Canadian Mennonite
Volume 13, No. 19
Oct. 5, 2009


Walking the talk

Second of Three Editorials

Dick Benner


Dick Benner


In responding to the charge of Mennonite anti-Zionism from such critics as Zexter Van Zile, Canadian Mennonites should, at the gut-level, refrain from self-righteousness or defensive counter broadsides. As a faith community holding dear the cause of justice as part of the gospel, our responses should walk the talk.

And our skirts, historically, are not entirely clean, either. Long-time readers of Canadian Mennonite will recall the painful case back in 1992 of Jacob Luitjens of Vancouver, a Mennonite accused by the Canadian government of concealing his Nazi ties with occupying forces in the Netherlands and the revoking of his Canadian citizenship as a result.

Thus, our first response to the harsh charges of critics like Van Zile should be one of humility and of empathy for a people who, more than us, have suffered unspeakably at the hands of religious and political enemies. There is every reason for us to understand that Zionism took root in Palestine by a people desperate for the security of a homeland.

It is truly sad, though, that today the situation in that part of the world has become seemingly intractable. The debate about whose land Palestine is, is never-ending, the suffering again unconscionable, the oppressed now doing the oppressing. And there is no doubt that Jewish Zionism, essentially a secular movement, has been strengthened over the past 61 years by the joining of the Christian Zionist movement.

The joining of these two powerful forces happened, in the words of Mennonite theologian Loren Johns, “in the wake of the guilt about the Holocaust experienced by the ‘Christian’ nations of the Allies.” Together they exerted sufficient political pressure to see the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948.

That mentality, still strong in North America and in Israel, underlies much of the harsh criticism of Van Zile—a construct that is coming apart at the seams even as these darts come at us with such rhetorical force. What Van Zile doesn’t own up to in his impassioned critique of Mennonite Central Committee and Christian Peacemaker Teams is that a majority of Israel’s own people are no longer in sympathy with Zionist goals.

The late Amos Elon, one of Israel’s best-known intellectuals and social critics, insisted that “Zionism has exhausted itself, precisely because it accomplished its aims. The Arabs bore no responsibility for the centuries-long suffering of Jews in Europe,” he wrote, voicing criticism that is common in modern-day Israel. “Whatever their subsequent follies and outrages might be, the punishment of the Arabs for the sins of Europe must burden the conscience of Israelis for a long time to come.”

Van Zile’s critique also fails to recognize the concerns of the Israeli peace movement, observes my friend Ken Seitz, just returning from Lebanon as MCC’s country representative. “The Israeli peace movement operates out of two concerns: humanitarian, as well as recognition that if Israel persists in its discriminatory practices it will ultimately fail and fall into the dustbin of history. So, although guaranteeing the ongoing status of the Jewish state is not our [MCC’s] goal, nonetheless, justice for all, Palestinians and Israelis alike, does have us aligned with the Israeli peace movement.”

Meet your board member

Dick Benner

Margaret Ewen Peters of Hanley, Sask., is vice-chair of the Canadian Mennonite Publishing Service (CMPS) and an appointee to the 12-member board from Mennonite Church Saskatchewan. She and her husband Gary, farmers together for 32 years, are lead co-pastors of Hanley Mennonite Church. Margaret is also half-time interim pastor at Grace Mennonite Church, Regina. In related church responsibilities, she has been on the pastoral leadership commission of MC Saskatchewan, served on a task force looking at congregation/conference relationships and was the Saskatchewan representative on the leadership commission of the Conference of Mennonites in Canada. Presently, she is on the vision and wholeness group of MC Saskatchewan. In her second term on the CMPS board, Margaret’s prayer is “that Canadian Mennonite is one way we can learn about one another across Canada and this can lead to genuine dialogues about faith, life, church, discipleship and all the other things that are part of being followers of Jesus in today’s world.” She can be reached at 306-544-2633 or via email at:

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