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March 03, 2009

Naim Ateek's Spring Tour

Ateek Alone.jpg
Rev. Dr. Naim Ateek, founder of Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center at Old South Church in Boston, October, 2007 (CAMERA)

Naim Ateek’s Ash Wednesday (Feb. 25) service at Christ Church in Cambridge, Mass., was tame given his history of using polemic from the New Testament as a weapon to demonize Israel. For some reason, Ateek kept the overheated rhetoric out of the pulpit.

Speaking about the Christian tradition of fasting during Lent (the 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter), Ateek invoked Isaiah 58 to remind his audience that God requires justice from his people. (“Is not this the fast I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?�?)

“This is the cry of my people (the Palestinians) back home,�? Ateek said. “This is the deeper fast that God requires of everyone … The fast to work against injustice.�?

Clearly Ateek’s implied message is that the modern state of Israel is not fulfilling the requirements of the Jewish religion. It’s an ironic message coming from someone who decries Israel’s Jewish identity, but given that he made no mention of Israelis crucifying the poor innocent Palestinians, it’s pretty moderate stuff. Apparently somebody asked – or told – Ateek to keep the polemics to a minimum, and he did.

Ateek, who was in the Boston area as part of a book tour in support of A Palestinian Cry for Reconcilation (which falsely accuses Israel of perpetrating a genocide), was under no such constraint when he appeared at the Harvard Divinity School on the previous day for a brown-bag lunch organized by Shura, a Muslim group.

While speaking at HDS, Ateek gave an exaggerated confession of Israel’s sins while giving short shrift to the misdeeds of groups like Hamas and Hezbollah that seek to murder Jews in the name of God. (If anyone has any doubt over Hamas’ religious motivations, please see Article Seven of the group’s charter, which clearly states Muslims need to fight Israel and kill Jews in order to be faithful to their religion.)

In Ateek’s narrative about the Arab-Israeli conflict, this problem is worth a brief mention but not worth the in-depth analysis he gives to the beliefs of Christian Zionists and religious settlers in the West Bank. Ateek and the group he founded, Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center, never fail to condemn Christian and Jewish Zionists who imbue modern Israel with religious value. But for some reason, neither Ateek nor Sabeel can bring themselves to analyze or condemn Muslims who regard Israel’s destruction as the fulfillment of prophecy.

Ateek’s aversion to this issue became readily apparent when an audience member asked him if he was familiar with the role Haj Amin Al Husseini played in recruiting Muslims to serve in the Nazi war-machine.

Ateek’s response was brief.

“No. We would condemn it, but I would need to look at [the evidence].�?

The notion that Ateek, who has written numerous books about the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict, would not know about this issue is simply unbelievable.

For years, Ateek has argued that since the Palestinians were not responsible for the Holocaust, it is unfair to expect them to bear the cost of Israel's creation. In fact Palestinian leaders did play a role in the Holocaust. In addition to recruiting soldiers who hunted Jews in the Croatia and Hungary, Al Husseini, also known as the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, consigned thousands of Jewish children to their deaths during the Holocaust by torpedoing deals that would allow these children to be exchanged for captured German soldiers in allied camps.

Ateek's alleged ignorance about the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem's role in the Holocaust is emblematic of his failure to address the role longstanding Muslim hostility toward Jews has played in prolonging the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Would-be peacemakers who cannot bring themselves to address Muslim land theology and the Islamic teachings about Jewish people and their impact on the Arab-Israeli conflict and interfaith relations are not worthy of the name.

Posted by dvz at March 3, 2009 01:01 PM


Are you implying then that we should let the current injustices of today take a back seat to proclaiming the injustices of the past? Ateek may have not been so interested in the role palestinians played in the "nazi machine" because he is focused not on the past but on the present. And yes, the current issue about the Muslim hostility towards Jews may not be a priority for him, but that's not his focus. The same can be said about Israel, whose focus is also on themselves. And Ateek does not demonize Israel. He fully supports the establishment of a Jewish state, but he is against establishing that state at the cost of displacing millions. I am neither a Palestinian sympathizer nor a Zionist stooge. I am simply a Christian who sees that there is not justice in Israel.

Posted by: Christian1 at May 16, 2009 12:00 AM


Sorry it has taken so long to respond, but your assertion that Naim Ateek supports the establishment of a Jewish state is quite simply false. He is opposed to Israel as a Jewish state. I've heard him say so with my own ears.

As far as Muslim hostility toward Jews not being "his focus," any responsible peacemaker would address this issue. Ateek has not.

And yes, Ateek does demonize Israel, falsely accusing it of perpetrating a genocide against the Palestinians. This is simply false.

Posted by: Dexter Van Zile at December 15, 2009 03:41 PM

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