Last week a group of US clergy, theologians and laypersons unveiled Karios USA, a powerful and important American Christian spiritual call for justice in Israel and Palestine. As a religious Jew, I am inspired by its prophetic courage, its unabashed call for justice and its heartfelt model of compassion. It truly deserves to be shared and studied by all who who seek a genuinely religious call for justice in this land that is so central to so many peoples and spiritual traditions.
Kairos USA is modeled on the religious testimony of Kairos Palestine, a document that was drafted by prominent Palestinian Christian leaders in 2009 (which was itself inspired by the 1985 South African Kairos statement). Despite these important influences, however, Kairos USA stands on its own as a uniquely American Christian call for justice in Israel/Palestine.
Indeed, this unique mission is evoked in the statement’s Preamble at the very outset:
In June 2011, a group of U.S. clergy, theologians and laypersons, cognizant of our responsibility as Americans in the tragedy unfolding in Israel and Palestine, and mindful of the urgency of the situation, met to inaugurate a new movement for American Christians. We have been inspired by the prophetic church movements of southern Africa, Central and South America, Asia and Europe that have responded to the call of their Christian sisters and brothers in occupied Palestine. This is our statement of witness and confession—and our response as U.S. Christians to the Palestinian call.
And more specifically, from the Introduction:
As U.S. Christians we bear responsibility for failing to say “Enough!” when our nation’s ally, the State of Israel, violates international law. Our government has financed Israel’s unjust policies and has shielded its government from criticism by the international community. At the outset of the current U.S. administration, our government led Palestinians to believe that at last we would pursue a political solution based on justice. But the “peace process” has continued to be no more than a means for the continuing colonization of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the imprisonment of Gaza and the intensification of the structures of oppression.
I have no doubt at all that like Kairos Palestine, Kairos USA will be excoriated by many self-appointed leaders of the American Jewish establishment. As for myself, now that I’ve read the document carefully, I can say without hesitation that I believe this statement is a truly sacred testimony, offered in good faith and with genuine religious integrity.
I was particularly moved to read how sensitively Kairos USA treads over some of the most complex hot-button issues in the Jewish-Christian relationship. For instance, on the issue of historical church anti-Semitism, the statement includes the following confession:
As Christians addressing the Palestinian cause we must also acknowledge our shameful role in the historic persecution of the Jewish people. We recognize the dehumanizing and destructive power of doctrines and theologies that denigrated Judaism. Our predecessors perpetuated anti-Semitic stereotypes, practiced scapegoating and cloaked prejudice, hostility and murder itself in the robes of our religion. We confess that our churches failed to resist, and sometimes even aided and abetted pogroms, mass dislocations of Jews, and the calamity of the Nazi Holocaust itself. In so doing, they betrayed the teaching and example of the one we claim to follow. We speak for and with our forbears in expressing deep remorse. With a commitment to never forget those failures and to be instructed by them, we pledge ourselves to growth in faithfulness, compassion and justice.
The statement goes on, however, to state that Christians’ honest desire to repent for the church’s historic crimes against Jews must not inhibit them from speaking out against injustices perpetrated by Israel against Palestinians. To my mind, this is a call for real and honest interfaith relations – dialogue that is not defined by guilt or emotional blackmail, but rather by a willingness to venture into and openly discuss the more difficult and painful places:
We acknowledge with sadness and distress that because of the powerful impulse on the part of Christians to atone for their sins against the Jewish people, vigilance against anti-Semitism today has come to trump working for justice in Palestine and Israel. The Christian need to rectify centuries of anti-Jewish doctrine and actions and to avoid even the perception of anti-Jewish feeling has served to silence criticism of Israel’s policies and any questioning of the consequences of U.S. government support for Israel. Differences between anti-Semitism and legitimate opposition to Israeli actions are avoided or explained away. Responsible discourse about Zionism is often denounced as hostility toward Israel and its citizens or branded as anti-Semitism. We believe that in our dialogue with our Jewish friends, family members and colleagues and in our relationships with the Jewish community on institutional levels, we must confront this pattern of avoiding, denying or suppressing discussion of issues that may cause conflict or discomfort. The fact that anti-Semitism still exists makes it all the more important to differentiate between actual anti-Jewish feelings and criticism of the actions of a nation state. Uncomfortable though it may be, we cannot be afraid to address the urgent issue of justice and human rights in Israel and Palestine with our Jewish sisters and brothers here in the United States.
