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Tunnel Vision

A Response to Malcolm F. Lowe's Article on Kairos Palestine


Rifat Odeh Kassis, coordinator of the Kairos Palestine group, responds to Welsh academics' critiques of Kairos Palestine published in an article called “The World Council of Churches: What Does It Care about Palestinian Christians?”



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Malcolm Lowe, a Welsh academic living in Jerusalem, recently published an article called “The World Council of Churches: What Does It Care about Palestinian Christians?"  (see point 1 at bottom for more info).  Most of the article is a sustained attack both on “A Moment of Truth” – the document issued by the Kairos Palestine group (of which I am the coordinator) as Christian Palestinians’ word to the world about the Israeli occupation and a call for support in establishing a just peace – and on the WCC’s support for this call. 

While reading Mr. Lowe’s article, I felt a curious sense of déjà vu. Indeed, he published an article in April 2010 attacking the Kairos initiative (see point 2 at the bottom for more info); this piece hinges on nearly identical arguments regarding the document’s content and context, including nearly identical factual errors.

There is nothing in Mr. Lowe’s new article that we have not heard before, including from him: again and again, he shrilly insists that a peaceful resolution for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict amounts exclusively to collaboration with the oppressive policies enacted by the Israeli state. His knee-jerk disregard for Kairos Palestine, the WCC, and other organizations working for a just peace in the region reveals, on Mr. Lowe’s part, not only an inability to comprehend or credit the meaning of this goal: a just peace. Rather, it also exposes an inability to do anything more than trot out the same rhetoric in an attempt to recite it – for lack of anything new to say – before a new audience at a moment when Israel’s credibility within the international community is falling farther and faster than ever before.

Mr. Lowe begins his article “The World Council of Churches: What Does It Care about Palestinian Christians?” with a repetition of his (inaccurate) commentary on the Kairos initiative that was first published in his previous article. First, he states (again) that Bishop Munib Younan withdrew his involvement from the Kairos Document. This is incorrect: while the bishop is no longer listed as a co-author of the document itself, his signature remains on the list of endorsements. In fact, Bishop Munib has never denied the fact that he has been part of the group who worked on the document. When the Heads of Churches decided to endorse the document (the endorsement came a few days after the launch of the document in Bethlehem, on Dec. 9, 2009), the whole group requested that Bishop Munib should rather join them as a sign of solidarity.

Second, when the Jerusalem Heads of Churches issued their supportive statement in response to “A Moment of Truth,” Mr. Lowe writes that the WCC and Kairos Palestine publicized this positive reaction as if it were equivalent to an outright endorsement of the global BDS campaign (boycott, divestment, and sanctions). This, too, is false: Kairos Palestine neither claimed that the Heads of Churches had endorsed BDS nor asked them to endorse it.

Such errors could have been avoided if Mr. Lowe had bothered to check his facts – or even to edit the first article in which they appeared. What does remain interesting, however, is Mr. Lowe’s automatic and adamant finger-pointing (however erroneous it turned out to be) in relation to the BDS campaign itself. After all, BDS is beginning to ring some serious alarm bells for supporters of the Israeli state. Mere days ago, as chronicled in the Jerusalem Post, “Ofer Eini, chairman of [Israel’s] Histadrut labor federation, told Jewish leaders in New York…not to underestimate the power of the BDS boycott movement, and pledged to speak as often as possible to combat its efforts to sow anti-Israel sentiment among international unions." (see point 3 at the bottom for more info). In short: BDS is working; people all over the world are taking courageous and peaceful actions to protest the injustices perpetrated by Israel against the Palestinians; and Israel is getting nervous. Even a minor, repetitive voice like Mr. Lowe’s is well-received by the chorus of those who hope to keep the Israeli apartheid regime afloat; perhaps this has compelled him to raise it once again, even in singing the very same song.

The rest of Mr. Lowe’s article on the WCC is a quagmire of inaccuracies, manipulative analysis, and veiled threats – both to the WCC itself and to local churches.

