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July 02, 2015

A Word About Mitri Raheb’s Sermon at the UCC’s General Synod

Raheb at UCC General Synod Cleveland.jpg
Mitri Raheb, a Lutheran Pastor from Bethlehem, spoke at the General Synod of the United Church of Christ in late June. (Youtube screenshot.)

The General Synod of the United Church of Christ held its 30th General Synod in Cleveland, Ohio during the last four days of June.

On June 29th, the day before the General Synod approved a resolution calling on the church to join the anti-Israel BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) movement, Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb addressed the assembly. His sermon starts at about one hour and forty nine minutes into this Youtube video.

Raheb, a Lutheran Pastor from Bethlehem in the West Bank, has a well-deserved reputation for assailing the legitimacy of the Jewish people and their state. He does this while wearing the mantle of a Christian theologian, pastor, and peacemaker.

One of his most notorious statements came at a conference of Evangelical Protestants held in Bethlehem in 2010. At this conference, Raheb stated that the modern state of Israel “represents the Rome of the Bible, not the people of the land.” To further his point, he stated:

I’m sure if we were to do a DNA test between David, who was a Bethlemhite, and Jesus, born in Bethlehem, and Mitri, born just across the street from where Jesus was born, I’m sure the DNA will show you that there is a trace. While if you put King David, Jesus and [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu, you will get nothing because Netanyahu comes from an East European tribe who converted to Judaism in the Middle Ages.

With this passage, Raheb promoted to a Christian audience the antisemitic trope that Jews from Europe who established the modern state of Israel really aren’t Jews because they are Khazars who converted to Judaism centuries ago and therefore have no connection to the Land of Israel.

Polemics and argumentation like this demonstrate that Raheb is not the peacemaker his supporters describe him as. He, is in fact, part of the Christian tradition of "Adversus Judaeos."

People who want to make peace with the Jewish state would not talk like this.

Raheb does.

He does it a lot.

It’s his specialty.

During his sermon at the UCC’s General Synod, Raheb wrote the Jews out of the Bible and out of the Land of Israel.

He also implicitly denuded Jesus of his Jewishness and cast him as a Palestinian.

At every juncture during his sermon when Raheb referred to events that took place in both the Old and New Testaments of the Christian Bible he referred to the people involved as “Palestinians,” not Israelites, Hebrews or Jews. He did it more than a dozen times.

For example, he asserted that “throughout the Bible … the God in whom the people of Palestine put their faith appears to be silent. He sees the Assyrians resettling His people and He does nothing. He watches the Babylonians desecrate His temple and He doesn’t move an inch. His temple is destroyed by the Romans and He appears not to care.” Every one of the historical events Raheb describes happened to the Jewish people, whom he describes as the people of Palestine.”

Elsewhere in his talk, Raheb highlights the difference between the gods promoted by empires in the Middle East with the God worshipped by ancient Israel, which he describes as “the God of the people of Palestine whose tiny minority resembled a corridor in Middle Eastern geography.” Raheb continued: “His country lacked resources and power. Above all, this God appeared to be weak compared with other gods. He always appeared to be on the losing end, just like His people.”

There is no doubt that Raheb is talking about the Jews of ancient Israel whom he describes as “the People of Palestine.”

A few other examples:

“Sisters and Brothers, it is not by chance that the divine revelation took place in Palestine.”

“The people of Palestine, our forefathers and foremothers were able to discover a unique answer to [the question] “God where are you?” and that response made history.”

“The revelation made in Palestine was that God was to be found in the most unexpected places, and where no one expected him.”

“Palestine was the unexpected place for God to reveal himself.”

These are just a few examples of Raheb’s persistent attempts to strip Jews from their history and their land and replace them with Palestinians. With this language, Raheb attempts to denude Christianity of its Jewish roots. In Raheb's logic, Jesus was not a Jew, but a Palestinian.

As James Carroll reported in chapter nine of his book, Constantine’s Sword: The Church and the Jews, similar efforts perpetrated by German scholars in the late 1800s “tilled the soil for Nazi antisemitism.”

No, Raheb is not a Nazi, but no one who knows about previous efforts to separate Jesus from Judaism can applaud Raheb’s sermon in good conscience. No one who knows anything about the impact of efforts to separate Christianity from its Jewish roots can applaud Raheb’s polemic.

But that's what UCCer's did at the denomination's 30th General Synod.

What makes Raheb’s sermon so much more troublesome is that when he did mention Israel in his sermon it was in reference to “the occupation.” Clearly, Israeli policies have an impact on Palestinians, but nowhere during his talk did he mention Palestinian violence against Israel, only the “suffocating Israeli occupation.”

In sum, Raheb removed Jews from the land of Israel, deprived them of their history and then portrayed the modern Jewish state as the singular source of suffering endured by the Palestinian people.

And for this he got a standing ovation.

Raheb, the people who invited him to speak, and the people who applauded after his sermon engaged in a sinful act of false witness against the Jewish people and their homeland.

The UCC is a vestige of what it once was and clearly not what its founders had hoped it be. The inheritor of four vibrant Protestant traditions is now a shrinking, marginal denomination. But the fact that the church is in a downward spiral does not detract from the outrageousness of what happened at its most recent General Synod.

Posted by dvz at July 2, 2015 12:30 PM

Comments

I was not present at the UCC's meeting, but I corresponded with quite a few UCCs on the day of their vote, through their website. It was a simmering, seething cauldron of self-righteous anger backed up by half-truths, decontextualized "facts," and barely-concealed antisemitic tropes. I did not try to argue the facts, but only to make the UCCs aware that there are multiple "narratives" through which the conflict is seen -- and that as peacemakers we can't begin to have a positive effect until we understand those perspectives. But I was shouted down, accused of bad faith or hypocrisy or lying, for questioning the UCC. The UCCs seem to have fallen under the spell of a small group of activists who value victory over peace. It is shameful that they invite speakers from one side of the debate, without as much as a reputable historian to keep the speakers from sliding into raw polemics.

Posted by: David Valance at July 2, 2015 02:46 PM

Thank you Camera for exposing this hatemonger and racist Rev. Mitri Raheb.
I urge all people to protest this to ICC President John C Dorhauer. Here's his twitter page.
https://twitter.com/johncdorhauer

Posted by: Barry Meridian at July 2, 2015 10:05 PM

That antisemitic canard has been disproved by a 20 year genetic study.

Posted by: Benjamin Glasser at July 5, 2015 02:15 PM

All it takes for anyone to find the truth of Jews having a homeland named Israel, given to them personally by God Himself, and who are under a special covenant, is for them to read the Bible. Skip the New Testament because it is embedded in the Old. There is nothing ever said about God irrevocably abandoning and rejecting Israel though they are punished for disobedience. On the contrary, those who bless Israel will in turn receive the blessing.

Posted by: Jeff at July 9, 2015 11:00 AM

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