by Dexter Van Zile (September 2010)
Anyone who has paid any attention to media coverage regarding the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s General Assembly which took place in Minneapolis in early July has good reason to scratch his head in bewilderment.
Jewish groups that roundly condemned the denomination for its one-sided witness about the Arab-Israeli conflict prior to the General Assembly offered qualified praise after it was over.
Most notably, a coalition of 13 groups organized by the Jewish Council for Public Affairs expressed optimism after the General Assembly banged the gavel on the overtures related to the Arab-Israeli conflict on July 9, 2010. The statement released by this coalition reported that “serious concerns remain” about actions taken by the General Assembly, but that nevertheless, the church had embraced “a more thoughtful approach to Middle East peacemaking.”
This is a big shift. Ten days before the General Assembly started, JCPA Vice President Ethan Felson warned that if things went badly, it would prompt “serious conversation [among Jewish groups] about withdrawing from alliances with the Presbyterians.”
A similar shift was evident in the statements from the Simon Wiesenthal Center. In February, the center warned the PC(USA) was preparing to declare war on Israel. But after the General Assembly, Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, director of interfaith affairs for the center, stated that while the outcome was not perfect, the worst elements of the proposals before the General Assembly, “including very hostile declarations on theology, boycotts and the impossibility of a Jewish state, did not become church policy.”
CAMERA, which had pointed out some of the problems with the materials up for approval at the General Assembly, also issued a press release stating that if the denomination follows through on decisions made by the 2010 General Assembly, it might “arrive at a comprehensive-and factual-understanding of all the factors contributing to the continued existence” of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Leaders and commentators from other Jewish groups however, have weighed in with commentary of their own that was much more pessimistic. In a piece published in the Huffington Post, Abe Foxman from the Anti-Defamation League argued that the overtures approved by the General Assembly indicate the PC(USA) still holds Israel to a troubling double-standard.[i] Rabbi James Rudin, senior interreligious adviser for the American Jewish Committee made a similar argument that while activists within the denomination made a heroic effort to expunge the malignant language from a 172-page report “but like some cancer surgeries, they didn’t get it all.”[ii]
Bob Cohn, editor emeritus of the St. Louis Jewish Light, adopted a line similar to that of the ADL, stating that he “found no basis for optimism” regarding the events at the PC(USA)’s General Assembly. The fact that things could have been worse, Cohn asserts, is no reason to celebrate or even have “cautious optimism.”
The Jewish Internet Defense Force, which bills itself as an internet protest organization, was much blunter in its assessment, asserting that JCPA vice president Ethan Felson was “out of his mind” and that “[o]nce again, the mainstream Jewish establishment proves to be failing us.” Implicit in this complaint is that the groups that signed onto the JCPA statement are collaborating with Israel’s enemies inside the PC(USA).
Given the realities of Jewish history, this is a serious – if not lethal – charge.
Anyone who has read Ken Levin’s The Oslo Syndrome: Delusions of a People Under Seige (Smith and Kraus, 2005) has reason to wonder if history isn’t repeating itself. In this text, Levin details how, in the 1990s, proponents of the peace process denied reality even as it was punching them in the face, and insisted on negotiating with the Palestinians even as their leader Yassir Arafat was screaming “jihad” to his supporters when he thought no one else was listening. People who warned – correctly – that Arafat had not changed were marginalized, while deluded peacemakers in Israel quixotically negotiated with a leader who had no intention or ability to keep his promises.
By now, most people know the details of what happened next. Arafat said no to Ehud Barak’s offer at Camp David, refused to make a counter offer and then turned down the Clinton Parameters a few months later. And in between both of Arafat’s refusals, Palestinian terrorists started killing Israeli civilians with suicide bomb attacks – which in the ensuing years, were blamed on Israel. As a result, the people who supported negotiations with Arafat (the “Oslo Group”) looked like fools and the peace movement in Israel has yet to recover.
Let’s be clear – the PC(USA) is not the Palestinian Authority, and Arafat does not work in the denomination’s headquarters in Louisville. Still, the similarities are undeniable. A coalition of Jewish groups in the U.S. asserts that things aren’t perfect but have gotten better with the PC(USA) while others – from the ADL and the American Jewish Committee – warn that things haven’t changed and that the denomination is as unfair toward Israel as it ever was.
All of this raises a few questions. Have the groups offering praise for the events that took place in Minneapolis deluded themselves into thinking that a fundamental change has taken place in side the PC(USA)? Are they the new “Oslo Group”?
I’ll put my marker down now. I think a change did take place in Minneapolis and that that the PC(USA) as a whole will be more responsible in its commentary about the Arab-Israeli conflict in the future.
That isn’t to say that anti-Zionism is a spent force inside the PC(USA) – it’s not. There are still some committed anti-Zionists in this church who are obsessed about Jewish influence on American politics and who want others to embrace this obsession. Their strategy is to turn the legislative bodies within the PC(USA) – meetings of local presbyteries and the biannual General Assembly – into Kangaroo courts where Israel is placed in the seat of judgment and subjected to accusation after accusation while the actions of its adversaries are ignored or downplayed.
What has changed is that people inside the denomination realize just how destructive this process has become and that it is time for the church to figure out a way to advocate for the Palestinians without demonizing Israel.
“We have come to a position of Palestine good, Israel bad. Life is not that simple,” Rev. Susan Zencka, pastor at Frame Memorial Presbyterian Church in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, told the Associated Press on July 10, 2010.
Slowly but surely, people within the PC(USA) are waking up to a troubling reality: For the past several years anti-Israel activists in the Presbyterian Church (USA) have used the denomination’s institutions to de-legitimize Israel by broadcasting a narrative that portrays the Jewish state as uniquely at fault for the continued existence of the Arab-Israeli conflict. They have done this by submitting overtures to meetings of local presbyteries that draw attention to Israeli policies while remaining silent about the misdeeds of its adversaries. Once local presbyteries pass these overtures, they proceed to the General Assembly where they are given a national stage.[iii]
Another reality – one that I’m not so sure the church has come to grips with – is that prior to the 2010 General Assembly, some of these activists also attacked Israel’s Jewish supporters in the U.S. in some pretty ugly ways. These people are not only working to de-legitimize Israel, they are working to de-legitimize American Jews in the minds of their neighbors.
These activists achieved great success in 2004 when the church’s General Assembly approved an anti-Israel divestment overture (or resolution) submitted by a presbytery in Florida that affirmed that Israel was at the root of violence against innocents on both sides of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
The passage of this overture, which made no mention of the role Islamist and secular ideologies played in fomenting violence against Israel, was a source of great joy for anti-Zionists in the U.S. and the Middle East who thought it was just the beginning of a campaign to portray Israel as the next South Africa. It appeared to be the first salvo of many.
