Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Just In: Five U.S. Presidential Candidates Discuss Their Views of Israel

As reported here, the Jerusalem Post has published the responses of 5 U.S. presidential hopefuls to questions about how they view U.S.-Israeli relations. All champion Israel, and only a few mention the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.  We need to press candidates more on what they would do to restart this process and bring about a just two-state peace in Israel-Palestine –as well as their overall views on Middle East peace.  Candidates who blindly support Israel in everything should not be rewarded with votes.  Hat tip to Melissa Rogers for this item.

May 25, 2007 Posted by | foreign policy, Israel, Israel-Palestine, just peacemaking, U.S. politics | 3 Comments

Israel Seeks U.S. Permission to Bomb Iran’s Nuclear Sites

The London Daily Telegraph reports that Israel is seeking U.S. permission to bomb Iran’s nuclear sites (which may be for a nuclear weapons program or may be peaceful as Iran claims). Notice that Israel is not seeking permission from the UN Security Council as international law demands, but from the U.S.–a move which is bound to be interpreted in the Middle East through the longstanding Arab claim that Israel is just an outpost of Western imperialism (even if the U.S. answer is “no”). This comes at a time when U.S. claims of intelligence against Iran is being debunked, but U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney is warning Iran that “all options are on the table,” identical language to that used in the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.An Iran armed with nuclear weapons WOULD be very dangerous, but war is not the way to prevent this. The U.S. needs to call a Middle East Peace Summit in a moderate nation such as Egypt or Jordan and deal with all regional issues. It also needs to pressure Israel to abandon its own (revealed-but-never-declared) nuclear weapons (estimated to be around 200 warheads) as the way to a nuclear-free Middle East.Tell President Bush and Vice President Cheney to quit threatening Iran with war and NOT to greenlight bombing requests for Israel. Register your disapproval with the Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Write letters to your local paper urging negotiations, not war, with Iran.

Cross-posted from Mainstream Baptists.
UPDATE: Seymour Hersch, the veteran investigative reporter and owner of The New Yorker, is reporting a definite U.S. contingency plan to bomb Iran. See the Reuter’s release here. However, London’s Sunday Times is reporting that several U. S. Generals are planning public resignations in protest if such an attack occurs. Good for them. Public resignations and similar rejections of honors (quitting elite organizations or clubs, returning medals or diplomas,etc.) is a time honored form of nonviolent protest. (It is not a form of nonviolent coercion or intervention, just protest.) If the right people do it, it can rouse the populace. I called for such actions in the run-up to the Iraq war (because plenty of generals were against that in 2002!), but it goes against the habit of military obedience. It has taken these four years of disaster in Iraq to make such an action a real possibility. All the more reason for the rest of us to stand by these generals and continue our calls to Congress, the White House, and letters to local papers against such an attack on Iran. Citizen action can stop a war against a recalcitrant president–but it takes real effort. The time to act is now.

February 24, 2007 Posted by | Iran, Israel, just peacemaking | Comments Off on Israel Seeks U.S. Permission to Bomb Iran’s Nuclear Sites

Israeli Bombings Prevent Christian Aid in Beirut

EthicsDaily.com reports that the efforts of Lebanese Christians, such as those at the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary and the Beirut Baptist School, have been forced to quit offering shelter and other aid to displaced refugees in Lebanon because the Israeli bombings of Beirut have forced their evacuation. Meanwhile that same news report tells us that one-time Baptist, Pat Robertson, has been praying with Israeli PM Ohlmert for an Israeli victory. Robertson is quoted as saying, “For all our sake, Israel cannot lose.” It is children’s lives which are being lost–so much for the “pro-life” stance of Robertson. It is peace which is being lost. It is the new and fragile democracy in Lebanon being lost. And, with remarks like Robertson’s or biblio-blogger Joe Cathey‘s, it is the reputation of the gospel that is being lost.

August 10, 2006 Posted by | Christianity, ethics, Israel, peacemaking | Comments Off on Israeli Bombings Prevent Christian Aid in Beirut

I Am Pro-Israel, Therefore I Criticize Israel

Ira Chernus, a religious Jew and Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder, explains that he is a critic of Israel precisely because he believes in Israel and wants it to be secure and at peace.

