One of the most obvious characteristics of mainline Protestant commentary about the Middle East is an intense focus on Israel and a relative silence about human rights violations in Muslims and Arab countries in the region.
For example, in August 2011, Gradye Parsons, the stated clerk of Presbyterian Church (USA), sent a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressing its concern about the Boycott Law in Israel. Parsons stated that this law, which allows businesses to file civil suits against proponents of boycotts against Israeli goods, dealt a severe blow to free speech and the freedoms of opinion and expression.
By way of comparison, Parsons and the church he serves have been relatively silent about the massacres perpetrated by Bashar al Assad against the people he governs in Syria. Thousands have been killed and yet the PC(USA) has apparently neglected to send a letter calling on the Assad regime to respect the rights of its citizens.
One likely reason why the PC(USA) has been so quiet about the Assad regime's violence against its own citizens is that Christians living in Syria rely on the regime to protect them from violence perpetrated by Islamists in that country. A story about this reality showed up on the denomination's newsfeed on May 16, 2012.
The PC(USA) has remained silent as the Alawi minority in Syria uses its control of the military to oppress and murder Sunni Muslims in that country. They remain silent because Christians in Syria rely on this regime for safety against Islamists in that country.
By way of comparison, the denomination routinely assails Israel for the suffering of Palestinian Christians, who have little fear of reprisal from the Jewish state.
The PC(USA) is not the only church that behaves like this. Such behavior is also evident on the activism of Common Global Ministries, the overseas arm of two mainline Protestant churches in the U.S. the United Church of Christ and the Disciples of Christ. In a blog entry posted on Snapshots, CAMERA detailed the organization's focus on Israel and relative silence about the mistreatment of Christians living under Muslim rule in the Middle East. CAMERA reported the following on its blog, Snapshots:
During all of 2011 and the first four and a half months of 2012, the Global Ministries newsfeed linked to a total of 593 articles, 208 which deal with the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. (One article, posted today [May 17, 2012], talks about the creation of a "national UCC Palestine/Israel Network.")
In other words, approximately 35 percent of all the articles listed on the Global Ministries newsfeed since Jan. 1, 2011 and today were related to Israel.
During this same period of time, the newsfeed linked to approximately 10 articles, (less than two percent of the total) related to Syria, where approximately 12,000 people have been killed in fighting between the Assad regime and anti-government rebels during the past 15 months. Nigeria, where Christians have been routinely attacked, is hardly even mentioned in the newsfeed during 2011 or 2012.
And Egypt, where dozens of Coptic Christians have been killed by Muslim extremists and government soldiers since the beginning of 2011, merited only 28 links -- less than five percent of the total -- on the Global Ministries news feed during this same time frame.
In light of these numbers, which bespeak of an obvious and undeniable obsession with Israel, CAMERA commented that the Global Ministries' silence about the mistreatment of Christians in Egypt was a bit odd given that the executive for the Middle East for the Global Ministries was Rev. Dr. Peter Makari, who wrote a book about Christian-Muslim relations in Egypt. (For more information about Makari's silence on this issue, go here.)
In response to criticism from CAMERA, Global Ministries responded with a statement of its own. The statement was posted underneath this article. (Readers may have to scroll down and click on a link that reads show more to find it.) The statement reads as follows:
The United Church of Christ and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) engage in global mission through the partnership model, which involved accompanying our global partners in their joys and in their more difficult situations. That accompaniment can take many forms--some visible and some less so.
Global Ministries continues to be just as engaged with partners in Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, and elsewhere in the region as it does with partners in Israel/Palestine. Website posting statistics do not reflect this multiplicity of engagement, which cannot be so easily quantified.
Some partners actively seek global advocacy on the circumstances in which they live, including Palestinian Christian partners.
Other partners and communities are concerned that their active engagement would contribute to the "sectarianization" of a particular circumstance, and therefore weigh in with caution.
The involvement of US churches can contribute positively or negatively to a given situation. Global Ministries, in its public witness, heeds the advice of partners, with whom we are connected in many ways. Global Ministries' concern and engagement in many situations reflects the sensitivity expressed by partners.
We are not an independent organization, but a church mission board with deep historic and contemporary ties to sisters and brothers around the world. To engage situations based on an active relationship can be manifest in different ways.
We trust that UCC and Disciples members, as well as our other readers and concerned individuals, can go beyond numbers and understand the joy--and the complexity--of global relationships.
(Paragraph breaks inserted for readability.)
If you have a tough time understanding this statement, here it is in plain English:
Yes, our public witness about the Middle East is pretty one-sided, but we do a lot of stuff behind the scenes that doesn't make it onto our website. Trust us.
Palestinian Christians ask us to make a lot of statements about Israel, so we do.
Christians elsewhere in the Middle East don't want us to speak up about abuses in their countries because it might make people, Muslims especially, angry, so we don't.
With this statement, Global Ministries tacitly acknowledges that will speak truth to Jewish, but not Muslim or Arab power. With its one-sided witness, the organization rewards hostage taking on a grand scale. Countries where Christians are murdered and oppressed by Islamists on a regular basis are given a pass for fear that criticism will encourage more violence against these communities as if violence isn't already a problem. Israel on the other hand, is regularly condemned because it is safe to do so.
Eventually, human rights activists will have to come to grips with the role Islamist violence plays in distorting indigenous Christian witness about peace and human rights issues in the Middle East. Christians living under the threat of Islamist violence have every reason to stay quiet about the misdeeds of the rulers who can either protect or oppress them and have every reason to exaggerate the sins of the Jewish state, which has become the designated scapegoat in the region. By pointing the finger of blame at the Jewish state, these Christians can achieve a modicum of safety, at least for the short term.
By cooperating with this process, Global Ministries and other mainline institutions encourage the spread of a culture of impunity which is so evident in places like Egypt and Iraq into the international arena.
The signal given to Muslim and Arab leaders in the Middle East is that the human rights violations they perpetrate will largely go unnoticed. And at the same time, these same regimes can count on churches in the U.S. to serve their interests by cooperating with their efforts to demonize Israel and ignore violence against Israelis.
For years, mainline officials have stated their criticism of Israel is motivated by a desire for peace and a commitment to human rights. But when it comes time for these principles to be applied to other countries in the Middle East, these churches fall silent.
Do they honestly think that this double standard has gone unnoticed?
Do they think the explanations used to justify this double standard carry any weight?