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Media Analyses





Methodist Manual Maligns Israel, Stereotypes Jews


The Women’s Division of the General Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church, a denomination that is considering divesting from Caterpillar in protest of Israeli policies at its upcoming General Conference, has published a “Mission Study” by Rev. Stephen Goldstein, an ordained Methodist Minister who serves as Assistant General Secretary for the Mission Personnel Program Unit of the General Board of Global Ministries.

 

Rev. Goldstein portrays the Jewish people as too paranoid, and psychologically scarred to be trusted with self-determination. Accompanying this “Mission Study” is an equally distorted “Study Guide” prepared by Rev. Sandra Olewine which encourages people to embrace an anti-Israel narrative through a process of dialogue, meditation, and worship. (For length considerations, this analysis will limit itself to the text prepared by Rev. Goldstein.)

 

The main thesis of Rev. Goldstein’s blurry, inaccurate and one-sided hagiographic treatment of the Arab-Israeli conflict is that Israelis are too obsessed with the Holocaust to affirm the humanity of the Palestinians and too crippled by their history of suffering to take the risks needed to make peace. In his text, Rev. Goldstein, a Jewish convert to the United Methodist Church, portrays Israel as exhibiting the same characteristics of Jewish life and Judaism that he found repellent and dissatisfying as a youth while growing up in Fort Lee, New Jersey.

 

The Mission Study also systematically suppresses and omits any information that would undercut his unstintingly negative portrayal of Israel. In particular, he downplays the 60-year history of Arab violence against Israel, fails to credit Israeli efforts to negotiate an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict, downplays the violent aftermaths of the Camp David and Taba negotiations of 2000-2001 and the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. He also ignores persistent expressions of hostility toward Jews and Israel in state-controlled mass media throughout the Middle East. All these failings serve to buttress Rev. Goldstein’s efforts to portray Israel’s use of force as a belated, psychotic and hysterical response to the Holocaust perpetrated by Nazi Germany in the 20th Century rather than a response to the attacks Israel currently faces and has faced since its founding in 1948.

 

Ultimately, Rev. Goldstein’s strategy is to offer a distorted narrative about the Arab-Israeli conflict replete with glaring omissions. He then encourages his readers to assess and evaluate Israel’s behavior using the incomplete and distorted narrative he offers. The goal of this text is not to promote a just assessment of the Arab-Israeli conflict, but to generate support for divestment at its upcoming General Assembly.

 

 

Holocaust Consciousness

 

In Rev. Goldstein’s text, Israeli attitudes toward its neighbors are not a response to the repeated multi-army attacks against Israel during its 60-year history. Nor are Israel’s attitudes toward Palestinians a response to the spate of suicide attacks that took place during the Second Intifada. And they are not a consequence of the threats it currently faces from groups like Hamas and Hezbollah that engage in attacks on Israeli civilians and which have on numerous occasions called for Israel’s destruction.

 

In Rev. Goldstein’s treatment, Israel is responding to the destruction of European Jewry at the hands of the Nazis in the 1940s. The trauma over this event has damaged the Israelis to the point that they are unable to make peace with their Arab neighbors, Rev. Goldstein asserts. This thesis outlined on pages 100-103 of the mission study in which he writes:

The early Zionists had intended Israel to be a safe haven for persecuted Jews, yet ironically Israel had come into existence without being able to save the dead millions. To this day there is a latent hysteria in Israel life that springs directly from this source. It explains the paranoiac sense of isolation that has been a main characteristic of the Israeli temper since 1948. Generations of Israelis have been brought up on this grim tenet: Jews were singled out to die not because of their religion or because of what they did; but simply because they were there, they existed. The message has been instilled in them for years and with far-reaching political, cultural and religious consequences.
 
And it has been the single most significant factor in Israel’s unwillingness to trust their Arab neighbors or the Palestinians, whose land they have colonized, and who are being victimized on a daily basis.
 
Since 1948, the Holocaust and the fear of anti-Semitism have also created a consciousness that has contributed significantly to preventing Israel from making peace with its Arab neighbors.

 

On page 102, Rev. Goldstein writes, “Standing behind each Arab or Palestinian, Israelis tend to see SS men determined to push them once again into gas chambers or crematoria.” In his discussion of the Six Day War (discussed below), Rev. Goldstein portrays Israelis as suffering from a “psychosis” and as “hysterical.”

 

Ultimately, Rev. Goldstein portrays Israel as congenitally incapable of completing one of the most basic tasks required of any sovereign state – maintaining peaceful relations with its neighbors. He does not, however, fairly or accurately describe the obstacles Israel has faced in the pursuit of peace.

 

In Rev. Goldstein’s view, the failure to achieve an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict, is entirely a consequence of Jewish self-identity as expressed in Israel, and not the consequence of Arab behavior or attitudes toward Israel. While the Holocaust does play a significant role in Israeli and Jewish identity, to assert baldly that it “has been the single most significant factor in Israel’s unwillingness to trust their Arab neighbors or the Palestinians” is to ignore or downplay the more than 60-year history of violence against Jews and Israel in the Middle East.

 

 

Christian Complicity

 

Non-Jews and non-Israelis in the U.S. are also afflicted with Holocaust consciousness, Rev. Goldstein asserts. On page 102 he writes:

The burden of this Holocaust consciousness also prevents progressive US Christians from making the necessary connections that would lead to actively raising concern about the Israeli occupation of what is left of Palestinian Palestine.

