Things are getting pretty weird when Jon Lovitz, a comedian who made a name for himself by adopting the persona of Tommy Flanagan, a pathological liar, exhibits a greater capacity for moral discernment and reasoning than some Christian peacemakers in the United States, Europe and the Middle East during the latest round of fighting between Israel and Hamas.
In Nov. 20 “tweet” that caught the attention the website Twitchy Lovitz wrote: “Hamas fires rockets at Israel for three years. Silence. Israel finally has enough and fights back. And NOW the world says, ‘Cease Fire.’
Lovitz’s tweet underreported the number of years that Israel has been subject to rocket attacks (the rocket attacks started in 2001). But even with this error, Lovitz still encapsulated the moral confusion that has the hallmark of so-called Christian peacemakers who remain nearly silent about the ongoing rocket attacks coming from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip for years and only issued full-throated condemnations the violence when Israel fires back.
This tendency was underscored by public statements issued during Operation Pillar of Defense by the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the World Council of Churches.
Presbyterian Church (USA)
Predictably, one of the worst offenders was the Presbyterian Church (USA), whose Stated Clerk, Gradye Parsons, issued a statement on Nov. 13, 2012, the day Israel responded to a huge escalation of rocket attacks with air strikes into the Gaza Strip. In the statement, Parsons wrote:
Our General Assembly and our leaders have often and unequivocally condemned the launching of rockets from Gaza against Israeli citizens in the surrounding areas. There can be no justification for the terror and injury that these attacks have produced; and every such act has produced counter violence on the part of Israel, often resulting in greater loss of life. The reverse is also true. On occasion, the Israelis have initiated attacks on Gaza producing similar terror and injury, and resulting in rockets being fired by Palestinians in retaliation.
Parsons did issue a statement in June of 2010 calling on Hamas to stop the rocket attacks against Israel and to release Gilad Shalit, but these condemnations were coupled in with a call to end Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip, which was a response to Hamas violence.
It’s important to remember that there was no blockade prior to Hamas’ violent takeover of the Gaza Strip in 2007, which by the way, went un-remarked by Christian peacemakers like Parsons.
Moreover, PC(USA) leaders and peace activists remained silent about the 760 rockets that had been fired from Gaza between the beginning of 2012 and Israel’s response. The denomination offered no rebuke for the drastic increase in rocket attacks that took place before launched Pillar of Defense. (A review of the denomination’s newsfeed for 2012 confirms this assessment.)
The PC(USA)’s silence is egregious. In the week before Israel started fighting back, more than 120 missiles were shot into Israel from the Gaza Strip. The denomination did not offer a call for these attacks to stop until Israel fired back on Nov. 13.
Suppose Israel had not fired back. How many more rockets would Hamas had to launch into Israel before Parsons and the denomination he leads would speak up? How is it that Hamas can launch hundreds of rockets into Israel and fail to elicit a response from a denomination that affirmed its commitment to peacemaking in 1983?
One passage in Parson’s statement stands out. He wrote that every rocket attack “has produced counter violence on the part of Israel, often resulting in greater loss of life.” As stated in a piece by this writer in the Algemeiner on Nov. 20, Parsons ignored an important fact in his statement: “Israeli officials allowed hundreds of rockets to go unanswered before finally firing back.” The piece continues:
This is what Parsons did: He remained silent about rocket attacks that had been going on for months – without a response from Israel. Then after Israel responded with air strikes Parsons then lept into action with an “evenhanded” statement condemning both sides for their violent acts and for escalation. By waiting until Israel fired back before responding to the rocket attacks, Parsons was able to posit a false moral equivalence between Hamas’s and Israel’s action.
Second PC(USA) Statement
The Presbyterian Church (USA) issued an “action alert” on Nov. 20 that called on the church’s members to send a letter asking Obama Administration to work to bring an end to the conflict. It lamented the loss of Palestinian and Israeli lives in the latest round of violence, which it described as beginning after “Israel’s assassination of Hamas’ military commander Ahmed al-Jabari last Wednesday [Nov. 12].”
As reported above, Al-Jabari’s assassination was preceded by hundreds of rocket attacks since the beginning of 2012. And In the week prior to Jabari’s death, approximately 120 rockets landed in Israel. Why is Jabari’s assassination – and not the increase of rocket attacks – described as the start of the “latest round of violence.”
Are the rocket attacks not “violent”? Why are they so unremarkable to the PC(USA) leaders and staffers?
