On Oct. 13, 2006, CAMERA sent letters to officials in the Episcopal Church asking them to examine articles on the church’s website about the Arab-Israeli conflict. This correspondence went unanswered for a month. Three days after CAMERA went public with its correspondence on Nov. 13, Rev. Canon Brian Grieves, director of the church, responded with a blistering letter accusing CAMERA of "misleading characterizations" about the church’s portrayal of the Arab-Israeli conflict. While Rev. Canon Grieves did not respond specifically to any of the issues raised by CAMERA, he did invoke the passage of resolutions by the Episcopal Church’s Executive Council which included a condemnation of anti-Semitism, a call for Hamas to accept Israel’s right to exist and for the group to abide by pre-existing peace agreements. These resolutions, passed on Nov. 15, represent an improvement over the Episcopal Church's traditional animus toward Israel. Nevertheless, the church's Web site remains a veritable trove of misinformation about the Arab-Israeli conflict.
After speaking with Rev. Canon Grieves, CAMERA sent another letter to the Episcopal Church’s Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, asking her to address the other problematic articles and to assess the church’s relationship with Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center, a group that undermines the legitimacy of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.
The letter follows.
Dec. 4, 2006
Rt. Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
The Episcopal Church
Episcopal Church Center
815 Second Avenue New York, NY 10017
Rt. Rev. Schori:
As you are aware, CAMERA has been in contact with Rev. Canon Brian Grieves, director of the Episcopal Church’s Peace and Justice Ministries, regarding the manner in which the church portrays the Arab-Israeli conflict. It is our contention that the Episcopal Church has offered a one-sided and distorted narrative about the conflict. This narrative holds Israel to a utopian standard of conduct, downplays Arab refusal to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist and minimizes the role of Muslim anti-Semitism in fueling the conflict.
This distorted nature of this narrative is not limited to, but clearly evident in articles on the church’s website. In our previous letters to both you and Rev. Canon Grieves, we have detailed some of the problems with just a few of the articles on the church’s Web Site (episcopalchurch.org).
In the course of our correspondence and discussion with Rev. Canon Grieves, we have been provided with the text of two resolutions regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict passed by the Executive Council on Nov. 15th. While the resolutions downplay Israel’s efforts to negotiate and render itself acceptable to those who seek its destruction, they do offer something new in the church’s witness on the Arab-Israeli conflict: an explicit call for Hamas, a group publically dedicated to Israel’s destruction, to "recognize the State of Israel, renounce violence, and accept past peace agreements." They also call for an eradication of anti-Semitism and all forms of racism.
These calls, inserted by church leaders after input from Christians For Fair Witness on the Middle East, suggest a nascent awareness of the role Arab and Muslim extremism plays in contributing to violence against Israel.
CAMERA is heartened by this development. The issue of Arab extremism and Muslim anti-Semitism and the role they play in fueling the conflict are issues that have not received sufficient attention from any mainline church in the U.S., the Episcopal Church included. It is our hope at CAMERA that the insertion of language regarding Hamas and anti-Semitism into the resolutions passed by the Executive Council marks a greater willingness on the part of the Episcopal Church to address these issue.
When I raised the issue of Muslim anti-Semitism with Rev. Canon Grieves during a recent phone conversation, he drew my attention to a report from the church’s Committee on Socially Responsible Investment issued in October 2005 – a twelve page report that includes one sentence on the issue of anti-Semitism in Muslim countries. The sentence reads: "The SRI Committee also notes examples of hostility and anti-Semitism of certain Arab states in the region against the state of Israel."
Given the huge volume of anti-Semitic imagery in media throughout the Middle East and the role it plays in encouraging violence against Israel, this is insufficient.
Jews are demonized in virtually every form of media throughout the Middle East.
• Palestinian textbooks blame Jews for the betrayal of Jesus.
• On official Palestinian television, religious leaders call for violent acts against Jews. One cleric called on Jews to be "butchered and killed."
• The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is sold openly throughout the Middle East, as is Mein Kampf.
• Blood libels against the Jews have been broadcast throughout the Middle East, with precious little condemnation from Arab intellectuals.
• Newspaper cartoons portray Israelis as crucifying Palestinians. One cartoon showed rabbis standing at the foot of a cross, collecting blood from a crucified Palestinian woman in bowls as it drips off her feet.
• In February Hamas posted a video on its Web site in which a suicide bomber expressed a desire to drink Jewish blood.
