Churches for Middle East Peace, a pro-Palestinian advocacy organization supported by churches and religious institutions in the United States, has a new executive director, Rev. Dr. Mae Cannon. She replaces Warren Clark, a former Ambassador with the U.S. State Department who led CMEP for eight years prior to retiring on Aug. 1, 2016.
“I am honored to lead CMEP and build upon the work of Ambassador Clark,” Cannon said in a press release announcing Clark’s retirement and her appointment. “The need for peace with security and justice for Israel and Palestine is more important than ever.”
CMEP – Some Background
In her new post, Cannon will have substantial influence over one of the more visible Christian “peacemaking” organizations in the United States. Founded in 1984, CMEP is acoalition of 22 Christian churches and para-church organizations whose stated goal (as printed on its tax documents) is “to inform and educate the general public and national policy makers about Middle East peace and justice issues and maintaining just and stable relationships throughout the Middle East.”
A perusal of the organization’s website reveals, however, that the organization is not really interested in dealing with peace and justice issues in the Middle East as a region, but is solely focused on the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
Its testimony about the conflict has not been truthful or helpful. Under the leadership of its founder, Corinne Whitlach, CMEP issued irresponsible statements about the conflict that affirmed the anti-Israel narrative offered by Israel’s adversaries. For example, the group repeated claims by Muslim extremists in the Middle East that Israel was undermining the Al Aqsa Mosque with its archeological digs near the Temple Mount, when Israel was repairing a walkway up to the Mount.
Such polemics have been used to incite violence toward Jews on a number of occasions over the past 100 years. Haj Amin Al-Husseini did it in the 1920s and 30s and Palestinian leaders do it today.
For a so-called peacemaking organization to echo such claims is simply incomprehensible. True peacemakers seek to de-escalate tensions, not increase them.
Fortunately, CMEP adopted a less polemical tone under the leadership of Warren Clark, who replaced Whitlach as executive director in 2008. In 2011, for example, CMEP published an article (which is no longer available on its website) about Judge Richard Goldstone’s decision to withdraw his support from a United Nations report bearing his name about the Gaza War that took place in 2009. At the time, CAMERA reported that the CMEP article did “a number of laudable things.”
First, it acknowledges that Judge Richard Goldstone has retracted the central claim of the report – that Israel had intentionally targeted civilians during Operation Cast Lead. It also acknowledges that Israel has investigated its actions; Hamas has not. And by quoting a passage from an Abraham Bell article in Foreign PolicyÂ¸ CMEP raised the possibility that the Goldstone Report actually harmed the prospects for peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians by indicating to the Israelis that their actions would not be given a fair assessment by the international community. [Link not in original, added here for context.]
There were still some problems with the article (detailed here), but overall, CAMERA concluded that change in tone evident in the article, “indicates that under the leadership of Warren Clark, [CMEP] is tacking toward a less polemical approach in its discussions of the Arab-Israeli conflict.”
CAMERA’s assessment was given credence when the organization refrained from signing a letter to Congress that called on lawmakers to consider withholding military aid to Israel because of alleged human rights abuses. The letter, issued in October 2012, prompted prominent Jewish groups to cancel an upcoming interfaith meeting with Christian leaders.
The letter to Congress was exactly the type of agitprop CMEP would have pushed under the leadership of its founder Corinne Whitlach, but for one reason or another, the organization’s name did not end up on the letter. CMEP’s moderation apparently frustrated the American Friends Service Committee and the Mennonite Central Committee. These organizations, both of which have long histories of de-legitimizing Israel and whitewashing Iran, left the CMEP governing board in 2014.
Under Clark’s leadership, CMEP was not as hostile or dishonest as the Israel Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church USA or the similarly named UCC Palestine Israel Network, two groups that have abandoned any pretense of “peacemaking” in favor of outright demonization of Israel. Still, CMEP’s approach to peacemaking had some problems.
CMEP’s has sent (and continues to send) emails to its supporters that include articles from sources that are regularly hostile to Israel such as Al Jazeera and The Guardian. And in his commentary about the conflict, Clark himself took a soft approach to the problem of antisemitic incitement in Palestinian society. He relayed Israeli complaints about the problem to CMEP supporters, but rarely condemned PA leaders for saying hateful things about Jews and Israel.
Clark did, however, on at least one occasion, point out Hamas’ calls for violence against Israel and stated openly that the “Palestinians must compromise on interpreting the ‘right of return’ of refugees from 1948 and 1967.”
Statements like this put CMEP on the more moderate end of the spectrum of Christian “peacemaking” organizations.
Enter Mae Cannon
With Clark’s departure, the obvious question is: What direction will his replacement, Mae Cannon, take CMEP? A recent CMEP action alert calling on Christians to send pre-written letters to presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump gives a pretty good clue as to what direction CMEP is headed. The letter, which asks candidates to prioritize peace efforts, includes the assertion that, “Both sides have engaged in incitement,’ sugg
esting there is some sort of equivalence between what the Israelis say about the Palestinians and what Palestinians say about the Israelis. The letter (posted here) asks candidates to do the following:
As an urgent first step, we hope you will speak forcefully and provide the leadership of your office, if elected, to call openly for an end of violence and settlement expansion. Almost 50 years of occupation have and will continue to erode the soul of both the occupied and the occupier. To ease tensions, we urge you to support people-to-people exchanges and the end of practices under the occupation that result in major human rights abuses, such as home demolitions, systematic land seizures, travel restrictions, the blockade of Gaza, and indefinite administrative detention, including detention of persons under eighteen.
