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December 16, 2008

Have They No Shame? Have They No Decency?

Rev. Dr. Naim Ateek, founder of Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center, has added another text to his ouevre of hostility against Israel. His most recent book, titled A Palestinian Cry for Reconciliation (Orbis, 2008), includes a lot of troubling passages in which he downplays hostility toward Israel and exagerates Israeli misdeeds, but one section takes the cake. On page 47 he accuses Israel of perpetrating a a "slow and creeping genocide."

The section reads as follows:

The crime against Palestinians was birthed in the minds and hearts of those Zionists who saw the Palestinians as dispensable human beings. According to the journal of the French Lubavitch, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish group, "In the eyes of the Creator there is as much difference between Jews and non-Jews as between non-Jews and animals." This belief that Palestinians are worth less than Jews, hidden in the hearts of some Zionists, began to be put into practice over time. It has been a slow and creeping genocide. For many years, Israel refused to use trained dogs against the Palestinians because it brought to mind the Nazis. Now Israel uses dogs to attack Palestinians."

Rev. Dr. Ateek's assertion that Israel has perpetrated a "slow and creeping genocide" is libelous, contemptible and chimerical. The population of Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip has quadrupled over the past 60 years. The modifers "slow and creeping" do not make Ateek's accusation any less dishonest.

To hide the obscene nature of his charge, Rev. Dr. Ateek tucks it in between a terrible and hostile quote and a description of Israelis using dogs to attack Israelis. The quote, however terrible, does not represent the opinion of all Israelis toward Palestinians, a fact that Rev. Dr. Ateek himself acknowledges with the phrase "some Zionists." He then asserts that this belief was put into practice "over time."

Exactly how? By allowing Palestinians -- even those responsible for violence against Israel -- into its hospitals during times of conflict? By allowing food and medical supplies into the Gaza Strip while rockets land in Sderot? By according Palestinians standing before its Supreme Court?

This is "genocide"?

Moreover, the quote that Rev. Dr. Ateek uses to portray Zionism in such stark terms has an unknown provenance.

Rev. Dr. Ateek reports in his main text that the quote came from an un-named French Lubavich journal.

The accompanying footnote reveals that it came from page 199 of a 1994 translation of a book by Gilles Kepel, The Revenge of God: The Resurgence of Islam, Christianity and Judaism in the Modern World (Polity Press). An examination of this page of Kepel's text (available online) reveals that it does not provide a citation for this quote. Kepel, by the way, does not place the passage in quotation marks (as Ateek does), indicating it is a paraphrase.

The manner in which Rev. Dr. Ateek quotes the passage in his text, however, indicates to the reader that it is a direct quote from the un-named French Lubavitch journal. Even after checking Rev. Dr. Ateek's source for the quote, readers are left ignorant of the date of this quote and its historical context, leaving his audience with a few questions. Who actually wrote this sentence? When was it written? What was its historical context? If there is a better source for this quote, why didn't Rev. Dr. Ateek use it?

Given his sourcing of this quote, it's unlikely Rev. Dr. Ateek knows the answers to these questions, and yet he uses it to assert that the belief that Zionism is motivated by a belief that Palestinians are worth less than Jews. In any event, the quote is not representative of Zionism as a movement, which Rev. Dr. Ateek falsely accuses of being responsible for a "genocide" against Palestinians.

This is not scholarship.

This is smoke and mirrors.

The only physical evidence Rev. Dr. Ateek, himself an Israeli citizen, can muster to prove the existence of this "slow and creeping genocide" is the Israeli use of dogs to attack Palestinians. To prove this fact, he cites a photo of a dog attacking a Palestinian woman that appeared in the front page of Al-Quds newspaper in March 2007. If Rev. Dr. Ateek's accusation of genocide is true, then the people handling the dog in question are themselves responsible of assisting in the crime of genocide. The reality is that he has accused Israelis of a crime that has not taken place.

What were the editors at Orbis Books thinking when they published such a false and defamatory accusation? Orbis Books bills itself as a endeavoring "to publish works that enlighten the mind, nourish the spirit, and challenge the conscience." It also describes itself as seeking "to explore the cause of reconciliation and peace." Maybe a more honest description of Orbis Press is that it is meeting a growing demand for stories of Jews behaving badly (exhibited by people who do not seem to care whether they are true or not). Sadly, other religious publishing houses in the U.S. qualify for this description as well.

Rev. Dr. Ateek's accusation of genocide -- the modern-day equivalent of charges of ritual murder directed at Jews in Medieval Europe -- is clearly intended to foment anti-Israel hostility in the hearts and minds of his readers. Israel was accused of "genocide" during the UN's "anti-racism" conference in Durban South Africa in 2001 which served to legitimize the violence of the Second Intifada. It has also been leveled by peace "activists" ferried from Cyprus to the Gaza Strip who couldn't be bothered to bring food or medical supplies when they first showed up.

The accusation itself reveals more about the people leveling it than it does about the modern-state of Israel. It also reveals a lot about the people who have defended and endorsed Rev. Dr. Ateek's writings over the years.

Despite this and other troublesome passages, Rev. Dr. Ateek's book has been endorsed by Rosemary Radford Ruether, sometime contributor to National Catholic Reporter and professor at the Pacific School of Religion; Rev. John Thomas, president and general minister of the United Church of Christ (UCC); Clifton Kirkpatrick, President World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC), and former stated clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA); and Dave Robinson from Pax Christi USA. On the back of the book, Rev. Thomas reports the text "is essential reading for anyone committed to the non-violent struggle for justice and peace in the Middle East."

Since when does a false accusation of genocide promote the cause of peace and reconciliation?

Do the people who published and endorsed this book have no shame? Have they no decency?

Posted by dvz at December 16, 2008 11:12 AM


Rev. Thomas reports the text "is essential reading for anyone committed to the non-violent struggle for justice and peace in the Middle East."

By this measure, the book will not resonate with more than half of the Palestinian legislature. I'm sure the Rev could care less.

Posted by: Ben at December 16, 2008 05:44 PM

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