Category Archives: morally responsible investment

Does Sabeel support boycott campaign against Israel?

This is from the Friends of Sabeel UK website’s Questions and Answers section:

Does Sabeel endorse an economic boycott against Israel?

A: Sabeel does not call for an economic boycott of Israel. It calls for morally responsible investment, ultimately leading to divestment from companies that profit from the Occupation, not from all Israeli companies.

And this is from Friends of Sabeel UK’s summer 2009 newletter: 

BOYCOTT!

The great British public is beginning to rouse itself to boycott Israeli

goods, especially those from the illegal settlements in the West Bank.

The most visible are fruit and vegetables, because we all see them on

the supermarket shelves, but there are many more, hiding behind “Made

in Israel” labels, but made in factories or grown on farms in the occupied

West Bank, on land belonging to the Palestinians

 

 

You can find out from the Gush Shalom website http://www.gush-shalom.org a very detailed list of settlement products, with a list of settlements, and a reasoned Frequently Asked Questions article, written from the perspective of Israeli Jews who oppose the Occupation.

In this country, Friends of Sabeel UK is represented on the Inter-faith Morally Responsible Investment group by Jan Davies and Tony Graham, who will gladly answer questions, both on investment issues, and boycott. The Boycott Israeli Goods and Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods campaigns also have a website you can search for information about actions to take: http://www.bigcampaign.org. This includes other forms of boycott, such as academic, cultural and sports boycotts

This information will help you to reach a decision about what you want to do. We encourage you to take any personal action you think is right for you, to join in local and national activities, write to supermarkets and companies, and lobby your MPs. We emphasise that any boycott is to last only until the end of the Occupation. It is not aimed against the Israeli people, but against the Occupation

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Social justice?

The theology of extreme Christian Zionism is concerning to many Christians in the West who believe that some pro-Israel Christians are focusing more on politics than on individual people. Other Christians oppose Christian Zionism because some Christian Zionists are obsessive about end-times prophecies and premillennial dispensationalism (this ignores the fact that many Reformed Baptists, evangelicals and Protestants support Israel without having dispensationalist theology).

In attempting to approach the issue in a different way, many Christians such as Colin Chapman, Gary Burge, John Hubers and Stephen Sizer have challenged Christian Zionist theology and politics in an attempt to, in their view, redress the balance. These theologians see Christian Zionists as obsessed with Armageddon and insensitive to Arab Christians, and thus they attempt to prove themselves different by focusing on present issues in the Middle East rather than future prophecy, and claim to sympathise with Christian Arabs and Palestinians. In attempting to express support for the Palestinians, many of these Christians enthusiastically take up anti-Israel politics, and align their worldview on Palestine with ideas common in Muslim majority countries. Thus, opposition to Christian Zionism becomes opposition to Zionism itself. These Christians not only oppose premillennial dispensationalist eschatology, but also the Jewish right for self-determination.

These Christians thus speak about Christian ‘social justice’, and use ideas from the school of liberation theology. Liberation theology was a Latin American-based movement that sought to link Christianity with Marxism. The ‘poor of Christ’ whom Jesus spoke to in the Beatitudes were the oppressed peasants of Latin America, whilst the corrupt Pharisees were represented by American imperialism and corrupt Latin American dictatorships. Palestinian liberation theology, as developed by Naim Ateek, is a different concept. In Palestinian liberation theology, Jesus does not take sides between the rich and the poor, or between the ruling classes and the working classes/peasants, but between people of one nation and another. Jesus becomes a Palestinian, oppressed by Israelis. Here is an example of Palestinian liberation theology espoused by Naim Ateek, who enjoys great support amongst Christian anti-Zionists:

“It seems to many of us that Jesus is on the cross again with thousands of crucified Palestinians around him…. Palestinian men, women, and children being crucified. Palestine has become one huge golgotha. The Israeli government crucifixion system is operating daily. Palestine has become the place of the skull.” (Ateek, Easter Message, April 6, 2001)

According to Ateek’s twisting of Biblical themes, Israel operates a crucifixion system, and the Palestinians become linked with Jesus’ death. Such powerful imagery is designed to cast the Palestinians in the minds of Christians as like Jesus without fault, and the Israelis as particularly sinful. So although they accuse the Christian Zionists of oversimplifying the Middle East by supporting Israel over Palestine, we see how many Christian anti-Zionists crassly oversimplify the Middle East conflict by whitewashing Palestinian crimes and demonising Israel.

