July 26, 2010
What Will UNRWA Do?
It appears that someone working for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) sent a hostile email to Honest Reporting -- calling the organization "Dishonest Reporting."
The letter complains about the "big lies of the Zionists."
Honest Reporting has apparently tracked the email to an UNRWA employee working in Jordan.
UNRWA has a long and shameful history of ties to Palestinian terror groups, mismanagement of funds, and failure to repatriate Palestinian refugees. Here is a round up of materials about UNRWA.
This article by Arlene Kushner, published in Azure in 2005, is well worth a full read.
July 23, 2010
Israel as the Ram in the Thicket
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 Israel and Jews rooted in deeply hostile beliefs about the nature of the Jewish people. The other end is marked by polite de-legitimization through an obsession with Israeli policies and silence about the behavior of its adversaries.
The hateful end of the continuum is occupied by anti-Israel extremists in the Middle East and their supporters in the West who portray Israel as a cancerous entity that prevents the Muslim and the Arab peoples in the region from reclaiming their rightful place in history. Under this logic, Israel must be destroyed. Jewish sovereignty is a bad thing because of the nature of the Jewish people.
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 Israel with lethal effect.
Also at this end of the continuum is the hard left in the U.S. and Europe. These activists, who oftentimes co-operate with the Islamists described above, portray Israel as a unique and enduring threat to peace and human rights in the world. To these activists, Israel is guilty of genocide and its supporters in the West are enemies within. These activists regard violence directed at Israel and its supporters as justified. The logic is that only a monstrous people could defend such a monstrous nation. Jews who support Israel support genocide and apartheid and cannot be trusted. They are the enemy within.
In the middle of the continuum are activists who depict Israel and its status as a Jewish state as an obstacle to the causes of peace and the advancement of human rights in the Middle East. Under this narrative, Israel should not be destroyed but dismantled and converted into a bi-national state in which Jews would by definition, be a minority. It is the consequences of Jewish sovereignty that trouble this group.
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 Israel as understandable and unavoidable. Ostensibly, they are motivated by the suffering of the Palestinian people. (As described below, adherents of this viewpoint oftentimes shift to the more hateful end of the spectrum.)
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 Israel’s failings but are reluctant to point out the misdeeds of its adversaries. They acknowledge that indeed Jews were the victims of genocide in Europe, but fail to acknowledge the frankly genocidal hostility toward Jews and Israel in the Middle East. When they criticize Israel, they speak as if they are motivated by feelings of mournful sorrow about Israel’s failings and hope that someday, Israel will get its policies right and that Jews will come to a better self-understanding and be able to live in peace with its neighbors.
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 Israel’s Jewish supporters in the West as monsters whose mere presence represents a threat to human rights and democracy. People who obsess about the effects of Jewish sovereignty on the Middle East, (as if Palestinian suffering is singular and without parallel and caused solely by Israel) will eventually come to unreasonable conclusions about the nature of Jews and their state. Through this process, the people who are motivated by a legitimate concern about the Palestinians begin to mimic the anti-Zionist rhetoric offered by the people on the more extreme end of the continuum. And once they embrace anti-Zionism, anti-Semitism is just the next step down the road, so to speak.
3. Efforts to de-legitimize Israel contribute to insecurity for Jews throughout the world. (Israel gets attacked in the Middle East and Jews are threatened in the West).
Over the past few years, there has been a measurable and observable increase in hostility toward Jews throughout the world, particularly in Europe, South America and sadly enough, in some quarters of North America. This was particularly evident during Israel’s fight with Hamas in the Gaza Strip and Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2006. The Community Security Trust, (a Jewish group in Great Britain similar to the ADL in the United States), linked this hostility toward media coverage of the conflict. According to the CST, anti-Semitic attacks were down during the first six months of 2006 from the year before.
But anti-Semitic incidents rose sharply during the summer of 2006 largely as a consequence of “the war between Israel and Hizbollah in Lebanon that took place in July and August.” And once a ceasefire was instituted in mid-August, attacks declined. The European Jewish Congress reported similar findings in a report of its own about hostility in the rest of Europe.
A few other examples of this problem include:
• The atmosphere outside the United Nation’s “anti-racism” conference that took place in Durban South Africa in 2001. At this conference, Arab and Muslim extremists from the Middle East and their allies from the radical left in Europe and the U.S. were able to convince the gathered assembly to affirm an amalgam of ritualistic charges of genocide, racism and ethnic cleansing targeted at Israel. Jews were singularly denied the right to participate in the proceedings at the conference because they could not be "objective." Security officials told representatives of Jewish groups that their safety could not be guaranteed. Protesters carried signs stating that if Hitler had finished the job there were would be no state of Israel and no Palestinian suffering. During the conference a Jewish doctor was beaten by people wearing checkered keffiyehs – the symbol of the Palestinian cause – who said Jews were the cause of all the problems in the Middle East. Local Jewish leaders attributed the attack to the atmosphere at the UN Conference.
• The murder of a French Jew, Ilan Halimi in Paris in 2005. Halimi, a 23-year-old French Jew, was kidnapped, tortured for three weeks, stabbed and left to die at a train station on the outskirts of Paris by Muslims who had anti-Israel literature in their apartments. His torture took place in the basement of a public housing project. People knew of his suffering and did not call the police.
• The murder of Pamela Waechter, an employee of the Jewish Federation in Seattle in 2006. Waechter was shot to death at the height of the Hezbollah War by a man describing himself as a Muslim-American “angry at Israel.” The killer was later discovered to be suffering from mental illness, but just as John Salvi who killed two women at an abortion clinic in Boston in 1994, was encouraged by the highly-charged atmosphere surrounding the debate over abortion in the U.S., the anti-Jewish fringe is energized by hostile rhetoric coming out of the Middle East.
• The plight of Jews in Malmo, Sweden. Jews are fleeing Malmo in droves as anti-Semitic attacks, perpetrated mostly by Muslim immigrants have increased substantially. Malmo’s mayor has failed to stop the attack, stating they are merely a consequence of Israeli policies in the Middle East.
• The display of anti-Semitic imagery at anti-Israel rallies in the U.S. during Israel’s fight with Hamas in the Gaza Strip during the winter of 2008-09. Protesters carried signs equating the Start of David with the Nazi Swastika, a clear expression of anti-Semitism.
• The recent admission by a young Muslim woman at the University of California San Diego that she supports genocide against Jews in Israel.
• The recent stoning of a Jewish dance troup in Hanover, Germany.
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 Israel’s adversaries for what they are.
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 Israel, portraying it as solely responsible for the conflict. The narrative told by these churches is that Israel can bring a unilateral end to the conflict through a magical combination of peace offers and territorial withdrawals. Israel’s failure to make the sacrifices necessary to achieve peace is depicted as a consequence of some flaw in Israel’s national character. Examples of this narrative abound:
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 Israel espoused by groups like Hamas and Hezbollah.
b. In 2005, the general synods of both United Church of Christ and the Disciples of Christ passed a resolution that called on Israel to take down the security barrier without asking Palestinians to stop the terror attacks that preceded its construction.
c. Mainline Protestant denominations have published numerous books portraying Israel in an unfairly harsh light. Some of the language in these texts borders on the hateful. For example, one Presbyterian commentator has likened Zionist settlement in Palestine during the 20th century to a “killer-vine” that had attacked a prize rose bush in his back yard. (This is just one example.)
d. In embracing this narrative, mainline churches have demonstrated a fundamental inability to think clearly about the strategic and moral challenges Israel face in the Middle East. Instead of encouraging their parishioners to embrace a comprehensive understanding of the ideological and physical threats faced by the Jewish people, these churches have encouraged people to embrace an understanding of the Arab-Israeli conflict that places Israel under intense scrutiny and which gives its adversaries a pass. They offer little, if any, criticism of Hamas and Hezbollah while intensely interrogating Israeli policy and Israel's status as a Jewish state.
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 U.S., exhibited a troublesome hostility toward Jews and their desire for a state of their own and to other collective expressions of Jewish identity. The publication gave prominent and laudatory coverage to anti-Zionist Jews and attacked Rabbi Stephen Wise, a prominent Zionist in the U.S., for bringing the Holocaust to the attention of the American people in 1942.
