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October 10, 2012 3:59 am

To Counter Christian anti-Israelism, It’s Time to go Local

avatar by Dexter Van Zile

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The UMC Church in Watertown.

Every year it seems that they put the Christmas decorations into the stores earlier and earlier. When I was a kid, you wouldn’t see the decorations until after Thanksgiving, but these days you can see them just about everywhere a few days after Halloween.

Thanksgiving is almost skipped altogether. The kids like to see the decorations when they are first put up, but by the end of the season, they are exhausted with the holiday.

A similar process is taking place in American mainline churches. Preparations for the debate over the Arab-Israeli conflict that takes place every summer at the national gatherings of these churches used to start sometime in the spring.

Not this year. Preparations for next summer’s mainline assemblies began in early October – last Friday to be exact – when officials from five denominations sent a letter to a lame duck Congress asking that it examine foreign aid sent to Israel.

The letter, issued late in the day on Oct. 5, urges Congress to start “an immediate investigation into the possible violations” of federal laws that prohibit “assistance to any country which engages in a consistent pattern of human rights violations and limit the use of U.S. weapons to ‘internal security’ or ‘legitimate self-defense.'”

The letter goes on to urge Congress “to undertake careful scrutiny to ensure that our aid is not supporting actions by the government of Israel that undermine the prospects for peace” and urges Congress to hold hearings to examine Israel’s compliance with U.S. law and to examine whether or not Israel should continue to get aid.

The letter, signed by 15 Christian leaders, including representatives from the National Council of Churches and a number of mainline Protestant denominations, provoked angry and articulate responses from the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA), the American Jewish Committee (AJC), and the Rabbinical Assembly of Conservative Rabbis (RA). The JCPA was spot-on when it said the letter represents an escalation in anti-Israel activity.

Taken together these statements make all the relevant points – that the letter singles Israel out for condemnation, ignores human rights abuses elsewhere in the region and exhibits a troubling antipathy toward the Jewish state. The RA points out that the letter was “released on the eve of Shabbat, just before a long weekend of Jewish and American holidays. And it was distributed at a time when Congress is out of session, in the midst of a general election campaign.”

That is remarkable, isn’t it? The letter was sent to a lame-duck Congress whose members were out campaigning! It is also remarkable that the letter was not precipitated by any event in the news. It makes no reference to any specific outrage or tragedy, but instead speaks in global terms about the deaths of civilians, home demolitions, settler violence and other problems all of which are highlighted to undermine U.S. financial support for Israel. There is simply no news hook for this letter.

What is going on?

Enter CMEP

Interestingly enough, the letter dovetails quite nicely with the recent electioneering efforts of Churches for Middle East Peace, or CMEP for short. CMEP, a group supported in large part by mainline churches, lobbies Congress, the State Department and the White House. The organization states that it promotes the cause of peace, but ultimately, the organization behaves as a pro-Palestinian lobby in Washington, D.C.

It’s too strong to say it works as an adjunct to the PLO Mission in our nation’s capitol, but not by much. In years past, when Corinne Whitlach, an inveterate anti-Israel activist led the organization, it recycled Palestinian accusations that Israel was trying to undermine the Al Aqsa Mosque. Accusations like this have gotten people killed.

These days, under the leadership of former State Department Ambassador Warren Clark, the organization is much more circumspect and focuses a lot of its attention on protecting foreign aid to the Palestinian Authority. In this statement, CMEP says cutting aid “to the Palestinian government and people is detrimental to Israeli, Palestinian, and U.S. interests alike.”

And in its most recent electioneering material, CMEP asks its supporters to send a letter to their U.S. Representatives and Senators that reads in part as follows:

As a Christian and supporter of Churches for Middle East Peace, I am concerned about the uncertainty of U.S. aid to Palestinians in the budget and how some lawmakers want to use the funds to score political points. Last year, several politicians supported cutting this funding for humanitarian aid, development and security to punish the Palestinians for pursuing recognition in the United Nations. Do you support continued aid to Palestinians at reasonable levels and what conditions do you think are appropriate to maintain aid to Palestinians in future budgets?

