Monday, April 18, 2016

America and Israel's Original Sin


John Kleinheksel’s report on the KUSA/FOSNA Chicago conference, April 14-16, 2016

Jim Wallis is right, but let me expand on it. Racism is not only America’s original sin; it is the sin of every ethnic group that wants to view the world from “our” perspective only. American Caucasians (“white privilege”) do it. Afro-Americans do it. Palestinians do it; Israelis do it.

We take what is only part of the whole and make it the whole ball of cheese, excluding the other existing parts. It’s called idolatry. What will it take for separate ethnic groups to see the greater whole and work for an integrated society?

That was the chief question Kairos USA and Friends of SABEEL North America (FOSNA) had us address on April 14-16, 2016, on the campus of Garrett Evangelical Seminary in the heart of Northwestern University, Evanston, IL.

I joined Western Seminarians Jenna Harms and Mark Mares to see the parallels between the deaths of African-Americans in Ferguson, Baltimore, Charleston, Oakland and Chicago; and the deaths of Arab Palestinians in Gaza, Beit Liqya and Jerusalem. The conference exposed the similarity of militarized force against civilian blacks and Palestinians in the occupied territories.

Professor Stephen Ray (an African-American from Garrett Seminary) kicked off the colloquy by helping us see that modern states are racially based and self-protective. Rabbi Brant Rosen (a Reconstructionist Jew from Evanston) insisted that 19th Century European nationalism hijacked Judaism to colonize and replace the indigenous people of Palestine. He appealed to fellow Jews to follow the “Exodus God” (deliverance from captivity), instead of the “Conqueror God” adopted by the settler movement in Israel today. For an elaboration of this theme, read Jewish dissident Robert Cohen’s blog here:

Many speakers pointed out that the ethnic group in control thinks they are the only ones with the right to use violence. For those in control, even those who “resist” have no right even to nonviolent resistance. Rev. Iva Carruthers, one of the mothers of the resistance movement in Chicago lifted the phrase of Eric Garner (“I can’t breathe”) to mythic proportions, making it a metaphor for the oppressed of every land. White privilege in the US and the Israel Defense Force (IDF) in Israel paint law enforcement as under attack and unjustly maligned. More sensitive Americans (and Israelis) have come to realize there is more to it than that.

At the end of the conference, Dr. Beth Corrie led the participants in examining: “Where do we go from here?” After sharing her resolve personally to read more Afro-American literature empathetically, during the silence she provided, I resolved to look at and admit my own complacency with “white privilege”. When Dr. Corrie gave 15 minutes to groups of 2 or 3 persons to discuss how to live going forward, it was a perfect space and time for Mark, Jenna and me to talk.

We agreed to hold each other accountable in learning more about minority points of view in W. MI. Classis Holland (Reformed Church in America) held a Black Lives Matter event recently which I blew off.

We pledged to work with Kairos West Michigan (KWM) to bring the valid Palestinian narrative to US consciousness so the grassroots will finally lift the heavy concrete of Congress and the White House off its AIPAC-inspired unquestioning support of Israel.

New director of FOSNA, Palestinian Tarek Abuata closed the conference with the challenge to see Palestinian suffering as the speck of sand in the Israeli oyster that will fashion a Pearl of Great Price as an end result. He pointed out that when Palestinian civil society called in 2006 for BDS (boycotts, divestment and sanctions) it was not even on the US computer screen. Such actions are now being discussed even in the Main Stream Media (MSM) and even among Jewish students in colleges and universities (with some successes, as with G4S vowing to suspend operations in the West Bank).

We in KUSA and FOSNA agree that it is misreading Hebrew and New Testament scriptures to equate the modern Jewish State with God’s supposed promise of land to a reconstituted Israel. For Jesus of Nazareth, re-installing the Jewish (tribal) state was never the goal of the Kingdom of God he was ushering in (read Acts of the Apostles).

Tarek Abuata concluded his stirring challenge this way: “Jews will often remark, ‘You Palestinians are a demographic threat to us. You want to overwhelm us’”; to which Mr. Abuata replied: “What do you think you Jews have become to us? You have truly been a demographic and nationalistic threat to the existence of Arab Palestinians!”

