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August 12, 2013 8:58 am

Church Leaders Condemn Israel, but not Syria, Showing Clear Double Standard

avatar by Dexter Van Zile

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Presbyterian Church Assembly. Photo: Screenshot.

Why is it that American religious leaders who have gotten so worked up about the Arab-Israeli conflict speak in such muted tones about the Syrian Civil War?

What is going on here?

On July 31, 2013, a group of religious leaders issued a letter to the Obama Administration expressing grief over the conflict in Syria. The mournful letter reports that more than 100,000 Syrians have died as a result of the conflict, and that close to 6 million people have been driven from their homes.

The authors call for a humanitarian (but not a military) response to the conflict and beg the Obama Administration to refrain from “the provision of military assistance to forces involved in the conflict in Syria,” because to do so “will only further escalate an already brutal war.”

All this is reasonable enough, but compare this letter about Syria with another one sent just a few months before about the Arab-Israeli conflict. This letter, sent to Congress on Oct. 5, 2012, called on Congress to investigate foreign aid to Israel, asking that they determine whether or not the Jewish state is entitled to American money in light of alleged human rights abuses against the Palestinians.

And unlike the letter to the Obama Administration about Syria, this letter includes a long bill of particulars to support an indictment against Israel. An appendix accompanying the letter accuses Israel of killing civilians, using tear gas to “suppress political protest,” the use of white phosphorous and flechette shells against civilian targets, and of restricting Palestinian movement.

Of course, neither the letter nor the accompanying appendix detail any of the manifest crimes perpetrated by Palestinian leaders against the Israelis or the people they govern in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. No, the authors only listed Israel’s sins, not the Palestinians.

And when the religious leaders weighed in on the Syrian Civil War, the authors limited themselves to expressions of grief.

Grief, but no outrage over reports of the use of chemical weapons by both the rebels and the Assad regime.

Grief, but no outrage over the massacres perpetrated by both the Assad regime and the Islamist rebels who together have created millions of refugees.

Grief, but no outrage over the public beheadings and executions that have shown up on youtube.

Grief but no outrage over the desecration of corpses.

Grief, but no outrage over the kidnappings of Christian clergy in the country.

The murder, mayhem and malevolence exhibited by both sides of the conflict are passed over by many of the same people who have excoriated Israel (but not the Palestinians) over much less.

The difference in tone and content of these two letters is simply remarkable, particularly in light of the disparity of violence between the Arab-Israeli conflict and the Syrian civil war. More people have died in the Syrian civil war over the past two years than have died in the past several decades of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The Signers

Readers might ask if it’s fair to compare the text of the two letters given that the first letter had only 15 signatures and the second letter had 24.

But if one looks at the list of signatories, one will find a core group of signatories that includes seven leaders from five mainline churches whose national assemblies have, to varying degrees, targeted Israel for condemnation. These churches included the Presbyterian Church (USA), the United Church of Christ, the United Methodist Church, the Disciples of Christ, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).

Representatives from the American Friends Service Committee, and the Friends Committee on National Legislation also signed both letters. The two Quaker-related institutions, have like mainline churches, been particularly vocal in their criticism of Israel and highly reluctant to criticize Arabs and Muslims.

This reality played itself out in the two letters.

Success of Palestinian Christians

The difference in the tone of these two letters highlights just how successful Palestinian Christians have been in their effort to enlist churches and para-church institutions in the United States to their cause ,while Christians in Syria, for one reason or another, have not.

It’s reasonable to think that the Syrian Christians don’t want to make themselves targets by enlisting foreign churches into the propaganda war over what is happening in Syria.

The distorted witness offered by American religious leaders about the Arab-Israeli conflict is part of a bigger problem.

Let’s face it. Israel and the West Bank have become theme parks for privileged activists from the U.S. and Europe who have the time, energy, and money to spend to travel to Holy Land in pursuit of “human rights” and some nightlife. They can stand in solidarity with Palestinians without much risk and have a pretty good time.

Traveling to Syria is a much more difficult and dangerous.

Instead of confronting this problem and correcting for it, American religious leaders have contributed to it.

