(AgapePress) - A mainline Protestant renewal group is objecting to a decision by the Episcopal Church USA (ECUSA) to honor a Palestinian Anglican priest who considers the state of Israel to be the source of all problems in the Middle East.
On Saturday (June 17), the Episcopal Peace Fellowship plans to present Naim Ateek with a "Peace and Justice" award at the denomination's General Convention in Columbus, Ohio. Ateek, founder and director of the Jerusalem-based Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center, once likened Israel's treatment of Palestinians to Jesus' crucifixion.
Although Ateek reportedly has since toned down his rhetoric, some Episcopal leaders are critical of his being given the award. One Episcopal priest from New York says giving Ateek the award "strikes me as making a mockery of the process." Another Episcopal official says Ateek's "ultimate goal includes the removal of the state of Israel, which is not a vision of peace at all but a matter of forcible elimination."
That same official is quoted as saying the Palestinian theologian has "spoken very warmly of the tactic of suicide bombing, explaining it as a logical outcome of the difficult situation in which many Palestinians live." In fact, in a 2002 essay, Ateek wrote that Palestinian homicide bombers were "the product of [Israel's] own making."
But Ateek's defenders in ECUSA claim he has worked for reconciliation with Jews, Muslims, and Christians in the Middle East and around the world, and praise him as "truly a man of non-violence."
Faith McDonnell is director of religious liberty programs with the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD) in Washington, DC. She says Ateek is not deserving of the award because he has repeatedly disparaged Israel to promote the Palestinian cause, using words she says "reveal a disturbing tendency to excuse violence in the name of justice."
"We're concerned because although the award is purported to be given to someone who is a champion of peace and justice, in reality Reverend Ateek's own words have shown that he is not really interested in peace and justice for the Jewish people, for the state of Israel, but only to advance the Palestinian cause at the expense of the state of Israel – and really at the expense of peace in the region," McDonnell explains.
According to IRD, the writings of Ateek and others attributed to the Sabeel Center are "remarkably one-sided." Ateek, McDonnell says, "believes that everything that has to be done to bring peace to the Middle East is up to Israel."
In a May magazine article, the Anglican priest stated that the newly elected Palestinian government, led by the terrorist group Hamas, must become non-violent in order to effectively govern the Palestinians. "People, however, need to remember that Hamas' violence was provoked by Israel's policies against the Palestinians as well as Israel's contempt of international law," he stated.
McDonnell says if Ateek and his organization are worthy of any award, it would be an award for "furthering the cause of a Palestinian State at the expense of the Israelis and the security of the region."
© 2006 AgapePress