Rabbi Brant Rosen’s blog is “Shalom Rav”. A link to his latest entry is here:

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Seminary Student Isr/Pal Report

Dear Friend,
Plan on attending the Seminary students' report on their findings in Isr/Pal last month!

Western Seminary, Semmelink Hall, 7:00 - 8:30 p.m., Thursday, February 18, 2016 (College Ave and 13th Street)

After hearing six reports, we'll subdivide into six groups for more intensive Q and A

Thanks to Marlin and Sally Vis and Prof. Travis West who gave guidance and will report too.

We strongly desire fresh, accurate assessment of the facts and attitudes on the ground in our region. Don't miss it! JRK

Sunday, January 10, 2016

"I Refuse to Serve in the IDF!"

This Sunday, [January 10, 2016] there is a call to stand in solidarity with a woman inducted into the IDF (Israeli Defense Force).

Here's the story: Tair Kaminer, a 19-year Israeli, got a call up order, requesting her to show up at the Israeli Army Induction Center ("Bakum") in Tel Hashomer, east of Tel Aviv, on 12pm, Sunday, January 10, 2016.

She does intend to show up at the stipulated time and place, but not in order to embark on the two years of obligatory military service required of girls under Israeli law. Instead, she will inform the recruiting officers of her refusal to become part of an army of occupation and oppression, whereupon, most likely, she will be sent to the military prison [From: Hanna Beit Halachmi , the publicist for Gush Shalom (Adam Keller and Uri Avnery).]

Here is her story:

Why I Refuse - Tair Kaminer's statement

My name is Tair Kaminer, I am 19. A few months ago a ended a year of volunteering with the Israeli Boy and Girl Scouts in the town of Sderot, on the Gaza Strip border. In a few days, I will be going to jail.

An entire year I volunteered in Sderot, working with children living in a war zone, and it was there that I decided to refuse to serve in the Israeli military. My refusal comes from my will to make a contribution to the society of which I am a part and make this a better place to live, from my commitment to the struggle for peace and equality.

The children I worked with grew up in the heart of the conflict, and went through traumatic experiences from a young age. In many of them, this has generated a terrible hatred - which is quite understandable, especially in young children. Like them, many of the children living in the Gaza Strip and the rest of the Occupied Palestinian Territories, in an even more harsh reality, learn to hate the other side. They, too, cannot be blamed. When I look at all these children, at the next generation of both sides and the reality in which they live, I can but see the continuation of trauma and pain. And I say: Enough!

For years now there’s no political horizon, no peace process anywhere in sight. There’s no attempt of any kind to bring peace to Gaza or to Sderot. As long as the violent military way holds sway, we will simply have further generations growing up with a heritage of hate, which will only make things even worse. We must stop this - now!

This is why I am refusing: I will not take an active part in the occupation of the Palestinian Territories and in the injustice to the Palestinian people that is perpetrated again and again under this occupation. I will not take part in the cycle of hatred in Gaza and Sderot.

My draft date is/was set for January 10th, 2016. On that day I will report to the Tel Hashomer Induction Center, to declare my refusal to serve in the military, and my willingness to do an alternative civil service.

In conversation with some people I care about I’ve been accused of undermining democracy, though my refusal to abide by the laws which were enacted by an elected Parliament. But the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories live under the rule of the Government of Israel, though they had no voice whatsoever in electing that government. I believe that as long as Israel continues to be an occupying country, it will continue moving further and further away from from democracy.Therefore, my refusal is part of the struggle for democracy [and is] not an anti-democratic act.

I have been told that I am avoiding my responsibility for the security of Israel. But as a woman who regards all people as equal - and all their lives as equally important - I cannot accept the security argument as applying to Jews only . Especially now, as the wave or terror continues, when it becomes clear and evident that the military cannot ensure protection to the Jews, either. It is very simple - one cannot create an island of security in the midst of an oppressive occupation. True security can be created only when the Palestinian people live in freedom and dignity, in their own an independent state alongside Israel.