For example, the World Council of Churches has created an Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine/Israel that allows privileged classes from the United States and Europe to take up residence in the West Bank for three months at a time, have their picture taken at evil Israeli checkpoints and home demolitions, and then return home and play the hero before their local congregations. They do not, however, go to places like Sderot, or mourn with Israeli victims of Palestinian violence. (It’s an ugly display of narcissism that I’ve written about before.)

The phenomenon is not restricted to the WCC. A few years ago, Margaret Payne, a now-retired bishop in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (a denomination that signed both the letters described above), traveled on a “fact-finding” trip to the Middle East as part of her denomination’s witness about the Arab-Israeli conflict. Upon her return she appeared on a radio show recorded in Washington, D.C. in which she made a number of false statements, asserting for example, the security barrier “completely” surrounded Bethlehem. The host challenged her on this assertion and she repeated it.

And when she was further challenged on this and other factual errors, Payne essentially said to CAMERA, “Get lost.” Payne was an expert, you see, a member of her denomination’s “ready bench,” an institution charged with educating Lutherans about the realities of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Who was CAMERA to tell her that she got it wrong?

She had been on a highly publicized trip to the Holy Land and the last thing she was expected to do was provide accurate testimony about the Arab-Israeli conflict. She was supposed to repeat what the Palestinian Christians told her. And that’s what she did.

This process has been going on for years and its going to be a while before these churches get around to providing detailed testimony about what is happening in other countries in the region.

It may never happen. But if it does, let’s hope and pray that these churches are more responsible and accurate in their testimony and prophetic witness than they have been about Israel.

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  • Antony Goodman

    Hey anyone know wether local churches together is part of the world council of churches?? Be interested in finding out! It seems remarkable to me that these church leaders get their livelihoods from a Jewish book, the apostles were Jewish the Messiah is Jewish, born in Israel, the prophets were Jewish, almost all the biblical places are named in Hebrew, God through the Jewish nation gave birth to the church,talk about biting the hand that feeds you! These leaders should be damn right ashamed of themselves.

  • Shows once again the double standards of so called good Christians.
    Unfortunately the experience which I had living amongst Muslims before I managed to vacate my Arab homeland, only makes me more vigilant against so called Christian do-gooder’s who demonstrate when israel kills in self-defense palestinian-Arab terrorists, but have nothing to say when Muslims are murdering Muslims by the 100s of thousands, and when Muslim brotherhood members are murdering Coptic-Christains and torching their Churches, or when Gazan-Hamas members are abducting Christian Arab girls to force them to convert to islam and marry Muslim men sometimes three or four times their age!!! These so called good Christians in the west who demonize Israel at every given opprtunity are nothing but Jew-hating fascist-Nazis.

  • Mark

    “Let’s face it. Israel and the West Bank have become theme parks for privileged activists from the U.S. and Europe who have the time, energy, and money to spend to travel to Holy Land in pursuit of “human rights” and some nightlife. They can stand in solidarity with Palestinians without much risk and have a pretty good time.”

    100% accurate in my opinion

  • Leahbatrena

    Anti- Semitic Groups at their best Lord have mercy on them!

  • Phil Botha

    The churches represent the mouthpiece for politics and others with vested interests in global business (amongst others) in many ways. Religion was invented and organised by man, not by God. It is a tool to control populations in the manner that they think, believe and perceive. It runs on the same formula that the Nazi propaganda machine did, exponentially magnified in modern times with the aid of mass media which perpetuates this and bends people’s minds into making them believe what you want them to believe….simple.
    At the same time the consumer driven society of USA in particular don’t want to alienate the Arab world, regardless of what evil happens there while they possess the oil that consumerism runs on

    • Phil Botha

      Additional to my last post:
      The Arab world has the west by the short and curlies, blackmailing them into an anti- Israel stand if they want to keep this oil flowing. People are unfortunately unbelievably stupid when it comes to understanding the difference between right and wrong on what is presented on CNN, BBC etc



  • Connie Rennard

    Can you list these ung_dly church leaders? I will not support these so called christians. They are not christians if they do not support Israel. Please email me these people. Thank you! Shalom

    Connie Rennard

  • steve kollander

    How do you possibly give any credence to Lutherans, of all groups? Their denomination is based on the tenets of anti-semitism as laid down by their founder, Martin Luther.