Predictably, the passage of this resolution engendered a powerful and angry response from Jewish leaders in the U.S. It also aroused opposition from pastors and laity within the denomination who, at the 2006 General Assembly, worked successfully to overturn the 2004 vote singling Israel out for divestment. This General Assembly also declared suicide bombing a “crime against humanity.” [iv]
And at the 2008 General Assembly, these same Presbyterian activists convinced commissioners to pass Overture 11-06 calling on the church to embrace a non-partisan approach to peacemaking in the region.[v]
The Run Up to Minneapolis
The passage of Overture 11-06 had little effect on the anti-Zionists who, in the months prior to the 2010 General Assembly, prepared another round of overtures in hopes of achieving a victory similar to what they achieved in 2004.
Their efforts in local presbyteries paid off with a number of resolutions being placed before the General Assembly. Two overtures called for the church to divest from Caterpillar because it sells tractors and bulldozers to Israel and a third, submitted by the Mission Responsibility Through Investment (MRTI) committee – the denominational body charged with monitoring the denomination’s investments – called for the church to “denounce” Caterpillar for doing business with Israel. (Of these three, only the MRTI resolution passed.)
Another overture (which failed to pass) declared Israel guilty of the crime of apartheid and yet another (which also failed) called for the church to “lift up” or endorse the Kairos Document, a polemic written by Palestinian Christians that has been condemned by the Central Conference of American Rabbis as “supersessionist” and “anti-Semitic.”
An overture submitted by the Chicago Presbytery called on the U.S. government to stop sending military aid to countries that engage in human rights violations. And just to eliminate any confusion over which country the authors were unhappy about, the overture (which passed on a voice vote), made specific mention of Israel and no other country in the Middle East – sending a clear message that they think Israel is the worst human rights abuser in the region, which, politely put, is simply untenable.
As bad as these overtures were, they were dwarfed in size and hostility by a 172-page report prepared by a nine-member “Middle East Study Committee” established by the 2008 General Assembly and charged with providing a comprehensive view of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Instead of fulfilling this mandate, however, the committee offered up a report (ironically titled “Breaking Down the Walls”) that was so hostile, so distorted, and so frankly dishonest that in March J Street – a group that routinely condemns Israel – criticized the Middle East Study Committee for failing to taking into account Israel’s legitimate security concerns. (When J Street issues a statement like this, you know there’s a problem.)[vi] [vii]
The sheer volume of the anti-Israel material that made it onto the agenda of the General Assembly helps explain why it is of little consolation for Abe Foxman at the ADL and James Rudin at the AJC that most of the resolutions did not pass and that the Middle East Study Committee’s report was drastically altered (“gutted” in the words of one commentator) before it was approved by the General Assembly. Even if only a couple were approved by the General Assembly, the anti-Israel activists can claim victory (as they have) and the passage of the resolutions can energize anti-Israel activism in other venues such as mainline churches and college campuses.
There is however, an upside. A growing mass of people inside the PC(USA) has been getting sick and tired of their church being used to attack Israel. These attacks don’t help bring an end to the conflict in the Middle East, but instead cause division within the denomination and undermine the credibility of the church as a force for peacemaking, warned Katharine Henderson President of Auburn Theological Seminary at a breakfast organized by Presbyterians for Middle East Peace held during the General Assembly.
“The time for making pronouncements may be over for the Presbyterian Church,” she said.
What Are We Dealing With?
The anti-Zionist coalition inside the PC(USA) is comprised of three groups.
The first part is a small but vocal number Arab Christians within the PC(USA) who have worked to use the denomination to attack Israel in the United States. Their main strategy is to point to the suffering of the Palestinian Christians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, blame Israel for this suffering, and then insist that the only way the PC(USA) can acknowledge the plight of their Christian brethren in the Middle East is to condemn Israel while ignoring the deeds of its adversaries. This group is represented inside the PC(USA) by the National Middle Eastern Presbyterian Caucus. Given the personal histories of the people in this community, it’s unreasonable to expect them to be pro-Israel, but at the same time, it is irresponsible for the PC(USA) to accept, without challenge, the narrative they offer about the Arab-Israeli conflict.
The second part of the anti-Zionist machine inside the PC(USA) is so-called peace activists who regard Palestinian Christians as the symbol of Christian martyrdom in the modern world. This group views Palestinians as beleaguered victims of colonialism and Israel as the distillation of everything that is wrong about Western civilization. This group is made up of laity, pastors and current and former missionaries to the Middle East.
As I have written elsewhere, Israel is, for these self-flagellants, the ram in the thicket, a convenient scapegoat. People who enjoy the material benefits of Western civilization’s bloody history can recover their innocence and evade punishment by charging Israel with the crimes their own ancestors committed in the distant, and not-so distant-past.[viii] This group is represented inside the PC(USA) by the Israel-Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church (USA).
These first two groups are the foot-soldiers, so to speak, for anti-Zionist activism in the PC(USA). People affiliated with these groups write most of the resolutions and submit them to local Presbyteries, and lobby to get them passed and put onto the agenda of the General Assembly. They form alliances with other anti-Israel activists outside the church, bring in anti-Israel speakers to local churches at events and prepare the materials to be distributed to the commissioners at the General Assembly.
They do this work with the financial and institutional assistance and political cover provided by a third group in the coalition. This group is made up of sympathetic pastors and church officials who grant these first two groups access to church resources and package the attacks they make on Israel’s legitimacy – such as the passage of the 2004 divestment overture – as “peacemaking.” These people are the stage managers and publicists for the two groups described above.
Denominational staffers and officials who work out of (or are affiliated with) the denomination’s headquarters in Louisville, Kentucky comprise the backbone of this group. This group is also comprised of former moderators, the Mission Responsibility Through Investment committee (which submitted the resolution calling for Caterpillar to be denounced and committees from the General Assembly Mission Council such as the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP) which gives its blessing to anti-Israel resolutions submitted to the General Assembly and seeks to protect Israel’s adversaries from criticism.[ix]
What’s in it for them?
This final group is motivated by two impulses. Like the Arab Presbyterians and the larger circle of peace activists in the PC(USA), ideology surely plays a motivating role. There is, however, an instrumental aspect to their willingness to support and run interference for attacks on Israel in the church they lead. As I described in a previous essay for New English Review, attacks on Israel and its Jewish supporters in the U.S. generate controversy and, in turn, publicity for the PC(USA), which like other mainline denominations is shrinking and losing its ability to influence public discourse in the U.S. “Jews are news, and by extension so are the people who attack them.”
There is something else in it for them as well. By indulging, and in some instances, assisting in attacks on Israel – and its Jewish supporters in the U.S. – leaders of the PC(USA) and other mainline churches have used anti-Jewish rhetoric as a tool to maintain their niche in the religious marketplace in the U.S. and protect their dwindling influence on the American scene.[x]
By attacking Israel and its supporters in the U.S., the mainline churches seek to portray their rivals – evangelical Christians – as supporting policies that contribute to Palestinian suffering and as threats to world peace. In other words, the leaders of these churches tolerate and in some instances assist in the demonization of Israel to assail evangelicals in the U.S., who by any measure are much more numerous and influential than the mainline community has been for years. And in their attacks on Israel, the so-called peace activists in the mainline community find it useful and necessary to attack Israel’s Jewish supporters in the U.S. as well because of their alliance with these evangelicals.