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 Europe the 1930s and 40s, it is easier to ignore the threat posed by fascism in the Middle East. Here a phrase used by Paul Berman to describe the anti-war socialists in 1930s France seems appropriate: “They were eager, they were desperate to find a description of reality that did not point to a new war in the future.” (Terror and Liberalism, page 124). This applies readily to the so-called peace activists in mainline churches. They desire peace. This desire is legitimate. But in the course of searching for peace, they have abandoned reality and the Jewish people as well.
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 Mount Moriah. They see the wood and the fire and have a vague sense that an immolation is going to take place, but hope desperately that they will not be the victim of this sacrifice. They feel on one level that if it weren’t for their exquisite moral sense, that they would deserve to be immolated.
And how do they demonstrate and give voice to their exquisite moral sense?
By condemning Israel.
Israel, for these folks, is the ram in the thicket on Mount Moriah. Israel is the entity that they can thrust into the fire of moral judgment.
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.
July 22, 2010
Mainstreaming Anti-Semitism on the Internet
In the on-line Jewish journal, Tablet Magazine, Lee Smith provides a compelling indictment of how "media companies are using the internet to make anti-Semitism respectable." Smith describes a growing community of anti-Israel commenters who flock to blogs hosted by mainstream media companies to defame Israel and promote conspiracy theories about Jewish influence in America. Smith points to the likes of Stephen Walt, Glenn Greenwald, Andrew Sullivan and Philip Weiss as the "cesspool’s avatars" who lend an air of respectability to hateful fantasies about Jews found on the political fringes.
Smith draws attention to the example of the Washington Post hosting a site, ForeignPolicy.com, that regularly features a blog by Harvard professor, Stephen Walt. Walt was the co-author of a notorious and poorly researched book , "The Israel Lobby," which alleges that neo-cons (among whose ranks the Jewish names are always prominently cited) and other supporters of Israel are intentionally deceiving Americans and acting for the benefit of Israel against American interests. (See CAMERA's analyses here and here and critiques by other well-known authors. ) Smith observes " the bulk of the book’s research was based on secondary sources, most of which came from the web."
The charges coming out of Walt and Mearsheimer's book and from the "cesspool" of anti-Israel and anti-Jewish invective on the web are not new according to Smith, "they are throwbacks to the 1930s and earlier." But what is new is the medium being used and the acquiescence of mainstream media companies to host these forums. Smith observes,
Walt and his anti-Israel blogging colleagues have become the respectable face of Jew-baiting.
Their immediate goal is clear, as Smith spells it out:
They tried very hard to marginalize American citizens of the Jewish faith by questioning their loyalty.
Where does this lead? Well, Smith doesn't mention the comments made by the co-author of Walt's book, U. of Chicago professor John Mearsheimer, who labels supporters of Israel as racists. At a recent speech at the Palestine Center in Washington, Mearsheimer revealed a penchant for selecting and categorizing Jews into "righteous Jews" and "new Afrikaaners" and those in-between. Of course the "righteous Jews" were those willing to villify Israel and its supporters, including the obscene Norman Finkelstein, who uses the Holocaust to sadistically chide Jews. The "new Afrikaaners" would include the bulk of the nation's Jews who support Israel.
The critical issue Smith's piece highlights, though, is the acquiescence and even encouragement of this vitriol against Jews by major media companies. Smith observes,
What’s original, what makes this period alarming, is that The Washington Post Company would give a Jew-baiter a platform.
Palestinians Ignore President Obama’s Demand to Stop Anti-Israel Incitement
Palestinian Authority TV – controlled by PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas – disregarded President Obama’s July 6, 2010 demand to stop inciting the Palestinian populace against Israel.
But will mainstream media entities pay any attention?
Below is an excerpt from President Obama’s July 6 press conference (held jointly with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu):
I think it’s very important that the Palestinians not look for excuses for incitement; that they are not engaging in provocative language; that at the international level, they are maintaining a constructive talk, as opposed to looking for opportunities to embarrass Israel.
Palestinian Media Watch (PMW) provides video clip and translation of part of PA TV broadcast aired at least twice subsequent to July 6. Palestinian child is shown saying he was taught to be a future combatant against Israel:
I came here following the conference elections. I hope that there will be more conferences like the Sixth Fatah Conference [in August 2009]. These conferences are important for us because it makes us aware of leadership and that we will be combatants and wage resistance (violence) against the Israelis.
PMW’s Itamar Marcus and Barbara Crook:
PMW reported on Fatah's Sixth General Conference in August 2009 which was as a unique opportunity for Fatah under PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to join the peace process by renouncing Fatah principles and platforms that call for Israel's destruction. As PMW has documented, the Fatah leaders rejected the world's demands to recognize Israel, and continued to promote armed struggle as central to the movement's aims. The Fatah charter still calls for Israel's destruction, and can be viewed in Arabic on Fatah's website. The English version of the Fatah charter that used to appear at Fatah's website has been removed. [Note: An English translation of the Fatah charter is available at the CAMERA Web site. Chapter 1, Article 12 (Goals section) of the Fatah charter states the first goal: “Complete liberation of Palestine, and eradication of Zionist economic, political, military and cultural existence.”]
Venus Williams Helps Shahar Pe'er Serve
Israeli tennis player Shahar Pe’er was permitted to play in the Barclay’s Dubai Tennis Championships in February with help from women’s professional tour star Venus Williams. After Pe’er was denied entrance to the United Arab Emirates for the 2009 championship, Williams spoke out, saying that she would not participate in the following year’s Dubai competition if Pe’er were denied entrance again. The Anti-Defamation League subsequently honored Williams for her efforts.
This year, Dubai officials granted Pe’er a visa, allowing her to compete. Nevertheless, the Israeli was separated completely from the other Women’s Tennis Association competitors and, for security reasons, allowed movement only from her hotel room to the tennis courts. Pe’er also was the only player to not appear on the center court for a match.
Ironically, Williams defeated Pe’er 6-1, 6-4 in a semi-finals match . But Williams again spoke up for Pe’er, saying, “She’s just brave. She’s got so much character. I can’t imagine being in her shoes.” The seven-time Grand Slam winner continued, “I can’t imagine playing so well with these kinds of circumstances. I just have to give her congratulations and props. She’s courageous. I don’t think anyone else on the WTA Tour could do what she’s doing.”
Despite being competitors on the court, the two tennis stars had only kind words for each other. “I told her I really appreciate her support this week and last year,” Pe’er said at the time of Williams. — Traci Siegel
Major Media Mute About News of Hezbollah’s Human Shields in Lebanon
Thus far, major mainstream media entities that heavily cover Israel – such as the New York Times and Washington Post – have been mute about the news in July of Hezbollah’s extensive use of civilians as human shields. On July 8, 2010, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) provided intelligence maps showing how Hezbollah ("party of Allah" in Arabic), the Islamic terrorist organization sponsored by Iran, uses Lebanese civilians as human shields in villages expropriated for Hezbollah military bases. This inhumane behavior is a gross violation of UN Resolution 1701, but the United Nations, like the mainstream media, seems uninterested in the matter.
Among the few newspapers covering the story are Israeli newspapers, here and here, an Irish newspaper and the Wall Street Journal in a July 20 opinion column. The Associated Press also provided the story.
Hezbollah strategizes that it will be able to take advantage of the situation, betting that its foe, Israel, as a nation adhering to Western values, will hesitate to attack military bases embedded among civilians for fear of inflicting civilian casualties. But in the likely event of a future war, Israel will have to choose between, on the one hand, protecting its own civilians, and on the other hand, severely limiting its response in order to spare Lebanese civilians.
Thus, Israel’s purpose for revealing this heretofore classified military information serves to warn the Lebanese civilians, placed in harm's way by Hezbollah, whose lives would be at great risk in any subsequent hostilities initiated by Hezbollah. The information also offers context for any future media coverage in the event of conflict.
July 21, 2010
Deprived Gazans Open Luxury Mall
July 15, 2010
Video Overview of Flotilla Incident
Two videos posted to the IDF Spokesperson's Web site detail what happened on the Mavi Marmara and other ships attempting to sail to Gaza.
July 12, 2010
Wacky Halper-ICAHD Commentary About the Arab-Israeli Conflict
By now, most people understand that Jeff Halper and the organization he leads, the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions (ICAHD), are not trustworthy sources of information about the Arab-Israeli conflict.
This doesn't stop him from being invited to speak to Christian audiences in the U.S., nor does it stop so-called Christian peace activists from distributing ICAHD materials in the U.S.
