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In this series I am examining problematic classes of statements and actions taken by various church leaders, groups, and official spokespersons – statements and actions that purport to be 'Christian witness' on behalf of Palestinians, but that often seem biased against Israel and sometimes seem to be animated by anti-Jewish bigotry. The existence of such statements and actions has been well documented by many people – so I will not reproduce that documentation here. Examples are readily available from many sources (including this website). Instead, I want to examine more closely the question of whether or not these classes of statement and action can rightly be labeled antisemitic.
I recognize upfront that any serious examination of this subject is off-putting: it does not provide a quick or easy take-away; it does not follow conventional wisdom; and those who seem to be displaying this bias also seem to believe themselves immune to it. A quick and easy take-away is stymied both by the complexity of the conflict between Israelis, Palestinians, and neighboring countries and by the facts that pro-Palestinian activism is not automatically anti-Israel, and that anti-Israel activism is not automatically antisemitic; there is a distinct overlap among these, but it does not represent a one-to-one correspondence. Conventional wisdom is frustrated because assumptions about political philosophies and antisemitism have proven themselves completely unfounded; many have believed that anti-Jewish bigotry is a function of 'the right'; that has always been an inaccurate oversimplification; now it appears to be downright false – this wave of apparent anti-Jewish bigotry combines a tiny faction of radical fringe right-wing groups and a host of 'social justice' left-wing groups. Most significantly, in its repackaged form, apparent anti-Jewish bigotry is fast becoming one mainstream option. Willful blindness also challenges serious examination: many of those who seem to display the most pronounced anti-Jewish biases believe that the issue of antisemitism has been dealt with decades ago. These assume falsely that antisemitism is a problem among the ignorant and the ill-informed. Yes, the ignorant and the ill-informed have been susceptible to antisemitic prejudices, but, historically speaking, antisemitic leaders have often been intelligent and highly educated; these were simply blinded by their own bigotries and hatreds.
To continue to cling to the simplistic notions of the past –
that may have, at one time, been adequate (though myopic) shortcuts to
thinking – will no longer avail if a person seeks to unravel
this current phenomenon. If church groups insist on pursuing this line
of activism, it is incumbent on them and their members to thoroughly
understand all of the issues and all of the ramifications of their
statements and actions.
I have addressed the topic of Christian churches and anti-Israel activism before. I would like to reexamine or clarify that today. Historically, in studying the actions and public statements of several denominations – particularly their hierarchies and insiders, I noticed that something seemed to have changed in the mid-1980s. It was at this point that a pro-Palestinian emphasis began to emerge as a priority; but along with that emphasis, various statements began to take on a markedly anti-Israel character. Subsequently, clearly biased anti-Israel statements and actions have become increasingly interspersed with what appear to be more overtly anti-Jewish ones. These themes somehow became tied together in a way that I have been at a loss to explain without simply attaching the label antisemitism to various mainline, legacy denominations. I have been unable to find any other factor that could account for this – though I have expended considerable effort attempting to do so.
Some people, I believe mistakenly, hold the impression that the anti-Israel and anti-Jewish elements of this church activism have been checked and are declining. They cite the examples of the fair-minded action of the 2006 General Assembly of the PC(USA) in removing the divestment instruction and actively calling for a balanced approach, of the statement of the UCC, and of the apparent backpedaling on church divestment from companies operating in Israel generally. Where I believe these are mistaken is in assuming that any statement by a governing agency of a denomination will be honored and followed by its employees and agents, and in assuming that this was anything other than a momentary blip on the radar of members. These moderating actions occurred to pacify people who momentarily paid attention in the wake of bad publicity – particularly surrounding an unfortunate couple of meetings between Presbyterian denominational officials and Hezbollah.
The conclusion that the anti-Israel factions in the various denominations drew was not that they had been mistaken or intemperate, but that they had not sufficiently sold people on the merits of their agendas.
What has happened since has confirmed this interpretation: the United Methodist Church is currently barreling toward a divestment program of its own, three relevant overtures are making their way through the PC(USA)'s system, and official statements, actions, and 'educational information' offered by PC(USA) and UMC 'leaders' have, in most cases, become more biased, more shrill, more hysterical. In a more sinister development, these committed, anti-Israel 'leaders' are trying to bring their message to the unaligned churches – those who have not taken a stance, but who often want to distance themselves from the bogeymen the 'religious right' and pre-millennial dispensationalist Christian Zionism. And these 'leaders' are making slow but steady progress in gaining proselytes.
