Mainline American Christian “Peacemakers” against Israel

, November 5, 2009

No. 90,

  • In 2004 and 2005, a group of five liberal Protestant (or “mainline”) churches in the United States broadcasted a narrative that portrayed Israel as almost solely responsible for the violence of the Second Intifada. This campaign was evident in “peacemaking” resolutions approved by the legislative bodies of these churches and in the books produced by the publishing houses associated with them.
  • The peacemaking resolutions alleged that Israel controlled the violence directed at it during the Second Intifada and could unilaterally end the Arab-Israeli conflict by conceding territory to the Palestinians. Support for this narrative began to wane in 2006 and 2007 under the impact of Hamas’s violence and misrule in the Gaza Strip and Hizballah’s 2006 attack on Israel from Lebanon. During the summer of 2009, anti-Israel activists suffered setbacks in the mainline community.
  • The materials published by these churches depict Israel as unable to make the sacrifices necessary for peace because of a flaw in its national character. Commentators from these churches are also harshly critical of Israel’s Christian Zionist supporters in the United States, portraying them as intent on bringing about Armageddon. This intense interrogation of the identity of Israeli Jews and the theology of Christian Zionists is coupled with silence about the role Muslim theology has played in fomenting violence against Israel in the Middle East.
  • Largely because of their shrinking numbers, the churches involved in this campaign have had little impact on the American public’s attitudes toward Israel. Nevertheless, by aligning themselves with extremist groups in the Middle East and the United States who seek to delegitimize Israel as a Jewish state, these churches have contributed to the mainstreaming of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism in American society.

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.

Also that year, the Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) passed a resolution affirming a “Peace Not Walls” campaign. While exhibiting less animus toward Israel than the resolutions passed by the PC(USA) and the UCC, it still placed the onus for ending the Arab-Israeli conflict on Israel.[5] The Virginia and New England conferences of the United Methodist Church (UMC) also passed resolutions calling for divestment from Israel in 2005.[6]

One factor that contributed to the passage of these one-sided resolutions was a lack of organized opposition. This had once been provided by the National Christian Leadership Conference for Israel (NCLCI), founded in the 1970s. But this group, which included experts in Christian-Jewish relations such as Sister Rose Thering, Isaac Rottenberg, Frank Littell, and Alice and Roy Eckhardt, faded as these persons disappeared from the scene either through ill health or retirement in the 1980s and 1990s.

Consequently, the NCLCI was in no position to counter the impact of activism by Palestinian Christians, most notably Anglican Priest Naim Ateek who founded the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in the 1990s. Ateek and other activists like him spent the late 1980s and the 1990s convincing denominational officials and local pastors that the First Intifada (1987-1991) was largely a nonviolent response to Israeli intransigence. As a result of these and similar efforts, some of which dated back to the years after Israel’s victory in the 1967 War, an infrastructure was in place to portray Israel as the villain when the Second Intifada erupted in 2000.

The process by which these resolutions were approved varied in detail from one denomination to another, but a few generalizations can be offered. First, they were typically written by pro-Palestinian activists or denominational staffers with input from Palestinian Christians who testified for their passage at the national assemblies. Once the resolutions were released to the voting members or delegates before a national assembly, they generated considerable publicity for the churches considering them, driven in part by criticism from the American Jewish leadership. This controversy provided an opportunity for denominational leaders to portray themselves as struggling to find a balance between speaking prophetically about Israel’s failings and seeking to maintain good relations with the Jewish people.

The texts of the resolutions varied but shared a few important characteristics: an emphasis on Israeli behavior, silence about the failings of Palestinian leaders, and a refusal to address the role Muslim theology about the Jewish people played in fomenting violence against Israel. They also shared a bedrock assumption succinctly communicated by Episcopal Priest Richard Toll, chairman of Friends of Sabeel North America in December 2005: “End the occupation and the violence will end.”[7]

Mainline Churches: An Overview

These resolutions generated significant media coverage along with consternation in the American Jewish community because they were issued by churches long regarded as dominant players in the Protestant or “mainline” establishment that were highly influential throughout American history.

Wade Clark Roof and William McKinney note that these churches were, until the 1960s, part of a Protestant establishment that enjoyed “social, economic and political power” and “great influence in shaping notions of propriety, legitimacy, taste and respect” in the United States. To be part of the American mainline, Roof and McKinney observe, is to relate to the “core aspect of American experience, to evoke its symbols and meanings in the collective experience of the people.”[8]

The historical influence of these churches is evidenced by what William R. Hutchinson calls the “Protestant establishment’s massive footprints in the biographical dictionaries.” As he points out: “When C. Luther Fry, in 1931, surveyed the stated religious affiliations of Who’s Who biographees, he found that among the 16,600 who listed a preference, fully 7,000 were either Episcopalians or Presbyterians. Congregationalists, despite the smaller size of that denomination, numbered an equally astounding 2,000.”[9]

Thus the Episcopalians, Presbyterians, and Congregationalists – the more prestigious of the Protestant establishment, known as the “Old Line” or “Big Three” – derived their influence from the positions their members held in society. In comparison, the Baptists, Methodists, and Lutherans – who comprised a second, more numerous tier of this Protestant establishment during the latter half of the nineteenth century and early part of the twentieth century – derived their influence from the sheer number of their members, and as time passed, their growing affluence. People still joke that the Episcopal Church is “the Republican Party at prayer,” while President Theodore Roosevelt once stated that he preferred speaking to Methodist audiences because they “represent the great middle class and in consequence are the most representative in America.”[10]

To be sure, these churches are not the bastions of influence they once were. According to Roof and McKinney, two forces – the growth of a youth counterculture in the 1960s with its emphasis on individuality, and the Evangelical revival of the 1970s and 1980s – diminished these churches’ reach, optimism, and vitality. “The privileged Protestant mainline has fallen upon hard times and no longer enjoys the influence and power it once had.”[11]

The numbers tell the story. In 1965, when the U.S. population stood at 194 million,[12] the membership of the six largest mainline Protestant churches (the five anti-Israel churches mentioned above plus the American Baptist Churches, which have not passed any resolutions related to the Arab-Israeli conflict) came to 28 million.[13] In 2007, when the United States had 302 million inhabitants,[14] these churches had only 18 million members.[15] In other words, these churches had shrunk by an average of 35 percent while the country’s population had increased by 55 percent.

