Mennonites Need to Keep Their Side of the Street Clean
Mennonites living in the United States and Canada have been pretty critical of Israel over the past few decades, but when it comes to confronting the drug trafficking and murder perpetrated by their co-religionists in Mexico, they are pretty quiet.
When people outside the community started to take notice of the bad behavior of some Mennonites in Mexico, a newspaper that serves the Mennonite community in Canada complained about these folks being the victim of “an unfair negative image.” If the underlying problem of drug trafficking weren’t so tragic and violent, it would almost be worthy of satire. A Christian pacifist community whose peace activists have been engaged in a public relations war against the Jewish state now discovers what it’s like when the shoe is on the other foot — and they can’t stand the scrutiny.
First, some background. Starting sometime in the years after the Six Day War, Mennonite peace activists began producing films and books that assailed the legitimacy of the Jewish state. Mennonite activist Sonja K. Weaver, for example, wrote a book titled What Is Palestine-Israel? Answers to Common Questions, which implicitly calls for the dissolution of the Jewish state by promoting the the one-state solution in explicitly sympathetic terms.
In her text, she contends that the one-state solution has the advantage of allowing “Palestinian refugees to return to their original homes,” while the two-state solution “does not address the systematic discrimination faced by Palestinian Christians and Muslims inside Israel.” What Weaver does not want to admit is that Muslims and Arabs living in Israel enjoy more rights than they do in Muslim- and Arab-majority states anywhere else in the region.
Weaver’s husband, Alain Epp Weaver, wrote an article in 2007 that declared that after the Holocaust, it’s understandable that the Jews would want a safe haven. “But must such a safe haven be tied to a project of maintaining and protecting a Jewish majority by any and all means?” he asked. “Might not a bi-national future in one state be one in which Palestinians and Israelis alike both sit securely under vine and fig tree?”
Clearly, the Weavers find Jewish sovereignty repellent because of the force required to protect it, but find Arab aggression and violence — which can be seen throughout the Middle East — unremarkable. On an empirical level, the number of Arab deaths at the hands of Israelis has been relatively small when compared to acts of intra-Arab aggression. For some reason, the Weavers regard Jewish sovereignty as the problem.
Muslim and Arab misdeeds are much more tolerable to Mennonite peace activists. In 2007, the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) played a leading role in bringing a group of Christians to Iran to dialogue with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran. The MCC also helped organize interfaith dinners with Ahmadinejad in New York City in 2007 and 2008. It has also organized dialogues with Iranian religious scholars with close ties to the government. To justify these meetings, MCC officials reported that Ahmadinejad’s statements “about wiping Israel off the map” merely indicated his support for a “one-state solution … in which Israelis and Palestinians elect a single government to represent both peoples.”
For Mennonite peace activists, Jewish sovereignty — not Arab and Muslim hostility toward Jews and Israel — is the cause of conflict in the Middle East. The underlying message these activists and commentators offer to the Jewish people is that they should abandon sovereignty in the pursuit of peace. “The Jewish people survived for two thousand years without a state and may need to do so again in the future,” wrote Dan Epp-Tiessen, a professor at Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
In light of this propaganda, it should come as no surprise that the Mennonite Church USA and the Mennonite Church in Canada have both passed biased BDS resolutions that target Israel, but not the Palestinians, with divestment.
The Mennonite Church Canada’s 2016 resolution declared that the church “laments Israel’s ongoing and increasingly entrenched military occupation and settlement of Palestinian lands” and Israel’s “violations of Palestinians’ rights to movement and self-determination.” The resolution asked Mennonite institutions to “avoid investing or supporting companies that do business with Israeli settlements and the Israel Defense Forces.”
The Mennonite Church USA’s 2017 BDS resolution offers a similar one-sided narrative, declaring that the “Palestinians have often borne the consequences of persecution of Jews,” omitting, of course, the role Palestinian leaders such as Haj Amin Al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, played in the Holocaust.
It goes without saying that both resolutions focus entirely on Israeli misdeeds and say nothing at all about the genocidal incitement directed at Jews on the Temple Mount (which is a clear violation of the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide).
In the minds of the Mennonite Churches in Canada and the United States, Israeli Jews are guilty and need to be isolated from the international economy. They need to be boycotted.
Interestingly enough, neither the Mennonite Church Canada nor the Mennonite Church USA has passed any resolutions whatsoever about their co-religionists living in the village of Cuauhtemoc, Mexico. A small number of Mennonites from this village, whose families moved there from Canada in the early 1900s, have been smuggling drugs out of Mexico into the United States and Canada. The story was first covered in the early 1990s by The Fifth Estate, a Canadian television newsmagazine, which has revisited the story a couple of times since then. A small number of Mennonite traffickers smuggled drugs produced in Mexico into the US and Canada in cheese wheels, for example, relying for many years on their reputation as law-abiding Christians to evade detection.
When the Fifth Estate first covered the story in 1992, one law enforcement official declared that the Mennonites involved in the drug trade had been doing it for at least 10 years, maybe longer. Another law enforcement official stated in 1992 that 20 percent of the drugs that crossed the US-Canada Border into Windsor, Ontario were smuggled by Mennonites, with five Mennonite drug cells operating in Ontario. The leader of the business used his status as a dual citizen of both Canada and Mexico to avoid prosecution in Canada. It was a nasty business that resulted in the transformation of Grassy Lake, Alberta into a distribution hub for marijuana and cocaine. At least one informant was murdered by Mexican Mennonites to protect the business. The Fifth Estate revisited the story in 2017, and the whole scandal has become fodder for the TV series Pure, which aired in Canada in 2017.
How have Mennonite intellectuals responded to the attention? You have one guess, and of course, they responded with indignation, not self-criticism. (But you knew that. Criticism? That’s reserved for Israel!) Articles in the Canadian Mennonite condemned the production of the series, and said that the Mennonite colonists living in Mexico were “a misunderstood people” who have had trouble making ends meet, and as a result are “subject to the social pathologies that have afflicted other communities.”
It just goes to show that people are much tougher when judging others than they are their own communities. I’ve looked at the websites and contacted the PR reps for the Mennonite Central Committee, the Mennonite Church USA, and the Mennonite Church Canada — all institutions that have been brutal in their condemnations of Israel — to see if they have issued any public statements about this scandal.
The response has been silence. No one thinks that the Mennonite community as a whole is somehow responsible for the behavior of these drug-smuggling criminals in Mexico. But it sure would be nice to see the Mennonites in the US and Canada engage the issue with the same energy, vigor, and interest with which their churches have condemned Israeli Jews living in the Holy Land.
Don’t bet on it.
Dexter Van Zile is the Christian Media Analyst for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting (CAMERA).