This is not a new strategy. In his book Fatal Embrace: Jews and the State,[xi] Benjamin Ginsberg details how at various times in history, groups within American society have attacked Jews in an effort to assail, de-legitimize or supplant political and economic movements.
For example, white property owners in post Civil War South used anti-Semitism as a method of regional defense against industrial capitalism.[xii] Anti-Semitism was also a mainstay of the backlash against liberalism, progressive reform and the labor movement during the Red Scare of 1919-1920.[xiii]
The patrician class in the Northeast used anti-Semitism to reassert their dominance in the face of a changing economy in the 1800s. They barred Jews from social clubs they themselves had helped found and limited their admission to colleges and medical schools not only out of contempt for Jews, but to protect their status and reestablish their dominance in American society.[xiv] Ginsberg writes that “by assailing Jews, [New England Brahmins] attacked the industrialists, financiers, and railroad barons who were displacing them in the nation’s political and economic life. This fear was expressed in a stream of anti-Semitic writers and speeches on the part of New England’s leading public figures and intellectuals during the late nineteenth century.”[xv]
And in the 1960s, young black nationalists used anti-Semitism to assail the leaders of the civil rights movement who relied on Jewish financial support and activism for the success of their campaigns. By intimidating Jewish voting rights activists in SNCC field offices, these nationalists were not only targeting Jews, but their black coworkers as well.[xvi] Black activists also used anti-Semitic intimidation to drive white teachers and administrators (most of whom were Jewish) out of their jobs in the New York City school system. They did this with the acquiescence of non-Jewish white politicians who realized they could mollify the black activists by allowing the intimidation to proceed and to give these jobs to African Americans and Hispanics.[xvii]
In all these instances, there was an instrumental as well as an emotive component to anti-Semitism.
The same can be said about mainline anti-Zionism and the community’s tolerance for and use of anti-Jewish rhetoric that goes along with it. It is a way for church administrators and denominational officials to assert their relevance even as their churches continue to decline in numbers. Applying Ginsberg’s analysis to current circumstances, it seems reasonable to conclude that by assailing Israel and its Jewish supporters in the U.S., mainline churches, the colonial mainline[xviii] especially, are also attacking the conservative evangelical Christians who have displaced them in the nation’s religious life and political discourse.[xix]
Attacks on Israel’s Jewish supporters in the U.S. were present in the public statements and correspondence from a number of Presbyterian groups prior to the General Assembly.[xx]
For example, a June 29, 2010 letter signed by more than 200 PC(USA) ministers and elders, accused Jewish groups in the U.S. of engaging in a campaign of disinformation about the Middle East Study Committee report. The letter states, in part:
It is with a deep sense of concern and a desire for fairness that we write to you concerning materials that are critical of the Middle East Study Committee report that you will be considering at the 219th General Assembly. It is important to know for instance, that even before the final report was written and published, such groups as the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the Anti-Defamation League, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis were already denouncing the MESC report. In some cases disinformation campaigns began before it was possible for any member of such organizations to have read the report.
The letter then continues asserting that the criticism leveled by these groups was “boilerplate spin that began before the report was even available, and set up that side of the debate precisely in the direction it has gone.”
It is true that the Simon Wiesenthal Center issued a warning about the MESC report before the full text was released, but it based its warning on a report from the Presbyterian News Service which indicated that the committee had debated whether their report would acknowledge Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.
That’s a pretty good cause for concern. And given actual content of the report, the Wiesenthal assertion that the church was preparing to declare war on Israel was not too far off the mark. The document up for consideration at the General Assembly equated Israeli leaders with Nazis, downplayed Muslim and Arab hostility toward Israel and Jews, held Israel and Jews to a biblical standard of conduct while failing to hold its adversaries to much of a standard at all and even used arguments based on genetics to undermine the Jewish connection to the land of Israel. All in all, it was pretty ugly stuff that taken together represented an obvious attempt to undermine Israel’s legitimacy as a Jewish state.
In light of the actual text of the MESC report, about the worst that could be said about the Wiesenthal Center’s statement was that it was “premature” but then again, it was based on a report from the Presbyterian News Service, which by the way, included comments from the Middle East Study Committee, who for one reason or another, spoke to the press. The Wiesenthal Center responded to what it saw reported on the PC(USA)’s own website. Did the Middle East Study Committee honestly think that the PNS report was not going to evoke a response?
The letter’s assertion that the ADL and the CCAR denounced the report before it “was written and published” is contradicted by the statements issued by these organizations. The CCAR’s statement, issued in May (two months before the General Assembly) states explicitly, “we have read and studied the Study Committee’s Report.”
And the ADL’s statement, was issued on March 11, 2010, six days after the denomination began releasing the document on a piecemeal basis on March 5, 2010. (Part one of the report was made public on March 5, 2010March 8, 2010 and the third and final section of the report was released on March 10, 2010.) The report was 172-pages long, but it wasn’t all that difficult to read and the problems with the text were pretty obvious even upon a cursory inspection.
In sum, the false assertion that the ADL and the CCAR denounced the report before it was “written and published” was merely an attempt to deny these groups the standing to challenge the text and obviate the need to respond to their complaints in a reasoned manner.
This letter also stated that complaints about the Middle East Study Committee’s failure to speak with Jewish groups in the U.S. were unfounded because the committee was charged with “studying the facts on the ground as they presently exist” and that on this score, “The Middle East Study Committee fulfilled its mandate.”
This is simply put, a joke. The report was a disaster and most people knew it as soon as they began reading it. Former Vice President Walter Mondale, who, according to this write up from 2002, worships at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Minneapolis, made that perfectly clear when speaking to a group of Presbyterians during the General Assembly. Speaking to proponents and critics of the report and denominational leaders, Mondale said that he read the report while on a fishing trip and that it ruined his trip. He then gave his blessing to efforts to amend the report.[xxi]
The Israel-Palestine Mission Network of the PC(USA) also leveled attacks at Jewish groups. They did this in a statement calling on the General Assembly to approve the MESC report.[xxii] Like the 200 pastors and elders who signed the letter described above, the IPMN accused the Wiesenthal Center of engaging in a disinformation campaign. The statement went onto describe the Wiesenthal Center as
an organization once known for its pursuit of justice [that] has now appointed itself to be a mouthpiece for a colonial enterprise and segregated political system. It is important to note that the Wiesenthal Center, which Presbyterians could once count on to express the best of the Biblical prophetic tradition, is presently trying to build a “Museum of Tolerance” on an ancient Muslim graveyard in Jerusalem.
