The Pilgrim Press—the publishing house of the United Church of Christ, a liberal Protestant denomination headquartered in Ohio—has a stockpile of misinformation and anti-Jewish contempt in its warehouse in Cleveland. It comes in the form of its most recent printing of “Whose Land? Whose Promise? What Christians Are Not Being Told about Israel and the Palestinians,” by Rev. Dr. Gary Burge, a professor at Wheaton College in Illinois.
This book, which is now in its second edition, depicts Jews as unworthy of living in the land of Israel. Citing John 15:6, Burge writes in the book’s second edition, “Branches that attempt living in the land… which refused to be attached to Jesus will be removed.” In the first edition, Burge was much harsher, stating that these branches would be “cast out and burned,” but in both editions, the author’s message is clear: Jews are not entitled to live in the land of Israel because they have rejected Jesus as their messiah.
Burge does more than invoke scripture to portray Jews as unworthy of living in their historical homeland. He also used misinformation—lots of it—to portray the modern Jewish state as an unworthy tenant in the land of Israel. In an attempt to prove that Israel is an apartheid state, Burge asserts falsely states that Jews and Arabs renew their drivers’ licenses on different days of the month, when in fact, they renew them on their birthdays.
He also falsely suggests that Israel’s Orthodox rabbis prohibit children of Jewish mothers who have converted to Christianity from claiming Israeli citizenship, when in fact, Israel’s Law of Return allows anyone with one Jewish grandparent (who has not themselves converted to a non-Jewish religion) to claim Israeli citizenship. He also states falsely that Israeli policy prohibits the construction of new wells in the West Bank, when in fact, permits for more than 70 such wells have been approved for Palestinian use in recent years. Furthermore, he falsely reports that visitors to Israel will see a security barrier “surrounding a city like Bethlehem.” The barrier does not surround the city.
And in an effort to portray Israelis as intransigent, Burge reports (without citation) that “in polling, Israelis consistently reject” the option of a two-state solution. Surveys conducted in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013 by the Harry S. Truman Research Institute For the Advancement of Peace and the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research all report that a majority of Israelis support a two-state solution.
Burge also reports that Palestinian Christians “claim that they are reliving for the first time in history the conditions of the first century church, in which a Christian minority is suffering under the rule of a Jewish majority.” This is an ugly rehearsal classical anti-Judaism that ignores one important fact: Israel is the one country in the Middle East where the indigenous population of Christians has increased in the last several decades.
The Statistical Abstract of Israel reports that in 1949, there were approximately 34,000 Christians living in Israel. The vast majority of these people were Arab Christians. At the end of 2011, there were approximately, 125,000 Arab Christians living in Israel. This is a striking anomaly in a region where Christians have being driven from their homes in huge numbers from Iraq and Syria and are regular targets of violence in Egypt. It is Muslim extremists, not Jews who oppress Christians in the Middle East.
These are only some of factual misstatements and distortions Burge offers in his text, but they are enough to demonstrate that the author is indifferent to facts when he writes about modern state of Israel. But this hasn’t stopped Pilgrim Press from publishing two editions of this book, one in 2003 and another last November.
Why has Pilgrim Press published such a dishonest text? This is the question that the Jewish community should be posing to United Church of Christ ministers and their congregations throughout the U.S. Jews and their community leaders have every right to ask for—and receive—an explanation as to why the denomination, which owns Pilgrim Press, is profiting from the defamation of the Jewish homeland.
It’s time for some answers.
Dexter Van Zile is Christian Media Analyst for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA).