Jonathan Sacks, preacher of Israeli hasbara

Jonathan Sacks

“When ancient theologies are used for modern political ends…” (Gospel according to Rabbi Lord Sacks)

By Stuart Littlewood

In a House of Lords debate on the Middle East the other day Lord Risby, who opened proceedings, set the tone and spoke of moving to “a final acceptance of the Palestinian reality”. He reminded the House that he and other members had written an open letter calling for the formal recognition of Palestine by the United

The former chief rabbi in the UK, Jonathan Sacks, got up and made a speech I found so preposterous that I reproduce it here in full.

“A very dangerous language indeed”

30 Oct 2014: Column 1332

Lord Sacks: My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Risby, for initiating this important debate. At the outset I declare an interest: I am a Jew. Israel is therefore for me the place where my people were born almost 4,000 years ago; the place to which Abraham and Sarah travelled; where Amos voiced his vision of social justice and Isaiah dreamt of a world at peace; where David composed the Psalms and Solomon built the Temple. This had consequences not only for Jews but also for Christians and Muslims, who claim Abraham as their ancestor in faith, and whose God they take as their own.

This had tragic repercussions throughout the Middle Ages, because Christians and Muslims claimed, each in their own way, to have replaced Jews as the people of God and thus as heirs to the Holy Land. The otherwise saintly Augustine declared that Jews were cursed with the fate of Cain, destined to be restless wanderers on earth without a home. Islam held that any land that ever came under Muslim rule was henceforth and forever Dar al-Islam: that is, land that rightly belongs to the umma, the Muslim people, with any other rule being illegitimate. On both of these theologies, Jews had no right to their ancestral home.

A half-century ago, these theologies would have been considered irrelevant. The West had moved on. After a century of religious wars following the Reformation, it recognised the need for the secularisation of power. This allowed the United Nations, in the partition vote of 1947, to grant Jews the right to a nation state of their own after 2,000 years of exile and persecution. Eventually, there were peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan and an intensive process with the Palestinians. When power is secularised, peace is possible.

Today, though, throughout the Middle East and parts of Asia and Africa, a seismic shift is taking place in the opposite direction. People are desecularising. They feel betrayed by secular nationalist governments who failed to deliver prosperity and national pride. They consider the national boundaries imposed by colonial powers to be artificial and obsolete. They are uninspired by the secular culture of the West, with its maximum of choice and minimum of meaning. They have come to believe that salvation lies in a return to the Islam that bestrode the narrow world like a colossus for the better part of 1,000 years.

Although their faith is hostile to modernity, they sometimes understand modernity better than its own creators in the West. They know that because of the internet, YouTube and the social media, communication – indeed politics – has gone global; they also know that the great monotheisms are the most powerful global communities in the world, far broader and deeper in their reach than any nation state. The religious radicals are offering young people the chance to fight and die for their faith, winning glory on earth and immortality in heaven. They have started recruiting in the West and they have only just begun.

When ancient theologies are used for modern political ends, they speak a very dangerous language indeed. So, for example, Hamas and Hezbollah, both self-defined as religious movements, refuse to recognise the legitimacy of the state of Israel within any boundaries whatever and seek only its complete destruction.

The Islamists also know that the only way they can win the sympathy of the West is by demonising Israel. They know that you cannot win support for ISIS, Boko Haram or Islamic Jihad, but if you can blame Israel you will gain the support of academics, unions and parts of the media, and you will distract attention from the massacres in Syria and Iraq, the slow descent of other countries into chaos and the ethnic cleansing of Christians throughout the region. They are thus repeating the very failure of the regimes they have risen against, which for 50 years suppressed dissent by demonising Israel as the cause of everything wrong in the Arab or Islamic world. When you blame others for your failures you harm not only those others but yourself and your people. To be free, you have to let go of hate. If you let hate speech infect the West, as has already happened in some of our campuses, prisons and schools, then our freedom, too, will be at risk.

I and the vast majority of the Jewish community care deeply about the future of the Palestinians. We want Palestinian children, no less than Israeli children, to have a future of peace, prosperity, freedom and hope. That is why we oppose those who teach Palestinian children to hate those with whom they will one day have to live. We oppose those who take money given for humanitarian aid and use it to buy weapons and dig tunnels to take the region back to a dark age of barbarism.

More generally, we say in the name of the God of Abraham – the almighty, merciful and compassionate God – that the religion in whose name atrocities are being carried out, innocent people butchered and beheaded, children treated as slaves, civilians turned into human shields and young people into weapons of self-destruction, is not the Islam that once earned the admiration of the world: nor is its God the God of Abraham. It was Nietzsche, not the prophets, who worshipped the will to power. It was Machiavelli, not sacred scripture, who taught that it is better to be feared than to be loved.

Every religion must wrestle with its dark angels, and so today must we: Jews, Christians and Muslims alike. For we are all children of Abraham, and only when we make space for one another as brothers and sisters will we redeem the world from darkness and walk together in the light of God.

Rabbinical distortions

Israel, said Rabbi Sacks, is the place where his people were born almost 4,000 years ago. I read somewhere that Sacks himself is an Ashkenazi. Can he demonstrate direct blood ties to the ancient Holy Land? Most Palestinians can, I believe. Zionists distort the scriptures to claim Jerusalem is theirs by divine right, but it was already 2,000 years old and an established, fortified city when King David captured it. Its name is derived from Uru-Shalem, meaning “founded by Shalem” [the Canaanite God of Dusk].

Until the present illegal occupation the Jews had only controlled Jerusalem for some 500 years, small beer compared to the 1,277 years it was subsequently ruled by Muslims and the 2,000 years, or thereabouts, it originally belonged to the Canaanites.

