The Presbyterian Church (USA) has a lot of problems, from declining membership and attendance to fleeing congregations to heresy run rampant in its seminaries and pulpits and the internal warfare on its own members that has resulted from the spread of false teaching and the need to protect it. By and large, those are internal concerns. What the rest of the Christian world should be concerned about is its growing embrace of anti-Semitism, a phenomenon recently highlighted by the publication of a so-called “congregational study resource” called Zionism Unsettled by the Israel Palestine Mission Network (IPMN).
The IPMN–“mandated,” according to a recent press release, by the PCUSA General Assembly in 2004–has had its share of controversy. It has a disturbing habit of relying on the scribblings of known anti-Semitic writers and web sites, even having to shut down its Facebook page so as to try to scrub away its dirty laundry (it keeps popping up, over and over again, on their Twitter feed, however). Now, however, they decided to do a “greatest hits” collection of sorts, combining all of their various tropes into one handy package.
Let’s just say that reading Zionism Unsettled was right up there with plunging steak knives into my eyeballs as a fun way to spend an afternoon. Here are a few examples of why.
•One of the chief techniques used by IPMN is to simply ignore anything that might inconvenience the narrative. For instance, when dealing with the events of the so-called Nakba (“catastrophe”) that was the founding of Israel, they tell us that things got ugly in May of 1948:
As expected, war broke out between Jewish and Arab forces when Israel declared independence in May 1948. (p. 13)
Actually, what happened was that on May 15, the armies of Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and a token force from Saudi Arabia attacked Israel without provocation in an attempt to destroy the Jewish state in its cradle. The attack was accompanied by calls for the extermination, not just of the state, but of all Jews living in the Holy Land.
Another example is on the matter of refugees, where Zionism Unsettled says:
From December 1947 until the armistice between Israel and its Arab neighbors in 1949, this strategy of ethnic cleansing would force all the inhabitants from more than 500 Palestinian villages, totally and deliberately destroy the structures in 400 Palestinian villages, create 750,000 Palestinia refugees, kill most who resisted the dispossession of their lands, and homes, and prevent the return of Palestinian refugees to their homes after the cessation of hostilities. (p. 14)
How is this dishonest? Let us count the ways:
1) It fails to mention the Arab broadcasts that explicitly told Palestinians to leave or be treated as enemies. The Economist reported on October 2, “Of the 62,000 Arabs who formerly lived in Haifa not more than 5,000 or 6,000 remained. Various factors influenced their decision to seek safety in flight. There is but little doubt that the most potent of the factors were the announcements made over the air by the Higher Arab Executive, urging the Arabs to quit.. . . It was clearly intimated that those Arabs who remained in Haifa and accepted Jewish protection would be regarded as renegades.”
2) At least some of the destruction that the IPMN attributes solely to Israel was the result of fighting in and around Arab villages, making the invading Arab armies as responsible for it as the Israeli Defense Force.
3) The number of refugees is exaggerated–the real figure is much closer to half a million than three quarters, and in any event it is impossible to know what percentage of those who left the country did so out of fear of the Jews, out of fear of their Arab brethren, or out of obedience to the repeated broadcasts that called on them to do so.
4) Even before the declaration of independence, Arabs were leaving the country. The Lebanese daily Al-Telegraph, on September 6, 1948, quoted the secretary of the Arab High Council, Emil Ghory, saying “The flight of Arabs from the territory allotted by the UN for the Jewish state began immediately after the General Assembly decision [on partition] at the end of November 1947. This wave of emigration, which lasted several weeks, comprised some thirty thousand people, chiefly well-to-do-families.”
Yet another piece of dishonesty by omission is found in p. 14, where Zionism Unsettled says:
In the first decade of the life of the new state, the Jewish population almost doubled….Hundreds of thousands of Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews from Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries flooded Israel to escape the actual violent blowback or fear of blowback as the region became inflamed at the perceived injustice of the enforced partition of Palestine, the creation of a Jewish state, the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in 1947-48, and the Sinai War of 1956.