In its depiction of the Wiesenthal Center’s supposed fall from grace, the IPMN left out some important facts about the “ancient Muslim burial ground” it was allegedly desecrating. In 1945, the Supreme Muslim Council in Jerusalem approved the construction of a business center on the same property. The center would include a six-story house belonging to the council, offices and “a four-storeyed hotel, a bank and other buildings suitable for a college club and a factory.”[xxiii] Subsequently, the property in question had been used – without complaint as a parking lot – for forty years. In sum, the IPMN was parroting the line offered by Muslim extremists in Israel and using it to attack a Jewish group in the U.S.
IPMN’s animus toward American Jewish groups was also evident in a memo to the General Assembly Mission Council about a document regarding Christian-Jewish relations that was up for approval at the General Assembly. In this memo, the Israel-Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church (USA) warned against “making nice” with Jewish groups in the U.S. because they have
provided financial and political support for the Israeli occupation and colonization of Palestinian lands since 1948, and used threat and intimidation to censor debate about Israel within and without the Jewish community.1 A report that confesses Christian guilt for the past and calls for changes in our theology and practice but neglects to mention the contribution of American synagogues to the oppression of Palestinians over the past six decades appears to us as inauthentic interfaith dialogue. [Note: As indicated above, this passage includes a footnote which directs the reader to a paragraph that will be quoted and analyzed below.]
Here, the IPMN makes its agenda clear. It regards Israel’s creation in 1948 as an act of occupation and colonization, which is, in sum, a rejection of Israel’s existence under any boundaries. On this score, the IPMN contradicts the PC(USA)’s stated policy of affirming Israel’s right to exist and, whether it intends to or not, lends credence to the agendas of groups like Hamas and Hezbollah that declare Israel’s mere existence an affront to Arabs and Muslims in the Middle East. This is anti-Zionism, straight up. The implication of this paragraph is that the wrong side won the 1948 War. The above paragraph is a clear attempt to cast the blame for Palestinian suffering and Israeli “colonialist” policies onto the shoulders of Jewish organizations and synagogues in the U.S. without taking into account a number of realities including the most obvious – Israel has been attacked from nearly every bit of territory from which it has withdrawn since the 1990s. Anyone who hopes that land-for-peace will bring an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict would, if they are serious, would realize that this is a serious challenge to their hopes, but it’s just not something mainline peacemakers want to acknowledge.
The accusation that the Jewish community uses “threat and intimidation to censor debate within and without the Jewish community” is also preposterous given the extensive coverage the Arab-Israeli conflict receives in the media compared to the coverage given other conflicts in the world[xxiv] and the number of resolutions about the conflict passed by mainline churches.[xxv] The way the IPMN frames it, when Jewish groups respond to what people say about Israel, it is censorship.
Things get really hostile in the footnote mentioned above which directs readers to the following text at the bottom of the memo:
The package (a bomb?) sent to 100 Witherspoon St in 2004, the fire in a Rochester church, the picketing of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship event at GA when Professor Norman Finkelstein was a featured speaker, and the many visits of teams of Jewish neighbors to local Presbyterian churches are examples of these tactics. This type of censorship and intimidation is so frequent that Jewish Voice for Peace has created a special website to document it. See www.muzzlewatch.com. [Author’s note: The “package” mentioned in the IPMN’s memo was according to the PC(USA)’s news service, a letter threatening to commit an act of arson.]
This passage obliquely blames an act of arson and a terrorist threat on PC(USA) on “certain American Jewish organizations” despite the fact that the attacks were condemned by numerous Jewish organizations in the U.S., as documented by the PC(USA)’s own news service.
As it turns out, federal investigators had linked the man who mailed the letter, Jeffrey A. Winters, “to Internet postings expressing suicidal thoughts and struggles with obsessive compulsive disorder and to written threats to mental-health organizations.” These details prompted the PC(USA)’s Stated Clerk Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick to report that the church was holding Winter “in prayer,” adding “He appears from what we know to be a troubled person. We care about him.” (Louisville Courier-Journal, Feb. 4, 2005)
The IMPN’s memo also invokes a “fire in a Rochester church” as an example of the “tactics” used by Jewish organizations “to censor debate about Israel.” It is unclear exactly what church fire the memo is referring to. Efforts to determine via a Nexis search what church fire IPMN is talking about were unsuccessful. CAMERA sent emails to officials at the IPMN in an effort to provide details, but did not receive a response.
The PC(USA)’s website does include a report of a church fire in Pittsford, New York, located on the outskirts of Rochester that took place in May 2004. This fire erupted during a lightning storm and does not appear to be an act of arson and consequently, cannot be described as part of a “tactic” to “censor debate about Israel.” Muzzelwatch.org, the website invoked as a source about Jewish efforts to censor and intimidate critics of Israel, has no information about any fire in a Rochester church.
The IPMN did subsequently acknowledge its errors in a nasty email to Presbyterian blogger Viola Larson, but the fact remains, the IPMN tried to implicate, without a shred of evidence, Jewish groups in the U.S. as a source of a terrorist threat against Israel’s critics in the U.S. And yet in its email to Viola Larson, the group tries to play the victim.
The National Middle Eastern Presbyterian Caucus injected a factual misstatement of its own into the debate at the General Assembly, but to be fair, it wasn’t nearly as egregious as the IPMN’s attacks. In an undated letter to the General Assembly asking commissioners to approve the Middle East Study Committee’s report, the organization falsely described CAMERA as “an affiliate of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, (AIPAC), a pro-Israel lobby.” [xxvi]
At this point, I feel like Seinfeld in reporting that no, CAMERA is not an “affiliate” of AIPAC, “not that there is anything wrong with that.” So what if CAMERA were an affiliate of AIPAC? For the caucus, it appears, all roads lead to AIPAC and that a purported connection with AIPAC is enough to refute the challenges CAMERA raised about the MESC report to which there is no credible response other than to admit the errors.”[xxvii]
In sum, the proponents of the Middle East Study Committee report sought to portray Jewish pro-Israel activism as the bogeyman of American society. And to inoculate themselves from charges of anti-Israel bias, these groups tried to hide behind Israel’s Jewish critics both in Israel and the U.S. For example, the letter signed by 200 ministers and elders reported that “there are, in fact, American Jews who are heartsick over Israeli policies toward Palestinians. They will also be present at the General Assembly in Minneapolis.”
And believe me, they were. Jeff Halper from the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions testified in favor of the overture declaring Israel guilty of apartheid and activists from Jewish Voice for Peace argued in favor of divesting from Caterpillar. Anti-Israel activists in the PC(USA) pulled out all the stops to de-legitimize mainstream Jewish groups in the U.S., but had no qualms whatsoever about bringing in extremist American and Israeli Jews to attack Israel.
