Two weeks ago an invitation was sent by e-mail from the Boston University School of Theology Religion and Conflict Transformation office to a lecture on Tuesday, March 25, by Mitri Raheb entitled “Faith in the Face of Empire: The Bible Through Palestinian Eyes.” He is touring theological schools like Princeton Theological Seminary, Harvard Divinity School etc. I wanted to share my concerns about Rev. Dr. Raheb.
In that e-mail Rev. Dr. Raheb was introduced as “a powerful advocate for peace in the Arab-Israeli conflict.” His book was presented this way: “using biblical narrative he introduces a wide lens for viewing that history. This ‘sacred’ story is a response to the ‘secular’ history of occupation by various empires, from the Babylonians to the British to the state of Israel” (1).
The truth is that in that book Raheb shows not only quite an ignorance about the Bible and its composition making outrageous statements that would disqualify the book from being discussed in any academic context; but also he has repeatedly expressed views about the Jewish people that are quite racists.
In Faith in the Face of the Empire, Raheb compares the Pharisees to the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas (a terrorist organization) (2). Commenting on the Jewish Revolt against Rome, Raheb compares the Jewish fighters who fought against Roman armies with the Palestinian terrorists who enter the houses of Jewish families and murder their babies in their sleep and who blow themselves up in University cafeterias, restaurants, buses, and markets where the only victims are innocent civilians, not armies (3). Raheb also denies the three thousand years of the Jewish people’s connection to the land of Israel (4). In his 2010 Christ at the Checkpoint lecture, he also made a wild statement saying, “the Bible could not have been written anywhere else but in Palestine” (5), perhaps unaware that the Hebrew Bible was written in Israel, Judah, and the Babylonian Exile, and that the Christian New Testament was written almost completely elsewhere. He also stated in the same lecture that “it was really our forefathers who wrote the Bible. It was our forefathers to whom the revelation was given” (6).
Raheb has a long record of similar statements. The Deutsch-Israelische Gesellschaft, the most important Jewish organization in Germany (and probably in all of Europe) denounced him for making “unwahren und rassistischen Äußerungen über Israel und Juden” (7). Rabbi Abraham Cooper, one of the most influential Rabbis in the US and Associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the most important Jewish human rights organization in the world, offered the following statements about Raheb: he “consistently has used theological garb to cover an extremist political agenda to demonize the Jewish people … Raheb promoted a ‘Palestinian Theology’ that purports that Jews are not the Chosen People and therefore have no right to the Holy Land. In a March 2010 address, he said: ‘Actually, the Palestinian Christians are the only ones in the world that, when they speak about their forefathers, they mean their actual forefathers, and also the forefathers in the faith … So, that is the reality of the peoples of the land. Again, they aren’t Israel. This experience I’m talking about, it’s only the Palestinians who understand this, because Israel represents Rome…. It was our forefathers to whom the revelation was given…’”
Rabbi Cooper denounces Raheb as “a religious bigot who is re-introducing Replacement Theology to de-legitimize the Jewish people and its right to pursue its spiritual and national destiny.” (8).
In another recent book, Raheb praises the early leading role of Christian terrorists like George Habash and Naef Hawatmeh in the Palestinian Liberation Organization (whose charter urged for the elimination of Israel and was on the US list of terrorist organizations until 1991) as an example of how “throughout modern history Christians and Muslims in Palestine have worked together” (9). The New York Times described Habash as “the Palestinian leader who adapted modern terrorist tactics as a weapon in the conflict with Israel. From the bombing of a Jerusalem supermarket in 1969 to the simultaneous hijacking of three Western airliners to Amman, Jordan, in September 1970” (10). Naef Hawatmeh was the infamous planner of the 1974 Maalot massacre in which twenty Israeli schoolchildren were murdered and sixty eight gravely wounded by Palestinian terrorists (11). How someone who praises terrorists responsible for such barbaric acts can be described as “a powerful advocate for peace in the Arab-Israeli conflict” is beyond my comprehension.
Although Boston University School of Theology seeks to hear a variety of voices, it also has a policy of preventing what the School considers bigotry. The school does not invite speakers who will condemn the lifestyle of lesbians, gays, transsexuals, and bisexuals (LGTBQ), or speakers who are white supremacists. Also, I cannot imagine that the school (just to provide a variety of voices) would invite guest speakers in April who would blame the Boston marathon terrorist attacks on US foreign policy, or compare Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev with the US revolutionaries who fought the British army. Somehow, when it comes to bashing the Jewish people and the Jewish State it seems that other standards apply.
As someone who was almost killed by one of Raheb’s “freedom fighters” and is handicapped for life just for committing the crime of riding a bus to my University and someone who has close friends who are handicapped for life just for having a coffee at the Hebrew University cafeteria, I feel that inviting a guest speaker who justifies those actions shows a terrible lack of sensitivity and/or awareness of Raheb’s views. Also, inviting someone to campus who claims that European Jewry comes “from an East European tribe who converted to Judaism in the Middle Ages” (12) is an insult to all Jews of European origins and Holocaust survivors.
The invitation of such a religious bigot to campuses does a disservice to seminary students and has made Boston University School of Theology a most unwelcoming place for me.
(2) Faith in the Face of the Empire, (Orbis Books, 2014); Kindle edition. Kindle Locations 1320-1322; 1336-1337.
(3) Faith in the Face of the Empire, Kindle Locations 1297-1299. Cf. http://yidwithlid.blogspot.com/2012/01/moderate-palestinian-authority-run-tv.html; http://mfa.gov.il/MFA/MFA-Archive/2002/Pages/Terrorist%20bombing%20at%20Hebrew%20University%20cafeteria%20-.aspx.
(4) Faith in the Face of Empire, Kindle Locations 303-304.
(8) http://www.wiesenthal.com/site/apps/nlnet/content2.aspx?c=lsKWLbPJLnF&b=4441467&ct=11621197 quoting http://www.christatthecheckpoint.com/lectures/Mitri_Raheb.pdf.
(9) Sailing through Troubled Waters (Diyar Publishers, 2013). Kindle Locations 1144-1146. The terrorist PLO was founded in 1964 when Jordan still controlled the now disputed territories of Judea and Samaria; i.e. before any “occupation.”
Alejandro F. Botta, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Hebrew Bible
Boston University School of Theology
Faculty, Elie Wiesel Center for Judaic Studies
745 Commonwealth Ave., Box 243
Boston, MA 02215-1401