There were those who worried about my personal future in a country in which performing military service is held to be of supreme importance in the fabric of daily social intercourse. Caring for my future prospects, they suggested that I do serve in the army, regardless of my opinions - or at least that I don't make my refusal public. But through all the difficulties and worries, I chose to declare my refusal openly, for all to hear. This country, this society, are too important to me - I cannot and will not agree to keep silent. That was not the way I was brought up, to care only for myself and my private concerns. The life I had until now has been about giving and social responsibility, and such I want it to continue.

Even if I must pay a personal price for my refusal, this price will be worthwhile if it to helps place the occupation on the agenda of Israeli public discourse. Far too many Israelis don’t directly feel the occupation, and they tend to forget about it in their daily lives - lives that are eminently safe in comparison with those of Palestinians, or even of the Israelis who live in the Western Negev (Gaza border area)
We are told that there is no way other than the violent military way. But I believe that this is the most destructive way, and that there are others. I wish to remind all of us that there does exist an alternative: negotiations, peace, optimism, a true will to live in equality, safety and freedom. We are told that the military is not a political institution - but the decision to serve in the military is a highly political one, no less so than the decision to refuse.

We, the young people, must understand the full implications of such a choice. We need to understand its consequences for our society. After having deliberated these issues, I took the decision to refuse. I am not scared of the military prison - what truly frightens me is our society losing its humanity.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Forward into 2016

Dear Friend,

A new group of 40 Western Seminary students has left this weekend for I/P, under the direction of Marlin and Sally Vis and our (emerging) KWM Board President, Travis West, a professor of Hebrew at the Seminary.
Your/our Board will be gathering to chart our future on Monday, January 18. Pray we will have clarity, forward momentum and energy to persist in bringing about greater justice (with love) to the indigenous people of the land, the Arab Palestinians.
For years, I have been reading the outlook of Robert Cohen, a Jewish activist in the UK (marrried to an woman, who is an Anglican priest). Below is his New Year's "Manifesto".
Read it and stay tuned to our efforts to continue the struggle into 2016. Several of you have made year-end donations to the KWM cause and for that we give you hearty thanks. We are a 501c3 corporation (Checks to 296 Timber Lake Dr, E, Holland, MI, 49424).

My five point 2016 manifesto as a dissident, rebellious and awkward Jew

January 3, 2016 by Robert A. H. Cohen

I’m setting out my stall for the year as a digital Jewish activist focusing on Israel/Palestine.
Whether I like it or not, my religion, identity and cultural inheritance means this particular conflict is my problem. I can either attempt to ignore it (not easy) or do something about it (also not easy).
So, here’s my personal manifesto as a dissident, rebellious and awkward Jew in 2016.

1. Challenge the deniers –
I hear and read the following sentiments a great deal:
Jews committing atrocities? No way! How could that be? Maybe the odd fanatic or hothead but every nation has that problem. Israel has the most moral army in the world and we are the only democracy in a tough neighbourhood. All we have tried to do is build a nation to give us safety and security. And all we have received in return for our efforts is hatred and terror.

A Jewish State insisting on enduring innocence and eternal victimhood looks less and less tenable as each year goes by. As does the uncritical support of Israel by Jewish communal and faith leaders around the world. But it’s still a remarkably tenacious mind-set.
I’m reminded of this quote from Martin Luther King:
Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.

As the evidence keeps stacking up that something is rotting in the soul of Judaism the denial gets deeper and deeper. And that makes the possibility of taking a new direction harder by the day.

So this year I will continue to call out the truth deniers, the Israel right or wrong brigade, the head in the sand people, the innocence & victimhood junkies. I will keep reminding them that there is an occupation, there is a siege, there is stolen land, there is one law for them and one for us, there is collective punishment, there are stateless refugees that we created. There maybe two sides in this but only our side has political and military power and international protection. Israel may be a democracy but it’s a partial one and a failing one.

I will keep repeating all of this in the hope that the failed consensus continues to crumble
2. Pursue peace with justice –
There’s a lot of talk about wanting peace, especially on the Jewish side of things. I’m thinking of all those pro-Israel rallies organised by Jewish leadership groups where the crowds hold placards saying: Yes to Peace/No to Terror. There you have the whole false dichotomy in a single slogan. We are peace loving, they are hateful. They teach their children to hate, we teach ours to love. If that’s your starting point for making peace and your framework for the conflict then peace is a very long way off and you have some serious homework to do. If you think that Jews are not culpable for what has happened to the Palestinian people you are not ready to make peace.