More specifically, during that period the PC(USA)’s membership declined by 31 percent; that of the Episcopal Church by 38.3 percent; the UCC’s by 44 percent; the ELCA’s by 17 percent; the UMC’s by 28 percent; and that of the American Baptist Churches by 12 percent.[16]

Roof and McKinney attribute the decline of the mainline churches to societal change. It should be noted, however, that other conservative Protestant or “Evangelical” churches in the United States – which are typically pro-Israel – have in the same period enjoyed significant growth. For example, the Southern Baptist Convention, a conservative church that split from the Northern Baptists over slavery, had 10.7 million members in 1965 and 16.3 million in 2007 – an increase of 51 percent. And the Assemblies of God, another Evangelical church that had 572,000 members in 1965, had 1.6 million in 2007 – a drastic increase of 184 percent.[17]

Part of this shift is due to demographics. Mainline churchgoers typically have higher education levels and fewer children than Evangelicals, who on average have children at an earlier age and have more of them.

Other processes are at work, however. Roger Finke and Rodney Stark have documented the trends of church decline and growth.[18] They describe how established churches have been losing market share to upstart revivalist sects for much of their history, largely because they did not provide the religious environment that would attract new converts who would replace members who had died or fallen away from the church.

Finke and Stark report that the Congregationalists, Episcopalians, and Presbyterians (the earlier-mentioned “Big Three”) were losing market share to the upstart sects – most notably the Baptists and the Methodists – as far back as the 1800s. These upstart churches grew in numbers because they imposed demanding religious practices on their followers, which attracted new converts by imparting a sense of purpose, identity, and order to their lives. Finke and Stark note that churches with “high membership demands form a distinctive religious community with tight social networks and abundant resources.”[19]

The Congregationalists, Presbyterians, and Episcopalians loosened the membership requirements and decreased the demands they imposed on their parishioners in hopes of keeping them within the church. As the Baptist and Methodist churches grew and as their members became more affluent, they eventually fell into the same trap as the Congregationalists, Presbyterians, and Episcopalians. They became part of the Protestant establishment and ultimately started the process of decline.

The upshot is that mainline churches – the churches mostly likely to attack Israel – have been in serious decline for decades and their leaders do not seem to have any idea how to stop or reverse the trend. In 1991, when the top six mainline churches had 23.3 million members,[20] McKinney warned that “the liberal branches of Protestantism are shrinking both as a proportion of Protestantism and of the general public.” He continued:

Nor am I terribly optimistic about the future. The demographics remain daunting. Mainstream Protestants are older than the general population, have fewer children, and are less effective than other religious groups in holding the loyalties of their offspring. While their churches once benefited from what sociologists call “upward mobility switching” (people changing from conservative to liberal denominations as they advance economically), the rising socioeconomic status of conservative groups has taken away the incentive to switch churches as one’s status changes. Moreover, there are few signs that the mainstream churches are eager to refashion their message or redeploy their mission resources to the end of reaching large numbers of new people. As a sociologist, I find little evidence of the constituency of latent mainstream Protestants lurking in church parking lots waiting for the right moment to enter. There may be sympathetic baby boomers around to offset the steadily increasing death rates of the major denominations, and we soon should see a small turnaround in the annual membership reports [this did not occur], but from a membership standpoint mainstream Protestantism is not the wave of the future. I would like to be proved wrong, but for once conventional wisdom seems to me correct.[21]

In sum, the five churches that have been so critical of Israel have failed to achieve their most basic task – propagating the Christian faith.[22] And yet their leaders have, with the support of the “peace” activists in these churches, directed a steady dose of criticism at Israeli leaders who are struggling with much more complex issues of war and peace.

Despite this irony, these churches remain, for two reasons, valuable sources of publicity and legitimacy for the cause of anti-Zionism in the United States.

First, members of these churches come from the upper strata of American society and are generally better educated than the general public; 35 percent have graduated from college or attained a postgraduate degree compared to 24 percent of the general population. Wuthnow and Evans report that “among those who are currently employed, nearly half (49 percent) of mainline members are professionals, managers, or owners of businesses, compared to only 26 percent of the general population.”[23]

Another source of the mainline churches’ influence is the role that they (or their antecedents) have played in formulating what sociologist Robert Bellah called “American civil religion” in a landmark 1967 essay. Bellah noted that while the United States “segregates the religious sphere, which is considered to be essentially private, from the political one” the American people still share “common elements of religious orientation” or “civil religion.”