The willingness of American and Israeli Jews to cooperate with anti-Zionists is not a new phenomenon. Robin Shepherd, author of A State Beyond the Pale: Europe’s Problem with Israel (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2009), deals with this issue pretty bluntly: “[H]ateful discourse against Israel is hateful discourse against Jews regardless of who is involved in it. No amount of squirming, no rhetorical gymnastics can alter that basis and unyielding reality. The presence of Jews among the ranks of those who oppose Israel – is a normal and predictable phenomenon. It has happen before and it will happen again.”[xxviii]
Taken together, these writings are an attempt to thrust pro-Israel Jews out of the realm of polite society in America and subject them to contempt and suspicion from their neighbors.
This behavior should not be indulged by anyone inside or outside the PC(USA). Given the manner in which mainline anti-Zionists have attacked Israel’s Jewish defenders in the U.S., it’s clear that pro-Israel Jews in the U.S. should feel perfectly entitled to attend mainline Protestant assemblies where Israel is set up to be the scapegoat, the sacrificial lamb onto which privileged American mainline Protestants project their fear and enmity with one accusation after another.
It’s only fair. If Israel’s Jewish critics are accorded center stage at Protestant assemblies to assist in this process – as they have been – then pro-Israel Jews should be in attendance as well. If activists within these denominations are going to falsely accuse Jewish groups of censorship, making terrorist threats and arson, leaders of these groups have every right to attend and defend themselves.
If mainline church leaders insist on allowing anti-Zionists in their denominations to turn their national assemblies into show trials where Israel is in the seat of judgment, then American Jews should show up to watch the proceedings.
What good is the spectacle of a Kangaroo court without an audience?
Bump in the Road
The anti-Israel crowd suffered a serious setback on the morning of July 4, 2010 – the day after the General Assembly began – when Rachel Lerner, vice president of J Street, spoke at a breakfast organized by Presbyterians for Middle East Peace – a group that called upon the General Assembly to reject the report.
Lerner offered a devastating rebuke to the proponents of the Middle East Study Committee Report that had become the centerpiece of the anti-Zionist agenda at the General Assembly. Speaking to an audience of 150 or so attendees – many of them supporters of the report – Lerner stated “Supporting a Palestinian state does not, should not, and cannot mean tearing down Israel.”
The report was so one-sided in its depiction of the Arab-Israeli conflict, Lerner said, that J Street activists would not want to partner with the PC(USA) in its peacemaking activism if the report were to be approved “because it will push them into a corner a force them into a defensive stance.”
She continued: “I want to be very clear about this – this is not meant to be a threat. If this is passed we will not be issuing a directive to our locals that they cannot partner with local Presbyterian churches – but with the passage of this study, the Church will alienate us and as a result our activists will not want to work with you and this will damage completely the possibility of a future relationship.”
Lerner stated that while she believed that the impulse behind the report was to promote peace in the Middle East, “the tone this study takes, the narrative it puts forward, and the conclusions and policy recommendations it makes are so one-sided, so devoid of any balance, that I fear this report will not only not achieve its desired effect – positive change in the region and a just two-state solution – but it will be counter-productive to forging a meaningful peace and will significantly hinder the possibility of future efforts to work together toward what for most of us is a shared common goal.” (Personally, I think Lerner, like other critics of the MESC report, gave its authors too much credit.)
Lerner’s rebuke was a substantial setback for the authors and proponents of the report because the report itself named J Street as a group that Jews in the U.S. should emulate and follow. The report described J Street as a group that “raise[s] the banner that being pro-Israel and being truly Jewish is not tantamount to complicity in the excesses of Israeli policy.”
Lerner told the audience that the MESC did not consult with J Street before publishing and that she and other activists in the organization were dismayed by its tone and recommendations. “I was to be perfectly honest — surprised and saddened and to be very, very honest, sometimes even angered by what I read,” she said.
If the PC(USA)’s General Assembly passed the one-sided and extreme report, Lerner said, it will elicit a similar response from Israelis and from American Jews – even Jewish peace activists.
“When I read the proposed study document, I felt myself moving into a self-protective position. I was truly so disturbed by what I was reading – unable to find a familiar or even a just a balanced narrative in these pages, I found myself using language I don’t normally use, clinging to defensive positions, which surprised me, to be honest.”
After reading the report, Lerner called a number of J Street activists who were put off by the report. “Every activist I talked to who read the Letter to Our Jewish Friends, the recommendations of the committee, the Kairos Document [which the report endorses] had the same reaction: “Why would they do this? How could they say this? How can we work with them now?”
Byron E. Shafer, pastor emeritus of the Rutgers Presbyterian Church in New York City, also spoke out against the report at the breakfast and like Lerner, his testimony carried a lot of weight, but for a different reason.
He was a member of the committee that prepared the report.
Shafer voted against forwarding the report and its recommendations to the General Assembly. “I believe this report has chosen one side over against the other and does not express a deep love for Israel.”
After detailing some of the problems with the report itself, Shafer described how the committee decided at the last minute to solicit an article from an Israeli author [Rabbi Ron Kronish from the Interfaith Coordinating Council in Jerusalem who later repudiated the report] to offset the text’s anti-Israel bias.
“The scramble to solicit an Israeli perspective was, to say the least, hasty and placed its author at quite a disadvantage, especially since the existing account was not shared with him. The final result is a study-material section containing eight pages of Israeli narrative in contrast to 77 pages of Palestinian-type narrative including maps,” Shafer said.
Lerner and Shafer’s talks, along with Henderson’s speech (quoted above), made it clear that there were serious problems with the report and that if it were passed by the General Assembly without major changes, it would damage the PC(USA)’s reputation. In their efforts to place Israel in the seat of judgment at the General Assembly, the anti-Zionists in the PC(USA) were – without intending to – inviting people to scrutinize their church pretty closely and ask themselves “Exactly what is going on here?”
Presbyterians only had to look at what happened to the United Church of Christ in the aftermath of its 2005 General Synod which passed one-sided “Economic Leverage” and “Tear Down the Wall” resolutions to see where their church was headed. These resolutions were not the prophetic trophies that UCC leaders and peace activists had hoped they would be.
Instead of serving as ringing demonstration of the UCC’s status as a trailblazing peacemaking denomination, these statements became an albatross that hung around the church’s neck for the next two years. The church did not sell any stock in companies that did business in Israel as a result of the “economic leverage” resolution and the text of the “Tear Down the Wall” resolution (which asked Israel to take down the security barrier without asking the Palestinians to stop the terror attacks) looked pretty irresponsible in the aftermath of Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.
Buchanan, Henderson, Niebuhr Weigh In
Fortunately for the PC(USA), there was a sufficient number of leaders who saw the handwriting on the wall and decided to put their foot down. They may not have been numerous, but they were influential, represented the church’s theological and intellectual center, and took to heart concerns that had been raised by activists from Presbyterian for Middle East Peace (and its predecessor bodies) for the past six years, at least. It is the action of these leaders that is the source of optimism for the groups that offered qualified praise for what happened in Minneapolis.