So I will write with the aim of pursuing a just peace, one that will undoubtedly mean compromises on both sides, but a peace that means more than merely ‘quiet’.

3. Support Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) –

If you’ve spotted a better non-violent means of shifting the political dynamics on Israel/Palestine (even just a tiny bit) then let me know urgently. There’s been no diplomatic peace process worthy of the name for the last dozen years or more. Containment, creeping annexation and slow-motion ethnic cleansing are Israel’s preferred policy approaches. Remember, BDS is a tactic not a religion. It may just work in this situation, don’t bother trying it with ISIS. And by the way, campaigning for human rights for Palestinians is not anti-Jewish, but denying a people human rights certainly is.
So I’m sticking with this strategy…it’s better than knives, guns and suicide bombs. You can read more on my argument for Jewish BDS here.

4. Occupy Judaism –

Perhaps it’s all over for the Judaism that stood for kindness, justice and walking humbly with God. We seem to have swapped all our ploughshares for shiny swords. I hope not but the signs aren’t good. However, we have a mighty big Jewish storehouse of ethical thinking and prophetic action gifted to us across the millennia. We will need to draw on it to find our way back (and forward) from the current moral cul-de-sac we have run down. Judaism mixed with nationalism has brought us to this point in our history, I like to think that Judaism will also show us a way out. I will keep reminding myself and others of that fact.

5. Keep a sense of proportion and a sense of humour

It’s rather bleak out there right now with no sign of things improving in 2016. In fact I suspect things will get a lot worse before they ever get better. So I’ll be looking for things to celebrate. Small successes, minor victories. Hopefully these things make a difference, eventually. And if there’s occasionally something to smile and laugh about that’s important too.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

A Season's Gift from Kairos W. Michigan (KWM)

Dear Friend,
Enclosed is the link to Mark Braverman's address at Christ Memorial on November 9, 2015.

It is a two-fold blessing:

1) The first 12 minutes is an explanation (by Mike Spath, our partner from Fort Wayne), of the Kairos movement. His short, potent & informative overview of the historical antecedents to our movement can be used to explain Kairos W. MI to your friends, your church, your church mission's board, for group study (in a class for discussion); or, to archive for later use.

2) Mark's address is just under an hour. It's a personal, comprehensive, and uncompromising call for dismantling the Zionist vision of an ethno-centric Jewish state that intentionally marginalizes the indigenous Palestinians. Not very popular; nor politically correct--he and we understand that.

Mark Braverman is a brave, modern Jewish prophet who addresses the blind-spots of the current Israeli Nation. The Kairos movement seeks to energize and mobilize American ecumenical/evangelical churches to advocate and take actions for justice for the Arab Palestinians. We think this will mean taking steps to advocate with our government to insist on American values when granting aid to the Israeli State.

For those of you still with this post, my wife Sharon and I left for Australia on the day Mr. Braverman left town for Kalamazoo. This is my first attempt to be in touch with you since our return a few days ago. (Our youngest daughter and her husband have our two youngest grands, 14 and 10 and live in Melbourne, Australia. We had a great time!

Your Kairos W. MI Board will be assessing Mark's visit and be making decisions about how we proceed from here. Faithfully yours, (Rev.) John Kleinheksel for KWM

John for Kairos West Michigan ()
From indifference to any truth; from cowardice that shrinks from new truth;
from laziness content with half truth; and from the arrogance that thinks it knows the whole truth,
O God of Truth, deliver us!

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Report on Fr Chacour's Visit!

What an afternoon and evening in West Michigan, USA, with a visit from Fr. Elias Chacour two days ago! (All Blood Brothers books were sold out!)

134 Hope and Western Seminary students (and a smattering of community folk) gathered at the College; and 275-300 people of all ages came to hear and meet him this gentle but forceful spiritual giant at St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church in the evening.