In fact, violence against Jews in the countries mentioned started before Israel’s independence, and even the partition, much less the creation of the refugee problem or the Sinai war. For example, in Libya, “The 2,000 year-old Jewish community of Libya, which numbered almost 60,000 by the 1940s, was the target of mass anti-Jewish violence in November 1945. In Tripoli alone, 120 Jews were massacred, over 500 wounded, 2,000 were made homeless, and synagogues were torched. There were more pogroms in January 1946, with 75 Jews massacred in Zanzur, and more than 100 murdered in other towns.” In all, over 875,000 Jews were expelled from various Arab countries, and over $13 billion in property and possessions expropriated. While the Palestinian population of both Israel and the West Bank has grown tremendously in the years since the establishment of the Jewish state, here’s one estimate of the size of the Jewish populations of the Arab nations that denounce the “racism” and “exclusivity” of Israel:
Algeria: less than 100
Egypt: less than 100
Libya: less than 100
None of this is mentioned in Zionism Unsettled, and those are significant omissions from just two pages of this propaganda.
Perhaps the most ludicrous form of the technique of omission is in the vignette page entitled “Extremism and Intolerance In Israel” (p. 36). There’s a picture of a sticker in a house window in Hebron that says “Kahane Was Right!” (referring to Meir Kahane, the infamous racist rabbi who advocated the expulsion of all Arabs from Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza). There’s another picture from Hebron, this one of graffiti that says “Gas the Arabs.” These are presented as if they are typical of Israeli attitudes:
Racism and intolerance are in no way confined to Israel’s religious extremists and settlers. Many observers who care deeply about Israel [who are neither named nor cited–DF] express grave concern that a rising tide of racial prejudice and extremism is becoming normalized not only among religious Jews but also among political figures and private citizens within Israel proper.
That there is racism, prejudice, and hate for Arabs in Israel is hardly a surprise. Jews are no more immune to the failings of human beings, including their worst impulses, than any other people. That such people are sometimes loud, obnoxious, and listened to by a segment of the population is also no surprise. Such instances, no matter who spews them, are deserving of nothing but contempt and condemnation. What is surprising is that, in a “study guide” that presumes to speak of the problems of Israel and Palestine, there is no mention whatsoever of the daily demonization, dehumanization, and hate that is directed at Israel and Jews by Arab media, education, and political and religious leadership. The New York Times, not noted as a friend of Israel, recently offered a few examples:
Adolf Hitler is quoted on the Facebook pages of Palestinian Authority schools. A young girl appears on Palestinian television, describing Jews as “barbaric monkeys, wretched pigs” and the “murderers of Muhammad,” the Islamic prophet. Maps on the Facebook page of the Palestinian presidential guards do not show Israel. President Mahmoud Abbas himself embraced as “heroes” released Palestinian prisoners who killed Israelis.
•One of the primary goals of the tract is to delegitimize the idea of Israel as a Jewish state. Supposedly this is a “new idea” introduced into the diplomatic lexicon by Colin Powell in a 2001 speech. Zionism Unsettled claims:
Since the Powell speech, this insistence on explicit Palestinian recognition of a “Jewish state” has become almost routine, but it is relatively new language for negotiations and for the international community….This demand presents a major obstacle to peace because, just as Jews want a “right of return” to the land, so too do the millions of Palestinians who have languished in refugee camps for three generations. Non-Zionists point out that a “Jewish state” is anethnocracy, not a democracy. [Emphasis in original.]
What’s wrong with this? To begin with, it ignores that the original intention of the U.N. partition was to create an “Arab state” and a “Jewish state.” The idea was that Arabs would live in Israel, and Jews in Palestine, with guaranteed rights of full citizenship for minorities in both countries. The Arabs rejected that, of course, and sought to create yet another Arab state while destroying the Jewish one. The demand for Palestinian recognition of Israel as a “Jewish state” is nothing more than a demand for Palestinians to reject the exterminationist goals of terror groups like Hamas. For another thing, the reference to the Jewish state as an “ethnocracy” is laughable coming from people who have no apparent problem with the tribalism and political repression of the almost two dozen Arab states. The writers of this garbage should ask themselves, how many mosques are there in Israel, as opposed to synagogues in Saudi Arabia? How many Arabs sit in the Israel Knesset, as opposed to Jews in Iraq’s Parliament? How many Arab-language publications are there in Israel, as opposed to Hebrew-language publications in Libya? How many Arab voters are there in Israel as opposed to Jewish voters in Egypt? Oh, wait, I forgot–essentially all the Jews have been expelled from Syria, Iraq, and Egypt, and were never allowed in Saudi Arabia, while 20% of Israel’s population is Arab.
