Mark Tooley of the Institute on Religion and Democracy is so eager to attack Sojourners that he rarely pays attention to the facts. 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.
For Tooley, it seems that Rizk’s biggest sin is that he is trying to explain the reasons for the growing strength of Hamas and extreme Islamist groups in Gaza. Rizk cites a World Bank study on the desperate economic conditions in Gaza and writes, “In light of the constantly deteriorating situation in Gaza, extremism has been on the rise…” and that this situation is largely due to “the economic siege placed on the Gaza Strip because of the Hamas government.” To Tooley, simply noting this obvious reality means that Rizk (and by extension, Sojourners), “excoriates the U.S. and opponents of Hamas” for the violence in Gaza and earns us the inflammatory title of his piece.
But Rizk’s is hardly a unique observation. A new report covered in The Jerusalem Post—“Rights group: Israel ruining economy in Gaza Strip” notes that in Gaza, “Eighty-five percent of the population is already dependent on food aid from international organizations and the number is growing.” The report was issued by an Israeli human rights organization, Gisha, whose “goal is to protect the freedom of movement of Palestinians, especially Gaza residents, [and] promote rights guaranteed by international and Israeli law. ”
The Gisha report was also covered by the British newspaper The Guardian in this story: “Blockade helps Gaza militants, says report.” It notes the report’s conclusion that “Israel’s latest blockade of Gaza is threatening to destroy the territory’s commercial sector and drive more people into the hands of extremists … The report by Gisha, an Israeli human rights organization, concludes that the increase in poverty and dependency will lead to a further radicalization of Gaza’s population, which will cause further violence and attacks on foreigners …”
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.
Just for the record, Sojourners supports Israel’s right to exist and live in peace and security. We have consistently condemned terrorism—the deliberate use of violence against innocent civilians. And we have said that no matter what the grievances or injustices, deliberate violence against civilians must be universally and unequivocally condemned. Killing innocent civilians (often families and children) is evil and must be steadfastly opposed. We have also opposed the Israeli occupation of Palestine and the resulting 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.
Duane Shank is the senior policy adviser for Sojourners/Call to Renewal.