Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Presbyterians Declare War on the Jews. By Jonathan S. Tobin.

Presbyterians Declare War on the Jews. By Jonathan S. Tobin. Commentary, February 11, 2014.

Presbyterian Church group: Zionism is the problem. By Lazar Berman. The Times of Israel, February 11, 2014.


In the last decade, several mainstream American Protestant denominations have flirted with resolutions endorsing boycotts of companies doing business with Israel. Most of these efforts have been defeated, albeit narrowly, by strenuous efforts by Jewish groups determined to preserve good interfaith relations as well as by Christians who wanted no part of a movement dedicated to waging economic war on a democratic state. In most cases, these battles have involved a small cadre of left-wing activists involved in church leadership groups that had little support among ministers, and even less among rank-and-file church members. Thus, even the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA), a church that has a particularly virulent group of pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel activists working in positions of influence, failed to pass a divestment resolution in 2012. But despite that defeat, those anti-Israel elements have now regrouped and launched a new initiative that threatens to escalate the battle within the church and to undermine any remnant of good will that still exists between this Presbyterian group (the PCUSA is just one among a number of groups that call themselves Presbyterians) and American Jews.
As the Times of Israel reports, the Presbyterians’ Israel Palestinian Mission Network (IPMN) has issued a “study guide” about the Middle East conflict that will forever change the relationship between the church and the Jewish people. The 74-page illustrated booklet and companion DVD entitled Zionism Unsettled was published last month for use by the church’s 2.4 million members. Unlike other left-wing critiques of Israel, the Presbyterian pamphlet isn’t content to register disapproval of Israeli policies and West Bank settlements or to lament the plight of the Palestinians. The booklet is a full-blown attack against the very concept of Zionism and seeks to compare Zionism to the Christian anti-Semitism that led to the Holocaust and other historical atrocities. Its purpose is to brand Israel as an illegitimate entity and to treat its American Jewish supporters as having strayed from the values of their religion. Zionism Unsettled not only swallows the Palestinian narrative about Middle East history whole, it is nothing less than a declaration of war on Israel and American Jewry.
As a work of political science or history, Zionism Unsettled is unworthy of serious discussion. Its argument rests on the prejudiced assumption that the Jews are the one people on earth that are unworthy of self-determination or the same rights to a homeland as any other on the planet. It smears those who sought to create the Jewish homeland and whitewashes those who have waged war and engaged in terrorism to destroy it. Ignoring history and the reality of virulent anti-Jewish prejudice in the Arab and Muslim world, it claims Jewish life would thrive in the region if there were no Israel. If that absurd assertion were not enough to strip it of even a vestige of credibility, it goes so far as to claim that the tiny, intimidated remnant of Jewish life in an Iran ruled by a vicious anti-Semitic regime is a model of coexistence.
With regard to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, it sees only black and white. In Zionism Unsettled, the Jews have no right to Israel and no right to defend themselves. On the other hand, it rationalizes and even justifies violence against Israel.
But the argument goes further than anti-Zionism. The pamphlet actually criticizes the Catholic Church for its historic efforts at reconciliation with the Jewish people, saying the 1965 declaration Nostra Aetate that rejected the Deicide myth against the Jews “raises as many questions as it answers.”
Unlike past controversies in which Jewish groups sought to bridge the divide between the two communities, the distribution of a publication that is driven by sheer hatred and a determination to see Israel destroyed requires a more forthright response. The response to this screed should be unequivocal. Any Presbyterian Church USA that chooses to distribute it is not merely offending supporters of Israel. It is endorsing hate speech and seeking to spread a doctrine that seeks Israel’s destruction and views Jews who do not reject Zionism as guilty of complicity in the “crimes” of the Jewish state. With this publication, the PCUSA has crossed a line that divides people of good will from those who promote racism or anti-Semitism. The many decent members of congregations affiliated with the PCUSA can no longer stand by mutely while the good name of their church is sullied in this manner. They must either actively reject this ugly publication or forever be tainted by association with the vile hatred to which their leadership has committed them.