What a Kairos moment, given the crisis for Christian schools in Israel/Palestine as we sought to listen and learn. Joan Deming introduced Abuna's story (go to for more on the Mar Elias Educational Institutions (MEEI). A Free-will offering of around $500 was donated to POI (Pilgrims of Ibillin).

Thank you to St. Francis (and Fr Charlie Brown) for hosting the evening event and making Fr Chacour's presentation there available on YouTube (Here is the link: (Many of us had trouble hearing the presentation, so this is the way to really listen in).

Hearing the discouraging update by Fr Chacour, many were led to ask, "What can I/we do?"

Joan Deming, Executive Director of Pilgrims of Ibillin, is suggesting the following letter be sent to Israeli US Ambassador Ron Dermer, which I strongly urge you to write:

Date ______________________

The Honorable Ron Dermer, (Israel’s Ambassador to the United States)
Embassy of Israel
3514 International Drive N.W.
Washington D.C. 20008

Dear Mr. Dermer,

I am writing to object strongly to the deep subsidy cuts imposed by Israel’s Ministry of Education on Christian schools in the State of Israel, mostly in the region of Galilee. After many years of incremental cuts, the current level of support for these schools is untenable at just 29% of what government schools receive. The cuts have left these excellent Christian schools in dire financial condition, threatening their continued existence, while the comparable “religious and unofficial” Jewish Schools have 100% of their financial needs met by Ministry of Education subsidies.

The forty-seven Christian Schools of Israel are among your nation’s finest schools, and graduates of these schools give exceptional service and leadership as citizens within Israel and around the world. The students enrolled in these schools deserve equal respect and support with all other Israeli students. The schools they attend merit full support – not in the form of one-time bonuses or favors, but as dependable subsidies, equal to all other schools.

As an American and a Christian who cares deeply, together with many other American citizens, about all the people of the Holy Land, I see this crisis of increasingly restricted funding as unnecessary and punitive against the Christian minority in Israel. I would like to believe that Israel, as a democracy and a country that proclaims religious freedom for all citizens, is better than these funding cuts indicate.

Therefore, I strongly request that the Israeli Ministry of Education immediately comply with the law and restore government funding for all Christian Schools to levels equal to the subsidies given to all other “religious and unofficial” schools in Israel.

Respectfully submitted,

United States of America

We are considering convening a group of persons interested in pursuing the matter of justice for Christian schools in Isr/Pal. Let me know if you are interested in being a part of such a conclave! There are things we can do if we have the mind and will to do it!

Kairos West Michigan is gearing up for a visit to W. Michigan of Mark Braverman, the principle author of Kairos USA, an American response to the Call for Help from our Palestinian Christian brothers and sisters. Those dates will be Monday and Tuesday, November 9 and 10, 2015. Set those dates aside and watch for more details.

Thirty-one new people signed up to receive news from Kairos W. MI (KWM).

Thank you to Joan Deming (Pilgrims of Ibillin, Abuna's US affiliate), Michael Spath, our partner from Ft Wayne, and to Fr Chacour for this sobering reminder of injustice in Isr/Pal. Thank you to Western Seminary and Hope college for your encouragement, participation, and financial support. Thank you to our supporting churches (First Methodist Peace with Justice Committee, Hope Church, and Third Church, Holland, MI). We are definitely looking to expand the number of supporting congregations, interested persons and related groups.

Momentum towards a genuine movement of the spirit/Spirit is growing. Thank YOU for being a part of it! Faithfully yours, JRK

John for Kairos West Michigan
From indifference to any truth; from cowardice that shrinks from new truth;
from laziness content with half truth; and from the arrogance that thinks it knows the whole truth,
O God of Truth, deliver us!

Friday, August 7, 2015

Fr Elias Chacour to Visit Holland, Michigan!

Dear Friend!
Plan on attending events surrounding Abuna (Fr) Elias Chacour's visit to W. Michigan!