This civil religion comprises a number of tenets, including the belief in the presence of a divine force in American history and the notion that the United States fulfills a providential function in world affairs or is the “New Israel.” Such beliefs, Bellah suggests, “play a crucial role in the development of institutions and still provide a religious dimension for the whole fabric of American life, including the political sphere.”[24]

The impact of these churches and the beliefs they propagated can be seen throughout American history. Members of these denominations authored, debated, and approved both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and were the mainstay of successful reform and protest movements such as abolitionism in the 1800s, women’s suffrage and Prohibition in the early 1900s, and the civil rights and antiwar movements in the 1960s. More recently, activists of these churches contributed to the nuclear disarmament campaign of the 1980s. Still more recently, pastors, theologians, and activists have promoted the cause of gay rights.

These churches no longer exert the influence over American identity that they did in their heyday. Nevertheless, they or their historical antecedents were on the winning side of a number of major controversies throughout American history – slavery, women’s suffrage, civil rights, and the Vietnam War – and hence still play a role in determining how right-minded American progressives should think about issues faced by the American people.

It is this aspect of the mainline churches that has made them so attractive to anti-Israel activists in both the Middle East and the United States. If the leaders and so-called peace activists of these churches could convince the general membership that Israel could unilaterally bring about an end to the conflict but does not because of some flaw in its national character, this could help transform bipartisan American support for Israel into an artifact of the hard Right.

Reality Strikes Back

The assumption that Israel could stop Palestinian violence through concessions, peace offers, and withdrawals became increasingly untenable, however, after Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005. This move was followed by a 2006 electoral victory for Hamas, a group devoted to Israel’s destruction, and increased rocket attacks from the Strip. It was also followed by Hamas’s kidnapping of Cpl. Gilad Shalit, which provoked a round of hostilities between Israel and Hamas in June 2006. The notion that territorial concessions would lead to peace was further undermined the following month when Hizballah attacked Israel from Lebanon – from which Israel had unilaterally withdrawn in 2000.

As Palestinian (and Arab) misdeeds became too obvious to ignore, pro-Palestinian activists started to experience some setbacks at national gatherings of churches in 2006 and 2007 when groups within the mainline community rose in opposition to the passage of one-sided resolutions about the Arab-Israeli conflict. The most noteworthy of these groups were Presbyterians Concerned for Jewish and Christian Relations,[25] the Committee to End Divestment Now,[26] and Christians for Fair Witness on the Middle East (Fair Witness).[27] The first two organized opposition to divestment in the PC(USA); the third focused on promoting a more comprehensive understanding of the Arab-Israeli conflict in the four other mainline churches that had taken one-sided stands about the conflict. In the course of their work these groups emphasized events in Gaza that undermined confidence in the notion that Israeli concessions would lead to peace.

Jewish groups were also involved in the early efforts to oppose the passage of these resolutions. Virtually every national Jewish organization expressed concern or even outrage at the text of individual resolutions during 2005 and 2006. As time progressed, however, it became apparent that statements from Jewish groups had an ambiguous impact on proceedings. On the one hand, such statements drew attention to the one-sided narrative presented in these resolutions; on the other, they appeared to provoke denominational leaders and peace activists to take a harder line against Israel. For example, at the UCC’s 2005 General Synod, Rev. John Thomas, the denomination’s president and general minister, helped ensure the passage of a divestment resolution targeting Israel – over the objections of the committee that dealt with the issue of “economic leverage” – because not to do so would “send the wrong signal to the Jewish community.”[28]

Thomas also subsequently complained about Jewish groups working with groups inside the UCC to oppose divestment, charging that they allied themselves with the (ecumenical-Christian) Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD), which he described as having an agenda matching that of “AIPAC, the powerful pro-Israel lobby that largely controls the Washington agenda on the Middle East.”[29] Thomas’s expression of contempt for Jewish efforts to influence his denomination’s position on the Arab-Israeli conflict, coupled with his welcoming attitude toward Palestinian Christian activists from Sabeel, opened the door to harsher polemics from Rev. Jeremiah Wright in 2009 (see below).

Some Jewish activists helped foment antagonism toward other Jews who worked to defend Israel’s reputation. For example, Liat Weingart, an activist from Jewish Voice for Peace encouraged an audience of Methodists in 2008 to ignore the concerns of groups such as the Anti-Defamation League that opposed anti-Israel divestment resolutions, stating that “If you haven’t been accused of anti-Semitism yet, you haven’t been doing the work of Justice.”[30]

As the tendency of these churches to discount testimony from pro-Israel Jews became increasingly evident, Jewish groups began to take a more hands-off approach, allowing Christians to work from within to confront the distorted narrative promoted by peace activists in these churches.[31]

The first fruits of Christian activism became evident in 2006 when the PC(USA)’s General Assembly passed a resolution ending the church’s policy of singling Israel out for divestment.[32] And in 2007, the UCC’s General Synod effectively approved a resolution acknowledging that it had “yet to fully address other forces contributing to the ongoing violence, oppression and suffering in the region” and calling for the establishment of “a Task Force to engage in ongoing and balanced study of the causes, history and context of the conflict.”[33] In 2008, a divestment resolution put forth by UMC activists did not survive the denomination’s General Conference.[34]

That is not to say these churches have fully condemned Israel’s adversaries when it was warranted. For example, when Hamas murdered three Palestinian children outside a school in Gaza in November 2006, these churches engaged in little if any criticism. They also said very little when Hamas threw Fatah members off rooftops during its violent takeover of Gaza in June 2007.[35]

These churches have been similarly soft-spoken when it comes to Iran’s misdeeds. They have little criticism of the Iranian regime’s Holocaust denial, efforts to develop nuclear weapons, and support for Hamas and Hizballah.

This silence has not been across-the-board, however. In 2008, Rev. Thomas, the UCC president and general minister who disparaged pro-Israel Jewish activism in the aftermath of his church’s 2005 General Synod, distanced himself from a dinner with Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad organized by the Mennonite Central Committee. He also condemned the Iranian president for his Holocaust denial.[36]

A New Leaf in 2009?

