Under the leadership of Executive Director Warren Clark, there has been a remarkable change in tone in the material published about the Arab-Israeli conflict by Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP), a lobby group supported by more than score of churches and para-church organizations in the U.S. These organizations have typically embraced a one-sided view of the Arab-Israeli conflict that places Israel, but not its adversaries, before the seat of judgment.
Under the leadership of its previous executive director, Corinne Whitlach, the CMEP could be counted on to issue irresponsible statements about the conflict that affirmed the anti-Israel narrative offered by Israel's adversaries.
For example, under Whitlach's leadership, the organization repeated claims by Muslim extremists in the Middle East that Israel was undermining the Al Aqsa Mosque with its archeological digs near the Temple Mount.
Accusations like this have been responsible for inciting numerous acts of violence against Jews and Israelis in the past several decades and raised serious questions over just how serious the CMEP was to promoting peace. CMEP's decision to pass these accusations on, without challenge, was simply inexcusable.
Fortunately, things have changed a bit under Clark's leadership, a former Foreign Service officer with the U.S. State Department. During Clark's tenure, which began in January 2008, CMEP has been much more circumspect in its activism.
It recently issued statements condemning the murder of five Israelis living in Itamar and the recent bombing attack in Jerusalem. The Itamar statement blamed the attack on a stagnant peace process but nevertheless, this statement, coupled with the condemnation of the Jerusalem bombing, indicated that CMEP understood its obligation to condemn, not incite, acts of violence.
This does not mean that CMEP has embraced a more comprehensive understanding of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The organization is still committed to propounding a narrative that portrays Israel as controlling the violence directed at it through concessions and peace offers. This was evident in the Lenten materials the organization published in 2010. In these materials, Israeli behavior was measured against a Biblical standard of conduct while the behavior of its adversaries were not.
Another example of the organization's tendency to obsess about Israel while remaining silent about the behavior of its adversaries appears in a recent CMEP article about the Itamar killings. In a recent newsletter, CMEP stated that Prime Minister Netanyahu's response to the murders highlighted divisions within Israeli society.
This needs some unpacking.
Five Israelis are brutally murdered.
Israelis respond with outrage and horror.
CMEP then comments on Israel's angry response, without saying a word about anti-Semitic incitement that has been going on for years on Palestinian television.
Most commentators would and did regard these murders as highlighting the problem of incitement in Palestinian society, but not the CMEP, which said nothing about this problem.
This is significant. The Itamar attack represented an opportunity for the CMEP to take seriously Israeli concerns over incitement in Palestinian society, but the organization instead used a massacre against Israeli citizens as a jumping off point for a critique and analysis of Israeli society.
This is peacemaking? This is Christian peacemaking?
CMEP's Treatment of Goldstone Report
The CMEP's desire to keep Israel before the seat of judgment is evident in its lack of response to a recent admission from Judge Richard Goldstone that there were serious problems with the report about Operation Cast Lead issued by the UN-created commission he directed in 2009.
In particular, Goldstone has stated that contrary to the original report, the evidence indicate[s] that civilians were not intentionally targeted as a matter of [Israeli] policy. According to The Jerusalem Post, Goldstone has, since the publication of his op-ed in the Washington Post on April 1, 2011 promised to work to nullify the report he helped author. (April 6, 2011 update: Goldstone has since denied making this statement.)
Given Goldstone's role in producing the report, his robust defense of the text, and the manner in which both he and the report he helped write were lionized by commentators, this is a big story that demands some sort of comment, particularly from those groups, such as the CMEP, who previously invoked the text as the Gospel truth.
So far, CMEP has said nothing about Goldstone's change of heart, which is interesting given the amount of attention the organization devoted to the report.
For example, on Oct. 16, 2009, the CMEP stated in its newsletter that the Human Rights Commission's inability to quickly pass a resolution regarding the Goldstone Report was one of the factors that led to outbreaks of violence and the threats of violence on the Temple Mount (Haram al-Sharif) in Jerusalem beginning October 4.
If this is in fact the case, it is an indication of just how much damage the Goldstone Report has done to the cause of peace, particularly in light of its chief author's recantation.
Then a few weeks later, on Nov. 5, 2009, the CMEP called on its supporters to Spank or Thank their U.S. representatives according to how they voted on House Resolution 867 which opposed condemned the Goldstone Report.
Here is the relevant text of the CMEP's legislative alert:
The U.S. House of Representatives voted to pass a resolution that will block "any further consideration" of the Goldstone report. The detailed report found credible evidence of war crimes by Israeli forces and Hamas in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead, which left 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis dead.
House Majority Leader Hoyer justified his vote in favor of the resolution saying the report is "distorted." He also said the 1.5 million people living in Gaza are suffering "in major part from the determination of their imposed leaders to pursue indiscriminate terror." He failed to mention that their hardship results from severe restrictions on movement of people and goods imposed since 2007 by Israel and Egypt, a condition many have defined as collective punishment.
Enough is Enough! If your Representative voted for H. Res. 867, tell them NOW they are undermining U.S. credibility internationally!
Rep. Ros-Lehtinen used her time on the floor to inject fear into the debate saying, "How long before U.S. officials will face the same persecution for defending our nation against al-Qaeda and other such threats?" Israel's security is on the line and the U.S. must remain balanced in order to guide both parties to peace and security. The Congresswoman's fear mongering does not help Israel, the U.S., or the Palestinians get any step closer to a better future for our children.
Only a balanced approach can lead us to a better future. Contact your Representative to THANK or SPANK them for their vote!
There are 36 Members of the U.S. House of Representatives that opposed the resolution. These brave leaders need to hear from you too! Please thank your Representative if they opposed H. Res. 867.
Fight Impunity, uphold the rule of law, and contact your Member of Congress today!
The CMEP's exhortation to its supporters that they fight impunity and uphold the rule of law seems a bit ironic in the face of Goldstone's recent op-ed in which he admits that while Israel has investigated its actions during Operation Cast Lead, Hamas has not.
That same day, CMEP sent a letter to the Obama Administration, supporting the recommendation in the Goldstone Report that independent investigations into allegations of war crimes committed during Operation Cast Lead' from December 2008 to January 2009 should be carried out by Israeli and Palestinian authorities. The letter continues: We support your administration's efforts to encourage such independent investigations and we urge you to continue to press Israel and the Palestinians to conduct them.
In light of recent events, including Hamas refusal to investigate its actions during Operation Cast Lead, will CMEP revisit this issue?
Goldstone did, admitting in his recent op-ed that In the end, asking Hamas to investigate [potential war crimes] may have been a mistaken enterprise.
Of course it was.
Hamas is dedicated to Israel's destruction and seeks to impose a veto on Jewish national life on land previously governed by Muslim rulers. Committing war crimes such as targeting civilians is a central part of Hamas's strategy.
The upshot is this. CMEP invoked the Goldstone Report in its calls for investigations by both Hamas and Israel into their actions during Operation Cast Lead.
According to Goldstone, Israel has investigated its behavior.
But Hamas? Goldstone puts it bluntly: Hamas has done nothing.
Good luck finding any acknowledgement of that reality in CMEP's statements about the Arab-Israeli conflict.