I have been, frankly, puzzled – not so much by the incidence of what appears to be antisemitism among certain factions in the churches, but by the facility with which these factions have been able to direct the actions and 'witness' of their denominational organizations, and more importantly, by the lack of reaction among 'ordinary' Christians. It is as if these 'ordinary' Christians – who are not themselves antisemitic, and who do not, themselves hold up Israel to a double standard – remain perfectly content for organizations to which they belong to do so.
A common response might be something along the lines of, "I haven't studied the issue, so I shouldn't comment." That is, of course, sound under ordinary circumstances, but when one is a part of and supportive of an organization that does participate in activism, one bears an inescapable responsibility for that activism. Church organizations differ markedly from, say, nations, in that the former are voluntary associations: there is no taxing authority to enforce financial support for actions with which one disagrees; there is no law requiring membership; there are other affiliations one could choose – without, say, leaving the country.
There is, in short, a lot more freedom of action for 'ordinary' Christians in relation to their church organizations; there is, therefore, a lot more culpability for 'ordinary' Christians in the actively harmful things their religious organizations do.
Refusing to examine the issue is not a moral option. So I remain puzzled.
[I fully admit this is complicated – having as much or more to do with internal disputes within and among Christian denominations – but I have zero sympathy for those who support antisemitism as a surrogate for their hatred of their coreligionists. That is a factor that is occurring with alarming frequency; and those who indulge in that (intellectually pathetic) rationale are behaving in an extraordinarily irresponsible fashion, are showing a callous disregard for the well-being of others, and preclude by their conduct any semblance of valuing truth or honesty.]
Because I want to seriously consider the topic, I need to say a few things upfront – in the naïve hope of warding off the acolytes of the idiot coalition.
2. With that observation comes a corollary: this rank and long-standing bigotry was a fundamental violation of Christianity as described in the Christian Bible. When Christians (or organizations or societies that labeled themselves 'christian') indulged in biased and bigoted behaviors, their own religion condemned them.
3. It is self-evident that professing Christians have demonstrated biases in addition to anti-Jewish bias, and it is self-evident that others beside Christians have demonstrated biases against the Jewish people. But because of the peculiar relationship between the origins of Christianity and Judaism, this anti-Jewish bias is extraordinary and jarring; more alarming is the fact that the Jewish people have been singled out by professing Christians more frequently and with more vitriol than have been any other people – with the possible exception of periodic internecine Christian fights (say, for example among Protestants, Catholics, and the radical Reformed groups).
4. It is possible for a person to be pro-Palestinian without being particularly anti-Israeli. This is not a comfortable political space to occupy, but it can be done. It is possible for a person to be anti-Israel without being, of necessity, antisemitic; this is more difficult (yet still possible) distinction to make. It is possible for a person to be well-intentioned, yet easily and inadvertently slip from one of these into the others. It is also relevant that biases are not always consciously owned – a person may demonstrate even extreme bias without being aware that his or her perspective is warped.
5. I have tended to avoid employing the word 'antisemitic' for a couple of reasons. One is that people often reflexively respond to the charge by saying, "Anyone who criticizes Israel's policies is accused of antisemitism". (Usually this charge is followed by the phrase, "by the powerful Jewish Lobby" – which kind of speaks for itself.) Those who advance this assertion often inexplicably turn things around in their minds to suggest that because the accusation has been leveled in differing circumstances it is therefore untrue. The fact is that people who oppose the anti-Israel activism of groups like various professedly Christian denominations are not making the charge their detractors claim. These usually go far out of their way to avoid leveling a charge of antisemitism as it is regarded as unhelpful at best, and if present, unconscious.
Today I reject this – because the proponents of anti-Israel activism DO DEMONSTRATE A BIAS, and it is, in many cases, overtly antisemitic; I see no reason to attempt to sugar-coat this any longer; and the activists in question have been frequently alerted to the blatantly antisemitic content of some of the statements and information they provide. That they have chosen not to correct it dictates that they can no longer claim to be acting innocently in good faith.