On this score, Rev. Goldstein is wrong, and egregiously so. Nearly every mainline or progressive Protestant church in the U.S. has condemned Israeli policies in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, while remaining virtually silent about Arab and Muslim culpability for the continued existence of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Rev. Goldstein’s Mission Study is but one case in point.

 

For example, in 2004, the Presbyterian Church (USA) passed a resolution stating the occupation was at the “root” of violence against innocents against both sides of the conflict. And in 2005, the General Synods of the United Church of Christ and the Disciples of Christ passed resolutions asking Israel to take down the security barrier without asking the Palestinians to stop the terror attacks that prompted its construction. And later that year, the Evangelical Lutheran Church endorsed a “Peace Not Walls” publicity campaign that emphasizes the impact of the security barrier on the Palestinians and downplays the impact of Palestinian terrorism against Israel. And the Episcopal Church’s witness about the Arab-Israeli conflict has also been decidedly one-sided.

 

Instead of condemning the genocidal hostility expressed toward Jews by groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, progressive mainline churches have obsessively condemned and attacked the very aspects of the Jewish state that prevent these groups from achieving their goal – Israel’s ability to procure and field military hardware, field an army, and construct a security barrier and attack those who would – and have – killed its citizens. While Israel’s use of force is clearly subject to moral judgment and criticism, a “just” assessment can only be achieved by an honest description and acknowledgement of the threats faced by Israel – an acknowledgment that progressive Christians have largely been unwilling to conduct.

 

This is not a new phenomenon. Self-proclaimed progressive Protestants have been a persistent source of anti-Zionist and in some instances, anti-Jewish rhetoric in the United States since the first half of the 20th century. They have remained so after the Holocaust.

 

Hertzel Fishman, author of American Protestantism and a Jewish State (Wayne State Press, 1973), documents how The Christian Century, the house organ for mainline or progressive Protestantism in the U.S., condemned Jews for failing to assimilate into American society in the 1920s and 30s, worked against Jewish immigration from Europe into America and Palestine during the 1930s and 40s, disregarded and downplayed Nazi violence against Jews in Europe at the height of the Holocaust, and opposed the creation of a sovereign Jewish state after World War II. Fishman also documents how progressive, or liberal Protestant leaders also worked to reduce Israel’s boundaries once it was created and remained largely silent in the face of Arab threats to destroy the Jewish State before the Six Day War.

 

In short, Rev. Goldstein simply does not know what he is talking about. At no point in the past several decades has Jewish suffering, the Holocaust included, ever silenced progressive or liberal Christian criticism of Jews, Zionism, or Israel. In fact, expressions of anti-Zionism and opposition to collective expressions of Jewish identity have been a persistent aspect of mainline Christian discourse in the U.S. before, during and after the Holocaust. Sometimes it is in the background as other issues command the attention of mainline Churches, and other times it commands center stage, as it does in Rev. Goldstein’s text. But it has been present for decades.

 

 

Israelis as Extremists

 

In addition to displaying a profound ignorance about mainline Christian commentary about Israel and the Jewish people, Rev. Goldstein portrays extremists in Israeli society as a primary force for Israeli policies in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and the West Bank – without acknowledging the efforts of the Israeli government to constrain these extremists and without acknowledging the opposition they face from the majority of Israeli society.

 

The author’s treatment of Baruch Goldstein, who murdered 29 Muslims at the Caves of the Patriarchs in 1994, is illustrative of this tendency. On page 34 Rev. Goldstein writes “I will never forget the tabernacle and the altar located in a landscaped park-like setting. That such a terrorist act could be celebrated and the perpetrator considered a martyred hero by Jewish settlers only illustrates the contempt with which some Jews regard Palestinian Arabs.” And on pages 110 and 111, Rev. Goldstein writes:

On another trip to Hebron in 2001, when I visited the shrine to [Baruch] Goldstein in Qiryat Arba, I also visited the shrine in the Ibrahim Mosque (Cave of the Patriarchs), divided since the Goldstein rampage between Jews and Muslims. I gained admittance to the Jewish section by insisting to the soldier guarding the entrance that I was entitled as a Jew to do so. The soldier was wary, as my companions were Mary Davies, a missionary, and the director of Wi’am, Zoughbi Zoughbi. Inside, a group of teenagers was attending what appeared to be a class in religious studies. The teacher was apparently discussing the person whose photograph was sitting on a tripod stand. It was a photo of Baruch Goldstein.

 

Yes, Baruch Goldstein was a murderer, and yes, he did receive support from Israeli extremists, but he did not receive praise from Israeli government officials – as have Palestinian suicide bombers who have had a soccer tournament and teams named after them.

 

In neither of his references to Baruch Goldstein’s gravestone does Rev. Goldstein report that the shrine he mentions was dismantled in 1999 by the IDF after a long court fight and that the political party to which he belonged (Kach) was banned as a terrorist organization after the attack. Nor does Rev. Goldstein report that the attack was condemned by officials at virtually every level of the Israeli government. Most Israelis, and Jews, were ashamed and nauseated by Baruch Goldstein’s actions.

 

Moreover, the mission study lacks any reference to the money and accolades given to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers by the Palestinian Authority during the Second Intifada. For some reason, Rev. Goldstein cannot discern the difference between Palestinian leaders who reward families of suicide bombers with cash gifts, and the Israeli government which paid compensation to the victims of Baruch Goldstein’s attack. (According to a June 10, 1997 report from the Associated Press, families of 19 victims of the attack were given $25,000 apiece; widows of the remaining 10 victims were given $63,000 apiece. The report states that those wounded in the massacre also received compensation, but does not say how much.)