The trend continued in June 2009 when the Episcopal Church’s General Convention voted down a one-sided resolution that, like the UCC’s 2005 “Tear Down the Wall” resolution, called on Israel to remove the security barrier without demanding that the Palestinians put an end to the terror attacks.[37] Later that summer, the ELCA passed a fair-minded resolution about the Arab-Israeli conflict that expressed concern for the wellbeing of both Palestinians and Israelis.[38]

The UCC’s Executive Council issued an imbalanced statement that portrayed the security barrier as a cause and not a response to violence against Israel, but did at least acknowledge that Israel had a story to tell about the Arab-Israeli conflict.[39] The UCC’s General Synod also passed a resolution that called for “an end to the violence, repression, and bloodshed, against peaceful Iranian demonstrators, media, and others.”[40]

The United Church of Canada, a liberal Protestant church similar in many ways to the five anti-Zionist churches in the United States, also handed its anti-Israel activists two setbacks at its General Council meeting in 2009. First, on 11 August 2009 the General Council repudiated the background material accompanying three anti-Israel resolutions submitted by peace activists in Toronto as “provocative, unbalanced and hurtful.”[41] A few days later the General Council rejected the three resolutions themselves, two of which called for a boycott of Israel.[42]

Resilient Animus

These events indicate that these churches have distanced themselves from the anti-Israel narrative promoted by pro-Palestinian activists. Nevertheless, these activists still enjoy some influence. For example, while the UMC did not pass a divestment resolution at its 2008 General Conference, it did pass a resolution condemning the construction of the security barrier as a violation of international law – predictably without mentioning the suicide bombings that led to its construction.[43] It also passed another resolution calling for a study of the denomination’s investments in, among other places, the Middle East.[44] Taken together, these two resolutions provide groundwork for yet another round of debate over divestment from Israel at the denomination’s next General Conference in 2012.

Resilient support for anti-Zionism is also evident in the PC(USA). Although the denomination’s General Assembly did pass a resolution rescinding the policy of singling Israel out as a target for divestment, the denomination’s investment committee (MRTI) is still following the divestment process set forth by the 2004 General Assembly and is working with the same list of offending companies it created in response to the 2004 vote.[45] Moreover, the denomination’s Israel/Palestine Mission Network recently published a booklet titled Steadfast Hope: The Palestinian Quest for Just Peace (2009). Like other mainline publications described below, it portrays Israel as solely responsible for the conflict and minimizes Israel’s efforts to mollify its adversaries. For example, the first page of this document states that “While the rhetoric surrounding the conflict may be changing, actual policy has not: no settlers have moved back to Israel….” In fact, Israel withdrew more than eight thousand settlers from Gaza in 2005 and several hundred others from the northern tip of the West Bank.

Further evidence of some activists’ underlying animosity toward Israel can be seen in an online forum for UCC members. One blogger who participates in this forum, going by the name Gregg, often portrays Israel in an unfair light. His polemics include assertions that Israel uses security concerns as a “smokescreen” for “Israeli aggression toward Palestinians” and the false claim that “non-Jews” are not allowed to serve in the Israeli army. Ironically, the blogger made these statements while participating in a UCC fact-finding trip in early September 2009.[46]

A similar animus can be seen in the statements of Rev. Margaret Payne, bishop of the ELCA’s New England Synod, who made numerous false assertions during a radio interview in Washington, D.C., in March 2009. For example, she stated that the security barrier completely surrounds Bethlehem and that Augusta Victoria Hospital in Jerusalem (owned by the Lutheran World Federation) was the only hospital in the country providing cancer treatment to Palestinians. When asked to correct the record, she not only refused to make a retraction but promised to continue to “look for every opportunity that I can find to advocate for the end of Israeli occupation,” revealing her belief that the conflict results from Israeli policies and not from Arab and Muslim rejectionism.[47]

Out in the Open: “Them Jews”

The extent to which mainline anti-Israel animus spills over into anti-Semitism became evident when Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the retired minister of Trinity UCC in Chicago, expressed contempt toward Israel and its Jewish defenders in a June 2009 interview to the Daily Press (Hampton Roads, Virginia). Wright said he did not expect to have any contact with his former congregant, President Barack Obama, until he was a lame duck or out of office because “Them Jews ain’t going to let him talk to me.” He went on to blame the American Israel Public Affairs Council (AIPAC) for the estrangement between himself and Obama: “‘Ethnic cleansing is going on in Gaza. Ethnic cleansing (by) the Zionist is a sin and a crime against humanity, and they don’t want Barack talking like that because that’s anti-Israel,’ Wright said.”[48]

Wright subsequently “clarified” his remarks, stating that he meant to say “Zionists” and not “Jews,” but the conclusion was inescapable: Wright’s anti-Israelism was not a cover but a vehicle for his anti-Semitism.[49]

The abovementioned Rev. Thomas immediately distanced himself and the UCC from Wright’s comments.[50] Yet it was Thomas himself who opened the door to such frank expressions of anti-Semitism by portraying AIPAC in such contemptuous terms in March 2006. Wright’s statement was merely a coarser expression of Thomas’s assertion that AIPAC controlled Israel-related discourse in Washington – a claim readily contradicted, for instance, by Obama’s insistence on a West Bank settlement freeze. In his remarks, Rev. Wright walked through a door opened for him by his denominational president three years earlier.

