As someone who worked for decades toward the reconciliation of Christians and Jews, I am deeply disquieted by recent statements from church leaders regarding the war now raging between Israel and Hamas.
A statement signed by the patriarchs and heads of churches in Jerusalem calls for “the cessation of all violent and military activities.” It does not even mention Hamas, or the terrorist group's mass slaughter of innocent Israelis that precipitated the current war, let alone condemn it. The statement from the Episcopal Church USA simply “condemns all acts of violence against civilians,” without ascribing any moral responsibility to the terrorist organization. The letter issued by the United Methodist Church states, “we are witnesses to the escalation of violence in the region,” eliding all moral agency and responsibility for the bloodshed. Although the Episcopal and Methodist churches later condemned the Hamas atrocities, they did so with a moral equivalence that blurs the fundamental distinction between Israel, which targets murderers and not civilians, and Hamas terrorists, who only target innocent civilians. Even Pope Francis, when he addressed the conflict on October 8, tepidly pleaded, “Please stop the attacks and the weapons,” without mentioning Hamas or its barbarism. The failure of these church leaders to unqualifiedly condemn Hamas’s massacre and to support Israel’s right to defend its citizens is an appalling abdication of moral leadership.
The slaughter of Israelis on October 7 wasn't a natural disaster devoid of moral agency, as the statements imply. It resulted from the careful planning and intentionally barbaric behavior of Hamas terrorists who butchered, beheaded, raped, burned, and kidnapped more than 1,300 Israeli civilians—and then publicly celebrated their savagery. Hamas violently transgressed every law of God and man. President Biden correctly called it “pure unadulterated evil.” Yet shamefully, these church leaders could not bring themselves to unequivocally condemn Hamas by name for its savagery. Has political correctness eviscerated their Christian moral judgment?
We rightly look to our religious leaders to recognize and condemn evil, help defeat it, and inspire us with clear moral judgment. They should be models of courage, like Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, who offered himself in exchange for the release of child hostages held by Hamas. Unfortunately, all these virtues were missing from the statements emanating from these churches. When churches continue to equivocate on this fundamental moral issue, their credibility plummets even further. Can Christianity survive when it “takes a pass” on overt moral barbarism, particularly against its elder brother? The world should see this moral diffidence as a scarlet letter.
All of us love peace and hate war—but that is not enough. The urgent moral question for us all is: What is the proper response to terrorists committed to murdering Israeli citizens and destroying the only Jewish state? It cannot be merely to call for a ceasefire, or to plea for the attacks to end, or to make some twisted false equivalence between Hamas’s violent paganism and Israel's just defense of its citizens in response to Hamas's jihad.
Hamas’s founding charter stresses that “peaceful solutions are in contradiction to the principles of the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas).” It states that “there is no solution for the Palestinian problem except by Jihad,” and quotes the influential verse from the Hadith “O Moslems, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.” Note that it is Jews, not merely Israelis, that Hamas is committed to killing.
The Hamas onslaught was not about occupation, as these church statements mistakenly allege. The Hamas charter calls for destroying the Jewish state altogether—not just Jewish settlements. Hamas’s murder of Israelis occurred in Israel proper, not in any occupied territory. For Hamas, it is not about Gaza or Ramallah. It’s about Tel Aviv.
Do church leaders think that Hamas will heed its call for “attacks and weaponry to cease”? This is not a serious answer to the present carnage. If Israel ceased its attacks and weaponry, there would surely be many, many more Israeli deaths, as the head of Hamas’s politburo, Ghazi Hamad, promised us. Israelis have long understood that if its Arab enemies laid down their weapons there would be no war, but if Israel laid down its weapons there would be no Israel.
These churches should not believe they will be spared Hamas’s violence. Hamas is the Palestinian branch of the Islamic Brotherhood, which has never extolled pluralism, tolerance, or sympathy toward Christianity. Gaza’s Christian population has plummeted under Hamas rule, from 3,200 in 2007 to less than 1,000 today. Gaza’s only Christian bookstore was burned down and its owner, Rami Khader Ayyad, was murdered soon after Hamas took over in 2007. Hamas’s guiding vision is the Islamist takeover of the entire world, including “treacherous Christianity,” as senior Hamas official Mahmoud Al-Zahar proudly announced recently.
The church statements tend toward pacifism. If we are pacifistic in the face of Hamas’s unrelenting evil, we will abandon God’s creation to the forces of death and destruction. Jews and Christians should understand this best. Both the Jewish people and the Church survived the Nazi assault because of nations that were not pacifist and committed to physically opposing evil. They were morally responsible, and so must we be.
Condemning Hamas and supporting its defeat is not anti-Palestinian or Islamophobic, as some commentators contend. The war is between Israel and Hamas, not between Israel and the Palestinian people. Hamas is not the Palestinian people and it is an insult to Palestinians to believe that all Palestinians are like Hamas fanatics. They are not. Many yearn for peace and a decent life for themselves and their children, which will only be possible when Hamas is defeated.
Sadly, we still live in a world where at times we are morally obligated to “destroy the evil in our midst,” as Deuteronomy 24:7 insists. Only then will we merit seeing peace, justice, and life flourish for all God’s children created in his holy image. May we live to see the day that the prophet Micah envisaged when “every person will sit under his vine and under his fig tree, and no one will make us afraid.”
Rabbi Eugene Korn is the author of To Be a Holy People: Jewish Tradition and Ethical Values.
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