Fresh off an anti-Israel film series, Washington, DC-area Episcopalians at St. John’s Norwood in upscale Bethesda, Maryland and elsewhere have once again taken the lead in demonizing Israel by hosting Reverend Naim Ateek. This Palestinian Anglican known for his anti-Semitic outbursts against Israel addressed St. John’s on May 16, before participating in more vitriol the next day at Washington, DC’s anti-Israel Jerusalem Fund.
St. John’s rector, Sari Ateek, introduced the church’s evening lecture by noting that Naim Ateek, often called the “Desmond Tutu of Palestine,” is the “father of Palestinian liberation theology. He is also the father of me.” Before the overwhelmingly white and older audience of about 90 in the church nave who came to hear the founder of the anti-Israel Sabeel Palestinian Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center, Sari noted that most were St. John’s members. The audience also included Sari’s fellow Friends of Sabeel North America (FOSNA) member Steve France, who sits on the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, DC’s Companion Diocese Committee—Jerusalem (CDCJ). France’s associate from the film series, the Palestinian-American Zeina Azzam, also attended.
In his lecture, the Israeli citizen Naim Ateek suggested a neo-Marcionite approach to the Old Testament, in which Christians could cherry-pick the Jewish scriptures and thereby supersede any imputed Jewish theological chauvinism. In the Hebrew Bible, “some of it is palatable and beneficial for Christians,” he stated, while criticizing the scripture passages of Numbers 33:50-56 and Deuteronomy 7:1-7 displayed in his Powerpoint presentation. “Do these two texts reflect the God that we have come to know in Jesus Christ” and the “love of God?,” Ateek rhetorically asked, to which he answered that they reflect a “tribal God understanding.”
Ateek’s warped theology that denied any particular Jewish national claim to the Holy Land complemented his fabricated history that condemned Zionism as immoral imperialism. In order to “tell the story of Palestine,” one of his Powerpoint slides on the “Palestinian Loss of Land” used a thoroughly discredited map series, while another deceptively distorted an 1895 diary entry from Zionist founding father Theodor Herzl. Another slide cited the “arc of the moral universe” quotation oft-attributed to civil rights icon Martin Luther King, yet contrary to the St. John’s audience, the Zionist King condemned anti-Zionism as antisemitism.
In Ateek’s false utopian vision, universal humanistic values would transcend Jewish atavistic particularism with the abolition of Israel’s Jewish state within an Arab-Jewish binational, unitary Palestine. “One state” is the “ideal solution: Equal democracy for all citizens, Israelis and Palestinians,” stated the slides, while the “pro-Israel lobby is powerful” with “blind support to Israel.” The slides’ listed “Reasons for hope” included that Ateek’s oft-touted political partner, the radical Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), “is very active,” and “Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions [BDS] are working” to destroy Israel with political warfare.
Accordingly, Ateek condemned President Donald Trump’s recent decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s historic capital. Ateek stated that Muslims have “governed Jerusalem hundreds of years more than the Jews.” Yet only Jews, not Muslims or anyone else who conquered Jerusalem in the past, have ever had a capital in this city often neglected by Muslims throughout history.
Nonetheless, “many of us are weeping, are sad, for what has happened to Jerusalem,” Ateek stated. Trump’s “blunder…just gave Jerusalem on a silver platter to one religion, to one group, and totally disregarded the specialness, the holiness of the city of Jerusalem to the Muslims and to the Christians.” Ateek did not explain how Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem, the city’s historically most tolerant governance, far more liberal than any Jordanian or Palestinian administration of the Holy Land, infringed upon Christian and Muslim holy sites.
Before a small audience of about 20 the next day, Jerusalem Fund director Mohamed Mohamed continued Ateek’s theme while introducing his panel. Mohamed stated that Trump’s Jerusalem decision will “erase the rights of Palestinian Muslims and Christians” and referenced Jerusalem’s international corpus separatum status under the 1947 United Nations Palestine partition plan. He ignored the fact that this temporary status was to precede Jerusalem’s (and its Bethlehem district’s) ultimate disposition in a referendum among Jerusalem’s Jewish-majority population, who presumably favored Israel.
