CAMERA Asks UMC Bishop in Chicago to Address Church’s Role in ‘Othering’ Jews in U.S. and Israel

The Oct. 27 murder of 11 Jews at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh by a gunman who ranted on the internet about Jews “infesting” the Trump Administration has highlighted the manner in which American Jews have been “othered” and portrayed as fifth-column enemies of American democracy and American civil society.

The attack raises the possibility that antisemitism, which has long been a problem in the Middle East and Europe, has become a resurgent force in American life. Writing in the Jewish Week, David Harris, CEO of the American Jewish Committee, declared that the attack confirmed what many people in the Jewish community understood all along: “We knew anti-Semitism was out there. We knew it was growing. More and more people felt uninhibited in expressing their hatred and bigotry.”

In this same piece, Harris stated that defeating antisemitism “requires recognizing the main sources of the menace, and they are three: the far right, the far left and jihadists” adding that “all [three] need to be confronted head-on.”

Speaking at an event organized by Christians and Jews United for Israel (CJUI) the day after the Pittsburgh massacre, author Mark Steyn declared that antisemitism has become a unifying agenda for both the left (which promotes multiculturalism) and the right (which hates it — and blames it on Jews). “They all meet at what my friend calls, ‘Jew-hate junction.’”

It has become increasingly evident that extremists arrived at this junction as a result of anti-Israel propaganda. Antisemitism was anathema for a few decades after the Holocaust, but not any more, largely as a result of anti-Israel propaganda which, according to former CAMERA researcher, Eric Rozenman, has camouflaged and justified antisemitism. In his recently published book, Jews Make the Best Demons: ‘Palestine’ and the Jewish Question, Rozenman states that “Hatred of Israel, of the Jewish state, reanimates hatred of the Jewish people.”

Confronting United Methodist Church

One community that has contributed to the hatred of Israel in the United States is the coalition of “peace and justice” activists in mainline Protestant churches who since at least the late 1990s have been promoting a narrative of Israeli and Jewish villainy and Palestinian innocence. In the narrative offered by these activists, Jewish power and sovereignty are the cause of untold suffering in the Middle East. In addition to attacking Jewish sovereignty in the Middle East, some of these activists also target Jewish power in American society as well.

The worse offenders are activists affiliated with the Presbyterian Church USA and the United Church of Christ, but the decision of peace activists from the United Methodist Church to host a “Christ at the Checkpoint Conference” in Oklahoma demonstrates that the problem is not confined to the PCUSA and UCC. In fact, UMC activists and writers have promoted hostility toward Israel on a regular basis. They do not bear sole responsibility for this problem, which afflicts much of the mainline, but they do bear some.

One of the worst offenders is Rev. James M. Wall, former editor of Christian Century and an ordained Methodist Pastor in the Nothern Illinois Conference of the UMC. CAMERA has produced a number of articles about James M. Wall’s affiliation with an antisemitic website called Veterans News Now, which promoted the writings of David Duke.

In addition to filing complaints with Christian Century (which eventually removed Wall from its masthead), CAMERA contacted Rev. Sally Dyck, bishop of the Northern Illinois Conference of the United Methodist Church, to ask that she intervene. Eventually, Wall’s name was removed from VNN’s masthead, but Wall was not subjected to any public rebuke for his affiliation with the website, which espoused the same calumnies the Pittsburgh gunman used to justify his attack on the synagogue.

In particular, VNN promoted the idea that evil Jews control the U.S. government. In light of the attack, CAMERA contacted Bishop Sally Dyck, asking her to “consider the possibility that the United Methodist Church has helped create an atmosphere in which antisemitic rhetoric has become normalized in American society.”

The Letter

The full text of the letter, which was emailed to Dyck on Oct. 30, 2018 is below:

Dear Bishop Sally Dyck:
This is Dexter Van Zile. You probably remember me. I am the researcher from the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) who filed a complaint against Rev. James M. Wall a few years ago.
In particular, I complained about his decision to serve on the editorial board of Veterans News Now, an antisemitic website that among other things, promoted the writings of David Duke.
In short, I asked you to rule on whether or not Rev. Wall could remain an ordained pastor in the United Methodist Church while serving on the editorial board of a website that promoted hate and hostility toward Jews in such an explicit manner.
Eventually, Wall’s name was removed from VNN’s editorial board and apparently, he retained his status as a UMC pastor. This was a step in the right direction, but I would liked to have seen you administer some type of public rebuke to Rev. Wall over his decision to affiliate publicly with a website such as VNN, which posted commentary and imagery worthy of Der Sturmer and Der Volkische Beobachter.
You were not the only Christian official I corresponded with about Rev. Wall’s affiliation with VNN. I also wrote to the people who run Christian Century, where Rev. Wall served for many years as editor and where he was listed as contributing editor after he retired. It took a while, but eventually, Rev. Wall’s name was removed from the masthead at Christian Century. There has however, been no public reckoning of Wall’s affiliation with Veterans News Now.
This is troubling. Wall’s affiliation with VNN was, simply put, a disgrace.
You know where I am headed with this. I write this letter a few days after a gunman marched into a synagogue in Pittsburgh and murdered 11 Jews and injured six others (four of them police officers). In one social media posting, the killer declared that he was angry over [Jews] “infesting” the Trump Administration.
That is exactly the type of rhetoric that was promoted in Veterans News Now where Wall served as editor. I am not drawing a straight line between Wall’s affiliation with VNN and the massacre in Pittsburgh.
Nevertheless, Wall’s willingness to serve on the editorial board of VNN served to legitimize the website’s hateful commentary and the same ideas that the gunman in Pittsburgh used to justify his attack.
Yes, Wall was “a man of the left” and the shooter was “right-wing.” But the fact is, Wall, who early in his career, lauded the work of Martin Luther King, Jr., affiliated with a right-wing antisemitic website because that is where his anti-Israel animus brought him.
What am I asking for? I am asking that as you preach about the shooting in Pittsburgh in the days ahead that you consider the possibility that the United Methodist Church has helped create an atmosphere in which antisemitic rhetoric has become normalized in American society.
I make this request two weeks after attending a Methodist-organized “Christ at the Checkpoint” conference where Alex Awad, a Methodist Missionary, displayed a picture of President Donald Trump on the screen surrounded by three of his staffers. Awad asked his audience what was wrong and the answer was that Trump was surrounded by Jews. Awad didn’t say the Trump Administration was “infested” by Jews, but he might as well have.
There are other examples.
In 2012, a delegate to the United Methodist Church’s General Convention testified in favor of a divestment resolution by comparing Israeli businesses in the West Bank to “the very successful manufacturing firms in Germany that bid and received the bids to manufacture the ovens for the concentration camps,” before asking, “How much evidence would we ask for before it was time to stop the wholesale destruction of people?” The Israel-Palestinian conflict is tragic enough, but for a prominent Methodist to compare Israel to Nazi Germany is simply abhorrent.
And in 2008, the United Methodist Church published a manual written by a Jewish convert to the UMC about the conflict. This text, which I wrote about here, serves to demonize Israeli Jews, and by extension, American Jews who support Israel. It portrays Israel as singularly responsible for the continued existence of the Arab-Israeli conflict and portrays Israeli Jews as being too damaged to make peace with their enemies, as if the Palestinians do not have any responsibility to bear for the suffering the war between them and Israel has caused.
That same year, the UMC published a children’s text about the conflict that qualifies as rank anti-Israel propaganda. Like the text I described above, this children’s book demonizes Israel and by extension, its Jewish supporters. As I documented here, the book portrays Palestinian violence as if it can be magically ended by Israeli peace offers and concessions.
Mainline churches have produced dozens of books like that — all of which serve to problematize Jewish life, not only in Israel, but in the United States as well. By producing texts like this, which serve to portray Israeli and American Jews as “the repugnant other,” mainline churches did not promote peace, but instead became parties to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Instead of making things better in the Middle East, they help make things worse in American society. The stated goal is “peacemaking” but the result was the direct opposite.
Several days before the massacre in Pittsburgh, Mae Cannon, executive director of Churches for Middle East Peace spoke to the audience at the Christ at the Checkpoint Conference. During her presentation, she stated that attendees of the conference need to be on guard against promoting hostility toward anyone. “And I’m talking specifically to our community about antisemitism and statements that summarize and characterize the Jewish people with negative stereotypes that are dehumanizing,” she said.
Cannon continued: “I actually got a note from an orthodox Jewish friend of mine on day two of this conference. And they said, ‘Are you listening to some of these conversations? Because some of them sound very antisemitic.’”
In response to these concerns, Cannon stated that even as attendees seek to address Israeli-perpetrated injustices, “may we not demonize the Jewish people of Israel.”
That is why I am writing this letter. I ask that you speak to your fellow Bishops in the United Methodist Church and ask them to consider how what Methodist peace activists have said and done over the years have “othered” Israeli and American Jews.
Sincerely,
Dexter Van Zile
Christian Media Analyst
CAMERA

Conclusion

Hopefully, Bishop Sally Dyck will address the concerns raised in this letter. If she responds, CAMERA will publicize her reply.