6. The second reason I have frequently resisted using the word 'antisemitic' is linguistic; one invariably hears a response from some member of the anti-Israel brain trust: "Jews are not the only Semites – therefore someone who opposes the racist, evil, colonialist, settler state of Israel and its Jewish supporters is not anti-Semitic because he is supporting the Palestinian and Arab Semites." In one sense, I concur – Jews are, in fact, not the only semitic people; obviously Arabs and others share the semitic family of languages as well.
There are only two problems with this argument: it is solely a semantic distraction, and it is based on a very ill-informed understanding of the history of the word 'antisemitic'. The word 'antisemite' itself was apparently coined by Wilhelm Marr when he formed the German 'Antisemitic League' ("Antisemiten-Liga") specifically to combat the 'Jewish threat to Germany'. Marr also used the phrase "Jew hatred" (Judenhass) in a pretty much equivalent fashion. Marr's emphasis was placed on non-religious, race based opposition to the Jewish people. The word 'antisemitic' came to be preferred over 'Jew hatred' because it seemed to provide a thin, pseudo-scientific veneer for the whole concept. [It should be noted that the related word 'antisemitische' appeared to have been employed a few years earlier – but this equally exclusively indicated Jews.] In any case, the use of the word itself is really an irrelevance: whether one wants to employ the label 'antisemitism' or the label 'Jew-hatred' is quite beside the point.
What one is indicating by either word is that there is an overt anti-Jewish bias that is being demonstrated by factions in various Christian denominations. This could be religious, cultural, or race based; it could be some overlap of the three. Semantic arguments simply evade the issue.
In this section, I would like to begin to examine the specific
classes of actions taken and statements made by Christian
denominations and their 'officials'. Specifically, can these
problematic items be rightly characterized as antisemitic (or
anti-Judaic if you prefer)? If so, how would one arrive at that
characterization? If that characterization happens to be accurate,
does it matter whether or not the antisemitism is conscious? If that
characterization happens to be accurate, do these actions and
statements cause harm? If the characterization is accurate and the
actions and statements can be reasonably expected to cause harm, what
are the responsibilities of the members of these denominational
organizations, and what might they do about it? And is there anything
about a professing Christian denominational organization's involvement
in antisemitism that is morally thornier than the activism of other
voluntary civil organizations?
It seems to me necessary to consider more carefully certain classes of problematic behaviors indulged by many Christian church organizations. It is important to note that usually these behaviors are guided by specific minority factions whose views do not necessarily represent the members of these organizations. However, because the members enable these minority factions, it is the members who become responsible for their conduct. I have mentioned some of these before, but I think a closer look at their rationales is merited.
#1 Israeli Exceptionalism
Many mainline denominations have displayed a peculiar singularity of focus on Israel. This has been thoroughly documented, but a brief perusal of the articles from their various news services, of the public statements of their representatives, and of the actions of many of their governing bodies will confirm this as a unique priority. It is not the only issue of concern to these organizations, but it assumes a top place in their attentions. [Examples can be found in the treatment of Israelis and Palestinians in the Presbyterian News Service and other official sources here and here.] If (as is mostly self-evident) Israel is being given more attention by these church related activists, a natural question arises: Why? In itself, and extraordinary focus on a single nation is not evidence of anti-Judaism at work, but it does indicate the presence of some type of bias. That this focus is overwhelmingly negative, and that this focus is on the only Jewish state in existence is alarming.
I have heard several possible rationales articulated, and I think it would be prudent to consider them.
This allegation is advanced when Israeli actions are equated with those of countries like Sudan (as was done by PC(USA) Stated Clerk Clifton Kirkpatrick), or Nazi Germany (as was done in the Warsaw Ghetto reference in the PC(USA)'s 217th General Assembly pre-assembly event, or in the UMC's educational materials. It is advanced when Israeli actions are cast as 'blatant savagery (without correctly even describing the actions or providing information about the circumstances). It is advanced when words like genocide and apartheid are used to describe Israeli policies. Statement after statement from various officials in 'mainline' denominations has mirrored this essential charge.
