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February 10, 2019 9:05 am

Rabbis for Human Rights Helps World Council of Churches Engage in Damage Control

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avatar by Dexter Van Zile


Members of the Presbyterian Church USA’s Israel Palestine Mission Network pose in front of Israel’s security barrier during one of their trips to the Holy Land. The graffiti on the barrier readers “PC (USA) stands with Palestine.” Photo: Twitter.

Almost fifteen years ago, the Israeli nonprofit Rabbis for Human Rights (RHR) lambasted the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) for demonizing Israel. It happened after the PCUSA passed a divestment resolution at its General Assembly in 2004. In addition to calling on the church’s money managers to divest from the Jewish state, the resolution portrayed Israel as singularly responsible for the suffering caused by the Arab-Israeli conflict.

In response to this outrage, RHR published a letter condemning the church for failing to offer “one word of criticism to the government of the Palestinian Authority despite its manifest multitude of profound sins against God and the Human Rights of Palestinians and Jews.” RHR also condemned the PCUSA for ignoring “the homicidal ideologies that have so sadly taken hold among some of our Palestinian neighbors.”

The letter closed with a call for the PCUSA to repent of its actions and to rethink its “relationship with the Jewish People and their State.” It was one of the most principled and unequivocal condemnations of Christian antisemitism to come down the pike since BDS became all the rage in mainline Protestant churches.

The folks at RHR must have lost this letter in their archives, because these days they are defending — not rebuking — another Christian institution that is facilitating in the same process of demonization that the PCUSA engaged in a decade and a half ago. To make matters worse, the group’s president, Rabbi Levi Weiman-Kelman, engaged in the same type of one-sided discourse that RHR condemned in 2004.

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RHR came to the defense of the Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine-Israel (EAPPI), an institution that has promoted a one-sided view of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians and which teaches so-called peace activists to speak of Israel as if it were the modern-day reincarnation of Nazi Germany. One activist who visited the West Bank as an EAPPI activist returned to South Africa to tell his fellow Christians that “the time has come to say that the victims of the Holocaust have now become the perpetrators.”

In a press statement issued on Thursday, February 7, 2019, the organization announced that it visited Hebron with EAPPI activists in an effort to learn about the events that led EAPPI’s parent organization, the World Council of Churches, to withdraw its activists from the city in late January.

“We therefore joined the Ecumenical Accompaniers from EAPPI in Hebron on Tuesday, February 5, 2019 in order to understand the situation better. We heard about the hopes and fears of the residents of Hebron,” RHR stated. “We also intend to meet with the representatives of the Jewish community in Hebron in order to hear their perspectives and try to calm the holy city for Jews and Muslims alike.”

The WCC removed EAPPI volunteers from the city in the face of scrutiny and criticism from groups including NGO Monitor, DMU, Im Tirzu, and the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA). Another factor prompting EAPPI’s departure from the city was the expulsion of the Temporary International Presence (TIPH) from the city by the Israeli government. Prior to the expulsion, TIPH activists had been filmed striking a young Jewish boy and puncturing the tires of Jewish-owned cars in Hebron.

RHR stated that Im Tirzu’s videos of EAPPI activists in Hebron — which played a significant role in the WCC’s decision to leave Hebron — “have not shown” anything contrary to the organization’s stated peacemaking goals but “have caused incitement to physically harm the Ecumenical Accompaniers.”

Talk about missing the point. RHR is ignoring mountains of evidence that demonstrate EAPPI is guilty of the same sins that prompted RHR’s ire in 2004. As documented by CAMERA and NGO Monitor, EAPPI and its parent organization, the World Council of Churches, have regularly attacked Israel’s legitimacy and singled it out for condemnation.

The organization has helped mainstream anti-normalization activists in the West Bank such as Hasan Breijieh and upon returning to their respective countries EAPPI activists regularly demonize Israel. In fact, EAPPI activists have become the backbone of the anti-Zionist BDS campaign that has encouraged many Christians to view Israel as the singular source of suffering in the Middle East. EAPPI activism has been an important part of the Palestinian effort to justify the expulsion of Jews from their homes in the West Bank. This is not peacemaking, so why is RHR defending the organization?

In a fundraising video posted underneath the press release about RHR’s visit to Hebron with EAPPI activists, RHR President Rabbi Levi Weiman-Kelman said the group took “a walk on the street that used to be the teeming Palestinian market place which is now a ghost-town. And this is because of the policy of the Israeli government and the insistent harassment of the settlers who live in Hebron.”

This is exactly the type of one-sided commentary for which RHR condemned the Presbyterians in 2004. Rabbi Weiman-Kelman fails to ask what happened to prompt Israel to impose the security measures it did. Hebron — which, it must be said, was the scene of a terrible massacre perpetrated by Baruch Goldstein in 1994 — is also the scene of numerous attacks against Jews as well. In 1929, Arabs living in Hebron killed 69 Jews in a blatant act of ethnic cleansing.

The storefronts that are now in what Weiman-Kelman calls a ghost town were shut down because they had been used as hiding places for perpetrators of stabbing attacks against Jews that went largely unnoticed in the media. Is Weiman-Kelman unaware that the current mayor of Hebron, Tayseer Abu Sneineh, recently bragged in public about his role in the deaths of Jews living in Hebron in 1980 in a brutal terror attack? (His bragging was caught on Youtube.) And does Rabbi Weiman-Kelman not know that Hebron is a huge city with close to 200,000 residents that shop downtown in malls?

What EAPPI and now RHR have done is single out and magnify the impact of Israeli security measures in a way that legitimizes the hatred of Israel and Jews living in the West Bank. This behavior brings to mind a passage from RHR’s 2004 letter which warns that “People of conscience must act in awareness that the singling out, magnifying and sanctifying of Jewish sins has always been at the core of the terrible evil that we know as anti-Semitism.”

Dexter Van Zile is Christian Media Analyst for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA). His opinions are his own.

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