This is all part of a larger pattern. For many years, political and religious leaders in the Middle East have portrayed Israel as a cancer on the Arab and Islamic nations and describe the hoped-for destruction of Israel as a liberating, redemptive act that will restore the Muslim and Arab peoples to their rightful place in the world.
This imagery is not a consequence of Israeli policies, but the result of an orchestrated campaign of hate. Sadly, the Episcopal Church, like other mainline denominations in the United States, has said very little about any of this. Given the repeated and full-throated criticism of Israel offered by the Episcopal Church over the past few years, silence on the issues of Arab rejectionism and Muslim anti-Semitism is troublesome.
Nevertheless, we are heartened to see these issues acknowledged in the resolutions passed by the Executive Council.
We are also heartened that Rev. Canon Grieves has responded to our concerns about the article titled "Israel Digs Mass Graves" and has instructed the church’s webmaster to remove it. This article was inaccurate the moment it was posted, as Rev. Canon Grieves acknowledged during our conversation on Nov. 28.
But we remain concerned about the other three articles we mentioned in our previous correspondence with Rev. Canon Grieves, for reasons we have described previously.
Sadly, Rev. Canon Grieves dismisses CAMERA’s concerns about these other articles as a consequence of our "point of view" regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict. He also asserts that the Episcopal Church offers viewpoints about the Arab-Israeli conflict that are not typically heard in the United States.
Neither of these responses relieves the Episcopal Church of its obligation to portray the Arab-Israeli conflict in a factual and fair manner. On this issue, I call your attention to the "Code of Fair Practices – Coverage of Israeli-Palestinian Issues" developed in 2002 at a conference sponsored in part by the Communication Commission of the National Council of Churches. The statement calls on people disseminating information about the Arab-Israeli conflict to adhere to a number of guidelines. These guidelines are routinely violated in articles broadcast by the Episcopal Church.
For example, the article by Rev. Canon Grieves titled "Delegation disturbed by effects of occupation, says two-state solution for Israel/Palestine threatened" gives short shrift to the threats to Israelis safety while emphasizing the suffering Palestinians endure as a consequence of the security barrier. While Palestinian suffering is undeniable, in Rev. Canon Grieves’s article, Israeli suffering is deemed unremarkable. This is contrary to the code’s admonition to "strive to get the other side or sides of the story and rely on diverse sources."
Moreover, Rev. Canon Grieves’s article – as it appears on the church’s website – violates the admonition that "photographs should give a fair and accurate image of an event and not exaggerate an incident because the photograph is exceptionally dramatic." Both photographs accompanying Rev. Canon Grieves’s article show Israeli security measures, but do not provide any images of the aftermath of Palestinian violence. This is emblematic the Episcopal Church’s overall narrative about the Arab-Israeli conflict. The impact of Israeli security measures on Palestinians is described in great detail; the impact of violence against Israeli civilians is given short shrift.
In both his written correspondence and during our phone conversation, Rev. Canon Grieves has emphasized that the Episcopal Church has on numerous occasions affirmed Israel’s right to exist. These affirmations, however, are typically accompanied by a long list of complaints about Israel’s behavior.
Moreover, these affirmations have not been accompanied by any explanation as to why they are necessary. The overall impact of these affirmations of Israel’s right to exist, followed as they are with one-sided demands and condemnations of Israeli behavior, is to suggest that Israel ’s existence is somehow contingent on reforming itself and rendering itself acceptable to its adversaries who have, on numerous occasions, called for its destruction. Requiring Israel to embark on a campaign mollifying the implacable hate expressed toward Jews and their state throughout the Middle East (as the Episcopal Church has done) is more than unreasonable. It ultimately encourages further violence against Israel.
This is not to say Israel cannot be criticized in good conscience. The Episcopal Church, however, has criticized Israel’s security measures in great detail without describing or criticizing in similar detail the threats the Israeli people and their leaders face on a daily basis. The lack of specificity regarding violence against Israel, and the ideas that motivate it, coupled with the ferocious specificity used to describe the impact of Israeli security measures, raises doubts about the credibility of the church’s peacemaking bodies.
In his correspondence and discussion with CAMERA, Rev. Canon Grieves emphasized that the Episcopal Church is committed to promoting the creation of a Palestinian state and to bringing an end to their suffering. On this score, CAMERA asks you and others within the Episcopal Church to look closely at whether or not the denomination’s peacemaking bodies have fully addressed problems within Palestinian society that undermine its ability to live in peace with Israel and build a future for its citizens.
