By Dexter Van Zile
Two denominations – the Episcopal Church and the United Church of Canada – repudiated statements that demonized Israel. A third church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, passed a fair-minded and balanced resolution about the Arab-Israeli conflict. And the executive council of a fourth denomination, the United Church of Christ, issued an imbalanced statement that still acknowledged that Israel had a story to tell about the Arab-Israeli conflict.
These statements may seem pretty benign, but that’s exactly the point. In 2004 and 2005, at the end of the Second Intifada – when Israel was most entitled to the support and sympathy from right-thinking people in North America – mainline Protestant churches aligned themselves with anti-Israel extremists by passing a series of one-sided resolutions that blamed Israel for the violence directed at it.
The most egregious example was a divestment resolution passed in 2004 by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) that stated the occupation had been had “proven to be at the root of evil acts committed against innocent people on both sides of the conflict.”
This was too much even for Rabbis for Human Rights, which responded with a letter that condemned the denomination for not offering “one word of criticism to the government of the Palestinian Authority despite its manifest multitude of profound sins against God and the Human Rights of Palestinians and Jews.” This is a pretty strong rebuke from a Jewish organization that has compensated Palestinians for the demolition of their homes by the IDF.
Five years later, mainline churches are singing a different tune, indicating that the contagion of anti-Israel animus that erupted in mainline Protestant churches at the end of the Second Intifada has abated – for now.
Given the historical behavior of the these churches, it is entirely likely, that another round violence between Israel and its adversaries could give new force to the anti-Israel (and yes, anti-Jewish) animus that sadly enough has been a persistent strain of thought the progressive Christian community in North America, particularly in the U.S., for decades.
Mainline disdain for Israel and Jews was documented by Hertzel Fishman in American Protestantism and a Jewish State (Wayne State Press, 1973). In this text, Fishman details how liberal Protestants condemned Jews for failing to assimilate into American society, argued against Jewish immigration from Europe into the U.S. and Palestine before and during the Holocaust, disregarded and downplayed Nazi violence against Jews in Europe, and opposed the creation of a sovereign Jewish state in the Middle East. They also worked to reduce Israel’s boundaries once it was created and remained largely silent in the face of Arab threats to destroy the Jewish State before the Six Day War.
Sadly enough, progressive Christians in the U.S. – Protestant and Catholic – engaged in similar behavior during and after the Second Intifada. Instead of condemning the genocidal impulse expressed by groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, mainline church leaders, commentators and legislative bodies worked to undermine and de-legitimize those components of the Jewish state that prevent its destruction – its ability to procure and deploy weapons, field an army, to capture or kill those who would murder its citizens, install checkpoints and to build a security barrier to stop suicide attacks.
Mainline witness about the Arab-Israeli conflict portrayed Jewish sovereignty – and not Arab and Muslim efforts to deprive the Jewish people of self-determination – as the source of violence in the Middle East. In sum, mainline churches became conduits for the narrative offered by Muslim and Arab extremists in the Middle East to justify the murder of Israeli civilians during the Second Intifada.
The narrative was cleaned up a bit, but the overall conclusion is the same. Violence against Jews in the Middle East was the fault of the Jews themselves who would have to engage in some pretty serious self-reform for the violence to end.
Now that mainline churches have taken a break from broadcasting this narrative, maybe they can engage in a bit of soul searching to determine where reform is truly needed.
Dexter Van Zile is Christian Media Analyst for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America.