 

Lastly, as if murdering 29 Muslims was not enough, at one point Rev. Goldstein blames Baruch Goldstein for the assassination of Yitzak Rabin. On page 72 he writes:

In her 1994 book about the assassination [of Folke Bernadotte] by the extremist Stern Gang to Baruch Goldstein’s assassination of Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin in February 1994. This is not to say that Israelis are a nation of extremists and terrorists, but that the foundational record exposes something more than popular images of a beleaguered minority in the Arab world. The Israelis have more frequently been the aggressors in the Middle East.

 Baruch Goldstein was a widely-condemned mass murderer, but he did not kill Yitzak Rabin. Yes, the Mission Study is accompanied by an errata sheet correcting this error. But the issue is this: Was there no one at UMC’s editorial offices that was knowledgeable enough to catch this error before the book went to the printer? Who vetted this text? Rev. Goldstein’s error is the equivalent of reporting in passing that Timothy McVeigh shot JFK. Does the UMC expect to have any credibility in its witness about the Arab-Israeli conflict after publishing such a boneheaded error?

 

 

History Distorted

 

Rev. Goldstein invokes the trauma over the Holocaust in Europe as motivating Israeli outlook and policy toward its Arab neighbors, whose hostility toward Israel and Jews he does not acknowledge. For example, Goldstein writes on page 102 that “[n]either Palestinians nor any other Arab residents of the Middle East were protagonists in the actions of Nazi Germany.”

 

Again, on this score, Rev. Goldstein is quite simply wrong, and egregiously so. As documented in numerous websites and books, including Jennie Lebel’s The Mufti of Jerusalem: Haj-Amin el-Husseini and National Socialism, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, courted the Nazi regime in his effort to keep Jews from Palestine. As a result of his relationship he recruited Bosnian Muslims to serve in Waffen SS units in 1943. These units were responsible for the murder of Jews in Croatia and Hungary, and as a result, Yugoslavia had called for the Grand Mufti to be charged with war crimes for his recruiting efforts, but he escaped prosecution by fleeing to Egypt in 1946.

 

During the Holocaust, al-Husseini sent letters of complaint to officials in Germany, Bulgaria and other countries of Europe that prevented the escape of thousands of Jewish children from the clutches of the Nazis. For example, in 1942 he lobbied against a proposal to exchange 10,000 children for German prisoners of war held in Allied camps. When Husseini got wind of negotiations between German leaders and delegates from Jewish organizations in Bratislava, he contacted Adolph Eichman who nixed the deal.

 

And in 1943 he put a stop to a deal that would have freed Jewish children from Bulgaria, Rumania and Hungary. And later that year, he torpedoed an effort to have Jewish children in Bulgaria sent to orphanages in Italy, and instead had them shipped to Poland, where they were murdered. Husseini’s letters of complaint to European leaders amounted to death warrants for thousands of Jewish children.

 

Moreover, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem also worked to spread Nazi propaganda into the Middle East and Muslim world through radio broadcasts and leaflets.

 

If recruiting soldiers for the Waffen SS who subsequently murdered Jews in Croatia and Hungary, shilling for Hitler in Arabic through radio broadcasts broadcast to the Middle East, and insisting that children headed for safety be murdered are actions insufficient for Rev. Goldstein to designate the Grand Mufti as a “protagonist in the actions of Nazi Germany” one has to wonder who would qualify for this category.

 

The failure of Rev. Goldstein to acknowledge the links between Arab nationalism and German fascism is a minor distortion compared to his dishonest portrayal of Israelis as having been “more frequently … the aggressors in the Middle East.” (Quoted previously, page 72)

 

To make this case, Rev. Goldstein cites revisionist historians such as Avi Schlaim and Michael Palumbo to offer a distorted history that downplays the role Israel’s neighbors have played in initiating war. For example, in reference to the 1948 War, Rev. Goldstein writes:

The initial motivation for the war was the Zionist realization that a state could not be formed without removing large numbers of Arabs. The war was in the Zionists’ interests and offered an opportunity to further their goals of expansion beyond the United Nations partition recommendation. The Palestinians had been disarmed even while the Zionists were equipping their forces. The records indicate that the Zionists forces that had numbered around 15,000 in early 1948 increased to over 60,000 by 1948. The Zionists were also recruiting professional military volunteers. (Page 65)

Rev. Goldstein’s attempt to portray the 1948 War as a Zionist plot is insupportable given the well-documented promises from numerous Arab leaders to destroy Israel. For example, Assam Pasha, Secretary-General of the Arab League promised before the war began that “This will be a war of extermination and a momentous massacre which will be spoken of like the Mongolian massacres and the Crusades.” And when war came, Arab leaders were frank about the role in starting the 1948 War. Jamal Husseini, spokesman for the Arab Higher Committee told the Security Council on April 16, 1948:

The representative of the Jewish Agency told us yesterday that they were not the attackers, that the Arabs had begun the fighting. We did not deny this. We told the whole world that we were going to fight.

 

Instead of acknowledging intent of Arab leaders to destroy Israel, Rev. Goldstein focuses on their inability to achieve this goal, writing on page 66 that “In reality, the Arab Goliath was ineffectual” and by reporting that the British interpreted the early violence against Israel as

spontaneous demonstrations against the partition resolution. But the Jews declared to the world that a war of annihilation had begun.

 

If the leaders of the newly created Jewish state had made such a declaration, they were merely repeating what Arab leaders had themselves declared.

