Friday, August 19, 2016

A Look at Yesterday

British historian, F. W. Maitland wrote:

We study the day before yesterday in order that yesterday may not paralyze today, and that today may not paralyze tomorrow.

Which is a fancy way of saying, what really happened does matter.[1]  In a similar vein, John Dominic Crossan said something like, if we get yesterday right, we have a chance of getting today better.  So, let’s look at yesterday.

Back in 1956, David Ben-Gurion, possibly struggling with his conscience, confessed:

If I were an Arab leader, I would never make terms with Israel. That is natural, we have taken their country. Sure God promised it to us, but what does that matter to them? Our God is not theirs. We came from Israel, it’s true, but that was two thousand years ago, and what is that to them? There has been anti-Semitism, the Nazis, Auschwitz, but was that their fault? They only see one thing: we have come and stolen their country. Why should they accept that? [2]

“God promised it to us”?

Not so fast. More and more scholars, Jewish and humanist, are questioning the exodus story and that “promise”.  Rabbi David Wolpe raised just that provocative question before his congregation of 2,200 at Sinai Temple in Westwood, California back in 2001, saying:

After a century of excavations trying to prove the ancient accounts true, archeologists say there is no conclusive evidence that the Israelites were ever in Egypt, were ever enslaved, ever wandered in the Sinai wilderness for 40 years or ever conquered the land of Canaan under Joshua’s leadership.[3]

Teresa Watanbe continues:

The modern archeological consensus over the Exodus is just beginning to reach the public. In 1999, an Israeli archeologist, Ze’ev Herzog of Tel Aviv University set off a furor in Israel by writing in a popular magazine that stories of the patriarchs were myths and that neither the Exodus nor Joshua’s conquest ever occurred.[4]
Think about that. Outside of the Jewish Bible, there is not one shred of evidence that Israel was ever in Egypt to be rescued by God in the first place.  Even in the Bible, the Pharaoh is not named, nor is the context identified.  There is no record in Egyptian history of two million people suddenly making an exodus nor of a labor shortage when a third of its workforce disappeared almost overnight. Disregarding the sociopathic image it makes of God sending plague after plague upon innocent Egyptian families who had no power to do what Moses demanded and discounting the fact that rivers just don’t suddenly part to allow people to walk across, there has never been one piece of pottery, (the archeologist best friend) found in the Sinai to indicate that a couple of million Jews roamed around there for forty years. Nor is there any   record in Canaan that suddenly an invading army came and conquered them with or without God’s blessings. In other words, it was made up hundreds of years after it was supposed to have happened to justify Israel’s presence and occupation of Canaanite land.

To be fair, I am not just doubting Jewish traditions.

I don’t believe stars ever roamed across the sky no matter how many times we sing Star of Wonder, Star of Night in our Christmas carols. Nor do I believe that virgins have babies or that dead people suddenly rise up out of their graves in mass as described in Matthew 27:52-53.  In more than forty years of preaching, I have never preached on that text, nor have I been asked to.

And not to leave the Muslims out, I don’t believe that a huge rock called out to a Muslim warrior saying “There is a Jew hiding behind me, kill him,” as is recorded in the Hadith. Or that Mohammed heard about Jinns (angels) from a tree, that Adam was ninety feet tall or that roosters crow and donkeys bray because they see Satan.

What I DO believe is that there is a call for peace and justice in all three Abrahamic religions.  If we took seriously the compassion mandate that we all share, if we accepted the responsibility to feed the hungry, bring water to the thirsty and justice for the oppressed, there would be little energy left to fight over our imagined traditions.

Thomas Are
August 19, 2016

[1] Alfred M. Lilienthal, What Price Israel, (Infinity Publishing, Haverford, PA. 2003) p. xv.
[2] This quote is documented in numerous sources. I refer to the book by Don Wagner and Walt Davis, Zionism and the Quest for Justice in the Holy Land. (Pickwick Publications, 2014)  p.21. And Chas W. Freeman, Jr. America’s Continuing Misadventures in the Middle East, (Just Word Books, 2016) p.48.
[3] Teresa Watanabe, Doubting the Story of Exodus, Los Angeles Times, April 13, 2001
[4] Teresa Watanabe, Doubting the Story of Exodus, Los Angeles Times, April 13, 2001

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

He Dares to Speak Out

About 30 years ago, Paul Findley, Congressman from Illinois for twenty-two years, published a book, They Dare to Speak Out, in which he tells his own story of being labeled untrustworthy by the Israeli lobby.  In spite of having a near perfect record of supporting everything Israel had asked for, he began to feel uncomfortable with Israel’s brutal policies toward the Palestinians.  Without threatening to diminish his commitment to Israel, he felt conscience bound to simply speak with Yasser Arafat. Immediately AIPAC, The Anti-Defamation League and The American Jewish Committee pounced, “Paul, Paul, he must go. He supports the PLO,”[1] and poured money into his political defeat.   

Fast forward three decades and I fear the same for my Congressman, Hank Johnson. He is being criticized for speaking up for justice.  Mondoweiss reports:

Representative Johnson offered insightful comments on the diminishing prospects for a two-state resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian issue, citing Israel’s ongoing settlement activity – which violates international law and US policy going back decades – on occupied Palestinian land in the West Bank, a point consistently made by both the Obama and Bush administrations. He analogized this settlement to that of termites hollowing out and undermining a structure, noting that settlement expansion has made the creation of a viable Palestinian state in the occupied territories all but impossible.[2]

Zionist scream, how dare he use Israel’s gobbling up Palestinian land and resources and destroying people’s lives in the same sentence with “termites”? They found his analogy offensive, too close to the facts on the ground. 

Note, for what it’s worth, he did NOT call settlers termites.

Of course, It was no big deal when Moshe Dayan, Israel’s Chief of Staff of the IDF, said in the early 1970s, “We have no solution…You  (Palestinians) shall continue to live like dogs, and whoever wishes may leave.” Or Rafel Eitan, a decade later also Chief of Staff of the IDF, said, “When we have settled the land, all the Arabs will be able to do about it will be to scurry around like drugged roaches in a bottle.”[3]  

I can only imagine what the Zionist would be screaming had Hank Johnson said anything like that.

Hank Johnson is not reckless. He would not take an unpopular position without checking it out for himself.  That is why he and several other congress people went on a fact finding trip to Palestine to see what is happening there first hand. It is quite obvious that he is courageous and puts truth above popularity. He speaks out of a heart committed to oppressed people. And he is willing to commit his life and career to correcting the injustice causing so much pain to so many people, none of whom, I might add, can vote for him.  That is what leadership does. I am proud that he is my Representative.

When it comes to re-election time, Hank Johnson will get my vote and a few dollars. I hope he will also have your support. May his tribe and influence increase.

Thomas Are
August 3, 2016  

[1] Paul Finley,  They Dare to Speak Out.  (Lawrence Hill Publishers, 1985) p. 17. In this powerful book, Finley documents the influence of AIPAC on US government, military, college campus and Christian Theology.
[2] Mondoweiss, Support for Rep. Hank Johnson Following mischaracterization of his remarks on Settlements.
[3] Mondoweiss, The Palestinians, in Israeli Officials’ Own Words. May 3, 1983
[4] This quote is documented in numerous sources. I refer to the book by Don Wagner and Walt Davis, Zionism and the Quest for Justice in the Holy Land. (Pickwick Publications, 2014)  p.21. And Chas W. Freeman, Jr. America’s Continuing Misadventures in the Middle East, (Just Word Books, 2016) p.48.