Nearly every one of these demands is targeted at Israel. Aside from an ambiguous call to “end the violence,” apparently directed at both Israel and the Palestinians, the Palestinians are asked to do almost nothing to promote peace. CMEP does not call on the PA to hold elections by which the Palestinians can hold their leaders accountable, nor does it mention the corruption and thuggery of both the Palestinian Authority, which controls the West Bank, and Hamas which controls the Gaza Strip; nor does it call on candidates to encourage the Palestinians to compromise on the right of return, which it had previously done under Clark’s leadership. And while the letter says the occupation “will continue to erode the soul” of both Palestinians and Israelis, it says nothing about Palestinian refusal to make peace with the existence of the Jewish state and its impact on the souls and spirits of the peoples involved in the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
All this indicates that CMEP is headed toward a more propagandistic approach to “peacemaking” under its new executive director, Mae Cannon.
This should come as no surprise in light of Cannon’s academic career.
Cannon’s Educational Background
Cannon, who previously served as Senior Director for Advocacy and Outreach at World Vision, a well-known Christian charity, is an ordained pastor in the Evangelical Covenant Church, a small Evangelical denomination with approximately 800 churches in the U.S. She has a Ph.D. in American history with a minor in Middle Eastern Studies from UC Davis. Her 2014 doctoral dissertation was about the involvement of American Protestant churches in Palestine in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Omnia El-Shakry, one of 22 UC faculty members who called on University of California institutions to divest from Israel in an op-ed published in March 2015, served on Cannon’s dissertation committee. She also signed a 2014 letter calling on a suspension of U.S. foreign aid to Israel. Clearly, El Shakry is an anti-Israel partisan.
Prior to receiving her Ph.D. from UC Davis, Cannon earned a B.A. in history from the University of Chicago in 1998, an M.A. in bioethics from Trinity International University in 2002, and in 2006, a masters of divinity degree from North Park Theological Seminary and an MBA from North Park University’s School of Business and Nonprofit Management.
North Park University, founded by the Evangelical Covenant Church, the denomination where Cannon is an ordained pastor, is no longer the hotbed of anti-Israelism it was when she attended in the early 2000s. Back in the day, however, the North Park community was associated with some ugly anti-Zionist activism, much of it led by Rev. Dr. Don Wagner, director of the university’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies. In 2005, Wagner organized a conference dedicated to challenging Christian Zionism at North Park University.
Wagner, who worked at North Park from 1995 to 2010, is notorious for comparing Jews who immigrated into Israel before, during and after the Holocaust to a “killer-vine” that was strangling a rosebush in his backyard. In 2010, Wagner’s position at North Park University was eliminated and the school’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies (which Wagner directed) was transformed into a multidisciplinary major at the school. Wagner is now affiliated with Friends of Sabeel North America, which promotes the work of Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center, an organization with a well-documented history of promoting theological hostility toward the Jewish State.
While Cannon’s writings do not approach the level of enmity toward Israel that Don Wagner has exhibited, her tendency to subject Israel to intense scrutiny while giving Arab and Muslim actions a pass were particularly evident during her time at World Vision where she worked as Senior Director for Advocacy for World Vision between 2011 and 2014. For a summary of World Vision’s irresponsible approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict (and some information on Mae Cannon’s role in framing this approach), please go here.
In light of her academic career, it should come as no surprise that in May 2017, Cannon is scheduled to teach a class on social justice and peace building to students at Bethlehem Bible College a well-known source of anti-Israel propaganda in the West Bank.
Clueless in Oberammergau
Like a lot of Christian peace activists, Cannon regularly and repeatedly acknowledges the relationship between Christianity and antisemitism in Western civilization, but does not allow this issue to impinge on her historiography or peace activism in a meaningful way.
In a piece she wrote for the Huffington Post in early April 2015, she describes the Passion Play in Oberammergau which she attended in 1990.
This play (which was initiated by a small village in Germany to express thanks for not losing anyone to the black plague in the 1600s) is notorious for depicting the Jews in a hateful and evil fashion. The caricatures of the Jews as evil Christ-killers, images that have been propounded at Oberammagau for centuries helped contribute to European antisemitism which culminated in the Holocaust. According to the ADL, Hitler praised the passion play as a “‘precious tool’ in the fight aga
inst Jews and Judaism.”
In light of Cannon’s status as a prominent Christian leader who has been dealing with the history of the Jewish people as both a historian and as a peace activist, it is appropriate, if not downright obligatory, to offer her readers a clue or even a passing reference to Oberammagau’s antisemitic history, but she passes over the issue in silence as she offers up a message of Christian salvation.
Cannon does about the same thing when she writes about the Arab-Israeli conflict. She sometimes acknowledges that antisemitism has been a problem in the West, but is much more reluctant to address the issue in the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict and in no instance, does she offer any specific advice as to how Jew-hatred in the region should be confronted
Cannon’s refusal to confront antisemitism in Palestinian society (detailed below) is in keeping with her persistent tendency to direct virtually all of her criticism at Israel (and the West) and the vast majority of her compassion toward the Palestinians.
Cannon, like a lot of other so-called peacemakers in the Christian community, cannot do the Palestinians the courtesy of confronting them about the bad decisions made by their leaders over the course of the past several decades. This type of activism helps no one, least of all the Palestinians. Anglican scholar James Parkes raised this issue in 1954 in his book, End of an Exile: Israel Jews and the Gentile World. Writing about the problem of Arab refugees caused by the 1948 war, he declared:
It has been no service to them to regard them entirely as the innocent victims of the wickedness of others, and to refuse to recognize the extent to which they are themselves the authors of their own misfortune and the only possible architects of their reestablishment.
Sadly, Parkes’ admonition is still all too relevant today.
Cannon’s Dissertation and Its Sources
Cannon’s tendency to downplay or ignore crucial issues related to the Arab-Israeli conflict is particularly evident in the 2014 dissertation she prepared for her Ph.D. in history from UC Davis. It is titled “Mischief Making in Palestine: American Protestant Perspectives of Israel and Palestine, pre-1916 to 1955.”
