Palestinian priest accused of spreading anti-Semitism in Canada

Rev. Naim Ateek (Igo Corbière photo)

B’nai Brith Canada is expressing concern over Rev. Naim Ateek, a Palestinian Anglican priest who’s been touring Canada to promote his book, and who the organization is accusing of using anti-Semitic rhetoric. But not everyone agrees.

B’nai Brith filed a complaint with the Canada Revenue Agency, after learning that Canadian Friends of Sebeel (COFS), a registered charity, is promoting and selling Rev. Ateek’s book, A Palestinian Theology of Justice, which B’nai Brith says “contains blatant anti-Semitic falsehoods,” in order to fund his speaking tour.

“Taxpayer dollars should not, and cannot, be used to subsidize anti-Semitism,” said B’nai Brith Canada CEO Michael Mostyn, referring to the fact that charities are tax-exempt. “Promoting anti-Semitic material is an abuse of the moral authority that comes with having a charitable license.”

In a press release sent out on April 27, B’nai Brith said that Rev. Ateek asserted that, “According to halakhah (Jewish law), the killing by a Jew of a non-Jew under any circumstances is not regarded as murder,” while speaking at the Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg.

Others have contested B’nai Brith’s presentation of Rev. Ateek’s lecture, however.

“I attended Naim Ateek’s presentation of this same lecture in Abbotsford, B.C.,” said Sid Shniad, a member of the national steering committee of Independent Jewish Voices Canada (IJV). “Ateek quoted a passage written by Allan Brownfield of the American Council for Judaism, citing Israeli settlers’ interpretation of halakhah to mean that the killing by a Jew of a non-Jew does not constitute murder.”

Taxpayer dollars should not, and cannot, be used to subsidize anti-Semitism.
– Michael Mostyn

“Ateek did not endorse this position,” Schniad continued. “In fact, Ateek used citations from Jewish religious sources to rebut it, arguing that a more inclusive ethic exists in Jewish religious literature, one that could be used to create one country for both Jews and Palestinians.… You may not agree with his position, but it is not anti-Semitic.”

“B’nai Brith’s accusations are entirely, demonstrably unfounded and indeed defamatory in the strictest sense of the word,” CFOS wrote in an email to The CJN. “These are contentious questions. The tour is intended to encourage discussion and debate, and we welcome reasoned criticism. However, the allegation that Rev. Ateek harbours, or has expressed, bigotry, reflects a rigid hostility to Palestinian voices for non-violent resistance, not any good faith opinion in face of the reality of his career and message.”

B’nai Brith stood by its original comments. “Anyone suggesting that this book is credible either hasn’t read it, or has no understanding of the source material,” said Mostyn.

Rev. Ateek’s book attempts to frame the struggle for Palestinian rights as a biblical fight for justice. In one chapter, he argues that some Jewish texts embody a political vision that is being used to justify injustice towards non-Jews in the Holy Land by “fundamentalists.” He cites examples of rabbis in modern-day Israel who use scripture to justify the killing or expulsion of Arabs. He then cites texts from the Hebrew Bible, which can be used to foster peace, including passages from the books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Jonah.

The arguments presented in the book are aimed primarily at a Christian audience. Rev. Ateek hopes to inspire Palestinian Christians to embrace non-violence and to convince non-Palestinian Christians that the vision of one country for Jews and Palestinians better represents biblical justice than Christian Zionism.

Rev. Ateek has supported both a two-state and a one-state solution at different times and supports BDS, but he has also made his opposition to Palestinian violence clear. His book lists the “dimensions of justice” to healing the conflict: love, mercy, truth, security, nonviolence, peace, reconciliation (the repair of unjust relations between Israelis and Palestinians) and forgiveness (“when forgiveness is offered and received, full liberation takes place and both parties are set free”). Addressing acts of violence against Israelis, he writes that, “These acts by desperate young people will not contribute to the liberation of Palestine. Every time we pick up a knife, fire a shot, turn a car into a weapon or fire a missile from Gaza into Israel, we act foolishly.”

Rev. Ateek has been heavily criticized by “pro-Israel” groups for decades. He is often associated with a notorious sermon he gave in 2001, in which he compared Palestinians to the crucified Christ who had suffered at the hands of “powers” in ancient Israel, saying that “the Israeli government crucifixion system is operating daily.” This prompted accusations that he was accusing Jews of the ancient anti-Semitic charge of being “Christ-killers.”

B’nai Brith’s accusations are entirely, demonstrably unfounded.
– Canadian Friends of Sebeel

Writing in the Huffington Post in 2012, Rev. Ateek stated that he considered Judaism “a living and valid faith worthy of our full respect.” He argued that he had “said that Jesus suffered ‘at the hands of evil political and religious powers 2,000 years ago.’ This is a careful and precise statement. In all of my preaching on this topic, I have never singled out Jews as killers of Jesus. I always refer to the Roman authorities in collusion with religious leaders. And I certainly have never suggested the abhorrent idea that Jews bear collective responsibility for the death of Jesus.”

“Racism, prejudice and discrimination still exist in the world,” Rev. Ateek concluded, “and the Jews have endured the longest continuous manifestation of this racism. I have written that we, as Palestinians, should face Israel candidly and say that we are appalled by the Holocaust, that we should open our hearts and with a new, magnanimous attitude, we should say to the Jews, ‘We will accept you and share the land with you. You have suffered for so long. Come share our land. This is God’s land. We will live in it together as brothers and sisters.’ ”