Oslo Syndrome Redux?

by Dexter Van Zile (September 2010)

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.
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
preparing to declare war on Israel. But after the General Assembly, Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, director of interfaith affairs for the center, pointed out some of the problems with the materials up for approval at the General Assembly, also issued a [ii]
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.
told the Associated Press on July 10, 2010.
The Background
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 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.
condemned by the Central Conference of American Rabbis as “supersessionist” and “anti-Semitic.”
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.
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]
have) and the passage of the resolutions can energize anti-Israel activism in other venues such as mainline churches and college campuses.
warned Katharine Henderson President of Auburn Theological Seminary at a breakfast organized by Presbyterians for Middle East Peace held during the General Assembly.
What Are We Dealing With?
The anti-Zionist coalition inside the PC(USA) is comprised of three groups.
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.
[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.

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]
Some Examples
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.
statement, issued in May (two months before the General Assembly) states explicitly, “we have read and studied the Study Committee’s Report.”
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.
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.
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.]
[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:
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.

no information about any fire in a Rochester church.

The IPMN did subsequently acknowledge its errors in a

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.”

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.”

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
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.
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
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.
Buchanan, Henderson, Niebuhr Weigh In
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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
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.

Causes for Concern
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:
This is not the type of coverage the authors of the Kairos Document were hoping to get from the Presbyterian Outlook.
Going Forward
Observers will be given a pretty clear picture of where things are headed in the next few months.

[i] This piece was not however, without some errors, which were ably corrected by Rev. Dr. John Wimberly, co-convener of Presbyterians for Peace In the Middle East.


here. Problems with the MESC report were also featured in articles available here and here.

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.

[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.

essay, the IPMN has offered an anti-Israel narrative for which PC(USA) leaders do not accept responsibility.

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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