“Zionism Unsettled” praises Jews who speak out against Zionism, and claims that a growing wave of Jewish criticism is underway: “Contemporary voices are breaking the taboos that have stigmatized and punished critical examination of Zionism and its consequences.”
To do so, the report argues, these brave Jews, including Peter Beinart, Ilan Pappe, and Philip Weiss, must withstand a concerted effort to silence them from the 51 member groups associated with the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, who are “committed to the suppression of any criticism of Israel in the mainstream American media, in American civil society, and even within their own organizations.”
“Zionism Unsettled” strives to paint Zionism as an ideology foisted initially upon an unsupportive Jewish public, and increasingly outside of the authentic Jewish mainstream today. Most Jews, it claims, reject Zionism with their feet, choosing to live outside of Israel. Were it not for Zionism, Jewish life would be thriving across the Middle East. One graphic presents Jewish life in Iran as “alive and well,” a model of ancient coexistence shattered by the intrusion of Zionism into the region.
It blames the expulsion of Jews from Arab lands as “blowback” from the “perceived injustice of the enforced partition of Palestine, the creation of a Jewish state, the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in 1947-48, and the Sinai War of 1956.”
Zionism has done far worse to Palestinians, according to the study guide. It accuses Israel of intentionally depopulating Palestinian villages in 1948, a process that continues to this day. “Now, 65 years later, the Zionist quest for demographic control of the land in still underway – not only in the occupied territories, but within Israel itself. State planners pursue the goal of ensuring a ‘contiguous Jewish presence’ in every area within Israel.”
Moreover, the book argues, Israel is entirely uninterested in peace, and does not negotiate in good faith. “It is hard to find any evidence,” the authors write, “that recent Israeli governments have any intention of negotiating a just peace with Palestinians.”
In “Zionism Unsettled,” Edward Said, Rashid Khalidi, and other anti-Zionist authors are treated as authoritative, with no critical examination of their positions. The chapter, “A Palestinian Muslim Experience with Zionism,” features several pages on Mustafa Abu Sway of Al-Quds University’s argument that while the Quran is inclusive and peaceful, Zionism is inherently racist.
The authors implicitly compare the Palestinian treatment at the hands of Israel to the Nazi treatment of Jews in World War II. After a paragraph on Abu Sway denouncing the Holocaust in speeches at Yad Vashem, “Zionism Unsettled” continues, “In like manner, the Nakba (catastrophe) that befell the Palestinian people in the late 1940s should never have taken place. The Palestinian story is one of suffering at the hands of the international community, which authorized the division of Palestine in 1947, and at the hands of the Zionists who planned, organized, and implemented systematic ethnic cleansing . . . They slaughtered untold numbers of Palestinian men, women, and children.”
The work could even be seen to justify some violence against Israel. “International law allows resistance to military occupation and dispossession,” reads one of the discussion questions. “What kinds of Palestinian resistance to Jewish expansionism and oppression do you feel are justified?”
In fact, apart from one brief timeline mention of a suicide bombing, Palestinian terrorism is absent from the book. The only group labelled ‘terrorist’ by the authors is a Jewish one, the Irgun.
“Zionism Unsettled” trips over itself at times. It criticizes Israel for ignoring UN resolutions it should accept as authoritative, then decries the UN for giving the Jews a “disproportionate share of territory” in the 1947 partition plan.
. . . .

Identifying with the “powerless” against the “chosen”
Why would an American church take such firm positions on a conflict half the world away, and why has it accepted the Palestinian narrative so completely?
In an email interview with The Times of Israel, Christian-Jewish relations scholar Murray Watson identified three reasons behind positions taken by mainline Protestant churches against Israel.
The first, he said, is “a deep rootedness in liberation theology, a stream of theological thinking and analysis that emerged from Latin America in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Central to liberation theology is the Biblical assertion that God seeks freedom and justice for all His people, and is actively on the side of the poor, the oppressed, the powerless and the marginalized — and, conversely, against those who oppress His people and deprive them of their legitimate rights.”
For many Western Christians, continued Murray, co-founder of the Centre for Jewish-Catholic-Muslim Learning at King’s University College at the University of Western Ontario, Palestinians are seen as the poor, the weak, the oppressed, while Israel is seen as the powerful, oppressive force. “Therefore, the Palestinian narrative deserves to be given a privileged place in theological analysis, since God is ‘on their side.’”
The second reason, said Watson, is that many Western Protestant churches either have Palestinian counterpart churches, or have a formal form of affiliation with Palestinian Christian churches. “Sometimes this results in a very uncritical acceptance of anything that any Palestinian Christian group proposes.”
The final reason lies in a Christian misinterpretation of the Jewish idea of “chosenness.”
“To a generation that has grown up with the idea of radical equality — that all people are fundamentally equal, and certainly equal in terms of God’s love and care, the idea that any particular group could claim to be ‘chosen’ in a way which makes them qualitatively different from others, strikes some Christians as arrogant, as if ‘chosenness’ was to be equated with ‘moral superiority,’” Watson explained. “I have said for a long time that this interpretation of chosenness is actually a Christian caricature, and doesn’t correspond to Jewish thinking or theology, which speaks of that ‘chosenness’ as something of a burden or a responsibility that is borne, often at great expense, for the sake of God’s love.

“The term ‘chosen people’ grates on the ears of some Christians, and so they react against it and, by reacting against it, feel the need to ‘put down’ Jews, whom they perceive to have used ‘chosenness’ to ‘lift themselves up’ above others.”