In the narrative she offers in this text (which echoes in the rest of her writing, summarized below), American Protestant support for the establishment of the Jewish state in the Middle East was similar to the ideology used to justify the murder and oppression of the indigenous inhabitants of North America in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. “American Protestants viewed both Native American and Arab communities as outside of the hegemonic power structures of their society and as inferior populations in need of both conversion and civilization,” she wrote.
Elsewhere in her thesis Cannon complains that American Christians, who she accuses of practicing an “imperial theology,” also “neglected to acknowledge agency and self-determination within the indigenous Arab community.”
Nowhere in her dissertation does Cannon offer any description of how American Protestants should have responded differently to the issues they faced if they were not the mischievous, racist Orientalist practitioners of imperial theology she describes as being. About all she says is that American Protestants supported Israel’s creation did so for mostly (but not entirely) bad reasons. But as to the central question these American Protestants (and Jewish Zionists) were trying to answer – Where are the Jews to live? — Cannon remains silent.
To make the case that Zionism was a racist colonialist project, Cannon relies largely on the writings of “New Historians,” most notably Ilan Pappé’s The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (2006: Oxford University Press). This text has been subjected to a sustained critique from a number of historians such as Efraim Karsh (whose name and work is predictably omitted from the dissertation).
She also invokes the writings of Benny Morris, another “New Historian” who, after subjecting Israel to intense criticism earlier in his career, has now directed his attention to the genocidal hostility toward the Jewish state emanating from Arab and Palestinian leaders before, during and after Israel’s founding in 1948. Predictably, Cannon makes no reference to Morris’ support for Israel and ignores altogether the controversy surrounding Pappé’s scholarship. Instead she invokes the assessment of Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, two scholars who complain about the influence of the “Israel lobby” to justify her reliance on the “New Historians.” This is not scholarly historiography; this is one-sided propaganda.
To frame her argument that American Christians supported Israel out of racist motives she relies extensively on a number of secondary sources. These texts include Edward Said’s Orientalism, (1978, Vintage); Ussama Makdisi’s Faith Misplaced: The Broken Promise of U.S. Arab Relations (2010, Public Affairs Press), and Artillery of Heaven: American Missionaries and the Failed Conversion of the Middle East (2008, Cornell University Press); and Rashid Khalidi’s Resurrecting Empire: Western Footprints and America’s Perilous Path in the Middle East (2004, Beacon Press).
On a related issue, Cannon does not inform her readers that Said’s book, Orientalism, has come under a sustained critique from a number of important scholars, including Bernard Lewis who wrote a well-known response titled “The Question of Orientalism,” which was published in the New York Review of Books in 1982. Robert Irwin’s For Lust of Knowing: Orientalists and Their Enemies (Penguin, 2007) is another critique of Said’s thesis, as is Ibn Warraq’s Defending the West: A Critique of Edward Said’s Orientalism (Prometheus, 2007). Given Cannon’s reliance on Said’s thesis on Orientalism her failure to acknowledge these critiques is telling.
Given that this is a Ph.D. thesis we are talking about, it would seem that Cannon is obligated to acknowledge and if possible, make at least some effort to rebut the critique of Said’s work on Orientalism. In their book, The Craft of Research (2nd Edition, 2003, University of Chicago Press), Wayne C. Booth, Gregory G. Colimb and Joseph M. Williams admonish researchers that they should not “conceal objections they cannot rebut.”
There are a few entries in the bibliography to authors such as Ze’ev Chafets, Alan Dershowitz, and Michael Oren who could provide a countervailing perspective to Cannon’s theses, but the ideas these writers offer are not summarized or addressed in the dissertation.
Sometimes academics include books in their bibliographies that are not directly cited in the text. They do this to communicate that the text listed informed his or her conclusions. (Remember, a bibliography is different than a “List of Works Cited.”)
That being said, there are a lot of sources listed in the dissertation that are not cited in the text. Cannonlists a total of 236 books in the bibliography of her dissertation. Sixty-six — or 28 percent — of these books are not cited elsewhere in the text.She lists a similar number of magazine articles in her bibliography. Out of the 245 magazine articles she lists (most of which were published by The Christian Century) she only cites 58 in her dissertation. The rest, 187 articles, or 70 percent of those listed in the bibliography, are not quoted, summarized or referenced in the main text of the dissertation.
To promote the notion that the Arabs, and not the Jews, had the cause of justice on their side in the Arab-Israeli conflict, Cannon uses the loaded phrase “justice-minded.” She uses this phrase a total of nine times in her dissertation and every time, it is in reference to pro-Arab American Christians. The implication is readily apparent — that pro-Zionist Christians do not have the same exquisite and elevated moral sense as pro-Arab Christians. Here are the nine instances:
“[I]n looking back on the effects of the Sykes-Picot agreement, justice minded Protestant liberals would criticize this period of Western intervention in the Middle East as being inherently imperialistic.” (Page 92.)“Still other Protestant liberals, many of whom wrote regularly for The Christian Century, became less supportive of Jewish claims for justice and restoration and shifted their sympathies toward Arab refugees and the Palestinian perspective. These justice-minded liberal Protestants are the focus of chapter 4.” (Page 125)The trends expressed by Protestant liberals away from Israel and toward a more justice-minded perspective on behalf of the Arabs is addressed more thoroughly in the next chapter. (Page 154)The shift in Protestant allegiances toward more justice-minded consideration of Arab refugees was also of significant interest and concern to the Israeli government. (Page 154)“[The Christian Century] historically published articles by members of liberal Christian Zionists from the ACPC, voices and perspectives of Jewish conservatives, and also leading fundamentalist and conservative Christians who held views contradictory to the liberal themes asserted in editorials and by other justice-minded Protestant liberals.” (Page 172).“These justice-minded American Protestant liberals had a very different perspective about the inherent dignities within the Arab population in Palestine than their Christian Zionist counterparts. In 1948, The Christian Century challenged assumptions of Arab backwardness” in articles such as Bliss’ “Justice and Peace in the Holy Land.” (Page 181)“The indigenous Christian community of Arabs, though supported by a small community of Protestant liberals in the United States, often felt largely ignored. While not a major concern for conservative fundamentalists, Protestant liberals, particularly those who were more justice minded, engaged with the Arab community in Israel and the Transjordan territory of the West Bank, expressing interest in the realities affecting Arab Christians.” (Page 203)“At the same time conservative fundamentalists were reemerging on the scene, the Arab refugee crisis captured the hearts of many justice-minded Protestant liberals.” (Page 235)
Cannon’s repeated use of the phrase, “justice-minded,” qualifies as a “glittering generality,” a propaganda technique that attempts to achieve the agreement of the reader without making an explicit argument. Such rhetoric has no place in a Ph.D. dissertation.
