying we know that “The Spirit of the Lord is upon” him because he brings good news to the poor, those in captivity and the blind. Jesus goes on to say that his commitment to the poor is what will define his entire mission.

Today’s excerpt from Paul’s letter to the Greeks in Corinth continues that theme of Isaiah, Ezra, and Jesus. Only Paul does so in terms of a familiar yet powerful metaphor – what he calls the “Body of Christ” enlivened by the “One Spirit” of God. For Paul followers of Jesus constitute the way the Master is present today long after Jesus’ death. As that presence, we are Jesus’ hands, feet, eyes, ears, and tongue. And elsewhere Paul specifically says it makes no difference whether one is Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female (GAL 3:28-29).

What does make a difference though is one’s social standing. Paul goes out of his way to say that the “less honorable” and the “less presentable” in Christ’s body are to be more honored and cared for than the more presentable and more honorable according to the standards of the world. The weaker parts, he says are somehow “more necessary” than the stronger parts. This could hardly be a clearer reference to the poor and those who are normally neglected and looked down upon. Here Paul is following the thrust of Jesus’ words and deeds by turning the social order upside-down. The poor and oppressed come first in God’s order.

Today, part of that revolutionary inversion is recognizing that Zionists have nothing positive to do with God’s preferences. Quite the contrary: as the Palestinians’ oppressors, they are the imperial analogues of the Egyptians, Babylonians – and yes, fascists – who persecute God’s Chosen.

Meanwhile, because they side with the poor to whom Jesus brought Good News, the BDS activists stand with Jesus – and Gandhi and Martin Luther King.

With last week’s MLK celebrations still fresh in our minds, and with today’s readings ringing in our ears, we do well to recall Dr. King’s words spoken on December 7th, 1964 – just days before he received the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo. In a major address in London, he said,

“If the United Kingdom and the United States decided tomorrow morning not to buy South African goods, not to buy South African gold, to put an embargo on oil, if our investors and capitalists would withdraw their support for that racial tyranny that we find there, then apartheid would be brought to an end. Then the majority of South Africans of all races could at last build the shared society they desire.”

King’s words (and those of Jesus, Paul, and Ezra in today’s readings) are as true in relation to Zionist Israel as ever they were of South Africa. Today, the Palestinians not the Zionists are God’s chosen and should be treated as such.

Mike Silenced by the AIPAC: A Case Study of Zionist Control of Media and “Peace Groups”

AIPAC

Peggy and I are in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. We’re here to give papers at the “Moving beyond Capitalism” conference of the Center for Global Justice (CGJ). I’m honored to be part of a panel with Rabbi Michael Lerner (editor of Tikkun Magazine, the Jewish left-progressive quarterly). My job will be to present the Palestinian viewpoint on the conflict with Israel.

Frankly, there’s only one reason I’ve been invited. It’s because of a crisis I created in San Miguel eight years ago when I spoke on the same topic. It nearly brought the end of the Center for Global Justice. It even threatened my job at Berea College.

The whole incident illustrates the way even small-time publications and good-willed advocates of social justice can be intimidated and silenced by champions of Zionism. The incident represents a summons to such agents to break the silence and speak the truth regardless of Zionist bullying and threats.

You see in 2006, Peggy and I were working with the CGJ directing a summer intern project for students from the U.S., Mexico and Cuba. Out of the blue, one week the program chair of the local Unitarian Universalist (U.U.) meeting asked me to speak at their Sunday gathering. I had done that in several places before and accepted without a second thought. The invitation came specifically because of my connection with the Center for Global Justice.

“Why do you want me to speak about?” I asked the organizer.

“Anything you want,” she replied.

“Well, I speak on conflicting understandings of Jesus,” I said. “As a liberation theologian, I like that topic.”

“Oh no,” came the immediate reply. “The last time someone spoke on Jesus we were all bored to tears. Can you talk about something else?”

That gave me pause. . . . But I had just returned from a three week trip to Israel sponsored by Berea College where I taught for 36 years. So I said, “How about sharing observations from my recent trip to Israel?”

“That sounds great,” the program chair said. “Let’s call your talk, ‘A Report from Israel.’”

I agreed, prepared my remarks, and delivered them the next Sunday. My thesis was clear and unambiguous. “The real terrorists in Israel, I said, “are the Jewish Zionists who run the country.” I didn’t consider my basically historical argument particularly original or shocking. Chomsky and others had been making it for years.

What I didn’t realize was that almost everyone in my audience was Jewish. (I didn’t even know about San Miguel’s large Jewish population – mostly “snowbirds” from New York City.) Nonetheless, my remarks that Sunday stimulated an engrossing extended discussion. Everyone was respectful, and the enthusiastic conversation even spilled over beyond the allotted time.

