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November 15, 2006

Lutheran Staffer Promotes Hamas Ally

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is not nearly as hostile toward Israel as some of the other mainline churches in the United States. Thanks to the behind-the-scene efforts of a small, but effective group of Christian-Jewish scholars who take Arab and Muslim leaders at their word when they talk about destroying Israel, the resolutions about the Arab-Israeli conflict passed by ELCA's Churchwide Assembly in 2005 acknowledged Israel's legitimate security needs. The church even pledged to draw attention to the plight of Christians in countries like Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon, suggesting that at least a few ELCA members and leaders know that not every Christian in the Middle East blames Israel for their suffering.

Still, there are times when even Lutherans can miss the point about life in the Middle East.

Most people can tell the difference between a wall built by communist dictators who order their soldiers to shoot people in the back as they try to escape tyranny and a passive barrier built to stop the murder of civilians by suicide bombers and snipers, but this distinction seems to be lost on ELCA Communicator Ben McDonald Coltvet who attended a conference titled "Life in the Shadow of a Wall" held in Wittenburg, Germany. The conference, which ended on Nov. 14, included testimony from those affected by the "wall/border" separating the U.S. and Mexico, Israel's security barrier, and yes, the Berlin Wall, where people fleeing tyranny were shot in the back by East German soldiers.

It gets worse. According to Coltvet's blog about the event, conference attendees heard testimony from Bethlehem Mayor Victor Batarseh, who won his post by virtue of his support from ... Hamas! To be sure, Mayor Batarseh, a Catholic, is not a member of the organization, but his primary political support comes from this group, which is openly dedicated to the destruction of Israel. (And as Molly Ivins is fond of saying, "You gotta dance with them that brung ya.")

Here is what Chiesa, a Catholic journal, said about Hamas's dominance in Bethlehem politics in 2005:

The leader of the Hamas contingent in the municipal council of Bethlehem, Hassam El-Masalmeh, exalts the suicide attacks against the Jews, and asserts that these will continue until all of Palestine, including the territory of Israel, is under Palestinian control.

But mayor Victor Batarseh, a practicing Catholic, condemns the terrorist attacks and wants Hamas to stop carrying them out. He says that he is ready for a territorial compromise with Israel in order to bring about a true Palestinian state. But even before the latest municipal elections, he chose Hamas as his main ally, together with another extremist group called Islamic Jihad.

Maybe ELCA's communicator was unaware of these affiliations. Mayor Batarseh's affiliation with Hamas (and, according to Chiesa, Islamic Jihad) hasn't prevented him from speaking as a so-called "peace activist" in at the Full Sail School of Film, Art, Design and Music and Media Production in Florida and at Missouri Southern State University.

Still, given the agenda of the conference, and Batarseh's involvement, a few questions should be asked:

Just how reasonable is it for a man whose political allies include Hamas — a group that targets Israeli civilians for murder — to be testifying about the negative impact of Israel's security barrier on Palestinians? Were conference participants told of Mayor Batarseh's affiliation with Hamas?

Is it appropriate to link the Israel's security barrier with the Berlin Wall? The Berlin Wall was clearly intended to keep people inside a communist state. The goal of Israel's security barrier is to prevent suicide attacks (which don't seem to get much mention on Coltvet's blog, by the way).

Just how much information about the infrastructure of anti-Jewish hate and hostility in Palestinian society were the participants given? Religious leaders in the Gaza Strip routinely call for Jews to be killed and for children to become suicide bombers. Were conference participants given this information?

Posted by CameraBlog at November 15, 2006 09:57 AM


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