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Christian Issues





CAMERA Challenges Episcopal Church on Distorted Narrative


After preparing an analysis of the Episcopal Church’s stance on the Arab-Israeli conflict, CAMERA sent letters to Rt. Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, incoming Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, and to Rev. Canon Brian Grieves, the church’s Director of the Peace and Justice Ministries. The letters express concern about the one-sided and distorted narrative the Episcopal Church has broadcast about the Arab-Israeli conflict. Although prominent members and bishops within the Church have expressed concern about Church's portrayal of the Arab-Israeli conflict, the national leaders of the denomination have failed to respond.

The text of these letters is displayed below. The first letter was sent to Rt. Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori and the second was sent to Rev. Canon Brian Grieves.


Oct 13, 2006
Rt. Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop-Elect
The Episcopal Church
Episcopal Church Center
815 Second Avenue New York, NY 10017

Rt. Rev. Schori:

Please find enclosed a letter sent to Rev. Canon Brian Grieves about four articles concerning the Arab-Israeli conflict posted on the Episcopal Church’s website. Also enclosed is a copy of a CAMERA report about the Episcopal Church’s stance on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The four articles we have analyzed in the letter to Rev. Canon Grieves appear emblematic of antipathy exhibited by the Episcopal Church toward Israel. The church’s public statements and publicity about the Arab-Israeli conflict exhibit a troubling indifference to Jewish suffering as a result of Palestinian and Arab terrorism, and a bothersome obsession with Israel’s efforts to protect itself. This obsession with Israel’s efforts to defend itself is coupled with an indifference to the facts about the conflict. For one reason or another, the misstatements of fact and material omissions always seem to cut against Israel.

Perhaps the clearest demonstration of the distorted narrative offered by the Episcopal Church about the Arab-Israeli conflict is to visit the church’s website (www.episcopalchurch.org) and enter "Jenin" into the search engine located at the top right hand corner of the site’s front page. As of this writing (Oct. 13, 2006), the site’s search engine provides links to a total of nine articles mentioning Jenin, the scene of fierce fighting between the IDF and Palestinian terrorists in April 2002. The first of these links is a four-year-old article that falsely accuses Israel of digging mass graves at Jenin and inaccurately portrays the battle as a "massacre."

Then, by way of comparison, go to the same search engine and plug in the word "Netanya," the name of a city in Israel that was the scene of a horrific suicide bombing that killed 30 Israelis and injured 140 others in March 2002 during a Passover festival meal. As of this writing, the site’s search engine returns no links at all even mentioning this city, or the attack.

The Episcopal Church’s decision to display an article that falsely characterizes Israel’s behavior in a particularly harsh light, while remaining silent about one of the most brutal attacks against Israeli civilians perpetrated during the Second Intifada raises legitimate questions about the church’s attitude toward Israel. The Episcopal Church plays an influential role in American society and yet it has failed to behave in a responsible manner when providing information about the Arab-Israeli conflict to its members and to the general public.

In short, the narrative offered by the Episcopal Church about the Arab-Israeli conflict is one in which Arab and Muslim violence and hostility against Israel will end as soon as Israel renders itself acceptable to those who seek its destruction. The events of the past few months have demonstrated that this narrative is false. During the summer of 2006, Israel was twice attacked from territory it previously withdrew from in an effort to achieve peace.

CAMERA asks that you direct your attention to the information about the Arab-Israeli conflict broadcast by the Episcopal Church – especially its website – and ensure that the necessary steps are taken to correct the errors, misstatements of fact and omissions that tarnish your church’s social witness.

Sincerely,
Dexter Van Zile
Christian Media Analyst
CAMERA 


Oct 13, 2006
Rev. Canon Brian Grieves
Director
Peace and Justice Ministries
The Episcopal Church
Episcopal Church Center
815 Second Avenue New York, NY 10017

Rev. Canon Brian Grieves:

I am writing to call your attention to four articles on the Episcopal Church’s website that portray the Arab-Israeli conflict in an inaccurate manner. Three of these articles are published directly under the aegis of the Episcopal Church’s Peace and Justice Ministries (which you direct) and the fourth was published under your byline.