If it is true then the singularity of focus by these denominations is justified. If it is not true, then the assertions made are themselves are delusions and slanders – and (of equal importance) no justification for Israeli exceptionalism can be found there.
Let's examine the allegation.
If Israel were intent on genocide, then Israel must be a miserable failure at genocide – because this attempt would unique in history: the population allegedly targeted has dramatically increased.
If one attempts to use a differing definition of genocide, then one is functionally lying because it is clearly known how the word is commonly understood. Even if a person were to grant some bizarre alternative definition, the rationale would fail because the unique nature of the charge would be no longer the case.
More precisely – if genocide is regarded as mass murder of a population, then Israel is clearly not guilty of any form of it. If, in deceitful form, genocide is regarded as the displacement of a population during a defensive war, then Israel is far less guilty of the charge than are Israel's neighboring states.
In this rationale, the Arab-Israeli conflict is generally blamed explicitly on Israeli intransigence – usually the occupation is cited as the root cause of the conflict, and in much literature the term occupation refers equally to the West Bank, Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem, and Israel proper. (In many instances 60 plus years of occupation are referenced.) This deranged blame placing ignores the entire history of the region ... But let's say, for the sake of argument, that we do place the entire blame for the conflict on Israel. What then? Would Israel be justifiably condemned singly above all other nations?
Even if it were "all Israel's fault" would Israel (as has been frequently asserted) be the chief player in the culture of violence in the world? Would the government of Israel be responsible for more deaths than other governments?
In terms of loss of life, in all conflicts from 1950 to the present, the Israeli-Arab conflict (including all deaths of Israelis, Palestinians, and citizens of neighboring states) ranks forty-ninth.
One out of every 1700 persons killed in conflicts since 1950 has been killed in this context. For comparison purposes, the death toll in conflicts in Sudan amounts to one out of every 50 persons killed in conflicts since 1950.
If one were to look at other human rights issues a similar picture would emerge. Israel has freedom of worship – a rarity among states in the region. Israel has freedom of speech and a free press; name one other country in the region whose newspapers print the same level of criticisms of their government. Israel has a court system that frequently rules against policies of the Israeli government; there is no counterpart court system in surrounding nations. Israel does not target civilians in military strikes – yes, civilian casualties occur – but, unlike its military opponents, Israel does not deliberately attack civilians or celebrate when civilians are murdered. Unlike other military forces, Israeli soldiers generally do not rape – and, interestingly enough – this lack of rape has actually been criticized by those who demonize Israel. Israel has a sizable non-Jewish population – that lives in safety; what other nation in the region has a sizable Jewish population? The instances of collective punishment, closures, and the separation barrier, while sometimes draconian, are generally responses to the ceaseless attacks against Israeli citizens.
Does Israeli society have inequities and problems? Yes. Are there abuses of Palestinians? Yes. Is Israel the singular human rights abuser it is portrayed as begin by Christian denominational organizations?
Not only does the evidence not support such a contention, any notion that the imbalance in the critical attention given to Israel by these activist organizations can be justified by Israel's misdeeds is unsustainable. One is forced to conclude that one must look elsewhere to ascertain the true reason for this peculiar Israeli exceptionalism.
This is perhaps true. Quite frankly it is an extremely tricky process to analyze potential future scenarios – and this particular one is certainly possible. The conflict between Israel, the Palestinians, and neighboring countries could spin out of control into a far wider war
Ironically, this fails as a reason to account for the excessive negative attention focused on Israel because the primary reason the situation could escalate centers around the existing negative attention focused on Israel.
In other words, the threat of wider conflict exists precisely because of disproportionate emphasis placed on the conflict. It begs the question of why the emphasis was there originally.
That the Arab League and the OIC place an extraordinary emphasis on the existence of Israel – which these have historically continually opposed – is certainly true. That many other nations have responded to that opposition by directing excessive negative attention toward Israel is also true. But one must wonder why these direct disapprobation toward Israel. It is as though these believe that if Israel didn't exist, there wouldn't be an issue of contention. Why might that be? Because Israel has fewer people? Less land? Because many nations already oppose Israel? Because Israel is expendable?
No rationale for demonstrated excessive critical focus on Israel because Israel is a potential flashpoint of wider war makes sense unless it is a function of appeasement.
