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Middle East Issues





Abingdon Press Took a Pass on Burge's Book


In 2003, Pilgrim Press, the publishing house of the United Church Christ, a liberal Protestant denomination headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio, released Whose Land? Whose Promise? What Christians Are Not Being Told about Israel and the Palestinians.

This book, which was an expanded version of another book produced by Zondervan Press in 1993, was filled with factual errors that went largely undetected until 2007 when CAMERA analyzed the text in this article here.

Despite these errors, the book received an award of merit from Christianity Today in 2004 and was endorsed (or “blurbed”) by then editor of the magazine, David Neff.

Abingdon Took a Pass

Interestingly enough, Pilgrim Press was the second publisher to receive the manuscript for Whose Land? Whose Promise?, which was written by Rev. Dr. Gary Burge, an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and a professor at Wheaton College in Illinois. The first publisher to receive the manuscript was Abingdon Press, the publishing house of the United Methodist Church.

According to Rev. Tim Staveteig, who worked at Pilgrim Press when it released Whose Land? Whose Promise?, the editorial staff at Abingdon Press had planned on publishing the book but was overruled by an oversight board that was fearful of the “tensions” that the book might provoke.

This is consonant with what was reported in a 2007 post to the Confessing Christ Google group posted by noted UCC theologian Rev. Dr. Gabe Fackre. (Confessing Christ is a group of theologians and pastors within the UCC who engage in an online discussion and host an annual conference in Craigville, Massachusetts.) Rev. Dr. Fackre reported (after speaking with Staveteig) that the book's publication by Abingdon was canceled “by an oversight board for fear of possibly offending some supporters of Israel.”

Staveteig, who spoke with CAMERA on Feb. 11, 2014, reports that after Abingdon Press declined publication, the manuscript made its way to Pilgrim Press, which agreed to publish the text. (CAMERA contacted both Abingdon Press and the United Methodist Church on Feb. 24, 2014 and has yet to receive a response about the UMC's involvement with this text.)

Book Not Fact Checked

When it agreed to publish Burge's text, Pilgrim Press bought a pig in a poke, because it appears that the book was not subjected to any serious fact checking by the editorial staff at Abingdon Press or Pilgrim Press.

Rev. Staveteig reports that fact checking has not been part of book publishing “in a long time.” Instead, manuscripts are sent out to academics for vetting.

In the case of a book like Whose Land? Whose Promise? outside experts are asked to determine whether or not the book meets the demands of scholarship and is serious enough to warrant publication.

Apparently, this was done at Abingdon before its oversight board vetoed publication of the text. Staveteig, who stopped working for the United Church of Christ in 2009, does not remember if Pilgrim Press sent out Burge's manuscript for vetting.

People may fault the decision of Abingdon Press's oversight board to not publish Whose Land? Whose Promise? out of a desire to avoid controversy – lots of books are controversial.

Still, it appears that the UMC's publishing house dodged a bullet as a result of this decision. If it had published the text, it would have suffered the embarrassment that Pilgrim Press has endured as a result of publishing a patently inaccurate text.

The book was so embarrassingly inaccurate that Pilgrim Press made an unprecedented offer after CAMERA informed the house of some of the errors that appeared in the “revised and updated” second edition of the text: Pilgrim Press invited CAMERA to produce a response that it would issue with future copies of the text.

This offer was later rescinded for copyright reasons, but the fact that the offer was made indicates that the publisher is not confident in the text. And yet it is still selling the text on its website, albeit at a significant discount from its list price of $25. As of this writing, it can be purchased for the low price of $15.

Just to give readers a sense of how badly Pilgrim Press erred when it agreed to publish two editions a book cast off by Abingdon Press, CAMERA has prepared a compendium of some of the errors, omissions and distortions that appear in both editions of Whose Land? Whose Promise?

Most of these errors have been discussed in other articles on CAMERA's website, but they are compiled and summarized in this article for easy access for college students and church goers whose professors or pastors use this book in either the classroom or their churches.

Organization

The compendium is organized by edition. The first group of entries is for factual misstatements and material omissions that appear only in the first edition.

The second group is comprised misstatements and omissions that appear in both the first and second edition. (Most of these errors were pointed out by CAMERA in the 2007 article that dealt with the first edition; some were not.)

The third group is comprised of misstatements and omissions that were introduced in the “new and updated” version of the text. Here is the list:

First Edition Only

Assertion: On page39 Rev. Dr.Burge attributes the following quote to Israel's first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion: “We will expel the Arabs and take their place.”

The fact: The quote is a fabrication. Moreover, the high-school textbook Rev. Dr. Burge cites as a source for this statement does not include the quote question.

