The Stubborn Antisemitism of Yahoo and The Christian Century

Note: The following piece appeared at The Gatestone Institute on Dec. 16, 2014.
Yahoo, the well-known search engine company, has apparently decided that an antisemitic website, Veterans News Now [VNN], is a credible news source. People who rely on Yahoo’s news aggregator to view information about the Middle East and the Arab-Israeli conflict will now find in their news feed links to articles published on this website, which traffics in Holocaust denial and displays articles that blame Israel for the attack against the United States on Sept. 11, 2001. This scandal was exposed last week by Gilead Ini, a colleague at the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America [CAMERA].

Yahoo should not be mainstreaming a website that posts like this. Moreover, it is not the only entity helping to make VNN look like a respectable website.

James M. Wall, former editor of The Christian Century, a magazine that caters to liberal (mainline) Protestants in the United States, is also helping to mainstream the website. He does this by having his articles published on the website and by agreeing to serve as an “associate editor” for the publication. During his decades-long career at The Christian Century, Wall was the standard-bearer for liberal Protestantism in the United States. As a result of his recent actions, Wall’s name and writings will be forever linked with virulent antisemitism.

Historically, behavior like this would result in Wall’s being expelled from polite society in the United States, but Wall’s name remains on The Christian Century’s masthead where he is listed as contributing editor.

While it is a shock that the people who run The Christian Centurywill not move to disassociate themselves from its former editor and the scandal he has created, it should not come as much of a surprise. Historically, The Christian Century has had a difficult relationship with the Jewish people, a fact acknowledged in the pages of the magazine itself a few decades ago.

The History

A year after Wall took over as editor of the publication in 1972, The Christian Century published a review of American Protestantism and a Jewish State by Hertzel Fishman. The book, published by Wayne State Press in 1973, was a study about the attitudes of mainline Protestants in the U.S. toward the Jewish people and their homeland during the first several decades of the 20thcentury.

The laudatory review, written by Seymour J. Cohen, and published under the heading of “Editor’s Choice,” was more than a treatment of the book in question, but a harbinger of how The Christian Century was going to confront its well-documented historical hostility toward the Jewish people during their time of trial in Europe. It also provided some clues about how the magazine would relate to the Jewish people in the decades ahead.

Fishman, who accurately depicted The Christian Century as a bellwether of mainline Protestant attitudes toward Jews and their homeland in the decades before, during and after Israel’s creation, detailed numerous instances in which the magazine behaved in a discriminatory manner toward the Jewish people. It was an ugly story.

Fishman documented how the magazine had condemned Jewish efforts to maintain a distinctive identity in American society, opposed Jewish efforts to obtain a sovereign state, and expressed contempt for Jewish support for America’s entry into World War II.

When Rabbi Stephen Wise, president of the World Jewish Congress, tried to warn the American people about the murder of European Jewry in 1942,The Christian Century’s editor Charles Clayton Morrison denounced him, accusing Wise of exaggerating the threat and asking what his motives were. The magazine eventually acknowledged that the Holocaust did take place, but never apologized for its mistreatment of Rabbi Wise.

The episode remains a black mark on the legacy of the man who served as editor and publisher ofThe Christian Century after buying the struggling magazine from the Disciples of Christ in the early 1900s. Simply put, Morrison had an antipathy for the Jews and it showed in the publication he ran. On a couple of occasions, the magazine under Morrison’s watch made comparisons between the Germans and the Jews they tried to kill. The magazine, for example, in 1933 published an editorial that claimed Jewish nationalism caused the crucifixion of Jesus, just as Christian nationalism was doing the same thing to the Jews in Germany: “Let the Jews see themselves as suffering from the same cause as that which put Jesus of Nazareth to death,” the magazine stated. And in 1945, the magazine expressed hope that after their defeat in World War II, the Germans would not embrace a “martyr complex” and become “another Jewry.”

Comparisons such as these prompted Fishman to conclude that, “The pages of The Christian Century carried little criticism with regard to other nationalist groups. American nationalism is applauded, and the nationalist aspirations of colonially held societies are respected. Only Nazi nationalism and Jewish nationalism are put in the same category.”