 

Stacking the scales further against Israel, Rev. Goldstein repeats, without question, the allegation from revisionist historians that Israel murdered more than 250 civilians at Deir Yassin during the 1948 War. In fact, Arab historians have estimated the number of civilians killed at Deir Yassin to be much lower, a fact reported by none other than Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center, an organization prone to portraying every Israeli act of violence in the harshest terms possible. Sabeel reports:

A 1987 report by Birzeit University's Research and Documentation Center based its findings on interviews of the survivors. The names of family members and friends lost were listed, and these totaled 107. The researchers concluded that "the number of those killed does not exceed 120”.

 

Despite the intimation on page 17 that his goal is to tell the story of the conflict “from a perspective that credits both the Israeli narrative and the Palestinian narrative,” Rev. Goldstein provides absolutely no detail whatsoever of the Arab atrocities against Israeli other than to state on page 68:

No doubt Arab fighters carried out atrocities as well. But aside from being an instance of savage atrocity, both the severity of Deir Yassin and the story spread by Arabs and Zionists alike created vast Arab panic.

 

Predictably, Rev. Goldstein does not discuss the impact of Arab atrocities on the Jews living in Palestine. It’s not that Israelis did not have any reason to be fearful, it’s just that Rev. Goldstein cannot be bothered to look at the impact of anything other than the Holocaust on the Jewish psyche. Writing in the Jerusalem Post, researcher Seth Frantzman reports the following:

Sixty-two Jews were murdered by Arabs in the first week after the UN partition plan was passed, and by May 15, 1948, a total of 1,256 Jews had been killed, most of them civilians. These deaths were caused by Arab militias, gangs, terrorists and army units which attacked every place of Jewish inhabitation in Palestine.
 
The attacks succeeded in placing Jerusalem under siege and eventually cutting off its water supply. All Jewish villages in the Negev were attacked, and Jews had to go about the country in convoys. In every major city where Jews and Arabs lived in mixed neighborhoods the Jewish areas came under attack. This was true in Haifa's Hadar Hacarmel as well as Jerusalem's Old City.
 
Massacres were not uncommon. …

 

For some reason, Rev. Goldstein does not address is why the Arab atrocities (which he does not name, much less describe) did not drive out the Jewish population in Palestine.  Historian Ephraim Karsh offers an explanation:

 
The Jewish-Palestinian conflict was not won by the militarily stronger party but rather by the more resilient society. Two communities were thrown into the whirlpool of war, enduring similar hardships and dislocations: both suffered a painful human toll, including mutual atrocities; and both experienced widespread disruption to daily life in the form of urban and guerilla warfare and bouts of terrorism. Yet one managed to weather the storm by extreme effort, while the other fragmented to small pieces. (Fabricating Israeli History, page 26)

 

And while Rev. Goldstein accuses Israel of perpetrating a “willful policy of expansion and transfer on the part of the Zionist,” he makes no reference to Jewish refugees forcibly ejected from Arab and Muslim countries in the Middle East. Between 800,000 and 1 million Jews were driven from countries they lived in for thousands of years throughout  the Middle East after the 1948 War. Why is their story omitted from Rev. Goldstein’s text? Why does he refrain from offering any detail whatsoever about the Arab atrocities against Jews that he acknowledges “no doubt” took place? How can anyone intent on “crediting” the both the Israeli and Palestinian narrative leave this information out?

 
 

Six Day War

 

Rev. Goldstein’s notion of Israel as too obsessed with the Holocaust to see reality for what it is features prominently in his depiction of the Six Day War. On page 84, he relies on Avi Shlaim for describing Israel’s state of mind in the weeks before the war. Rev. Goldstein writes:

Israel paused for two weeks before taking action [after Egyptian President Nasser closed the Straits of Tiran]. It was a traumatic period for the Israelis. Shlaim reports: “During the period the entire nation succumbed to a collective psychosis. The memory of the Holocaust was a powerful psychological force that deepened the feelings of isolation and accentuated the perception of the threat.” Even though they had military superiority, the Israelis experienced these events as an existential crisis for survival.

 

Rev. Goldstein’s Mission Study, however, provides no information to the annihilationist rhetoric used by Arab leaders in the weeks before the war. For example, Cairo Radio broadcast the following on May 19, 1967:

"This is our chance Arabs, to deal Israel a mortal blow of annihilation, to blot out its entire presence in our holy land.”

And on May 27, 1967, President Nasser of Egypt stated:

Our basic objective will be the destruction of Israel. The Arab people want to fight . . . The mining of Sharm el Sheikh is a confrontation with Israel. Adopting this measure obligates us to be ready to embark on a general war with Israel.

In addition to omitting these and other instances of annihilationist rhetoric on the part of Arab leaders before the Six Day War, Rev. Goldstein asserts, without evidence, that Israel had military superiority. This is easy to assert in retrospect, giving the outcome of the war, but exactly how were the Israelis to know that they would win so decisively against five Arab armies? On the Egyptian front alone, Israel was able to muster 45,000 troops against an army numbering almost 100,000. The fact is, Israel had good reason to believe that it faced “an existential crisis” despite Rev. Goldstein’s assertions to the contrary. Wars are fought, not simulated, to determine the winner.
 