  • Mel

    After the Flotilla Incident—and the viral ‘We Con The World’ spoof response, wouldn’t it be reasonable to expect Algemeiner columnists to recognize the differences between Tolerance and Bigotry?

  • Berend

    Thanks for sharing. It’s embarrassing how churches react on Israel.

  • Sean Maguire

    Very well-informed piece, particularly good in showing up the myth that American Christian leaders are unequivocally supportive of Israel. On the contrary, there has been a creeping anti-Israeli agenda in the Churches, even the Protestant Churches, for some time.

  • Otto Waldmann in Sydney

    We need to painfully remind ourselves that the Xtian dogma relies heavily on the Jewish subject matter. All Gospel narratives commence, so, at least structurally, create their fundamentals, with the land of Israel and its inhabitants, the Jews, At least these books attest for a comprehensive Jewish presence on OUR land. Mind you, the current “Palestinians”, these darlings of latter days of the same Church, are nowhere to be seen in THEIR, Xtian books of faith !!!
    So, why the demographic shift in emphasis, what is it consistent with in dogmatic terms !!??
    Simple: the aim of the Gospels is fundamentally to establish a creed in which the main TANGIBLE and I mean PHYSICAL, target, are the Jews. Spiritual arguments, metaphysical dialectics do ornate the minds and rhetorical apostolic journeys of the Church, by those are ethereal “matters”. When it comes to the flesh and blood “objects” of the very same dogma, ONLY the Jew is quoted, only the Jew is aimed at, his touchable presence, his institutions, synagogues, Torah scrolls etc. The millions murdered, the thousands burnt down in processions of hatred.
    Yes, witnesses of an institution which still functions on impeccably unaltered principles and practices, we are dealing with the same anti Semites taking their hatred to new fields of passion, they call it the New Palestine. We call it the Old anti Semitic barbarous Church !

  • Ivan Gur-Arie

    Why the surprise? Firstly there are Christians living in Muslim countries and it is with practical thinking that the Christian Churches don’t want to upset their Muslim brothers. As far as Israel is concerned, we must not forget that an anti Jewish bias exists for over 2000 years in Christendom. You don’t really expect it to stop! Remember the Christian teaching to love your enemy – all except the Jew.

  • Uriahh

    Just ongoing support and documentation for the anti-Semitic postures these churches manifest routinely.

    Israel is the pinata for Jews worldwide. The churches who have signed these lopsided and bigoted statements are only continuing their centuries long anti-Semitism.

    How they can ignore the murder and cruelty shown to the Christian Copts by their Muslim neighbors is a mystery. Yet this is what they do: ignore the anti-Christian behavior and zero-in on condemning Israelis for imagined “human rights” violations.

    It is an Alice-In-Wonderland world that these Christian “leaders” inhabit.

  • J.J. Surbeck

    Great article. What is astonishing in this saga is that in many instances local churches don’t quite realize what is being decided in their names by their national leaders. When duly informed, they are not always pleased. There is a lot that we can do at this grassroots level to spur them to hold their national leaders accountable for practicing such a double standard.

  • Efram Paul

    What do you expect? They are churches. They have been anti-Semitic for 2000 years, the so-called Palestinian problem simply gives them an excuse to show who they really have been all along. Just look at Carter.

  • Bernard Ross

    Jews keep beating a dead horse of trying to be accepted. Its called anti semitism and is mmost easily rcognizable through the application of double standards. Once Jews accept this they will stop being suckers of their 2000 year christian european torturers.

  • Carl

    Simply stating that “more people have died in the Syrian civil war over the past two years than have died in the past several decades of the Arab-Israeli conflict” is accurate, but does not tell the full extent. According to the Jewish Virtual Library, less than 91,000 Arabs have been killed IN TOTAL in all conflicts with Israel since 1920. That is a 90+ year period starting three decades before Israel even became a state!! It encompasses three full-scale wars of Arab aggression in 1948, 1967 and 1973, a host of smaller conflicts, two “Intifadas,” and a continual onslaught of Arab terrorism throughout. No army on the planet is more humane and more precise than Israel, yet these self-styled moralists reserve their wrath and indignation for the Jewish state.