When talking about these other articles, Rev. Canon Brian Grieves stated that these articles may come down some time after the first of the year because they are dated. These articles should not be taken down because they are old. They should be taken down because they offer a distorted narrative of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
We are also troubled by the Episcopal Church’s continued failure to condemn the use of crucifixion imagery in reference to the Israel by Rev. Naim Ateek, founding leader of Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center, headquartered in Jerusalem. As you are aware, Rev. Ateek has on numerous occasions used what has been called deicide imagery – language evoking Jewish culpability for the death of Jesus – in reference to the State of Israel.
This language has a long history of whipping up hostility toward Jews. Deicide imagery in reference to the State of Israel was in fact described by the European Union Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) as one example of how anti-Semitism can manifest itself in public discourse. The EUMC’s working definition of anti-Semitism includes the use of "symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis.
In December 2000, Ateek wrote that Palestinian Christmas celebrations were "marred by the destructive powers of the modern-day "Herods" who are represented in the Israeli government."
In his 2001 Easter Message, Ateek wrote: "The Israeli government crucifixion system is operating daily. Palestine has become the place of the skull." In February 2001, Ateek likened the Israeli occupation to the boulder sealing Christ's tomb.
As I have written previously, with these three images, Ateek has figuratively blamed Israel for trying to kill the infant Jesus, crucifying Jesus the prophet and blocking the resurrection of Christ the Savior. Rev. Ateek used this hostile imagery during the height of the Second Intifada when he should have been working to calm tensions. Use of this language, however, can only serve to heighten feelings of hostility.
These images are not the language of peacemaking.
Nevertheless Rev. Canon Grieves defended Rev. Ateek when he received a peacemaking award from the Episcopal Peace Fellowship, in June. According to reports, Rev. Canon Grieves accused those who called attention to Rev. Ateek’s language of "slander." During our conversation, Rev. Canon Grieves affirmed what he believed was Rev. Ateek’s right to use this imagery and refused to state one way or another if this language was appropriate for peacemaking.
Rev. Grieves’s silence on this issue seems inconsistent with the Executive Council’s call for an end to the sins of Anti-Semitism. It also seems contradictory with the 75th General Convention’s call for the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music to "assist members of the Church to address anti-Jewish prejudice expressed in and stirred by portions of Christian scriptures and liturgical texts." If the Episcopal Church’s General Convention is willing to address the issue of anti-Semitism in Christian scriptures why is Rev. Canon Grieves unwilling to assess one way or another if Rev. Ateek’s use of deicide imagery is acceptable?
We also ask you to reconsider the Episcopal Church’s unqualified support for Sabeel. The group’s diagnosis – Israel as the source of Palestinian suffering – leads inexorably to one prescription: the elimination of Israel as a Jewish State. Rev. Ateek himself stated that Israel should not be allowed to maintain itself as a Jewish state at the recent General Convention. Denying the Jewish people the right to self-determination is yet another example of anti-Semitism listed in the EUMC’s working definition of anti-Semitism, yet such a denial is part and parcel of Sabeel’s message. One speaker at the recent Sabeel conference in Jerusalem stated that it is time to reconsider Israel’s creation in 1948. Sabeel’s literature are filled with passages implicitly or explicitly calling for Israel’s destruction. The Episcopal Church’s unqualified support for Sabeel calls into question the denomination’s commitment to ending the sin of anti-Semitism and for its support for Israel’s right to exist.
We are not asking that the Episcopal Church abandon its commitment to the Palestinians. We are however asking that the church draw a bright line between itself and Sabeel’s use of deicide imagery in reference to Israel. We also ask that a similar bright line be drawn between the Episcopal Church and statements from Sabeel and its supporters that undermine the legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish state.
The resolutions passed at the recent Executive Council are a positive change of direction for the Episcopal Church. We ask you to ensure that this process of change continues. To that end, we ask you again to examine the articles on the Episcopal Church’s Web site about the Arab-Israeli conflict and decide for yourself if they meet the truth-telling requirement of peacemaking.
Dexter Van Zile
Christian Media Analyst
CC: The Rt. Rev. C. Christopher Epting, Rev. Canon Grieves
Postscript for CAMERA’s readers:
The article "Israel Digs Mass Graves" that Rev. Canon Grieves stated would be taken down has been replaced by an article about a resolution passed by the Episcopal Church’s Executive Committee condemning Israel for accidently shelling a chapel in Gaza in 2003. For more information, please see the blog entry titled "Episcopalian Fairness? File Not Found."