I don’t say much about the immorality of Israeli actions. They are shockingly immoral. But talking about it won’t make much difference. So I appeal to naked self-interest. I point out the obvious: Every time a Palestinian or Lebanese is hit by an Israeli bomb or bullet, it spells more risk for the safety of Israel.

As a Christian, I can make similar claims to be both pro-Israel and pro-U.S. and thus to criticize both out of loyalty. And I understand Chernus’ argument for pragmatism. There are times and places not to mention that I am also pro-Palestinian or Pro-Lebanese, precisely in order to get a hearing for peacemaking.But I wonder. Rabbi Michael Lerner of Beyt Tikkun Synagogue in Berkeley, editor of Tikkun, and founding co-chair of the Network of Spiritual Progressives, has been pointing out for some time that Center-Left folk specialize in pragmatic language and the language of policy and that we keep losing elections and policy debates. Yes, appeal to enlightened self-interest, but appeals to such alone are striking the public as “spiritually lifeless.” Humans are more than rational, self-interested beings (this is the fatal flaw in both Communism and Laissez-faire captialism) and want to have people appeal to their moral side and their compassion. That is the value of bumper stickers like Torture is Unamerican. The historical record may show many times when America has tortured, but our publicly declared values have never before endorsed torture. So we appeal not only to pragmatic arguments (e.g., torture yields little trustworthy information, creates more people who hate us enough to launch terror attacks,places Americans abroad at greater risk, etc.) but to that part of people who want both to love their nation and to see it live up to its highest values.

So, with Israel. Yes, we need Prof. Chernus’ arguments that the best thing for Israel’s peace and security would be to end the Occupation of Palestine, withdraw from Lebanon, and make peace with its neighbors. We need to point out that the longer the war in Lebanon continues, the more pan-Arab support Hezbollah is receiving (even Lebanese Christians, who previously had no use for Hezbollah at all since Hezbollah’s ideology would remake the entire Arab world into an Islamic theocracy like Iran’s, are now admiring its “defense” of their neighborhoods against what is viewed as naked Israeli aggression), the more anti-Jewish and anti-Israeli sentiment is generated, and the more likely it is that Israel will be drawn into a nightmarish quagmire such as when it invaded Lebanon in 1982. But we also need the moral appeals: Secular Jewish Israelis need to be reminded that Israel is losing the high ideals with which it was founded in 1948 and fast becoming a police state. Religious Jews, both in Israel and the U.S., need to be reminded of Judaism’s insistence that all are made in God’s likeness and the Hebrew Bible’s insistence that strangers and aliens be treated as one would treat the Covenant People.

When people are threatened, physically or otherwise, moral appeals alone usually fall on deaf ears, but so do simple pragmatic appeals to enlightened self-interest because the case for violence, for war, for ignoring atrocities, can also appeal to pragmatism and fear gives that appeal the louder megaphone. Combining the pragmatic and moral appeals, however, has a chance to break through since it pulls people’s self-interest and their desire to live up to their ideals in the same direction.

If we are pro-Israel and wish her survival and security, we must call for a ceasefire. If we want Israel to be the kind of land dreamed of at its founding, we will also call for a ceasefire and more. If we are pro-American, we need to see that this war is not in our self-interest and we need to see that America is in danger of losing its soul. We must pray that similar combinations of pragmatism and moral appeal are being made in Lebanon, too.

A range of voices on these issues which escape most of the U.S. mainstream media, can be found here.

August 8, 2006 Posted by | Israel | Comments Off on I Am Pro-Israel, Therefore I Criticize Israel

Israeli Public Begin to Rally for Peace

The web is invaluable if we want news that gets self-censored in the U.S.A. You’d never know just by watching the U.S. news, for instance, that the near-unanimous support in Israel for the war with Lebanon (understandable given that missiles are landing all around them!) has begun to break. In the on-line English edition of Ha’aretz, Israel’s most respected mainstream newspaper, I found that some 10,000 Israelis protested in the streets yesterday, calling for an end to the war. They included both Arab and Jewish Israelis, with 5,000 marching in Tel Aviv alone.
See http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/pages/ShArtVty.jhtml?sw=5%2C000+march+in+Tel+Aviv&itemNo=746637