Do you see what’s going on?

The CMEP letter sent to Congress via its supporters protects Palestinian funding.

The letter sent to Congress by leaders of mainline churches – which support CMEP – attacks Israeli funding.

You can draw your own conclusions about whether or not there is any coordination going on, but the double standard is obvious. One could just as easily ask that Congress investigate the Palestinian Authority, which receives substantial support from American taxpayers, for violations of the laws that mainline Protestants are invoking.

Setting the stage

There is more going on here than partisan electioneering, however. The letter is also a signal that the Israel will be on the agenda at next year’s national gatherings of three mainline churches – the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the United Church of Christ, and the Disciples of Christ.

To understand what’s going on, we need some background, so here goes:

Every summer a few of the mainline churches have their national assemblies at which they typically fight over gay marriage (or ordination) and over how to reorganize their denominational bureaucracies in the face of declining membership. The churches are shrinking, so are budgets. Somebody has to lose his or her job; the only question is who. It’s a deeply political and painful process that takes place at these national gatherings.

As a distracting palliative, these churches also talk about the Arab-Israeli conflict, or more to the point, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which has caused the deaths of several thousand people since the beginning of the Second Intifada in 2000. The discussion surrounds resolutions or reports introduced to the denominations’ membership sometime in the spring. The impetus for these resolutions is a stated desire to stay in solidarity with Palestinian Christians, most of whom live in the West Bank and blame Israel for their suffering.

The crucial factor is that these Christians blame the Jewish state for their suffering. Just as Jews have historically been the low-cost, no-cost target of defamation and abuse, so is their homeland.

By way of comparison, Muslim oppression against Christians in Muslim-majority countries simply does not merit attention from these churches. In the past two summers, violence against Copts in Egypt and Assyrian Christians in Iraq has largely gone unnoticed at mainline assemblies, as has violence against Christians in Nigeria.

Signs of Spring

In any event, the release of these reports or resolutions, which assail the Jewish state and remain silent about the sins of its adversaries, are a sure sign that spring has arrived and that summer of anti-Israel discontent will soon follow.

These resolutions (or “overtures” as the Presbyterians call them), are as perennial as the grass. Once these resolutions start appearing on denominational websites, you can rest assured that a few months later, mainline “peace” activists will be queuing up at microphones at convention centers throughout the country in support of a resolution portraying the Arab-Israeli conflict as the great insuperable wound on humanity that requires all good people to engage in a campaign of economic isolation against the Jewish state.

Before the resolutions make it to the floor of the assembly, Jewish peace activists testify in committee hearings to reassure delegates that singling Israel out for condemnation is not anti-Semitic (perish the thought!) and that there are Jews who support the distorted, whack-job narrative offered by the “peace” activists in their church. (Forgive me. “Whack-job” is not in my AP Style Manual, but it seems appropriate.)

Activists who have visited Gaza and the West Bank then complain about the evils of the occupation and argue that the suffering of the Jews in Europe during the Holocaust does not justify the oppression of the Palestinians decades later. They talk of the hospitality they have enjoyed at Palestinian dinner tables and how evil the Israeli soldiers are. The role of groups like Hamas and Hezbollah play in fomenting violence against Israel and Jews is ignored and the theological roots of Islamist hostility toward Israel are not discussed.

Pro-Israel activists, who generally play a game of defense against the anti-Israel resolutions, oppose the passage of these resolutions, with good effect. The craziest anti-Israel resolutions don’t make it out of committee, but some of the more “reasonable” resolutions get passed while the suffering of Christians in Muslim-majority countries in the Middle East, North Africa and Asia goes ignored.

