Mennonite Central Committee Defends Dinner With Ahmadinejad

The Mennonite Central Committee, one of the co-sponsors of an interfaith dinner with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that took place in New York City on Sept. 25, 2008, has issued a deceptive and naive statement in defense of its dealings with the Iranian President.


The statement, written by Arli Klassen, the MCC’s executive director, and Daryl Byler, the organization’s representative for Jordan, Iran, Iraq and Palestine, exaggerates the impact of MCC-organized events on Ahmadinejad’s public speech about Israel. The statement also ignores Ahmadinejad’s hostility toward Jews and portrays the elimination of Israel as a Jewish state in the Middle East as a legitimate component of peacemaking efforts in the region.



“Moderating” Ahmadinejad


The statement, issued on Sept. 30, 2008, asserts that Ahmadinejad has softened his public speech about Israel in response to previous meetings organized by the MCC:

we believe that the president’s public comments have moderated somewhat over the past two years. When challenged regarding his comments about “”wiping Israel off the map,” Ahmadinejad has said to us in previous meetings and, at last, in interviews with both CNN and the Los Angeles Times in late September, that he is not talking about a military solution. Rather, he supports the “one-state” solution, a political resolution in which Israelis and Palestinians elect a single government to represent both peoples.


Ahmadinejad has remained an inveterate anti-Semite despite his attendance at MCC-organized events. For example, in February 2007, the MCC organized a meeting with the Iranian President in Teheran. The delegation of Christian leaders who participated in the meeting with Ahmadinejad reportedly challenged him about his anti-Semitic statements, but their complaints had little effect.


Four days after the delegation’s meeting with Ahmadinejad, he appeared in Sudan, where, according to Islamic Republic News Agency (Iran‘s official news service), he said “Zionists are the true manifestation of Satan.”
On May 8, 2008, Ahmadinejad stated that “Those who think they can revive the stinking corpse of the usurping and fake Israeli regime by throwing a birthday party are seriously mistaken.”  He also reported that Israel “is on its way to annihilation” and “has reached the end like a dead rat after being slapped by the Lebanese.”
On February 20, 2008 Ahmadinejad said:
The world powers established this filthy bacteria, the Zionist regime, which is lashing out at the nations in the region like a wild beast. … [Israel] won support [from the other nations] which created it as a scarecrow, so as to keep the people of this area under control.

And days before the MCC broke bread with the Iranian president on Sept. 25, 2008, he gave a speech to the UN’s General Assembly during which he complained about the Security Council being under the control of “Zionist murderers.” He also said:

The dignity, integrity and rights of the American and European people are being played with by a small but deceitful number of people called Zionists. Although they are a miniscule minority, they have been dominating an important portion of the financial and monetary centers as well as the political decision-making centers of some European countries and the US in a deceitful, complex and furtive manner. It is deeply disastrous to witness that some presidential or premiere nominees in some big countries have to visit these people, take part in their gatherings, swear their allegiance and commitment to their interests in order to attain financial or media support.


Commentary like this is reminisce nt of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and yet, Klassen and Byler suggest that Ahmadinejad has “moderated” his comments about Israel as a result of his interactions with Christians at MCC-organized events. In so doing, Klassen and Byler demonstrate an exaggerated sense of their own importance and a naive indifference to anti-Jewish hate speech.



MCC and Ahmadinejad Share Opposition to Jewish State


The MCC also exhibits an outrageous indifference to Jewish safety in conveying Ahmadinejad’s support for a “one-state” solution as if it were an acceptable alternative to a two-state solution. This should not come as a surprise, however. MCC’s activists and writers have long portrayed Jewish sovereignty as the primary source of suffering in the Middle East – even blaming the mistreatment of Christians in the region on Israel’s existence.


The obsession of MCC peace activists with Jewish statehood is evident in the writings of evident in an article published in a 2007 issue of Cornerstone, a newsletter published by the Jerusalem-based Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center, an organization founded in large part with help from MCC activists.


In this piece, Alain Epp Weaver, a peace worker with the MCC, writes:

After the horrors of the Shoah [Holocaust], it is understandable that the idea of Israel as a safe haven with a Jewish majority would be so important to many Jews.  But must such a haven be tied to a project of maintaining and projecting a Jewish majority by any and all means? Might not a bi-national future in one state be one in which Palestinians and Israelis alike both sit securely under vine and fig tree?


For Weaver, the problem is not Arab attacks on Jewish sovereignty, but Israel‘s insistence on remaining a Jewish state. His suggestion that Israelis and Palestinians can live together peacefully ignores the last 60 years of conflict.


