The Women’s Division of the General Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church, a denomination that is considering divesting from Caterpillar in protest of Israeli policies at its upcoming General Conference, has published a “Mission Study” by Rev. Stephen Goldstein, an ordained Methodist Minister who serves as Assistant General Secretary for the Mission Personnel Program Unit of the General Board of Global Ministries.
Rev. Goldstein portrays the Jewish people as too paranoid, and psychologically scarred to be trusted with self-determination. Accompanying this “Mission Study” is an equally distorted “Study Guide” prepared by Rev. Sandra Olewine which encourages people to embrace an anti-Israel narrative through a process of dialogue, meditation, and worship. (For length considerations, this analysis will limit itself to the text prepared by Rev. Goldstein.)
The main thesis of Rev. Goldstein’s blurry, inaccurate and one-sided hagiographic treatment of the Arab-Israeli conflict is that Israelis are too obsessed with the Holocaust to affirm the humanity of the Palestinians and too crippled by their history of suffering to take the risks needed to make peace. In his text, Rev. Goldstein, a Jewish convert to the
The Mission Study also systematically suppresses and omits any information that would undercut his unstintingly negative portrayal of
Ultimately, Rev. Goldstein’s strategy is to offer a distorted narrative about the Arab-Israeli conflict replete with glaring omissions. He then encourages his readers to assess and evaluate
In Rev. Goldstein’s text, Israeli attitudes toward its neighbors are not a response to the repeated multi-army attacks against
In Rev. Goldstein’s treatment,
The early Zionists had intended
to be a safe haven for persecuted Jews, yet ironically Israel had come into existence without being able to save the dead millions. To this day there is a latent hysteria in Israel life that springs directly from this source. It explains the paranoiac sense of isolation that has been a main characteristic of the Israeli temper since 1948. Generations of Israelis have been brought up on this grim tenet: Jews were singled out to die not because of their religion or because of what they did; but simply because they were there, they existed. The message has been instilled in them for years and with far-reaching political, cultural and religious consequences. IsraelAnd it has been the single most significant factor in ’s unwillingness to trust their Arab neighbors or the Palestinians, whose land they have colonized, and who are being victimized on a daily basis. IsraelSince 1948, the Holocaust and the fear of anti-Semitism have also created a consciousness that has contributed significantly to preventing from making peace with its Arab neighbors. Israel
On page 102, Rev. Goldstein writes, “Standing behind each Arab or Palestinian, Israelis tend to see SS men determined to push them once again into gas chambers or crematoria.” In his discussion of the Six Day War (discussed below), Rev. Goldstein portrays Israelis as suffering from a “psychosis” and as “hysterical.”
Ultimately, Rev. Goldstein portrays
In Rev. Goldstein’s view, the failure to achieve an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict, is entirely a consequence of Jewish self-identity as expressed in
Non-Jews and non-Israelis in the
The burden of this Holocaust consciousness also prevents progressive US Christians from making the necessary connections that would lead to actively raising concern about the Israeli occupation of what is left of Palestinian
On this score, Rev. Goldstein is wrong, and egregiously so. Nearly every mainline or progressive Protestant church in the U.S. has condemned Israeli policies in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, while remaining virtually silent about Arab and Muslim culpability for the continued existence of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Rev. Goldstein’s Mission Study is but one case in point.
For example, in 2004, the Presbyterian Church (USA) passed a resolution stating the occupation was at the “root” of violence against innocents against both sides of the conflict. And in 2005, the General Synods of the United Church of Christ and the Disciples of Christ passed resolutions asking
Instead of condemning the genocidal hostility expressed toward Jews by groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, progressive mainline churches have obsessively condemned and attacked the very aspects of the Jewish state that prevent these groups from achieving their goal – Israel’s ability to procure and field military hardware, field an army, and construct a security barrier and attack those who would – and have – killed its citizens. While
This is not a new phenomenon. Self-proclaimed progressive Protestants have been a persistent source of anti-Zionist and in some instances, anti-Jewish rhetoric in the
Hertzel Fishman, author of American Protestantism and a Jewish State (Wayne State Press, 1973), documents how The Christian Century, the house organ for mainli ne or progressive Protestantism in the U.S., condemned Jews for failing to assimilate into American society in the 1920s and 30s, worked against Jewish immigration from Europe into America and Palestine during the 1930s and 40s, disregarded and downplayed Nazi violence against Jews in Europe at the height of the Holocaust, and opposed the creation of a sovereign Jewish state after World War II. Fishman also documents how progressive, or liberal Protestant leaders 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.