Rev. Goldstein does mercifully acknowledge the defensive nature of the Six Day War on page 86 by quoting Shlaim who writes that “The Six-Day War was a defensive war.” He then, however, downplays the unwillingness of the Arab world to negotiate a settlement after their defeat in 1967. He reports on page 88 that Israel was willing to negotiate after the 1967 and “turn back parts of the captured territories for peace” but then portrays the Arab refusal to negotiate as ambiguous:
In August however, the Arab nations held a summit meeting in Khartoum (without Syria which boycotted the meeting). The summit concluded with a resolution containing what are called the Three No’s: “namely, no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it, and insistence on the rights of the Palestinian people in their own country.” It was not meant, however, to be as strident as the No’s made it seem. The preamble of the statement indicated that international negotiations were an option and could proceed in order to obtain Israeli withdrawal; however, the No’s seemed to negate the preamble. Israel’s immediate response was to seal itself off from any serious peace settlement or negotiation. What was not known at the time was that the Arab resolution was partly a face-saving device. It was also a compromise for [Egyptian President] Nasser, who was attacked by his former Arab allies and blamed for losing the war. By opening the door to international and diplomatic initiatives, Nasser was trying to find a political settlement. The No’s were intended to placate Syrian intransigence and Palestinian fears.
 
In a conversation that King Hussein reported to Avi Shlaim, Nasser had urged King Hussein to “go and speak of a comprehensive solution to the problem and a comprehensive peace and go and do anything you can short of signing a separate peace.” But it was not to be. The outcome was the Arabs would no consider peace without Israeli withdrawal and Israel would not consider withdrawal without direct negotiations that would lead to a peace agreement that incorporated secure and recognized boundaries.

 

Rather than acknowledge the difficulties Israel faced in trying to negotiate with divided enemies who had just a few months before had, in unison, vowed to destroy Israel, Rev. Goldstein obliquely puts the onus for failed peace efforts after the Six Day War on Israel by saying it sealed itself off from “any serious peace settlement negotiation.”

 

He also turns Egyptian President Nasser, a man who had called for Israel’s destruction in the months before the war into a would-be peace maker, constrained by Arab hostility toward Israel that he himself whipped up in the weeks before the war. What must Arab leaders do for Rev. Goldstein to hold them accountable for their failings? Rev. Goldstein’s prophetic voice has a hair-trigger when it comes to condemning Israel, but when it comes time to assessing Arab behavior, his is the voice of charity, license and understanding.

 

 

Lebanon/Hezbollah Issues Distorted

 

Rev. Goldstein’s treatment of Israel’s ongoing conflicts with terrorists attacking its civilians from Lebanon provides another demonstration of his inability to deal with history in a factual and responsible manner. In a chapter titled “Reframing the Questions” he writes:

Much too often, the media report things as if in a vacuum, ignoring essential historical background that bears closely on what is occurring in the present. The oft-repeated dictum that the situation in the Middle East is too complicated to comprehend is really not accurate. Seeing the roots of the conflict can assist us in discovering the connections that make things comprehensible and will assist us in making a just evaluation of the events as they unfold.
 
A recent example illustrates the problem. Accepting at face value the assertion that the capture of Israeli soldiers across “the blue” line between Lebanon and Israel by Hezbollah militia is the sole or even main reason for the recent conflict (July-August 2006) is a failure to go beneath the surface. A deeper analysis of events must take into account at the very least the Lebanese Civil War of 1975-1976, Israel’s incursions in the late 1970s, its invasion in 1982, and its occupation of Southern Lebanon until 2000, when Israel withdrew its troops. Any evaluation of this situation must take into account Israel’s part in the rise of Hezbollah because of its occupation and the large numbers of Lebanese being imprisoned by Israel. To explain the conflict as merely resulting from the July capture of the IDF soldiers is too tidy an equation. Israel and the United States have framed the message of self-defense with the myth of Israel’s dominant victim narrative. As we have seen, it is a misrepresentation of the actual story. It surely does not reveal the motivations for Israel’s aggression has unleashed. The current ceasefire “agreement” (August 14, 2006) and attendant UN Security Council Resolutions 1559 and 1701 are the culmination of years of ongoing aggression against Lebanon. (Page 106)

 

In this passage Rev. Goldstein adopts the tone of an expert enumerating the things that the average person must know to “make a just evaluation” of current events, but ironically, he fails to provide the reader with the very information he says they need. For example, he fails to explain the motivation behind Israel’s incursions into Lebanon in the 1970s and subsequent invasion in 1982 – its civilians were subject to rocket attacks, kidnappings and murders perpetrated by the PLO, which was then based in refugee camps in Lebanon. And while the author blames Israel’s occupation of Lebanon for Hezbollah’s rise, he fails to acknowledge the support it received from Iran and Syria after Israel withdrew from Lebanon.

 

Nor does Rev. Goldstein acknowledge that Hezbollah attacked Israel six years after it left Lebanon in 2000 – in an effort to promote piece.

 

Anyone intent on offering a “just” evaluation of Israel’s conduct would ask some obvious questions: Would Israel have attacked Hezbollah in 2006 if it had not launched rockets into towns in northern Israel, crossed over its sovereign borders and kidnapped its soldiers? How would any other sovereign nation respond to such attacks? And does Lebanon have an obligation to stop its own citizens from attacking a neighboring sovereign country?

 

Despite his failure to address these issues, Rev. Goldstein then portrays himself as providing information his readers need to truly “understand’” the conflict.
 
It is my hope that with the information in this study the reader will be able to reframe the facts as they are presented particularly by the mainstream media. Then it will be possible to assess public statements by the major participants and move beyond the accepted propaganda to a more accurate portrayal of the actual meaning of events.
 
At present, the United States and Israel are trying to interpret everything in the conflict through the lens and rhetoric of the war on terror. The latest chapter in this sad history is part of Israel’s intention to destroy Arab resistance and continue its hegemony by force of arms. In this most recent conflict, the media has portrayed Israel as acting in its own self-defense. Meanwhile, Israel has killed more than fifteen hundred Lebanese civilians, with many thousands of innocent persons displaced from their homes and the infrastructure of a sovereign nation blown to bits. (Page 105-106)

 

There are four obvious problems with this passage.

