By Dexter Van Zile
In the course of my work, I have become increasingly worried about the message offered by mainline Protestant churches (and some quarters of the Roman Catholic Church) about the Arab-Israeli conflict. Not only is the narrative offered by these institutions distorted, it has a negative impact on the safety of Jews throughout the world.
My concerns, which are still coalescing, can currently be summarized as follows:
1. There is a continuum of anti-Israel rhetoric. One end of the continuum is marked by hate toward
The hateful end of the continuum is occupied by anti-Israel extremists in the
This brand of anti-Zionism is largely fueled by Muslim teachings regarding the Jewish people and the land. Under these teachings, Jews are enemies of God and Islam who should be subject people. Muslim tradition also states that land previously governed by Muslim rulers should never be relinquished to non-Muslims.
Put these two teachings together and the very notion of a Jewish state is a humiliating violation of the Islamic nomos or sense of order rooted in Muslim scripture. Writers such as Sayyd Qutb have retrieved the notion of the Jews as enemies of God evident in the Koran and the Hadiths and applied them to the state of
Also at this end of the continuum is the hard left in the
In the middle of the continuum are activists who depict
Most of the time, adherents of this viewpoint speak in less hateful tones than the extremists I just described, but the implications of their narrative are the same: Minority status for Jews in an Arab and Muslim country. Adherents of this narrative regard violence against
At the opposite end of the spectrum from those who call for Israel’s outright destruction and express contempt for Israel are those who explicitly affirm Israel’s right to exist while subjecting it actions and in some instances its Jewish identity to extremely harsh and unreasonable scrutiny. Adherents of this narrative point out
2. One’s presence at the more benign (and less hateful) end of the spectrum does not guarantee that one will stay there.
Activists and commentators who “hang out” so to speak at the softer, less hateful end of the anti-Zionist continuum can move toward more hateful territory. (They often do.) They do not embrace the Islamist narrative, but instead embrace secular notions of Jews as enemies to world peace and well being.
As time passes, they start to attack
3. Efforts to de-legitimize
Over the past few years, there has been a measurable and observable increase in hostility toward Jews throughout the world, particularly in
But anti-Semitic incidents rose sharply during the summer of 2006 largely as a consequence of “the war between
A few other examples of this problem include:
• The atmosphere outside the United Nation’s “anti-racism” conference that took place in Durban South
• The murder of a French Jew, Ilan Halimi in
• The murder of Pamela Waechter, an employee of the Jewish Federation in
• The plight of Jews in
• The display of anti-Semitic imagery at anti-Israel rallies in the
• The recent admission by a young Muslim woman at the
• The recent stoning of a Jewish dance troup in
4. One’s presence at the “softer” end of the continuum described above makes it unlikely that one will challenge the extremism of people on the other, more hateful end of the continuum. People who root the continued existence of the Arab-Israeli conflict solely in Israeli policies have a difficult time seeing the motivation and actions of
Nowhere is this reality more evident in the activism about the Arab-Israeli conflict offered by mainline Protestant churches in the U.S. that have offered little if any criticism about the rising tide of hostility toward Jews and Israel throughout the world.
Since the Second Intifada, mainline Protestant churches (the Methodists, Lutherans, Congregationalists (also known as the UCC), Presbyterians and Episcopalians) have attacked
a. In 2004, the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s General Assembly passed an anti-Israel divestment resolution stating the occupation was at the root of violence against innocents on both sides of the Arab-Israeli conflict. It made no mention of the ideological hostility toward
b. In 2005, the general synods of both United Church of Christ and the Disciples of Christ passed a resolution that called on
c. Mainline Protestant denominations have published numerous books portraying
d. In embracing this narrative, mainline churches have demonstrated a fundamental inability to think clearly about the strategic and moral challenges
5. This is not the first time mainline Protestant institutions have engaged in this type of behavior. For example, in the 1930s, Christian Century, the house organ for mainline Protestantism in the
Coverage like this was emblematic of a larger reality. Prior to World War II, Jews were regarded through the lens of potential conflict. As the first targets of Nazi hostility, Jews were regarded as the cause and not the victim of the violence and hostility directed at them. Nazi anti-Semitism was condemned in the abstract, but when it came time to speak about issues in concrete terms, anti-war commentators were much more willing to condemn Jews as opposed to their enemies.
In both the 1930s and today, the contempt for the Jewish people and indifference to the threats to their safety can be linked to a refusal to take threats by totalitarianism seriously. Just as it was more convenient to abandon the Jewish people to the threat posted by fascism in
6. Part of the problem is that many people in mainline churches have embraced a view of history that portrays Western civilization as the dominant, if not unique source of suffering in the world today. Given this understanding, and the self-hate it engenders, members of these churches feel as if they deserve punishment.
In this sense, the members of mainline churches are like Abraham’s son Isaac on the way to
And how do they demonstrate and give voice to their exquisite moral sense?
In sum, what we are witnessing is an intellectual process by which people are preparing themselves to justify the re-abandonment of the Jewish people. If we continue with this process, it will have great consequences for the Jewish people in particular and Western civilization in general.