While this form of appeasement that treats the Jewish state singularly as expendable is not de facto antisemitic, it could hardly be considered a good or valid motive for church action.
Many of these groups are somewhat consistent in that they apply a heightened level of criticism against the Unites States – presumably because they are speaking as Americans, and can therefore be "self-critical". These groups attempt to rationalize obsessive critical focus on Israel as self-criticism by proxy.
Upon closer examination, however, that rationalization fails for a host of reasons. First, what is one to make of statements and actions by the World Council of Churches or the World Alliance of Reformed Churches? Unless these organizations are regarded patronizingly as extensions of American church groups, their extraordinary negative focus on Israel could not be construed as 'self-criticism' by proxy. Second, self-criticism by proxy is, by itself, an extraordinary concept. I can think of no other situation in which this would be attempted. Third, those who would offer this rationalization create a fiction of the history of Israel by pretending that US support for Israel has been a factor since 1948 – which is quite simply not the case. Fourth, this attempted rationalization ignores the fact the US policies have often not been in the best interests of Israel. One cannot examine our oil policies, our relationships with the direct enemies of Israel, or the concessions we have bullied Israel into accepting with a promise of peace (that never materialized), and suggest anything like the relationship between nations this rationalization would necessitate. It is simply untrue. Fifth, much is made of the veto of UN Security Council resolutions – which has been used by all permanent members of the Security Council – while the effect of voting blocs such as the OIC has been deliberately understated. When a Secretary General of the United Nations can officially appear at an event observing the nakba – standing in front of a map of 'Palestine from the river to the sea' – treating the UN as honest broker is untenable. Sixth, this rationale necessitates a view of alliances that its holders do not exhibit in their treatment of any other US ally. For example, the United Kingdom almost never appears in critical statements by UN church groups, is almost never featured in denominational news services, has never had its legitimacy as a nation questioned by denominational officials, has never been had its leaders demonized by offices of denominations, has never been a target of divestment. It is self-evident that the rationalization of US support for Israel is not the motivating factor when church groups indulge in an observable obsessive negative focus on Israel.
This has been blatantly stated by several officials in various denominations. The issue, of course, is that Israel is a Jewish state. If Judaism were to be considered a racial or ethnic designation, then any state with a racial or ethnic basis would merit the same level of negative attention lavished on Israel by many Christian groups. Were Judaism regarded as a religion – then any state with a religious designation would, no doubt, be subject to the same level of disapprobation as Israel is. The lack of Jewish presence in Israel's neighboring states would certainly not have escaped their attention. Yet in no case do we see this ... except one – the Jewish state. Clearly, this too is a false rationalization.
Yup ... that's what they say. Some church spokespersons are more subtle and polished: they'll opine about 'the powerful Jewish lobby'. But the gist of the rationale remains the same. In this instance, churches view themselves as combating the global forces of evil, the sinister and shadowy Jewish/Zionist lobby. They will sponsor speakers (as the PC(USA) has done) who cite the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion to support their allegations. If this allegation were true, then yes, mainline Christian organizations would justified in their obsessive critical attention leveled at Israel. As absurd as it sounds, an observer would still be well advised to consider the possibility. I find this particular conspiracy theory unpersuasive for a variety of reasons.
Sadly, little can be done for those who attempt to advance this rationale. It constitutes a departure from sanity, and perhaps they should be pitied. However, if those clinging to the cabal rationale are the ones crafting the policies of 'mainline' Christian denominational organizations, then we have a problem.
All of the rationalizations we have examined fail to account for the posture of Israeli exceptionalism demonstrated by many Christian groups.
Very few other possible explanations remain. Such an exclusive
negative focus on Israel is not, by itself, automatically antisemitic,
but antisemitism would explain the data. Other possibilities, no
doubt, exist, but members of such organizations would do well to
thoroughly examine the motives behind the organizations' statements
and actions on the conflict between Israelis, Palestinians, and
#2 Presentation of One-Sided Information
Many Christian groups have provided information on the Middle East that is marked by a consistent pattern of one-sidedness. Some Christian Zionist groups have advanced one-sidedly pro-Israel narratives. Far more common, however, are the one-sidedly anti-Israel narratives presented by many mainline denominations and interest groups.
