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I Am Not Lying About Sojourners By: Mark D. Tooley
FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, July 12, 2007


Jim Wallis’ Sojourners did not like my recent FrontPage Magazine article about a Sojourners columnist, who faulted the West rather than Hamas for the upheaval in Gaza.

“Mark Tooley of the Institute on Religion and Democracy is so eager to attack Sojourners that he rarely pays attention to the facts,” wrote Duane Shank, a senior Sojourners policy analyst.  “And, we usually ignore his smear tactics. But there are occasions when he steps over the line. His recent column, 'Sojourners for Hamas,' in which he attacks God's Politics contributing blogger Philip Rizk’s article, “Christians in Gaza,” is one of those occasions.”

Shanks insisted that Philip Rizk, an Egyptian-German Christian blogger living in Gaza, was merely describing Gaza’s deteriorating economic state, as confirmed by the World Bank and an Israeli “human rights organization,” Gisha.

“According to Tooley's logic, I guess that also makes Gisha—whose board of directors and staff includes Israeli law professors, military veterans, and other human rights advocates—apologists for Hamas,” Shanks wrote with a harrumph.

Shanks insisted that Sojourners supports Israel’s right to exist and opposes terrorism, while apparently equally opposing Israel’s “occupation of Palestine” and human rights violations. “Trying to explain the causes of extremist terrorism, as Philip Rizk did and as Gisha has, does not make them, or us, apologists. It means we look at the real world rather than an ideology,” he concluded, triumphantly.

No doubt. But Shanks declined to address the overall problem with Rizk:  his justification of the Hamas take-over of Gaza as an understandable, and perhaps even an admirable, reaction to U.S. and Israeli pressure.

Of course, Rizk’s perspective fits neatly with Sojourners’ own long-time tradition of not criticizing violent and radical anti-Western movements and regimes. Instead, Sojourners, like most of the Religious Left, prefers to portray lamentable actions by Islamists, or communists, or anti-Western Third World nationalists, as the inevitable reaction to Western imperialism and greed.

Look in vain on the Sojourners’ website for any serious critique of Hamas, or the Iranian theocracy, or the Ba'athist regime of Syria, or North Korea’s Stalinist dictatorship, or the gerontocracy of Fidel Castro’s fading Marxist paradise. Sojourners is not so sparing in its condemnations of U.S. foreign or the actions of U.S. allies, such as Israel.

Philip Rizk is therefore the ideal columnist for Sojourners. He writes continuously about Palestinian sufferings under Israeli occupation but never addresses the radical Islamist ideology or senseless violence of Hamas. His fire is always aimed elsewhere.

In a February 2006 column, Rizk lamented the actions of the Danish cartoonists, whose portrayal of Muhammad had sparked violent Islamist riots around the world. “The time may have come for the West to consider learning a lesson from the faith of the largely Muslim Middle East, or it might perform some soul-searching even closer to home, among the faith of its own ancestors,” he wrote, imploring the West to abandon its preoccupation with “individualism.” 

“Will the West be able to take a call of the past seriously and consider the neighbors of this global village, before feeding its undying desire for freedom from all responsibility toward the other?” Rizk wondered. “The idol of unquestioned self-righteous freedom must be abolished or else it will destroy the village we live in.”

In the same column Rizk explained that Hamas’ electoral victgory was a “reaction to suffering and frustration with the status quo” and was “no different than the right-wing Likud's coming to power in 1977 as a result of Israeli disillusionment with the Labor party.”

In a May 2006 column for Sojourners, Rizk noted that the West and the UN were demanding Hamas’ recognition of Israel and renunciation of violence. Rizk approvingly quoted Hamas premier Ismail Haniyeh, the then newly elected Palestinian Authority premier, "The message from Hamas and the Palestinian Authority to the world powers is this: talk to us no more about recognizing Israel's 'right to exist' or ending resistance until you obtain a commitment from the Israelis to withdraw from our land and recognize our rights."

Rizk, in a July 2006 column for Sojourners, complained about the ostensibly disproportionate interest in a kidnapped Israeli soldier compared to scores of Palestinians killed by Israelis. Condemning the U.S. veto of an anti-Israel resolution by the UN Security Council, Rizk asked, “Why wasn't the U.S. taking serious action to end the dire conditions of Gaza prior to the capture of Gilad Shalit?”

In an August 2005 column  for Sojourners, Rizk editorialized: “For too long much of the church has been an unquestioning supporter of Israel.” He urged speaking out against “Israel's unrighteousness, just as the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah and Amos did.” He warned that Arab Muslims will blame Western Christians for Israel’s injustices towards the Palestinians so long as the church offers “full support of Israel.” After all, Israel’s “injustices are completely contrary to Christ’s message of the love and reconciliation.”

Rizk never really says whether Hamas’ actions are also contrary to the ways of Christ.

Rizk’s blogging, which is sometimes published in anti-Israel websites such as the “Electronic Intifada” is often more unvarnished than his more tame columns in Sojourners. In a June 2007 article, Rizk complained about Western backing for Fatah against Hamas: “The plot of conquer and divide is a great smokescreen covering up the desecration of democracy and another attempt to lay to rest the Palestinian cause.”

Comparing Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians to South Africa’s Apartheid, Rizk wrote: “The atrocities carried out against Palestinians dating back to the early 20th century, solidified in 1948 and ongoing land theft, colonial expansion and disregard of Palestinian human rights are forgotten amidst the chaos.”

In his most recent July 2007 blog, Rizk contrasted Fatah’s “submission” with Hamas’ more admirable “resistance.” Mahmoud Abbas’ regime “is taking a strong pro-Western line in order to loosen the burden on their people,” he lamented. By “submitting to Western and Israeli pressure,” the Palestinians are sacrificing their cause for Western aid and returning to a “sustained status quo of weakness in the face of harsh Israeli occupation.” This “illegal process” of submission “undermines the voice of the people” and will lead to the “annihilation of the Palestinian cause.”   

More heroically, according to Rizk, Hamas “used force to finally claim its rightful position, thereby preventing a U.S. funded Fatah plot to overthrow Hamas in the Gaza Strip.” He rejoiced that Hamas is not “willing to submit to Israel and its allies and their imperial strategies.”

“The people have spoken,” Rizk enthused. “Submission is not the answer.” Referring to Hamas official
Ismail Haniyeh, Rizk suggested: “One more leader belongs in the company of these two men of opposition,” followed by a photograph of Venezuelan strongman Hugo Chavez with Iranian theocrat Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

This trio of “resistance” leaders apparently comprise Rizk’s trinity of heroes.

Are they Sojourners’ heroes as well?


Mark D. Tooley is president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy. He is the author of Taking Back the United Methodist Church.


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