Whilst many pro-Palestinian Christians claim to be supporting Palestinian Christians, there is more to this claim than meets the eye. The suffering of Palestinian Christians is often blamed exclusively on Israel, despite evidence of persecution against Palestinian Christians by the PLO, Fatah, Hamas, and other Islamist movements. (In extreme cases, Christian anti-Zionists acted as apologists for Iran and its proxies Hamas and Hezbollah – see here for more details). However, many Palestinian Christians cannot publicly speak out against Palestinian authorities for fear of reprisal, whilst they are encouraged by the same authorities to speak out against Israel as Christians.

Whilst many high profile Christian anti-Zionists claim to be interested in social justice, many have a tendency just to see Israelis as wrongdoers, or to focus on Israeli wrongdoings. Some Christian anti-Zionists blame Israel for most if not all of the problems in the Middle East, and don’t treat Zionism as a nationalist movement, but as an attempt at a land grab, presenting Jewish nationalists (Zionists) as thieves of Palestine, motivated by their religious beliefs about holy land. But seeing Zionism as merely motivated by religion fails to take into account that the Zionist movement was pioneered by secular Jews with secular beliefs, for whom Palestine was the appropriate and natural place for the establishment for a Jewish homeland due to the Jewish people’s historic ties with the land of Israel.

In this way of thinking, with Israel cast as essentially the root cause of all problems in the Middle East, if there were no Israel then there would be no anti-Zionism [similar to the logic that claims if there were no Jews then no anti-Semitism, no children then no paedophilia, no women then no rape etc].

Christian anti-Zionists support this narrative through select passages in the Old Testament which warn of a Jewish exile from Israel, and an interpretation of the New Testament which excludes the Jews from having any national identity. However, whilst high profile Christian anti-Zionists like Stephen Sizer think Jewish nationalism is illegitimate, they strongly support Palestinian nationalism. Yet if Christians are to deny Jews the right to a national homeland, then all nationalism should be condemned. Christian anti-Zionists are at a loss to explain why it is only Jewish nationalism that must be opposed and analysed.

As a result of both an unexplained focus on Israel, a theology which denies Jews the right to a homeland, and a lack of sympathy for Israeli concerns, many people accuse scholars like Stephen Sizer and Colin Chapman of antisemitism. There is also an element of conspiracy theory amongst leading Christian anti-Zionists. Colin Chapman claims that Jews in America have power ‘out of all proportion’ to their numbers, whilst Stephen Sizer has blamed Israelis for taking part in 9/11. Sizer himself has even spoken at a conference alongside Holocaust denier Fred Tobin.

One of the most popular experts on Christian social justice is Brian McLaren, who appears to support Ben White’s call for a boycott against Israel and Israelis. The boycott call is not just a boycott of the Jewish state but of individual Jewish Israelis. Thus, in the name of social justice and Christianity, Bryan McLaren advocates the exclusion of Israelis from global affairs. This attitude however is not confined to the realms of theology, but finds its out-workings in the anti-Zionist campaigns of the Friends of Sabeel, Diakonia, Amos Trust and War on Want, as well as plenty other Christian charities, in the name of social justice.

Friends of Sabeel, whilst using Christian language, is often supported by suspicious characters, and its international patron Desmond Tutu promotes paranoid, antisemitic conspiracy theories about a powerful Jewish lobby in America. Diakonia, the Swedish charity which represents five Swedish Christian denominations, is closely linked with Sabeel. Whilst Sabeel claim to love Israel, many of their members support racist boycotts against Israel. And, whilst Diakonia claim to be interested in Christian social justice, Diakonia’s own policy officer has admitted that the charity is “more a lobby group with a clear political agenda for the Middle East than a Christian aid organisation.” Similarly, Christian Aid has for years attacked Israel; in fact there is a whole blog set up watching Christian Aid for antisemitism.

Christian Aid’s patron Jenny Tonge had to step down from her post when she said she sympathised with suicide bombers. Tonge is now a patron of Friends of Sabeel UK, as are two bishops heavily involved with Christian Aid. The former director of World Vision, Tom Getman, has praised Hezbollah’s political leader Hassan Nasrallah and its spiritual leader Sheikh Fadlallah for their insights and criticisms of Christianity. Oxfam ran a poster campaign in Belgium urging people not to buy Israeli fruit, and showed a picture of an Israeli Jaffa orange dripping with blood, for which Oxfam later apologised.