One of these leaders was Gustav Niebuhr, former religion reporter for the New York Times, author of Beyond Tolerance: Searching for Interfaith Understanding in America (Viking 2008) and a member of Board of Trustees at Auburn Theological Seminary. Niebuhr warned the PC(USA) was headed for a cliff when he testified before the committee charged with dealing with the issues related to the Arab-Israeli conflict on July 5, 2010. He admonished the committee to reject the “terribly unbalanced” report because of the damage it would do to the PC(USA)’s reputation. “Reputations are hard to win and they are easy to lose,” he warned the committee.
The short narrative on the report, Niebuhr said, is that it is anti-Israel and in the minds of most Americans, there is no bright line between anti-Israelism and anti-Semitism. “Try getting them to define that,” he said.
Niebuhr wasn’t the only prominent Presbyterian to call for the MESC report to be rejected. John Buchanan, pastor of Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago was, along with Niebuhr, one of more than a dozen signatories of a letter calling for the report to be rejected for a number of reasons including its historical inaccuracies and for its tendency to speak “euphemistically about terrorist acts, naming them ‘violent resistance.'”
The letter stated that the passage of the MESC report could encourage even moderate and progressive Israeli Jews to feel that the world is against Israel. They also argued the passage of the report could “well play into the hands of more extreme Palestinian voices, suggesting to them that it will be possible to make peace and achieve national aspirations entirely on their terms, without need for compromises.”[xxix]
The letter, dated June 11, 2010 lamented, among other things, that the report included “no call to neighboring nations to recognize the legitimate right of Israel to exist as a state and no affirmation of the right of Israeli citizens to defend themselves against aggression and to live in peace without the threat of terrorism.”
What made this letter important is that it was signed not just by Niebuhr and Buchanan but by numerous other influential Presbyterians including pastors from “big steeple” downtown churches in Chicago, New York, Dallas and seminary presidents such as Katharine Henderson, President of Auburn Theological Seminary, and Theodore Wardlaw, president of Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Texas.
These signatories indicated that an important segment of the PC(USA) establishment – which derived its influence from power centers outside from the church’s headquarters in Louisville – had decided it was time to put a marker down in opposition to the anti-Israel (as opposed to pro-Palestinian) activism that denominational officials in Louisville had allowed to run so rampant for so long.
Christian Century Sends a Signal
Buchanan, better known as publisher and editor of Christian Century, the house organ for mainline Protestantism in the U.S., made his influence felt in another way as well.
Christian Century published two articles sharply critical of the report in the week before the General Assembly, effectively denying anti-Israel activists a chance to respond until after the assembly had voted on the report. That sent a message to Louisville – as did the articles themselves.
The first of these articles, “Habits of anti-Judaism: Critiquing a PCUSA report on Israel/Palestine,” by two scholars from Vanderbilt Divinity School, Amy-Jill Levine and Ted Smith. In this article Levine and Smith argue what critics of mainline anti-Zionism have been saying for years: Mainline churches haven’t been telling the truth about the Arab-Israeli conflict. “[T]he old habit of bearing false witness against Jewish neighbors lives on. In recent years this practice has thrived especially in mainline Protestant statements on the Middle East.”
The second piece, “On (Mis)Telling other people’s stories: Tales out of Turn,” by Richard A. Kauffman stated that the MESC report’s “history section is so biased in favor of the Palestinians that it is an expression of ideology, not history.” Kauffman, a senior editor at Christian Century made his point clear: “As the Presbyterian document illustrates by its flaws, Christians who care about justice for Palestinians are called to tell the Palestinian story of injustice without repeating false stories about the Jews.”
Criticism of the MESC report also showed up in the On Faith website operated by the Washington Post and Newsweek. Under the byline of Henderson and Niebuhr, the June 22 piece stated “the report strays from this path to peace-building and instead deals in neatly-assigned roles–Israel as oppressor, Palestinians as victims–period. That may briefly feel good, but righteous simplicity never fits complicated, nuanced circumstances.”
The decision to published these articles a week before the General Assembly, effectively denying proponents of the report a chance to respond until after the General Assembly was over, caused Rev. James Wall, former editor of Christian Century to blow a gasket in a blog post, in which he accused the authors of these pieces of being agents of a foreign power, members of Israel’s “Hasbara Army.”
Wall asked “how is it that the two publications who have given space to our quartet of academics, the Christian Century and Newsweek, are presenting ‘one side’ of the discussion the week before the Minneapolis meeting?” The message sent by these publications – Christian Century especially – is that by submitting such a distorted report, the anti-Zionists in the PC(USA) had overplayed their hand and that they had better start looking for a graceful exit.
The report’s critics went out of their way, however, to acknowledge the concern for the Palestinians that was expressed in the report. For example, Niebuhr and Henderson recognized in their piece that Palestinians are “undeniably suffering under occupation” and that Christian Palestinians […] numbers are sharply dwindling.” And the pastoral letter dated June 11 stated that the report “faithfully chronicles the suffering of Palestinian brothers and sisters in Christ” and “identifies the longing for peace that we all share.” Henderson made similar statements at the breakfast organized by Presbyterians for Middle East Peace. She told the audience “It’s clear to me that the members of the [Middle East Study] Committee have a deep concern for peace in the region. And for justice.”
Observers who have paid close attention to the failings of Palestinian leaders and to the rhetoric that has come out of the mouths of Arab Christians in the Middle East over the past few decades – and its corrosive impact on mainline discourse about Israel – have good reason to be put off by such concessions. But within the PC(USA) – and in mainline churches in general – such statements are de rigeur. A refusal to take Palestinian suffering seriously is a one-way ticket to political oblivion in mainline churches. The question going forward is whether or not mainline churches can get honest about the causes of this suffering and not just focus on those that they blame on Israel.
In any event, these conciliatory statements also provided an escape hatch for proponents of the Middle East Study Committee report once it became clear it was not going to pass without some serious changes. These statements sent a signal to pro-Palestinian (as opposed to anti-Israel) activists who supported the report that they did not have to go down with the ship and become part of a permanently embittered minority within the denomination. The report would pass, but with some major changes. Proponents of the report would be thrown a face-saving lifeline.
Not everyone would take the lifeline, but some did.
A Way Out
The lifeline was presented by the members of Committee 14 – the committee charged with making recommendations to the entire General Assembly about peacemaking resolutions related to the Middle East – on the morning of July 6, 2010. During a free-wheeling discussion (a meeting of the “quasi-committee of the whole”) members of Committee 14 presented a list of proposed changes to the MESC report presented as an effort to get the report affirmed by the General Assembly.
In addition to inserting an unequivocal affirmation of Israel’s right to exist, the committee recommended that part one of the three-part report be “received” by the General Assembly (as opposed to “approved”) and offered as “rationale” not as “policy.” This recommendation, which was approved by the General Assembly, was important because this part of the report included, among other things, a discriminatory analysis of scripture and theology that held Israel and Jews to a biblical standard of conduct and Israel’s adversaries to no standard at all. It was an oblique admission there were problems with this section.
