Whistling in the Dark at KC-based NCR

By now, the echo between what the Nazis of the 1920s, 30s and 40s said about Jews and what Muslim and Arab leaders in the Middle East say about Israel today is undeniable. Nazis regarded Europe’s Jews as a stain that needed to be eliminated to restore the German people to their rightful place in the world. Extremists in the Middle East portray Israel as a cancer on the Islamic and Arab nation that must be destroyed for the peoples of the Middle East to restore their lost honor. The Nazis regarded the murder of Europe’s Jewry as a redemptive, liberating act. Extremists in the Middle East feel the same way about the hoped-for destruction of Israel.

To those with the ears to listen, echoes of mass rallies in Munich and Nuremberg in the 1930s can be heard today in Lebanon and Iran as Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah and Iranian President Mahmoud Amadinejad leading crowds chanting “Death to Israel.”

Another echo is a bit more difficult to discern – the echo of pacifist Christians whistling in the dark as storm clouds of anti-Semitism gather overseas. Anti-war Christians in the United States whistled in the dark in the 1930s and 40s by portraying Hitler’s rise to power as a consequence of the sins of Western civilization – an accident of history and not a manifestation of evil that needed to be confronted. They whistled in the dark when they called on Western leaders to negotiate with Hitler as late as 1940 – even after he invaded Poland and France and menaced Great Britain. They whistled in the dark when they downplayed the threat Nazis represented to the Jewish people, even as evidence of genocide became undeniable.

The intellectual inheritors of these Christians are whistling the same tune today. They blame Israel and the West for the rise of militant Islam, insist that Israel negotiate with those who call for its destruction, and minimize the threat Muslim extremism poses to Israel. Again, such Christians are denying reality in the name of peace and again, it is the Jew who suffers first.

The notes of denial and fear whistle off pages of National Catholic Reporter, published in Kansas City, Mo. In the pages of the NCR, Muslim and Arab leaders who call for Israel’s elimination cannot be taken at their word, Israelis are responsible for the genocidal hate directed at them, and as soon as the Jewish state renders itself acceptable to those who have called for its destruction by withdrawing to the pre-1967 borders, the Arab-Israeli conflict will come to an end.

The notes of denial and fear whistled off the pages of NCR in late August, when Margot Patterson, an NCR staffer, wrote a 1700-word white-wash of Hezbollah. With the help of cooperative experts, Patterson portrayed the group – whose leader Hassan Nasrallah, has described Jews as “grandsons of apes and pigs” and “Allah’s most cowardly and greedy creatures” – as a “nuanced” and “sophisticated” organization. When readers wrote letters criticizing NCR for failing to offer even a hint of the group’s genocidal agenda in its coverage of Hezbollah, Patterson’s response was to assert that “many scholars and analysts would dispute that Hezbollah is a genocidal organization intent on the extermination of the Jews” and that “While Hezbollah is clearly anti-Zionist and rejects the legitimacy of the state of Israel, Hezbollah has stated that it would accept a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict if that is what the Palestinians desire.”

Sounds nice, but it flies in the face of reality. First off, Hamas, which had controlled the Palestinian Authority for months when Patterson wrote the piece on Hezbollah, flatly rejects Israel’s right to exist. Secondly, the rhetoric issued by Nasrallah is just too appalling to ignore. On October 23, 2002, Nasrallah told the Daily Star in Lebanon that “If they (Jews) all gather in Israel, it will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide.”

Patterson’s refusal to take Nasrallah at his word and willingness to use whatever flimsy excuse she can find to deny the explicit aims of Hezbollah regarding Israel is reminiscent of the posture of Charles Clayton Morrison, who served as editor of Christian Century, another liberal Christian magazine (this one published by the Protestants) during the 1930s and 40s. In 1942 Morrison chastised Rabbi Stephen Wise, from the World Jewish Congress, for allegedly exaggerating the mistreatment of the Jews in Europe.

Just as Patterson could not bring herself to offer a full-throated exposition of Hezbollah’s anti-Semitism, Morrison questioned whether any “good purpose is served” by Wise’s reports about the Holocaust. Of course, after the death camps were liberated, Morrison changed his tune, declaring: “The thing is well-nigh incredible. But it happened.”

Will it take yet another mass killing of Jews – this time by Arab hands – for Patterson to change her tune, just as Morrison changed his?

Patterson even argued, with the help of a cooperative expert – Richard Norton from Boston University – that Hezbollah’s hostility toward Israel is motivated, not by “ideology” but is based on “practice” – namely Israel’s occupation of Lebanon. Again, there are a few problems with this narrative. First, Syria has also invaded and occupied Lebanon (and menaced the Christian community there, by the way) and yet, the Lebanese people mustered a non-violent campaign to rid their country of that foreign power. Why does Israel still warrant Hezbollah’s continuing violent enmity – six years after its withdrawal – while Syria’s occupation elicits a non-violent campaign from the Lebanese people?

Secondly, Israel withdrew from Lebanon six years before Hezbollah attacked this summer. Doesn’t this withdrawal constitute part of Israeli “practice,” the very yardstick Patterson uses to condone Hezbollah’s enmity? It’s clear to most that Hezbollah’s hostility toward Israel is rooted in something deeper than an occupation that ended six years ago.

By virtue of being in charge of the letters to the editor section of NCR, Patterson is able to flood the zone with even more anti-Israel invective. One letter she published stated “Israel need only withdraw to the 1967 border for all hostilities to end.”

Really? Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005 was met with increased violence against its civilians. Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000 was met with a massive military buildup culminating in an attack six years later. Nevertheless, the NCR sees fit to broadcast the notion that Arab and Muslim enmity toward Israel will end with concessions and withdrawals.

Does Margot Patterson really want to gamble her credibility as a journalist – and as a Christian – on Arab and Muslim reasonableness toward Israel? Does the National Catholic Reporter want to make the same bet?

Apparently so.

Dexter Van Zile is Christian Media Analyst for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America.

(This piece was originally published in the Kansas City Jewish Chronicle on Nov. 17, 2006.)

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