Halper was present at the Presbyterian Church (USA)'s recent General Assembly in Minneapolis and anyone who missed his presentation (organized by the Israel-Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church (USA), could visit Sabeel's table in the convention center and purchase “Counter-Rhetoric: Challenging ‘convention wisdom’ & reframing the conflict," a 41-page booklet published by ICAHD in 2006. Sabeel activists were selling the booklet for $3.
Predictably, this booklet has a couple of what can be politely be characterized as “howlers.”
For example, on page 20 of this booklet, the text attempts to refute the notion that “There is no partner for peace,” by asserting that “the Palestinian leadership, including Hamas, and the entire international community are united in calling for a two-state solution on the 1967 borders, something Israel is not willing to agree to.”
There are a couple of obvious problems with this passage. First off, the 1967 borders as they are called in this text are armistice lines and under UN Resolution 242, Israel’s borders are to be determined under a final peace agreement, which so far, has not been achieved.
Secondly, the notion that Israel is not willing to agree to a two-state solution is contradicted by historical events.
Israel attempted to negotiate with the Arabs after the Six Day War in 1967 only to be rebuffed with the Three Nos of Khartoum in which the Arab League stated there would be no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with Israel and no peace with Israel.
It also ignores the failure of the Camp David negotiations in 2000 during which Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered the Palestinians a state of their own on all of the Gaza Strip and most of the West Bank, which Palestinian leader Yassir Arafat rejected, without making a counter offer. Israel also agreed to the Clinton Parameters, which Arafat rejected despite a warning from Prince Bandar from Saudi Arabia who told the Palestinian leader “I hope you remember, sir, what I told you. If we lose this opportunity, it is not going to be a tragedy. This is going to be a crime.” (The New Yorker, March 24, 2003.)
The most egregious howler, however, is the assertion that Hamas is part of a group of organizations calling for a two-state solution. Hamas’ own charter calls for Israel’s destruction. Its leaders have made numerous statements reaffirming its commitment to this goal. For example, in January 2006, Mahmoud Zahar, Hamas' "foreign minister," stated “We do not recognize the Israeli enemy, nor his right to be our neighbor, nor to stay [on the land], nor his ownership of any inch of land. ... Our principles are clear: Palestine is a land of Waqf [Islamic trust], which can not be given up. (Jan. 17, 2006 translated by Palestinian Media Watch).
In light of the mountains of evidence proving otherwise, the notion that Hamas is willing to accept Israel’s existence is frankly, laughable.
There’s another laughable assertion – that no one is denying the legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish state.
On pages nine and 10, the booklet gives readers a response to affirmations of the Jewish right to self-determination by asserting that while it is “perfectly reasonable to question the basis of the legitimacy of any state, no one in the international community, or in the Palestinian leadership, is saying otherwise. Only that the Palestinians have an equal right to a Palestinian state, on Palestinian land, and that Palestinian citizens of Israel (Arab Israelis) have full civil rights inside Israel.”
Who does ICAHD think it's kidding? Israel’s legitimacy as a Jewish state, and the of Jews to exercise their right to self-determination, has been under assault for years. For proof, go see Hamas’ charter and while you’re at it, take a look at Sabeel’s Jerusalem Document which calls for a one-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict with the formula being "One state for two nations and three religions."
Incitement Not a Problem
Things get really weird on page 17, when the booklet denies that anti-Semitic incitement in Palestinian society is an obstacle to peace, stating that “while there is clearly a nationalist sentiment in Palestinian texts, as there is for Israelis, there is no call for incitement against Jews or Israelis in the Palestinian Authority’s curriculum. The PA has even gone so far as to ban the posting of ‘martyr posters’ on schools out of concern that it will encourage violence among the youth.” (The booklet offers this assertion to refute the notion that "the real problem is the anti-Semitic propaganda that Palestinians receive since childhood.")
To get a more accurate picture of the problem of incitement in Palestinian society, go to Palestinian Media Watch, the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), or even youtube. This is no mere "nationalist" sentiment, but annihilationist sentiment and it is an obstacle to peace whether Halper and the group he leads want to admit it or not.
The booklet, (authored by Emily Schaeffer, Jeff Halper and Jimmy Johnson), was published with funding from the European Community. It includes the predictable disclaimer that the views expressed in the document do not “reflect the official opinion of the European Commission.”
To make matters worse, the booklet expresses gratitude to ICAHD’s other funders which include European Union, Christian Aid, the Catholic Committee Against Hunger and for Development, the Church of Sweden, the Austrian Development Agency and the government of Ireland.
What were these institutions doing supporting an organization that offers such a patently distorted view of the Arab-Israeli conflict?
And can someone tell us why ICAHD is a trusted “resource” in mainline Protestant community?
July 09, 2010
A Model Worth Following
The final gavel will drop sometime on Saturday, but it appears that the PC(USA)’s 2010 General Assembly has concluded its deliberations regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict.
The upshot of the proceedings is that while the anti-Israel activists within the denomination still have some ability to influence the church’s “prophetic witness” about the conflict, an important part of the church’s establishment -- pastors of “Big Steeple” churches within the denomination -- has woken up to the threat that anti-Zionism poses to the credibility of the PC(USA). This group weighed in with a pastoral letter signed by a number of pastors including Rev. John Buchanan and issued in the weeks before the General Assembly.
These pastors woke up to the threat after reading the report issued by the Middle East Study Committee (MESC). In particular, the report’s historical analysis (“A Plea for Justice”) was so one-sided and so rife with material omissions that a call by Presbyterians for Middle East Peace to reject the report in its entirety seemed to be getting some traction within the General Assembly, prompting the committee charged with dealing with the report to delete the historical analysis from the report and replace it with eight yet-to-be written personal narratives -- four pro-Palestinian and four pro-Israel. The committee also inserted an affirmation of Israel’s right to exist into the report.
The committee made another significant change. The original report called for the General Assembly to appoint the members of the Middle East Study Committee to a “monitoring group” that would observe events in the Middle East for the next two years -- and make another report to the next General Assembly in 2012.
Instead, he new version of the report, which was approved by an 82 percent majority of the GA, calls for one, but no more than two members of the Middle East Study Committee to serve on the yet-to-be appointed “monitoring group.” (This monitoring group, by the way, will solicit and publish the eight narratives mentioned above.)
This change in the composition of the monitoring committee gets at the heart of the problem. The Middle East Study Committee was fundamentally biased against Israel. One member had stated previously stated that in his heart of hearts he wanted a one-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. And another had stated that she could not reconcile herself to Israel’s “right” to exist. She was willing to accept the fact of its existence, but no more. This is no small issue because one of the factors behind Arab violence against Israel is the notion that the Jews are not entitled to a sovereign state of their own in the Middle East.
The appointment of members such as this to the Middle East Study Committee by one current and two past PC(USA) moderators in 2008 set the stage for disaster a the 2010 General Assembly. There was no way a committee dominated by anti-Israel partisans, as this one was, was going to create a comprehensive report that would give Presbyterians the information they needed to make a credible statement about the rights and wrongs of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
On this score, the MESC committee was set up to fail by the people who appointed its members.
Hopefully, the moderators charged with appointing the membership of the “monitoring group” will learn from past mistakes. If they do, maybe the church’s long denominational nightmare -- which began in 2004 when the General Assembly approved an anti-Israel divestment resolution will come to an end.
There are still reasons to be concerned. The denomination approved a resolution denouncing Caterpillar for selling its products to Israel and it also reaffirmed existing policy that calls on the U.S. government to put strings on U.S. military aid to Israel. It also failed to approve a document relating to Christian-Jewish relations. The same General Assembly however, voted down two proposals to divest from Caterpillar.
All of these resolutions were a side-show, however to the Middle East Study Committee Report which captured everyone’s attention and dominated the debate within the church in the months before the General Assembly.
Pro-Palestinian and Pro-Israeli?
What is new at the 2010 General Assembly is that people started to realize that drawing attention to Palestinian suffering and working to end it does not require demonizing Israel. This message was even embraced by some of the members of the Middle East Study Committee.
Yes, you read that correctly.
Prominent members of the Middle East Study Committee who prepared the document that aroused so much suspicion (and who initially defended it) got forcefully behind the effort to get an amended version of the document passed by the General Assembly.
These committee members took huge risks by acknowledging the problems with the report and by working to fix it.