Assertion: On page 261 Rev. Dr. Burge characterizes an essay by historian Daniel Pipes as follows: “In [Pipes'] mind, Israel has an opportunity to resolve its most basic struggles with the Arabs.”

The fact: Pipes' essay says exactly the opposite: “The point cannot be made often or strongly enough that, in their great majority, Arabic speakers do continue to repudiate the idea of peace with Israel. Despite having lost six rounds of war, they seem nothing loath to try again.”

Assertion: On page139 Rev. Dr.Burge reports that “Palestinians living within Israel's borders” (Israeli Arabs) cannot join major labor organizations, political parties, and even the military” in Israel.

The facts: He is wrong on all three counts. Israeli Arabs were granted membership in the Histadrut, Israel's largest union in 1959. Israeli Arabs can also join the IDF and have served in the Knesset as members of major political parties in Israel.

Assertion: On page 110 Burge wrote “In 1998, an M.A. student at the University of Haifa completed a well-researched thesis that uncovered an Israeli atrocity in the Arab village of Tantura during May 22-23, 1948, in which Israeli soldiers massacred 250 Arabs. Burge reported that a lawsuit filed by the accuses soldiers was “still pending.”

The facts: In 2001, The Times Higher Education Supplement reported that an internal committee at Haifa University discovered that it contained “fabricated quotes purporting to come from veterans.” Moreover, the Graduate School Council at the University of Haifa concluded that “there are substantive defects in the work” and that “the thesis cannot be accepted in its current form.”The lawsuit that Burge reported was “still pending” was settled – in the soldiers' favor – two years before the book was published.

First and Second Editions

Assertion: On page 25 of the first edition and page 27 of the second edition, Rev. Dr. Burge describes the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) as waging “numerous conflicts with Israel [between 1971 and 1982] in an attempt to redress the refugee problem.”

The facts: The Palestinian National Charter approved in 1968 called for the “total liberation of Palestine,” “the elimination of Zionism in Palestine” and expressed hopes for the destruction of the “the Zionist and imperialist presence” in the Middle East. In other words, the PLO wanted to destroy Israel, not merely “redress the refugee problem” as Burge reports.

Assertion: On page 25 of the first edition and page 27 of the second edition, the author describes Hezbollah as a “severe resistance movement” which “fought the Israelis and led their unilateral withdrawal from [a buffer zone in Lebanon] on May 23, 2000, ending over years of occupation.”

The facts: Burge's depiction of Hezbollah as a “resistance movement,” indicates the organization had a limited goal of driving Israel from Lebanese territory. In fact, Hezbollah leaders have stated numerous times they seek Israel's destruction. For example, its February 1985 statement of goals and principles states unequivocally that its “struggle will end only when [Israel] is obliterated.”

Assertion: On page 42 of the first edition and 44 of the second edition, Burge describes UN Resolution 242 as demanding that Israel return to its “‘pre-1967' borders.”

The facts: UN Resolution 242 did not call for Israel to unilaterally withdraw to its pre-1967 territory, which was denoted by armistice lines, not “borders” as Burge describes them. Instead, the resolution called for a negotiated settlement based on an exchange of territory for an acknowledgment of Israel's right to exist. And the resolution itself was intentionally left unclear about what territory would be handed over to the Arabs.

Assertion: On page 136 of the first edition and page 148 of the second edition Burge reports that early Zionist Theodore Herzl “believed that the removal of Arabs bodily from Palestine was part of the Zionist plan ‘to spirit the penniless population across the frontier.'” He cites an abridged version of Herlz's diaries as a source for this quote.

The facts: The abridged version of Herzl's diaries does not include the quote in question. The quote, does however, appear in a complete text of Herzl's diaries. In this multi-volume text, the quote appears among a number of references to Herzl's desire to resettle Jews in South America, not Palestine. In addition to stating his desire to settle Jews in South America, Herzl speaks of a desire to encourage the local inhabitants to leave their homes through economic incentives and an insistence that people who do not wish to leave will be allowed to remain.

Assertion: On page 139 of the first edition and page 151 of the second edition, the author states that Israeli identification cards and drivers' licenses “indicate if the driver is Jewish or Arab” and that “Jews renew their licenses on the fifteenth of the month, non-Jews on the first.”

The facts: There is no reference to ethnicity on either licenses or identification cards. Drivers' licenses are renewed on the holder's date of birth.

Assertion: On page 140 of the first edition and page 152 of the second edition, Dr. Burge indicates that “illegitimate children of Jewish parents, children with a Jewish father but whose mother became a Christian, and Jewish believers in Jesus” would not qualify for Israeli membership under the countries Law of Return which was written in 1950 because of the way Jewishness is defined by Israel's orthodox rabbis.