In short, Rev. Goldstein simply does not know what he is talking about. At no point in the past several decades has Jewish suffering, the Holocaust included, ever silenced progressive or liberal Christian criticism of Jews, Zionism, or
Israelis as Extremists
In addition to displaying a profound ignorance about mainline Christian commentary about Israel and the Jewish people, Rev. Goldstein portrays extremists in Israeli society as a primary force for Israeli policies in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and the West Bank – without acknowledging the efforts of the Israeli government to constrain these extremists and without acknowledging the opposition they face from the majority of Israeli society.
The author’s treatment of Baruch Goldstein, who murdered 29 Muslims at the Caves of the Patriarchs in 1994, is illustrative of this tendency. On page 34 Rev. Goldstein writes “I will never forget the tabernacle and the altar located in a landscaped park-like setting. That such a terrorist act could be celebrated and the perpetrator considered a martyred hero by Jewish settlers only illustrates the contempt with which some Jews regard Palestinian Arabs.” And on pages 110 and 111, Rev. Goldstein writes:
On another trip to
in 2001, when I visited the shrine to [Baruch] Goldstein in Qiryat Arba, I also visited the shrine in the Ibrahim Mosque (Cave of the Patriarchs), divided since the Goldstein rampage between Jews and Muslims. I gained admittance to the Jewish section by insisting to the soldier guarding the entrance that I was entitled as a Jew to do so. The soldier was wary, as my companions were Hebron MaryDavies, a missionary, and the director of Wi’am, Zoughbi Zoughbi. Inside, a group of teenagers was attending what appeared to be a class in religious studies. The teacher was apparently discussing the person whose photograph was sitting on a tripod stand. It was a photo of Baruch Goldstein.
Yes, Baruch Goldstein was a murderer, and yes, he did receive support from Israeli extremists, but he did not receive praise from Israeli government officials – as have Palestinian suicide bombers who have had a soccer tournament and teams named after them.
In neither of his references to Baruch Goldstein’s gravestone does Rev. Goldstein report that the shrine he mentions was dismantled in 1999 by the IDF after a long court fight and that the political party to which he belonged (Kach) was banned as a terrorist organization after the attack. Nor does Rev. Goldstein report that the attack was condemned by officials at virtually every level of the Israeli government. Most Israelis, and Jews, were ashamed and nauseated by Baruch Goldstein’s actions.
Moreover, the mission study lacks any reference to the money and accolades given to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers by the Palestinian Authority during the Second Intifada. For some reason, Rev. Goldstein cannot discern the difference between Palestinian leaders who reward families of suicide bombers with cash gifts, and the Israeli government which paid compensation to the victims of Baruch Goldstein’s attack. (According to a June 10, 1997 report from the Associated Press, families of 19 victims of the attack were given $25,000 apiece; widows of the remaining 10 victims were given $63,000 apiece. The report states that those wounded in the massacre also received compensation, but does not say how much.)
