The tacit contract

On August 21, The Globe and Mail printed five letters about the United Church’s decision to take “economic action” (read: boycott) against exports from occupied Palestine misleadingly labelled as “Made in Israel” or “Produce of Israel.” Three opposed the United Church’s decision, made August 17, two supported it.

I wrote the letter below in response to these letters, and a part of my letter was published on the day I write, August 22. I entitled my letter “How long, O Lord?” but the Globe chose its own title, as above. I have bolded the portion that the Globe printed, and will leave it to you to decide why it didn’t print the rest of the letter. (Incidentally, this was the first letter of mine about Israel/Palestine since 2009 that the Globe has published, out of the dozen or so I have written. I hope this means that the little red mark beside my name in their files (“don’t publish anything from this wacko!”) has been erased.)


One letter about the United Church boycott (White, Aug. 21) suggests that because of the tragic history of Christian mistreatment of Jews, the approval of the boycott mandated by the United Church’s General Council is “simply wrong,” that it will only be interpreted as Christians harming Jews. Another letter (Mitchell, Aug. 21) sees the boycott as one more hostile act in “the church’s systemic anti-semitism,” to say nothing of “two millennia of Christian anti-Judaism.” My questions: when will the time come when today’s Christians, who weren’t there and didn’t do it, and grieve it deeply, can move beyond the feeling of second-hand guilt for the Holocaust (and the previous two millennia of their mistreatment of Jews)? And when will Jewish Israelis and other Jews stop trivializing the Holocaust by using it to silence criticism of the illegal acts of the Israeli government. Jewish theologian Marc Ellis talks about the “tacit contract” that arose between Jews and Christians after 1945. Stated from the Jewish side, it says this: “Don’t talk to us about the Palestinians and we won’t talk to you about the Holocaust.” The Christian response: “OK.” This tacit contract, he says, has now completely broken down. Jewish Israelis of conscience, together with Christians and Muslims, are no longer willing to have the Holocaust trivialized for political purposes and used as a distraction from the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. This is what the boycott is about, not Christians wanting to harm Jews. To end the conflict, end the occupation. 

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3 Responses to The tacit contract

  1. Phil Little says:

    I have long thought that it was western (Christian) guilt that kept our western nations from being able to critique Israel just as other nations are evaluated based on their policies or behaviours. This provides interesting and valuable insight to help clarify our national and global antipathy towards the plight of the Palestinian people.

  2. Martin Elfert says:

    Well said, Don!

  3. Too bad they left out the part about out-of-date emotions and stories we tell ourselves – that doesn’t get heard enough in the media!

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