Rev. Naim Ateek by Igo Corbière [CC BY 3.0] via wikiportrait
While much of the anti-Semitism and anti-Israeli activity in North America and Europe is led by Muslim organizations, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, the phenomenon is spreading among Christian church groups and adults — thanks in part to Reverend Naim Ateek.
Ateek, an Anglican priest who formerly was the Canon of Jerusalem’s Cathedral Church of St. George the Martyr, founded the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center, also in the city, in 1989. He helped pen the Kairos Palestine document, a manifesto by Christian Palestinians, and most recently wrote A Palestinian Theology of Liberation, published by a New York-based Catholic organization named Maryknoll.
In order to understand Ateek’s impact on Christian communities throughout the world, it is important to remember that the Anglican Communion is the third largest Christian group in the world — representing over 85 million people in over 165 countries — after Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox. Among the 39 independent churches of the Anglican Communion are the Church of England (26 million members), the Episcopal Church of the U.S. (1.9 million members) and the Presbyterian Church of the U.S. (4 million members). In Canada it is known as the Church of England in the Dominion of Canada (1.6 million) and in Scotland, as the Scottish Episcopal Church of Scotland. The Anglican Church is associated with other Protestant churches throughout the world and has a large following in Africa (over 30 million).
Ateek travels widely, lecturing in churches and universities, and therefore his toxic political theology reaches a broad audience. Moreover, because of his position and support from the church, his views are widely respected. However, an examination of what he preaches based on the following quotes from his book reveals a message of hatred and ignorance.
Ateek condemns Israel as a “settler colonialist state” that seeks “to dispossess the Palestinians — Muslims and Christians — of their land and replace them with Jews,” who engage in “ethnic cleansing and annihilation.” He criticizes Judaism as a form of “tribalism,” a “racist theology” practiced by people who worship “a god who has been created in the image of those who are thirsty for revenge,” and based on “exclusive biblical texts that are being used to justify the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.”
He justifies “Palestinian resistance” as “the right to resist the evil of illegal occupation of our country.” Therefore, “we must work for the liberation of the oppressors as well as the liberation of the oppressed.” This struggle, he insists, follows the path of liberation taught by Jesus; in a sneaky effort to create empathy, he insists that “Jesus was a Palestinian” even though the historic Jesus lived a century before the Romans changed the country’s name from Judea to Palestina after they crushed the Bar Kokhba rebellion in 135 C.E.
Although careful to espouse “nonviolent resistance,” he nevertheless identifies with the First Intifada (during the late 1980s) — which included stone and gasoline bomb throwing and resulted in the deaths of about 100 Israeli civilians and 60 IDF soldiers, as well as more than 1,000 Palestinians killed by intrafada Arab fighting. He ignores the violence and terrorism of the Second Intifada (2000-2005) — during which over 1,200 Israelis were murdered and over 10,000 seriously injured. He likewise ignores the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Hamas charters that call for Israel’s destruction, as do other Palestinian terrorist organizations.
Inexplicably, he does not mention the persecution of Christian communities under the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Hamas rule.
“The faith nakba (the “catastrophe” of Israel’s establishment — MD) has made it clear that if the Palestinian Christian community wanted to reinvigorate its religious life, it was essential to reexamine the meaning of its faith and Christian responsibility in light of Israel’s oppression of its people,” Ateek writes. Resistance is “the will of G-d… as expressed in the message and life of Jesus Christ.”
Towards that end, Ateek calls for “a system of economic sanctions and boycott to be applied against Israel… to put an end to Israeli occupation of Palestine.”
“Justice for Palestinians,” he proclaims — but not for anyone else. Justice, for Ateek, is “ending the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land (in 1967),” including “East” Jerusalem, a Palestinian state, and the “Right of Return” for Palestinian “refugees” and their descendants based on U.N. General Assembly Resolution 194.
According to Ateek, because of “Western guilt” and to “speed up the implementation of the Balfour Declaration… the rights and wishes of the Palestinians” were ignored and the State of Israel was declared (the nakba). “Palestinians were the easy scapegoats… compelled to pay the price (for the Holocaust — MD) by their dispossession and loss of homeland… Palestine and its people were sacrificed on the altar of Western guilt.”
“One cannot exaggerate the psychological influence that the Holocaust exerted in the creation of the state of Israel. If the nakba necessitated the emergence of Palestinian liberation theology, the Holocaust was an essential part of its background.”
According to Gerald Steinberg, president of the Jerusalem-based research organization NGO Monitor, “Sabeel, Kairos, and DCI-PS (Defense for Children International-Palestinian Section) are three components of a wide NGO network that propels the ‘Durban strategy,’ whose objective is the ‘complete international isolation’ of Israel as an ‘apartheid state.’”
Dexter van Zile of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting (CAMERA) writes: “Ateek and Sabeel have become the most effective anti-Zionist evangelists in the American mainline churches today,” including World Council of Churches (WCC), Disciples of Christ, United Church of Christ, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian and Episcopal church organizations, and the Quakers (Society of Friends).
Dan Diker of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs observes “Many church-linked international NGOs are major donors to radical BDS-supporting NGOs — for example, Christian Aid in the UK, Sweden’s Diakonia, and the Interchurch Organization for Development Cooperation (ICCO) in the Netherlands.”
Yet, Jewish organizations have failed to counter Ateek effectively. Some have published monographs, papers, and blogs about him and Sabeel, but these efforts reach few and remain in the archives of good intentions. Some American and U.K. Jewish leaders do not even know about the problem; others rely on interfaith “good will.”
No organization, however, has consistently engaged and challenged the churches and institutions that support Ateek and Sabeel. Writing op-eds and providing information on websites are not enough. Failure to actively and systematically confront Ateek has allowed him to spew his “theology” of hatred and bigotry.
As former British Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks explained: “Anti-Semitism is not about Jews. It is about anti-Semites. It is about people who cannot accept responsibility for their own failures and have instead to blame someone else… The appearance of anti-Semitism in a culture is the first symptom of a disease, the early warning sign of collective breakdown… Anti-Semitism means denying the right of Jews to exist as Jews with the same rights as everyone else. The form this takes today is anti-Zionism.”
Ateek and his supporters are not only a “Jewish problem” — they are a Christian problem, because they undermine communal trust and respect. Using his version of Christianity as a mask for his political/theological agenda, he savages the fundamental values and tenets of the religion that he claims to serve.
Protesting Ateek is not a violation of his free speech — it is a call for intelligent and honest speech. It is a protest against hatred and propaganda and a call for integrity and truth — a most important learning experience.
The author is a PhD historian, writer and journalist living in Jerusalem. His book of short stories, “As Far As the Eye Can See,” was published by the New English Review Press in 2015. This article is reprinted with permission of the author. Click here to read more of this author’s work in The Jerusalem Herald.