The committee also recommended that part three of the report – which included a terribly one-sided historical summary of the Arab-Israeli conflict written in part by Nahida Gordon (who could not bring herself to accept Israel’s “right to exist”) – be deleted altogether and replaced with “a series of eight narratives of comparable length, four arising from the range of authentically Palestinian perspectives (including both Christian and Muslim), and four arising from the range of authentically Israeli perspectives.” The deletion of this section sent a message that the General Assembly understood how unfair and unreasonable it was.
The committee made another significant change. The original report called for the General Assembly to appoint the members of the Middle East Study Committee to a “monitoring group” that would observe events in the Middle East for the next two years — and presumably make another report about its activities to the next General Assembly in 2012.
Instead, the committee stated that no more than two members of the Middle East Study Committee would serve on the yet-to-be appointed “monitoring group” which would be representative of a variety of viewpoints from within the PC(USA). This change got to the heart of the problem. After the 2008 General Assembly, the anti-Zionists within the PC(USA) had effectively captured the Middle East Study Committee and were able to use it to assail Israel’s legitimacy. Because of its anti-Israel bias, the committee effectively ignored its charge to provide a comprehensive analysis of the Arab-Israeli conflict and used its credibility and position to demonize Israel.
“Not All That Enthusiastic” About Report
According to this article published in Presbyterian Outlook, a denominational publication, negotiations on the compromise took place on July 5 – the night before they were presented to Committee 14. A July 9 article in The Layman, a newspaper published by conservatives within the PC(USA), describes how one member of the Middle East Study Committee – Rev. John Huffman – made a last ditch attempt to defend the document before the amendments were made.
But once Committee 14 made the changes, he admitted to The Layman that “he wasn’t all that enthusiastic about it himself.” He also admitted that the committee was biased in favor of the Palestinians and as a result, “We were unable to balance the report from the inside … so the General Assembly committee will have to do what we couldn’t do.”
Huffman’s stunning admission that the report and the committee that created it were biased against Israel helps explain why people who previously defended the report were willing to back a compromise once the process of amending the report began. They knew there was a problem with the text and once they were confronted with serious opposition, they took the compromise that was offered to them.
Causes for Concern
There are still causes for concern with events at the General Assembly that need to be acknowledged. One is the previously mentioned passage of an overture calling on the U.S. government to withhold aid to Israel because of its “human rights violations.” As events proceed, however, it is entirely possible that the passage of this resolution will make the denomination look foolish – just as Hamas’ violent behavior after Israel’s withdrawal form the Gaza Strip made the UCC look foolish and irresponsible after it passed its two Israel-related resolutions in 2005.
If the PC(USA) is going to call on the U.S. government to withhold funding from Israel for human rights violations, how will it respond to allegations that Turkey, a recipient of arms transfers from the U.S, has used chemical weapons against the Kurds? It’s clearly an issue that the Monitoring Group will have to address.
Another problem relates to the Kairos Document. The overture lifting up the Kairos document failed to make it out of committee but the MESC report, as amended and approved, “endorses the document’s emphases on hope for liberation, nonviolence, love of enemy, and reconciliation” and “lift[s] up for study the often neglected voice of Palestinian Christians.”
This affirmation of certain aspects of the statement ignores some of the obvious problems with the Kairos Document. But in the minds of the Presbyterians, failing to affirm even part of the text document this would have been the equivalent of abandoning the Palestinian Christians and ignoring their suffering altogether.
Fortunately, the resolution also called on the monitoring group described above to create a study guide for the document which by rights will have to include the statement from the Central Conference of American Rabbis. And if the monitoring group does its job, the study guide itself can raise concerns from the document written from a Presbyterian perspective. The upshot is that the troublesome aspects of the Kairos Document have been placed on the radar of the mainline community in such a manner that they cannot be swept under the rug. The Presbyterian Outlook article announcing the compromise in Committee 14 acknowledged the controversy over the Kairos Document:
In another change made by the Peacemaking Issues committee, the revision no longer endorses in its entirety “Kairos Palestine,” a document issued by Palestinian Christians that places principal blame for obstacles to peace on the Israelis.
This is not the type of coverage the authors of the Kairos Document were hoping to get from the Presbyterian Outlook.
These problems listed above indicate that the coalition of anti-Zionists within the PC(USA) still have some influence over the denomination as a whole and that the actions of the denomination going forward will determine whether or not the groups that praised the 2010 General Assembly will be regarded as the next Oslo Group or not. If things go badly and the denomination’s leaders indulge attacks on Israel and American Jews before and during its next General Assembly in 2012, one set of Jewish groups will be able to say “We told you so” while another group will have to admit “We were wrong.”
Observers will be given a pretty clear picture of where things are headed in the next few months.
The first – and most important – clue that will indicate where the denomination is headed will be when the membership of the monitoring group is announced. This committee will be appointed by the PC(USA)’s newly elected moderator Cynthia Bolbach and the previous moderator Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow. Bolbach has a reputation for being a pragmatist and a moderate and hopefully has no interest in seeing distorted reports about events in the Middle East being sent to Presbyterians during her time as moderator.
For his part, hopefully Rev. Reyes-Chow – who was one of the three moderators who helped pick the membership of the Middle East Study Committee – has learned something from the controversy generated by that committee. If the Monitoring Group is to achieve its goal of informing Presbyterians about events in the Middle East, it cannot be populated by anti-Israel partisans who deny Israel’s right to exist and it cannot be comprised of people who deny obvious historical realities about the Arab-Israeli conflict – as the Middle East Study Committee was. If the Monitoring Group is populated by anti-Israel activists, then all bets are off.
The next hint of where the denomination is headed will come when the monitoring group picks “personal narratives” that are solicited and chosen to replace the “historical analysis” that was yanked from the Middle East Study Committee report. In particular, people should pay very close attention to which Israelis are given an opportunity to make the case for Israel’s legitimacy. If the monitoring group decides to include activists like Jeff Halper, who testified in favor of the resolution that declared Israel an apartheid state, there’s a problem.
The upshot is this. People will be watching the PC(USA) pretty closely for the foreseeable future. The denomination’s peace activists have engaged in some pretty irresponsible behavior over the past several years. They’ve demonized Israel, ignored the misdeeds of its adversaries and attacked Jewish groups in the U.S. in pretty ugly ways. The events in Minneapolis indicate the denomination has found another way to work for peace in the Middle East.
Hopefully for everyone’s sake, this is in fact the case, because as Gustav Niebuhr said, “Reputations are hard to win and they are easy to lose.”
[ii] A. James Rudin, “A Waste of Time and Resources,” Religion News Service commentary, 22 July, 2010.