If more Presbyterians follow the example of these people -- Susan Andrews and Ron Shive -- the PC(USA)‘s 2010 General Assembly will likely be seen as the gathering where pro-Palestinian Presbyterians started to realize that acknowledging and working to end the suffering of the Palestinian people does not require demonizing Israel and offering up a history that absolves Arab leaders of all guilt.
That’s a model worth following.
And the Nominee for Norwegian Media Victim of the Year Is...
So unbridled is much of the Norwegian media in leveling false charges that a special award has been created by Norwegian businessman Stray Spetalen -- himself a victim of bias. The Stray Spetalen Award recognizes the individual on the receiving end of the most outrageous, distorted, shoddy and unprofessional treatment by the Norwegian media.
High in the running this year is Manfred Gerstenfeld, a PhD in environmental studies who also holds an advanced degree in Judaism from the Dutch Jewish Seminary. Editor of Behind The Humanitarian Mask, a collection of essays about the Nordic countries' attitudes toward Israel, Gerstenfeld notes in that work's introduction:
[I]n recent years part of the societal elites, particularly in Sweden and Norway, have been responsible for many pioneering efforts to demonize Israel. Prominent among the perpetrators are leading socialist and other leftist politicians, journalists, clergy, and employees of NGOs. This demonization is based on the classic motifs of anti-Semitism, which often also accompany its new mutation of anti-Israelism.
(CAMERA is also all too aware of the astounding shoddiness of Sweden's -- and Scandanavia's -- largest newspaper, Aftonbladet, publishers of 2009's blood libel charging Israelis shoot Palestinians to harvest and traffic their organs.)
As chronicled on Norway, Israel and the Jews Gerstenfeld's unmasking of Norwegian biases against Israel and Jews has prompted near-hysterical media response:
Aftenposten’s Harald Stanghelle has called him “a blinded fanatic”. NRK’s Sidsel Wold has called him a “Norway-hater”. NTB has called him an “aging, right-wing Israeli”. He is known throughout Scandinavia for statements he has never made and beliefs he has never harbored. For the sin of writing a book on anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism in the Nordic countries, he has been vilified, ridiculed and demonized. If anyone is eligible for Stray Spetalen’s ‘media victim’ award, it is Manfred Gerstenfeld
The blog goes to say:
If you support the nomination of Manfred Gerstenfeld for Stray Spetalen’s “media victim award”, write a polite and informative e-mail to: email@example.com -- secretary at Schjødt legal firm.
CAMERA Responds to PC(USA) Vote
Breaking: The PC(USA)'s General Assembly approved a significantly altered version of the Middle East Study Committee Report. More details will follow, but here is CAMERA's response signed by CAMERA Executive Director Andrea Levin:
The Committee for Accuracy In Middle East Reporting in America has been paying close attention to the events at the Presbyterian Church (USA)'s General Assembly in Minneapolis, with a particular emphasis on the report submitted by the Middle East Study Committee (MESC). The original version of this report offered a highly partisan and distorted view of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
This is not what the PC(USA)'s General Assembly asked for when it created the Middle East Study Committee in 2008.
CAMERA is heartened by the General Assembly's efforts to perfect the report. The General Assembly's committee on Middle East Peacemaking engaged in a good-faith effort to correct the problems with the MESC report. Problems remain, but if PC(USA) leaders follow the process outlined in the overture passed by the General Assembly today, the church will embark on a process by which it can arrive at a comprehensive—and factual—understanding of all the factors contributing to the continued existence of this tragic conflict.
This is what the PC(USA)'s General Assembly asked for in 2008.
CAMERA hopes that this is what the church will receive in the years ahead.
July 08, 2010
The Nation Columnist Slams The Nation Editorial
A June 21 editorial in The Nation about Israeli restrictions on Gaza draws heat in a letter-to-the-editor by, of all people, The Nation columnist Eric Alterman.
Alterman, himself a harsh critic of Israel, noted Hamas's illiberal philosophy before asserting that the magazine's editorial, "like most Nation editorials, assumes Israel is 100 percent at fault in this conflict and that whoever opposes it is 100 percent correct. ... As such, it can have no relevance to the views of anyone who takes the complications of the conflict seriously in hopes of finding a solution that might one day be acceptable to the country The Nation consistently demonizes."
The magazine's editors hit back, arguing that for all its faults, Hamas's leaders "have stated repeatedly that they will accept a two-state solution." (You can read the entire exchange here.)
Perhaps we should turn to Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar to sort out this dispute. On June 15, Zahar was interviewed on Lebanon's Future TV. MEMRI translated:
We have liberated Gaza, but have we recognized Israel? Have we given up our lands occupied in 1948? We demand the liberation of the West Bank, and the establishment of a state in the West Bank and Gaza, with Jerusalem as its capital – but without recognizing [Israel]. This is the key – without recognizing the Israeli enemy on a single inch of land.
"This is our plan for this stage – to liberate the West Bank and Gaza, without recognizing Israel’s right to a single inch of land, and without giving up the Right of Return for a single Palestinian refugee.
"Our plan for this stage is to liberate any inch of Palestinian land, and to establish a state on it. Our ultimate plan is [to have] Palestine in its entirety. I say this loud and clear so that nobody will accuse me of employing political tactics. We will not recognize the Israeli enemy. "
And there you have it.
To claim, as does The Nation editors, that Hamas leaders have "stated repeatedly that they will accept" a state in the West Bank and Gaza, without also noting that these leaders repeatedly make clear they don't see this as the "solution" but rather as a partial step toward their ultimate of destroying Israel and replacing it with an Islamic state, is brazenly unethical and, in effect, a lie.
Huffington Post Commenters Blame Jews for CNN Firing
As previously noted by CAMERA, here and here, comments by CNN Senior Middle East Editor Octavia Nasr praising former Lebanese Shiite cleric Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah reflected poorly on the credibility of CNNs Middle East coverage, prompting the network to dismiss her. But among commenters at the Huffington Post , one of the largest and most influential news blogs in the world, there was sympathy for Nasr. Her firing was widely attributed to the nefarious Jewish control of the media.
The following are a sampling of comments from the Huffington Post piece on July 8, 2010 blaming the Jews for Nasr's firing:
BassguyGG 1 hour ago (12:41 PM) There is no freedom of speech in this country for anyone in public life anymore when it comes to the Middle East. Anyone who disagrees with Israel or says anything good about their enemies is immediately and summarily destroyed. First Helen Thomas now Nasr.
gigli 1 hour ago (12:35 PM) Wow. Fired for a political opinion. One not in favor of Israel. Shock. Any wonder why the Muslim world thinks we hate them and are waging a war against Islam? It's never going to stop while this kind of nonsense keeps going on.
sparky73 1 hour ago (12:22 PM) Ofcourse she was right to praise this man but since the J*ws control the media there was no way she was going to be able to keep her job.
hazelrahra 36 minutes ago (1:17 PM) How much more obvious in their pro-Israel bias can the mainstream "liberal" media get? I wonder if Wolf Blitzer would lose his job if he made a statement voicing his respect for, say, Ariel Sharon or Ehud Olmert on their passings-both war criminals. I very much doubt it. But when an Arab-American editor voices her opinion/exercises free speech w/r/t a Lebanese cleric who reportedly called for the destruction of Israel--the occupier and oppressor, past and present, of the Palestinian and Lebanese people--well, those WORDS are far more reprehensible, apparently, than the actual DEEDS of Israel. In other words, blacklist, fire, slander, prevent from getting published, prevent from being performed, simply prevent from having a voice anyone and anything critical of Israel--and all those remotely associated with them--but bulldoze all the crops, houses, schools, ancient cemeteries and centers for autism you want, and drop all the white phosphorus on women and children and hospitals you want, and burn them to a crisp, and then go and voice your respect for those who do. Just make sure you get your oppressor and victim straight, because whether you have a voice will be dependent on that.
GCitizen 2 hours ago (11:31 AM) This just shows you the bias of the U.S. mass media and the great influence of the Israeli lobbies in the U.S. CNN and Fox News are full of journalists defending the Israeli occupation and terrorism such as Wolf Blitzer and Glenn Beck on air. When a CNN editor showed respect for one of Isreal's enemies in a personal Tweet, she is fired because of all the noise and hate coming from Israel and the Israeli lobbies in the U.S. toward her.
imajoebob 3 hours ago (11:07 AM) This is "integrity" by the company that spawned Glenn Beck. The lie here isn't even thinly veiled. If she tweeted that Ariel Sharon (the actual creator of the intifada) was the greatest man who ever lived she'd be lionized for her political insight. But saying something minimally positive about an Arab she hit the third rail for American media: don't cross the Israeli lobby. Let's not pretend it's anything other than that.
