Newsletter: Vol. 14, Iss. 2
October 2015

A Report From the National Conference:
Christians and the Holy Land: What Does the Lord Require?

Prof. Noam Chomsky gave the keynote address at a National Conference sponsored by The Society for Biblical Studies. In his address, entitled “The Iran Nuclear Deal: Some Critical Questions,” Prof. Chomsky pointed out that democratic governments have many tools at their disposal to suppress free speech without resorting to overt repression and he reminded the audience that Iran and the U.S. have a long history of antagonism dating to the U.S. overthrow of Iran’s democratically elected government and the installation of the Shah. He pointed out that while Iran might not be a model of humanitarian governance, it is far less repressive and more democratic than stalwart U.S. allies such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

Over 150 people from more than 20 states and three foreign countries gathered for three days of lectures in Lexington, Massachusetts,17-19 September. The National Conference was intended to introduce perspectives from prominent scholars that are otherwise ignored or suppressed in the mainstream media. These perspectives examined aspects of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories and U.S. foreign policy in the broader Middle East. In addition to Prof. Chomsky, speakers included Illan Pappe, Sara Roy, Jean Zaru, Mark Braverman, Stephen Walt and Peter Miano.
While those in attendance were almost universally enthusiastic about the conference, a small handful of attendees represented CAMERA (Committee for Accuracy in Reporting on the Middle East in America). Frustrated by their inability to disrupt the conference, at least one left the conference voicing threats to Rev. Miano. In advance of the conference, local Zionist groups tried to pressure and intimidate the pastor of the church where the conference was held. One warned of protests that did not materialize. They placed Zionist propaganda from a group called Christians United for Israel on the windshields of cars in the church parking lot.

The Rev. Peter Miano, a United Methodist minister and the Executive Director of The Society for Biblical Studies, pointed out that while the phenomenon of so-called Christian Zionism is usually associated with fundamentalist Christians, Christian support for the State of Israel is far more prevalent among liberal, progressive Christians. Against the Zionist canard that critique of Zionism and Israel is a new form of anti-Semitism, he stated that, in fact, Christian Zionists outnumber Jewish Zionists by at least 14:1 and that Christians had advocated for a Jewish return to Palestine long before there were Jewish Zionists. Therefore, he pointed out, Christian critique of Zionism is a critique primarily of other Christians. He asserted that Christian support for Zionism is especially strong among Christian clergy involved in Jewish-Christian dialogue, where Christian support for Israel is a precondition for the dialogue. He cited Rheinhold Niebuhr and Robert Drinan and the journalist and author James Carroll as prime examples of liberal Christian Zionists.

Jean Zaru is a Palestinian Quaker from Ramallah and the only woman leader of a church in Palestine. She spoke movingly of the daily indignities to which Palestinians are subjected and of the deeper, systemic violence of Israeli occupation of Palestine. She reminded listeners that Palestinians are subjected to daily indignities and that Israel’s military occupation of the Palestinian territories includes restrictions on travel, expropriation of land and denial of basic human rights. Against the objection that Christians in the Holy Land are treated better by Israel than they are anywhere else in the Middle East, she pointed out that Christian schools are currently on strike in Israel and that Christian churches repeatedly have been desecrated by right wing Jewish extremists in Israel.

Prof. Ilan Pappe, an Israeli historian who teaches at the University of Exeter, England, called for a redefinition of standard terms associated with Israeli occupation. He insisted that the term “occupation” be replaced with “colonization.” He asserted that “military occupation” as it is understood in international law is presumed to be a short term expedient, but that Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian Territories has lasted nearly 50 years. Further, he stated that the Zionist enterprise from the beginning of Zionism included plans to remove the indigenous population. In contrast to the so-called one state and two state solutions to the Israel-Palestine conflict, he proposed a third way that her called one dialogical state.

Prof. Stephen Walt, Harvard University Kennedy School of Government, co-author of The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, spoke about the history of failed U.S. policies in the region, spanning U.S. administrations of both major political parties. In particular, he pointed out that U.S. blunders in the region exacerbate regional tensions and in fact, as Prof Chomsky also stated, have destabilized the region paving the way for ISIS. Prof. Walt stated that the threat from ISIS is grossly exaggerated in the mainstream media and that it is a regional affair that should be treated as such.

Dr. Sara Roy, a leading expert on the political economy of Gaza and a researcher at Harvard University’s Center for Middle East Studies, spoke autobiographically of the Jewish upbringing that informed her professional journey and of her experiences in Gaza. She cited personal attacks she has endured for the positions she has taken, especially in a recent attack about her participation in the National Conference. Dr. Roy spoke of the deliberate targeting of schools, mosques and hospitals during operation Protective Edge during the summer of 2014.

Dr. Mark Braverman, Executive Director of Kairos USA, told his personal story of “conversion” from a Zionist upbringing to his rejection of the Israeli military occupation of Palestine and its challenge to Jewish identity. In particular, he criticized the exploitation of Christian feelings of complicity in and guilt for the Holocaust to promote Zionism. He called Zionism a threat to Jewish identity. Reminding the audience of earlier Church actions to confront Nazism and apartheid in South Africa, he called for a new church wide response to Israeli military occupation, along the lines of the 1985 South Africa Kairos proclamation. He identified churches as a potential force to effect positive change and expressed his wish that churches would respond to the 2009 Kairos Palestine document, A Moment of Truth.


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More Over 150 People from more than 20 states and three foreign countries gathered for three days of lectures...