It is truly my honor to be included in the program of the upcoming conference, “A Wide Tent for Justice: Next Steps for Peace in Palestine/Israel,” sponsored by Friends of Sabeel – North America and the Chicago Faith Coalition on Middle East Policy. And I’m particularly honored to be participating on a panel and leading a workshop together with Rev. Dr. Naim Ateek, founder of the Sabeel Insititute and one of the most important purveyors of Palestinian Christian liberation theology.
I can safely say my own spiritual understanding of the Israel/Palestine conflict has been profoundly influenced and challenged by the work of Rev. Dr. Ateek. I do believe religious Jews have a great deal to learn from liberation theology in general and Palestinian liberation theology in particular. I’ve long admired Ateek for his willingness to shine a light on the theological problems that come with the land-centric nature of Zionist ideology. I believe his criticism of Zionism as a “retrogression” to a Biblically-based nationalist Jewish expression is a critical one for us to consider – painful though it may be for many in my community.
Responding to the challenge of Rev. Dr. Ateek and his colleagues, I’ve been working over the past year on developing a potential framework toward a theology of Jewish liberation that reclaims the universal vision of the Prophets and provides a progressive spiritual alternative to the fusing of religion and state power. I’ve been encouraged by the response to my initial efforts thus far – from Jews and Christians alike – and am increasingly coming to believe that there is a critical place for such ideas in the post-modern Jewish theological world.
Alas, much to my sadness and dismay, many in the Jewish establishment world continues to vilify Rev. Dr. Ateek and the Sabeel Institute. While I certainly understand that many are challenged – often profoundly – by Palestinian liberation theology, it grieves me that the “official” Jewish communal response to this movement has been to publicly excoriate its leaders as anti-Semitic rather than to engage them in real and honest dialogue.
I do believe this kind of posturing has everything to do with politics and very little to do with actual interfaith dialogue. True dialogue occurs when respective communities agree to explore the hard places – the tension points – no matter how painful. In my own dialogue with Palestinian Christians (and those in the Protestant church who stand in solidarity with them), my own sensibilities have been challenged and broadened – but I’ve also found that my participation allows me to have a similar kind of impact on my Christian partners. And while we might not agree on every issue, we ultimately emerge from our encounter strengthened by our common commitment to universal prophetic values of justice.
Back in 2010, when I visited the Sabeel Institute in Jerusalem with members of my congregation, I wrote the following:
Whether or members of the Jewish community agree with him or not, I believe it would greatly behoove us to enter in dialogue with Ateek and others in the Palestinian Christian community – and I told him as much during our meeting. At the very least, it is my sincere hope that there might be Jewish leaders actively participating rather than protesting during the next American Friends of Sabeel conference.
I sincerely hope that will be the case at the upcoming conference here in Chicago (hosted by St. James Cathedral from Oct. 3 – 5). In the past, Friends of Sabeel – North America conferences have occasioned fierce political pushback from the Jewish communal establishment. Sad to say, last year, Jewish leaders in Albuquerque pressured a local Episcopal church into canceling its sponsorship of the the Sabeel – NA conference there. While I have every confidence that this will not occur in Chicago, I fully expect that some members of the Jewish communal establishment here will publicly tar organizers and co-sponsors of the event with the tired accusations of “anti-Semitism.”
Still, I am hoping against hope that members of my community will see fit to attend the conference in the spirit of openness and with a willingness to be challenged. I do believe this is nothing less than the most critical Jewish-Christian dialogue of our time.
Here’s a great quality video of my entire speaking appearance at University Friend’s Meeting in Seattle this past Monday night. I attended series of wonderful – and at times inspiring – events during my short stay in the Northwest and will be reporting on them in due course. In the meantime here’s a taste:
I’ve just returned from an inspiring sojourn at the Jewish Voice for Peace National Members’ Meeting in Berkeley, CA (you can read more about the event here.) While I was there, I took the opportunity to film a few of my colleagues on the JVP Rabbinical Council voicing their support for the Open Hillel campaign (a recent and very important student-run initiative about which I blogged not too long ago.)
Here ‘em testify! From top to bottom, Rabbis Brian Walt, Lynn Gottlieb, David Mivasair, Margaret Holub, David Bauer and Alissa Wise:
My recent op-ed for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency:
CHICAGO (JTA) — There has long been an unwritten covenant between the Jewish establishment and Christian leaders when it comes to interfaith dialogue: “We can talk about any religious issues we like, but criticism of Israel’s human rights violations is off limits.”
Over the past few weeks, we’ve painfully witnessed what can happen when Christians break this covenant by speaking their religious conscience.
Check out my wide-ranging and freewheeling conversation with Truthout’s Mark Karlin, which focuses on my book, but also touches on subjects such as Zionism, BDS, the two-state solution and Palestinian solidarity, among others.
Here’s a taste, below. Click here for the full interview.