Southern Comfort 3 hours ago (11:04 AM) I wonder if she would have been fired had she made a remark about an Israeli leader? I sincerely doubt it. Coming right after the medias near lynching of Helen Thomas, this clearly shows the American medias anti-Arab and anti-Muslim bias. I can only imagine she will be replaced with a pro-Israeli mouthpiece, as compared to someone who truly knows the Middle East.
NamvetPR 3 hours ago (10:44 AM) Another example of the power of the Jewish lobbying in every public aspect of our lives. Whose democracy is it anyway???
Israeli Oppression Meets Time Travel
Since 1830, Israel's occupation of the West Bank has forced Palestinians to abandon their homes and live in caves. Oh wait...
IMRA: Stephanopoulos Misrepresents Obama on Freeze
ABC's George Stephanopoulos has a novel solution to the "problem" President Obama created yesterday for those interested in continuing the pressure for an extension of the freeze - he simply misrepresented what Obama said:
"MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: How about extending the settlement freeze? The president said yesterday he hopes that there will be enough progress in the peace talks for the freeze to be extended past September. "
Now here is what the president actually said: ""And my hope is, is that once direct talks have begun, well before the moratorium has expired, that that will create a climate in which everybody feels a greater investment in
success. Not every action by one party or the other is taken as a reason for not engaging in talks."
In other words: The ending of the freeze by Israel isn't a reason for the Palestinians not to engage talks.]
July 07, 2010
CNN Fires Mideast Editor Octavia Nasr Following Controversial Tweet
CNN's Middle East editor Octavia Nasr was fired after the brouhaha surrounding her tweet mourning the death of a Hezollah leader and praising him as one of the organizations' "giants" whom she respects. According to Mediaite, an internal CNN memo acknowledged that Nasr's credibility as Middle East editor was compromised. Mediaite reproduces the memo:
From Parisa Khosravi – SVP CNN International Newsgathering
I had a conversation with Octavia this morning and I want to share with you that we have decided that she will be leaving the company. As you know, her tweet over the weekend created a wide reaction. As she has stated in her blog on CNN.com, she fully accepts that she should not have made such a simplistic comment without any context whatsoever. However, at this point, we believe that her credibility in her position as senior editor for Middle Eastern affairs has been compromised going forward.
As a colleague and friend we’re going to miss seeing Octavia everyday. She has been an extremely dedicated and committed part of our team. We thank Octavia for all of her hard work and we certainly wish her all the best.
AFP: The "Daring" Munich Massacre
An AFP photo caption identifies the Munich massacre as "daring:"
Yes, I'd imagine that being responsible for the murder of world-class athletes, including a fencer, wrestlers, and weight lifters -- dangerous foes -- must have been a very scary and risky undertaking for Mr. Odeh. Mahmoud Abbas, for his part, didn't miss a chance to praise Oudeh for his daring feat.
Middle East Committee Work is Done
The Middle East Peacemaking Committee of the PC(USA)'s General Assembly has finished with its recommendations that will be forwarded to the full assembly sometime in the next few days. (The General Assembly ends on Saturday morning.) The recommendations and the amendments formulated by the committee can be found here. (Click on "committees" and then click on Committee 14 on the left.)
The committee approved a modified version of overture 14-08 (The Middle East Study Committee report) and used this resolution to "answer" other overtures before the committee.
The overtures can still be amended on the floor of the General Assembly, which will be voting on a number of items, most of them not related to the Arab-Israeli conflict, over the next few days.
Snapshots will provide a summary of the General Assembly's actions on all the relevant overtures after they are voted on.
July 06, 2010
CNN Journalist Voices Admiration for Terrorist Inciter
Several journalists have noted that CNN’s senior editor of Middle East affairs, Octavia Nasr, proclaimed her respect for Hezbollah’s spiritual guru, Ayatollah Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Fadlallah after his recent death. On her Twitter page, Nasr wrote:
Sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah.. One of Hezbollah's giants I respect a lot.
Daniel Halper points out on the Weekly Standard blog that Fadlallah “famously justified suicide bombing.”
Aaron Klein of World Net Daily gives examples of Fadlallah’s “long history of supporting terrorism against the U.S. and Israel” including the seizure and hostage-taking at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979. Both point out that Fadlallah is believed to have masterminded the 1983 U.S. Marine barracks which killed 241 U.S. Marines, and was a Holocaust minimizer.
HonestReporting questions whether “Fadlallah's praise for the massacre of eight Israeli students at Mercaz Ha-Rav Yeshiva in Jerusalem on March 6, 2008,” his “fatwa to the suicide bomber who attacked the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983,” his support for “the seizure and hostage-taking at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979," his backing of ”suicide bombing attacks in 2002", or his praise for “Iran's efforts to build long-range missiles...in 2008” are among the actions that Nasr admires?
According to CNN, Nasr “serves as an on-air and off-air analyst across all platforms of CNN Worldwide” and is a “leader in integrating social media with newsgathering and reporting.” And her twitter page demonstrates how Nasr integrates social media with reporting. By expressing her admiration for a terrorist inciter, she provides a public display of the bias that cannot help but inform her analysis of events in the Middle East – a display that should be disturbing to all who value objective reporting.
Middle East Peacemaking Committee Considering Major Changes to Report
Minneapolis -- July 6, 2010
Note: Events are taking place as this blog entry is being written. Updates to follow.
The Middle East Peacemaking Committee is currently considering major changes to the Middle East Study Committee Report under consideration at the PC(USA)’s General Assembly. The changes would include an explicit affirmation of Israel’s right to exist (which was missing from the original MESC report) and a more nuanced endorsement of the Kairos Document that does not affirm its calls for boycotts, divestments and sanctions against Israel.
The amendments would also delete a specific reference to the World Council of Church’s Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Israel-Palestine, a controversial organization that like other so-called peace making programs related to the Arab-Israeli conflict, draws attention to Israeli policies while offering little if any testimony to the actions of Hamas and Hezbollah.
The amendments will also delete an entire section of the document which includes a highly distorted “historical analysis” and replace it with a “series of eight narratives … four arising from the range of authentically ‘pro-Palestinian’ perspectives (including both Christian and Muslim) and four from the authentically ‘pro-Israel’ perspectives…” These narratives will be solicited and chosen by a monitoring group that will be appointed after the General Assembly.
“Hopefully these changes will reflect more fully the narratives of the conflict,” a proponent of the amendments said.
The amendments, if they survive the committee process and are approved by the General Assembly, will also limit the number of people from the Middle East Study Committee that can serve on the group mentioned above.
The original document submitted by the Middle East Study Committee called for the creation of a “Monitoring Group on the Middle East” that would convene until the 2012 General Assembly and make another report to that body. The original report stated that this group would “consist of the members of this study committee.”
The proposed amendment calls for the creation of a seven member monitoring group that will include “at least one, but no more than two members of the existing MESC.”
This is a clear effort to limit the influence of the current members of the Middle East Study Committee on the yet-to-be created monitoring group.
Early Discussion Around Kairos Document
The amendments, if approved, would also call for the General Assembly to “endorse the Kairos Palestinian document (“A Moment of Truth”) in its emphasis on hope for liberation, nonviolence, love of enemy, and reconciliation, but not other elements, such as its call for BDS.” The amendment would also lift the document up for study and discussion by the Presbyterian, and direct the Monitoring Group for the Middle East to create a study guide for the document.”
Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb came to the defense of the Kairos Document during these proceedings stating that it included a call boycotts divestments and sanctions as a way to avoid getting caught in the trap of “non-violent apathy.”
“If you read Martin Luther King’s letter from Montgomery, that is the power you see in this document,” he said. “I encourage you not to be selective. Even the Bible, I have a problem with some sections but I wouldn’t take them out,” he said eliciting laughter from the audience.
This neat trick of rhetoric prompted a polite response from a committee member who said that the amendment was needed to get the report passed by the committee.
“With all due respect, the Kairos Document isn’t the bible,” he said.
Getting the Report Passed
The goal of these amendments committee members stated is to get the report approved by the General Assembly.
“We heard the concerns of the people who want to throw [the MESC] report out,” said one of the proponents of the amendments. “The amendments are to make it more passable to the entire church, then we wouldn’t lose the entire report.”
