On paper, the United Church of Christ (UCC) should be well-equipped to promote peace between Israel and the Palestinians. The UCC, a liberal Protestant denomination with 800,000 members and a little less than 5,000 churches in the United States, has said all the right things about the Jewish people, anti-Semitism and the type of things that need to happen in warring countries for peace to take place. In 1987, the denomination’s General Synod passed a resolution condemning anti-Semitism. And two years before that, the same body passed a resolution declaring the UCC to be a “just peace” church.
In this resolution, the General Synod made a number of faith proclamations that, if applied to the Arab-Israeli conflict, would give its members and peace activists the intellectual and theological grounding necessary to speak credible words of peace to both Israelis and Palestinians. Israelis and Palestinians might not like everything the church’s peace activists would have to say about the conflict, but if UCC leaders applied the proclamations in an honest and responsible manner, neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians would be able to dismiss the church’s pronouncements about the conflict. Nor would either side be able to say that the denomination is in their hip pocket.
But as it stands, very few Israelis or American Jews take much of anything the UCC says about the conflict seriously while the Palestinian Christians falsely portray the denomination as being part of the BDS movement, even though the church’s money managers still own stock in companies that were proscribed in a 2015 “divestment” resolution (which as it turns out, wasn’t really a divestment resolution, but mere window dressing). The denomination’s leaders, staffers and peace activists regularly invoke the 1985 “just peace” resolution in their pronouncements about the conflict, but the church simply does not abide by its demands. It weighs in on the side of the Palestinians against Israel every time it opens its mouth about the conflict.
The 1985 “just peace” resolution declares that the church is “a real countervailing power to those forces that divide, that perpetuate human enmity and injustice, and that destroy.” It also calls on local churches to stand “against social structures comfortable with violence and injustice.”
But if you look through the resolutions passed by the denomination’s General Synod since the late 1960s, the denomination has said next to nothing about anti-Jewish and anti-Israel incitement broadcast by Arab and Muslim leaders over the past few decades.
In particular, the denomination’s General Synod has not said a word about the anti-Semitic incitement broadcast by Imams in Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount. Such incitement, which takes place under the custodianship of the Jordanian government and the leadership of the Palestinian Authority, is a violation of the U.N. Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, but the UCC’s General Synod has said nothing about this violation of international law.
The 1985 resolution condemns “all labeling of others as enemies and the creation of institutions that perpetuate enemy relations” and affirms that nations should provide “public education that portrays other nations fairly, breaking down enemy stereotypes and images.”
If applied to the Israel-Palestine conflict, these passages would require a condemnation of the hate-filled textbooks, children’s television shows and Facebook images that encourage school-age Palestinians to view Jews as their eternal enemies. To be fair, one resolution put on the agenda of the 2007 General Synod did try to address this issue, but the UCC’s board of directors effectively buried this resolution and the denomination’s staffers by putting it on a consent calendar for approval. Church staffers do not even list this resolution with the other resolutions about the conflict on the church’s website. In sum, the UCC has remained silent about Palestinian incitement.
The “just peace” resolution also declares that the “state should be based on participatory consent and should be primarily responsible for developing justice and well-being, enforcing law, and minimizing violence in the process.” This would seem to necessitate a critique of the Palestinian Authority and its leader, Mahmoud Abbas, who has not held an election to affirm his legitimacy in more than a decade, but the UCC’s General Synod has refrained from commenting on his corrupt, unaccountable and authoritarian rule.
This is a big deal. Polling data indicates that many Palestinians support a negotiated settlement with Israel, but because democratic institutions are non-existent in the West Bank and Gaza, rank-and-file Palestinians have no mechanism to make it happen. This is not a subject that peacemakers in the UCC or any other mainline denomination have addressed. When would-be peacemakers remain silent about Palestinian misdeeds while banging on about the things Israel does to protect its citizens, it promotes Jewish fears of isolation and fear.
By doing what it has done over the past few decades, the UCC’s General Synod has made things worse, not better. In his most recent book, Catch-67: The Left, The Right, and the Legacy of the Six-Day War, Micah Goodman reports how Palestinian violence has activated an age-old “Jewish fear in the Israelis’ subconscious.”
Sadly enough, this is exactly what the UCC—a self-declared “just peace” church—has assisted in this process. By remaining silent about Palestinian misdeeds, it has provoked Jewish fear. And by placing all the blame for Palestinian suffering on Israel, it has affirmed Arab and Muslim feelings of humiliation even when the cause of such humiliation lies with Arab and Muslim leaders themselves. In doing these things, the UCC’s General Synod has placed itself on the side of fear, anger and bloodshed.
That’s the wrong side of history to be on.
Dexter Van Zile is a researcher at the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis (CAMERA).