The Books

Whereas the resolutions passed by these churches in 2003, 2004, and 2005 portray Israel as in control of the violence and enmity directed at it, the books and printed materials they distribute portray Israel as unable to exercise this control because of some flaw in its national character or in the psyche of its Jewish majority.

For example, a “Mission Study” published by the UMC in 2007 portrays Israeli Jews as too scarred by the Holocaust to make peace with their Arab and Muslim adversaries.[51] In this text, written by Rev. Stephen Goldstein, a Jewish convert to the UMC, Israeli attitudes toward its neighbors are not a response to the repeated multiarmy attacks against Israel or the persistent terror attacks by groups like the PLO, Hamas, and Hizballah over the past several decades.

Instead, Israel’s suspicion of its neighbors is a delayed response to the destruction of European Jewry by the Nazis in the 1940s. Goldstein asserts that as a result of the Holocaust, Israelis have been gripped by a “paranoiac sense of isolation that has been a main characteristic of the Israeli temper since 1948″ and that this outlook “has been the single most significant factor in Israel’s unwillingness to trust their Arab neighbors or the Palestinians, whose land they have colonized, and who are being victimized on a daily basis.”

Citing Amos Elon’s 1997 book A Blood-Dimmed Tide, Goldstein also reports that “Standing behind each Arab or Palestinian, Israelis tend to see SS men determined to push them once again into gas chambers and crematoria.”[52] The Holocaust indeed plays a significant role in Israeli and Jewish identity. Nevertheless, in asserting that its impact on the Jewish outlook is the main obstacle to Israel trusting the Arabs and Palestinians, Goldstein ignores the more than sixty-year history of violence against Jews and Israel in the Middle East.[53]

Goldstein’s text is not unique but emblematic of a whole genre of printed materials that portray Israel as a colonialist occupying power whose intrusion has disrupted a previously idyllic Middle East. Augsburg Fortress Press, publishing house of the ELCA, published two books during the Second Intifada alleging that Israel’s decision to send troops into the West Bank in 2002 was motivated merely by a desire to dominate the Palestinians and not by the need to stop the campaign of suicide attacks that began in 2001.

For example, one of the books – Bethlehem Besieged by Mitri Raheb, pastor of a Lutheran church in Bethlehem – provides the following context for Operation Defensive Shield, which began on 2 April 2002:

There was no reason to invade “our little town” with hundreds of military tanks and armored vehicles, accompanied by Apache helicopters. The excuse Israel used for invading Bethlehem was a suicide bombing that took place on March 29 in Jerusalem by a young Palestinian from Deheishe refugee camp near Bethlehem. The blast killed Ayat al-Akhras and two Israeli people and injured two dozen more. The decision to invade, however, was made weeks before. Before the suicide bombing had taken place, Israeli Prime Minister Sharon had already launched his military offensive, called “Operation Defensive Shield,” and Israeli forces were already rolling into Ramallah and had besieged Palestinian President Yasir Arafat in his headquarters. Three days later, they were in Bethlehem and in front of our house.[54]

Raheb’s chronology leaves out some important facts, most notably the 27 March 2002 suicide bombing that killed thirty Israelis and injured 140 more during a Passover celebration at the Park Hotel in Netanya. Raheb also fails to report that during March and the first two days of April 2002, more than eighty Israelis (mostly civilians) were killed by Palestinian suicide attacks and more than thirty-five civilians were killed by gunfire. Any honest description of Operation Defensive Shield would include this information. But Raheb ignores it, acknowledging only one suicide attack and portraying it as an “excuse” for the invasion.

Given Raheb’s ideological commitments, it is no surprise he would author such a distorted text. What is surprising, however, is that a respectable publishing house would package and distribute it.

Another text, Water from the Rock: Lutheran Voices from Palestine, published by Augsburg Fortress in 2003, is marred by similar omissions. This essay collection edited by Ann E. Hafften, which fails to offer an honest description or assessment of Palestinian violence against Israelis, includes a diary entry written by Palestinian Nuha Khoury who reports that Israel bombarded Gaza City, Ramallah, and Jericho on 12 October 2000.[55] Khoury does not mention, however, the lynching of two Israeli soldiers at a Palestinian police station in Ramallah that same day. Khoury also invokes the image of Mohammed al-Dura’s death to portray the Israelis as cold-blooded killers: “The image of Muhammed, the 12-year-old boy who was killed execution style by the Israeli soldiers, is haunting both Palestinian children and parents, who watched the helplessness of Muhammed’s father and his inability to protect his son from the Israeli bullets that killed the son and left the father permanently paralyzed.”[56]

In addition to giving unwarranted credence to the notion that al-Dura was killed by the Israelis, Khoury falsely reports that al-Dura’s father was “permanently paralyzed.” He was not paralyzed; moreover, the injuries he claimed were caused by Israeli forces were in fact treated by an Israeli doctor several years before the Second Intifada.[57] On this score, Hafften and Augsburg Fortress Press allowed Khoury to convey – wittingly or unwittingly – a blatant falsehood to ELCA members. Peter Pettit, director of the Institute for Christian-Jewish Understanding at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania, notes that these essays give readers the overall impression that “Israel simply decided one day to occupy Palestine and oppress the Palestinians, without cause or preamble or debate.”[58]

Possibly the most severe example of how mainline publications have contributed to demonizing Israel is Whose Land? Whose Promise: What Christians Are Not Being Told about Israel and the Palestinians. It was authored by Rev. Dr. Gary Burge, an ordained minister in the PC(USA) and a professor of the New Testament at Wheaton College in Illinois. This text, published in 2003 by Pilgrim Press, which is owned by the UCC, condemns Israeli Jews for using the Bible to justify the creation of an exclusivist state that discriminates against Arabs in its midst – in violation of the teachings of the Hebrew prophets.

