This blog post was originally written in the Spring of 2014 but has since been revised. While this particular topic might feel a bit dated for myself, I realize this is not dated for so many and felt it important to still share.
Earlier this year the Israel/Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church (U. S. A.) released a curriculum entitled Zionism Unsettled: A Congregational Study Guide. The curriculum received critical acclaim as well as some harshly critical reviews. Now, I’m a member of the PCUSA, and as someone who is heavily involved in interfaith dialogue, working on a thesis rooted in the interfaith dialogue of the PCUSA, and having not-so-recently returned from a two-and-a-half week trip throughout Israel and the Palestinian Occupied Territories, I have a duty to pay attention to and be active in the conversation that IPMN has opened up with this new curriculum for congregations and beyond.
In the consciousness of time and length of this article I’ve included a few links of what people have to say on both sides: read the IPMN’s critical acclaim from their website; Rev. Dr. Chris Leighton of the Institute for Christian and Jewish Studies’ open letter to the PCUSA against the curriculum; and last, an interesting blog written by an Iraqi Jew to the members of the PCUSA. Within a few weeks of its publication, a group that I serve on with the Presbytery of Chicago, the Ecumenical and InterReligious Work Group, released a statement about the curriculum as well. In the spirit of transparency, I was one of the voices that approved the EIRWG’s document for dispersion. I did so because what we had to say was important for all sides of the conversation, not because I am looking to demonize anyone. As a voice in the dialogue and an individual, I very much respect the work and products of the IPMN.
All of these opinions and voices are part of the process of dialogue which will hopefully lead to some sort of peaceful conclusion. The issues of Israel and Palestine are some of the most heated of my generation, and it is easy to get sidetracked. The problem begins when the process goes down the “rabbit hole.” It’s a side tunnel, created by an idea that might or might not be relevant to an argument or set of ideas. I find I have many of them during my writing process and they are annoying, difficult, and fascinating. They rest on the edge of the sublime; as anyone involved in something they are passionate about or duty-bound to can attest. Just like dialogue about Israel and Palestine: it is, in many ways, sublime.
Without pointing fingers on either side, we now have another rabbit hole in the conversation about Israel, Palestine, and the role of the PCUSA in this controversial issue. The IPMN’s Zionism Unsettled is an important voice within the dialogue, whether people like it or not, and it deserves the same thought and consideration as anyone else’s which does not intentionally demonize. Please do not read this as my defense of ZU, but as one who is attempting to walk the line of honoring the beloved relationships I have with my Muslim, Jewish, and Christian friends. I fail to walk that line when I demonize the other in any way at all. We all do it at some point or another, more than we want to admit. We are all living, breathing glass houses and no one individual is innocent or to blame.
There is no perfect dialogue, there is not perfect solution, there is no going back.
Gandhi believed that to demonize one’s opponent was unacceptable. Even when it came to individuals who believed the complete opposite than he did on a matter, it still did not warrant his anger. They were breathing, thinking, human beings, and they deserved to be treated with equality, no matter what. This, I believe, is what we are missing in our dialogue about Israel and Palestine, and this is also our sublime rabbit hole. It is easy to point fingers and demonize the other because of their actions. But we must remember: they are human too, on all sides. We have to fight going down the rabbit hole of demonizing the other and hold fast to the much more difficult task of looking across the pages and aisles at the other divinely created human being and remember they deserve to be treated with love and kindness, just as we do.
One group that is tackling this rabbit hole is the Parent’s Circle Family Forum: Israeli and Palestinian Bereaved Families for Peace. This is a voice that is walking the line of those relationships. These groups of Israelis and Palestinians have come together for the worst reason: they have all lost children and family members to the ongoing violence in Israel and Palestine. Their recent documentary, “Two Sided Story”, is worth a watch. It is the painful process of coming together to stop pointing fingers. It does not solve the issue of a one-state or two-state solution, it does not simply deal with Zionism, it deals head on with real people, on the ground, living their lives.
Christians miss the point of dialogue and peace-making when we fail to follow the command by Jesus, “you must love your neighbor as you love yourself.” (Matthew 22:39, CEB) Demonizing the other is easy, we do it every day without even realizing it; to see the other as an individual human being, just as we are, is necessary to avoid the dangerous rabbit hole of pointing the finger at the demon we create in the other.