While the overall narrative about the Arab-Israeli conflict offered by the Episcopal Church and its constituent bodies – the Peace and Justice Ministries especially – exhibits a troubling tendency to hold Israel to a utopian standard of conduct and its adversaries to no standard at all, these four items are particularly troublesome because of the distortions, and, in some instances, outright falsehoods they broadcast about the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Judging from its website, the Episcopal Church’s understanding of the Arab-Israeli conflict is based on the biased narrative offered by the Palestinian Authority after the collapse of negotiations at Camp David in 2000. Israel is portrayed as entirely at fault for the existence of the conflict and the Palestinians are wholly innocent for the violence they perpetrated. Much of this narrative has been discredited in recent years. The Episcopal Church’s website fails to communicate this reality.

By continuing to display these articles without update or correction, even as the information they offer has been discredited or overtaken by events, the Episcopal Church is lending its credibility to a narrative that was not accurate when the articles were first published and which has become increasingly untenable in light of recent history.

The four articles (and their links) are:

1. Camp David Peace Proposal of July 2000, Frequently Asked Questions
http://www.episcopalchurch.org/1866_6931_ENG_HTM.htm
(July 31, 2000)

2. Israel Digs Mass Graves - Covering Up War Crimes
http://www.episcopalchurch.org/1866_6939_ENG_HTM.htm
(April 10, 2002)

3. Timeline of the Israeli-Arab Conflict
http://www.episcopalchurch.org/1866_19041_ENG_HTM.htm
(July 3, 2003)

4. Delegation disturbed by effects of occupation, says two-state solution for Israel/Palestine threatened
http://www.episcopalchurch.org/3577_61959_ENG_HTM.htm
(May 12, 2005)

Below is a detailed, but not exhaustive, description of the problems with these articles. Please note that two of these documents were previously featured in a CAMERA report titled "The Episcopal Church’s Anti-Israel Media Campaign." This letter extends the analysis of these documents.

Camp David Peace Proposal of July 2000, Frequently Asked Questions

This document repeats many of the distortions put forth by Palestinian leaders at the beginning of the Second Intifada.

This document states:

Israel's proposal divided Palestine into four separate cantons surrounded by Israel: the Northern West Bank, the Central West Bank, the Southern West Bank and Gaza. Going from any one area to another would require crossing Israeli sovereign territory and consequently subject movement of Palestinians within their own country to Israeli control. Not only would such restrictions apply to the movement of people, but also to the movement of goods, in effect subjecting the Palestinian economy to Israeli control. Lastly, the Camp David proposal would have left Israel in control over all Palestinian borders thereby allowing Israel to control not only internal movement of people and goods but international movement as well. Such a Palestinian state would have had less sovereignty and viability than the Bantustans created by the South African apartheid government.

This statement, published at the end of July 2000, was inaccurate the moment it was first displayed on the Episcopal Church’s website for it does not accurately reflect the Israeli offer made early in Camp David discussions, nor does it reflect the final proposal put forth by the Clinton Administration which Israel accepted and which the Palestinian Authority rejected.

In his book, The Missing Peace, The Inside Story of the Fight for Middle East Peace, Dennis Ross, U.S. Envoy to the Middle East from 1988 to 2000 who presided over the Camp David/Taba negotiations, reports that at Camp David the Israelis initially offered the Palestinians 87 percent of the West Bank in a contiguous block of land, not as the FAQ asserts, "bantustans."

Furthermore, nowhere on its website does Episcopal Church inform its members that by the end of Camp David/Taba negotiations brokered by the Clinton Administration, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak agreed to a settlement that would have ceded all of Gaza, approximately 95 percent of the West Bank, and an additional 1-3 percent of Israeli territory from its pre-1967 border to the Palestinians. Dennis Ross describes the final offer to the Palestinians as follows:

[Ehud] Barak’s government had now 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).