After the assemblies end a new fight begins in which people argue about what actually happened and what it means. Then activist groups like Sabeel conduct their fall tours and use their recent success, however muted, to encourage the faithful and recruit new members to their cause. The pro-Israel activists continue in their game of defense and try to convince the leaders of the denominational headquarters in places like Louisville, New York or Chicago to rein in the anti-Israel activism. It doesn’t work.

Things are quiet until Advent, which brings with it a blip of anti-Israel activism as anti-Israel activists start portraying the poor, pitiful Palestinians as the modern-day equivalent of Mary and Joseph who are unable to find a place to give birth to the infant Jesus because of the misdeeds of an evil, oppressive empire.

To take advantage of this blip, CMEP regularly issues Advent related materials to highlight Palestinian problems while ignoring the failings of Palestinian leaders. It does the same thing for Lent, in the weeks prior to Easter.

The anti-Israel activism kicks into high-gear after Easter, however, when regional or state assemblies or conferences of the mainline churches meet and submit resolutions about the conflict to their national assemblies. Some resolutions call for the church to declare Israel an apartheid state, others call for a boycott of products made in the West Bank and yet others call upon the churches to sell their stock in companies like Caterpillar. The texts of these resolutions are posted on the denominational websites and the cycle begins again.

As a result of this cumulative process, a boycott of goods made in the West Bank is gathering steam.

The process is hugely divisive and damaging to the collective lives of the churches that embrace it and as a result, some churches have taken a breather from anti-Israel activism. This is done through skillful stage managing on the part of denomination leaders who want to keep their churches from fighting over yet another divisive issue at their national assemblies.

The Presbyterian Church (USA) never seems to tire from the fight, but a few churches, like the Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ, the Disciples of Christ and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) have kept a lid on the anti-Israelism in their churches for the past few years.

In light of this relative quiescence, the signatures from the leaders of the UCC, ELCA and the Disciples of Christ on this letter are remarkable.

Their call to investigate Israeli human rights violations gives peace activists in these churches the pretext they need to recount – at next summer’s assemblies – all of the “terrible things” that Israel has done – without having to recount or acknowledge the mistakes the Palestinians have made.

At this point, it seems reasonable to ask some questions of the anti-Israel activists who drive this process and the denominational leaders who stage manage it.

Where are the letters calling on Congress to withhold funds from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip? (Hint: There aren’t any.)

Where are the letters from these churches calling on the PA to put a stop to anti-Israel incitement on TV stations run by Fatah and Hamas? (Hint: There aren’t any. In fact, CMEP is working to ensure the money keeps flowing into the PA and by extension, to Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.)

And while we’re at it, where are the letters calling on Congress to investigate how another recipient of U.S. aid – Egypt – has failed to protect the rights of Coptic Christians in the land of their birth? (Do I have to say it? There aren’t any.)

George Orwell would call the people who engage in this type of peacemaking functionally pro-Islamist, but that type of logic just does not compute with the people who run these churches. They have been living in a bubble of their own making for so long that they feel invulnerable to any factual or logical challenge to the story they’ve been telling.

It is time to pierce this bubble at its most vulnerable point – local churches. Just as the CMEP has encouraged anti-Israel activists to put their legislators on the spot about the funding they provide to Israel, it is time for people to put local churches on the spot for the funding they provide to the ongoing campaign of defamation of the Jewish state.

It is the local churches that pay the salaries of the people who write these letters and support institutions such as CMEP, which as I stated before, has called upon its supporters to write letters to local newspapers challenging lawmakers about their stand on American aid to the Palestinians.

It is time to write letters to the local newspapers that put local churches, their pastors, their deacons, elders or presbyters on the spot about the story their denominations tell about the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Do they support the ongoing attack on Israel that has been perpetrated by their church leaders, and extremists in their denomination for most of the past decade?

Do they support the ugly double standard their denominations have applied to the conflict? Do they support the demonization of Israel?

If they do not, then what are they going to do to rein in the so-called peace activists that have hijacked their denominations?

What are they going to do to hold their denominational leaders accountable?