One of the important primary sources Cannon relies on for her dissertation is the archives of The Christian Century, which she describes as “the leading mainline journal representing liberal Protestantism during the first half of the 20th century.” Omitted however, from her description of the publication was the controversy surrounding the antisemitism of its longtime publisher, Charles Clayton Morrison. Writing in Firstthings.com, this writer has summarized Morrison’s troubling relationship with the Jewish people as follows:
Morrison used his magazine to assail Jews who refused to disappear into the melting pot of American society. According to Hertzel Fishman, author of American Protestantism and the Jewish State (Wayne State Press, 1973), Morrison warned in 1937 that “Democracy cannot guarantee our American Jewish brethren against the emergence of a crisis in which the prejudice and anger generated by their long resistance to the democratic process will flame up to their great hurt.”Morrison ‘s opposition to Zionism was pronounced. In the 1930s, he promoted the agenda of the anti-Zionist American Council for Judaism and published articles written by Louis Minsky, a British-born Jew who condemned his fellow Jews for responding “hysterically” to the rise of Hitler. In 1942 Morrison accused Rabbi Stephen Wise, president of the World Jewish Congress and an ardent Zionist, of exaggerating the horror of Hitler’s violence against Jews in Europe, when in fact, Wise’s warnings were on target. In response to the accusation, Wise wrote “I have no hesitation in saying that t
his indictment of me for reporting, rather than of Hitler for committing the most awful crime of history, is of a piece with the distorted and thwarted mind of Dr. Morrison touching every Jewish question that is brought up for discussion of the pages of the Christian Century.”Morrison’s legacy proved to be an embarrassing one for CC. In 1985, Martin Marty a long time senior editor, wrote a defense of CC’s coverage during the Holocaust, but even here, he had to admit “Charles Clayton Morrison and the Christian Century were deeply flawed.”
These flaws, which are crucial to understanding the magazine’s role in the debate over Israel in American Protestantism in the mid-20th century, are not acknowledged anywhere in Cannon’s dissertation.
This omission is egregious, akin to Cannon’s writing about the Passion play at Oberammergau and not warning readers about its antisemitic history.
Crucial Article Mishandled
Cannon’s summary and analysis of a crucial article published in The Christian Century is problematic. The article in question is titled “Whose Holy Land?” The article, written by Robert Root, was published in the January 14, 1948 issue of The Christian Century. It’s an important article because in addition to providing on-the-scene reporting about conditions in Palestine at the end of the British Mandate, Root also summarizes testimony from of two bishops working in Palestine — one from the Church of England and the other from the Church of Scotland — before the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP), which created the partition plan that was approved by the UN General Assembly later that year. (This plan called for the creation of two states, one for Jews and another for Arabs, in the area included in the British Mandate.)
In addition to reporting about concerns expressed by Christians regarding the prospect of a Jewish state being created in the Holy Land, Root also provided information about problems of Christian-Muslim relations in both Palestine and Transjordan. Interestingly enough, Cannon only includes the issue of Christian-Jewish-Zionist relations in her dissertation and omits any reference to Root’s reporting on problems in Christian-Muslim relations. As the analysis below demonstrates, her summary of this crucial article is, to put it mildly, misleading. For example, she makes no mention of the fact that local Christian leaders – Arab Christians – chose not to testify before UNSCOP for fear of damaging their relationship with their Muslim neighbors in the Holy Land. (Arab Muslim leaders had boycotted the proceedings.)
Cannon writes that Root dismissed the notion that Arabs in Israel and Transjordan were antisemitic by quoting Root as writing “Arab Christians seem pretty free of outright anti-Semitism (if a Semite can be anti-Semitic!)” The full paragraph from which Cannon pulls this quote reads as follows (with the quoted section in bold):
In general, though their remarks sometimes sound anti-Jewish, Arab Christians seem pretty free of outright anti-Semitism (if a Semite can be anti-Semitic!) “As long as the Zionists — I do not say the Jews — do not ask for a state, there will be no peace in Palestine,” a pastor told me, drawing the line which all try to observe. He went ahead with a rather anti-Semitic line to the effect that Jews are always Jews and brought on their sufferings in Germany by selfishness. But even he, though less tolerant than most, soon showed the confusion of his antipathies by protesting that these Zionists who were coming were not really Jews but Europeans!