To buttress his claim that Israel is an exclusivist state, Burge falsely states that Israeli Arabs are denied the right to serve in Israel’s military and denied access to union membership and to national political parties. In actuality, Arabs may volunteer, but are not drafted, into the Israeli military. Arabs belong to unions in Israel. And they serve in the Knesset, in some instances using their seats to argue against Israel’s legitimacy as a Jewish state.[59]

To give his critique added force, Burge portrays Israeli Jews as reenacting the sins of ancient Israel, thereby nullifying their claim to the land. He compares Israel’s acquisition of territory, in particular the village of Beisan during the 1948 War, to the theft of Naboth’s vineyard by King Ahab and his wife Jezebel. Or as Burge puts it: “Once in the Old Testament, an Israelite king coveted a vineyard in Jezreel in the same manner that Beisan was coveted by the Israelis.”[60] Later he writes:

In the early days of Israel’s birth, when Zionism fueled the vision that would shape the country’s future, Israeli troops coveted the strategic site of [Beisan]. Unlike Ahab’s day when Naboth’s vineyard was valued for its good location and remarkable fertility, in the 1940s Israel coveted Beisan for its strategic value. Beisan sat on the main highway connecting the Jordan Valley to inner Galilee and the west. Soon Israeli Highway 71 would be built and a large Arab population was inconvenient. And just as in the days of Ahab, impure motives and military prowess won the day. Beisan was stolen. And over five thousand people lost their homes.

If Elijah had visited the day after Beisan had been “cleansed” of its Palestinians, what would he say? “Thus says the LORD, Have you killed and also taken possession?” When forgetting to how to treat aliens and sojourners, Israel has forgotten its own theological history – not simply its biblical history of suffering in Egypt, but its twentieth century history of suffering in Europe.

God calls Israel to live in the land with righteousness because in its history Israel itself has experienced profound unrighteousness. When Israel refuses to act in this manner, the nation jeopardizes its own claim to live in the land. (emphasis added).[61]

Here Burge hangs a biblical condemnation of Israel on a distorted comparison between the royal theft of a vineyard from a loyal, law-abiding subject and the military acquisition of territory from a dangerous enemy in wartime. To make this comparison work, Burge portrays the Palestinians who were forced out of Beisan – a combination of fighters from the Arab Liberation Army and adult males from the town who had been conscripted into a local militia organized by the Arab League Military Committee (the women and children having been evacuated previously)[62] – as the equivalent of Naboth, who posed no threat whatsoever to the king who eventually murdered him. Naboth was not, like the Arab irregulars in Beisan, part of an effort to destroy Israel.

Burge provides another dose of moral obtuseness when he writes that by taking possession of Beisan, Israelis had “forgotten” their own “twentieth century history of suffering in Europe.” He thereby draws a false equivalence between the murder of Jews in Europe – because they were Jews – and the conquest of a strategically valuable town. The implication is that because their people suffered a genocide, Israeli Jews cannot use force or wage war in pursuit of their own survival.

Burge also invokes the New Testament to portray Israel’s creation as a violation of the boundaries set for the Jewish people by Christian theology and Scripture. The most egregious example is his interpretation of John 15:6, which states: “If a man does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned.” Burge interpreted this verse (which was used to justify the execution of heretics during the Spanish Inquisition)[63] as follows: “God’s vineyard, the land of Israel, now only has one vine, Jesus. The people of Israel cannot claim to be planted as vines in the land; they cannot be rooted in the vineyard unless first they are grafted into Jesus. Branches that attempt living in the land, the vineyard, which refused to be attached to Jesus will be cast out and burned.”[64]

The implication – intended or not – is inescapable. Israeli Jews, because of their refusal to accept Jesus as the Messiah have no claim to the Land of Israel and can justifiably be cast out of their homes and burned. Burge’s use of John 15:6 as a basis for judging Israeli sovereignty is irresponsible and shocking. Moreover, it was published by the UCC, whose 1987 General Synod passed a resolution that lamented Christianity’s “frequent portrayal of the Jews as blind, recalcitrant, evil, and rejected by God,” and called on the denomination to create liturgical materials that “reflect a sensitivity to the image of Jews and Judaism.”[65]

Christian Zionism

The willingness of the UCC’s publishing house to print Burge’s text – despite its use of Scripture to demonize the Jewish state – is indicative of another aspect of the anti-Israel animus in the mainline community: an obsessive focus on the millennial beliefs of Christian Zionists in the United States. Burge’s text, as offensive as it is, is tolerable because it critiques Christian Zionism.

These five churches routinely portray the Christian Zionist movement as an obstacle to a peaceful resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict and an important source of suffering and violence in the Middle East. Typical of such argumentation are recent writings of Rev. Robert O. Smith, the ELCA’s continental-desk director for Europe and the Middle East. Smith recounts a conversation prompted by his negative reaction to seeing the voluminous sales figures for the Left Behind series[66] broadcast on an airport television when returning from his first trip to the Middle East in 2002:

One of my travel companions took issue with my disapproval. “It’s just another way of reading the Bible,” she exclaimed.