World Council of Churches
On Nov. 16, 2012, Rev. Dr. Olav Fykse Tveit, General Secretary of the World Council of Churches – headquartered in Geneva – issued a statement on concern about the “escalation of violence in Gaza and Israel.” In the statement, Tveit reported that the WCC was “closely following the tragic violent developments that occurred the last days in Gaza and Israel, which have resulted in the loss of many lives including children and women.”
Tveit stated “This violence should stop immediately so that the lives of civilians, who are always the main victims, be spared. The loss of peoples’ precious lives in the eyes of God, on both sides, cannot be accepted as a price to be paid for the unresolved political problems and political agendas.”
The statement calls on “both sides to cease hostilities, and ensure civilians will be protected.” And called on Israel to end “the six-year blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip by Israel.” After invoking a UN OCHA report on the plight of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, the statement declares “that the rocket attacks from Gaza into civilian communities in Israel, which are reprehensible and never justifiable, might also have very harmful effects at a time when Palestinians are seeking international support of, and recognition by, the international community for a future viable and contiguous state.”
Again, what is most remarkable about the WCC’s statement is that it was prompted by Israel’s decision to fire back at terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip that had launching rockets into Israel for months with no response. If the attacks were “reprehensible and never justifiable” – as the statement says – why did the WCC remain silent about these attacks as they were happening and not bother to condemn them until Israel fired back?
Another remarkable aspect about the statement is that it laments the blockade the Gaza Strip without acknowledging that there was no blockade prior to Hamas’s violent takeover of the territory in 2007.
At what point will the WCC start holding Hamas responsible for the problems faced by the people it governs?
Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP)
Churches for Middle East Peace, a Christian pressure group headquartered in Washington, D.C. supported by two dozen churches and para-church organizations in the U.S. issued its statement on Nov. 15, 2012. The statement read in part as follows:
Churches for Middle East Peace expresses deep sorrow and distress about the acts of deadly violence that have broken out in the past few days in Gaza and southern Israel. We urge all parties involved to end violent actions and to work with regional allies to achieve an immediate ceasefire.
Like the other statements analyzed above, the CMEP’s statement came after Israel responded to ongoing rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip. People living in southern Israel had been living with an esclatation of rocket attacks for months and this did not prompt the CMEP to issue a stand-alone statement.
Nevertheless, CMEP had informed its supporters about the attacks directed at Israelis over the past several years.
In its regular bulletins dating back to 2009 the organization has reported on the rockets and other terror attacks coming from the Gaza Strip. For example, organization, led by former U.S. State Department official Warren Clark, was particularly vocal in its condemnation of the Fogel family massacre that took place in the West Bank in March 2012. On this score, CMEP has been more responsible than other Christian peacemaking organizations that have let anti-Israel violence pass in silence.
For example, in its Nov. 11, 2011 bulletin, CMEP reported the following:
Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations, Ron Prosor wrote a fourth letter in a month to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and the Security Council condemning rocket fire from the Gaza Strip.Two long-range rockets were fired Tuesday from Gaza into a kibbutz, which destroyed a farm building near a kindergarten classroom. Since October, more than 70 rockets and mortars have been launched at civilian targets. Prosser wrote, “Nearly every day, we witness new scenes of destruction. Israeli men, women and children continue to be killed and injured. Shrapnel flies into homes, schools and playgrounds. Fires rage in the streets. Yet, the Security Council still has not uttered a single syllable of condemnation against these attacks.”
The organization also acknowledged the increase of rocket attacks that took place prior to Operation Pillar of Defense. CMEP’s call for peace would have been more credible if it had issued a stand-alone statement condemning the rocket attacks prior to Israel’s response to these attacks. Nevertheless, the organization did inform its supporters in a meaningful way about the ongoing rocket attacks into Israel in ways that other Christian institutions simply have not.
Not a New Problem
The issue is not a new problem. Michael Kinnamon, former General Secretary of the National Council of Churches made a powerful admission when he spoke to an audience of Jews and Christians at Eden Theological Seminary in April 2011.
Kinnamon, a Disciples of Christ theologian who had helped modulate the NCC’s anti-Israel rhetoric during his tenure at the NCC said “I came to [realize] that I needed to be more direct in criticizing the rocket attacks from Gaza even as I expressed concern over Israel’s response to the attacks.” (His talk was recounted in an article published by the St. Louis Jewish Light.)
If Christian peacemakers are going to be taken seriously, they need to take Lovitz’s (and Kinnamon’s) message to heart.