“Jefferts Schori has succumbed to expedience or the copout of ‘interfaith’ wishy-washiness-cum-cowardice”

By David W. Virtue

The Contributing Editor of the liberal Christian Century magazine, James M. Wall has accused the Episcopal Church’s Presiding Bishop of an “incredible display of ignorance” and “appalling shallowness”. He also stated that she had succumbed to “blatant Israeli propaganda” in dealing with Israel’s settlement obsessed, right-wing government.

Wall, former editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine, has made more than 20 trips to the region. He excoriated Jefferts Schori over a statement she made recently in Los Angeles that Palestinians and Israelis should “eat together and listen to each other’s stories”.

“Martin Luther King, sitting in that Birmingham city jail, would most certainly inform these prelates that there is no debating evil. A brutal military occupation is not open to debate. It is a disturbing spectacle. The collective ignorance displayed by many of the men and women-though, thank God, not all-who govern these denominations, boggles the mind,” wrote Wall.

“The issue, my dear Christian friends, is justice, pure and simple. And yet, there they are, these robed religiosos, dripping with interfaith piety, proclaiming that the simple act of divestment of church funds is too harsh a tactic to use against Israel’s settlement obsessed, right-wing government. What do they teach in seminary these days? Have those Old Testament professors who lead their Israeli-sanctioned “study groups” to the Holy Land removed the prophets from their syllabi?”

The Presiding Bishop urged Episcopalians to “invest in legitimate development in Palestine’s West Bank and in Gaza” rather than focusing on divestment or boycotts of Israel, during a March 25 “Middle East Peacemakers” luncheon in Los Angeles.”The Episcopal Church does not endorse divestment or boycott,” the presiding bishop told more than 200 people gathered at the California Club in downtown Los Angeles. “It’s not going to be helpful to endorse divestment or boycotts of Israel. It will only end in punishing Palestinians economically.”

She also called for “a two-state solution with a dignified home for Palestinians and for Israelis” and for “deeper engagement, people of different traditions eating together, listening to each other’s stories.”

Wall ripped the Presiding Bishop calling her remarks appallingly shallow and that the notion of actually debating how they should deal with the Israeli Occupation was a disturbing spectacle. “The collective ignorance displayed by many of the men and women-though, thank God, not all-who govern these denominations, boggles the mind.”

“Here is the Episcopal News Service report on the current presiding Episcopal bishop explaining why she, and the church that elevated her to denominational leadership, oppose the simple, non-violent tactic of targeting divestment of church funds from US corporations that profit from Israel’s military occupation:

“Punishing Palestinians economically? That statement is an incredible display of ignorance of the political realities of a brutal military occupation.

“Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori wants investment in Palestine, not divestment from Israel’s occupation.

“Who proposed that approach?

“Sounds very much like the warden of the world’s largest outdoor prison inviting church members to come inside the prison and do their good works.

“Cottage industries in cell block six?

“One of these corporations, Caterpillar, produces heavy equipment that Israel uses to build its apartheid wall, a wall that has nothing to do with security and everything to do with stealing even more Palestinian land.

“Caterpillar also produces those monstrous bulldozers that tear down Palestinian homes, another “security” measure that is really designed to tighten the Occupation noose.

“An Israeli soldier drove one of those American-built bulldozers over an American citizen, peace activist Rachel Corrie, on March 16, 2003, as she tried to stop an attack on a Palestinian home. In death, this young woman has become a symbol of non-violent courage to Palestinians.

“Not so in the US, where neither action nor formal government protest was taken against the army that killed her.

“And yet, here is an Episcopal bishop, standing before 200 of her fellow Episcopalians actually calling for Palestinians and Israelis to ‘eat together and listen to one another’s stories’.

“This is blatant Israeli propaganda. These words were not uttered in the spirit of Amos; they sound more like an American politician scrambling for Israel Lobby money than they do of a Christian leader who must at some point in her career reflected upon, and perhaps even preached on, the call from Amos 5:4 to ‘let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never failing stream.’ (NIV).

“The saddest thing about this failure of a church leader to grasp the reality of injustice is that she offers palliative words that sound more like a Southern bishop of the 1950s begging the segregated and segregator to live together peacefully.

“There are people in Palestine on protest hunger strikes. Others are dying under the boot of a brutal occupying army. This is not a problem that will be addressed by our ‘eating together and talking to one another’.

“Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori knows better than to speak of the Palestinian issue in the language she used. One of my sources who follows this issue with diligence, wrote to say:

“‘It was she who, perhaps three years ago, visited Gaza, was duly appalled, and vowed to press with all of her and her church’s authority, to end the sadistic blockade and occupation of all of Palestine’.

“It mystifies me that she can ignore the precedent of, and successful use of BDS (Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions campaign), in the closest parallel, South Africa. [Jefferts] Schori has succumbed to expedience or the copout of ‘interfaith’ wishy-washiness-cum-cowardice.

“How can one have any hope for justice and a viable existence for the Palestinians in the face of such cavalier disregard for the well-known and often courageously expressed recitations of the ‘facts on the ground’ created by the Zionist enterprise?

“Trips by church leaders, who finally see first-hand the ugliness of Occupation, are the best way to break through Israeli propaganda.

“But, based on Bishop [Jefferts] Schori’s public display of hasbara (propaganda) in Los Angeles, the power of the Israel Lobby trumps the truth.”

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