When you sup with the devil

This is a guest post by AKUS

J Street has just learned a lesson that I hope the other “J”’s around the world– Jnews, IJV, etc. – will learn in time as well. The story behind this is, however, not a short one.

The Methodists and the World Council of Churches

In a an article published in the Guardian on Friday, July 2nd, Karen Burke, a journalist working as media officer for the Methodist Church in Britain (who knew Methodists need a “Media Officer”?) reported that Methodists vote for settlements boycott.

(As someone personally afflicted with a tendency to mistype, I am always on the alert for typos and it was amusing to note that the sub-header reads “The Methodist conference has voted for a boycott on good produced in illegal Israeli settlements” [emphasis added]).

“The Methodist Church voted on Wednesday to boycott products from Israeli settlements recognised as illegal under international law at its annual Conference in Portsmouth. It took the decision following a call from a group of Palestinian Christians, a number of Jewish organisations, both within Israel and worldwide, and the World Council of Churches.”

The World Council of Churches is the group that has as its mission the ecumenical goal of bringing together Christians of many different “churches” – sects, as we might call them if describing another religion. Notably, the Roman Catholic Church has, so far, excluded itself from this group for obvious ecclesiastical and historical reasons. On a page of their web-site titled Who are we? the organization states:

The WCC brings together 349 churches, denominations and church fellowships in more than 110 countries and territories throughout the world, representing over 560 million Christians and including most of the world’s Orthodox churches, scores of Anglican, Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist and Reformed churches, as well as many United and Independent churches. While the bulk of the WCC’s founding churches were European and North American, today most member churches are in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Latin America, the Middle East and the Pacific.

This is an ingenuous attempt to hide where most of the action is, and I suspect, from where the bulk of the CHF36 million budget derives (always follow the money…). The WCC is particularly active as a political organization in Canada, certain areas of the USA where there are a preponderance of Methodist and Presbyterian communities, and Britain.

The churches in the USA and Canada and their national councils continue to be major partners for the WCC and for churches and councils in other regions. The number of WCC member churches in the two countries is 31 and they represent over 50 million Christians.

Although the WCC and member churches concern themselves with many matters, there seems to be nothing that gets the ecumenical juices running like a good dose of anti-Israeli activity. Call me paranoid, call me gullible, but when church groups take it upon themselves to come together to single out the only Jewish State in the world for special attention never directed at other countries, it reeks of historical church anti-Semitism. Just as two examples from today’s press, what is their position on suppression of the Press in Turkey or China’s Uighur repression? Not for nothing is the noted antisemite and Guardian contributor, Ben White, one of the WCC’s poster-boys

The Methodists’ resolution was based on a 54-page report, A just peace for Palestine and Israel, presented at the recent WCC conference. They, of course, have their own definition of “peace” and “justice”, which, as it happens, does not seem to include much peace or justice for Israel. The Methodist report evolved from a document put together by Palestinian Christians called The Kairos Palestine Document. Robin Shepherd has an excellent article describing the hypocrisy of Methodist spokespeople and the Methodist Church’s decisions here.

What is also notable, as unfortunately frequently seems to be the case, the Methodists are able to draw on the support of various “as a Jew” individuals and organizations to provide their one-sided report, which can only further alienate the sides in the dispute. Thus, for example, the blog featuring “Ben White, Campaign coordinator, ‘A Just Peace for Palestine’” (note the absence of any reference to a “Just Peace for Israel” ….) is happy to echo the refrain that right-thinking Jews support its aims and those of the Methodists:

On behalf of those Jews and Christians in the UK and Palestine/Israel who publicly endorsed “the working group’s humane and principled conclusions”, we would like to thank all those who gave courageous and moving statements in support of the report’s conclusions.

The WCC in America – the Presbyterians

J Street has suddenly found out that it has been in bed with an organization whose actual goals are far different than those J Street purports to hold.

It turns out that leadership of the Presbyterian Church (USA) (which refers to itself as (PC) USA) has been pursuing a similar agenda to the British (and, perhaps, the US) Methodists. I don’t know enough about Christian sects to know how they differ from Methodists, nor why “PC” is in parentheses, though for other reasons I might put it in quotation marks, but it looks like their church leaders have found the same method to vent their antisemitism.

For those not up to date with essential Presbyterian acronyms, in order to make what follows intelligible here are a couple more:

“GAMC” – nothing to do with General Motors Auto Financing group (“GMAC”) – it took me a while to notice the difference. “The General Assembly Mission Council is the ministry and mission agency of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).” They also refer to it as the “General Assembly”, but it is not the General Assembly of the United Nations.

“MESC” stands for Middle East Study Committee (i.e., not the hallucinogenic drug, though the effects of its work are similar) which created a 179 page (!!) report intended to educate Presbyterians in right-thinking about Israel called “Breaking Down the Walls”. You can download it from this website. Like the Methodist report, it evolved from the document put together by Palestinian Christians called The Kairos Palestine Document.