Did Cannon not see the contradictions in Root’s reporting, and if she did, did she not think they were relevant to her readers? Cannon also writes the following:
Root believed that Jewish Zionist claims in the region were a hazard to the Arab Christian community in the Holy Land. He reported “Curiously, the Arab Christians tend to minimize the overt Jewish threat, but they do think that their churches will inevitably be weakened by the Jewish state. For Root and other Protestant liberals the sustainability of the indigenous Arab church in the region was of a more pressing concern than Anti-Semitism. The question of how Arab Christians related to their Jewish neighbors was a practical concern that would remain for years to come.
Given that Cannon is writing a dissertation for a Ph.D. in history, it would seem reasonable for her to report at this point, that contrary to the concerns of Arab Christians, Israel has proven to be the one country in the Middle East where the population of indigenous Christians has increased since 1948. But she does not report this.
Omits Christian Fear of Muslims in Palestine
In the paragraph quoted above, Cannon writes that the viability of the church in Palestine was “a more pressing concern than the issue of anti-Semitism.” If the viability of the church was so pressing, she will have a tough time explaining why she did not address another crucial threat to the viability of the Arab Christian community in Palestine — Muslim hostility toward Christians and their faith.
Root reported on this issue extensively in the article, but Cannon omitted it altogether. Root wrote the following:
Fear of Moslems [sic] takes the same form [in the Holy Land] it takes in other parts of the Arab world. A few months ago, it was strictures from the Moslem side that the Eastern church leaders in Jerusalem were privately fretting about. On this issue, the statement to UNSCOP said flatly: “Islam does in its very essence, infringe the principles of religious liberty, as we understand it, by imposing civil penalties such as disinheritancy, and even (in theory) death, upon those who adopt another faith. We speak from long experience of many individual cases when we say that in spite of theoretical religious liberty, converts to Christianity in Palestine are liable to be, and frequently are, deprived of their inheritances, boycotted or even dismissed from their employment, turned out of their houses, pillories in the press, ‘framed’ in the law courts, and threatened with, and often subject to, personal violence. It is sim
ply an unreality to speak of freedom of religions when converts to Christianity, whether from Islam or Judaism, have neither freedom from fear nor often freedom from want.” Bishop Stuart [from the Church of England] also told UNSCOP that some Transjordan Christians had recently complained to him of Moslem persecution in their country.
Root also reported that in addition to hearing complaints about a lack of religious freedom from Orthodox Jews (who feared for their rights under the rule of secular Zionists) “the sharpest reaction” to Bishop Stuart’s testimony “was the decision of the Transjordan government to prohibit the teaching of Christianity in its schools, which seemed to underline the fears the bishop had expressed.”
As it turned out, despite the fears expressed above, Israel has worked to protect the religious freedom of its citizens, whether they are Christian, Jewish or Muslim to a much better extent than the Palestinian Authority, which has enshrined shariah law as part of its constitution — which is fully in line with the fears of Muslim oppression of Christians expressed above. Why did Cannon not cite any of the concerns about Muslim oppression of Christians in Palestine and Transjordan? Did she consider these concerns irrelevant despite what is going on the Middle East today? Really?
Whitewashes Grand Mufti
One last point needs to be made about Cannon’s treatment of this article. Citing Root, she reports that “In general, Christian Arabs supported the Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, and were in alignment with Muslim Arabs.” She continues:
Accused of inciting violence and collaboration with Nazi Germany, Husseini promoted both Arab nationalism and Islam and actively mobilized against the Jewish state. Arab Christian association with Muslim interests and Husseini damaged their relationship with the Christian in the Muslim world.
Here, Cannon seriously downplays the misdeeds of the Grand Mufti. Elsewhere in her dissertation, Cannon refers to the Mufti as a “raging anti-Semite” with good reason. He incited riots against Jews in pre-state Palestine. These riots cost dozens of people their lives. And he wasn’t just accused of collaborating with the Nazis during World War II and the Holocaust, he did collaborate with the Nazis during the Holocaust.
On this, there is simply no doubt. Multiple sources demonstrate that he recruited Muslims from Bosnia to serve as soldiers in an SS unit, protested against a deal that would have resulted in the exchange of Jewish children – who were headed to death camps – for German soldiers who were held by prisoners of war by Allied countries. It is also well understood that he broadcast Nazi antisemitism into the Middle East via radio broadcasts from Germany during the War.
These shocking facts are well understood and well documented in a number of books. Why does Cannon deal with the Mufti’s crimes in such a diffuse, uncertain and euphemistic manner?
The overall impression one gets from her use of sources and the story she tells is that whatever bad is happening in the Middle East, it is always the fault of outsiders, Westerners especially, and that responsibility and agency of the people who live in the region should be downplayed and minimized. The irony here is that while Cannon complains about American Protestants denying Arabs and Muslims in the Middle East their agency, she does essentially the same thing in her writings about the region.
While earning her Ph.D. in history at UC Davis, Cannon kept a blog in which she informed her readers about issues related to the Israel-Palestinian conflict. In a March 2011 entry, Cannon published a post about Palestinian identity in which she recounts the legal status of Palestinians living in the West Bank and Israel. One of the groups she wrote about was Palestinians who have residency permits allowing them to live in Jerusalem. She wrote that she had read “some reports that claimed they rejected Israeli citizenship, but many of the Palestinian Jerusalem families I know have told them (sic) it was never offered.”
This is simply false. Khaled Abu Toameh reports the following in a 2012 article at the Gatestone Institute:
Palestinians living in Jerusalem enjoy the status of permanent residents of Israel. This means that they hold Israeli ID cards but do not have Israeli passports.As permanent residents, they are entitled to all the rights of an Israeli citizen, with the exception of voting in general elections.Israeli law, however, allows any resident to apply for citizenship.