The claim about "bantustans" or cantons was previously contradicted by Ross on April 21, 2002 when he told Fox News that:

... the Palestinians would have in the West Bank an area that was contiguous. Those who say there were cantons, completely untrue. It was contiguous... And to connect Gaza with the West Bank, there would have been an elevated highway, an elevated railroad, to ensure that there would be not just safe passage for the Palestinians, but free passage. (Fox News, April 21, 2002)

The statement also asserts "there is no evidence that the PA or the majority of Palestinians have abandoned the two-state solution" when in fact, Yasir Arafat routinely spoke of the destruction of Israel to his followers while talking peace with Israel and the Clinton Administration. The question is not whether or not the PA or the majority of the Palestinians had abandoned the two-state solution, but if their leader, Yasir Arafat had ever embraced it. Arafat’s failure to make a counter offer at Camp David is emblematic of his unwillingness to accept a two-state solution.

The FAQ also ignores Arafat’s failure to bring an end to hate speech on Palestinian television – as required by the Oslo Accords. The FAQ does not acknowledge Arafat’s failure to bring an end to terrorism against Israel – also required under the Oslo Accords.

By continuing to display this FAQ, more than five years after Yasir Arafat walked out of negotiations without making a counteroffer, the Episcopal Church is still broadcasting a distorted narrative that holds Israel exclusively responsible for the failure of the Camp David talks in 2000. The fact that this FAQ is still being displayed – without correction or update – is problematic for two reasons.

1. The fact that the Episcopal Church saw fit to broadcast such a one-sided and distorted narrative in the first place reveals a troubling willingness to accept without question the Palestinian version of events despite a long history of broken promises and contradictory statements from Palestinian leaders.

2. The failure of the Episcopal Church to update or correct the narrative in the years since its first publication demonstrates an indifference to discerning the truth – a fundamental requirement of peacemaking.

CAMERA requests that a correction, or update be included on the Episcopal Church’s website. At the very least, the update should include:

• An accurate description of the offers made to the Palestinian Authority at Camp David;
• An accurate description of the offer made to the Palestinian Authority at Taba;
• A description of Yasir Arafat’s failure to end incitement and terrorism; and
• An acknowledgment that the Second Intifada was planned within days of the collapse of talks at Camp David.

Israel Digs Mass Graves - Covering Up War Crimes

This document broadcasts accusations made in April 2002 that Israel had perpetrated a massacre at Jenin, accusations that have been subsequently discredited.

The document states:

Eyewitnesses stated that Israeli forces are now digging large holes inside Jenin refugee camp and in surrounding areas. They have stated their fears that these are mass graves, where the several killed (numbers still to be confirmed) in the refugee camp will be buried. Eyewitnesses saw Israeli forces putting bodies inside the holes.

Whatever the eyewitnesses may have told representatives from LAW - The Palestinian Society for the Protection of Human Rights and the Environment, the fact is that Israel did not dig mass graves at Jenin. For more information, please see the CAMERA backgrounder titled "A Study in Palestinian Duplicity and Media Indifference" published on Aug. 1, 2002.

The document also falsely suggests that a massacre had taken place at Jenin by quoting an April 9, 2002 report by Ha’aretz that stated Israeli foreign minister Shimon Peres called the battle at Jenin a "massacre." It was in fact a battle between IDF forces and Palestinian terrorists who had taken refuge amongst a highly concentrated civilian population. The IDF’s incursion into Jenin, precipitated in part by a suicide bombing in Netyanya which killed 28 Israelis, resulted in the death of 23 Israeli soldiers, and a total of 52 Palestinians, most of whom were combatants.

A subsequent report issued by the United Nations reveals the following facts that are not included anywhere in the Episcopal Church’s publicity regarding events at Jenin:

1. After the IDF established control of access into and out of Jenin, approximately 11,000 of the city’s 14,000 inhabitants evacuated the area. The IDF used loudspeakers to urge inhabitants out of the Jenin camp and that these warnings "were ignored by many residents."

2. During the course of the fighting in Jenin, Israeli soldiers encountered a significant number of booby traps placed by Palestinians, a fact corroborated by reports from so-called human rights groups who toured the area after the battle.

3. The UN reported the following after the battle: "That the Israeli Defence Forces encountered heavy Palestinian resistance is not in question. Nor is the fact that Palestinian militants in the camp, as elsewhere, adopted methods which constitute breaches of international law that have been and continue to be condemned by the United Nations."