The facts: Israel's Law of Return was not written or enforced by religious authorities in Israel. The author fails to mention the 1970 amendment to this law that allows anyone with one Jewish grandparent and who has not converted to a non-Jewish religion to claim Israeli citizenship. Some Jewish believers in Jesus, (“Messianic Jews”) have obtained Israeli citizenship by virtue of having Jewish fathers by virtue of this law.

Assertion: On page 143 of the first edition and page 155 of the second edition, Burge reports that no “new wells” can be dug in the West Bank. He also blames Israeli policy for water shortages in the West Bank.

The facts: The water supply in the West Bank is managed by an institution called the Joint Water Commission, which according to this report produced by the Began-Sadat Center, has “has approved the drilling of about 70 new production wells for the Palestinians. The JWC “has also approved the upgrading of 55 existing wells (out of 500 authorized wells in Judea and Samaria.” The report also states hat “despite the international aid offered to the Palestinians for planning, financing, including the approval of 70 new wells by the JWC, the Palestinians have not succeeded in independently increasing their water supply.”

Assertion: On page 158 of the first edition and page 171 of the second edition, Burge reports that from 1987 to mid-1998, "178 Israelis (mostly settlers)," were killed by Palestinian violence.

The facts: B'Tselem reports that total of 267 Israelis were killed between the beginning of 1987 and the end of 1998, well above the 178 deaths Burge reported. Most of these deaths, (176), took place inside the Green Line, contradicting his assertion that these deaths were of “mostly settlers.”
 
Assertion: On page 262 of the first edition and page 295 of the second edition Burge reports that “senior Israeli officials have even acknowledged that they use a tactic of hunting down and killing individual demonstrators, called “eliminations” by the authorities.” He cites a report from the New York Times published on December 22, 2000, titled “Israel Acknowledges Hunting Down Arab Militants.”

The facts: A review of the New York Times article that Burge cites reveals that Israeli officials did not admit to hunting down and killing “demonstrators” as Burge reports, but people who have killed, or are planning to kill Israeli citizens. The first sentence of the article reads as follows: “Senior Israeli officials have acknowledged a new tactic of hunting down and killing individual Palestinian militants whom Israel holds responsible for planning attacks on or attacking its citizens.” Burge's description of these people “individual demonstrators” is misleading.

Second Edition Only

Assertion: On page 58, the author reports that visitors to Israel will see a security barrier “surrounding a city like Bethlehem.”

The fact: The security barrier does not surround Bethlehem but separates it from Jerusalem. See a B'Tselem map here.

Assertion: On page 70, Burge describes the 2010 “Free Gaza” flotilla that attempted to break Israel's blockade of Gaza as follows: “Ships with 700 international activists. The Israeli Navy intercepts, 16 killed.” (Emphasis added.)

The facts: Nine people, not 16, were killed as a result of this confrontation that took place in 2010. The author also omits some crucial facts about what happened on board the Mavi Marmara, the vessel where the deaths took place. Assailants on board this vessel attacked Israeli soldiers as soon as they landed on deck. Israeli soldiers, who were equipped with paintball guns, were beaten with iron bars, had their side arms stolen, and were stabbed with knives.One was thrown from one deck of the vessel to the other. Moreover, the fighters on board the Mavi Marmara were videotaped singing anti-Jewish chants prior to leaving port in Turkey. At least one these fighters said he was looking for martyrdom prior to leaving port in Turkey.

Assertion: On pages 296-297, the author states (without citation) that “in polling, Israelis consistently reject” the option of a two-state solution.

The facts: Surveys conducted in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013 by the Harry S. Truman Research Institute For the Advancement of Peace and the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research all report that a majority of Israelis support a two-state solution.

Assertion: On page 301 Burge writes “the current problem in the West Bank is not Palestinian violence against Jews but settler attacks on Palestinians.”

The facts: This report published by CAMERA in 2011 (and based on data provided by B'Tselem), reveals that between 2000 and 2011, 46 Arabs were killed by Jewish civilians in the West Bank. Twenty-three of these deaths were the result of self-defense against armed Palestinian assailants. By way of comparison, B'Tselem's data indicates that 215 Jewish civilians were killed by Arabs in the West Bank. In other words, nine times more Israeli civilians have been killed by Palestinians than Palestinians killed by Israelis. And many of the Palestinians were involved in armed attacks at the time of their deaths.

Conclusion

Whoever vetted Whose Land? Whose Promise? failed miserably in their obligation to detect these errors and ultimately, Pilgrim Press paid the price. Nevertheless, ultimately responsibility for these errors resides with the author, Rev. Dr. Gary Burge.


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