Mark Karlin: Stereotyping any group of people is dangerous. In polls during peaceful periods, most Palestinians and Israelis appear to support peace. A lot of what Netanyahu appears to do is stir up the pot so that there will never be a long enough period to negotiate a peace. That’s not to excuse those in Hamas and Hezbollah who have their own motives in heating up the conflict now and then, along with other parties who have vested interests in stalling peace. When you talk of your Palestinian solidarity, some critics accuse you of abandoning Jewish solidarity and not sufficiently condemning those Arab extremists who are in the “destroy Israel” industry as much as Netanyahu is in the suppression-of-Palestinian-rights industry. How do you respond?
Brant Rosen: At the end of my book I addressed this issue directly:
As a Jew, I will also say without hesitation that I reject the view that I must choose between standing with Jews or standing with Palestinians. This is a zero-sum outlook that only serves to promote division, enmity and fear.
For me, the bottom line is this: the cornerstone value of my religious tradition commands me to stand in solidarity with all who are oppressed. It would thus be a profound betrayal of my own Jewish heritage if I consciously choose not to stand with the Palestinian people.
In other words, I believe my Jewish liberation to be intrinsically bound up with Palestinian liberation. It’s really that simple.
I’ve come to believe that solidarity should ultimately be driven by values, not tribal allegiances. It should be motivated by the prophetic vision that demands that we stand with the powerless and call out the powerful. Of course, in the case of Israel, this form of solidarity presents a very painful challenge to many Jews. I understand that. But at the very least, shouldn’t we be talking about this challenge and what it represents for us?
Does my solidarity mean that I agree with everything that is done by Palestinians in furtherance of their liberation? Of course not. When you stand in solidarity with a people, it is inevitable that you will find yourself standing next to some people whose actions and beliefs you will find odious. That comes with the territory when you choose to take a stand. And I might add that this is the case for liberal Zionists who stand in solidarity with Israel as well.
Please read this blog post by my dear friend Rabbi Rebecca Lillian, who currently lives in Malmö, Sweden. You may know that Malmö has experienced its share of anti-Semitism of late and that some members of the Jewish community have left the city as a result.
Sadly, the Malmö Jewish Community Center was damaged last week by an explosive device and rocks that were thrown through the Center’s windows. Rebecca, who happens to live in the JCC, wrote powerfully about her experience of the attack – as well as the subsequent show of solidarity by Malmö’s Network for Faith and Understanding (which includes local churches and mosques.)
In her post, she also has some choice words to say about how the Jewish press and the Simon Wiesenthal Center in particular has been egregiously misrepresenting the situation in Malmö for political purposes:
The real jolt came after Shabbat, as I read the Jewish press. That ubiquitous hyperbolic headline about the blast “rocking” our building irritated me, but the articles were essentially accurate. I was disappointed that nobody had followed up with a story about the multi-faceted vigil. Readers all over the world who have been following the story of anti-Semitic hate crimes in Malmö should also learn about our concerned neighbors who literally rushed to our side. What made me explode, though, was that the Jewish Journal of LA had the chutspa to publish a Reuters photo of the vigil next to an indefensible rant by the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Rabbi Abraham Cooper.
Rabbi Cooper has already declared Malmö an unsafe travel destination for Jews. Now he suggests that those of us who live here might soon need to flee for Israel or elsewhere. “Ayn Soamchin Al Haness” — we cannot rely on miracles to secure the safety of Jewish children. “Clearly time is running out for Malmö,” he writes, along with other overstated claims.
Rabbi Cooper must know that it is dry season in the Jewish blogosphere. Pamela Geller, she of the Isalmophobic ads on New York City buses, borrowed from Cooper’s screed to come to the offensive conclusion that “Malmo has become as bad for Jews as Berlin at the height of the WWII. With its very large Muslim population, Islamic attacks against the Jews are part of the social fabric in Malmo. It’s pure hell.” Such mendacity desecrates the memory of those Jews who died in Berlin and dishonors those who survived. She cynically uses their name to buttress her anti-Muslim fabrications, which have zero to do with the Jewish community of Malmö.
Time has not run out for us. On the contrary, while the bursts of hate are anonymous and cowardly, the eloquent expressions of support are said aloud by well-known community leaders and residents from all over the region. It is time for Cooper and Geller and the countless Jewish bloggers who quote them to stop crying wolf.
From my Yom Kippur sermon yesterday:
Let me leave you with this vision: the vision of a people who have over the centuries learned to build a nation without borders, a multi-ethnic nation suffused with the beauty of a myriad of cultures, a nation inspired by a religious tradition it constructs and reconstructs in every age and in every generation. At its heart, a nation committed to the struggle for meaning in our lives and justice in our world. And in the end, a nation that has nothing to fear and every opportunity to gain from the remarkable changes underway in the 21st century.
Click below to read the entire sermon:
From my Rosh Hashanah sermon last Monday:
However – I also wonder if Jewish tribalism is starting to come at a cost. I especially wonder what it means for the Jewish community to be tribal in this day and age, when we are experiencing openness and freedom in historically unprecedented ways. Given the global realities of our 21st century world, I wonder if there might be new models for Jewish identity – ones that value tribalism less than a deeper sense of engagement and kinship with the world outside.