The calls to reject the report outright made by some Presbyterians, including Presbyterians for Middle East Peace, definitely caught the attention of the committee members.
July 05, 2010
Committee Calls for Caterpillar to be "Denounced"
The Middle East Peacemaking Issues Committee of the PC(USA)’s General Assembly has started to make its recommendations regarding a number of overtures that deal with the Arab-Israeli conflict.
After spending all of the morning and some of the afternoon listening to testimony about the overtures before it, the committee voted to recommend that the General Assembly approve (14-03) which calls on the denomination to "denounce" the company. (July 6, 2010 NOTE: The original version of this entry incorrectly reported that "the committee approved the overture with an amendment that opens the door for divestment in a year if the company does not change its policies." A review of the resolution on the denomination's website indicates that this overture was approved without amendment.)
In subsequent proceedings, the committee then voted 34-17-1 that overture 14-03 "answers" the issues raised by two other resolutions, (14-01 and 14-02), that call on the church to divest outright from Caterpillar. In other words, the committee chose to denounce Caterpillar and not divest from the company. It will be up to the General Assembly to decide whether or not to accept the committtee's recommendations.
The vote indicates that there is a significant minority on the committee willing to take an extreme anti-Israel position and that this minority is offset by a less extreme majority that still views Israel with suspicion.
There are numerous other Israel-related overtures before the committee.
Overture 14-04 asks the General Assembly to declare Israel guilty of the crime of apartheid (as activists did at the UN "anti-racism" conference in Durban in 2001 which devolved into an anti-Semitic horror show). And overture 14-05 calls on the church to lift up the Kairos Document.
Another overture (14-09) deals with American military aid to the Middle East (with a particular emphasis on Israel), and yet another (14-10) calls on Israel and Hamas (yes, Hamas) to investigate their actions during Operation Cast Lead.
One overture (14-06) calls on the church to refrain from making expressions of unilateral support for one side or the other of the conflict, which in the context of the PC(USA), is an apparent attempt to constrain the efforts of the denomination’s peace activists who target Israel with one-sided statements such as the Middle East Study Committee's report.
Israel's Defenders at a Disadvantage
In theory, this overture would also constrain Israel’s defenders as well, but the reality is that Israel’s defenders within the PC(USA) understand that they are defending a nation-state which, like all other nation-states, needs to be viewed with a critical eye. Under Christian theology, nation-states are not a positive good, but a necessary evil -- a response to the nature of the fallen world in which we live. Any attempts to portray Israel, or any other nation state, in overly idealistic terms is a form of idolatry. [NOTE: Please see Rev. John Wimberly's response below in the comments section.]
Consequently, Israel’s supporters inside the PC(USA) haven’t put forth one-sided resolutions that portray Israel as completely innocent while leveling ritualistic charges at the Palestinians.
The so-called peace activists, on the other hand, regard themselves as fighting a positive evil on behalf of a wholly innocent victim -- the Palestinians -- and their resolutions show it.
Under these conditions, people intent on defending Israel from unreasonable and obsessive accusations are at a strategic disadvantage, because in group setting such as a General Assembly, the momentum often goes to the angrier and more energetic side.
It also helps that Israel’s defenders must protect themselves from charges of being too close to the to the Jewish community in the U.S., or worse, being agents of a foreign power.
Pro-Palestinian activists, on the other hand, find affiliating with Palestinians, some of whom are members of the PC(USA), a great source of comfort and credibility. This solidarity is almost equivalent to baptism itself in its sanctifying power. But in order for this solidarity with the Palestinians to keep its sanctifying, justifying power, Palestinians must be portrayed as holy innocents whose wrong actions can be explained by the circumstances they live under.
Of course, the right to have one’s behavior judged in the context of relevant circumstances is one denied to Israel, a reality clearly demonstrated by the text of the Middle East Study Committee’s report. In the narrative offered in this report, the human condition is split in two, with the shadow side projected onto Israel and its transcendent, pure bright side projected onto the Palestinians. The Palestinians, who symbolize the children of light are embraced while Israel is cast off as a representation of the children of darkness.
This splitting process, and the accusations used to further it, was also evident at this morning’s testimony, particularly when spoke about divestment from Caterpillar. Proponents of divestment spoke about how the equipment is used demolish homes, uproot olive trees and build the security barrier. They argued the church should have nothing to do with a company that allows its equipment to do these things. Caterpillar became the link between the PC(USA) and an exterior evil that can be removed as simply as washing one's hands.
“Caterpillar symbolizes the immoral occupation of Palestine,” one delegate said. “It’s a powerful symbol. We are given an opportunity to say as a church that we do not want to endorse the occupation of Palestine. We do not want to endorse in any way the destruction of a people.”
This is an oblique accusation of genocide leveled at Israel, which given any honest interpretation of the facts, is insupportable and as such is not an attempt to educate, inform, or persuade, but an attempt to inflame apocalyptic passions.
Presbyterians from Illinois argued against divestment because it would, in effect, put Presbyterians who work for Caterpillar outside the beloved community of the Presbyterian church. They didn’t say it in those words, but it was clear enough. They wanted the perimeter of the beloved community to include them. It remains to be seen how Presbyterians who work for Caterpillar will respond to a resolution denouncing, as opposed to divesting from, the company they work for.
It's not likely to be pretty.
One Presbyterian staff member from Peoria, Illinois made it perfectly clear that if the resolution were passed, some congregations would in effect divest from the denomination. “When they decide how to use the money they earned from Caterpillar, they will be quite upset if you tell them that the money is tainted and should not be given to the congregation.”
Overall, the testimony underscored an important aspect of the divestment campaign in mainline churches and in other institutions where it has taken root.
As a strategy, divestment is perfectly suited to efforts to focus attention on Israel’s misdeeds, real or imagined, and giving people reason not to pay any heed to the actions of its adversaries. There is no real way to divest from companies that do business with Hamas or Hezbollah and as a result, the proponents of divestment can avoid speaking about the misdeeds of Israel’s adversaries. Divestment structures the argument in such a manner that the conversation is exclusively focused on Israel.
Halper Supports Apartheid Charge
Of course, no mainline discussion of Israel’s sins would be complete without the testimony of Jeff Halper from the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions (a group for which the PC(USA) collects donations). Halper, a native of Minnesota and a regular critic of Israel, spoke in favor of the overture convicting Israel of the crime of apartheid.
The whole world got on board with the fight to end apartheid in South Africa in the 1970s and 80s, he said. “Why was apartheid such a big deal that we all mobilized? How did that affect us?” he asked. “If you have a state based on racism that’s in our international community, it sullies all of us … it’s the same in the case of Israel.”
The problems with this comparison are manifold, the most obvious being that the black South Africans were not led by leaders who called for the destruction of the whites in the country.
Fortunately, there are signs that mainline intellectuals are starting to realize that extremist anti-Israel rhetoric does more harm than good. This became apparent when Gustav Niebuhr testified against the Middle East Study Committee’s report. Niebuhr, the grandson of H. Richard Niebuhr and an influential writer in his own right, said the MESC report, if passed “will obscure in a major way” the role the Presbyterian Church (USA) and its historical antecedents have played in American society.
“Reputations are hard to win and they are easy to lose,” he said.
"The short narrative" on the MESC report is that it is anti-Israel, and there is “no bright line between anti-Israel and anti-Semitism in the minds of most Americans,” Niebuhr stated.
Niebuhr called on the committee to reject the report which he described as “terribly imbalanced,” stating “it will do a terrible disservice to the church at large.”
Another prominent figure in mainline Protestantism has also called for the report to be rejected: Rev. Dr. John Buchanan, pastor of the Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago. Buchanan, who is known to most people as editor and publisher of Christian Century has signed a letter (along with many other pastors) stating the report is historically inaccurate, intellectually flawed and imbalanced.
The letter laments, among other things, that there “is no call to neighboring nations to recognize the legitimate right of Israel to exist as a state and no affirmation of the right of Israeli citizens to defend themselves against aggression and to live in peace without the threat of terrorism.”
The letter also criticizes the Kairos Document because it “represents a troubling and weighted perspective which should not be commended because of its particularly one-sided views.”
Coming from Rev. Dr. Buchanan, who runs the magazine James M. Wall used to use to atack Israel on a regular basis, this is a pretty big deal. At one point during this morning’s proceedings, Buchanan’s name was called to give him an opportunity to testify against the MESC report. (He was not in the room at the time, reportedly because he was testifying on another resolution).
