Kessler article on Jewish-Christian relations

by Kim on July 3, 2012

There is an excellent article examining “why Israel causes such difficulties in Christian-Jewish relations” in this week’s Church Times (29 June) by Edward Kessler, who is a leading thinker in interfaith relations, primarily Jewish-Christian and Jewish-Muslim Relations, and Founder and Executive Director of the Woolf Institute.

Kessler observes that “Although there have been great changes in Christian teaching on Judaism, and especially in tackling the traditional ‘teaching of contempt of Judaism’, attitudes towards Israel continue to be difficult. It has been easier to condemn anti-Semitism as a misunderstanding of Christian teaching than to come to terms with the re-establishment of the Jewish state.”

Kessler also observes that not only is the church divided about Zionism, “Jews are also divided about Israel. In particular, the growth of settlements, the behaviour of settlers, and the occupation of Palestinian territories are resulting in what Peter Beinhart calls in The Crisis of Zionism ‘political corrosion’.

“A profoundly anti-democratic and aggressive culture is becoming pervasive among much of the Jewish population in the West Bank. It is undermining the vision of a Jewish and democratic state pictured by the founders of Israel. In my experience, it is hard, if not impossible, to engage with people who believe that they are the holy defenders of Israel.

“Nevertheless [Kessler continues], personal encounter is vital, and the temptation to restrict encounters, and even promote boycott, should be opposed. Meeting and interacting with people from different religious backgrounds moves beyond merely learning about each other’s traditions. Through encounter, one seeks to discover a shared humanity and to see beyond one’s own experience.”

Kessler goes on to mention the “consternation” in Jewish circles caused by Kairos Palestine, and the added “strain” of the “fact that the Churches do not act similarly regarding human-rights abuses and state violence in many other places, especially in the wider Middle East.” And he is deeply concerned by the binary, on the one hand, of those who “think that Israel can do no right”, and, on the other hand, of “those for whom the Palestinians are the cause of all the ills in the conflict.”

However, Kessler ends his even-handed analysis with an emphasis on what he calls “outbreaks of hope for peace”. And he concludes: “Hope is the vital ingredient that Christians and Jews thousands of miles away from the conflict must bring. An Israeli mother who lost her son, and a Palestinian mother who lost her brother in the conflict made this clear recently, when they told students in Cambridge: ‘If you don’t want to be part of the solution, don’t be part of the problem.’”

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

1

Avraham Reiss 07.03.12 at 11:53 am

[quote]
A profoundly anti-democratic and aggressive culture is becoming pervasive among much of the Jewish population in the West Bank. It is undermining the vision of a Jewish and democratic state pictured by the founders of Israel.
[unquote]

By the above statement, Kessler reveals himself as what in Israel is known as extreme-left, a Knesset splinter group that does not represent 5% of the population of the State of Israel.

He offers no basis or proof whatsoever for his ridiculous characterization of “much of the Jewish population in the West Bank” (sic), and as someone who lives in Israel, I say that what he has written is totally untrue.

There should be discussion between Jew and Christian - we both inhabit the same world, and meet at many and varying tangents. But the Christian world has yet to come to grips with the concept of the new, independant Israeli Jew, who is the anti-thesis of everything Christianity has taught since its inception.

Kessler presents a false but populistic view; denigrating some 330,000 settlers who are reclaiming the Land of in accordance with Biblical prophecy (Ezekiel 36) is convenient to Christian theology, but is as false as that theology.

2

Kim 07.03.12 at 2:49 pm

I refer the honourable gentleman to paragraph 4, sentence 3.

3

Mark Byron 07.04.12 at 4:49 am

From what I have heard, the West Bankers tend to be more devout and more nationalistic than mainland Israelis.

Aggressive? Yes, in many cases.

Anti-democratic? That might be the writer’s take, like the liberals in Wisconsin bemoaning the end of democracy when they lose an democratically-held election. As conservative outliers, they might be part of liberal fears of some sort of Haradi state of the future.

4

Avraham Reiss 07.04.12 at 4:57 pm

“In my experience, it is hard, if not impossible, to engage with people who believe that they are the holy defenders of Israel.”

Quite right. No reason why you should.

5

Ric 07.06.12 at 10:56 am

For those who do not have a sbscription to the Church Times, the full article (released by Kessler’s Woolf Institute) is here
http://www.woolf.cam.ac.uk/uploads/churchtimes.pdf
Kessler’s comments are sensible and even-handed, provided they are read with a purely secular eye. If they purport to be the position of a believing Jew speaking to a believing Christian (as one might expect from their appearance in the Church Times), then Kessler has already ’sold the pass’. His non-judgmental mention of Peter Beinart is especially problematic. Nowhere in this article are Arab Muslims treated as active parties or called to account. The quote in paragraph 2 speaks volumes: “This country is…filled with the kindest and on the other hand the scariest people [settlers].” This naive Christian only sees the faces and hears the tone of voice of the people she meets. She appears utterly ignorant of the Arab attacks on Jewish civilians. When they refer to ‘the Occupation’, they do not mean the territories conquered by Israel in its defensive war of 1967: they mean the whole of the former Palestinian Mandate. It is this position that causes the settlers to be defensive, ‘anti-democratic’ and ‘aggressive’.

Leave a Comment

You can use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>