Immediately afterwards, during breakfast in the U.U. center, one of the founders of the CGJ said, “That was great, Mike. You really ought to put all of that down on paper. You can publish it as an article in San Miguel’s weekly English newspaper, Atencion. They give us column space there each week.”

“Great,” I said. (I already had the talk written out.) I sent it into Atencion and it was published about a month later. By then I was back in the states teaching at Berea.

I’ll never forget what followed: all hell broke loose:

• A barrage of angry letters flooded the Atencion pages for the next two weeks and more.
• As a result, Atencion threatened to cancel the CGJ’s weekly column.
• San Miguel’s Bibliotheca talked about ending the CGJ’s access to meeting space there.
• My article was removed from Atencion’s archives and (I think) from the archives of the Center for Global Justice.
• Someone from the AIPAC (American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee) phoned my provost at Berea College reporting me for my inflammatory article, asking whether I really taught there and if my credentials were genuine.
• The CGJ’s leadership was forced to do some back-pedaling distancing itself from me and my remarks.
• They lit candles of reconciliation at a subsequent U.U. meeting begging forgiveness from the community and absolution for that mad man from Berea.
• The guiding assumption in all of this was that my argument was patently false.

In other words, an article that should have stimulated discussion of its thesis (with CGJ activists leading the way as a voice for the voiceless) was met instead with denial and apology.

However, the ongoing slaughter of Palestinians in Gaza only confirms my original thesis. So let me repeat it here: the real terrorists in Israel are the Jewish Zionists. I’ll go even further and say that in the present phase of the conflict between Jews and Palestinians, the Jews have little or no right to claim they are acting in self-defense. They are clearly the aggressors guilty of extreme war crimes.

This time I base that argument on helpful analytic distinctions concerning “violence” commonly made be liberation theologians in general and by Palestinian liberation theologians in particular. I interviewed the latter back in 2006 at the Sabeel
Ecumenical Center for Liberation Theology in Jerusalem.

I’ll explain the relevant distinctions in the second part of this posting. For now my points are these:

• Zionist defenders are afraid of open discussion of the conflict in Palestine.
• Zionist media control extends far beyond The New York Times.
• It even blacks out Palestinian viewpoints in small-time publications like San Miguel de Allende’s Atencion.
• It threatens academic integrity as well attempting to reach into classrooms like my own at Berea College.
• It even intimidates well-meaning and highly informed activists like those at the CGJ.

My conclusion for now: the media and even would-be “radicals” need to own their power in fearlessly denouncing the war crimes of Israel’s Zionists which will be discussed in the article following this one: “The Conflict in Israel: the Perspective of Palestinian Liberation Theology.”

(Sunday Homily) Zionists Are Weeds in the Garden of Palestine

Zionists

The entire world stands aghast at the cruelty of Israel’s vicious and illegal collective punishment of Palestinian civilians for the perceived “crimes” of Hamas – the group of Palestinian resisters committed to the expulsion of illegal Zionist occupiers from the Palestinian homeland.

Today’s liturgy of the word implores the Zionists to abandon their butchery.

It also challenges Christians to denounce such ethnic cleansing and to withdraw the last vestiges of support for a group that more resembles their former Nazi persecutors than the “People of God” celebrated in the Hebrew Bible.

At the same time, today’s readings support rabbi Michael Lerner in cautioning Hamas against its policy of violent resistance. Though many of us would agree that Hamas’ tactics are understandable and often justified by principles of self-defense, today’s Gospel reading identifies them as counterproductive and ultimately harmful to the very people Hamas seeks to defend.

Instead, Jesus suggests that violent resistance should be replaced by greater reliance on more subtle and patient strategies. Such strategies are reflected in the three basic themes of today’s readings. They emphasize (1) the power of God expressed in leniency and forgiveness, (2) the futility of violent response to unwanted foreign presence, and (3) resistance that takes the form of patient trust that God’s forgiving power will prevail. In succession, the themes suggest challenges for Jewish Zionists, Palestinians, and Christians.

Begin with the first reading from the Jewish Testament’s Book of Wisdom. It is particularly relevant to Zionist Jews. The reading says explicitly that God’s power is not expressed in violence but in leniency to all, Jew and non-Jew alike.

That theme is repeated in today’s responsorial psalm with equal relevance to Zionists. There God is described as belonging to all nations. The divine Spirit, as Paul insists in today’s second reading, dwells within all humans regardless of nationality. It is slow to anger, good, forgiving, abounding in kindness.

From this, Jewish wisdom insists that the “People of God” must in turn be kind, lenient and forgiving to all – presumably even to their worst enemies. There is no room here for exceptions involving the indigenous tribal people of Palestine.