Clearly, The Christian Century has a lot to answer for, a point reluctantly acknowledged in 1973 by James M. Wall, the publication’s newly appointed editor. Wall, who had been hired as editor of the magazine in 1972, published a defensive preface to Cohen’s review of Fishman’s book.

The preface, which included a reluctant admission that the magazine had made some terrible mistakes in its coverage of the Jewish people, was marred by a troubling petulance. “Nobody else looked good either in the matter of World War II and the Jews,” it stated.

Such an evasion is simply not worthy of anyone who adheres to the most basic tenets of journalistic or Christian ethics. It is more worthy of a teenager arrested for smoking pot or underage drinking: “Everyone else is doing it.”

In reality,noteveryone else was doing it. Some Christians did object vehemently to the Holocaust as it was happening, just not the people who ran The Christian Century.

There was a reason behind theThe Christian Century‘s reluctance to address the Holocaust as it was happening — and after. Charles Clayton Morrison was decidedly anti-Zionist and if his magazine did offer a full-throated condemnation of what was happening to the Jews, it would legitimate the creation a Jewish state in the Middle East. In February 1943, after the magazine started to acknowledge that, in fact, something terrible was happening to the Jews in Europe, it argued against allowing them entrance to the British Mandate (now Israel), but instead argued, “There are many other temporary places of refuge available, in Russia, the Near East and in North Africa. At a pinch, perhaps the United States.”

The preface also implicitly defends The Christian Century’s right to criticize Israel: “Automatic defense of everything Israeli,” it stated, “does not make a good test of the presence or absence of anti
-Semitism.” But Fishman was not challenging anyone’s right to criticize the Jewish state. What he objected to was the patently unfair treatment the magazine had accorded Jews and Israel when fair coverage was most badly needed. The magazine had thrown the Jewish people into the gutter just when the Jews were most entitled to support.

Still, as ambiguous as the preface was, it seemed to signal that under Wall’s leadership, the magazine would behave differently in the years ahead. And for a while, early on in Wall’s tenure as editor, the magazine did acknowledge, after a fashion, Arab hostility toward the Jewish state. But as time passed, the publication became a regular font of anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian propaganda.

In the editorials published in the magazine during Wall’s time as editor, Muslim and Arab hostility toward Israel and Jews was downplayed and ignored while Jewish wrongdoing was highlighted. Palestinian violence was depicted as an attempt to achieve sovereignty, and not as an attempt to deny the Jews their right to sovereignty. In the main, Palestinians’ actions were explained; Israelis’ actions were condemned.

As Wall’s tenure proceeded, The Christian Century became fundamentally hostile toward the Jewish state, largely mirroring — and fueling — the cult of anti-Zionism that existed in mainline Protestant churches in the United States. Under Wall’s leadership, the magazine treated the Jewish state just as the magazine had treated Jews under Morrison’s leadership.

When Wall retired from his post as editor of The Christian Century in 1999 and took on the title of Senior Contributing Editor at the magazine (a title held until 2008 when he became just another one of the magazine’s several contributing editors), his anti-Israel bent became even more pronounced. In his regular columns, Wall’s obsession with Israel became full-blown, with his writings becoming increasingly unhinged from reality. In 2005, he wrote a piece that falsely asserted that Israel’s security barrier completely surrounded the city of Bethlehem. Also that year, he described Hezbollah and Hamas — two terrorist organizations — as “Muslim non-governmental groups.”

And in 2006, he called on Israel to accept a “hudna” [temporary truce] offered by Hamas, relying on the testimony of Palestinian scholar Azzam Tamimi to buttress the credibility of the offer. The problem was that Tamimi himself had previously promised and called for Israel’s destruction, a fact Wall ignored. In sum, Wall repeatedly downplayed Islamist hostility toward Israel.

When presented with evidence of Wall’s factual errors, the publication declined to correct them. For one reason or another, The Christian Century simply could not, or would not hold Wall accountable to the standards of journalism. The magazine would make corrections to stories unrelated to Israel, but would refuse to correct stories related to the Jewish state.

