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Mainline American Christian "Peacemakers" against Israel

Dexter Van Zile writes for the Institute for Global Jewish Affairs:

For the past several years, a group of five Protestant churches - the Presbyterian Church (USA), the United Church of Christ, the United Methodist Church, the Episcopal Church, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America - have legitimized the increasingly virulent anti-Israel movement in the United States. Although these churches have suffered substantial membership declines since the mid-1960s, they still enjoy a considerable influence on the American scene, particularly on the Left, thanks to their role in American history and the affluence of their members.

These churches have used their influence to focus attention on Israel's efforts to defend itself, most notably the construction of the security barrier between its citizens and Palestinians in the West Bank. The narrative presented by these churches is that Israel could unilaterally bring an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict but chooses not to because of flaws in its national character.

In order to "help" Israel overcome its inability to make peace with its enemies, peace activists and leaders of these churches have argued for divestment from companies doing business with Israel so as to pressure the country into enabling the creation of a Palestinian state, which would inevitably bring about peace. According to this narrative, it is Israeli Jews and Christian Zionists in the United States who represent the primary obstacle to peace in the Middle East. Omitted from the narrative is the central role that Muslim theology regarding Jews and the land plays in fomenting violence against Israel.

The "peacemaking" narrative offered by these churches fails to take into account one of the most troubling and enduring realities of the Arab-Israeli conflict: that Israeli peace offers and withdrawals have been preludes to increased Arab violence. By maintaining their emphasis on Israeli behavior, these churches have failed to help the American people confront these unpleasant realities. They have also helped introduce open expressions of anti-Semitism into American mainstream discourse.

Early Victories

One early sign of trouble came in 2003 when the Episcopal Church's General Convention passed a resolution that called on the Bush administration to question the construction of the security barrier - without mentioning the suicide attacks that preceded its construction.[1] This resolution was one-sided but tame compared to the divestment resolution passed by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) the following year. In addition to singling Israel out as a target for divestment, the resolution also charged that the occupation had "proven to be at the root of evil acts committed against innocent people on both sides of the conflict."[2]

This resolution prompted Rabbis for Human Rights (RHR), a group that protests on behalf of Palestinians in Israeli society, to condemn the PC(USA) in a July 2004 letter that said the resolution "ignore[d] the homicidal ideologies that have so sadly taken hold among some of our Palestinian neighbors." As for the allegation that the "occupation" was "at the root of evil acts committed," RHR asserted: "This is a restatement of the paradigmatic allegation that Jewish sins are somehow especially significant, especially ‘at the root of evil.'" The letter also noted that the resolution "placed Israel's alone at the heart of the situation" and that it directed "not one word of criticism to the government of the Palestinian Authority despite its manifest multitude of profound sins against God and the Human Rights of Palestinians and Jews."[3]

This warning had little impact on the General Synod of the United Church of Christ (UCC), which in July 2005 passed a "Tear Down the Wall" resolution that called on Israel to take down the security barrier without asking the Palestinians to stop the terror attacks that prompted its construction.[4] The resolution described Palestinian suffering in exquisite detail but made little mention of the suffering experienced by the Israelis, or of the Palestinian violence that caused it.

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