Toameh goes onto report that many Arabs living in Jerusalem refused to apply for this citizenship because it was “considered an act of treason” and that “PLO openly threatened Palestinians who obtained it.” This changed after the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993 and Arafat’s PLO was put in charge of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
This prompted many Arabs living in Jerusalem to apply for Israeli citizenship because they feared “that Israel would also cede control over east Jerusalem to the Palestinian Authority,” Toameh reports. This would deprive them of “all the privileges they enjoy as residents living under Israeli sovereignty, including free health care and education, and freedom of movement and work.” They also “realized that despite all the difficulties they face in Israel, their living conditions were still far much better than those living under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority.” Toameh continues:
Lack of democracy and massive financial corruption under the Palestinian Authority also drove many Palestinian Jerusalemites to apply for Israeli citizenship as a way of ensuring that they would always remain under Israeli sovereignty.As one Palestinian explained, “I prefer the hell of the Jews to the paradise of Hamas or Yasser Arafat.”
Cannon simply did not know what she was talking about when she relayed the false accusation that Israeli did not “offer” citizenship to Arabs living in Jerusalem. It has to be applied for a
nd an increasing number of residents are doing just that.
Cannon’s Video Appearances
Cannon’s tendency to misinform her audiences manifests itself quite clearly in a 2013 interview she gave to Stan Friedman, a staffer from the news agency of the Evangelical Covenant Church. Appearing with her was Jay Phelan, Senior Professor of Theological Studies at North Park Seminary. The title of the conversation was “A Christian Response to the Israel-Palestinian Conflict.” After Phelan makes reference to the emergency of Zionism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Cannon says the following:
I think one of the things we often talk about is how historic this is, that for thousands of years or for millennia, Jews and Muslims have not been able to live side by side and one of the things that we often talk about in the region is that […] prior to the era Jay was just talking about, particularly on the Old City of Jerusalem, you had Jews and Christians and Muslims who were living in harmony together and then certainly with World War I and the British Mandate period, you had this complex history of nations being established and the intervention of Western powers in this part of the world.
At this point, Cannon turns to Phelan and says jokingly, “We can just blame it all on the West,” to which Phelan responds, “It certainly happens.” Cannon continues:
But I think the other thing that happens is that you can’t talk about the history of the region without talking about historic antisemitism which often was deeply rooted in Christian theology and the horrors of the Holocaust and then in modern history, the realities of terrorism, just horrible things in that regard and from the Palestinian perspective, one of the effects of the 1948 war was that there was a subsequent refugee population of more than half a million, many would say 800,000 Arabs that were living in then the land of Palestine who were displaced and so that problem today has become the Arab refugee crisis where you currently have more than 5 million Palestinian refugees going all the way back to 1948 and then subsequent wars.
It is remarkable that Cannon, who was on the verge of receiving a Ph.D. in history from UC Davis, offers such a distorted historical narrative, particularly about the status of inter-religious and inter-group relations in the Middle East. For example, she acknowledges that antisemitism is a reality that was “deeply rooted in Christian theology.” But in an interview about the Christian response to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, a historian such as Cannon has an obligation to speak about the existence of antisemitism in the Muslim-dominated Middle East as well. As this writer has written elsewhere:
Jew-hatred is not confined to Christian Europe, but has been a growing problem in Muslim-majority countries throughout the world. Political, religious and intellectual leaders have been fomenting anti-Jewish hostility by combining traditional anti-Jewish teachings present in the Koran, the Hadiths (the sayings of Muhammed, the founder of Islam), and in the Sunna (the life of the Muhammed) with anti-Jewish polemics from the West. Books like The Protocols of the Elders of Zion (an antisemitic forgery) and Hitler’s Mein Kampf are best sellers in Muslim-majority countries. Muslim sources portray Jews as enemies of God, Islam and of humanity itself. Such portrayals have been used to promote violence against Jews in the Middle East, just as Christian teachings about Jews promoted violence against Jews in Europe.
In her dual callings as a historian and as a peacemaker, Cannon has an obligation to confront this reality, but it’s one that she has ducked. Moreover, Cannon’s suggestion that prior to the emergence of Zionism, it was the case that Muslims, Christians and Jews were able to live side-by-side in harmony actually ignores centuries of oppression endured by Christians and Jews in the Muslim-majority Middle East.
Impacts of Islamic Theological Imperialism
Christians, Jews and other non-Muslim communities in the Middle East suffered oppression and genocide analogous to, and in some instances, worse than the violence endured by the native peoples of North America that she invoked in her Ph.D. dissertation. And they were victims of Islamic supremacism or what can be called “theological imperialism.”
Efraim Karsh makes the point in his 2006 book Islamic Imperialism: A History (Yale University Press). Karsh describes how the Arabs conquered the Middle East and how they dealt with non-Muslim populations in the years after Muhammad’s death in 632. Yes, Christians and Jews were able to keep their property under the rule of Umar, the first caliph who took over as Islam’s leader after Mohammad’s death. But to keep their property, Umar demanded that Christians and Jews submit to an “inferior status that was institutionalized over time.” Karsh continues:
They had to pay special taxes […] and suffered from social indignities and at times open persecution. Their religious activities outside the churches and synagogues were curtailed, the ringing of bells was forbidden, the construction of new church buildings prohibited, and the proselytizing of Muslims was made a capital offense punishable by death. Jews and Christians had to wear distinctive clothes to distinguish them from their Muslim lords, could only ride donkeys, not horses, could not marry Muslim women, had to vacate their seats whenever Muslims wanted to sit, were excluded from positions of power, and so on and so forth. (Page 26).
The Ottoman Empire, which collapsed prior to Israel’s creation, did not treat its subalterns much better than the Arabs did. Karsh reports that the Ottomans tolerated the existence of non-Muslims in their empire, “but only provided that these acquiesced in their legal and institutional inferiority in the Islamic order of things. Whenever these groups dared to question this status, let alone attempt to break free from the Ottoman colonial yoke, they were brutally suppressed,” he writes.