Yet true social justice surely sees neither Israelis nor Palestinians, but human beings. So boycott campaigns which will exclude one group to purportedly support the other cannot themselves be socially ‘just’. Through a claim to be practising social justice, some Christians end up developing racist and antisemitic non-Christian ways of thinking. Such Christians may not recognise this, but until they do, their words about social justice will be very hard to take seriously.

Christians should, surely, encourage harmony between people in Israel and the Palestinian territories, emphasising what they have in common and encouraging reconciliation and dialogue. Instead, by dividing people into good (Palestinians) and bad (Israelis), Christian anti-Zionists merely construct barriers between people, rather than tearing down barriers as they would like to imagine themselves as doing.

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Brian McLaren’s generous Orthodoxy doesn’t extend to Israelis

Brian McLaren is a popular contemporary Christian leader. Back in January, in a post about Gaza, McLaren wrote:

My friend Hannah Mermelstein works for justice and peace. She is a woman of Jewish descent who believes in doing justice and loving kindness for everyone, without distinctions based on religion or nationality.

Does she now?

Hannah Mermelstein runs Birthright Unplugged, designed as a counter to the Birthright Israel programme. Mermelstein is an outspoken champion of the BDS movement which seeks to exclude Israelis from cultural and academic life on the basis of where they were born. The fact that McLaren considers her as someone who ‘who believes in doing justice and loving kindness for everyone, without distinctions based on religion or nationality’ is pretty worrying, considering she advocates excluding people based upon their place of birth.

McLaren’s endorsement of anti-Israel boycotters (which I also blogged here) chimes strangely with his self-professed tolerance of all people from all nations. McLaren has written a book explaining how his ‘generous orthodoxy’ makes him variously a Catholic, a Protestant, an Anglican, a liberal, a conservative, a mystic, a green, an evangelical, and, er, a depressive. McLaren writes in Generous Orthodoxy:

“Because I follow Jesus, then, I am bound to Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, agnostics, atheists, New Agers, everyone (even religious broadcasters, I was just reminded by a still small voice). Not only am I bound to them in love, but I am also actually called to, in some real sense (please don’t minimize this before you qualify it), become one of them and be with them in it.”

Great! So Brian, if you can find it in your generous heart to empathise with people from all nations, cultures and religions, why not extend your generous Orthodoxy to Israelis too, lest people be suspicious of the consistency of your arguments!

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Brian McLaren, Christian social justice and the boycott of Israel

This week the Jerusalem Post identifies three of the most prominent evangelical critics of Israel as Jimmy Carter, Stephen Sizer and Brian McLaren. Whilst Carter is world famous, and I have discussed Sizer at length on this blog, Brian McLaren is less well-known.

Brian McLaren is a leading figure in the Emergent Church movement, which seeks to deconstruct traditional church culture and move away from the conservative American evangelicalism. McLaren is portrayed on his website as someone who takes peace and social justice seriously. Thus, it is important for Christians who listen to McLaren to closely scrutinise his approach to social justice and the accuracy of his statements.

McLaren signed the Joint declaration by Christian Leaders on Israel’s 60th Anniversary, which was organised by Ben White and Philip Rizk. McLaren’s interest in global social justice focuses in particular upon the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In the immediate aftermath of the Gaza war back in January, McLaren urged his readers to take these words of Ben White seriously:

THERE are often two obstacles to the taking of an appropriate stance to­wards a just peace in Palestine/Israel by Churches and Christian groups in the West. First, it can be difficult to formulate a meaningful critique of Israeli policies without attracting cries of “excusing terrorism” or “anti-Semitism”. The latter accusation is especially levelled against Christians who join the global movement to put pressure on Israel by using boycotts and disinvestment.
….
More than ever, Christian leaders and Churches need to stand up and be counted. This could mean many things: pilgrimages that show solid­arity with Palestinians; targeted boycotts of Israeli products; writing to MPs; inviting Palestinian speakers; twinning; film screenings; selling Palestinian-made goods.

So here we have Brian McLaren, a leading proponent of Christian social justice, drawing attention to Ben White’s call for boycotts against Israel (I am sure McLaren is ignorant of Ben White’s bigoted attitudes towards Israel and Jews, his approach to antisemitism and antisemitic violence, his flirtation with Holocaust denial, as well as his view that boycotting Israel itself is ‘non-violent resistance’ that is designed to go hand-in-hand with violence resistance).