The willingness of Buchanan and Nieburh and other "heavy hitters" (such as Rev. Dr. Katharine Henderson) to come forward in opposition to the report indicates that the MESC crossed a line and that the actions of the PC(USA)'s General Assembly regarding Israel will be subject to increasing debate and scrutiny after the proceedings are over.
In other words, it won't be over even after it's over.
July 04, 2010
Committee Member Rejected Report for Failing to Affirm Israel's Right to Exist
The moderators of the PC(USA) who apparently have not read the Middle East Study Committee’s report on the Arab-Israeli conflict have endorsed the document, but one member of the committee that prepared the document voted against submitting it to General Assembly.
The report was just too one-sided and did not explicitly affirm Israel's right to exist.
Byron E. Shafer, pastor emeritus of the Rutgers Presbyterian Church in New York City, told his story at a breakfast held on on July 4, 2010. The breakfast was sponsored by Presbyterians for Middle East Peace, an organization that is calling on the PC(USA)’s 219th General Assembly to reject the report. Rev. Dr. Shafer spoke at the same event where Rachel Lerner, vice president of J Street, condemned the report for its one-sided portrayal of the conflict.
Shafer is critical of both Israelis and Palestinians and asserts that both groups are so locked into their particular perspectives on the history of the region and the current situation that they need the help of third parties to understand “what is right in the other party’s perspectives and what is wrong in their own perspective.”
The only way the PC(USA) can fufill this task is if it regards both the Israelis and the Palestinians with love, Shafer said.
To this end, the PC(USA) needs to refrain from taking one side or the other in the dispute and provide “an independent perspective on what seems to us right and what seems to us wrong in their dramatically differing narratives and perspectives.”
It is for this reason that Shafer, a member of the Middle East Study Committee voted against forwarding the report and its recommendations to the General Assembly. “I believe this report has chosen one side over against the other and does not express a deep love for Israel.”
Past General Assemblies have, for the most part, tried to strike a balance between support and criticism of both the Israelis and the Palestinians, Shafer asserted, “some [General Assemblies] more successfully than others,” he conceded.
If the General Assembly approves the MESC report, Shafer said, it would be taking the Palestinian side over the Israeli side.
It would be expressing love and concern for the Palestinians without also expressing love and concern for the Israelis,” he said. “In my view, any such action would have the effect of pouring fuel on the fire rather than contributing to the making of peace.”
Shafer offered three examples to prove his thesis. First, while other General Assemblies have affirmed the right to exist as a sovereign nation, the Middle East Study Committee has “drawn back from that position and does not explicitly reaffirm Israel’s right to exist. The phrase ‘right of Israel to exist’ appears in only one place--a summary of past actions of the GA. And it took considerable discussion within the committee to preserve it there. The phrase was removed from several other places where it occurred in preliminary drafts.”
The reason, Shafer suggests, is “because most Palestinians are prepared to acknowledge the fact of Israel’s existence without going on to acknowledge the right of Israel to exist.”
To buttress his point, Shafter directed his listeners to page 44 of the report which lists a number of reaffirmations of previous General Assembly statements. “’The right of Israel to exist is not included in the committee’s list. “Indeed, one member of the committee has stated to me quite clearly that the most significant disagreement between the two of us is precisely on this issue of whether or not Israel does have a right to exist.”
If the General Assembly retreats from its historic position of affirming Israel’s right to exist, Shafter says, it will be telling the public at large that the PC(USA) is not both pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli.”
Shafer’s second piece of evidence to buttress his point that the MESC report does not affirm both Israelis and Palestinians is that it repeats, without challenge the Palestinian claim that “If there were no occupation there would be no Palestinian resistance.”
This might describe some Palestinians, but not Hamas supporters, Shafer said.
“Furthermore, the report labels the Israeli occupation ‘sin’ while calling the Palestinian violence simply ‘resistance. Thus the report does not own up to what I and many others perceive to be the reality of the immense threat to peace in the region posed by Hamas.”
To make the problem worse, the study materials that accompany the report tell the conflict from the perspective of the Palestinians.
“Page sixty-three reads simply, “Israel attacked Egypt, Jordan and Syria.’ Period. The end of description. All of the events in the Arab world that led up to June, 1967 including the Egyptian blockade of the Straits of Tiran and various threatening military maneuvers by Egypt and Syria and hateful speeches against Israel and its existence of those countries -- all of these actions against Israel are left unreported.”
The last piece of evidence Shafer offered to show that the report expressed more concern for the Palestinians than the Israelis relates to the amount of materials detailing the Israeli perspective of the conflict. The committee, Shafer reported, decided at the last minute to solicit an article from an Israeli author to offset the one-sided historical narrative that showed only the Palestinian side.
“The scramble to solicit an Israeli perspective was, to say the least, hasty and placed its author [Ron Kronish] at quite a disadvantage, especially since the existing account was not shared with him. The final result is a study-material section containing eight pages of Israeli narrative in contrast to 77 pages of Palestinian-type narrative including maps,” Shafer said.
Shafer seemed intent on modeling the language Presbyterians need to affirm the rights of the Palestinians without demonizing Israel. He stated that the PC(USA) must, out of love for both the Israelis and the Palestinians, work for a negotiated two-state solution, work to preserve the Palestinian Christian community and be willing to criticize the actions of both Israeli and Palestinian leaders. And while he raised concerns about settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, he didn’t stop there, but drew attention to “the policies of Hamas [that] pose a great threat to Israel and also to Palestinian hopes for a state that is both secular and democratic.”
J Street Condemns PC(USA) Middle East Document
Minneapolis -- July 4, 2010 -- Rachel Lerner, vice president of J Street, offered a devastating rebuke to the authors of the Middle East Study Committee Report currently under consideration for the PC(USA)’s General Assembly.
“Supporting a Palestinian state does not, should not, and cannot mean tearing down Israel,” she said.
Lerner offered this rebuke at a breakfast at a breakfast held at the Hyatt in Minneapolis a few blocks from the convention center where the PC(USA)‘s General Assembly is taking place. The breakfast was organized by Presbyterians for Middle East Peace, a group calling on the General Assembly to reject the MESC report.
Lerner told the audience of approximately 150 that the report was so one-sided in its depiction of the Arab-Israeli conflict that J Street activists would not want to partner with the PC(USA) in its peacemaking activism if the report were to be approved “because it will push them into a corner a force them into a defensive stance.” She continued:
I want to be very clear about this -- this is not meant to be a threat. If this is passed we will not be issuing a directive to our locals that they cannot partner with local Presbyterian churches -- but with the passage of this study, the Church will alienate us and as a result our activists will not want to work with you and this will damage completely the possibility of a future relationship.”
Lerner’s rebuke is a substantial setback for the proponents and the defenders of the report because the report itself names J Street as a group that Jews in the U.S. should emulate and follow. J Street, the report states, is a group that “raise[s] the banner that being pro-Israel and being truly Jewish is not tantamount to complicity in the excesses of Israeli policy.”
Lerner told the audience -- which included a significant number of pro-Palestinian activists, that the MESC did not consult with J Street before publishing and that she and other activists in the organization were shocked by its tone and recommendations. Lerner read the report soon after it was published to prepare herself for the phone calls that as a J Street official were headed her way.
“I was to be perfectly honest -- surprised and saddened and to be very, very honest, sometimes even angered by what I read,” she said.
Lerner stated that while she believed that the impulse behind the report was to promote peace in the Middle East, “the tone this study takes, the narrative it puts forward, and the conclusions and policy recommendations it makes are so one-sided, so devoid of any balance, that I fear this report will not only not achieve its desired effect -- positive change in the region and a just two-state solution -- but it will be counter-productive to forging a meaningful peace and will significantly hinder the possibility of future efforts to work together toward what for most of us is a shared common goal.”
J Street was surprised to see itself mentioned in the report’s introductory “Letter to our American Jewish Friends.”
“We were never consulted in the course of the committee’s research. I wish we had been,” she said.
J Street agrees with many of the criticism’s leveled at Israel, Lerner stated, but added that criticism of Israeli policies needs to be accompanied by an honest effort to take Israel’s legitimate security concerns into account, “not paid lip service, but taken seriously into account.” Lerner added that a drastic shift in American policy such as efforts to squeeze Israel financially “will only undercut the possibilities for peace in our lifetime.”
