A Christmas plea to my Christian brothers and sisters

Posted on Dec 27, 2018

Image: Mass at Saint Catherine's Church, in the Church of the Nativity, traditionally recognized by Christians to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, on Tuesday, December 25, 2018. (Photo by Nasser Nasser / POOL / APA Images)

Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the top Roman Catholic cleric in the Holy Land, heads a Christmas midnight Mass at Saint Catherine’s Church, in the Church of the Nativity, traditionally recognized by Christians to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, on Tuesday, December 25, 2018. (Photo by Nasser Nasser / POOL / APA Images)

Image: Robert Herbst

Robert Herbst

by Robert Herbst* | Posted in Mondoweiss

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

On this Christmas in the year 2018, hear my confession, and my plea:

I need help.

I need your help.

Many lives are at stake.

It is a big ask.

It would take courage, determination and commitment, love and grace.

In the wake of the Holocaust – the culmination of centuries of Christian anti-Semitism — my People, the Jewish People, felt a deep need for a safe and eternal refuge – a Jewish homeland — and persuaded the Western World to put it in the Holy Land, where we were outnumbered by Gentiles — Christians and Muslims.

We were historically powerless. We were traumatized and fearful. We thought our safety lay in accumulating power – military, economic, financial and political power – and in cleansing from our part of the Holy Land the Palestinian Christians and Muslims who had lived on the Land for millennia. The notion of a Jewish homeland, where Jews would always be free to live among the other Peoples of the Holy Land, quickly morphed into a Jewish State which privileges Jews over all other peoples. My People passed scores of laws discriminating against Palestinians in rights and resources. We relegated millions of Palestinians to refugee camps where they have languished for generations. We put millions of Palestinians under military occupation and rule. We imported tens of thousands of Jewish religious fundamentalists who settled on Palestinian lands, thinking that our People – the Chosen People — were meant by God to rule over all of the Holy Land, from the River to the Sea.

In identification with our oppressors, we became oppressors ourselves. We have become the most powerful nation – militarily and economically – in the Middle East. But we have lost our Jewish religious, moral and ethical principles requiring us to refrain from oppressing others and to treat the stranger among us as our own.

We remain traumatized and fearful. We now also fear those we have oppressed, that they might wish to do to us what we have done to them.

We are turning even more inward, more inured to killing, to maiming, to our own oppression of others. We put down Palestinian violent resistance to our oppression with an Iron Fist, and put down non-violent Palestinian resistance – the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) of Palestinian civil society – with arrest, detention, deportation, intelligence and hasbara (propaganda) operations abroad designed to punish and marginalize such resistance.

We have lost our way.

We are losing our children who, with the clear eyes of the young, see the truth of what we have wrought, what we have done to others, and what we have done to ourselves.

We need help.

We need your help.

You, who in the “Exceptional Nation” of my birth, — a Christian nation — have helped facilitate, finance and otherwise support this oppression, which has resulted in the reduction of the Christian population of the Holy Land from 11% to under 1% now.

I therefore beseech you, as you celebrate Christmas this year and enjoy the New Year and every New Year to come:

Speak up to your Jewish Brothers and Sisters!

Engage us in dialogue.

Those of you who have been to the Holy Land and seen with your own eyes the plight of Palestinians living under occupation, discrimination and oppression, speak up! Express your concern, and your opposition to our oppression.

Those of you who have not been there, but who have read about conditions in the West Bank and Gaza, ask us questions.

Ask us how we justify what we do there. Not just to the world, but to ourselves.

Ask us in interfaith meetings, of both clergy and laity. Wherever you encounter us, speak up!

As I said, this will take courage, not to remain silent out of fear of offending us, or because of guilt over Christian anti-Semitism by your forebears. We need you and your intervention.

Recognize our fear and trauma, but speak truth to our power. Talk to us critically about what we are doing to the Palestinians. Not once, not twice, but over and over again. Oppose what we are doing, not out of hate, but out of love.

Love of truth, and of all our fellow men, women and children, who deserve to live with freedom, human rights and dignity.

Like the Jew whose birth you celebrate today, help us to recognize that we are one human family, and that we all must speak truth to power, wherever it oppresses rather than lifts people up.

Merry Christmas!

* About Robert Herbst

Robert Herbst is a civil rights lawyer. He was chapter coordinator for Westchester Jewish Voice for Peace from 2014-2017.

From HuffPost (date?): Bob Herbst is a human rights lawyer in New York who lives in Westchester with his wife Lynne, a psychoanalyst. Their daughter Allyson is a first year resident in internal medicine at Emory in Atlanta. He has been a contributing opinion writer at Huff Po since 2013. Bob is a graduate of Princeton University and its Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, and of the Yale Law School. He served as a federal prosecutor in Chicago and Philadelphia and as Executive Assistant District Attorney in Brooklyn, New York, focusing on prosecution of major economic crime and public corruption. Since 1983, Bob has been in private practice as a civil rights, employment, criminal defense and class action trial and appellate lawyer, primarily representing victims of (1) police, corrections and other government misconduct; (2) employment and housing discrimination on grounds of race, ethnicity, religion, gender, disability and age; (3) sexual harassment; and (4) retaliation for whistleblowing. From 2011 to 2013, Bob served as Independent Counsel to the Special Court for Sierra Leone, where he investigated, prosecuted and convicted four men for contempt and obstruction of justice before that international criminal tribunal. Since 2014, Bob has served as Coordinator of the Westchester New York Chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace. He has been an active private pilot for more than 35 years.