The second theme of today’s liturgy enjoys direct relevance to contemporary Palestinians. Whether they are Muslims or Christians (and many are Christians), they also recognize the Bible as the Word of God. I point to Palestinian relevance because this second theme addresses the question of resisting illegal occupation.

That is, Jesus’ parable of the weeds planted by an enemy in a landlord’s field can be read as addressing the Roman occupation forces encumbering Israel during Jesus’ lifetime. [According to John Dominic Crossan, Matthew’s allegorizing of Jesus’ parable – making it about the end of the world – is more reflective of the situation of the Jewish diaspora (following the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE) than of the actual revolutionary situation of Jesus’ own day.]

In occupied Israel, the suffocating Roman presence was as unwelcome, alien, and destructive as weeds in a garden or field. It was like the presence of basically European Zionist colonizers who have encumbered Palestinian land since their colonial invasion in 1948.

The question was how to deal with such odious foreign presence. Zealot revolutionaries had their answer: Uproot the weeds here and now. Take up arms; assassinate Romans and their collaborators; drive them out mercilessly. Be as cruel and vicious as the Romans.

Jesus’ response was different. As a non-violent revolutionary, he could surely understand the more apocalyptic strategy. After all, much of his teaching expressed sympathy to the Zealot cause which included land reform, debt forgiveness, and expulsion of the hated Roman occupation forces. Many scripture scholars even identify possibly five members of Jesus’ inner circle as Zealots themselves.

But Jesus’ Parable of the Weeds is more prudent and sensitive to civilian casualties than the strategy of the impatient Zealots – or that of Hamas.

When the landlord’s workers ask, “Should we uproot the weeds?” Jesus’ landlord answers: “No, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them.”

In other words, Jesus agrees with El Salvador’s Oscar Romero and with Brazil’s Dom Helder Camara that revolutionary violence, though understandable (and justifiable on the grounds of just war theory), is imprudent at the very least.

This is because when faced with a vicious, overwhelmingly armed oppressor (like the Zionist state) resistance inevitably leads to state terrorism – to the war crime of collective punishment impacting women, children, the elderly and disabled. At the very least, that’s why Jesus eschews Zealot violence.

How then respond to illegal occupation like Rome’s in the 1st century or Israel’s over the last more than 60 years?

Jesus’ response? Be like mustard plant, he says. Be like yeast in flour. Both puzzling recommendations are relevant not only to Palestinians, but to Christians who wish to help their brothers and sisters in Palestine against the Zionists-turned-Nazis.

First of all think of the puzzlement that must have struck Jesus’ listeners. Jews didn’t have much use for yeast. They preferred unleavened bread. Neither would any farmer sow mustard seeds in her field or garden. The mustard plant was like kudzu – itself a kind of weed that eventually can take over entire fields and mountainsides while choking out other plants weeds or not. The mustard plant was unstoppable.

So Jesus is saying:

 * The Romans are weeds in your garden.
 * Don’t try to uproot them.
 * That will only lead to slaughter of the innocent.
 * Rather become weeds yourselves – like the mustard plant which is much more powerful than simple Roman (or Zionist) weeds.
 * Resist the Romans by embodying the Spirit of God that is slow to anger, good, forgiving, abounding in kindness.
 * Only imitation of Wisdom’s God can defeat the evil of imperialism.

What does that mean for Christians wishing to express solidarity with Palestinians against their cruel oppressors? At least the following:

 * Reject U.S. militarism in general as counterproductive, since fully 90% of the casualties it inflicts in war are civilians.
 * To bring about change, be instead like the yeast a homemaker puts into 60 pounds of flour, “infecting” the greater culture by non-violent resistance rather than seeking to destroy enemies.
 * Recognize the Zionists for what they are: an outlaw European “settler society” illegally occupying Palestinian land.
 * Take sides with Palestine’s indigenous tribal People.
 * Recognize them for what they are: “the Jews’ Jews” – treated by Zionists in the same way the Nazis treated Jews in Germany.
 * Petition the U.S. government to withdraw its support of Israel (more than one million dollars per day) unless the Zionists obey UN Resolution 242 and abandon the occupied territory while tearing down the odious Wall of Shame protecting the illegal Zionist settlements.
 * Support boycotts of Israel’s products by not buying them and by urging our churches and places of business to do the same.

Surely Jesus’ Way of non-violent resistance, forgiveness and love of enemies will strike many (non-believers and believers alike) as unrealistic. But according to the faith we Christians pretend to embrace, Jesus’ Way is God’s way.

But then perhaps we think we’re smarter and more realistic than Jesus — or God?