(The Ha’aretz editors did not share the view of the peace protestors, by the way.) More on this can be found at the blog of the National Council of Churches’ Interfaith Relations.
See http://www.nccinterfaith.blogspot.com/

Even more amazing, but true, is that while the secular political parties in Israel are still calling for more war, the Ultra-Orthodox Degel ha-Torah, one of the most rightwing of Israeli religious parties in the Knessett (parliament), has become the first political party in Israel to support an unconditional and immediate ceasefire while taking steps for a permanent peace. Degel ha-Torah has even reminded the Knessett that Israel is not a law unto itself and must listen to world opinion. See http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/pages/ShArtVty.jhtml?sw=Degel+Ha+Torah&itemNo=746186

Now we need Muslim leaders to say the same thing to Hezbollah and Christians–many, many Christians–to say the same thing to Pres. Bush and the U.S. Congress.

Report these stories to your local papers so that we broaden the coverage in the U.S. mainstream media.

August 6, 2006 Posted by | Israel, peacemaking | 2 Comments

Addicted to Militarism: Israel and the U.S.

Robert Scheer writes about Israel’s addiction to the drug of militarism here: http://www.commondreams.org/views06/0802-20.htm It’s true enough and is fueling the current crises in Gaza and Lebanon, although Scheer fails to mention that Israel’s enemies seem equally addicted to violence–in a spiral of mutually reinforcing addiction. But the real enabler of Israel’s addiction is her supplier, the U.S.A. According to Ru Freeman, the U.S. gives $ 15,139, 178 per day to the Israeli military. (See http://www.commondreams.org/views06/0803-24.htm ). And, as with many suppliers of drugs, we are at least as addicted to militarism as Israel, as Dwight David Eisenhower warned (http://coursesa.matrix.msu.edu/~hst306/documents/indust.html ) so many years ago.

Is there a Betty Ford clinic for nations addicted to militarism? Maybe a 5-step program, a War-Mongers Anonymous? Hmm. The first step is to recognize a problem. Can we in the U.S. and Israel recognize our addiction–always seeking military solutions first to any problem–can we recognize we are sick? Can the world survive until we get better? Maybe the world is seeking an Al-Anon: Living with powerful nations like Israel and its supplier the U.S., militarism addicts?

Dear God, you are the only Higher Power who can deliver us now. Come to us in compassion and heal us, we pray.

August 4, 2006 Posted by | Israel, peacemaking, U.S. politics | Comments Off on Addicted to Militarism: Israel and the U.S.

More on Israel/Hezbollah War

I’m not usually a reader of Christianity Today, but this week’s online edition has some important stories on the Middle East war(s) and the need for peacemaking. Here: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2006/129/42.0.html is an important article by Dr. Martin Accad, Dean of the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary in Lebanon, on U.S. Evangelicals’ blind loyalty to Israel. Here: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2006/129/53.0.html is an important and sympathetic reply from Dr. David Gushee, whose previous article (http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2006/128/53.0.html ) had provoked Dr. Accad’s angry rebuke.

It is worth remembering that Lebanon is home to the largest concentration of Christians in the Middle East–and most of them live in the South where Israel is concentrating its bombing. I don’t mean that Muslim lives or Jewish lives count for less than Christian ones, only that the silence of most American Christians over the suffering of our sisters and brothers is strange–outrageously so. The Middle East Council of Churches, the Pope, and the World Council of Churches have spoken out. So has the U.S. National Council of Churches, Churches for a Middle East Peace, and the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America. Silent so far has been the SBC, the National Association of Evangelicals, the Evangelical Alliance (of the U.K.), the World Evangelical Fellowship, and even Evangelicals for Middle East Understanding. Meanwhile, Gary Bauer’s rightwing “International Fellowship of Christians and Jews” (a conservative counterpart to the International Conference of Christians and Jews) is blaming Israel for not striking harder and earlier! See http://www.ifcj.org/site/PageServer?pagename=SFI_news_views_gary And some “Christian Zionists” are blaming the entire mess (both Hezbollah’s actions and Israel’s) on—wait for it–the worldwide GAY AGENDA! See http://blogs.salon.com/0003494/2006/07/16.html That last one was almost beyond belief. You don’t think the Christian Zionists have confused “Lebanese” with “lesbians” do you? Sigh. 🙂

This large silence by many evangelical organizations and the bloodthirstiness of others tends to confirm Dr. Accad’s claim about blind loyalties to Israel–beyond defending Israel’s right to exist and be secure to defending all their actions, no matter how cruel or bloody. Question: Since God did not hesitate to judge biblical Israel when she acted violently or unjustly, how long do you think before God will judge modern Israel and its Christian collaborators?