 

First off, he exaggerates the number of Lebanese casualties caused by Israel’s war with Hezbollah, by pegging the number at “fifteen hundred.” On August 25, the Lebanese Higher Relief Council, an official government agency, estimated 1,187 Lebanese deaths in total resulting from the conflict. It should be noted that a good portion of these casualties were Hezbollah fighters, and not civilians. As a previous CAMERA analysis indicates, Hezbollah worked assiduously to minimize reports regarding the number of casualties it suffered during its conflict with Israel. A report from the Telegraph published in August 2006 provides detail.

 
Although Hizbollah has refused to make public the extent of the casualties it has suffered, Lebanese officials estimate that up to 500 fighters have been killed in the past three weeks of hostilities with Israel, and another 1,500 injured.
 
Lebanese officials have also disclosed that many of Hizbollah's wounded are being treated in hospitals in Syria to conceal the true extent of the casualties. They are said to have been taken through al-Arissa border crossing with the help of Syrian security forces.
 
 
“Hizbollah is desperate to conceal its casualties because it wants to give the impression that it is winning its war," said a senior security official. "People might reach a very different conclusion if they knew the true extent of Hizbollah's casualties.” (The Telegraph, August 4, 2006)

 

Secondly, Rev. Goldstein fails to make any distinction between Israel and those who attack it. While Israel distributed leaflets encouraging civilians to leave the scene of future attacks, Hezbollah fired, without warning, rockets at Israeli civilians while hiding behind Lebanese civilians. If Rev. Goldstein was truly interested in helping people make “a just evaluation of the events as they unfold” then why are these facts omitted from his text?

 

Third, while Rev. Goldstein is quite willing to evaluate and assess what motivates Israeli violence – a desire “to destroy Arab resistance and continue its hegemony by force of arms” – he never attempts to describe what motivated Hezbollah’s attacks on Israeli civilians. Despite Rev. Goldstein’s suggestion that Hezbollah was motivated by nothing more than desire to end Israel’s occupation of Lebanon, Hassan Nasrallah, the organization’s leader has made it clear that his problem is with Israel’s existence. In 2000, he said: “We have liberated the south (Lebanon), next we'll liberate Jerusalem.” (Washington Post, July 16, 2006). And in October 2002, he said “If they (Jews) all gather in Israel, it will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide. (Daily Star, Oct. 23, 2002).

 

And lastly, while Rev. Goldstein invokes Lebanon’s status as a “sovereign nation” he fails to acknowledge the manner in which Hezbollah usurped Lebanese sovereignty by starting a war with a neighboring country without governmental authorization. Lebanese sovereignty was, in effect, hijacked by Hezbollah which used the country as a launching pad for rocket attacks, but Rev. Goldstein reserves all of his condemnation for Israel’s response.

 

Rev. Goldstein's narrative becomes surreal on page 107 when he offers his assessment of what Israel’s conflict with Hezbollah is about.

This conflict is about the continued occupation of the West Bank and the occupation of Lebanon that began twenty years ago, not the capture and murder of some Israeli soldiers, however terrible, provocative, and unjustified they may be. [Emphasis added.] Israel chose once more to try to destroy a country instead of addressing the prior injustices. Rather than resort to military might, they [sic] could start by withdrawing from the Golan Heights, territory illegally occupied since 1967.

 

This is preposterous. Not only does Rev. Goldstein suggest the present conflict is about an “occupation” that ended six years before the conflict, he suggest that Israel can make peace with Hezbollah – located in Lebanon – by returning territory it took from Syria in the Six Day War – in response to sniper and mortar attacks on Israeli kibbutzim in northern Israel. Since when are sovereign nations expected to cede territory without a treaty, as Rev. Goldstein expects of Israel? And exactly how would ceding territory to Syria end Israel’s conflict with Hezbollah, which is located in Lebanon?

 

Ultimately, Rev. Goldstein is unable or unwilling to convey to his readers a fundamental reality about the Arab-Israeli conflict – that Israel has been viciously and repeatedly attacked from every bit of territory from which it has withdrawn since the Oslo Accords. From 2000-2004, Israel was attacked by suicide bombers from the West Bank with many of the attacks originating from towns from which Israel withdrew its soldiers in the 1990s. In 2006 Israel was attacked from the Gaza Strip from which it withdrew in May 2005, by Hamas. Also that year, Israel was attacked from Lebanon from which it withdrew in 2000 by Hezbollah.

 

Instead of offering details about these attacks, he portrays the Israeli presence in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank as a cause of violence against it. For example, on page 124, Rev. Goldstein writes:

 
Until last year, 30 percent of Gaza was made up of Israeli settlements in one of the most densely populated areas on earth. With Israel’s dismantling and the brief withdrawal of its forces, Gaza has been turned into what can only be described as a prison camp. As of August 2006, Israel has continued its invasion of Gaza, destroying homes and infrastructure, killing hundreds, and wounding untold numbers more, even while the worlds attention was focused on the invasion in Lebanon.

 

Here, in this passage, Rev. Goldstein speaks of the “Israeli invasion of Gaza” without offering any acknowledgement whatsoever of increase in rocket attacks and the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers that preceded Israel’s attack at the end of June 2006. Providing information about these attacks would go a long way toward undermining Rev. Goldstein’s portrayal of the Israelis as too intransigent to make peace with its neighbors, and yet it is omitted. How can this information be omitted from a “Mission Study” written to “credit” both Israeli and Palestinian narratives?

