One lone Jew stands up for Israel at St. Mark’s
Guest writer Randy Kessler shares his experiences after attending a series of anti-Israel events at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Seattle, WA.
I found out that Saint Mark’s Episcopal Church was hosting an “Israel/Palestine film series” and decided to check it out. It looked like an unfriendly place from the start, as the “moderators” for the sessions were a who’s who of anti-Israel activism: Cindy Corrie (mother of Rachel Corrie, killed as an activist in Gaza), Ed Mast (head of Seattle Mideast Awareness Campaign, the group that was behind the anti-Israel bus ads), Amin Odeh (founder of Voices of Palestine, whose website lists Israeli Massacres Against Palestinians at the top of the page), Richard Silverstein (anti-Zionist blogger), Peter Lippman (founder of Palestine Solidarity Committee) and more.
Once I became aware of this series, I thought it would make sense to go to the top of the organization, so I contacted The Very Reverend Dean Steve Thomason, spiritual leader of Saint Mark’s. I let him know that I was a member of Seattle’s Jewish community, and that I felt that their film series was very biased against Israel. He had the courtesy to respond, and advised me that the series was being put on not by him personally, but by the Mideast Focus Ministry of Saint Mark’s, a group whose activities preceded his 18 month tenure at the church. He agreed with their overall mission of standing with persecuted Christians of the Middle East, particularly their Palestinian Christian brothers, and is trying to support a durable peace between the two peoples. He said there were differences of opinion on how that should happen within his church, and I felt that he was honorable in his response to me.
I decided to show up to three of the films, kippah on my head, just to see what this film series was all about. The people there seemed to be a little shocked to see me, but they were nice and cordial, even if we disagreed about policy.
I decided to show up to three of the films, kippah on my head, just to see what this film series was all about.
And disagree about policy we did. The tables were set with information about Israel’s displacement of the ‘indigenous’ Palestinian people, including information from Sabeel, which according to NGO Monitor is an anti-Israel organization that supports divestment from Israel and which denies the Jewish connection to the land. The people there were generally negative towards Israel and towards the US’ support of Israel, but their arguments tended to be emotional (“Imagine what it would be like to be a Palestinian behind those walls and checkpoints”) rather than rational arguments that show understanding of the complexities of the situation.
At the last film, there was an excerpt from Max Blumenthal’s recent book, Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel. The excerpt was called “How to Kill Goyim and Influence People” and it detailed a book called Torat HaMelech, which was authored by two rightist rabbis. It purported to slander non-Jews and to give a religious blessing to anyone who would kill non-Jews. Moreover, it asserted that this book was written as a guide for religious soldiers on how to deal with the Palestinians. I let the group know that Judaism considers all people to be children of God, and that murder is strictly forbidden by our religion. Still, the fact that this was handed out indicates how committed the Saint Mark’s community is to the anti-Israel narrative.
I let the group know that Judaism considers all people to be children of God.
I hope that my presence there showed a reasonable, yet strong, Jewish voice, and I am encouraged by my respectful dialogue with Dean Steve Thomason, who seems like a very reasonable fellow. In his comments to the crowd, he said that their mission should be not to pursue justice, but reconciliation, between the two peoples. He has a tough job if he is to pursue a reasonable path, as he has a group of congregants who are convinced that Israel is the evil oppressor, supported by the equally evil US government. Hopefully, through education and engagement, we will be able to change some minds.
It is the long history of Palestinian rejectionism, not Jewish oppression, that is the cause of the current difficulties.
What this film series taught me is that as pro-Israel Jews, there is room for us to be sympathetic to the plight of everyday Palestinians, while still staying firm in our belief that it is the long history of Palestinian rejectionism, not Jewish oppression, that is the cause of the current difficulties that the Palestinians find themselves in. I encourage others to attend events like this, and to stand firm, stay respectful, be empathetic, and present the facts.
Guest blogger Randy Kessler describes himself as a Radically Moderate Left-Wing Conservative. He lives in the Puget Sound region and is a graduate of the University of Washington and Seattle University (where he earned his MBA).