Click below to read the entire sermon:
Here is a post I co-wrote with Rabbi Alissa Wise for the Forward Thinking Blog of the Jewish Daily Forward:
The Republican Jewish Coalition and the Emergency Committee for Israel this week urged a group of rabbis supporting President Barack Obama’s reelection to purge members of the Jewish Voice for Peace Rabbinical Council from its ranks. The conservative groups claimed they were shocked by the inclusion in the “Rabbis for Obama” list of those whose “values are representative of a small and extreme group of anti-Israel activists.”
We are deeply dismayed by this cynical attempt at political gain through smears, half-truths and innuendos that only serve to create division in the Jewish community.
It is certainly true that many of on the JVP Rabbinical Council are deeply critical of Israeli policy (and the U.S. policy that too often enables it). It is not at all true, however, that such criticisms are “extreme” or marginal. Indeed, increasing numbers of Jews and Jewish leaders are finding the courage to speak out publicly against Israel’s practice of home demolition, forced eviction, settlement expansion and administrative detention, as well as its widespread restriction on Palestinians’ freedom of movement in the West Bank and Gaza.
Jewish Voice for Peace rabbis were not the only ones singled out by RJC and ECI’s smear. William Kristol included members of the J Street Rabbinical Cabinet and Rabbis for Human Rights as well. There are many perspectives within the American rabbinical community about how to create a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians. At the same time, we share a commitment to open and honest conversation about how a negotiated solution can ensure security and human rights for all.
By a margin of more than 2 to 1, according to the Public Religion Research Institute American Jews say that good diplomacy rather than military strength is the best way to ensure peace (63% vs. 24% respectively).
This reality stands in sharp contrast to the Jewish donors to the Republican party, such as Sheldon Adelson, who has reportedly asked Romney to state publicly that Israeli-Palestinian peace talks are a “waste of time.” Adelson is also pressing Romney for a firmer commitment to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, in what would be a de facto recognition of Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem. These views lie far outside what most Americans would tolerate or expect from an American president.
We are saddened, but not surprised, by these smear tactics. They have long been the stock in trade of a Jewish establishment that demands lock-step agreement from Jewish rabbis and leaders – and Jewish neo-conservatives who do not hesitate to use divisive rhetoric and slanderous allegations against their own community members to achieve their political goals.
We are proud of the diversity of the American Jewish community and voice our hope that it will make room for all those who are dedicated to a future of peace, justice and dignity in Israel and Palestine. We are heartened that that by resisting calls to purge individual rabbis from their ranks, the leadership of “Rabbis for Obama” is remaining true to this inclusive vision.
Please join me in celebrating the publication of my new book, “Wrestling in the Daylight: A Rabbi’s Path to Palestinian Solidarity” on Thursday, September 6, 7:00 pm at The Book Cellar, 4736-38 N. Lincoln Ave, Chicago.
From a recent review by Rabbi Rachel “Velveteen Rabbi” Barenblat:
“Wrestling in the Daylight”… is Rabbi Brant’s self-curated compilation of his blog posts from Shalom Rav, so if you’ve been reading Shalom Rav, this material won’t be new to you. But I’m finding, as I read, that reading the posts in this new setting and context — curated by their author into a narrative which clearly shows the progression of his thinking over time — is a different experience from reading the blog. And Rabbi Brant has chosen to reprint some of the comments from readers as well as responses he’s offered to those comments, which gives the book a bit of the internet’s Talmudic multivocality (and offers an example of how one can host difficult conversations in a thoughtful and generous way — which can be hard to come by on the internet, especially on questions of Israel/Palestine.)
- The choice to include commentary makes the book particularly interesting, I think. Some of Rabbi Brant’s most frequent commentors disagree with him deeply. Over the course of the book, one can see conversations unfolding. Sometimes they are quite heated. And his responses are always thoughtful and respectful, even as he resists attempts at derailing the conversation. Having hosted some conversations about Israel at this blog over the years, I have a sense for how difficult that can be.
… Rabbi Brant Rosen is one of my role models in the difficult but important work of coming to terms with the clash between the classic Zionist narrative (a story which many of us want to continue believing — I know I still yearn for it to be true) and some of the realities on the ground in Israel and the Palestinian territories. He models for me not how one would do this internal work despite his ardent Jewishness, but precisely of it; not despite being a rabbi, but precisely because his rabbinate calls him to take seriously the Jewish call to stand with those who are oppressed. And he has also taught me a great deal about how to disagree without falling into the trap of looking down on (or dehumanizing) those with whom one disagrees.
If you’re interested in progressive Jewish takes on Israel and Palestine, this book is worth reading, and worth having on your bookshelf to return to again.
I’m thrilled to be joined at our September launch party by local Chicago celebs Kevin Coval, (Poet, Co-Founder, “Louder Than a Bomb“), Gwen Macsai, (Host, WBEZ’s Re:Sound) and Andrew White (Artistic Director, Lookingglass Theatre Company), who will join me in reading excerpts from the book. We’ll also make plenty of time for Q&A, book signing and quality bookstore shmoozing.
It promises to be a wonderful evening – RSVP at our Facebook event page here.