The Jews lost Jerusalem to the Babylonians, recaptured it, then lost it again to the Roman Empire in 63 BC. When they rebelled Hadrian threw them out in 135. Until the present illegal occupation the Jews had only controlled Jerusalem for some 500 years, small beer compared to the 1,277 years it was subsequently ruled by Muslims and the 2,000 years, or thereabouts, it originally belonged to the Canaanites.

Jerusalem was also a Christian city. The 4th century saw the building of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The Persians came and went. Then, after the Islamic conquest in 690, two major shrines were constructed over the ruins of the earlier temples – the Dome of the Rock, from which Muhammed is said to have ascended to Heaven, and the Al-Aqsa Mosque. The Crusaders retook Jerusalem in 1099 and The Temple Mount became the headquarters of the Knights Templar. In 1187 Saladin ended the Crusader Kingdom and restored the city to Islam while allowing Jews and Christians to remain if they wished.

As the saying goes, “None has claim. All have claim!”

Lord Sacks, an ardent promoter of the Jewish religion, the Jewish state and the idea that God gave Jews exclusive title to Jerusalem, seemed oblivious to the irony of his speech, especially where he said: “When ancient theologies are used for modern political ends, they speak a very dangerous language indeed.”

In answer to the babble put out by Zionist propagandists, including Christians, church leaders in the Holy Land issued their 2006 Jerusalem Declaration saying:

We categorically reject Christian Zionist doctrines as false teaching that corrupts the biblical message of love, justice and reconciliation.

We further reject the contemporary alliance of Christian Zionist leaders and organisations with elements in the governments of Israel and the United States that are presently imposing their unilateral pre-emptive borders and domination over Palestine… We reject the teachings of Christian Zionism that facilitate and support these policies as they advance racial exclusivity and perpetual war rather than the gospel of universal love, redemption and reconciliation.

Sacks also complained that Hamas and Hezbollah, self-defined as religious movements, “refuse to recognise the legitimacy of the state of Israel within any boundaries whatever and seek only its complete destruction”. This demonisation of Hamas and Hezbollah is wrong-headed and all the more so when Israel’s hands are unclean. The world and his dog know that Hamas has agreed to a long-term truce with Israel provided it ends the illegal occupation, gets back behind its 1967 borders and accepts the refugees’ right of return – all as per UN resolutions and subject to a Palestinian referendum. Hezbollah, as Sacks knows perfectly well, was formed to resist the Israeli occupation of Lebanon after the 1982 war.

Israelis may not behead innocent Palestinians but they sure as hell butcher them in huge numbers with high-tech weaponry paid for by America, then whine when their victims hit back with whatever unsophisticated devices they can lay hands on…

Was he trying to be funny when he said the Islamists know that “the only way they can win the sympathy of the West is by demonising Israel”? The Israeli regime does a first-rate job of demonising itself by its lawless, brutal conduct, and by taking billions of American taxpayers’ dollars and purchasing weapons of horrific destruction to inflict death and misery on its neighbours. Israelis may not behead innocent Palestinians but they sure as hell butcher them in huge numbers with high-tech weaponry paid for by America, then whine when their victims hit back with whatever unsophisticated devices they can lay hands on, probably paid for by Iran.

And Sacks said we must “make space for one another as brothers and sisters” just as his own brethren were shutting down the Al-Aqsa Mosque. How does his remark square with the vast majority of Palestinian Muslims and Christians having been prevented for decades from visiting their holy places in the Old City?

He even said his people “care deeply” about the future of the Palestinians and their children and oppose those who teach the children to hate. To show how much they care, they have kept the Palestinians under brutal military occupation for decades, blockaded them, obstructed every aspect of their lives, thieved their property, imprisoned them without trial and, in the case of Gaza particularly, half starved them and created mass homelessness.

As Amnesty International’s new report, Families under the Rubble, states in the very first paragraph, “Israeli air strikes during Israel’s recent military operation in the Gaza Strip, Operation Protective Edge, targeted inhabited multi-storey family homes. Whole families, including many women and children, were killed or injured by these targeted strikes and, in addition, there was extensive destruction of civilian property.” What was that about teaching to hate?

Amnesty International provides this timely reminder:

As regards the destruction of entire homes, including apartment buildings, the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention regulates Israel’s actions as the occupying power in the Gaza Strip. Article 53 provides that: “Any destruction by the Occupying Power of real or personal property belonging individually or collectively to private persons, or to the State, or to other public authorities, or to social or cooperative organisations, is prohibited, except where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations.”

According to Article 147 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, “extensive destruction and appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly”, is a grave breach of the Convention, and thus a war crime.

Among its recommendations, the Amnesty International reports calls on the international community to support the International Criminal Court’s exercise of jurisdiction over Palestinian territory. “The UN Security Council should refer the situation in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court to investigate crimes under international law by all parties to the conflict.”

Nowhere in his speech did Lord Sacks, described by the Prince of Wales as a “light unto this nation”, address and illuminate the main question of British recognition of Palestinian statehood. Nowhere did he recommend the jackboot of oppression be immediately removed and the Palestinians granted their human rights and their freedom. That would surely have been the Christian position and, I imagine, the true Jewish one. It is certainly the British position (although our Zionist prime minister and the weaklings he has surrounded himself with are still dragging their feet). It is what the rabbi failed to say on this important occasion that makes me wonder whether he’s an instrument of God or just another preacher of Israeli hasbara.

Meanwhile, as the Jerusalem Declaration points out,

discriminative actions [by the occupation] are turning Palestine into impoverished ghettos surrounded by exclusive Israeli settlements. The establishment of the illegal settlements and the construction of the Separation Wall on confiscated Palestinian land undermines the viability of a Palestinian state as well as peace and security in the entire region.

Nothing has changed for the better since 2006; it has got steadily worse.

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