4. In response to accusations that the IDF did not allow ambulances to tend to the wounded in Jenin, Israeli officials stated that "medical vehicles were used to transport terrorists and that medical premises were used to provide shelter [for terrorists]" – a clear violation of international law.

It is important to note that none of these facts are communicated on the Episcopal Church’s website, nor is there any reference to the suicide bombing in Netanya that prompted Operation Defensive Shield.

On October 9, 2006, a search on "netanya" in the Episcopal Church’s search engine yielded zero results, despite the fact that this city was the scene of one of the most destructive acts of Palestinian terrorism during the Second Intifada. The Episcopal Church’s willingness to broadcast, without correction or updates, a false narrative about the battle at Jenin, while making no mention of the attack at Netanya is emblematic of a troubling double-standard in the church’s witness to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

CAMERA requests that you correct for this troubling standard by:

1. Reporting the actual number of deaths that took place at Jenin;

2. Providing information about the violence perpetrated against Israelis in the weeks before Operation Defensive Shield;

3. Describing the efforts the Israelis pursued to give civilians an opportunity to leave the battle zone; and

4. Acknowledging that by hiding among a highly concentrated population of civilians, Palestinian terrorists were ultimately responsible for non-combatant casualties.

The fact that this article was not authored by the Episcopal Church is immaterial. It has been posted – without correction or update or clarification – on the Episcopal Church’s website for more than four years, even after it has become clear that early accusations against Israel were not sustainable.

Timeline of the Israeli-Arab Conflict

This document deceptively omits key aspects of the Arab-Israeli conflict. For example, the timeline uses the word terrorism once – in reference to Jewish violence against Great Britain in 1946 – while making no mention of the suicide attacks against Israeli civilians that began in 1994. And while omitting any direct reference to Palestinian terrorism, the timeline emphasizes that Israeli-Arabs were shot during the Second Intifada.

The chronology describes the Six Day War as follows: "Israel conquers the Sinai, Golan Heights, Gaza Strip, West Bank, and East Jerusalem, which it annexed." What the chronology omits is that Egypt provoked the war by closing the Straits of Tiran and blockading the Israeli port of Eilat, an act of war under international law, that Egypt expelled UN peacekeeping troops from the Sinai Peninsula, and that Egypt issued bellicose statements promising the imminent destruction of Israel. And while referencing UN Security Council Resolution 242, which established the "land-for-peace" principle, it does not mention the Arab response to that resolution: the Three No’s of Khartoum issued by the Arab League in 1967 –– no recognition, no negotiation and no peace with Israel. Israel gained territory in a defensive war, tried to negotiate and was rebuffed. The chronology conveys none of this.

The chronology reports that Israel invaded Lebanon in 1978 and 1982 without describing the attacks by the PLO that prompted these invasions.

The chronology states that the Camp David negotiations broke down, without acknowledging that Yasir Arafat walked away from negotiations –– without making a counteroffer – after Israel made far-reaching land for peace offers.

Moreover, the chronology places responsibility for the Second Intifada on Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount in September 2000, even as Palestinian officials have admitted preparing for the Second Intifada immediately after Yasir Arafat returned from the failed negotiations at Camp David in July.

The chronology also fails to report that Sharon’s visit was coordinated with the Palestinian Authority’s security chief.

The chronology states that in 2002, "[r]eoccupation of Palestinian areas begins" without reporting that the return of Israeli troops to the West Bank was precipitated by an unprecedented campaign of violence that killed hundreds of Israelis. Operation Defensive Shield began one day after the March 27 bombing at a Passover Seder in a Netanya hotel that killed 30 Israelis and injured 140. In that month of March alone 128 Israelis were murdered in Palestinian terror attacks. To place this number in context, consider that as a percentage of the Israeli population this would be comparable to the killing of 6,400 Americans, or more than two 9/11's in one month. As stated previously, entering "netanya" into the search engine at episcopalchurch.org on Oct. 13, 2006 revealed no links whatsoever, despite the fact that this city was the scene of one of the most violent attacks perpetrated during the Second Intifada.

What possible justification is there for the Episcopal Church’s failure to acknowledge this attack?