The persistent drumbeat for the Palestinian “right of return” (a prominent feature of the advocacy in Zionism Unsettled) is nothing more than a bid to change the demographic reality in Israel. Regardless of the motives of the advocates (which I’m sure are pure as the driven snow), the effect of deconstructing the Jewish “ethnocracy” would be to create yet another Arab-dominated state in which Jews would be allowed to live until such time as the Arab majority decided they were tired of having them around. Oddly enough, Zionism Unsettled does recognize that one of the primary reasons for Israel’s founding was to provide a haven to Jews in the midst of a world that has marginalized, mistreated, ghettoized, and killed them with brutal regularity for centuries, and yet still calls for the dismantling of that haven. What was that about motives, again?
•Through the use of emotionally charged language and hysterical charges, the IPMN seeks to demonize Israel in a way that bears little if any relationship to reality. Foremost among the examples of this is the use of the term “apartheid” (comparison is also made with Jim Crow segregation in the American South on p. 18). It’s a word that conjures up images of oppression, violence, and racism, and has nothing whatsoever to do with what Israel is doing. Let’s look at one example of its use in Zionism Unsettled:
[T]here is a growing consensus–except, notably, in the US and Israel–that the existing de facto one-state situation/solution is irreversible and that the Israeli form of apartheid (segregation and separate development) is becoming increasingly entrenched. (p. 23)
This is nonsensical on several levels, but it’s the use of the word “apartheid” that is especially objectionable. As I wrote once on The Reformed Pastor:
[T]here is virtually no comparison between the two situations. In South Africa, blacks objected to being banished to “independent” Bantustans; the Palestinians are desperate for a state of their own (if anything, it’s Hamas and their desire for a single, Judenrein Palestinian state that most resemble the Afrikaaners). In South Africa, it was the state that beat up on its own people; in the Holy Land, the Palestinians aren’t citizens of Israel, but would-be invaders from outside. In South Africa, blacks had no rights to speak of; in Israel, Palestinian Arabs who are citizens–about one-sixth of the population–have all the rights of Jewish citizens, including the right to vote, to be elected to the Knesset, to sit in the government, even to speak out in support of their non-Israeli brethren. In South Africa, the courts facilitated the brutal treatment of blacks; in Israel, the courts protect the rights of Palestinians, even to the point of ordering the government to change many of its policies over the years (it is the Israeli Supreme Court, for instance, not the powerless International Court of Justice, that got the government to make changes in the route the security fence takes, ordering it to avoid as much as possible infringing on Palestinian-owned lands, orchards, and farms).
Using the word “apartheid” in reference to Israel is nothing more than name-calling designed to provoke an emotional response, rather than a serious attempt to understand the situation. Worse, it deliberately poisons the well, and stirs animosity toward the Jewish state that has little if anything to do with what the word actually means.
•Most egregiously, Zionism Unsettled is meant to delegitimize Judaism in the eyes of Christians as the IPMN arrogates to itself the right to separate “real” Judaism from its Zionist-infected counterfeit.
In the section entitled “A Jewish Theology of Liberation,” we read this:
In his important book Justice and Only Justice, Canon Ateek, a Palestinian Israeli and 1948 refugee from his ancestral home in Beisan, Palestine (now northern Israel), identifies three ideological streams within the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament). First, the tribalist-nationalist-separatist tradition of the conquest of Canaan and and the establishment of Israelite kingship so that Israel could become a military power like surrounding nations; second, the Torah-oriented tradition of the Pharisees which evolved into Rabbinic Judaism after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E.; and third, the prophetic tradition that rejected the idea of a tribal god in favor of Yahweh who not only ruled over the world but would eventually redeem all humanity. Ateek writes:
What is quite clear from a Palestinian Christian point of view…is that the emergence of the Zionist movement in the twentieth century is a retrogression of the Jewish community into the history of its very distant past, with its most elementary and primitive forms of the concept of God. Zionism has succeeded in re-animating the nationalist tradition within Judaism. Its inspiration has been drawn not from the profound thoughts of the Hebrew Scriptures, but from those portions that betray a narrow and exclusive concept of a tribal god.
Leave aside Ateek’s approach to the Old Testament, which is essentially Marcionite (he tosses the parts that morally offend him, and deride them as a “lower” form of revelation from a Demiurge or “tribal god”). What Ateek does here is dress up in theological language the old idea that the Jews, alone among the world’s multitude of peoples, have no legitimate claim to the safety, security, and dignity that goes along with sovereignty. Keep in mind, of course, that Ateek and his fanboys at the IPMN are positively passionate about what they see as the Palestinian claim to a sovereign state (preferably one that would include all of Israel as well). Such things just aren’t for Jews, apparently.