“You’re right,” I said. “The problem is that people are dying because of that way of reading the Bible. We just saw them.”[67]

The problem with Christian Zionism, Smith asserts, is that it promotes a “solidarity with Israelis and other Jews [that] sometimes implies they stand against most of Israel’s neighbors, most of whom are Muslim.” This rhetoric, Smith claims, frightens Muslims in the United States and abroad.[68] In another piece, Smith also quotes Israeli author Gershom Gorenberg’s concerns about the tendency of Christian Zionists to see “Jews as actors in a Christian drama leading to the end of days.”[69]

To be sure, many Jews and Muslims are uneasy about Christian Zionist theology, but the conversation cannot stop here. Whereas Smith and other commentators in these churches routinely raise concerns about how Christian Zionists ultimately view Jews and Muslims, they say very little about how Jews and Israel are viewed by Muslims in the Middle East. The great irony is that these churches, which have been most amenable to investigating how Christian beliefs contributed to the Holocaust, have proved unwilling to address how Muslim teachings about the Jewish people have contributed to the continuation of the Arab-Israeli conflict. One of the few references to this problem appeared in a document issued by the Episcopal Church’s Committee on Socially Responsible Investment in 2005: “The SRI Committee also notes examples of hostility and anti-Semitism of certain Arab states in the region against the state of Israel.”[70] Clearly, the subject requires much greater attention.

Israeli journalist and author Yossi Klein Halevi provides some badly needed background:

The despair so many Israelis feel today has been deepened by the religiously inspired hysteria against the Jewish people now spreading throughout much of the Muslim world. As a Jew who learned to love Islam and its choreographed prayers of surrender, this has been a particularly devastating time. Shamefully few Muslim clerics have denounced the ritual mass murder committed in the name of God and Islam. Instead, the Arab world has indulged in a frenzy of Jew-hatred unprecedented anywhere since Nazi Germany. Government-controlled media deny the reality of the Holocaust and resurrect medieval libels accusing Jews of using the blood of gentile children for religious observance. Much of the Muslim world seems intent on reviving the demonization of the Jews abandoned by the Christian world after the Holocaust. The Muslim-Jewish relationship, which has known glorious moments in the past, seems to be descending into an abyss.[71]

Although Halevi is careful to offer a word of hope that someday Muslims can rework their theology toward the Jewish people in a process similar to the “heroic effort” by Christians to rethink their theology after the Holocaust, he acknowledges that this has not yet happened. Noting that “mainstream Islam hasn’t yet accepted the legitimacy of Jewish sovereignty over any part of the Holy Land,” he continues:

Muslim theologians continue to insist that Jews (and Christians) must ultimately be brought under “protected” Islamic status-allowed to practice their faith so long as they surrender to Muslim rule. In the Middle Ages, that doctrine was a marked advance over Crusaders’ “convert or die” approach to interfaith dialogue; but in a pluralistic world, “protected status” is an insult.[72]

Troubling Affiliations

In some instances, leaders and activists from these churches have gone so far as to legitimize the agendas of extremist groups in the Middle East and the United States. For example, numerous officials from the PC(USA) met with Hizballah leaders in Lebanon during 2004 and 2005. In one of these meetings, Ronald H. Stone, a former professor at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, praised the group for its willingness to “dialogue” with him. He added: “As an elder of our church, I’d like to say that according to my recent experience, relations and conversations with Islamic leaders are a lot easier than dealings and dialogue with Jewish leaders.”

Another retired Presbyterian theologian characterized Hizballah as “the group that’s brought peace to that region of the world,” adding, “Is terrorists the right word? They are resistants. To listen to their side of the story is important to get at truth.”[73] The PC(USA) distanced themselves from these comments and fired two staffers who, along with Ronald Stone, met with Hizbollah in 2004. Nevertheless the damage was done – theologians from a prominent Protestant denomination affirmed and legitimized Hizbollah, a group with well-documented hostility toward Jews.[74]

Officials from the UMC and the UCC have affiliated with the U.S. Campaign to End the Occupation, which in June 2007 hosted a rally in Washington, DC, at which protesters carried signs that read “F*&K Israel” with the “s” in Israel drawn to look like a swastika – a clear and undeniable expression of anti-Semitism. Other protesters carried signs that read “From the River to the Sea Palestine Will Be Free” – a clear and undeniable call for Israel’s destruction.[75]

In October 2009, a website operated by the Israel/Palestine Mission Network (IPMN), an organization created by PC(USA)’s General Assembly in 2004, promoted anti-Israel incitement from a number of different sources. One of these was Al-Manar, the Hizballah-controlled television station that was designated as a “Global Terrorist Entity” by the U.S. Department of the Treasury in 2006. In addition to mainstreaming Al-Manar to Presbyterians and to the general public, the IPMN also promotes false allegations about Israel tunneling beneath the Temple Mount – allegations that have continued to incite violence.[76]

These churches have also provided substantial moral and logistical support to the abovementioned Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center, which supports a one-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict or “One state for two nations and three religions.”[77]

Members of the Episcopal Church were early supporters of Sabeel’s sister organization in the United States, Friends of Sabeel North America (FOSNA), and both Sabeel and FOSNA have reached out to other denominations for financial and logistical support. The PC(USA), the Disciples of Christ (also mainline), and the UMC routinely send missionaries who work in Sabeel’s office in Jerusalem. Upon returning to the United States, these missionaries play an important role in the passage of anti-Israel resolutions by their denominations.[78]

These churches have also cooperated with the anti-Israel agenda of the ecumenical World Council of Churches (WCC), with WCC press releases condemning Israel routinely being published on denominational websites. The denominations have also given ample publicity to anti-Israel statements of the (American, and also ecumenical) National Council of Churches (NCC). Fortunately, since Michael Kinnamon, a theologian from the Disciples of Christ became the NCC’s executive director, the organization has shown little if any hostility toward Israel and has condemned Ahmadinejad’s anti-Israel rhetoric.[79]

Limited Influence, Real Damage

For all their efforts, it appears these churches have had little long-term impact on American public opinion about the Arab-Israeli conflict. A recent poll by Neil Newhouse of Public Opinion Strategies and Stan Greenberg of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research on behalf of the Israel Project found that in August 2009, 59 percent of the American people regarded themselves as Israel supporters while only 8 percent saw themselves as supporters of the Palestinians. Moreover, 63 percent of the respondents said the United States should side with Israel in its conflict with the Palestinians.