We can say for sure he will be address us (and answer questions) at St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church in Holland on Thursday evening, 7:00 - 8:30 p.m. We are hoping for an additional venue at either HOPE College or Western Theological Seminary that afternoon. Further details will follow once plans are finalized. Fr Chacour models a reconciling spirit that draws Arabs and Israelis, Muslims, Jews and Christians together, not as adversaries, but as fellow human beings with the dignity to which all humans are entitled. His Mar Elias Educational Institutions (MEEI) have educated thousands of Christian, Muslim and Jewish, Arab and Israeli children and youths in modeling a better way forward.

I'm enclosing several pieces from today's newsletter from Pilgrims of Ibillin, (the American affiliate of Fr Chacour's life-long ministry) telling of a two week visit in Chicago-land by 12 students from the Mar Elias High School, and an interview with Emil Haloun, a teacher at the school. Joan Deming, the American Executive Director of "Pilgrims of Ibillin" will also be our guest on Sept. 17 along with Michael Spath, our partner from Fort Wayne, IND.

Fr Chacour is a Palestinian Arab Israeli Christian, one of the 20% "citizens" in Israel who are Arab Palestinian. Thus his witness is a bit different from those living in what is known as the "West Bank" or "Gaza". He will be candid and forthcoming in answering our questions about the possibility of peace in our region. Please join me in seeking greater understanding of how we can move forward toward Shalom/Salaam! JRK for Kairos West Michigan

First Ever Mar Elias Peace Tour
Winning hearts and minds in the USA

This summer, Pilgrims of Ibillin welcomed fifteen Mar Elias High School students and recent graduates to the US for a 2-week visit – in a new cooperative venture with the school Abuna Elias Chacour founded in Ibillin. The students and their teacher, Emil Haloun, stayed with families in Grosse Pointe and Ann Arbor, MI; in Oshkosh and Madison, WI; and finally visited Chicago, staying in dorms at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary.

Everywhere they went, they shared stories of their families and school and villages, their hopes and dreams, and their experience as Arabs living within the State of Israel. They left a trail of new friends and a vision of possibilities for peace in their holy homeland. (They also enjoyed their first-ever celebration of an Independence Day on July 4, rode bikes, sailed and swam, went to museums and a concert and Shakespeare play, and visited with Jewish, Christian, and Muslim students, -- to say nothing of shopping and being wide-eyed tourists.)

The students blogged about their trip, and would love to have you read about their journey online. Please visit Their trip is also featured in the July Pilgrims’ Post print newsletter.

We are confident that these amazing young people from Mar Elias served as bridges of peace and international understanding, and raised awareness in the United States about Israeli-Palestinian history. They planted seeds of hope, while also making new friends and sharing in a lot of new experiences. Thank YOU, friends of Pilgrims of Ibillin, for helping make a key difference. Your generosity and prayers helped it happen.

A Teacher's Witness:
Emil Haloun answers an audience question after a student presentation, Peace Tour, July 2015

Q: “Does religion contribute to the problem or help solve it?”

Emil: “People in Israel are becoming more radical, not less. And our message at Mar Elias, therefore, is really unique, and unfortunately rare. Most schools convey indirectly a message of segregation, as opposed to building bridges of connection.

I will tell you something based on my experience. I also teach part time at Haifa University and there my students include a mix of Jewish, Arab, and overseas students. Among the students, I am always privileged to teach those who have graduated from Mar Elias High School. And I tell you truly, there is something different about our students. They come to college aware of what society is comprised of, unlike others who are really blind to what is going on around them. As a small example, many Muslim university students are for the very first time encountering not only Jewish students but even Christians. So just imagine what our school is trying to create in the midst of this conflictual and negative atmosphere in Galilee and elsewhere.

And this is related to your question about whether religious differences can cause harm. We are trying to take this reality and make something beautiful. I mean, can you tell who is Muslim and who is Christian here? No way! And we were hosted by American families, but we came here to meet them as human beings -- not to meet "the Americans" or "the Muslims" or "the Jews." A few days ago, we visited the Holocaust Museum in Milwaukee. There we met with Jewish students from Israel, and for them, that was the very first time they were speaking with an Arab student. So realize how many walls we have in that small, holy piece of land, smaller than the size of New Jersey. So, schools like Mar Elias, where I teach and these students study, are much needed in these uneasy circumstances.”