By Khalid Amayreh
The recent Vatican synod on the deteriorating situation in Palestine-Israel did the right thing by pointing out that Israel ought to discontinue the use of the controversial concept of "the chosen people" to torment and dispossess the Palestinians. Perhaps the Roman Catholic hierarchy has woken up to the fact that tens of thousands of Palestinian Arab Christians are forced to leave their ancestral homeland as a result of the brutality and oppression stemming from the ongoing Israeli occupation.
In its conclusions and recommendations, the synod repudiated the fact that Israel never stops misusing the Bible to justify oppressive and repressive policies against virtually helpless Palestinians. It also explained that for purely moral reasons, Christians around the world cannot speak of "the promised land" as an exclusive right for a privileged Jewish people; in Christian beliefs, it is in Christ that all men and women of all countries and races become the chosen people.
On the face of it, the latest good news from Rome represents a step towards the reassertion of moral Christianity at the expense of Zionist (or "Zionised") Christianity. The formulation of a western Christian, especially Roman Catholic, stance on the plight of the Palestinians at the hands of the Zionists is welcome. However, it probably has more to do with reasserting Christianity's moral identity than with making any serious effort to challenge the Israeli regime, which under Benjamin Netanyahu's right-wing leadership is drifting through unbridled jingoism towards fascism.
None the less, the Vatican should be commended for demonstrating that political Zionism, which has enslaved nations and governments, will not find Christianity such easy prey. Not only that, but it is showing that the Roman Catholic Church, at least, is not about to morph into a political pawn in the service of the Israeli state's territorial ambitions. It is reassuring that the Vatican appears not to be ready to align itself with Israel's unrelenting dehumanisation of and brutality against Palestinians, Muslims and Christians alike, whose only crime is that they are not part of a "holy tribe".
Even so, it is true to say that Zionism has made much progress in turning erstwhile good-hearted Christians into fanatical Zionists, ready to support human rights violations by right-wing Jewish settlers and their supporters in Israeli society. So-called Christian Zionists seem to have lost any real link to genuine Christianity and the message of Jesus in their rush to support Zionist Israel and its policies which any human being with any degree of honesty would find morally repugnant and criminally unacceptable. Indeed, some supposedly Christian leaders give enthusiastic support to decidedly un-Christian acts by Israel, such as extrajudicial killings, ethnic cleansing and systematic persecution, in order to create space in the Holy Land for Jewish immigrants; the Nazis had a similar policy, called lebensraum, intended to provide living space for "ethnic Germans".
In the face of a powerful Israel lobby, such Christian leaders of Western states make do with half-hearted appeals for "balance" and "restraint" when they know as much as anyone that the situation in the Israel-Palestine conflict is far from a conflict between equals. There worthless statements have failed to save even one Palestinian farmer's olive grove from being destroyed by Israeli settlers. Or one Palestinian family's home from being bulldozed and the family expelled.
It is true that some courageous Christians have stood up for human rights and the rule of international law and faced the opprobrium of their fellows in the process. But their voices are usually lost in the increasing Israeli hasbara (propaganda) which turns black into white and the Big Lie of Zionism into accepted truth.
It is imperative that we encourage Christians to show their commitment to true Christian values and morality by denouncing Israel's illegal policies in the West Bank and the growing phenomenon of using biblical and Talmudic injunctions to dehumanize Gentiles. The remarks by Rabbi Ovadia Yosef that the raison d'être of Gentiles is to serve Jews, was ignored by the US media; it took a reader of the New York Times to point this out. Thus the Zionists' "servants" across North America were spared from having to respond in a way which might have been unfavourable to Israel. Rabbi Yosef is the spiritual head of the Shas Party, one of Netanyahu's far-right coalition partners.
More than two thousand years ago, the frenzied multitude rejected Jesus because they thought he was going to rob them of their "chosen people" status and equate them with the rest of mankind. Today, 2000 years later, under the same chosen people rubric, Palestinian villagers, Christians and Muslims alike, are still being chased, assaulted, and hunted down "because they don't belong".
When Moses received the Torah on Mount Sinai, he received the Ten Commandments, described as a light upon humanity. The Neturei Karta Movement of Orthodox Jews are anti-Zionist: "One of the basics of Judaism is that we are a people in exile due to Divine decree. Accordingly, we are opposed to the ideology of Zionism, a recent innovation, which seeks to force the end of exile. Our banishment from the Holy Land will end miraculously at a time when all mankind will unite in the brotherly service of the Creator. In addition to condemning the central heresy of Zionism, we also reject its policy of aggression against all peoples. Today this cruelty manifests itself primarily in the brutal treatment of the Palestinian people. We proclaim that this inhuman policy is in violation of the Torah."
Unfortunately, Zionism has not only inflicted death and destruction on Palestinians it has also killed the sense of morality and joint humanity among Israelis so that they condone the killings, land confiscation and lies carried out in their name by their government. Orthodox Jewry is clear: "[Zionism's] essential goal was and is to change the nature of the Jewish people from that of a religious entity to a political movement. From Zionism's inception the spiritual leaders of the Jewish people stood in staunch opposition to it." If only religious Christians around the world would take the time to reflect on this message, their desire to support Israel may be diminished. Perhaps the Vatican already has.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.