In Memoriam: Father Michael Prior (1942-2004)

Article excerpt

"There is a fundamental moral problem at the core of the Zionist project which no amount of special pleading, or pretense to innocence, can sidestep: it is the determination to establish a stale for Jews at the expense of the indigenous Arabs."

-"A Disaster for Dialogue," The Tablet, July 31, 2004

In his last article for the British Catholic magazine The Tablet, from which the above quote is excerpted, Rev. Michael Prior criticized in no uncertain terms a joint statement equating anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism issued by the 18th international Catholic Jewish Liaison Committee, which had met in Buenos Aires earlier that month. Terming "the clever tactic" "one of the many fruits of a vigorous campaign to close down any criticism of Israel," he warned that "In accepting the equation, Zionism-unlike any other political ideology, such as nationalism, socialism, Communism, apartheid, or globalization-would be above reproach, and, by extension, so would the State of Israel."

The Vincentian priest and scholar, who died July 23, 2004 of a heart attack at the age of 62, was Bible and theology professor and senior research fellow in Holy Land studies at St. Mary's College in Twickenham, London. He spent a sabbatical year in Jerusalem and a year as visiting professor of theology in the University of Bethlehem, and in 1982 became co-founder and chair of Living Stones, an ecumenical organization promoting links between Christians in the Holy Land and Christians in Britain.

He recently participated in Sabeel's April conference in Jerusalem on "Challenging Christian Zionism: Theology, Politics, and the Palestine-Israel Conflict" (see July/August 2004 Washington Report, p. 70). Sabeel founder and director the Rev. Nairn Ateek said of him:

"Michael devoted the better part of his life in the service of justice and liberation for the Palestinians. He visited Palestine/Israel on a regular basis, sometimes for extended periods. He interacted with people from all walks of life in the course of his research and analysis. He authored and edited a number of books on a variety of topics, including those that directly addressed the different aspects of the conflict over Palestine. Among those were The Bible and Colonialism-A Moral Critique (1997) (in English and Arabic), Zionism and the State of Israel-A Moral Inquiry (1999), and Speaking the Truth about Zionism and Israel (2004). In the last two years, he also founded and edited the Journal of Holy Land Studies.

"Michael's passion for justice was unflinching and unshakable. He was compelling and provocative in his writings. He sought to expose the lies and deceptions that underlie the Zionist project and that led to the conquest of Palestine. He also showed how the Bible has been abused by colonial powers to oppress others. Although he has left us and we mourn his loss, he is "still speaking" through his books, lectures, and various publications. His voice will continue to be heard in many places throughout the world. His strong prophetic message will reverberate until justice for the Palestinians is done and peace and reconciliation are achieved in the Holy Land for all of its people."

Michael Prior was buried in his native city of Cork, Ireland.

-Janet McMahon

[Sidebar]

Excerpts from a July 20,2004, Statement from the Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) Concerning Actions of the 216th General Assembly (2004) of the Presbyterian Church (USA)

ONE OF THE deep and abiding commitments of the Presbyterian Church (USA) is to reconciliation and good relationships with people of all faith communities. In light of this, some people have raised concern about certain actions taken by the 216th General Assembly, held June 26 to July 3 in Richmond, Virginia, related to both outreach to Jewish people and Israeli and Palestinian relations. ...

2. The Assembly declared that Christian Zionism is not consistent with the basic values of Reformed theology because it makes use of idiosyncratic interpretations of scripture to undergird a certain reading of current events, and to generate support for specific political goals that do not bolster work toward peace and potentially endanger Palestinian and Israeli people. …