These are legitimate questions that need to be presented to congregants and leaders of local churches in the months ahead.

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  • Jeanette Heesaker

    Does anyone read their Bible anymore? There are strong warnings against those who stand against Israel in my Bible.

    Why would men and women of who profess to be leaders in the Church community sign letters against Israel and send them to our government leaders? By doing so, they are demonstrating their ignorance of God’s Word and what God says will be the consequences of their actions. The behavior of the ELCA leadership and otheres like them have encouraged me to buy the products they want to boycott.

  • Israel is the most hated country on earth. The churches that support BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) have jumped on the bandwagon. One of the things they are doing–although they don’t know it–is closing the door on an independent Palestinian state. How can the Arabs sign an agreement with the most hated of all countries? How can they negotiate with such a pariah? And so they will never get independence as long as this goes on. The only way there can be an independent Palestine is with Israel, not against it.

  • Doris Wise

    I would like the names of the protestant churches please?

  • Andy Bendzin

    I’m a Christian. But that kind of stuff just makes me sick. Maybe most here will not agree with it. However, a careful reading of the New Testament makes it clear that God never forsook Israel in favor of the church. This is what the “church” concocted throughout almost its entire history. Yet, it’s not based on biblical truth. Even so some verses may be seen as against the Jews, let’s not forget that the writers, aside from Luke, were all together Jews who accepted Yeshua as their Messiah. Therefore we deal with statements made from Jews to Jews. Once the church became dominantly Gentile, these same Gentiles turned it around to justify their own beliefs. Why is it that for so many centuries, America has been a staunch supporter of the Jews and Israel? It’s because those that left the old world did so because they wanted to heed God’s word rather than man’s doctrine. In America they could do that. What we see today in America amongst many denominations is a falling away from the word of God. New “gospels” replace Yeshua’s atoning work on the cross with a social gospel that is quite different. Thanks to liberal theology poisoning the churches going back to the 1930s.

  • vinnie gambini

    Go ahead and stop all aid to Israel.

    But-at the same time, don’t be hypocritical- remember to ALSO stop all U.S. NGO funding & activties around the world too.
    (Just as Putin realised and expelled all U.S. NGO’s from Russia. NGO is transparent deception, illegal nonsense & interference in other countrys’ politics, right?

    But, back to Israel again.
    Once the U.S. breaks the ‘unbreakable’ bonds with Israel, the ONLY true democratic ally in the M.E. you realise CA,RU,CH,IN,BR are all waiting to pick up the most dynamic country in the M.E. …..Israel.
    Gd given, with prophecies to reconcile with.
    He who blessed my people will be blessed,
    he who curses my people will be cursed.

    Go ahead, make my day, reach for it sanctimonious hypocrit, meanwhile today another 40 rockets landed in Israel, it doesn’t even hit the news anymore.

    The ICC, Interpol, UN, et-al aren’t even interested in this clear and obvious violation international law, crimes against humanity, etc etc.

    Gd bless Israel, the IDF and may her enemies be cursed with confusion, chaos and pandemonium.

