Jonathan Kuttab is a well-known Palestinian-American lawyer.
His recent thought-provoking series of articles (“Troubling Considerations About Christian Zionism” – parts one and two) concludes with an invitation to offer “new perspectives that would make sense spiritually as well as politically to Palestinian Christians.”
It is in that spirit that I hope we can approach his article and offer some perspective from a Jewish source.
Let me start by noting that I make no pretense of suggesting which Christian ideas are correct or incorrect. I haven’t the knowledge base or the belief set that would empower me to do so.
Reading the two parts of his article causes some difficulty for me as a Jewish Israeli.
Kuttab’s discomfort with Christian Zionism, or at least some of its manifestations, resonates.
While I cannot determine for Christians what their belief ought to teach them, as a Jewish Israeli I hope I can convey the deep sense of moral inconsistency I find in many Christian Zionist expressers of “support” for my country. They align themselves with the most extreme elements in our communities, who encourage us to resist withdrawals and peace accords to the last drop of Israeli blood.
Whoever advocates for this kind of moral astigmatism sets themselves up for entirely justified moral condemnation. On this, I think Mr. Kuttab and I stand together.
However, I would like to suggest respectfully that, in essential ways, Kuttab’s “Christian-Anti-Zionism” is a mirror image of the moral astigmatism he castigates in Christian Zionists.
They share a fixation on “Zionisms of the mind,” where Jews figure as two-dimensional figures who fill theological/ideological roles in a Christian morality play.
For the Christian Zionists, we have a role to play that is eschatological and politically conservative. For Mr. Kuttab, we have a role to play that is post-colonial. Neither expresses great interest in us as full human beings.
What are we to make of an argument like “The Zionist movement is a political movement that has worked to create a Jewish state by bringing in Jews from all over the world and pushing out (and keeping out) most of my people.”
Or this one: “To this day, they refuse me and my people the ‘Right of Return’ because they argue that Israel cannot be a Jewish state, and Zionism cannot be fulfilled if they allow the local indigenous non-Jewish population to remain and return and live in the land. Is this what Christians, including myself, should be supporting? Was I required, as a Christian, to evacuate and leave the land to the new Jewish immigrants?”
Put another way, fruitful Christian-Jewish dialogue hinges on recognizing a recurrent phenomenon.
Over the centuries, Christians have unfortunately fallen into the trap of using two-dimensional representations of Jews as models for the antithesis to whatever the Christians have been advocating.
The damage this has done to Christians’ abilities to understand, evaluate and appreciate their traditions has been second only to the damage this has done to Jews.
On the level of Palestinian-Israeli dialogue, there is another challenge.
To be sure, it would be wrong to fault Kuttab for stating that these were his personal impressions of Zionism based on his own experience.
Listening to Palestinians over the years, the claim of personal suffering arises and commands respect.
However, Kuttab claims that expulsion of Palestinians is not a historically contingent byproduct of Zionism. In a leap of imagination, he proclaims this a definitional goal of Zionism.
But a Jewish State could have arisen without the removal of Palestinians (and without the ethnic cleansing of Jews from the Muslim world).
His rhetorical question, a “reduction ad absurdum” about his alleged “duty as a Christian to evacuate and leave the land” is interesting in this regard because it is not his personal history.
It is an ideological statement that distorts and essentially demonizes the goals of Zionism.
To be fair, when I ask a question of my fellow Jewish Israelis, I often hear of similarly one-sided experiences that they have of the Palestinian struggle for liberation.
After all, most Israeli Jews are at least partly descended from Jews who originated in the Muslim world.
Most of them derive from the Sunni-Muslim-Arab world that stretches from Iraq to the Atlantic Coast of North Africa. That civilization, of which Palestinians are part and parcel, (98 percent of them being Sunni, Muslim and Arab,) is in considerable crisis.
One symptom of that crisis is the fact that all minorities in that vast expanse who are not Sunni, not Muslim or not Arab are having a rough time at the hands of the majority.
It is fair to say that of all the minorities, Coptic Christians, Tamazight, Kurds, Yazidis, Houthis and so on, the only one that has prospered since the end of World War II is the Jews.
The Jews did this mainly because they had to depart to a small geographic area on the fringe of the region that is the land of their history. Gaining independence placed them outside the sphere of persecution as a minority.
When some Israeli Jews speak to me of their experience of the Palestinian struggle for liberation, they subsume it in the more extensive attempt of Sunni Muslim Arab civilization to oppress Jews along with other minorities.
The bottom line is that neither one-sided view of the conflict can lead to peace.
There is only one way toward peace. That is the recognition that our dispute concerns two just causes tragically thrown into opposition one to the other.
None of the ancient strategies of demonization of either side by either side will get the job done.
Peace can be made only through humble recognition by each side that the other has a legitimate claim to national liberation.
Once both sides recognize this, demonization becomes more difficult, compromise begins to make moral sense and peace becomes possible.
Perhaps we can take some modest steps in that direction from these pages.
Rabbi Edward Rettig is chair of Shomrei Mishpat, Rabbis for Human Rights in Israel.