To counter anti-Israelism, it’s time to go local

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Click photo to download. Caption: JNS.org columnist Dexter Van Zile.

For more than a decade, peace activists and leaders in mainline Protestant churches in the United States have been using a double-standard to judge the actions of Israel as it defends itself against groups like Hamas and Hezbollah that seek its destruction. Things got ugly in 2004 when the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s General Assembly passed an overture that stated that the “occupation” was at the “root” of violence against innocence on both sides of the conflict and called on the church to begin a process of divestment from companies that did business with Israel. 

The double standard was so egregious that even Rabbis for Human Rights issued a denunciation of the resolution, condemning the General Assembly for failing to confront the genocidal ideology that had taken root in Palestinian society.

Complaints from Jewish leaders in the United States and heroic activism on the part of people inside the PC(USA) hasn’t changed a fundamental reality about the denomination: It remains a persistent source of anti-Israelism in American civil society. It recently enacted a resolution calling for a boycott of Israeli goods produced in the West Bank. Another mainline church, the United Methodist Church has done the same thing. 

After the PC(USA) enacted its divestment resolution, other churches have got on (and have temporarily stepped off), the anti-Israel bandwagon. In 2005, the United Church of Christ (UCC) and the Disciples of Christ both passed a resolution calling on Israel to take down the security barrier it built to stop terror attacks from the West Bank. The resolutions made this demand without asking the Palestinians to stop the terror attacks that prompted the barrier’s construction. The resolution in effect, declared open season on Israelis who had been suffering from suicide attacks since the beginning of the Second Intifada. Also that year, the Evangelical Lutheran Church (ELCA) initiated a “Peace Not Walls” campaign that regularly assails Israel while ignoring the misdeeds of the Palestinians.

And while these churches have obsessed about Israel, they have offered little if any criticism about the misdeeds of Arab and Muslim leaders in the Middle East. They’ve said next to nothing about ongoing attacks against Christians in Muslim-majority countries in the region and have ignored other conflicts that have caused much more suffering the Arab-Israeli conflict.

For a few years, some of these churches dialed back their anti-Israel activism. Sadly, it looks as if three churches—the UCC, the Disciples and ELCA—are ready to step back into the fray along side the PC(USA). The leaders of these churches gave this signal by signing onto a letter to a lame-duck Congress asking lawmakers to reconsider foreign aid to Israel for alleged human rights violations against the Palestinians.

The letter, issued on Oct. 5, 2012, does not ask Congress to look into foreign aid to Egypt, where armored personnel carriers have been used to murder Coptic Christians in the streets of Cairo and where Coptic Christians have been driven from their homes. Copts are under siege in their homeland and these churches can’t be bothered to say a word to Congress about this problem.

The leaders of these churches have doubled down on their efforts to single Israel out for condemnation despite persistent efforts by Jewish leaders to convince them to take a fairer approach to peacemaking in the Middle East. The Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the ADL and the American Jewish Committee, and numerous other Jewish organizations have been working valiantly to convince the leaders of these churches to come to their senses and abandon their anti-Israel obsession. In some instances they have achieved their goals, but ultimately it has not been enough. 

The national leaders of these churches, and the peace activists they enable, have proven incorrigible.

It’s time to go local.

It is time for people to confront the members and leaders of local churches in these denominations and tell them about what the peace activists and leaders of their churches have been doing for the past decade. This can be done with letters to local newspapers and with letters to pastors of the churches themselves.

Rabbis should consider whether or not they can, in good conscience, participate in upcoming interfaith Thanksgiving celebrations with pastors from denominations that assist in the demonization of the Jewish homeland. If they decide they can’t, they should go public with their decision.

The mainline demonization of Israel has been a national story.

Now it’s time to make it a local story. 

Dexter Van Zile is the Christian Media Analyst for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA).

Posted on October 10, 2012 and filed under Israel, Opinion.