Karsh then details how the Greeks and the Armenians were killed in huge numbers when they agitated for equality and freedom under Ottoman rule. These large-scale massacres had nothing to do with Zionism but were precipitated by Christian efforts to achieve some measure of freedom and equality in a Muslim-majority environment. The Armenian Genocide has cast a long shadow over the psyches of Christians throughout the Middle East in the 20th century, just as the murder of Christians and Yezidis in Iraq and Syria has caused fear in the hearts of Christians throughout the region in the 21st century.
The upshot is that there was never any real “harmony” between Christians, Muslims and Jews in the Middle East. There was the ever-present threat of violence against Christian and Jewish subalterns in the region, a hostility that was described in the Christian Century article that she mishandled. This hostility was rooted in what Cannon would call “th
eological imperialism” if she were inclined to confront it. (Muslim supremacism is another good word to describe this reality.)
Cannon’s failure to address the issue of Muslim antisemitism and supremacism is egregious because once people understand these two issues, they will understand why a Jewish state is necessary and understand why so many “justice-minded” Christians regard its creation as just.
Israel was not merely created to protect the rights of European Jews who were suffering from the historical consequences of Christian Jew-hatred, but to establish the rights of Jews from the Middle East who suffered from the consequences of Muslim Jew-hatred. And by obscuring the impact of Muslim supremacism on Christians in the Middle East (as she did in her dissertation, described above and in other writings described below), Cannon deprives her readers of the information they need to understand the human rights crisis currently afflicting the Middle East.
In the remainder of the interview, Cannon engages in the one-sided commentary that we have come to expect from Christian peacemakers. She talks about the 500,000 to 800,000 refugees that lost their homes as a result of the 1948 War (but makes no mention of the similar number of Jews from Arab lands who were kicked out of their homes before, during and after Israel’s creation). And she talks about the checkpoints in the West Bank that hinder economic development in Palestinian society, but makes no mention of the corruption that has robbed the Palestinian people of their future. Earlier, Cannon joked about blaming everything on the West, but that is about what she actually does in her commentary about the conflict.
When asked for sources of information about the conflict, she encouraged people to read Dale Hanson Bourke’s book on the Arab-Israeli conflict, The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Tough Questions, Direct Answers which makes similar errors of omission that can be seen in Cannon’s Ph.D. dissertation. She describes Bourke’s book as a “really good initial resource to educate about some of the basics in the conflict.” The book is no such thing and for proof, please read this analysis. (Bourke herself has admitted on Twitter that there are problems with the text, which she hoped would be corrected in a second edition.)
Social Justice Handbook
In 2009, InterVarsity Press, a publisher that caters to Evangelical Protestants in the U.S., published Cannon’s Social Justice Handbook: Small Steps for a Better World. In this text, Cannon seeks to expose her readers to “the down and dirty pragmatics” of social justice and go “beyond academic articulation and systematic theology.” She tells her readers, “This book is Social Justice 101. The basics. The fundamentals.”
After five chapters outlining her thoughts on social justice in an Evangelical context, Cannon offers an alphabetized encyclopedia of almost 100 social problems including abortion, genocide, racism, sex trafficking, slavery, urban decay and white privilege. There are no entries directly related to the Israel-Palestinian conflict and it appears that Cannon sought to steer clear of issues that might embroil readers in the politics of the Middle East.
There are some interesting omissions in her text. For example, in her discussion of slavery, she fails to describe where slavery is prevalent other than to mention efforts to free slaves in India and a report that details the working conditions “on cocoa farms in the Ivory Coast and other African countries.”
Then there’s Cannon’s entry on female genital mutilation, which calls on activists to confront the problem without telling them where it is most prevalent. Aside from reporting that “In Africa about three million girls are at risk for FGM each year,” there is simply no reference to where it is happening or who is doing it, nor is there any reference to the relationship between the prevalence of Islam and the practice of FGM. To be sure, Muslim countries do not have a monopoly on the horrid practice of FGM, but there is some correlation between the dominance of Islam and the practice of FGM that human rights activists cannot ignore. A reasonable entry on FGM might, for example, report that more than 90 percent of the women living in Egypt, one of the world’s largest Muslim countries, have been subjected to the practice. That Egypt has had a problem with FGM is a fact people have known for decades.
The entry on religious persecution is also problematic. “Religious persecution of Christians and other religious groups continues unabated around the world,” Cannon declares. She then goes on to report that “during the fall of 2008 more than a dozen Christians were killed in the city of Mosul and more than two thousand Christian families fled the city for their safety.” Unlike the citations on FGM and slavery Cannon does provide information where religious persecution is a problem: Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam. But nowhere does the entry cite the religious identity of the people responsible for religious persecution, with one exception: “The Christian treatment of the Muslim community is one that attracts significant media attention. A 2002 New York Times article cited a Southern Baptist pastor who ‘incited cries of intolerance,’” Cannon wrote.
Cannon did demonstrate a willingness to confront the issue of Christian supremacism in another book published by Zondervan, another Evangelical publisher in 2014. Forgive Us: Confessions of a Compromised Faith, a text Cannon wrote with three other authors, is a confession of how Christians (or more specifically, Evangelical Protestants in the U.S.) have sinned against the environment, indigenous peoples’ African Americans and people of color, women, people in the LGBTQ community, immigrants, Jews and Muslims.
In this text which bemoans among other things, the “negative consequences of American exceptionalism,” Cannon and her co-authors argue that the mistreatment of Jews and Muslims is rooted in the deeply seated theological belief that human dignity is “conferred only after conversion.”