I found a good summary of MESC’s work put out by the “Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism”, which noted:

The PC(USA), the third largest Mainline Protestant denomination in the United States and longtime coalition partner with the Jewish community on a variety of domestic policy issues, including civil rights, immigration and health care, is large and diverse. In 2004, the PC(USA)adopted a resolution calling “phased, selective” divestment from companies doing business in Israel. The surprising and stunning passing of this resolution sparked two years of intense dialogue between the Jewish community and the PC(USA). As a result of this engagement, in 2006 the PC(USA)adopted a new resolution eliminating the call for divestment from Israel and asking for “a new season of mutual understanding and dialogue” with the Jewish community. Despite the ongoing dialogue, the 2008 General Assembly also saw more action centered around Israel, in particular the formation of a Middle East Study Committee charged with presenting a report to the 2010 General Assembly.

That is, the GAMC, not the UN GA. They backed off the call for a boycott due to condemnation by Presbyterian rank and file. Well, if at first you don’t succeed … try, try again. Hence the MESC report, which was issued in March and whose recommendations are due to be voted on today (July 5th, 2010).

The MESC report was to include:

* an evaluation of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s mission and relationships, including an assessment of the future for the Christian presence and witness in the Middle East,
* an overview of the complex interactions among religions, cultures, and peoples that characterize the region,
* an analysis of U.S. policies that impact the area and steps to be taken with our partners in the Middle East and the United States to foster justice, improve interfaith relations and nurture the building of peace toward a secure and viable future for all and report back to the 219th General Assembly (2010).

What I find particularly strange about the terms of this study is that the only country in the Middle East where Christians are in fact free to worship as they will and they and their holy places are fully protected by the state, is in Israel. The MESC report itself notes on Page 3 (“Letter to Our Presbyterian Brothers and Sisters in Christ”):

There is much in our work that commends you to engagement with the issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict within the context of the broader Middle East. Above all, we want you to share our alarm at the continuing decline of the Christian community in the region.

Surely, one might think, a Christian group might be as concerned with the PERSECUTION and EVICTION of Christians in Palestinian territories and in Israel’s neighboring states as with the conflict between Moslems and Jews over “Palestine”? In fact, on Page 43 MESC does take note in an odd fashion of the persecution of Christians, and in a strange comment refers to the “exodus of Christians from Israel/Palestine”. But, they claim, it “is caused by anti-Palestinian discrimination and oppression, the growth of Islamic and Jewish fundamentalism”. I have yet to see a report by Christians claiming they were driven out of Israel, whereas there are frequent reports of pogroms against Christian Arabs in Gaza and the West Bank – Bethlehem is becoming a Moslem city. Christian Nazareth continues to grow.

The MESC report includes the obligatory plea for mutual tolerance from a well-meaning Rabbi that runs over 9 pages. More importantly it includes a hopelessly one-sided 67-page Palestinian version of history called “A Plea for Justice: A Historical Analysis”. This “Plea” is replete with pictures by Palestinian artists, photographs of the security barrier, etc. There are no pictures of suicide bombings or rocket attacks or children in Sderot running to shelters.

It will come as little surprise to those of us used to the way these attacks on Israel are organized to know that one of the authors, Nahida H. Gordon is actually an Arab (“Palestinian Christian”) whose family lost their home in Jaffa in 1948 when she was 8. “I still consider myself a refugee even though I am settled”, she claimed in an interview 62 years later. She is Professor of Bioethics at the School of Medicine, Case Western Reserve University. In a style reminiscent of the Guardian’s efforts to hide the real agenda of contributors, none of this is mentioned. Instead, the report states that “[s]he has had a lifelong interest in the Middle East, particularly in Palestine where she has served as a Fulbright Senior Scholar”. Indeed – just an average American Bioethics Professor with an unbiased interest in the Middle East.

The other, Dr. Frederic W. Bush is, or was, the D. Wilson Moore Professor Emeritus of Ancient Near Eastern Studies at Fuller Theological Seminary. He is no longer listed on the faculty, and I can only find a few articles by him including “Introduction to Islam: A Christian Perspective and Appreciation (Part I)” and “ Introduction to Islam: A Christian Perspective and Appreciation (Part II)” and commentary on the “Book of Esther”.

Both Gordon and Bush are Elders of the Presbyterian Church. One has to wonder about the bias inherent in a “history” produced by two Elders, neither of whom is a historian, one of whom has a clear connection to the Palestinian narrative and one of whom attempts to bridge between Islam and Christianity.