So should Christians really take Ben White’s call for an anti-Israel boycott seriously, even when endorsed by so widely-read a figure as Brian McLaren? And should Christians sympathetic to the Palestinian national cause join in anti-Israel boycott campaigns?

The Engage group of academics, itself a progressive, left-wing movement concerned with social justice and sympathetic to Palestinians, has already dealt with Ben White’s arguments for a boycott of Israeli academics as part of the boycott movement against Israel (for more visit the BDS website).

Back in 2007, Mira Vogal wrote (referring to the proposed UCU boycott of Israeli academics):

“…Engage came into existence to oppose the growing phenomenon of left antisemitism which, most notably in the case of the boycott campaigns, often takes the form of anti-Zionism. The boycott calls have aims that are utterly unrealistic. The 2007 academic boycott call lacked proper aims or endpoints and in their absence the campaign was obliged to rely heavily on depicting Israel only as an atrocity. And if Israel is beyond redemption then people who oppose its frenzied condemnation must be reprehensible people. And if most Jews are in the ranks of those reprehensible people, then watch out Jews. Engage, which is left-wing, against the occupation and skeptical about nationalism, exists primarily to make and illustrate these points.”

And here’s the crux of the matter: the organised global boycott movement against Israel includes a call for an academic and cultural boycott of Israelis from other countries. And surely excluding individuals based upon the country they are from is racist. It doesn’t matter what you say, what matters is where you were born. It is socially unjust. Christian leaders interested in social justice should be able to find productive methods of encouraging peace in conflict zones. Israel-Palestine should be no different (although it appears to be for Stephen Sizer).

Using socially unjust, racist boycotts in an attempt to create social justice is morally and intellectually flawed. Whilst it is of great concern that Brian McLaren does not appear to recognise this in his blog post from January, it is still hopeful that McLaren will publicly distance himself from the organised global anti-Zionist boycott movement.

As Conor Foley puts it:

We need more critical engagment, open debate and dialogue. Bans and boycotts achieve precisely the opposite effect.

Of course, when it comes to racism, Brian wouldn’t want to be seen as adding more fuel to the stereotypical fire that Christians are judgmental, insensitive, reactive, more ideological than theological, and so on. If this is true of anti-Hispanic racism then what of antisemitic racism?

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GAFCON member lectures Church of England on moral investment

Stephen Sizer’s church recently hosted Wallace Benn of GAFCON. Sizer is a prominent GAFCON member, and feels that the Church of England as it stands is morally lacking, especially the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Stephen Sizer recently posted this criticism of Church of England’s investment policy on his blog:

Where is the Church of England’s heart invested?

Indeed, Sizer himself is a member of the Interfaith Group for Morally Responsible Investment (IMRI), of which Interpal is a member.

This is what Stephen Sizer’s morally responsible investment looks like:

A London-based charity set up in the early 1990’s to provide healthcare to refugees in the West Bank, Interpal was investigated by the Charity Commission in 1996 and in 2003 after allegations that it its funds were sent to Hamas, and the current investigation was prompted by a 2006 Panorama programme which reported that some of its funds had gone to Hamas supporters. No evidence however has been unearthed by the Charity Commissioners in support of these charges.

However in 2003 the US and Australian governments banned Interpal followed by the Canadian government in 2006, stating they believed it to be a front organization for Hamas and terrorist financing.

While it could not substantiate these charges, the Charity Commission said Interpal “must disassociate itself” from the Union for Good led by Al-Qaradawi. Its association with Al-Qaradwi, who “promoted violence as a legitimate form of resistance in support of the Palestinian cause” was questionable the commission said.

The Rev. Stephen Sizer, vicar of Christ Church, Virginia Water told The Church of England Newspaper, that although he could not speak for IMRI, “for the third time the Charity Commissioners have vindicated Interpal and I am delighted to be associated with their charitable and humanitarian work. “

The inquiry found that “there has been nothing brought to the inquiry’s attention that suggests that the charity’s funding has been siphoned off for inappropriate or non-charitable purposes,” he said. “Please can we leave these folk to get on with their vital humanitarian work?”

And this is Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi:

Perhaps GAFCON members should get their own house in order first, and publicly distance themselves from Interpal and IMRI before criticising the Church of England’s investment policies?

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Bias Beyond Parody: Ekklesia on the Kirk and Palestine

Damian Thompson here.

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