Doing God’s Work

For several years I met with a group of Christian and Jewish leaders to discuss how Christians and Jews can talk together about the Middle East. The underlying concern of the Jewish participants was why Mainline Protestant Churches seem, to the Jewish community, to be so unbalanced in their attitudes about Israel. Christian participants wondered why Jews seemed consistently uncritical of Israel. There were eight of us and we met monthly for several years. Some of the conversations were difficult: harsh things were said, some of which were later retracted. We hammered out a statement which delineated some understandings we had established. Two of the most significant were:

1. Not all criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic.

2. Christians do hope and expect more from Israel than other states; e.g. Iran, Saudi Arabia, precisely because we value Israel’s democracy, guarantees of civil liberties and judicial processes. American Christians want Israel to thrive. We also expect more from Israel than other states because of the substantial financial and military support our nation provides

I’ve been thinking about those conversations recently, as the Middle East Peace Process floundered and collapsed in spite of Secretary of State John Kerry’s herculean efforts. Expressing skepticism bordering on cynicism, both the Chicago Tribune and the New York Times proposed, editorially, that the United States walk away from the situation and move on and tell the Israelis and Palestinians to call us when they are ready to negotiate seriously. I wonder if there is anything hopeful, and useful, anyone who is not Israeli or Palestinian, can do.
Proponents of BDS have concluded that boycotting, divesting, and sanctioning are at least something, even though the only guaranteed result will be the anger and alienation of the American Jewish community and a blow to interfaith relations. Is there no other alternative? Is there nothing else?

I have long believed that financial investment in the Palestinian economy is a positive, practical, and hopeful gesture. Now I propose that Mainline Protestant churches invite mainstream Jewish organizations to sit down and engage in conversation about what, together, we can do to support and animate the peace process.

Here’s my argument. Israel needs to start acting as if it really believes a two state solution is possible and the only viable one long term. I have Jewish friends who agree, who do not approve of the Settlements and understand that every expansion makes peace more difficult. I have Jewish friends who profoundly hope that the Israeli government will do what everyone knows is necessary to bring about a sovereign, viable and secure Palestinian state.

Writing in The New York Times, Thomas Friedman observed that two long-term trends make a peaceful solution absolutely urgent. The recent attack on an Israeli military outpost which wounded six officers and damaged equipment, not by Palestinians, but by renegade Jewish settlers who Friedman called “terrorists”, is evidence that forces within Israel whose ideology drives them to extremist violence and a refusal even to consider an independent Palestine, are growing in influence. For instance, in the middle of the floundering peace talks, Israeli Housing Minister, Uri Ariel, announced plans for 700 new housing units in territory needed for a viable Palestinian state. Israeli Justice Minister, Tzipi Livni said, “Ariel purposefully and intentionally did what he did to torpedo the peace talks.” Thomas Friedman added, “Young Palestinians have no faith in their parents’ negotiation with the Jews, no desire to recognize Israel as a ‘Jewish state’ and would rather demand the right to vote in a one-state solution.”

Friedman proposed that the only hope for peace is “a Prime Minister and an Israeli majority who are really excited about the prospects for peace or truly frightened of the alternative.”

American Christians and Churches who agonize over the entire situation might consider reaching out to Jewish neighbors who are equally eager to find common ground: the absolute end of Settlement expansion, serious negotiation about compensation for Palestinian territory already appropriated by Israel, the status of Jerusalem as the Capitol of both states, and then, together, to speak an urgent word to American Jewish political lobbies, which do have influence with Israeli political leadership, and to American Christian political lobbies who advocate for justice for the Palestinian people.

Friedman called John Kerry’s relentless efforts to make headway toward peace “God’s work”. Wouldn’t it be something if Christian churches, hand in hand with Jewish neighbors, did a little bit of “God’s work” of peacemaking together.

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