Lastly, as if murdering 29 Muslims was not enough, at one point Rev. Goldstein blames Baruch Goldstein for the assassination of Yitzak Rabin. On page 72 he writes:
In her 1994 book about the assassination [of Folke Bernadotte] by the extremist Stern Gang to Baruch Goldstein’s assassination of Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin in February 1994. This is not to say that Israelis are a nation of extremists and terrorists, but that the foundational record exposes something more than popular images of a beleaguered minority in the Arab world. The Israelis have more frequently been the aggressors in the
Rev. Goldstein invokes the trauma over the Holocaust in
Again, on this score, Rev. Goldstein is quite simply wrong, and egregiously so. As documented in numerous websites and books, including Jennie Lebel’s The Mufti of
During the Holocaust, al-Husseini sent letters of complaint to officials in
And in 1943 he put a stop to a deal that would have freed Jewish children from
Moreover, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem also worked to spread Nazi propaganda into the
If recruiting soldiers for the Waffen SS who subsequently murdered Jews in Croatia and Hungary, shilling for Hitler in Arabic through radio broadcasts broadcast to the Middle East, and insisting that children headed for safety be murdered are actions insufficient for Rev. Goldstein to designate the Grand Mufti as a “protagonist in the actions of Nazi Germany” one has to wonder who would qualify for this category.
The failure of Rev. Goldstein to acknowledge the links between Arab nationalism and German fascism is a minor distortion compared to his dishonest portrayal of Israelis as having been “more frequently … the aggressors in the Middle East.” (Quoted previously, page 72)
To make this case, Rev. Goldstein cites revisionist historians such as Avi Schlaim and Michael Palumbo to offer a distorted history that downplays the role
The initial motivation for the war was the Zionist realization that a state could not be formed without removing large numbers of Arabs. The war was in the Zionists’ interests and offered an opportunity to further their goals of expansion beyond the United Nations partition recommendation. The Palestinians had been disarmed even while the Zionists were equipping their forces. The records indicate that the Zionists forces that had numbered around 15,000 in early 1948 increased to over 60,000 by 1948. The Zionists were also recruiting professional military volunteers. (Page 65)
Rev. Goldstein’s attempt to portray the 1948 War as a Zionist plot is insupportable given the well-documented promises from numerous Arab leaders to destroy
The representative of the Jewish Agency told us yesterday that they were not the attackers, that the Arabs had begun the fighting. We did not deny this. We told the whole world that we were going to fight.
Instead of acknowledging intent of Arab leaders to destroy
spontaneous demonstrations against the partition resolution. But the Jews declared to the world that a war of annihilation had begun.
If the leaders of the newly created Jewish state had made such a declaration, they were merely repeating what Arab leaders had themselves declared.
Stacking the scales further against
A 1987 report by
‘s Research and Birzeit University based its findings on interviews of the survivors. The names of family members and friends lost were listed, and these totaled 107. The researchers concluded that “the number of those killed does not exceed 120”. Documentation Center
Despite the intimation on page 17 that his goal is to tell the story of the conflict “from a perspective that credits both the Israeli narrative and the Palestinian narrative,” Rev. Goldstein provides absolutely no detail whatsoever of the Arab atrocities against Israeli other than to state on page 68:
No doubt Arab fighters carried out atrocities as well. But aside from being an instance of savage atrocity, both the severity of Deir Yassin and the story spread by Arabs and Zionists alike created vast Arab panic.