I also deeply admire the statement’s willingness to directly address the charged issue of so-called Christian “replacement” or “supersessionist” theology (a view that promotes Christianity – and not Judaism – as the genuine fulfillment of Biblical tradition):
We are aware that in denying a theology of entitlement that gives the Jewish people exclusive rights to the Holy Land, we risk the charge of reviving the Christian doctrine known as replacement theology (sometimes known as supersessionism). In this view, the Church takes the place of Israel in God’s purposes, denigrating Judaism itself and condemning the Jews to suffering for rejecting the Gospel. Christians have rightly wished to distance themselves from this destructive and divisive doctrine. We repudiate the anti-Semitic legacy of the church’s past and the theology that undergirds it.
As a Jew who rejects a sense of Jewish entitlement just as strongly as I reject any religious viewpoint that makes an exclusive claim to the land, I particularly appreciate Kairos USA’s religious approach on this point:
Our core Christian belief is that God’s promise in the Gospel is a promise to all nations. This means that God’s kingdom work in Christ is a promise to everyone regardless of race. We believe that the Church has found in Christ a fulfillment of all that God promised in Abraham, and that both Jews and Gentiles have been invited equally into this promise of a world renewed in love and compassion. The Church does not replace Israel. Jews continue to have a place in God’s plan for the world. In Christ, all nations can be blessed (Genesis 18:18, 22:18; Galatians 3:8). In these times of growing international conflict and cultural mistrust, this is a significant promise. Theologies that privilege one nation with political entitlements to the exclusion of others miss a central tenet of the Gospel and inspire increased conflict.
I believe the above statement provides a crucial challenge to both American Jews and Christians. From a theological point of view, I believe it is time to reframe the issue. The real debate is not about which religious tradition or people has a more compelling religious “right” to the land of Israel, rather, it is between those who make exclusivist theological claims and those whose theology makes room for all peoples who live on or feel a connection to this land.
I also have no doubt that many in the American Jewish establishment will reject out of hand Kairos USA’s positive advocacy of BDS (“Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions”). But here again, I find that the statement deals with a hot-button issue with sensitivity and integrity:
Participation in the BDS movement by U.S. churches, notably in the form of initiatives to divest church funds from companies profiting from the occupation of the West Bank and the blockade of Gaza, has generated critically-important discussions at local, denominational and ecumenical levels about the responsibility of the church to act. It has also generated intense controversy. Opposition, from Jewish organizations as well as from voices within the churches, has often been fierce, claiming that such actions will inflict grievous damage on hard-won positive relationships with the Jewish community. Many express fear that these actions may encourage anti-Semitism. We note with distress that many have confused these actions with anti-Jewish discrimination and persecution in the Christian past. But BDS is directed at Israeli policy, not the state itself or its citizens, and certainly not against the Jewish people. Divestment and other forms of socially responsible investing (SRI) are not directed against groups, nor are they intended to hurt individuals, corporations or states. They are, rather, directed at unjust, oppressive policies and are about promoting our own values and stated commitments by noncooperation with evil. Furthermore, methods to exert economic pressure on governments and companies, in addition to being a legal, ethical and time-tested way of influencing the political process and corporate behavior, serve to increase awareness, promote open discussion and create the grassroots support required to urge governments to take effective action and to change unjust policies. We urge congregations, clergy and church leaders to become educated about the BDS movement and to consider the many forms that it can take on personal, local and national levels.
As I American Jew who is deeply distressed by the American Jewish establishment’s abject vilification of BDS, I don’t think I could possibly put it any better.
I urge all people – whether religious and secular, Christian, Jewish or Muslim – to read, share, discuss and respectfully debate this important new American statement of faith. My deepest gratitude to those (including my good friends Mark Braverman and Father Cotton Fite) who helped spearhead and draft Kairos USA. May it inspire us all to reframe a new religious response to the sorrows of Israel/Palestine – and lead the way to a better future to all who call this land home.
KAIROS is a good effort, but what strikes me on reading your post is how much effort has to be made to address every aspect of so many side issues. Our minds are spilling over with complex constructions built up over years, starting with childhood indoctrination. How carefully one must step in order not to offend this view or that view, this concept of history or that one.
The situation of the Palestinians is not subtle, it is stark, glaring and of long standing. It is as black and white as the pattern in the keffiyeh they wear. But woe to those who might offend their oppressors!
What has been and is being done to the Palestinians; kicking them out of their home and making them non-citizens in their own land is a towering wrong, It’s wrong in a way that even a child can understand, wrong that is instantly clear to anyone who visits the OT or sees any of the many videos coming from there whether made by Palestinians or justice-loving Israelis.
Yet we take pains not to offend this or that sensibility; to avoid stepping on toes. What is the value of all the elaborate mental architecture we hold so dear, that we must not slight even as we ignore the blatant injustice that sits entrenched right in front of our faces?