  • charles l. richman

    The next time an organization threatens to boycott Israel or divest in Israeli products do not hesitate to mention that if a close relative or friend should require some of the following medical or life saving devices they would have to refuse their use since they were built, invented, or developed in Israel:
    The PillCam (capsule endoscopy) for detecting SO YOU WANT TO BOYCOTT/DIVEST IN ISRAEL:
    1. blockages or other problems in the intestine and esophagus. This device is ingestible.
    2. TA Count-A Real-Time Microbiology—Detection and Counting Harmful Microorganisms in pharmaceuticals, food and drink which are complete in minutes and not days as the antiquated cell culture procedures require. Time might be vital.
    3. Mazor Robotics’ Spine and other Surgery Robots—a highly accurate procedure that requires less time and less intense radiation.
    4. Optical Heartbeat Monitor—a fast and accurate camera with a small laser to assess patients heart health. (Don’t let your doctor use it, it was made in Israel).
    5. Itamar’s Medical Watch Pad—Diagnose and treat sleep apnea in persons own bedroom. Most of the world knows what happened on 11 March 11, in Itamar, a small Israeli town about 30 miles from Tel Aviv. Two Palestinian men from the village of Awarta, Amjad and Hakim Awad, 18 & 17 year old, respectively cousins from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), entered the house of the Fogel’s and stabbed in the heart then slit the throats of Udi Fogel the father; Ruth the mother; 11 year old Yoav; and, 4 year old Elad were stabbed to death. And, their 3 month old sister, Hadas was decapitated. A little before midnight on 11 March 11, the 12 year old sibling Tamar walked into the house and discovered the horror before her. Three of the Fogel’s six children who were not home, on 11 March remain alive today in Israel. What most do not know is that following the horror of the Fogels, there were celebrations in the streets of Gaza and sweets were given away to emphasis the joy felt in Gaza and parts of the West Bank to celebrate these two the vicious butchers. About 1/3 of the Palestinian adults polled a few weeks later stated the Awad cousins were heroes. Furthermore, a few months later two more Palestinians from the West Bank village of Awarta attempted to murder another Jewish family in an Israeli town. Fortunately, they were apprehended by Israeli security prior to their attempted murder.
    6. EarlySense allows nurses in cardiac wards to monitor patients’ heart rate, respiration, and movements remotely. So don’t let the nurses of your hospitalized father, spouse, or child monitor his heart after cardiac arrest.
    7. BabySense is a non-touch, no radiation device designed to prevent crib deaths by monitoring a baby’s breathing. Don’t use this devise to protect your child because it was made in Israel.
    8. AIDS treatment that targets and destroys more than 40% of HIV-infected cells without affecting healthy cells.
    9. An Israeli company, Nano Retina, has developed an artificial retina to restore sight to visually impaired people. No one you care about should use this device; remain blind to your anti-Jewish hate.
    10. Israeli organization, the “Save a Child’s Heart” program, performs free open heart surgery on underprivileged children around the world. NOTE: 50% of the patients are from the disputed territories communities, Jordan, Iraq, and Morocco. A SECOND NOTE NOT PUBLICIZED: Many children and adults from Gaza who are seriously ill received treatment in Israeli hospitals.
    11. An Israeli company has developed RE-WALK, an upright walking assistance tool enabling paraplegics to stand, walk, and climb stairs.

    Let’s see, there are 55 Muslim majority, 122 Christian majority, 10 Buddhist majority, and 5 Hindu majority countries in the world and only ONE Jewish majority country, Eretz Yisrael, and that democratic country has been the Jewish homeland since the days of Moses, for more than 3,000 years. Take one step further—Israel is the only country given to a people, the Jewish people, by G-D and by the United Nations.

    THE FACTS: Jerusalem is the only city in the world with ancient sites that are Holy to Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. Each religious group regulates and administers its own religious site.

    SO YOU NEED MORE FACTS: The Israeli Knesset (Congress) has had 12 of the 72 members who are Arabs. Since 1948 when Israel become a sovereign Nation in 1948 Arabs, mostly followers of Islam, have served in the Knesset, served as mayors of cities, served in the military and as police and firefighters. Today, Israeli Arab, Raleb Majadele is government minister. Regardless of ethnic, religious, gender, etc. Israeli citizens have equal freedoms.

    Let me repeat myself:


  • Bob Jackson

    Where are the Jewish organizations calling on their Christian counterparts to condemn the Muslim persecution of Christians in the Middle East? The double standard cries out for condemnation.
    I am awaiting a response from our leaders.

    • Denis MacEoin

      I’ve just written a letter to the Irish Foreign Minister about this subject, about which there has been great concern within the Irish Zionist Action Group to which I belong. Jews do feel great concern about ME Christians, and say so. But give them a break: they have a lot of other things on their plate, from Israel to the recent massive increase in anti-Semitic attacks in France.