Mr. Lowe asks if the WCC has considered whether its support for Palestinian rights “could have a negative impact on the local churches themselves in their dealings with Israel.” This is an indirect threat to the WCC, implying that he knows what is best for us Christians and they are sabotaging it. It is also a very direct insult to us, implying that our best interest is collaborating with Israel in order to reap the benefits. He later describes these benefits, the “ways in which a good relationship with the Israeli authorities is important for the churches,” in greater detail: tax exemptions, assistance for schools and charitable activities, visas for international clergy, etc. This, too, is both injury and insult: Mr. Lowe suggests that churches should both keep quiet and cooperate with Israel as a primary goal, likewise suggesting that the WCC’s advocacy is hindering our ability to enjoy the advantages such a collaboration would provide. These are cheap tricks indeed: Mr. Lowe’s words yield politically opportunistic, psychologically reductive, and generally contemptible threats.

He goes on to merely repeat the same logical distortions and factual omissions that the Israeli government itself (and its impressive PR campaign) employs, both to justify its crimes and to distract its audience from registering them by painting a rosier picture of national policy than what exists in any form. Like the government, too, Mr. Lowe’s explanations manage only to emphasize the existing injustices, and never to absolve them.

For one thing, he states that there are “three or four times as many Arab Christians living in the State of Israel as under the Palestinian Authority” – the same argument paraded about by Israeli officials. This argument fails to acknowledge either the discrimination suffered by all Palestinian citizens of Israel or, moreover, the many reasons (related to economic disparities, the history of military violence and political oppression afflicting Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt), emigration stemming from oppression, etc.) why the number of Christians would be greater within Israel than under the PA.

For another, Mr. Lowe writes, “a large number of other Christians immigrated to Israel in recent years as family members of Jews from the former Soviet Union.” Before he tries to talk his readers into thinking that these Russian immigrants came to Israel specifically for their spotless human rights record on the subject of Christians, it’s worth noting that scores of these Christians forged their papers, claimed they were Jewish, and became citizens this way. Further, many such Christians can’t find a place in the Jewish cemeteries when they die: denied by the same state institutions that supposedly welcomed their arrival and their participation in Israeli society, whether as “non-Jewish Jews” or as Christians.

Mr. Lowe commits another misstep again and again, one that not only undercuts his arguments but also serves to highlight Israel’s discriminatory policies: he continually blames the victims of those policies rather than the institutional injustices that are at their foundation. He implicitly blames the WCC’s advocacy work in the last ten years for the fact that “local churches are encountering increasing problems in their dealings with Israeli institutions” – suggesting that if the WCC would stop its support for initiatives related to Palestinian rights, the state of Israel would stop discriminating against the local churches. He even implicitly blames the WCC’s support of Kairos Palestine for the fact that “Palestinian Christians whose origins are in the West Bank have been losing residence permits to be in Jerusalem” – as if Israel had decided to oppress Palestinians as punishment for the fact that the WCC was meddling in their affairs.

The author shows his true colors once again when he describes other WCC initiatives: 1) the Palestine-Israel Ecumenical Forum (PIEF), which seeks “to bring an end to the illegal occupation of Palestine in accordance with UN resolutions, and demonstrate commitment for inter-religious action for peace and justice that serves all the peoples of the region”; 2) the Jerusalem Inter-Church Center (JIC), established by the WCC and the Jerusalem heads of Churches, which works to contribute “to the implementation of the international community’s long-standing plans for a peaceful and equitable resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict, as expressed through the United Nations,” and 3) the EAPPI itself, which “brings internationals to the West Bank to experience life under occupation…provide protective presence to vulnerable communities, monitor and report human rights abuses and support Palestinians and Israelis working together for peace. When they return home, EAs [Ecumenical Accompaniers] campaign for a just and peaceful resolution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict through an end to the occupation, respect for international law and implementation of UN resolutions.”

So: Obeying UN resolutions, fulfilling international law, inter-religious action for peace and justice, peaceful and equitable conflict resolution, monitoring and reporting human rights abuses, support for joint Palestinian/Israeli peace efforts, etc. All these goals sound pretty diabolical, don’t they? Does Mr. Lowe have anything to say about them?

