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February 20, 2007

Indocrination in a PC(USA) Church Near You

The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) may have reversed its policy of singling Israel out for divestment at its meeting in 2006, but the denomination’s leaders and staffers have not abandoned their obsession with Israel's defense policies.

A nine-page document titled “Palestinian Christians in the Middle East – Study Resources for Children and Youth” embodies the same distorted moral narrative PC(USA) leaders and staffers were broadcasting before the church’s 2004 General Assembly passed a resolution calling on the church to initiate a process of “phased, selective divestment” from Israel.

The theme of the resources is “Walls or Bridges?”

The most prominent reference displayed is a video titled “Peace, Propaganda and the Promised Land” which includes commentators such as Noam Chomsky, Robert Fisk and Hanan Ashrawi, none of whom can be expected to discuss in any detail, Israel’s legitimate security needs or the hostility it faces from its neighbors. Presbyterian layman Will Spotts reports that the video does not provide any dissenting voices. He continues:

It incorporates a series of comments by radical anti-Israel activists as if they were unbiased experts offering objective commentary. ... It shows a series of de-contextualized news clips and random video without providing anything like a complete explanation. It repeats many times statements of fact about Israeli motivations that are simply untrue. This video asserts rightly that one must ask “Does the news coverage reflect the reality on the ground?” Sadly, the video fails its own test. Israel is said to be “involved in an attempt to ideologically occupy the American media.” Israel is said to be “in the White House.” Israel is severely criticized for focusing on public relations; “the propaganda machine” is used to describe this. Media owners, corporate interests, Israel’s public relations efforts, and Jewish and Christian organizations are said to control the news coverage. The occupation is presented the cause of all violence; this claim is one-sided at best.

The resource also suggests teachers and youth advisors obtain the September/October 2004 issue of Church & Society titled “Wall of Security, A Barrier to Peace,” which provides extensive detail about the impact of the security barrier on Palestinians. Out of more than 100 pages of text, the magazine included approximately two paragraphs about the impact of Palestinian terror attacks that preceded the barrier’s construction. And like a lot of mainline commentary about Israel’s security measures, it is filled with distortions and omissions that lead the reader to believe the barrier is something other than a passive structure designed to prevent violence.

For example, Victor Makari, the PC(USA)’s area coordinator for the Middle East wrote an article that falsely suggests the fence near Bethlehem will electrocute anyone who touches it:

“Walking right up to an electrified portion of the barrier at Bethlehem (see photo, page1), one is immediately seized by a sense of desperation when confronted with a red warning sign – in Hebrew, Arabic and English – that reads (with some variation): “MORTAL DANGER – Military Zone, Any Person Who Passes or Damages [the Arabic reads, …. Touches] the Fence [the Arabic reads, … the Wall] Endangers His Life.” (Church and Society, September/October 2004)

By using the word “electrified” Makari gives Sunday school teachers and youth leaders (many of whom will not know that the fence is equipped with electronic detection devices) every reason to believe Israel is zapping or worse, electrocuting innocent children who dare touch the barrier. How else are readers who know little about the barrier to interpret Makari's writing?

Reading the entire issue, one is left with the overall impression that the barrier was built on a whim, out of a malevolent desire to deny Palestinians their freedom and that the terrorism would end if only the Israelis stopped defending themselves from those who have repeatedly and persistently called for the destruction of their homeland.

This is the type of material PC(USA) leaders and staffers think should be used in Presbyterian Sunday schools and youth groups.

Why is this so offensive? A little background is in order.

As dangerous as life can be for Jews in the Middle East, Israel is still a much safer place for Jews than Christian Europe was during the 1940s. More Jews (approx. 33,000) were killed in the course of a few days outside of Kiev in 1941, than in all of Israel’s wars since 1948. (About 24,000 Israelis have been killed by violent acts since Israel’s founding.)

The relative safety of Jews in the Middle East is not due to the peaceful intentions on the part of Israel’s neighbors. Political and religious leaders in the Middle East speak about Israel in the same manner as the Nazi regime in Germany did before and during the Holocaust. Israel is regarded by extremists in the Middle East as a cancerous entity which must be destroyed, just as the Jews of Europe were portrayed as a blight on Europe.

Despite unending and growing enmity toward Israel, it survives.

The decisive factor behind the relative safety of Jews in the Middle East is the very thing mainline Christian leaders in the U.S. obsess about -- its military force -- its ability to obtain weapons, field an army, equip and maintain an air force and yes, build a security barrier to prevent attacks against its citizens.

From a pacifist, peacemaking perspective, calling for the U .S. government to block weapons sales to Israel, asking U.S. officials to make sure U.S. tax dollars are not used to build a security barrier would also require documenting and condemning the violence against Israel with the same vigor it has condemned Israeli use of force. It would also require pointing out the animosity against Israel that is rampant throughout the Middle East. In the main, the co-called peacemaking churches have not done these things.

Yes, there are the obligatory, but sparse, condemnations of suicide bombings, but mainline leaders seem reluctant to talk about incitement on Palestinian television, or the manifold expressions of the Blood Libel (which seems to have gotten a lot more traction in the Middle East than the Gospel) that have taken root in the Middle East.

Take a look at the statements from the leadership of mainline Christian institutions in the U.S. – the PC(USA) especially – and you will see a troubling tendency. The prophetic voices of these institutions are typically triggered by Israeli use of force – and not the Palestinian violence that preceded it, the animosity that motivated it, or the support it receives from other countries in the region.

That’s not peacemaking.

H/T: Solomonia

Posted by CameraBlog at February 20, 2007 12:45 PM

Comments

This is exactly the reason that I left the Presbyterian (USA) Church. I worked with children and youth for almost ten years before I realized that the church had become "tainted" and "biased" concerning the Jewish people and their land. Israel was given to the Jewish people and they need to stand on that truth and take back their land; all of it!

Posted by: Jennifer Kramer at February 23, 2007 08:19 AM

sorry to have to take this tack here but my Bible says I (G-d) will bless those who bless you [Israel] and curse those who curse you.

I'm not trying to say that Israel can do no wrong but know this Israel, there are many here who support you. My parent's are of a Presbyterian church and support Israel 100%.

Posted by: Brian at February 24, 2007 08:01 PM

JoAnn Magnuson should be highlighted for her efforts to reverse the divestment drive in the PC(USA).

Posted by: James Moon at November 30, 2007 02:07 AM

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