[iii] Assisting in this process is a significant number of “pro-Palestinian” activists who may in fact outnumber the anti-Zionists. These people are not intent in attacking Israel per se, but merely want to end the suffering of the Palestinian people by assisting in the creation of a Palestinian state. They tolerate and indulge anti-Zionism activity because they regard Israel as the primary obstacle to the creation of a Palestinian state and are unwilling to take into account Arab and Muslim misdeeds when addressing the Arab-Israeli conflict. As a result, the anti-Zionists have, in many instances, been able to set the tone and the agenda for mainline Protestant peacemaking. Such was the case in the run up to the PC(USA)’s 2010 General Assembly, which had an unmistakable anti-Israel tone and agenda.
[iv] For a more detailed summary of the events that took place at the 2004, 2006, and 2008 General Assemblies, please see Dexter Van Zile, “The U.S. Presbyterian Church’s Renewed Attack on Israel,” published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, available here.
[v] The 2008 General Assembly also affirmed Overture 11-28 which called for the creation of a nine-member “study committee” charged with preparing “a comprehensive study, with recommendations, that is focused on Israel/Palestine within the complex context of the Middle East.”
[vii] That the report was a one-sided diatribe against Israel should not be a surprise given the composition of the committee, which included Nahida Gordon, who denied Israel’s right to exist and was merely willing to accept the “fact” of its existence, and Marthame Sanders who previously had stated that in his heart of hearts, he supported a one-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. As noted below, some members of the committee acknowledged that the committee and the report it produced was biased.
[viii] Two books by Pascal Bruckner – The Tyranny of Guilt: An Essay on Western Masochism (Princeton University Press, 2010) and Tears of the White Man: Compassion as Contempt (The Free Press, 1986) – describe this mindset as it plays out in a European context particularly well. (The phrase “self-flagellants” is borrowed from Bruckner.) Bruckner’s ideas feature prominently in the writings of Paul Berman who in The Flight of the Intellectuals (Melville House, 2010) writes authoritatively about how guilt over the sins of Western civilization has made it impossible for intellectuals to regard the principles of Enlightenment as worthy of a robust defense against depredations from fascist movements emanating from the Middle East. Berman writes: “The Enlightenment is one of the great achievements of Western civilization. In our present era of self-hatred, though, the intellectuals have come to look upon the Enlightenment as merely a set of anthropological prejudices, no better and very likely rather worse than other sets of anthropological prejudices-a European prejudice that, in its arrogance lends itself to zealotry and excess.” (Kindle location 3411).
[ix] For example, as stated previously, ACSWP also opposed the passage of a 2006 overture that condemned suicide bombing as a “crime against humanity.”
[x] The PC(USA) and its predecessor denominations have been on the losing end of a religious rivalry in the United States that dates back a lot further than the 1960s. This process is described by Roger Finke and Rodney Stark in The Churching of America 1776-2005: Winners and Losers in Our Religious Economy (Rutgers University Press, 2006). According to these authors, Presbyterians and two other denominations in the colonial mainline – Congregationalists and Episcopalians – have, have since the late 1700s, lost market share to upstart sects that have done a better job of getting pastors in front of the American people and recruiting them into their churches. In the 1800s, the colonial mainline lost market share to Methodists and Baptists and today, the mainline in general (which also includes American Baptists and Methodists and Lutherans) is losing out to other evangelical denominations that by and large are more pro-Israel and pro-American.
[xi] University of Chicago Press, 1993.
[xii] Ginsberg, pages 86-91.
[xiii] Ibid, pages 93-96.
[xiv] Ibid, pages 78-86.
[xv] Ibid, page 78.
[xvi] Ibid, pages 165-170.
[xvii] Ibid, pages 153-158.
[xviii] The colonial mainline is a term used by Finke and Stark to describe the churches prominent in America before, during and after the American Revolution. These communities include the Congregationalists (most of whom merged with the United Church of Christ in 1957), the Presbyterians, and the Episcopalians.
[xix] Mainline enmity toward conservative evangelicals should not be underestimated. In Strange Yokefellows: The National Council of Churches and Its Growing Non-Church Constiuency, (Institute on Religion and Democracy, 2006), John S.A. Lomperis and Alan F.H. Wisdom detail how the National Council of Churches, a mainline-dominated para-church institution used hostility toward conservative, evangelical and fundamentalist Christians to raise funds from its supporters under the leadership of then-General Secretary Robert Edgar. Lomperis and Wisdom recount that in a June 2005 fund raising letter sent out under Edgar’s signature, the NCC made patently partisan and political complaints about “how radical and mean-spirited the hard right fundamentalists really are,” and asked for funds to stay competitive with the infrastructure of conservative think tanks that “sustains and backs a right wing agenda.” The authors also report: “The NCC general secretary used ‘we’ as a synonym for the ‘religious left.’ He expressed distress about Republican victories in the 2004 election, along with encouragement that ‘progressives and moderates in the faith community were energized to a remarkable degree.” (Pages 16-17). The letter, Lomperis and Wisdom report, was so political that the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Churches of North America, a founding member of the NCC, withdrew its membership from the organization. Under the leadership of its current
[xx] Most, but not all, of these attacks were made in the defense of the Middle East Study Committee’s report.
[xxi] Rabbi Marcia Zimmerman of Temple Israel in Minneapolis obliquely alluded to the former Vice President’s role here, writing “Without his input and his sharp analysis of the MESC report I am not sure we would have the results we have today.”
[xxii] The Israel-Palestine Mission Network of the PC(USA) is an organization established by the PC(USA)’s 2004 General Assembly. As documented in a previous New English Review essay, the IPMN has offered an anti-Israel narrative for which PC(USA) leaders do not accept responsibility.
[xxiii] “Cemetery Into Business Centre,” Palestine Post, Thursday, Nov. 22, 1945, page 2.
[xxiv] According to Virgil Hawkins, author of Stealth Conflicts: How the World’s Worst Violence is Ignored (Ashgate, 2008), the New York Times published more than 4,000 articles about Israel during the first two years of the Second Intifada, during which approximately 2,000 people were killed. By way of comparison, the New York Times published less than 500 articles about the Democratic Republic of Congo during the first two years of major war in that country that cost 1.8 million people their lives. (Hawkins, pages 109-110).
[xxv] Of the 11 overtures before the committee that dealt with Middle East peacemaking issues at the PC(USA)’s 2010 General Assembly, 10 directly related to Israel.
[xxvi] CAMERA has made numerous attempts to contact Rev. Fahed Abu-Akel, NMEPC’s moderator and ask for a correction, but he hasn’t responded.
[xxvii] For example, how can one defend the report’s portrayal of Ghassan Kanafani, a high-ranking member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) who defended the group’s hijackings in the 1970s and was involved in the planning of the Lod Airport massacre – as merely a non-violent journalist whose writings were a threat to Israel?
[xxviii] Shepherd, page 45.
[xxix] (On the former point, there is good evidence that this process has already happened. A recent survey of Israeli public opinion indicates that 73 percent of Israelis believe that they will be the target of world-wide condemnation no matter what they do. Fifty-five percent of the members of Meretz, a left-wing party in the Knesset, feel this way.)
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