This narrative is evident in the writings of Weaver’s wife, Sonia, author of What is Palestine Israel? Answers to Common Questions, a book published by the MCC in 2007. In this book, she writes the following passage:

What are the advantages and disadvantages of [the one-state and two-state solution]? Is a two-state solution still possible?
The one-state solution features several distinct advantages. Having one state would allow Palestinian refugees to return to their original homes. In contrast, under many versions of the two-state solution discussed by Palestinians, Israelis and international mediators, Palestinian refugees would be repatriated to the new state of Palestine but would not be allowed to return to their original homes in what is now Israel. The two-state solution, furthermore, does not address the systematic discrimination faced by Palestinian Christians and Muslims inside Israel.
Proponents of the two-state solution, including the Israelis who favor this outcome, argue that it is pragmatic and realistic. While it might not meet the demands of justice, they say, it is the best to which Palestinians can aspire while simultaneously meeting the need for Israeli security. Other Israelis believe that even a two-state solution is incompatible with Israeli security; they fear that a Palestinian state would inevitably be hostile to Israel and put Israelis at risk. For these Israelis, security means no more than quasi-autonomy for Palestinians.
Other Palestinians and Israelis suggest that ethnically-based states are anachronisms: rather than working for a “Jewish state” or a “Palestinian state,” persons concerned with justice and reconciliation should strive for futures in which national boundaries are transcended.


This passage is emblematic of the MCC’s discriminatory activism regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict that renders Anabaptist pacifism – an important strain of Christian witness – into just another vehicle for anti-Zionism.


First off, Sonia Weaver offers no acknowledgement to the anti-Jewish hostility in Palestinian society that would make life very dangerous for Jews living in a state shared by both peoples. Even Edward Said, a proponent of a one-state solution, acknowledged in a 2000 interview with Ari Shavit that he worried a great deal about the fate of Jews in an Arab-majority state: “It worries me a great deal. The question of what is going to be the fate of the Jews is very difficult for me. I really don’t know. It worries me.”


Yes, the author does make a passing reference to the need for “Israeli security.” But without an honest description of hostility toward Jews in the Middle East and the mistreatment of minorities in the Middle East – subjects that receive no attention in Weaver’s book – such references are meaningless. The only discrimination in the Middle East that Sonia Weaver does talk about in her text is Israeli discrimination against Christian and Muslim Palestinians, offering no description of the Jews thrown out of Arab and Muslim countries in the Middle East in the aftermath of the 1948 War. For Weaver, Jewish refugees are Palestinian refugees cannot be helped without dismantling the Jewish state; the more than 800,000 Jewish refugees who had their homes and property confiscated in countries like Yemen, Iran, Morocco and Iraq are not worth mentioning. (Also not worth mentioning in Sonia Weaver’s text are the anti-Jewish riots that took place in during the British Mandate.)
The Weavers cannot plead ignorance on this issue. Its activists have struggled amongst themselves about how to respond to Palestinian antisemitism, but for some reason, the fruits of this struggle do not show up in the story they tell about the Arab-Israeli conflict. Salt & Sign: Mennonite Central Committee in Palestine 1949-1999, a book about the MCC’s presence in the West Bank and Gaza — written by Alain Epp and Sonia Weaver — addresses the issue of anti-Jewish hostility in Palestinian society.
That MCC workers stood in solidarity with Palestinians did not mean, however, that they inevitably fell prey to the uncritical identification with Palestinian nationalism … While understanding that the forces arrayed against them make Palestinians prone to conspiratorial thinking, Mennonites felt uncomfortable and chagrined by the conspiracy theories, at times reminiscent of classic Western anti-Jewish propaganda, voiced by some of their Palestinian friends. And although MCC established partnerships with proponents of nonviolence, Mennonites in the region understood that few Palestinians (like few Israelis or North Americans) were committed to a principled pacifism. Recognizing these differences between themsevles and many of their Palestinian friends and colleagues, Mennonite volunteers struggled with the question posed by Zebabdeh English teachers Jan Kees den Bakker and Martha Magee, namely, “how to support the Palestinian cause, and at the same time remain opposed to anti-Semitism and violence.”
This passage, published in 1999 demonstrates that the Weavers understood full well that Palestinian society had a problem with anti-Jewish hostility. And while they are too quick to excuse it as a consequence of “the forces arrayed” against the Palestinians, the Weavers understood that it posed a challenge to MCC’s peacemaking efforts. In their subsequent writings, the Weavers have failed to respond explicitly to this challenge, but instead ignore the issue. But they know. They know.
The statement issued by Klassen and Byler underscores a troubling reality about the MCC’s activism in the Middle East: When it comes to powers and principalities, the MCC has a particular, abiding and obsessive intolerance of the Jewish state that is offset by indifference to the misdeeds of the Arab states that surround it.
The main thrust of the MCC’s “peace” activism in the Middle East is to ask Israeli Jews to acquiesce to the dismantling of Israel as a Jewish state while ignoring hostility toward Jews in the region.


Asking Israeli-Jews (who are surrounded by countries populated by people who hate them) to surrender their sovereign state (as MCC activists have done — in numerous venues) is a deeply discriminatory act.


It is one thing for the MCC’s Anabaptist supporters, who live in the relative safety in the United States and Canada, to expose themselves to threats of violence – as they do on volunteer missions throughout the world. It is another thing altogether to ask Israeli Jews to do the same thing while living in the only Jewish state in existence.

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