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Thank you Brant for this very thoughtful, honest and clear statement of the issues facing us. Your voice is timely, as those of us Presbyterians gather together this coming week in Pittsburgh to respond to God’s Call through the hearts, and voices of those in Israel and in Palestine who wish for a wider community, and an end to the injustices they both feel. Recognition of Kairos USA is also something to be shared widely. Thank you for calling it to our attention. Blessings of peace and justice this day be upon you and all whom you love.
Brant, it would be interesting to understand your position on BDS more thoroughly. What is the scope of sanctions that you support? I know that is an extremely multi-faceted question, but some of the major issues are who and what is to be boycotted – private companies, the state, academic and cultural institutions, Israeli Arabs or just Jews, people and institutions that have relations with entities that don’t boycott etc? Also, how could Israel end BDS? If the successor Palestinian government (or current PA) maintains Israel’s objectionable policies (administrative detention, military rule) or discriminates against a Jewish minority would you be in favor of maintaining BDS against it?
Thanks Brant for this post and cogent thoughts like always. It gives many “christians” the permission they are looking for to also speak out against ethnic injustices & inequalities.
This comment by Rabbi Brant Rosen is the clearest and most carefully argued that I have seen. It deserves wide airing, as does the Kairos USA statement. Is there a Kairos UK statement?
I am Jewish, very liberal, distant from the synagogue world, but still have a deep sense of cultural affinity.
I have come to see the justice in “D, S,” but the “B” is so repellent to me that I will likely never support the movement. To boycott…and shout down,,, Shakespeare troupes, ballets, and symphony orchestras just because they are composed of Israelis who take money from the Israeli government?
Well, to me that is the equivalent of boycotting American teachers, publicly-funded scientists, doctors and nurses, and other public sector workers because the US government is waging a drone war in Pakistan. I myself am a State public sector worker whose wages trace, in part, to grants from the US government. I don’t think I am a legitimate target for boycott activities for persons opposed to American foreign policy. And I do not think that an Israeli publicly-funded ballet should be boycotted because of the illegal settlments and other human rights abuses of the Israeli govt.
This is why most religious Jews including me can’t agree with BDS and this Kairo letter and must deeply sympathize with the Jewish National Homeland Medinat Yisrael (State of Israel). Click on the link if you want to understand why.
The 8,000-word document does not include the word Hamas. Does anyone need to know more?
Jordan, are you suggesting that the missing word “Hamas” justifies eradicating hundreds of villages and expelling 750,000 Palestinians from their homes in 1947-1948 and prohibiting them from returning; reducing Palestinian citizens of Israel to third-class status; excluding them from the 96% of the land of Israel proper that is reserved for Jews only; collecting their taxes but giving them in return a small fraction of the educational and health services that Jews receive; ruling over a subject population of 4 million people in the West Bank and Gaza for 45 years without their consent; depriving them of basic human rights, homes, livelihoods, trees and orchards, and access to medical care, food and even water; imprisoning men, women and children without trial and torturing them while in custody; using deadly force against civilians engaged in nonviolent protests – the list goes on and on – are you suggesting that all that is answered by the missing word “Hamas”?
I’ll suggest some other missing words that I think might relevant: Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Jodan, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Tunisia, ad nauseum .. I think there may be some available real estate for the “palestinians” who have been caged in the UN refugee camps for 60 years…. but, hey, let’s get back to Israel
–Thanks Brant and others for the positive support for Kairos Palestine. It is a great step towards long-term security and justice for all people’s regardless of ethnicity who live in this region we the UN calls Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.
–Dr Martin Thomson regarding Kairos Palestine for the UK, see:
Kairos Palestine: The Iona Call 2012
“We, a group of Christians from many parts of the UK and beyond, gathered on the isle of Iona in Pentecost week 2012. Under the guidance of Rev. Dr Naim Ateek1 and Dr Mark Braverman2 we considered our response to the Kairos Palestine document: ‘A Moment of Truth – a Word of Faith, Hope and Love from the Heart of Palestinian Suffering’ (2009).
This is our kairos moment – our moment of truth. We are called to respond boldly to the deepening suffering of our sisters and brothers in Palestine under occupation by Israel. We stand in faithfulness and solidarity with Palestinians and Israelis who are working tirelessly for a peace based on justice.
We believe it is necessary to challenge the deafening silence of most churches in the face of the continuing injustice of dispossession and denial of basic human and political rights. We agree with the Kairos document that the occupation by Israel is ‘an evil and a sin’ (Kairos Palestine 4.2.1).