Simply put, the Jewish homeland got differential treatment in the pages of The Christian Century. Human rights abuses in Muslim and Arab countries simply did not get the treatment they deserved. It was not a full-blown return to the problems highlighted in Fishman’s book, but it had troubling echoes of what Morrison had done with the magazine in the 1930s and 40s.

The anti-Israelism evident in the pages of The Christian Century when Wall was editor and in his columns after he retired to become “Senior Contributing Editor” was part of a larger phenomenon within mainline Protestantism in the U.S. By the middle part of the last decade, leaders and peace activists in mainline churches — the magazine’s constituency — started to promote overtures and resolutions that called on churches to divest from companies that did business with Israel.

These leaders and peace activists ignored manifest human rights abuses elsewhere in the Middle East. In promoting these resolutions, these leaders and peace activists relied on the distorted and dishonest dhimmi [1] narrative offered by Palestinian Christians. Naim Ateek, for example, used anti-Judaic tropes from the New Testament to portray the modern state of Israel as a Christ-killing nation and a singular obstacle to peace in the Middle East.

The realization was slow in coming, but eventually, some people in mainline churches started to realize that these overtures were causing more damage to mainline Protestantism than they were to Israel. One of the people who figured it out was Wall’s replacement, John Buchanan, a prominent pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA) who became editor and publisher of The Christian Century in 1999.

When the ugliness of mainline anti-Zionism became manifest,The Christian Century published an article by Amy-Jill Levine that highlighted and condemned Naim Ateek’s ugly polemics. And when anti-Zionists started really to damage the reputation of the Presbyterian Church (USA), the magazine started to take on the divestment movement head on. In 2010, Buchanan was one of the pastors who condemned and opposed the approval of a dishonest report about the Arab-Israeli conflict at the PC(USA)’s General Assembly in Minneapolis.

And prior to the 2014 General Assembly of the PC(USA), The Christian Century published an article opposing the divestment resolution that ultimately passed at the General Assembly. With these actions, Buchanan tried to put the genie of anti-Zionism back into the bottle — the genie that his publication supported while James Wall ran and wrote for the magazine.

Bias Still Present

An anti-Israel bias still manifests itself in the pages of the magazine. Books offering a distorted anti-Israel viewpoint are still lauded by reviewers in the magazine, and the news brief section at the front of the book is still good for a steady diet of articles that highlight problems in Israeli society, but which soft-pedal Palestinian misdeeds. But the condemnations of Israel are not nearly as harsh as they were a few years ago, and that “lapse” apparently infuriates mainline anti-Zionists who pine for the days when James Wall ran or wrote for the magazine. Now they can only look at his name in the magazine’s masthead.

These days, folks who want to read Wall’s articles can find them on the Veterans News Now website, where he has lionized terrorists who have murdered Israelis, portrayed Presbyterians who worked against divestment in their church as “Israeli agents” and has obliquely compared Israeli soldiers to “brown-shirted party members rampaging through the streets of Germany’s towns and cities as the Nazis came to power.”

In 1973, James Wall edited a magazine that condemned, albeit reluctantly, the anti-Jewish sentiment that appeared in its pages during the 1930s and 40s. Forty-plus years later, Wall is now writing for an online publication that is trafficking in even worse antisemitism than The Christian Century ever did. And his defamation of Israel has become even worse.

Last year, I contacted both the editors of the magazine and the trustees of the foundation that controls it, with information about Wall’s involvement with VNN. Executive Editor David Heim made it perfectly clear that the magazine will not remove him from its masthead. “James Wall did a lot for our magazine,” he said in July 2013. “He deserves to be on our masthead.”

The crimes of The Christian Century continue unabated.

Dexter Van Zile is the Christian Media Analyst at CAMERA

[1] Dhimmi is an Arabic word referring to non-Muslim citizens of an Islamic state. Under Islamic sharia law, dhimmis have the right of residence and “protection” in exchange for the specia ljizyah head-tax collected from non-Muslims.

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