Venerable Magazine’s Mideast Bias

Christian Century magazine, a prominent religiously oriented periodical aimed at mainline Protestants—mainly Episcopalians, Presbyterians (U.S.A.), Evangelical Lutherans, United Methodists and United Church of Christ members—has for many years presented a distorted picture of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Established in 1884 in Chicago as a small weekly newspaper by the Disciples of Christ Church, the magazine came to endorse a liberal interpretation of Scripture and opposition to fundamentalist insistence on biblical literalism (Christian Century Foundation Archives).

The magazine had a major hand, in the 1920s and 1930s, in the formation of the National Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches, groups that have regularly espoused anti-Israel positions. These same organizations are opposed by other Protestants, including Christian Zionists, who differ with them on many issues, including the Middle East conflict.

Although mainline denominations in America have experienced a declining membership and now constitute a minority of Protestant Christians, they remain highly influential in politics, academia and the media. Century editor John M. Buchanan is an ordained Presbyterian (U.S.A.) minister, who, in February 1999, succeeded James M. Wall, a United Methodist minister. Although Wall relinquished his position, he continues to write editorial commentaries for the Century, many of which deal with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Wall has been an activist in groups and conferences advocating the Palestinian position such as the Church Education Summit on Palestine (July 2002).

CAMERA’s analysis over the 13-and-a-half month study period (May 2003 to mid-June 2004) found 33 Century articles containing substantive commentary about the Israeli-Arab conflict. While only one of these articles tilted in Israel’s favor, 22 (67 percent) were significantly distorted in their portrayal of Israel and only 10 (30 percent) were basically neutral. The magazine published one article during the study period presenting Israel’s perspective (Sept. 20, 2003, Ira Youdovin) and occasionally published letters protesting Rev. Wall’s unfairness to Israel. 

Wall’s Editorial Commentaries

During the period of the study, Wall authored 15 editorials; of these, eight (53 percent) dealt, at least in part, with the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. All eight were biased against Israel. Arab world calamities—such as the Arab slaughter and enslavement of millions of Christians and others in Sudan—receive scant attention from Wall, who writes obsessively about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

June 17, 2004: ‘Friends Like These’

Wall repeats even the most absurd and propagandistic canards. In “Friends Like These,” he relied on a report by Robert Fisk, correspondent for London’s Independent newspaper, attributing much of the responsibility for American prisoner abuse in Iraq to the Israelis:

From its creation in 1948 through the Six-Day War in 1967, an oil-deprived Israel struggled to accommodate its new status as a nation and was not a factor in U.S. strategic planning. But after 1967, Israel emerged as a powerful military ally, on call as needed. With the Iraq war and its occupation aftermath, the White House looked for help with an Arab opponent. Who you gonna call? Robert Fisk of the London Independent offers this answer: The actual interrogators accused of encouraging U.S. troops to abuse Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib jail were working for at least one company with extensive military and commercial contacts with Israel. The head of an American company whose personnel are implicated in the Iraqi tortures, it now turns out, attended an “anti-terror” training camp in Israel and, earlier this year, was presented with an award by Shaul Mofaz…the Israeli defense minister.

As is the case with many of Wall’s sources, Fisk is unreliable and entirely partisan. The gross distortion implicating Israel was based on a visit to Israel of Dr. Jack London, the CEO of a major U.S. defense contractor, CACI, which is represented in many countries including Germany, Korea and Japan. In Israel, Dr. London received the Albert Einstein Technology Award, a recognition bestowed on a number of notables including a former Apple Computers president, a Walt Disney chairman and a National Semiconductors CEO. There is not a scintilla of evidence that Israel was involved in the abuse at Abu Ghraib.

In another distortion, Wall said:

But it is hard to ignore the reality–though U.S. media do what they can to soft-pedal it–that Israel has conducted a stifling four-decade-long military occupation of land that belongs to the Palestinians…Until 9/11 it seemed that the U.S. might be able to persuade Israel to end its illegal occupation.

Wall here misrepresents the basics of history–modern and ancient. The West Bank is disputed territory whose ultimate disposition is to be settled in negotiations in accordance with U.N. Resolution 242. While the Jewish people have deep historical and religious ties to the land, in modern times the government of Israel has ceded large portions to the Palestinian Authority with the expectation that a renunciation of hostility would be given in return. This, of course, has not happened and Israel has therefore had to re-take some of the territory.

May 4, 2004: ‘Brutal Blunder’

In “Brutal Blunder,” Wall, referring to a proposed U.N. Security Council resolution criticizing Israel’s assassination of Sheik Ahmed Yassin, said:

By this veto, the U.S. gave its seal of approval to Israel’s violation of Article 3 (1) of the Fourth Geneva convention, which prohibits “the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court.”

Once again, Wall glides over the facts. Assassinating the head of a terrorist group who has incited and directly authorized lethal bombings, is justified; Article 3 deals only with the need to avoid harming persons taking no active part in the hostilities. Moreover, according to Anne Bayefsky, Columbia Law School Professor, these killings are

not extra-judicial because the legal term, by definition, applies only to individuals entitled to judicial process before being targeted. Combatants– including the unlawful combatants of Hamas who seek to make themselves indistinguishable from the civilian population–are not entitled to such prior judicial process. Furthermore, the manual on the laws of armed conflict of the International Committee of the Red Cross, states that “civilians who take a direct part in hostilities forfeit their immunity from attack.”

Aug. 23, 2003: ‘Walled In’

In “Walled In,” James Wall mis-characterized Israel’s security fence, saying, “the wall cuts deeply into occupied Palestinian areas…an obvious land grab.” The writer ignores the fence’s dramatic success in stopping terrorists and Sharon’s support of a state for the Palestinians, saying: “His [Sharon’s] wall of separation is another step toward rendering the Palestinians hopeless.”

Previous Wall Editorials

Typical of the reckless statements Wall has favored over the years was his allegation in a December 4, 2002 commentary accusing the Israelis of planning to transfer Palestinians out of the occupied areas into neighboring countries under cover of the Iraq war. Although obviously no such action was planned or executed, Wall never apologized for the smear.

An Advocate for the Palestinians

Although Wall is a clergyman in a faith based on the teachings of the Bible, he evinces no sympathy for the Jewish people and their religious, historical ties to Israel. On the contrary, the level of animosity and mendacity in his commentaries resemble those found in fringe, anti-Israel secular publications and propagandistic Web sites. It is to be hoped that readers of the Christian Century are not misled by Wall’s inaccuracies but instead turn to more reliable news sources for information on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

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