The chronology ends in 2003, and as a result omits any reference to Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and to the hundreds of Palestinian rocket attacks from Gaza into Israel that followed.

Another problem with this timeline is its failure to acknowledge the Jewish connection to the land of Israel.

The fact that this timeline was prepared by Churches for Middle East Peace does not absolve the Episcopal Church for its failings. By displaying this timeline, rife as it is with material omissions, the church itself is lending its credibility to a distorted narrative.

CAMERA requests that the Episcopal Church alter or edit or provide an addendum to this timeline that:

1. Acknowledges the Jewish connection to the land of Israel;

2. Acknowledges anti-Jewish and anti-Israel terrorism that preceded and followed Israel’s creation in 1948;

3. Acknowledges the continued efforts by Israel’s Arab neighbors to annihilate the Jewish state;

4. Acknowledges the role Egypt played in provoking the 1967 War and the Arab refusal to negotiate afterwards;

5. Describes why Israel invaded Lebanon;

6. Describes accurately the events that led to the collapse of negotiations at Camp David;

7. Describes Yasir Arafat’s failure to bring an end to terror attacks against Israel and his failure to stop the broadcast of anti-Semitic hate speech in Palestinian media; and

8. Provides more recent information about the acts of war perpetrated against it by Hezbollah and Hamas from territory Israel withdrew from in 2000 and 2006 respectively an effort to achieve peace.

Delegation disturbed by effects of occupation, says two-state solution for Israel/Palestine threatened

Emblematic of this bias exhibited by the Episcopal Church’s public pronouncements on the Arab-Israel conflict is an article about the impact of the security barrier Israel is building to stop terror attacks from the West Bank. The article offers virtually no explanation as to why the barrier is constructed, even in a section ostensibly devoted to "Security issues." The paragraphs and the heading follow:

Security issues

In a visit to Bethlehem, the group passed through a part of Israel's separation barrier, built inside the pre-1967 border (the "Green Line"), a nine-meter-high wall around the city, and noted that Rachel's Tomb, another venerated holy site, has been placed on the Jerusalem side of the barrier, cutting off access from Bethlehem where it is located. The Israeli government maintains the barrier is built to provide security to Israel. (emphasis added)

"What the commission members found the most shocking of all was that the Wall or Separation Barrier or Fence, as it is variously called, is perceived by all parties as being almost entirely underwritten by the American taxpayer," said Michele Spike, another member of the commission. "The Wall invades Palestinian fields, dividing grazing lands -- including the valley of the shepherds at Bethlehem -- and, at times, encircling Palestinian cities."

The delegation observed that some parts of the separation barrier cut off Palestinians from one another and often makes a two-minute walk into a journey of a mile or more. Family members or friends often find it difficult to see each other, which has hugely negative effects on Palestinian society, the group learned.

This article devotes one sentence to describe why the barrier was built while giving extensive detail to its impact on Palestinians. While the effect on Palestinians is undeniable, so is the impact of Palestinian terrorism on Israeli civilians. The decision to build the barrier was precipitated by an unprecedented campaign of suicide bombings that killed Israeli civilians in markets, movie theaters and bus stations.

Offering readers such key facts would provide context for Israel’s actions, but this article does not provide these facts.

CAMERA believes this article should be updated with details that would provide context as to why the barrier is being constructed. The barrier, which has undeniable impacts on civilians is not being constructed in a vacuum, but an atmosphere of fear and violence which this article does not describe. The details should include the number of deaths caused by Palestinian terrorism, a description of anti-Semitic incitement on Palestinian television and in other media, and a description of Israeli efforts to minimize the impact of the barrier on Palestinians.

In conclusion, it is CAMERA’s belief that the articles do not provide useful information about the Arab-Israeli conflict to church members or to the general public and should, at the very least, be corrected and updated to include a fuller, more accurate description of the conflict. It may be reasonable for officials to consider removing the articles altogether from the church’s website.

In any event, CAMERA hopes that going forward, the Episcopal Church engages in a sincere effort to ensure that the information it provides to its members and to the general public about the Arab-Israeli conflict more closely conforms to reality than the information it has provided in the past.

Sincerely,

Dexter Van Zile
Christian Media Analyst
CAMERA


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