 

 

Camp David/Taba Distorted

 

Rev. Goldstein also distorts the history surround Israel’s negotiations with the Palestinian Authority under the leadership of Yasir Arafat. For example, Rev. Goldstein also down plays the fact that Yassir Arafat walked out of negotiations at Camp David in 2000 and turned down the Clinton Parameters in 2001.

 

Rev. Goldstein’s portrayal of Camp David negotiations which appears on pages 125-126, makes no reference to the Taba negotiations in 2001. Instead, Rev. Goldstein writes that “Barak, like many of his predecessors was not really prepared to close a deal.”

 

In fact, by the end of negotiations brokered by the Clinton Administration, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak had:

 
formally accepted ideas that would effectively divide east Jerusalem, end the IDF’s presence in the Jordan Valley, and produce a Palestinian State in roughly 97 percent of the West Bank and 100 percent of Gaza. (Dennis Ross, The Missing Peace: The Inside Story of the Fight for Middle East Peace, page 755).

 

Arafat’s failure to take advantage of the Clinton Parameters was acknowledged by Saudi Arabian Ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, in January, 2001 when he warned Yasir Arafat – who had walked out of Camp David in 2000 without making a counter – to embrace the Clinton Parameters:

“I hope you remember, sir, what I told you. If we lose this opportunity, it is not going to be a tragedy. This is going to be a crime.” (The New Yorker, March 24, 2003. A link to the article can be found here.)

 

Information like this goes a long way toward undermining Rev. Goldstein’s portrayal of the Israeli people as too screwed up to make peace with the Palestinians, and yet it is omitted. Why?

 

 

Rev. Goldstein’s Personal Testimony

 

Another troubling aspect of the Mission Study is how closely Rev. Goldstein’s portrayal of modern Israel parallels with his description of the Jewish culture and religion he experienced while growing up in Fort Lee, New Jersey. The similarities between those aspects of Jewishness and Judaism which he found repellent as a youth and the Israel he relentlessly and unfairly condemns indicate that his complaints about Israel are rooted not in concern over its policies but in his disappointment over Judaism’s inability to meet his spiritual and emotional needs as a youth. The fact that Rev. Goldstein was not happy with the faith community of his youth is not remarkable. Such dissatisfaction is a fact of life for people of all faiths, and is often motivating factor behind the decision to convert from one religion to another. What is remarkable (and troubling) is that the UMC, one of the largest, credible and influential mainline Protestant denominations in the U.S., would publish Rev. Goldstein’s self-indulgent and self-serving polemic under the rubric of peacemaking.

 

Rev. Goldstein acknowledges that his personal history colors his view of the Arab-Israeli conflict in the opening sentences of the first chapter of his text.

Before I attempt to review some of the history of Israel-Palestine and the relationships between Israelis and Palestinians, it is appropriate for me to say something about my personal history. What one perceives as reality is grounded in part on who a person is and where he or she comes from. That is certainly the case of my own commitment to a new reality in the Middle East. I don’t subscribe to the idea of total objectivity, only degrees of subjectivity. (Page 11)

 

The author then embarks on a personal narrative that reveals a profound sense of disappointment with the faith community of his youth. Clearly, Rev. Goldstein did not find much solace in Jewish religion and culture which he found to be obsessed with the Holocaust and Israel, unable to convey to knowledge of God, and marred by an ominous sense of otherness. On pages 12-13, he reports the feelings of rejection from the Jewish Community Center in Fort Lee because his father was not involved in its activities. Rev. Goldstein writes:

 
I managed to get myself expelled from Hebrew School, and just before turning thirteen I walked away from my Bar Mitzvah instruction. With adolescent honesty I knew it was hypocritical to undergo a ceremony for which I had no interest and little encouragement. My Bar Mitzvah was to be on a Tuesday rather than celebrated during the Saturday Sabbath service, when a Bar Mitzvah is customarily scheduled with the entire congregation present.
 
There was little anyone in my family could say with much integrity. I don’t recall ever defending my decision. I am sure they worried about me, but as involvement in the Jewish Center was minimal at best on my father’s part, it was not a significant matter. When I resisted going to Hebrew School, my father told me that it “wouldn’t look nice to the neighbors” if I didn’t attend. Since our neighbors were mostly Roman Catholic, I was not persuaded.
 
 
What I took away from my religious instruction besides a sense of otherness was an unarticulated awareness of the enormity of the Holocaust and the centrality of Israel for Jews. I never learned much about God how the Hebrew of the siddur (prayerbook) translated into English, or why I should follow the religious regulations that they tried to instill in us. But I knew that six million of us had been recently murdered by Hitler (it was only a decade after the war ended) and that we should be committed to this new state in the Middle East, Israel.
 

Goldstein was also bothered by the manner in which his family dealt with the Holocaust, which he contrasts with how his family spoke about Israel.

 
I learned about the significance of the Holocaust, but not by talking about it openly. Its horror was still ubiquitous in most adult Jewish minds, including my family’s. Relatives of my grandparents’ generation had been slaughtered (although I didn’t know that for some years). But I did now that something very bad was attached to being Jewish? My brother had left a photographic history of World War II at home after he left for college, the year my mother had died. I can still recall the photographs of the death camps and the crematoria with their smokestacks and the miserable emaciated prisoners in striped clothing.
 