In a curious little attempt to delegitimize Israelis, there is a section in their history about the “saber plant”. This is now meant to represent Palestinians, even though for almost 100 years, the Hebrew equivalent, “Sabra”, has been used to describe native-born Israelis. The report includes maps showing how badly off the Palestinians are, but not the maps from Dennis Ross’s book about decades of negotiations and the Camp David proposals, “The Missing Peace”, and his notional map which show the terms the Palestinians turned down – and which they continue to turn down even after the Taba talks and Olmert’s proposal. In a long list of references, the authors do not include any Israelis or pro-Israelis or US Administration officials who have been involved in negotiations to give even a semblance of balance to their “history”. Notably, it did not consult with J Street – see below.

The report includes a long string of anti-Israeli recommendations and demands that run eight pages from Page 43 to 50, mixed in with the obligatory PC nod to the Palestinians to end violence, and a naïve grab-bag of demands, recommendations, and breast-beatings about every issue that one can imagine in the Middle East (not just Israel). The recommendations concerning Israel include relocation of the Separation Barrier to the Green Line (what of, say, the thousands in Ma’ale Adumim”?), “the withholding of U.S. government aid to the state of Israel as long as Israel persists in creating new West Bank settlements;“ but no similar demand for the US to withhold government aid to the PA or UNRWA as long as violence continues, etc. with particular attention paid to Caterpillar.

Ironically, on Page 45, MESC affirms “The moral principle of nonintervention in, noninterference with, and non-destabilization of other countries”.

Except, it appears, non-interference in Israel.

The report has not been accepted completely uncritically. In a lengthy collection of responses to the MESC report, A look at Middle East Study report of the Presbyterian Church USA: The Kairos Document (and how else can one deal with a 179 page document such as the MESC report other than at length?) we find the following:

Writers for “The Washington Post’s” “On Faith” find the Middle East Study Committee Report distasteful at best. Katharine Henderson and Gustav Niebuhr in their guest article of June 22, 2010 titled, “Peacemaking is more than pointing fingers,” say:

How best to encourage peace in the Middle East? The week of July 4, Presbyterians will tackle this most daunting of questions when they convene their denomination’s General Assembly–its top policymaking body–in Minneapolis. Awaiting the 600 commissioners–as representatives of the Presbyterian Church (USA) are called–will be a scaldingly critical 150-page report. It rebukes Israel for its treatment of Palestinian neighbors and calls for the denomination and the American government to squeeze the Jewish state financially.

We do not like it, and have signed a letter circulating among Presbyterians nationwide, calling on the General Assembly to reject the Middle East Study Committee’s report. Why? Because we find that report to be unbalanced, historically inaccurate, theologically flawed and politically damaging.

(Rev. Dr. Katharine Henderson is President of Auburn Seminary. Gustav Niebuhr is an associate professor of religion and the media at Syracuse University, author of “Beyond Tolerance: How People Across America Are Building Bridges Between Faiths,” and a member of the Auburn Board of Directors. Both are On Faith panelists.)

J Street Awakens – perhaps

What is almost – but not quite – amusing about this is that suddenly someone at J Street has begun to realize who her bedfellows are. It’s what in Yiddish is known as “a bittere gelechte” – a bitter joke. Thus it was fascinating to see that Rachel Lerner, Vice President, J Street Education Fund, has suddenly woken up to the fact that if you wish to sup with the devil, you need a long spoon and condemned the similar decision by the Presbyterian Church – USA. She may also have learned a good lesson about how a group like (PC)USA regards useful idiots like J Street – excellent for “as-a-Jew” material, but not to be taken as real equals in the struggle against Israel.

“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.

Well, I’m glad Rachel’s eyes have been opened, and that the VP for Education at J Street has received an education. Even Yossi Beilin, who would win the Nobel Prize for Naiveté if one was offered, has woken up. The JTA reports that:

B’nai B’rith International is circulating a letter to the Presbyterians from Yossi Beilin, a former Israeli Cabinet minister who is among the country’s most prominent doves and critics of the current policies of the Netanyahu government.

In the letter, Beilin urged the Assembly to “decline adopting materials and proposals that place inordinate blame on Israel for the conflict, without due appreciation for the extent of the physical threats — both rhetoric and deeds — that its people face. As much so, the singling out for censure or punitive measures of businesses engaged with one side to one complex conflict is highly counterproductive.”

Now it’s time for Rachel Lerner, VP J Street Education Fund to get to work educating some of her equally naïve – at best – colleagues at J Street. Throw out those like Richard Silverstein and Phil Weiss dedicated to the destruction of Israel. In the UK, the Methodists’ actions should cause similar groups to toss out the Tony Lermans, Jacquelyn Roses and Deborah Finks. It’s time for Jews who worry more about others than they do about themselves, their own people, and Israel’s security to wake up. They should take note of the unholy jihad being waged against Israel by the WCC and its member organizations the Methodists and the (PC) USA in conjunction with the Islamic world. Time to do something other than condemning Israel.

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