These take the form or 'resources' for congregational worship and education, of trips to the region, of hosting visitors from the region, of presenting information to members of congress or national governmental officials, of hosting conferences claiming to be about 'peace with justice', and of issuing statements for use by national agencies of the denominations.
The information offered by these denominational officials, bureaucrats, and factions has several salient features: a complete list of Israeli misdeeds (some real, some imagined); a systematic failure to mention Palestinian misdeeds (even the most egregious of these are only tangentially acknowledged with a qualification that they find their ultimate source in 'the occupation'; contacts with like-minded persons only (in all visits to the Middle East, and all hosted speakers); the systematic omission of historically relevant details; the inclusion of (verifiable) factual errors and distortions of history; the consistent misrepresentation of the actual text of UNSC resolutions; the presentation of unfounded statistics; and a persistent failure to correct information that has been proven false (specifically, false information is initially offered, it is challenged, and no mention is made that it was false – at best such information will stop being included in presentations).
As with the issue of Israeli exceptionalism, a couple of rationales are consistently offered to defend this practice. Here again, an observer would do well to examine these rationales more carefully.
This notion was advanced by the PC(USA)'s Vernon Broyles (among many others) in The Christian Century. In a letter to members of the New Covenant Presbytery, the PC(USA)'s Clifton Kirkpatrick reiterated the same argument:
"The ability to be "fair" and "balanced" rests upon the recognition that at present, things are grossly out of balance with respect to issues of power, economic stability, living conditions and even the issue of daily survival."
This rationalization attempt runs into two problems. First, it makes an assertion about a power relationship that it does not actually establish. Who, for example, is considered in this relationship? Are neighboring countries that take an active role in the conflict relevant? How about the UN? The burden of proof justifying an imbalance of reaction rests on the one advocating that imbalance.
Even were this imbalance established, the rationalization for offering one-sided information would still fail. It might suffice to warrant an imbalance in a church's response, but it would never justify an imbalance in process.
After a church organization had thoroughly explored the matter, it would be free to take a stand that reflected a legitimate situation on the ground. However, we are not talking about a church organization's response – we're talking about their gathering of data upon which to base any response.
Bias in that process is unjustifiable because it makes formulating any coherent analysis of the situation on the ground impossible for the churches concerned.
It may perhaps be that the officials who advanced this argument arrogantly presume that they have analyzed the situation – and are therefore justified in lying to members of the organization about it. However they may regard their action – this rationalization of it is not workable.
This argument has been offered by the PC(USA), the UMC, and several other Christian organizations on a variety of occasions. When it commended a film, Peace, Propaganda, and the Holy Land as a "study resource for children and youth", representatives of the PC(USA) had this to say:
"This film orients the viewer to the source of his or her existing biases about the Middle East and prepares the viewer to be a more critical media consumer. Combining American and British TV news clips with observations of analysts, journalists, and political activists, this film provides an historical overview, a striking media comparison, and an examination of factors that have distorted U.S. media coverage and, in turn, American public opinion."
Christie R. House, the editor of the United Methodist Church global ministries magazine, New World Outlook, expressed much the same thinking:
"New World Outlook is not attempting to provide balanced views about the conflict in this issue. New World Outlook is attempting to be the balance. Readers can find the Israeli viewpoint in the mainstream media, on the internet, and in many books on the issue."
Some of the difficulty engendered by this rationalization is self-evident. The PC(USA) quote seems to suggest that bias is a bad thing, yet the PC(USA) does in the process of presenting an extraordinarily biased film to children and youth.
But this rationale also contains three embedded false assumptions and one arrogant and offensive assumption.
1. That people have some familiarity with the facts of the conflict between Israelis, Palestinians, and neighboring states. This is demonstrably untrue – in surveys, many Americans have had difficulty locating the State of Israel on a map. In order to provide balance by offering one-sided information people would have had to already be familiar with the other side.
2. That the 'mainstream media' actually offers the Israeli viewpoint – or even a particularly favorable view of Israel. This also is manifestly false. In the film commended by the PC(USA), the BBC was held up as an exemplar of balance – in spite of the BBC's record of gross bias and the findings of the Balen Report.
3. That the American media is somehow controlled in order to provide favorable coverage of Israel. Any bets who the controllers of the 'mainstream media' are supposed to be?