July 21, 2006 Posted by | Christian zionism., Israel, peacemaking | 1 Comment

Baptist Peacemakers on Middle East

This statement was drafted July 14, 2006, by a caucus of BPFNA members meeting at the annual Summer Conference in Atlanta, Georgia.
The Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America, meeting for its annual conference in Atlanta, Georgia, this week calls upon the parties involved in the current escalation of tensions in the Middle East to step back from the brink of outright warfare, and to engage in negotiations to bring the situation to a peaceful resolution. We also call upon the leadership of the United States to assist in the negotiating process by refraining from placing blame on one party over another.

We are especially concerned because the weapons being used by Israel in its attacks upon Lebanon are supplied by the U.S. Such usage of U.S. tax dollars to finance military operations against a civilian population is a specific violation of the U.S. Arms Export Control Act and the Geneva Conventions. It has been reported that Israel has employed Lockheed Martin F-161 Fighting Falcons, as well as Boeing F-151s firing U.S.-manufactured AMRAAM, Sidewinder, and Sparrow missiles. Thus far, more than 57 Lebanese have died in these attacks, all of them civilians, a figure that includes at least 15 children.

At the same time, we specifically condemn the taking of hostages, whether civilian or military, by any governmental or non-governmental entity. We recognize that the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) has launched its current military operations in Lebanon as retaliation for the capture of two IDF soldiers and the killing of eight others, as well as the wounding of two. However, this event has been claimed by Hezbollah as being of their doing, and it is never acceptable to punish an entire population for the actions of a few. Such collective punishment is a violation of international law, and it only perpetuates a cycle of violence. Blaming the government of Lebanon for the actions of Hezbollah is counter-productive, as well.

Although we condemn the actions of Hezbollah, the principle of proportionality has been violated by Israel in its attacks upon Lebanon, which constitute the heaviest bombing of that country in 24 years, since Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982. The targeting of a civilian population is not in keeping with the values of Judaism, Christianity, or Islam, and must not be accepted. It is not defensive behavior, but is an offense against the high principles of all of these religions.
At the same time, July 12 also marked the highest single-day death toll in Israel’s current incursion into the Gaza Strip, resulting in the death of 23 people. That figure includes the deaths of at least 18 people in one home, including a mother and five of her children. We are very troubled about this action, since the entire population of Gaza has been suffering from the ongoing attacks by Israel, which have destroyed homes, bridges, businesses, and the entire electric supply for more than a million people.

In Lebanon, more than 20 bridges have been targeted, the television station has come under attack, and an air and sea blockade is under way. All three runways of the international airport have been destroyed, with the result that those wishing to escape the fighting by travel to Cyprus or elsewhere are prevented from doing so, while Lebanon’s economy is also suffering because this is the height of tourist season and tourists are now also being diverted due to the closures.
Meanwhile, Hezbollah has responded with additional rocket volleys into northern Israel, killing additional civilians. Hezbollah has called for negotiations and prisoner exchanges, although Israel’s response has been a refusal to negotiate.

Believing that peace is the highest value in all three monotheistic faiths, the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America expresses its condolences to all of the families involved, and urges the Israeli government, the Palestinian Authority, and the government of Lebanon, as well as any and all parties of non-governmental status, to exercise restraint, to step back from the brink, and to begin to negotiate wholeheartedly for an end to all regional hostilities.
We reiterate that statements implying that one or another party is correct in its aggressive action against another are not helpful. No nation or group that takes out its anger on innocent civilians should ever be praised. We call on the U.S., and the United Nations, to use their good offices to intervene and prevent the escalation of this conflict into full-scale war.

Baptist Peace Fellowship of North AmericaMembers Caucus at Summer ConferenceAtlanta, Georgia USAJuly 14, 2006

July 15, 2006 Posted by | Baptists, Israel, peacemaking, progressive faith | Comments Off on Baptist Peacemakers on Middle East