The authors add that
47;perhaps at the heart of some American Christians’ dehumanization of non-Christians is a triumphal understanding of the Christian faith itself.” (Readers who do not have the time to examine this book, can get a sense of how critical she is of the United States by watching a video of a presentation she gave at Bridgeway Community Church in February 2015.)
Cannon and her co-authors are absolutely right when they report that Christian triumphalism has had its lethal historical consequences, but it’s not as if the Christian faith has a monopoly on triumphalism and dehumanizing people outside the faith. Non-Muslims (Christians and Jews especially) have been deprived of their rights and humanity for centuries in Muslim majority countries in the Middle East, but Cannon worked assiduously to downplay this in her writings and public speech about the region in other writings. Why?
“Holism” as a Distraction, Not a Principle
The contradictions inherent in Cannon’s peacemaking became manifest during her talk at at “Impact Holy Land,” a conference organized by Evangelicals for Social Action in December 2013, when she was still employed by World Vision USA, which according to Luke Moon, helped fund the conference.
During this conference, Cannon offered a distorted view of the Arab-Israeli conflict, which predictably omitted problems in Palestinian society that prevent a negotiated end to the war she is trying to stop.
During her talk, Cannon stated that her then employer, World Vision, promoted “transformational development” in communities throughout the world “so that they can rise up and become independent so they can have sustainable economies.” In the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza this is a difficult thing to accomplish, Cannon said, because of Israel’s occupation of these areas. “The reality is that there’s a military occupation which controls all of the different factors that affects the livelihoods of the Palestinians living in the community.” She states that oftentimes she is challenged to speak about the conflict in a “balanced” way. “I think balance in this discussion should be a four-letter word,” she said. “Looking at the facts there is no balance… Israel has the third most powerful military in the world [A clear exaggeration.] That’s not balance.”
She then states that instead of speaking about the conflict in a “balanced” manner, Christian peacemakers should speak about the conflict in a “holistic” manner. Sadly, Cannon uses the word “holistic” as a distraction from the issues that she does not want to talk about, not as a call to achieve an integrated picture of what bringing an end conflict would look like. By invoking the power differential between Israelis and Palestinians to justify activism, Cannon pre-empts discussion of the choices Palestinians need to make to achieve peace, effectively denying them of their agency.
If one is going to look at the conflict as an integrated whole that is greater than the sum of its parts – the Webster’s definition of “holism” — one simply cannot ignore what Palestinians have done to contribute to their suffering. If one is truly interested in helping the Palestinians develop their society and achieve statehood — remember, Cannon described World Vision as a “transformational development” organization — peacemakers have to expose and condemn the hostility directed at Israel and Jews by religious, political and intellectual leaders. Cannon acknowledges in her talks that antisemitism is a genuine problem, but rarely, if ever speaks about it as an obstacle to the development of Palestinian society.
During her talk, Cannon recounts how she watched a 15-year-old boy being tried, convicted and sentenced to 5 months in an Israeli prison for throwing a tire at the security barrier. “I don’t know quite how you do that,” she said, “but that was the accusation, you know and this was seen as a sign of resistance.” After the boy was sentenced, Cannon spoke in broken Arabic to the boy’s mother, who could only speak broken English. The woman told her to “Do something,” but there was ultimately nothing she could do other than to sit with the woman as she watched her son be led off to prison. It was a powerful act of compassion on Cannon’s part, but the problem is this: When is she going to start asking the questions about what led the young man to engage in a dangerous confrontation with the IDF?
As a historian, Cannon knows (or should know) that blaming the occupation for the boy’s actions is too simple an explanation. Somewhere along the way, the young man was encouraged to make the choices he did by Palestinian leaders, who have been inciting against Jews and Israel for years and who have failed to negotiate in good faith since the 1990s, with disastrous results for the Palestinian people. Worldviews have consequences.
Cannon said as much in a more recent video posted at Friends University in Kansas in September. In this talk, she acknowledges the importance of compassion, which she describes as responding to the immediate needs of people and walking alongside of them in their suffering. She warns however, against neglecting to engage in ministries of justice, which she describes as “the process by which we look at these issue that caused … people to suffer.” She continues: “Justice is when we look at the systemic problems that have caused this brokenness.” It’s one thing to teach a man to fish (instead of just giving him a fish), Cannon says, “but what if the pond is polluted so the man is fishing and the food that he is catching is not sustainable because of this pollution. Justice is fixing the pollution in the pond.”
In the context of the Arab-Israeli conflict, “the pollution in the pond” includes the failures of Arab leaders in general and Palestinian leaders in particular” to come to grips with the reality of Israel’s existence. Thousands of people have died in repeated and Quixotic attempts to destroy the Jewish state. When these attempts failed, Arab and Muslim leaders, especially in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip have engaged in an ugly propaganda war to delegitimize Israel’s existence, whose themes have made their way into messages offered by Christian peacemakers, including Mae Cannon.
Not only have these propagandistic messages made life unsafe for Jews throughout the world, have also done incalculable harm to Palestinian society. Because they have demonized Israel so thoroughly, Palestinians are unable to confront the decisions they must make in order to pursue peace and provide for their own future. Peacemakers should not be cooperating with this process, but actively working to confront it.
The upshot is this: If Cannon’s writings and public statements are any indication, expectations that she will hold Palestinian leaders to account for their misdeeds are likely misplaced. Not only does this encourage CMEP’s supporters to embrace a distorted view of the Israel-Palestinian conflict, it encourages the Palestinian leaders and the people they govern to continue to view themselves solely as victims of Israeli aggression and unable to alter the trajectory of their society.
In sum, Cannon’s brand of activism promotes the infantalization of Palestinian society.
Her refusal to address the issues of Islamic antisemitism and Muslim supremacism in her writings and activism is an act of mischief for which she must repent if she and the organization she leads are to be a force for peace between Arab and Jew in the Holy Land.