And 4. Those who offer this rationale play on the ego of their hearers and suggest that these are somehow superior to those who rely on the 'mainstream media, the internet, and many books on the subject' – apparently because these read the (in this case admittedly) biased publications of various Christian groups.
This fourth embedded assumption is particularly troublesome because anyone who has spent more than five minutes looking into it will discover that there are numerous conflicting narratives about virtually every issue involved. Some of these are legitimate perspectives; some are deliberately deceitful; others are accidentally false. The policy of church organizations providing one-sided information does nothing to help a person who genuinely seeks to understand the situation.
Additionally some of the same faulty rationalizations are offered for the distribution of one-sided materials that are offered to attempt to justify Israeli exceptionalism. They remain as insufficient to justify this practice as they were to warrant an excessive negative focus on Israel. In any case, to provide people with one-sided information is inescapably an attempt to prompt people to take sides based on a falsehood.
This is not necessarily antisemitic, but it is fundamentally deceitful and completely inexcusable. Such attempts at deceit are never Christian practices, therefore any church organization that indulges in them violates its own claimed beliefs.
That this deceitful practice targets a specific people group raises
serious questions. It is a form of defamation, and that it seems to be
tolerated among church members uniquely in the case of Israel
compounds the problem.
#3 Religious Imagery of Demonization
When self-identifying Christian groups speak about the conflict between Israelis, Palestinians, and neighboring countries, a peculiar phenomenon can be seen. These tend to employ a specific set of religious images: comparisons of Israel to Pharaoh, comparisons of Israel to King Herod, references to the Israeli crucifixion system, references to Israelis trying to put stones in front of the tomb of Jesus, labeling the creation of Israel as 'the original sin', labeling Jesus the first Palestinian shaheed.
Except for being tailored to the Palestinian cause, these are, for the most part, familiar tropes of liberation theology. In liberation struggles the use of this set of images serves two purposes.
First, they provide comfort to the unempowered who can identify their struggles with the sufferings of Christ or other heroic biblical figures. Second, by casting their opponents as biblical evil figures, those who invoke this set of images can effectively demonize those opponents.
The first usage has some merit; it can be very effective at offering comfort and encouragement. The second usage is more troubling. It is the second usage – that of biblical demonization – that is being employed by US church organizations. [This is readily apparent when US churches repeat or publish the use of such imagery – because the intended audience is clearly not the group these organizations regard as unempowered. The fact that this imagery is directed at a US audience eliminates any other possible use than that of swaying public opinion against the chosen opponents of these organizations through demonization.]
In many other favored historic liberation struggles this might have been an acceptable practice; when it is employed by Christian organizations against the only Jewish state, it acquires a number of complications. There is a very long history of the use of this set of images by Christians against the Jews that has caused untold misery and bloodshed. That fact cannot be ignored by any responsible person.
Although the 'leaders' of the various Christian organizations that these images have been made aware of the problematic nature of their language of contempt, these have failed to distance themselves from it.
This failure evidences, at the very least, a callous disregard for
the danger that has always been historically inherent in language of
this type. This may not be overt antisemitism, but it displays a type
of depraved indifference to the familiar language of historic
#4 Speaking for Another Religion
In their various activisms, Christian groups have often spoken for Judaism in a way that is troubling.
These have asserted principals of Judaism to advance their anti-Israel case, have offered their own quirky interpretations of 'what Judaism teaches' or emphasizes, or have latched onto fringe groups that supported their chosen viewpoints as if these were representative of Judaism.
For example, Christian groups have continually asserted that Jewish claims to land are null and void, but that Jewish covenant obligations remain in force. In cases they have posited an idyllic view of Jews living in the Diaspora as modeling "community life not dependent on violence to sustain it... [They] 'were able to maintain identity without turf or sword, community without sovereignty. They thereby demonstrated pragmatically the viability of the ethic of Jeremiah and Jesus.'" [As an observer, I must say, I'd be surprised if many Jews in the Diaspora would be particularly pleased to be credited with demonstrating the ethic of Jesus ... and I'm certain most of the people who experienced this life as a minority population subject to humiliating laws and officially sanctioned persecution would not take the suggestion well that this was God's eternal purpose for them.]