Ateek’s views on Jerusalem coalesced with his fanciful claims to his sympathetic listeners that Arabs such as he consistently opposed Israel nonviolently. At St. John’s, he stated that recent Gaza riots incited by Hamas as cover for terrorism against Israel appeared to him to be peaceful protests, in which “thousands of Palestinians have been killed and wounded because they were defending their right for Jerusalem.” “We don’t believe that we can champion in any way violent revolutions or violent resistance,” he said the next day. This is rich coming from an author of the 2009 Kairos Palestine Declaration, with its praise for Palestinian terrorists who “have given their life for our nation.”
Ateek’s fellow speaker, FOSNA Executive Director Tarek Abuata, outdid Ateek by whitewashing a century of Arab terror against Zionism with analogies to the American civil rights movement and Mahatma Gandhi. At St. John’s, Abuata referenced the landmark 1965 civil rights march over Selma, Alabama’s Edmund Pettus Bridge, and said that “Gaza and justice in Palestine is the Edmund Pettus Bridge of our day.” Seemingly wanting to sing “We Shall Overcome” with Hamas jihadists recently killed by Israeli forces, he decried that in the “past two days of the Gaza murders, the appalling silence of a lot of our churches has been deafening.” Given that the Episcopal Church has rejected BDS, despite the wishes of many at St. John’s, he stated that “sadly the Episcopalian Church is behind on divesting.”
The next day at the Jerusalem Fund, Abuata ludicrously claimed that nonviolence “has been practiced for the past 100 years by Palestinians,” as if Muslim Arab collaboration with the Nazis against Jews never existed. He recalled that Congressman Steny Hoyer once asked Abuata about the Palestinians, “Where are your Gandhis? Well, 60 of them were shot in the past two days.” “If you are not with Palestinian justice and prophetic action now, you would not have stood with Martin Luther King” during the civil rights movement, Abuata scandalously claimed. Like Ateek, Abuata slandered Zionism as opposing an “anti-racist God that is inclusive of all.”
In contrast to a supposedly peaceful Muslim-majority Palestinian population, Christian Zionists were characterized by Ateek and his fellow Jerusalem Fund speakers as “extremist Christians.” The speakers highlighted the outlandish beliefs of various Christian Zionist individuals in order to create a strawman caricature of Zionist thinking, which actually has a respectable and broad-based tradition in Christian history. Mohamed stated that “powerful Christian Zionists work to foster Armageddon and the destruction of both rival religions” of Judaism and Islam. Meanwhile, Ateek continued his de-Judaizing of the Bible by discussing how the Judean Jew Jesus, who lived long before the name Palestine existed, was a “Palestinian living under foreign occupation.”
Joining Abuata and Ateek at the Jerusalem Fund, the David Duke-endorsed crank Max Blumenthal similarly defamed Zionism as simply an accessory to antisemitism. Zionism, he stated, is a
collaboration between anti-Semites in the West, who would like a West free of Jews, and traditional Zionists who believe that antisemitism is actually a force that can help propel Jews into making Aliyah or emigrating to the Holy Land and helping drive this project of colonization.
For Blumenthal, such Zionist perfidy continued today, as the “Jewish world is in a moral freefall because of Zionism” and its role in “Western empire.” In particular, the “weapons industry in the U.S. relies on this special relationship with Israel,” in which Israeli Jewish soldiers “are being incentivized to kill in order to increase profits.” The audience laughed when he noted his libelous comparison of genocidal jihadists in the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) with Israel, the “Jewish State of Israel in the Levant” (JSIL).
Blumenthal preached to the choir, including not only France, but also his CDCJ and FOSNA colleagues Thomas Getman and Paul Verduin, as well as the CATO Institute’s “libertarian for sharia” Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad. One regular Jerusalem Fund attendee, an older Arab Christian man from Nazareth, Israel, reiterated his usual refusal to say the name Israel. “Our country was occupied and we called it something else. I don’t want to even talk about that. So Palestine is now occupied Palestine,” and “that’s the only way we should pass the word to everyone,” he stated.
Ateek’s Washington, DC, speaking tour makes perfectly clear why, as he noted at St. John’s, synagogues consistently refuse to host him as a speaker, despite his myopic protestations that “I am not ant-Semitic.” Nevertheless, he deserves scrutiny from critics who enter his partisan rallies of the anti-Israel faithful, no matter how displeasing his allied zealots find such increasingly identifiable ideological interlopers. One woman at St. John’s purposely sat in a crowded pew next to this author as he was typing notes on his laptop, and suspiciously asked, “Is this going to go on Jihad Watch?” Yes.