Predictably, Rev. Goldstein does not discuss the impact of Arab atrocities on the Jews living in
Sixty-two Jews were murdered by Arabs in the first week after the UN partition plan was passed, and by May 15, 1948, a total of 1,256 Jews had been killed, most of them civilians. These deaths were caused by Arab militias, gangs, terrorists and army units which attacked every place of Jewish inhabitation in
. PalestineThe attacks succeeded in placing under siege and eventually cutting off its water supply. All Jewish villages in the Jerusalem Negevwere attacked, and Jews had to go about the country in convoys. In every major city where Jews and Arabs lived in mixed neighborhoods the Jewish areas came under attack. This was true in ‘s Hadar Hacarmel as well as Haifa ‘s Jerusalem . Old CityMassacres were not uncommon. …
For some reason, Rev. Goldstein does not address is why the Arab atrocities (which he does not name, much less describe) did not drive out the Jewish population in
The Jewish-Palestinian conflict was not won by the militarily stronger party but rather by the more resilient society. Two communities were thrown into the whirlpool of war, enduring similar hardships and dislocations: both suffered a painful human toll, including mutual atrocities; and both experienced widespread disruption to daily life in the form of urban and guerilla warfare and bouts of terrorism. Yet one managed to weather the storm by extreme effort, while the other fragmented to small pieces. (Fabricating Israeli History, page 26)
And while Rev. Goldstein accuses
Six Day War
Rev. Goldstein’s notion of
Rev. Goldstein’s Mission Study, however, provides no information to the annihilationist rhetoric used by Arab leaders in the weeks before the war. For example, Cairo Radio broadcast the following on
“This is our chance Arabs, to deal
a mortal blow of annihilation, to blot out its entire presence in our holy land.” Israel
Our basic objective will be the destruction of
. The Arab people want to fight . . . The mining of Sharm el Sheikh is a confrontation with Israel . Adopting this measure obligates us to be ready to embark on a general war with Israel . Israel
In August however, the Arab nations held a summit meeting in
(without Khartoum which boycotted the meeting). The summit concluded with a resolution containing what are called the Three No’s: “namely, no peace with Syria , no recognition of Israel , no negotiations with it, and insistence on the rights of the Palestinian people in their own country.” It was not meant, however, to be as strident as the No’s made it seem. The preamble of the statement indicated that international negotiations were an option and could proceed in order to obtain Israeli withdrawal; however, the No’s seemed to negate the preamble. Israel ’s immediate response was to seal itself off from any serious peace settlement or negotiation. What was not known at the time was that the Arab resolution was partly a face-saving device. It was also a compromise for [Egyptian President] Nasser, who was attacked by his former Arab allies and blamed for losing the war. By opening the door to international and diplomatic initiatives, Israel Nasserwas trying to find a political settlement. The No’s were intended to placate Syrian intransigence and Palestinian fears.In a conversation that King Hussein reported to Avi Shlaim, Nasserhad urged King Hussein to “go and speak of a comprehensive solution to the problem and a comprehensive peace and go and do anything you can short of signing a separate peace.” But it was not to be. The outcome was the Arabs would no consider peace without Israeli withdrawal and would not consider withdrawal without direct negotiations that would lead to a peace agreement that incorporated secure and recognized boundaries. Israel
Rather than acknowledge the difficulties
He also turns Egyptian President Nasser, a man who had called for
Lebanon/Hezbollah Issues Distorted
Rev. Goldstein’s treatment of
Much too often, the media report things as if in a vacuum, ignoring essential historical background that bears closely on what is occurring in the present. The oft-repeated dictum that the situation in the
Middle Eastis too complicated to comprehend is really not accurate. Seeing the roots of the conflict can assist us in discovering the connections that make things comprehensible and will assist us in making a just evaluation of the events as they unfold.A recent example illustrates the problem. Accepting at face value the assertion that the capture of Israeli soldiers across “the blue” line between and Lebanon by Hezbollah militia is the sole or even main reason for the recent conflict (July-August 2006) is a failure to go beneath the surface. A deeper analysis of events must take into account at the very least the Lebanese Civil War of 1975-1976, Israel ’s incursions in the late 1970s, its invasion in 1982, and its occupation of Israel Southern Lebanonuntil 2000, when withdrew its troops. Any evaluation of this situation must take into account Israel ’s part in the rise of Hezbollah because of its occupation and the large numbers of Lebanese being imprisoned by Israel . To explain the conflict as merely resulting from the July capture of the IDF soldiers is too tidy an equation. Israel and the Israel have framed the message of self-defense with the myth of United States ’s dominant victim narrative. As we have seen, it is a misrepresentation of the actual story. It surely does not reveal the motivations for Israel ’s aggression has unleashed. The current ceasefire “agreement” ( Israel August 14, 2006) and attendant UN Security Council Resolutions 1559 and 1701 are the culmination of years of ongoing aggression against . (Page 106) Lebanon
In this passage Rev. Goldstein adopts the tone of an expert enumerating the things that the average person must know to “make a just evaluation” of current events, but ironically, he fails to provide the reader with the very information he says they need. For example, he fails to explain the motivation behind
Nor does Rev. Goldstein acknowledge that Hezbollah attacked
Anyone intent on offering a “just” evaluation of
It is my hope that with the information in this study the reader will be able to reframe the facts as they are presented particularly by the mainstream media. Then it will be possible to assess public statements by the major participants and move beyond the accepted propaganda to a more accurate portrayal of the actual meaning of events.At present, the
and United States are trying to interpret everything in the conflict through the lens and rhetoric of the war on terror. The latest chapter in this sad history is part of Israel ’s intention to destroy Arab resistance and continue its hegemony by force of arms. In this most recent conflict, the media has portrayed Israel as acting in its own self-defense. Meanwhile, Israel has killed more than fifteen hundred Lebanese civilians, with many thousands of innocent persons displaced from their homes and the infrastructure of a sovereign nation blown to bits. (Page 105-106) Israel
There are four obvious problems with this passage.