I'm very sure that Christians would not take kindly to members of other religions exploitatively declaring "what Christianity teaches" – especially if these non-Christians asserted teachings different from those Christians actually believe.
Similarly, were non-Christians to select fringe elements who claim to be Christian as if these were representative spokespersons for Christianity – I would imagine this would be profoundly offensive.
Say, for example, that non-Christians were to decide that Rev. Fred Phelps were a representative spokesman for Christianity, Christians would rightly cry foul. Yet, in the service of their political activism, church organizations are doing the equivalent thing to Judaism.
I am aware of no particular rationale that has been offered to
defend this practice, but I would imagine that following the (not
entirely original) Christian tenet, "Do unto others as you would have
them do unto you" would preclude such statements and actions.
#5 Generic Statements Directed Against the Jews
A small but significant number of statements issued by Christian organizations (either speaking for themselves or repeating with agreement the opinions of others) involve generic statements about 'the Jewish people'.
For example, article after article from the PNS – and the official Presbyterian meeting "Steps Toward Peace in Israel/Palestine", cited the chief opposition to the 2004 divestment decision as coming from Jewish groups; the "Jewish community" is explicitly credited with attempting to "stir up enough Presbyterians to change the decisions of the 216th General Assembly (2004).".
Yet the PC(USA)'s Rev. Victor Makari opined (on behalf of the PC(USA)):
"It is ironic that, in the Judaeo-Christian milieu of this nation, the church's appeals, for over five decades, to the convictions of faith, to the biblical mandate of justice, and to moral consciousness have fallen largely on deaf ears. But when Mammon was aroused, flood gates of anger broke loose."
Since the PC(USA) officially credited the negative response to its divestment initiative to "the Jewish community" = to whom could Rev. Makari be referring in his 'aroused Mammon' statement? Who does he suppose has been aroused to anger by Mammon?
The PC(USA) officially takes the trouble to warn people about the "emotional rhetoric that Presbyterians encounter in conversation with Jews [that] can easily derail the conversation or turn it away from issues of justice and peace." An official network of the PC(USA) has said that "Jews in the Diaspora must get a life." Similarly, the United Methodist Church has informed the world that it is "called to testify when oppressors use their identity as the oppressed with stories of sixty years ago but through some failure of perception cannot see what transpires now in the shadow of the Holocaust".
It must be observed that church organizations sometimes quietly remove their more explicitly anti-Jewish statements from websites. But these midnight disappearances have never corresponded to any acknowledgement whatsoever that the statements were out of bounds, and no apology has ever been offered for such gross, unfair, and bigoted generalizations.
All of the other classes of action I have considered have possible rationalizations. I find them insufficient; I find they do not justify the actions. I find them problematic, and I find the classes of statement and action profoundly troubling. However, it is conceivable that someone could engage in them out of some mistaken sensibility, out of ignorance, or out of a failure to grasp their ramifications. I do not believe that serves as an excuse – when one chooses to take action, when one chooses to be affiliated with a group that takes actions or issues statements, then one gains a responsibility for those actions and statements. But the possibility exists – that a person is simply behaving with gross irresponsibility and not active, self-aware malice.
However, I have encountered no rationale for this fifth behavior pattern. Those who have attempted to defend it are generally rabidly incoherent, sometimes bothering to wipe the foam from their mouths, sometimes not.
The fact is – at least for this class of statement, no justifying rationale is possible. It is beyond doubt that those who excuse it and defend it demonstrate themselves to be antisemitic. That church organizations fail to see this, that they sometimes engage in the practice, that they partner with people who do so, and that they fail to act to correct places them firmly in the camp of antisemites.
Both Parts were published on http://expresbyterian.blogspot.com/ –
part 1 on January 31, 2008
Will Spotts is – or was until recently – an ordained ruling elder of a PC(USA) church. But he sees himself in a time of transition until, as he says, "I will no longer be a PC(USA) elder. Instead, I will be a recovering Presbyterian.
(http://expresbyterian.blogspot.com/2008/01/church-anti-israel-activism-and.html) and Part 2 February 12, 2008
Both Parts were published on http://expresbyterian.blogspot.com/ –
part 1 on January 31, 2008
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