Oh, and let’s not miss this little head-fake: “Zionism has succeeded in re-animating the nationalist tradition within Judaism.” Really? Here I thought that the reason for the re-emergence of the desire for a national home for the Jewish people came about because Gentiles–Christians and Muslims, Europeans and Turks and Arabs–kicked them from pillar to post, expelled them, turned them into dhimmis, periodically persecuted and robbed them when they needed a political diversion, or systematically exterminated them. Turns out it was all just a political/ideological/racist ploy on the part of those evil Zionists to displace the Palestinians. Who’d a thunk it?
What’s all this got to do with anti-Semitism? Let me suggest these connections:
1) The source of this tract is the IPMN. As mentioned above, this hate group doesn’t hesitate to traffic with anti-Semites and use material off of their web sites. They are also fond of using materials from people and sites that are so far left, and so uniquely and disproportionately hostile to Israel that they might as well fall into the same category. Among those who feature in the text and endnotes are Ilan Pappe, Paul Findley, Rashid Khalidi, Max Blumenthal, I.F. Stone, Naim Ateek, Neve Gordon, Edward Said, Jonathan Cook, Jewish Voice for Peace,Mondoweiss.net, Electronic Intifada, Truthout.org, Al Jazeera, and Occupied Palestine.
2) By failing to present anything that even remotely resembles a balanced picture, the IPMN has offered a Manichean view of the conflict that casts Israel as devil and Palestinians as saints. One would never know from this propaganda that Arabs had ever treated Jews as anything other than full and equal residents of the region, living side-by-side in harmony, until the evil Jews decided to get all nationalistic and start treating the Arabs as sub-human, at which point the latter naturally took offense and defended themselves. The history of dhimmitude under Muslim rule, the periodic outbreaks of official or mob violence, the invasion of Israel in 1948, the planned invasion of 1967, the surprise attack of 1973, the use of terrorism against Israel’s civilian population by terror organizations such as Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, and Fatah–most of these are entirely absent, and the rest make nothing more than cameo appearances in Zionism Unsettled.
3) Granted that the IPMN is a special interest group, there is never even the slightest hint that things in the rest of the Arab world are anything but peachy, while Israel is regularly compared with apartheid South Africa and even Nazi Germany (see the section entitled “A Palestinian Muslim Experience with Zionism,” which alludes to the analogy, and has an extended discussion of “ethnic cleansing,” something the Israel must be really bad at, given that there are so many Palestinian citizens of Israel, much less the West Bank or Gaza). One would think that in a catalog of Palestinian suffering, there might be some mention of the failures of their Arab brethren–for instance, their refusal to take in and naturalize any of the refugees from 1948 or their descendants, or their repeated military failures that have hardened Israel’s resolve to protect itself, or their treatment of Palestinians as second-class citizens (Kuwait, Jordan, and others have done this for years). But no. Once again, it is the Jewish state that is uniquely evil, uniquely violent, uniquely prejudiced, and that is practically the very definition of anti-Semitism.
Zionism Unsettled has been getting a lot of attention from both Jewish critics and Christian supporters of Israel. So far the PCUSA, however, has essentially turned a blind eye to the cancer in its midst. A search of the PCUSA web site got only two hits–one for press release from IPMN blowing its own horn, and another from PCUSA News Service in which the head of the denomination’s mission agency, in which the IPMN is housed, said this:
“Our church has a long history of engaging many points of view when it comes to dialogue on critical issues facing the world around us — it’s who we are, part of our DNA,” said Linda Valentine, executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency. “There are likely as many differing opinions as there are Presbyterians — and, like many denominations, we don’t always agree.”
“There are myriad voices within congregations, and some would like to see the church go beyond that stance,” added Valentine. “But we remain guided by the policies of the General Assembly, seeking peace for Israelis and Palestinians alike.”
The news item also propounds the fiction that the IPMN–a creation of the church’s General Assembly–is “independent,” and “speaks to the church and not for the church,” a meaningless distinction in terms of the message that it sends to the world. That message is this: the PCUSA is perfectly comfortable with one of its constituent groups making repeated forays into the swamps of falsehood, bigotry, and hate. It is a scandal for the denomination, and one that this summer’s General Assembly would be wise to address.