First off, he exaggerates the number of Lebanese casualties caused by
Although Hizbollah has refused to make public the extent of the casualties it has suffered, Lebanese officials estimate that up to 500 fighters have been killed in the past three weeks of hostilities with
, and another 1,500 injured. IsraelLebanese officials have also disclosed that many of Hizbollah’s wounded are being treated in hospitals in to conceal the true extent of the casualties. They are said to have been taken through al-Arissa border crossing with the help of Syrian security forces. Syria…“Hizbollah is desperate to conceal its casualties because it wants to give the impression that it is winning its war,” said a senior security official. “People might reach a very different conclusion if they knew the true extent of Hizbollah’s casualties.” (The Telegraph, August 4, 2006)
Secondly, Rev. Goldstein fails to make any distinction between
Third, while Rev. Goldstein is quite willing to evaluate and assess what motivates Israeli violence – a desire “to destroy Arab resistance and continue its hegemony by force of arms” – he never attempts to describe what motivated Hezbollah’s attacks on Israeli civilians. Despite Rev. Goldstein’s suggestion that Hezbollah was motivated by nothing more than desire to end
And lastly, while Rev. Goldstein invokes
Rev. Goldstein’s narrative becomes surreal on page 107 when he offers his assessment of what
This conflict is about the continued occupation of the
West Bankand the occupation of that began twenty years ago, not the capture and murder of some Israeli soldiers, however terrible, provocative, and unjustified they may be. [Emphasis added.] Lebanon chose once more to try to destroy a country instead of addressing the prior injustices. Rather than resort to military might, they [sic] could start by withdrawing from the Israel Golan Heights, territory illegally occupied since 1967.
This is preposterous. Not only does Rev. Goldstein suggest the present conflict is about an “occupation” that ended six years before the conflict, he suggest that Israel can make peace with Hezbollah – located in Lebanon – by returning territory it took from Syria in the Six Day War – in response to sniper and mortar attacks on Israeli kibbutzim in northern Israel. Since when are sovereign nations expected to cede territory without a treaty, as Rev. Goldstein expects of
Ultimately, Rev. Goldstein is unable or unwilling to convey to his readers a fundamental reality about the Arab-Israeli conflict – that Israel has been viciously and repeatedly attacked from every bit of territory from which it has withdrawn since the Oslo Accords. From 2000-2004,
Instead of offering details about these attacks, he portrays the Israeli presence in the Gaza Strip and the
Until last year, 30 percent of
was made up of Israeli settlements in one of the most densely populated areas on earth. With Gaza ’s dismantling and the brief withdrawal of its forces, Israel has been turned into what can only be described as a prison camp. As of August 2006, Israel has continued its invasion of Gaza, destroying homes and infrastructure, killing hundreds, and wounding untold numbers more, even while the worlds attention was focused on the invasion in Lebanon. Gaza
Here, in this passage, Rev. Goldstein speaks of the “Israeli invasion of
Camp David/Taba Distorted
Rev. Goldstein also distorts the history surround
Rev. Goldstein’s portrayal of
In fact, by the end of negotiations brokered by the Clinton Administration, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Bar ak had:
formally accepted ideas that would effectively divide east
Arafat’s failure to take advantage of the Clinton Parameters was acknowledged by Saudi Arabian Ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, in January, 2001 when he warned Yasir Arafat – who had walked out of Camp David in 2000 without making a counter – to embrace the Clinton Parameters:
“I hope you remember, sir, what I told you. If we lose this opportunity, it is not going to be a tragedy. This is going to be a crime.” (The New Yorker,
Information like this goes a long way toward undermining Rev. Goldstein’s portrayal of the Israeli people as too screwed up to make peace with the Palestinians, and yet it is omitted. Why?
