Next month, participants in the Presbyterian Church’s biennial assembly will meet in Detroit. Calls for divestment from Israel are likely to be considered, supported by the infamous “Zionism Unsettled” study guide.
Both Iran’s English-language propaganda arm, Press TV, and former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke endorsed the guide when it appeared early this year. Presbyterians for Middle East Peace, on the other hand, condemned the booklet as anti-Israel and anti-Jewish. David Borg, executive director of Christians United for Israel, called it a “wicked” work that tries to revive the Holocaust-discredited doctrine of “teaching contempt” for the Jews.
To understand what the authors, from the church’s Israel Palestine Mission Network, are up to, here is some history:
After World War II, open anti-Semitism—previously widespread—had been made disreputable by Nazism and the destruction of European Jewry. Those seeking a substitute—especially an alliance of convenience including far leftists, Islamic extremists and Christian activists influenced by neo-Marxist “liberation theology”—found it in anti-Zionism. The U.N. General Assembly’s 1975 approval of the Soviet-inspired, Arab League-promoted “Zionism-is-racism” resolution fueled a trend.
Overturned in 1991, the resolution survived in spirit. The Mission Network’s guide adheres to that spirit, slandering Zionism as “Jewish supremacism.”
The document claims there is a “pathology inherent in Zionism.” It discerns all manner of sins in Israel’s “occupation” of the West Bank, an occupation as legitimate as that of the Allies in Germany after World War II. And it urges rejection of theologies that uphold Zionism.
Zionism is nothing more than the national liberation movement of the Jewish people, influenced by 19th-century Greek and Italian national movements. The theology that upholds Zionism is Judaism. The movement took its name from Zion, which appears scores of times in the Hebrew Bible as a synonym for Jerusalem, the political and religious heart of Judaism.
Ultimately, “Zionism Unsettled” rejects Jews as a people. It does so as part of a bid to hijack the Holocaust. The guide urges an “expanded, inclusive” understanding of the Nazi genocide that would shift its lessons from persecution of Jews to Israel’s purported oppression of Palestinian Arabs.
The Mission Network means to subsume the Holocaust into an anodyne “man’s inhumanity to man,” while painting Israelis as new Nazis. If successful, one effect would be to distract from today’s genocidal threats, like that against Israel from a nuclear-armed Iran.
Sanctimoniously, the guide renounces “the morally hazardous claims of a hierarchy of victimhood.” Oddly, when it comes to victimhood, Palestinian life expectancy, infant mortality, education and other standards improved markedly after Israel took the Gaza Strip from Egypt and the West Bank from Jordan in the 1967 Six-Day War. Even in the depths of second intifada fighting, Palestinian Arabs were—according to a 2003 U.N. report—better off than the Arabs of Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, Syria and Yemen.
Regarding moral hazard, the guide scrubs the role of Palestinian Arab leaders who indirectly collaborated in the Holocaust. Most prominent was the pro-Nazi Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini. He and his colleagues led anti-Jewish riots and massacres in Mandatory Palestine.
This violence helped induce British officials to close the one place in the world ready to absorb large numbers of Jewish people in the 1930s. Palestinian Arabs thereby helped trap in Europe hundreds of thousands of Jews who otherwise might have escaped.
“Zionism Unsettled” also would reverse initiatives during the papacies of Pope John XXIII (1958-1963) and John Paul II (1978-2005)—both recently elevated to sainthood—which acknowledged the enduring validity of Judaism. These changes affected not only Roman Catholicism, but also major Protestant movements. Rather than being held in contempt, Jews were to be seen as religiously legitimate, “older brothers” of Christianity.
It’s often noted that the Holocaust began not with death camps, but with words. These words included Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf,” the czarist forgery “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” and Vienna Mayor Karl Lueger’s turn-of-the-century anti-Jewish incitement. Before them there had been centuries of teaching contempt for the Jews. The Israel Palestine Mission Network’s guide echoes, in pseudo-academic jargon, such earlier demonization.
Delegates to the Presbyterian general assembly would be well advised, in the names of both Middle East peace and Christian-Jewish relations, to divest not from Israel, but rather from their Israel Palestine Mission Network and its study guide.
Eric Rozenman is Washington director of CAMERA, the 65,000-member, Boston-based Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America.