• We ask our churches and theological institutions to challenge how the Bible has been used to justify oppression and injustice. We encourage the development and use of educational resources to raise awareness, enrich worship and challenge misperceptions and apathy.
• Palestinian Christians have called us to ‘come and see’ (Kairos Palestine 6.2). We urge Christians to participate only in those pilgrimages which give opportunity to listen to the experiences of Palestinians and engage with the harsh realities of occupation.
• We support Palestinians in their non-violent resistance to Israeli injustice and oppression. We endorse their call for boycott, disinvestment and sanctions (BDS) and other forms of non-violent direct action.
• We call on Christians to put pressure on governments and the European Union to demonstrate a commitment to justice for Palestinians and security for all people.
In pursuit of the above we intend to establish a UK Kairos network, linked to the Kairos Palestine global movement, to alert our churches to the urgent situation in Palestine. We challenge Christians and churches to engage in prayerful study of the Kairos Palestine document in openness to what the spirit is now saying to the churches (Rev. 2.7). We must read the signs of the times and act in obedience to God’s will (Matt. 16.3).
Difficult though this journey may be, we seize this kairos moment with conviction and hope. We recognise our responsibility as followers of Jesus Christ to speak the prophetic word with courage.
We are called to respond to the question from Palestinian Christians: ‘Are you able to help us get our freedom back, for this is the only way you can help the two peoples attain justice, peace, security and love?’ Kairos Palestine 6.1).”
Kairos Palestine: The Call from Australia is yet to come. But the contact details for those actively working on this issue include:
Peace Shalom Salam
You all sound so high-minded and you do have a litany of complaints about Israel in her relation to the Palestinians. Lawrence Hamilton exemplifies it; one accusation after another; “deprived of basic human rights”; “excluding them from the 96% of the land of Israel proper that is reserved for Jews only; etc., etc., I don’t quite know what you are talking about, but it certainly seems clear to you.
The Kairos document mentions poignantly the persecution of the Jews by Christians. It mentions remorse. That’s good. I’m glad that’s in there, but those are words that are easy to write, though they be heartfelt. They are still just words. If Israel were to follow the Kairos track those in a position to know say that Israel would soon become vulnerable to attack. And what if they are right? What if Israel were eventually to be destroyed as a Jewish state and as a homeland to the Jewish people? Would that matter to the supporters of Kairos? That needs to be asked.
And if it did matter — if — what would you say then? We’re sorry? We erred in our approach? We Christians, instead of beginning a new chapter of openness with the Jews, actually have just fallen into the same old pattern we did before. Every age of Christianity felt justified in how they dealt with the Jews of their time. You are modern and enlightened, yet the more things change …
There are so many wrongs in the world. Look at Tibet, and that’s just one. The situation with the Jewish State is, at the very least, complex. The same number of Jewish refugees from Arab lands had to be resettled in Israel. Were you concerned for them or their children?
You say as Christians you must speak out against the wrongs the Jews of Israel are perpetrating. Your consciences demand it. Go ahead and point the finger for the world to see. There is nothing new here.
All who support the Kairos document should read the interview of Egyptian Dr. Tawfik Hamid to get a picture of the Mideast that is usually not presented in the western media. It fills in some of the major points on why peace is so elusive. Yet progress is occurring.
As a rabbi it is a shame that you would cater to a christian organization which thinly veils its grudging acceptance that “the church has not replaced the Jews” in the guise of an egalitarian and tolerant call for action for the sake of saving Israel from itself. the only people who need saving are the swaths of our nation who have fallen so far as to seek this unwanted self-gratification so easily swallowed. I like Edwin Rowe’s opinion.
…that being said, what is not part of Hashem’s plan? a country of Gd for the whole world. however a christian is not one of the covenant and that is that. it is certainly not the reconstructionist way of seeing things however i recognize that all these processes – kairos jrc bds – are natural and just as divinely-inspired gears turning toward whatever the ultimate culmination of the story should be. i’m not worried about bds and have equally strong (scratch that stronger) disdain for aipac and the like – i also have discovered a quiet sense of certainty, like many ‘radical loonies’, that the current nation-state of israel is not the eretz yisrael still yet to be fulfilled. it is still the predecessor and so are efforts like these. whatever the ultimate outcome is i doubt it is what these people can even vaguely imagine it is. i know that as a lay leader you have a role to involve yourself in these realities just sharing the way i see it from the end-game perspective. how to maintain such an awareness while nonetheless acting within the context of the available avenues of action seems to be a puzzle beyond my abilities — then again that’s why i’m me and not you! thanks for the ranting.