Rev. Goldstein’s Personal Testimony
Another troubling aspect of the Mission Study is how closely Rev. Goldstein’s portrayal of modern
Rev. Goldstein acknowledges that his personal history colors his view of the Arab-Israeli conflict in the opening sentences of the first chapter of his text.
Before I attempt to review some of the history of Israel-Palestine and the relationships between Israelis and Palestinians, it is appropriate for me to say something about my personal history. What one perceives as reality is grounded in part on who a person is and where he or she comes from. That is certainly the case of my own commitment to a new reality in the
Middle East. I don’t subscribe to the idea of total objectivity, only degrees of subjectivity. (Page 11)
The author then embarks on a personal narrative that reveals a profound sense of disappointment with the faith community of his youth. Clearly, Rev. Goldstein did not find much solace in Jewish religion and culture which he found to be obsessed with the Holocaust and
I managed to get myself expelled from
, and just before turning thirteen I walked away from my Bar Mitzvah instruction. With adolescent honesty I knew it was hypocritical to undergo a ceremony for which I had no interest and little encouragement. My Bar Mitzvah was to be on a Tuesday rather than celebrated during the Saturday Sabbath service, when a Bar Mitzvah is customarily scheduled with the entire congregation present. Hebrew SchoolThere was little anyone in my family could say with much integrity. I don’t recall ever defending my decision. I am sure they worried about me, but as involvement in the Jewish Center was minimal at best on my father’s part, it was not a significant matter. When I resisted going to , my father told me that it “wouldn’t look nice to the neighbors” if I didn’t attend. Since our neighbors were mostly Roman Catholic, I was not persuaded. Hebrew School…What I took away from my religious instruction besides a sense of otherness was an unarticulated awareness of the enormity of the Holocaust and the centrality of for Jews. I never learned much about God how the Hebrew of the siddur (prayerbook) translated into English, or why I should follow the religious regulations that they tried to instill in us. But I knew that six million of us had been recently murdered by Hitler (it was only a decade after the war ended) and that we should be committed to this new state in the Israel Middle East, . Israel
Goldstein was also bothered by the manner in which his family dealt with the Holocaust, which he contrasts with how his family spoke about
I learned about the significance of the Holocaust, but not by talking about it openly. Its horror was still ubiquitous in most adult Jewish minds, including my family’s. Relatives of my grandparents’ generation had been slaughtered (although I didn’t know that for some years). But I did now that something very bad was attached to being Jewish? My brother had left a photographic history of World War II at home after he left for college, the year my mother had died. I can still recall the photographs of the death camps and the crematoria with their smokestacks and the miserable emaciated prisoners in striped clothing.
, however, was a different story. It was the center of much what was celebrated in that young congregation. There was a display case selling religious gift items imported from Israel in the entrance to the Center. We children were given little blue boxes imprinted with a menorah symbolizing Judaism and the state of Israel . We were told it was “to plant trees in Israel in the desert which Israelis were turning into a garden.” Israel
Given his depiction of his childhood, it’s no surprise that during his teenage years, Goldstein tried to reject his Jewishness and “went out of [his] way to condemn religious practice of any kind, all the time wanting to know more and find acceptance. I had plenty of God questions (Page 14).” Fortunately, in high school he met an assistant headmaster, a Methodist layman, a father figure who challenged him by “nurturing a love for literature” and “encouraging a search for understanding who I was and what my life was to become.”