If the PC(USA)’s General Assembly passes the one-sided and extreme report, Lerner said, it will elicit a similar response from Israelis and from American Jews -- even Jewish peace activists.
“When I read the proposed study document, I felt myself moving into a self-protective position. I was truly so disturbed by what I was reading -- unable to find a familiar or even a just a balanced narrative in these pages, I found myself using language I don’t normally use, clinging to defensive positions, which surpised me, to be honest.”
After reading the report, Lerner called a number of J Street activists who were put off by the report. “Every activist I talked to who read the Letter to Our Jewish Friends, the recommendations of the committee, the Kairos Document [which the report endorses] had the same reaction: “Why would they do this? How could they say this? How can we work with them now?”
Lerner was not the only speaker at the breakfast. Rev. Dr. Katharine Henderson, president of Auburn Seminary spoke out in opposition to the report, as did one of the committee members Byron Schafer who stated the text did not explicitly affirm Israel’s right to exist. (Summaries of their talks will appear on Snapshots in the next few hours.)
After the talk, the audience raised questions about how one can square support for Israel with its settlements in the West Bank, how Israel’s status as a Jewish state can be squared with concern for Arab rights and how people can criticize Israel without being accused of anti-Semitism.
July 03, 2010
Presby Establishment Doubles Down on Middle East Study Committee Report
Given the distorted history and theology evident in the report issued by the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s Middle East Study Committee (MESC) in March, it would seem reasonable that Presbyterian staffers and elected officials would engage in some soul-searching prior to the denomination’s General Assembly (which began today) where the report will be debated and possibly affirmed.
Instead of admitting the report omits crucial facts of history, Presbyterian leaders and peace activists have tried to make it appear that the only way the PC(USA) can demonstrate its commitment to peace in the Middle East and for the well-being of the Palestinian people is if the General Assembly affirms the report, as if good intentions somehow make it unnecessary for Presbyterians to tell the story of the Arab-Israeli conflict with a modicum of integrity.
This strategy was clearly evident in a letter issued to the General Assembly by current PC(USA) Moderator Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow and more than a dozen former moderators of the church on June 15. 2010.
In their letter, the moderators call on the General Assembly to “support and vote in favor” of the MESC report, which among other things endorses the Kairos Document written by Palestinian Christian leaders in late 2009, a document which has been condemned by the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) as anti-Semitic and supersessionist.
In response to the concerns over the Kairos Document, the moderators state the MESC report "lifts up the Kairos document for study - not approval - so that a collaborative Palestinian Christian voice can be heard. The study team report affirms the emphases in the Kairos document on non-violence and reconciliation and hope.”
Compare the moderator’s description with the actual text of the MESC report, which calls on the General Assembly to approve a recommendation that
Endorses the Kairos Palestine document (“A Moment of Truth”) in its emphasis on hope for liberation, non-violence, love of enemy, and reconciliation; lifts the document up for study and discussion by Presbyterians; and directs the creation of a study guide for the document through the appropriate channel of the General Assembly Mission Council.
How is that not an endorsement of the Kairos Document? Only the most obtuse parsers of the text can deny that by calling on the General Assembly to endorse the Kairos document, the MESC is doing the same thing. Did the moderators read the MESC report? Did they read the letter they signed?
The moderators’ efforts to rehabilitate the MESC report also includes a defense of its theological analysis, which imposes demands on Jews because of their connections to the Hebrew Scriptures but does not make similar demands on Muslims in the Middle East.
The moderators write “The biblical and theological section clearly repudiates any hint of Christian Zionism or supercessionism (sic). What it does do is tie responsibilities for justice, human rights and hospitality to the biblical understanding of land rights.”
With this passage, the moderators are mimicking the report itself, which uses scripture to suggest that the Jewish claim to land is handicapped by obligations that apply to no other state. What would happen if one applied a “biblical understanding of land rights” to say, Germany or the United States?
What the MESC report tried to do is to dress up discriminatory and unreasonable expectations of Israel with scripture and theology to justify these expectations.
And the PC(USA)‘s moderators are assisting in this process.
The willingness of the moderators to sign such a letter indicates that the PC(USA)‘s establishment is getting behind the Middle East Study Committee Report in a big way.
They are doubling down.
One need only look at what happened to the United Church of Christ in the aftermath of its 2005 General Synod to see where the PC(USA) is headed if this doubling-down process continues. The one-sided “Economic Leverage” and “Tear Down the Wall” resolutions approved at this synod were not the prophetic trophies that UCC leaders and peace activists had hoped they would be.
Instead of serving as ringing demonstration of the UCC’s status as a trailblazing peacemaking denomination, these statements became an albatross that hung around the church’s neck for the next two years.
And it wasn’t just the one-sided nature of the resolutions that harmed the church’s credibility. It was the events that took place after the 2005 General Synod. Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip and things got worse with Hamas’ kidnapping of Gilad Shalit and the rocket attacks from Gaza Strip and Lebanon. In sum, the UCC placed a bet on Hamas behaving responsibly and lost. Delegates may have not known what they were doing when they placed the bet, but that’s what they did.
Consequently, the mood was somber and more reflective at the UCC’s 2007 General Synod. The angry self-righteous certitude that manifested itself at the 2005 General Synod was gone.
The delegates knew something was not right and as a result, they passed a resolution that stated in effect that maybe there were some things the denomination hadn’t taken into account in its 2005 assessment of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The only way they could remove the albatross from their church’s neck was to eat crow.
The PC(USA)‘s 2012 General Assembly may need to do the same thing, but on a much grander scale.
Compared to the resolutions passed at the UCC‘s 2005 General Synod, the report before the PC(USA)‘s current General Assembly is not an albatross, it is a millstone.
July 02, 2010
Presbyterians Debate Middle East Study Report
Several weeks before the Presbyterian Church (USA)'s General Assembly, which begins tomorrow, July 3, the denomination sponsored a "webinar" about the report issued by the Middle East Study Committee. Speaking in favor of the report was Rev. Ron Shive, a Presbyterian Minister from North Carolina. Rev. John Wimberly, a Presbyterian minister in Washington, D.C. spoke in opposition to the report. During the question and answer period, Rev. Shive was forced to acknowledge that the committee's fact-finding efforts did not include a trip to Sderot, the target of thousands of rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip prior to the 2006 war.
Rev. Wimberly calls on Presbyterians to reject the report. "The committee's methodology involves primarily speaking with people who favor the Palestinian narrative," he said. "The consious choice was made not to seek the input of 74 percent of Presbyterians (this is from a poll in the report) who choose to maintain a close diplomatic and military relationship between the U.S. and Israel."
Rev. Wimberly quite simply demolishes the report.
But don't take Snapshots's word for it. Watch the whole thing.
British Judge and Jury Exonerate Anti-Israel Criminals
Robin Shepherd and Melanie Phillips comment on an outrageous judgement in southern England exonerating seven criminals who illegally entered and vandalized an arms factory that sold military equipment to Israel because they claimed their motive was to thwart Israeli "war crimes." Although they admitted to a crime causing hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage that would ordinarily carry a heavy sentence, the judge, George Bathurst-Norman, reportedly sent the jury off to deliberate with the following words, "You may well think that hell on earth would not be an understatement of what the Gazans suffered in that time."
Bigotry against the Jewish state is now so entrenched in contemporary British society that juries have begun to acquit criminals merely if they can show that they acted against Israeli interests. No other defence is necessary....
Under the combined weight of ideology and bigotry, the rule of law itself seems to be breaking down in Britain.
She further points out that this British judge is "no bleeding heart liberal", that in 2003, he jailed a man for three months for beheading a statue of Margaret Thatcher. At that time, he said that " smashing up property deserved a custodial sentence."
Ms. Phillips provides more interesting details about the judge, which may provide a clue as to why "this apparent law’n’order zealot gave the people who smashed up this factory a free pass in this way".
July 01, 2010
British Passports, Foreign Intelligence Agencies, and Media Inconsistency
UK's Just Journalism notes:
Though many and crucial differences exist between the cases of the alleged Russian spy ring arrested in the US yesterday and the suspected assassination by Israeli agents of a Hamas leader in Dubai in January this year, the common misuse of British and Irish passports is worth noting. In the latter case, expressions of political and media outrage were abundant; in the former, not so much on either front.
Read the rest here.