Talk of Israel, however, was a different story. It was the center of much what was celebrated in that young congregation. There was a display case selling religious gift items imported from Israel in the entrance to the Center. We children were given little blue boxes imprinted with a menorah symbolizing Judaism and the state of Israel. We were told it was “to plant trees in Israel in the desert which Israelis were turning into a garden.”

 

Given his depiction of his childhood, it’s no surprise that during his teenage years, Goldstein tried to reject his Jewishness and “went out of [his] way to condemn religious practice of any kind, all the time wanting to know more and find acceptance. I had plenty of God questions (Page 14).” Fortunately, in high school he met an assistant headmaster, a Methodist layman, a father figure who challenged him by “nurturing a love for literature” and “encouraging a search for understanding who I was and what my life was to become.”

 
I identified myself as an agnostic actively denying the little Judaism that I had experienced, along with any other religion with which I had any contact (for the most part Roman Catholicism). I was attempting to deny being Jewish. If I were an adult, I would have been labeled a self-hating Jew.

 

The overall impression conveyed by Rev. Goldstein’s personal narrative is that of Judaism as a stultifying religion choking in its own lachrymose resentment and aggrieved otherness, the only relief from which was pride over Israel’s success, particularly its military victory in the Six Day War. Rev. Goldstein reports that he felt a “vengeful pride” Rev. felt over Israeli military victories during the 1967. On page 16 he writes:

 
Although, I wouldn’t know of its significance until almost twenty years later, I remember feeling some vengeful pride in hearing that the Jews had won a war. “We” had beat somebody else, the “Arabs.” Such chauvinism is a telling part of the story.

 

Rev. Goldstein began his ascent out of the unhappiness of his youth while attending college, where he was exposed to a Methodist chaplain who helped him make sense of the turbulent 1960s in part by exposing him to Christianity’s teachings:
 
The radical Jew of the gospel stories who was martyred by the authorities of his day for nonviolent teaching and advocacy for justice started to impact my life. The support of this Christian community committed to social causes, identified appropriately as Christian concerns, deepened my articulation of religious matters. My experience broadened, but so did my anger, frustration, and concern for surely was a world gone mad with violence and hate.
 
One night in powerless despair, I came to see that this Jesus had saved the world and that even with my deepest commitment to do so, I could not and no longer needed to try. In Jesus, God had created a new possibility for life: a way to live a real life in a loving and life-affirming relationship with others that is framed with justice and mystery. In spite of daily violence and hatred, there indeed was a God who had not abandoned us or the world. Our God is at its center, planed on a cross. …
 
Significant to me was the fact that Jesus lived and died as a Jew. My experience, surely a conversion from emptiness and nothingness to a something felt emotionally and spiritually like a homecoming. It was coming home to the self that I had denied since abandoning and being abandoned by my Jewish roots. I claimed my old self as a Jew and my new self as a follower of Jesus the Jew.

 

Despite his protestations to the contrary, Rev. Goldstein has not made peace with the faith community of his youth, and it shows in his Mission Study, which offers a picture of Israel that exhibits all the repellent characteristics of Judaism he experienced as a youth. In Rev. Goldstein’s portrayal, Israelis are obsessed with the Holocaust, gripped by an ominous sense of being the other and crippled by their history of suffering – all characteristics which have their analogues in Rev. Goldstein’s narrative of growing up as a Jew in Fort Lee, New Jersey.

 

To be sure, the conversion experience from one faith community to another has been a staple of religious literature and commentary for a long time. And yes, people who do offer conversion narratives to wider audience often engage in polemics against the faith community they have left.

 

For example, Thomas Merton, who recounted his troubled youth and adolescence and early adulthood and his ultimate transformation into a Cistercian monk in The Seven Storey Mountain had some pretty harsh things to say about the Protestantism of his youth, just as Rev. Goldstein does about the Jewishness of his youth.

 

But ultimately, Merton was motivated more by love for his newfound faith community than by animus or resentment for the faith tradition he left behind. For Merton the recriminations eventually come to an end and his narrative is dominated by the evangelical fire and gratitude of a man who has found his spiritual home.

 

Not so with Rev. Goldstein, who despite his conversion into the UMC, clearly has some scores to settle with the faith community of his youth. His mission study is not a kerygmatic expression of God’s love for humanity, but an indictment of Judaism and Jewishness in the guise of a critique of Israeli policies. On this score, the United Methodist Church is not invoking Rev. Goldstein’s status as a Jewish convert to affirm the truthfulness of Christianity, but the inferiority of the Jewish people and their unsuitability for self-determination.

 

While Merton’s conversion ultimately proved to be a kerygmatic trophy for the Roman Catholic Church, Rev. Goldstein is used as something else – a talisman displayed by the United Methodist Church not in a campaign to evangelize, but to portray Israel and the Jewish people as damaged, scarred and incapable of effectively governing themselves and to take advantage of opportunities for peace offered to them by Arab leaders who in reality have – for decades – used hostility toward Israel as a way to distract from the failings of the societies they lead.

 

On this score, Rev. Goldstein’s narrative is in many ways, similar to the intra-Jewish polemic in the New Testament which includes condemnations of Jews who did not accept Christ, written by those who did. The tragedy and the danger came not when Jews disagreed over the nature of Jesus Christ, but when these condemnations fell into the hands of non-Jews who had no ties to the Jewish community and used them to demonize an entire group of people. It is one thing for Rev. Goldstein, who was raised as a Jew, to project his unhappiness over the Jewishness he experienced as a youth onto the modern state of Israel; it is another thing altogether for a Christian institution to offer such a polemic as a peacemaking document.

 

And yet, that is what the United Methodist Church has done.

 


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