After sending the letter to the UCC’s Conference Ministers, CAMERA has received an email from one of these conference ministers. The message, sent on Feb. 4, 2014, reads: “Thank you for your email. Rev. Jim Moos, Executive for Wider Church Ministries of the national setting is preparing a response to your comments and questions.”
Burge Got Israeli Fatalities Wrong
On page 171, Rev. Dr. Burge reports that from 1987 to mid-1998, “178 Israelis (mostly settlers),” were killed by Palestinian violence.
A look at B’Tselem’s statistics for the number of fatalities during the First Intifada, reveal that this is an egregious misrepresentation of the facts.
B’Tselem’s website indicates that between 1987 and the end of 1998, a total of 91 Israeli civilians were killed in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.
B’Tselem’s figures for the number of Israelis killed within the green line for the same time frame totals 176.
So, even accounting for the difference between “mid-1998” and the end of 1998, it is quite clear that Rev. Dr. Burge got the numbers of Israeli deaths wrong in two ways.
First, there was a total of 267 Israeli deaths between 1987 and 1998, well above the 178 deaths Rev. Dr. Burge reported.
Second, most of these deaths took place inside the green line, so Rev. Dr. Burge’s description of these deaths as being of “mostly settlers” is also false. Most of the Israelis were killed on undisputed territory.
This may seem unimportant, but for people who live in Israel, it matters a lot.
First, deaths inside the green line confirm for Israelis that the conflict is not about the settlements but about Israel’s existence.
Second, if you look at the numbers of Israelis killed by Palestinians in the 1990s, you’ll see an increase of deaths took place after the Declaration of Principles (AKA, the Oslo Accords) were signed. This does not inspire confidence on the part of the Israelis when it comes to negotiating with the Palestinians.
And as Rev. Dr. Burge says on page 133 of his text, “The little things add up…”
Let’s hope Rev. Jim Moos does the right thing and apologizes for Pilgrim Press’s decision to publish this text and initiate an investigation into how such a text was produced by a denomination that has officially rejected supersessionism.
Below is the text of the letter sent to the UCC’s Conference Ministers:
A Note on a Book Published by the Pilgrim Press (Whose Land? Whose Promise?)
Dear [Conference Minister]
I write to you from the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA). CAMERA is a media-monitoring organization that promotes factual coverage of the Middle East with a particular emphasis on the Arab-Israeli conflict.
I write about a book published by The Pilgrim Press, the publishing house of the United Church of Christ. The book is Whose Land? Whose Promise? What Christians Are Not Being Told about Israel and the Palestinians. This book, written by Rev. Dr. Gary Burge, a professor at Wheaton College in Illinois, is marred by misstatements of fact and material omissions all of which serve to demonize Israel.
The errors are so egregious and numerous that when informed of the errors, Pilgrim Press invited CAMERA to produce a 6” x 9” (double-sided) insert to accompany future purchases of the text. CAMERA immediately accepted this offer which was sadly rescinded when the publisher was informed by her staff at Pilgrim Press that to include an insert with the text would violate the author’s copyright and therefore could not be done without the author’s permission – which apparently is not forthcoming. (A draft of the insert is attached to this email.)
For information about CAMERA’s interaction with Pilgrim Press, go here. Information about the factual problems associated with the first and second editions of this text can be found here, here and here. (If I were to recount all the factual errors in my correspondence to you, this letter would be too long to read in one sitting.)
The text’s factual misstatements and omissions are bad enough, but what is even more troubling is the manner in which the author promotes supersessionism and uses anti-Judaic arguments to encourage readers to regard Israel with contempt. (Supersessionism is the belief that Christianity – or Islam – has superseded Judaism and that the Jewish people no longer have a role to play in God’s plan for humanity.)
What is so remarkable – and troubling – about this text is that it was produced by Pilgrim Press, which is owned and operated by the UCC, a denomination that has previously condemned supersessionism. In 1987, the UCC’s General Synod affirmed a resolution that called on UCC officials and teachers to work towards promoting an “understanding of Judaism and the Jewish people as a continuing witness in Covenant to God’s presence in the world.”
The theological rationale that preceded the “whereas” and “resolved” section of the 1987 resolution stated that “a negative portrayal of the Jewish people and of Judaism has been a factor in the shaping of anti-Jewish attitudes of societies and the policies of governments. The most devastating lethal metastasis of this process occurred in our own century during the Holocaust.” The rationale concludes:
Faced with this history from which we as Christians cannot, and must not, disassociate ourselves, we ask for God’s forgiveness through our Lord Jesus Christ. We pray for divine grace that will enable us, more firmly than ever before, to turn from this path of rejection and persecution to affirm that Judaism has not been superseded by Christianity; that Christianity is not to be understood as the successor religion to Judaism; God’s covenant with the Jewish people has not been abrogated. God has not rejected the Jewish people. God is faithful in keeping covenant.
Implicit in this message was a plea for a humane (and honest) depiction of the Jewish people and their institutions, but Rev. Dr. Burge has not heard this plea. This was particularly evident in one passage in the first edition of the text where the author invoked the Gospel of John, (chapter 15 verse 6) in a pretty ugly way to portray Israeli Jews as living without Jesus Christ’s permission in the land of Israel. The verse reads: “If a man does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned.” Just invoking this verse in reference to the modern state of Israel is bad enough, how Rev. Dr. Burge interprets it is even worse:
God’s vineyard, the land of Israel, now only has one vine, Jesus. The people of Israel cannot claim to be planted as vines in the land; they cannot be rooted in the vineyard unless first they are grafted into Jesus. Branches that attempt living in the land, the vineyard, which refused to be attached to Jesus will be cast out and burned. (Whose Land? Whose Promise? (2003) page 176)
This qualifies as what Christian theologian James Parkes called “the literature of attack” against Jews. Fortunately, Rev. Dr. Burge softened his interpretation of this passage in the second edition, but he still uses John 15:6 in the second edition to undermine Israel’s legitimacy. And sadly, other examples of anti-Judaism are still present in the second edition.
For example, the author reports that Palestinian Christians “claim that they are reliving for the first time in history the conditions of the first century church, in which a Christian minority is suffering under the rule of a Jewish majority.” Here the author is trafficking in an anti-Judaic trope that is inaccurate on two levels.
First, the Jews did not “rule” Jerusalem in the First Century, C.E.
And second, Israel is the one country in the Middle East where the indigenous population of Christians has increased in the last several decades. The Statistical Abstract of Israel reports that in 1949, there were approximately 34,000 Christians living in Israel. The vast majority of these people were Arab Christians. At the end of 2011, there were approximately, 125,000 Arab Christians living in Israel. This is a 268 percent increase, a striking anomaly in a region where Christians are being driven from their homes en masse in Iraq and Syria and are subject to pogroms in Egypt. And yet, Rev. Dr. Burge seeks to portray Christians as living in “fear of the Jews” as if they are reenacting John 20:19.
My hope is that this correspondence will prompt responsible individuals within the UCC to investigate the manner in which this book was contracted, vetted, edited and produced, and prevail upon Pilgrim Press to remainder copies of both the first and second editions of the text. Given the UCC’s stance on supersessionism, there is simply no way the denomination’s publishing house can justify the publication of this text.
Dexter Van Zile
Christian Media Analyst