I identified myself as an agnostic actively denying the little Judaism that I had experienced, along with any other religion with which I had any contact (for the most part Roman Catholicism). I was attempting to deny being Jewish. If I were an adult, I would have been labeled a self-hating Jew.
The overall impression conveyed by Rev. Goldstein’s personal narrative is that of Judaism as a stultifying religion choking in its own lachrymose resentment and aggrieved otherness, the only relief from which was pride over
Although, I wouldn’t know of its significance until almost twenty years later, I remember feeling some vengeful pride in hearing that the Jews had won a war. “We” had beat somebody else, the “Arabs.” Such chauvinism is a telling part of the story.
The radical Jew of the gospel stories who was martyred by the authorities of his day for nonviolent teaching and advocacy for justice started to impact my life. The support of this Christian community committed to social causes, identified appropriately as Christian concerns, deepened my articulation of religious matters. My experience broadened, but so did my anger, frustration, and concern for surely was a world gone mad with violence and hate.One night in powerless despair, I came to see that this Jesus had saved the world and that even with my deepest commitment to do so, I could not and no longer needed to try. In Jesus, God had created a new possibility for life: a way to live a real life in a loving and life-affirming relationship with others that is framed with justice and mystery. In spite of daily violence and hatred, there indeed was a God who had not abandoned us or the world. Our God is at its center, planed on a cross. …Significant to me was the fact that Jesus lived and died as a Jew. My experience, surely a conversion from emptiness and nothingness to a something felt emotionally and spiritually like a homecoming. It was coming home to the self that I had denied since abandoning and being abandoned by my Jewish roots. I claimed my old self as a Jew and my new self as a follower of Jesus the Jew.
Despite his protestations to the contrary, Rev. Goldstein has not made peace with the faith community of his youth, and it shows in his Mission Study, which offers a picture of
To be sure, the conversion experience from one faith community to another has been a staple of religious literature and commentary for a long time. And yes, people who do offer conversion narratives to wider audience often engage in polemics against the faith community they have left.
For example, Thomas Merton, who recounted his troubled youth and adolescence and early adulthood and his ultimate transformation into a Cistercian monk in The Seven Storey Mountain had some pretty harsh things to say about the Protestantism of his youth, just as Rev. Goldstein does about the Jewishness of his youth.
But ultimately, Merton was motivated more by love for his newfound faith community than by animus or resentment for the faith tradition he left behind. For Merton the recriminations eventually come to an end and his narrative is dominated by the evangelical fire and gratitude of a man who has found his spiritual home.
Not so with Rev. Goldstein, who despite his conversion into the UMC, clearly has some scores to settle with the faith community of his youth. His mission study is not a kerygmatic expression of God’s love for humanity, but an indictment of Judaism and Jewishness in the guise of a critique of Israeli policies. On this score, the
While Merton’s conversion ultimately proved to be a kerygmatic trophy for the Roman Catholic Church, Rev. Goldstein is used as something else – a talisman displayed by the United Methodist Church not in a campaign to evangelize, but to portray Israel and the Jewish people as damaged, scarred and incapable of effectively governing themselves and to take advantage of opportunities for peace offered to them by Arab leaders who in reality have – for decades – used hostility toward Israel as a way to distract from the failings of the societies they lead.
On this score, Rev. Goldstein’s narrative is in many ways, similar to the intra-Jewish polemic in the New Testament which includes condemnations of Jews who did not accept Christ, written by those who did. The tragedy and the danger came not when Jews disagreed over the nature of Jesus Christ, but when these condemnations fell into the hands of non-Jews who had no ties to the Jewish community and used them to demonize an entire group of people. It is one thing for Rev. Goldstein, who was raised as a Jew, to project his unhappiness over the Jewishness he experienced as a youth onto the modern state of Israel; it is another thing altogether for a Christian institution to offer such a polemic as a peacemaking document.
And yet, that is what the