Joint Statement from Canadian Friends of Sabeel and Independent Jewish Voices Canada
Carrying a message of non-violent resistance to the Israeli occupation, Palestinian liberation theologian Rev. Naim Ateek arrives in Ontario today from the Maritimes. His tour to promote his latest book, A Palestinian Theology of Liberation: The Bible, Justice, and the Palestine–Israel Conflict, began in B.C. and concludes with a theology of liberation course at the University of Toronto (May 2-3).
Once again, as it has done on so many other occasions, B’nai Brith has tried to spread unfounded allegations of antisemitism to silence a Palestinian voice. It has failed – all planned events have gone forward successfully. But B’nai Brith’s action may be an opportunity to encourage more serious discussion of the issues that Ateek raises.
Ateek’s book emphasizes the proud history of partnership between Jews, Muslims, and Christians of conscience. It repeatedly cites Jewish critics of the use of Biblical scripture to justify violence against the Palestinians. One of these critics is Allan C. Brownfeld of the American Council for Judaism (ACJ). Referring to an infamous 1994 massacre in Hebron, Brownfeld describes the use of scripture by Jewish fundamentalist settlers in the West Bank: “When it comes to Goldstein’s murder of 29 Palestinians at prayer [in Hebron], fundamentalists refuse to acknowledge that such an act constitutes ‘murder’ because, according to the Halakha [Jewish religious law, as they interpret it], the killing by a Jew of a non-Jew under any circumstances is not regarded as murder . . . When asked if he was sorry about the murdered Arabs, militant Rabbi Moshe Levenger declared: ‘I am sorry not only about dead Arabs but about dead flies.’”
Rev. Ateek quotes this passage verbatim on page 57 of his book, attributing it to Brownfeld. This citation, which Ateek used on a slide, is what B’nai Brith manipulates into its baseless antisemitism smear. Sid Shniad – a member of the Steering Committee of Independent Jewish Voices Canada (IJV) who attended Ateek’s lecture in Abbotsford, British Columbia – explains: “The B’nai Brith statement is total BS. Ateek cited passages like this one from Brownfeld, followed by other passages from the Talmud and other sources contradicting such passages, showing that there is no basis for Israel or Zionists to claim Biblical or other religious foundations for creating a Jewish state or discriminating against non-Jews.” Ateek is a steadfast ally to Jewish liberation theologians. Indeed, his event in Hamilton (April 3) is hosted by the Jewish Liberation Theology Institute, building on Ateek’s decades of ecumenical and interfaith work.
Moreover, they have edited out of the paragraph they have seized upon in Ateek’s book the racism of Rabbi Moshe Levinger, who likens dead Palestinians to dead flies. According to Jewish Canadian journalist Gerald Caplan, a former national secretary of the New Democratic Party (NDP), B’nai Brith Canada supported Levinger’s legacy.
In 1990, Caplan wrote in the Toronto Star that B’nai Brith’s leaders were the staunchest Canadian supporters of Israeli settler colonialism: “A B’nai Brith delegation of 20 Jewish leaders from across Canada,” wrote Caplan, were “ready, aye ready, to perform as mindless cheerleaders. ‘We support,’ a spokesperson says, ‘what the duly elected government of Israel does’ – a peculiarly witless and uninformed principle. And to demonstrate the boundless nature of their irresponsibility, the delegation then visits and pays homage at a Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank that had been founded by Rabbi Moshe Levinger. Levinger, a fanatical leader of Israel’s Jewish settler movement and a bigot who calls Arabs ‘dogs,’ was just convicted of killing an unarmed, unthreatening Palestinian shopkeeper.”
None of this can be understood outside of context.
The chair of Canadian Friends of Sabeel (CFOS), the Rev. Robert Assaly, says: “Rev. Ateek’s speaking tour is lighting a candle to dispel the darkness of violence and injustice. The Israel lobby responds by calling the candle and its bearer antisemitic. Diminishing the reality of antisemitism, as this does, is a shameful way of trying to extinguish Rev. Ateek’s message of justice through non-violent resistance.”
Meanwhile, the organizers of Rev. Ateek’s tour are gratified that so many people across the country have come out to engage with these issues meaningfully, with supplies of the book sold out in city after city. “The tour has been a great success,” says Kathy Bergen, the Canadian Friends of Sabeel (CFOS)’s national coordinator for the book tour. “We are proud to be providing an opportunity for people to hear Rev. Ateek for themselves and to hear about, and hopefully support, the quest for justice, peace, and reconciliation in the Holy Land.”
CFOS and IJV stand united in the quest for justice and peace in Israel–Palestine and condemn B’nai Brith’s attempts to silence and defame Rev. Ateek, a principled advocate for a just future for all in the Holy Land.
* * * * *
Canadian Friends of Sabeel (CFOS) is a grassroots organization working for justice, peace, and reconciliation in the Holy Land. CFOS emerged in response to the call from Palestinian Christians to bear witness to the ongoing injustice against the Palestinian people. We do this primarily through education and solidarity projects in Canada.
Independent Jewish Voices Canada (IJV) is a grassroots organization grounded in Jewish tradition that opposes all forms of racism and advocates for justice and peace for all in Israel-Palestine. IJV has active chapters in cities and on university campuses across the country.