He does, but not much. The final sentence of his article summarizes these initiatives and their objectives as a “WCC scheme” that has “already trained hundreds of agitators for the Palestinian cause in churches all round the world.” This is his only response: a jab in the side, an irritated stamp of the foot. It shows, just as the rest of his article does, both that Mr. Lowe’s only goal is to defend Israel at all costs and that such a task is the only one he knows how to recognize in others. Even when faced with truly communal, nonviolent, solidarity-focused work devoted to securing peace and justice for both Palestinians and Israelis (in accordance with principles of human rights that the UN declares are universal, while Israel, clearly above such trivialities, declares them irrelevant) this “one article” writer can only manage to wag his finger and complain, “agitators.”

One would think that someone who claims to defend Christians, as Mr. Lowe does claim, would be able to locate and compelled to speak out against the discriminatory policies afflicting those Christians. Instead, he blames the very people who are doing the work – the work of solidarity, of advocacy, of peace, and of justice – he lacks the integrity to do himself. The problem here is not the WCC, Kairos Palestine, Palestinian Christians, or any of their friends around the world. The problem is the widespread manipulation perpetuated by people like Mr. Lowe, who support the Israeli government no matter what it does and misguidedly define their own rigidity of vision, their disdain for moral courage, as loyalty.

As I conclude, I find myself thinking once more about Mr. Lowe’s insinuations that Israel generously offers its “services”, its plenty, its friendship, to those Christians who keep quiet and cooperate. I must say that this is not the Israel I know – nor the Israel that many Christians, including non-Palestinian Christians, are getting to know the hard way. I’m thinking of Interior Minister Eli Yishai, who (in May 2009) refused to permit the Holy See to exercise religious jurisdiction over Christian holy sites within Israel, who tightened the screws on Christian clergy and volunteers when it came to renewing their visas in service of the Church (his terms oversaw thousands of revocations of visas and residency rights), and who has written that Israel’s internal “enemy” consists of Christian immigrants.

Most of all, I’m thinking of the recent news that a state company is attempting to evict an evangelical Christian, a man working with former minister Benny Elon on strengthening ties between evangelical Christians and Israeli right-wing organizations, from his residence in the Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem’s Old City (see point 4 at the bottom for more info). Why? Because he isn’t Jewish. The director of the company (the Company for the Reconstruction and Development of the Jewish Quarter in the Old City of Jerusalem) said, “We approached the landlady following complaints from neighbors that he does not match criteria for living in the quarter, which are having an Israeli ID and being Jewish, not a gentile.”

The man facing eviction is following every one of Mr. Lowe’s suggestions par excellence. He is not simply cooperating: he is personally working to strengthen the foundation of the collaborative relationship between the state of Israel and those Christians who support it. But he is being kicked out of his house because he is a Christian, and the state isn’t helping him. The state, in fact, is responsible for his removal.

To this, I say: Mr. Lowe, good luck.

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1. Lowe, Malcolm. “The World Council of Churches: What Does It Care about Palestinian Christians?” Hudson New York, http://www.hudson-ny.org/1951/world-council-of-churches-palestinian-christians. 10 March 2011.

 2 Lowe, Malcolm. “The Palestinian ‘Kairos’ Document: A Behind-the-Scenes Analysis.” New English Review, http://www.newenglishreview.org/custpage.cfm/frm/60512/sec_id/60512. April 2010.

3 Horn, Jordana. “Eini to US Jewish Leaders: Don’t Underestimate BDS Movement.” The Jerusalem Post, http://www.jpost.com/International/Article.aspx?id=211524. 10 March 2010.

4 Hasson, Nir. “State Company Trying to Evict Evangelical Christian from Jerusalem’s Jewish Quarter.” Ha’aretz, http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/news/state-company-trying-to-evict-evangelical-christian-from-jerusalem-s-jewish-quarter-1.348005. 9 March 2011.

Posted by Rifat Odeh Kassis - Last updated 21.03.2011