This does not mean, however, that the animus of these churches can be ignored. Instead of counteracting Arab and Muslim efforts to demonize the Jewish state, leaders and peace activists have facilitated this process. They also have helped open the door to blunt expressions of anti-Semitism on the American scene.  

*     *     *

Notes

[1] “Oppose Construction of the Israeli Security Wall – 2003-D081,” General Convention of the Episcopal Church, 2003. Retrieved 10 September 2009, www.episcopalarchives.org/cgi-bin/acts/acts_generate_pdf.pl?resolution=2003-D081.

[2] “On Supporting the Geneva Accord, Urging Israel and Palestine to Implement the Accord,” Item 12-01 – Overture 04-32, passed by the PC(USA)’s 216th General Assembly in Birmingham, Alabama, on 2 July  2004. Retrieved 14 July 2009,   http://index.pcusa.org/NXT/gateway.dll?fn=default.htm$f=templates$vid=GA216:10.1048/Enu$3.0.

[3] Rabbis for Human Rights, “Bad Waters: An Open Letter to the Presbyterian Church (USA),” 26 July 2004. Retrieved 14 July 2009, http://tinyurl.com/njy8g6. (This link is to a Google cache of the document. Rabbis for Human Rights no longer displays the letter on its website, and has blocked archive.org from archiving its site. The original link to this letter was www.rhr.israel.net/pdf/presbyterian_26_07_04.pdf.)

[4] “Tear Down the Wall,” 25th General Synod, United Church of Christ. Retrieved 14 July 15, 2009, www.ucc.org/synod/resolutions/gsrev25-16.pdf. The General Assembly of the Disciples of Christ, another mainline Protestant denomination that shares a board of ministries with the United Church of Christ, passed the same resolution under a different title (“Breaking Down the Dividing Wall.” Retrieved 3 September, 2009, www.disciples.org/Portals/0/PDF/ga/pastassemblies/2005/resolutions/0522.pdf.)

[5] ELCA’s “Churchwide Strategy for Engagement in Israel and Palestine” was approved at the denomination’s 2005 Churchwide Assembly. Retrieved 15 September 2009, www.elca.org/~/media/Files/Our%20Faith%20in%20Action/Justice/Peace%20Not%20Walls/StrategyFull.ashx.

[6] United Methodist News Service, “Two United Methodist Gatherings Urge Selective Divestment from Israel,” 14 July 2005. Retrieved 3 September 2009, www.umc.org/site/c.gjJTJbMUIuE/b.886089/k.A105/Two_United_Methodist_gatherings_urge_selective_divestment_from_Israel.htm.

[7] “An Open Letter from Friends of Sabeel to Our Supporters and to Internet Media,” 12 December 2005. Retrieved 3 September 2009, www.miftah.org/display.cfm?DocId=9124&CategoryId=18.

[8] Wade Clark Roof and William McKinney, American Mainline Religion: Its Changing Shape and Future (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1988), 74-75.

[9] William R. Hutchinson, ed., Between the Times: The Travail of the Protestant Establishment in America, 1900-1960 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989), 11.

[10] Roof and McKinney, American Mainline Religion, 88.

[11] Ibid., 4.

[12] Population Estimates Program, Population Division, U.S. Census Bureau, Historical National Population Estimates: July 1, 1900 to July 1, 1999. Internet release date: 11 April 2000 (revised 28 June 2000). Retrieved 22 October 2009, www.census.gov/popest/archives/1990s/popclockest.txt.

[13] Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches, 1967.

[14] Population Estimates Program, Population Division, U.S. Census Bureau, Annual Estimates of the Population for the United States, Regions, States, and Puerto Rico: April 1, 2000 to July 1, 2007. Release date: 27 December 2007. Retrieved 22 October 2009, www.census.gov/popest/states/tables/NST-EST2007-01.xls.

[15] Yearbook of Canadian and American Churches, 2009.

[16] Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches, 1967, 1968, and 2009 and U.S. Census.

[17] Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches, 1967, 2009

[18] Roger Finke and Rodney Stark, The Churching of America 1776-2005: Winners and Losers in Our Religious Economy (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2006).

[19] Ibid., 251.

[20] Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches, 1993.

[21] William R. Hutchinson, Catherine L. Albanese, Max L. Stackhouse, and William McKinney, “The Decline of American Religion in American Culture,” Religion and American Culture, Vol. 1, No. 2 (Summer 1991): 153. Retrieved 15 July 2008, www.jstor.org/stable/1123868.

[22] Matthew 28:19.

[23] Robert Wuthnow and John H. Evans, The Quiet Hand of God: Faith-Based Activism and the Public Role of Mainline Protestantism (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002), 11-13.

[24] Robert N. Bellah, “Civil Religion in America,” Dædalus, Journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Vol. 96, No. 1 (Winter 1967): 1-21. Also  http://web.archive.org/web/20050306124338/www.robertbellah.com/articles_5.htm (retrieved 22 October 2009.)

[25] www.pcjcr.org.

[26] www.enddivestment.com.

[27] http://christianfairwitness.com.

[28] John Thomas, “Re: [CCM] Internal CCM Dialogue,” an email to UCC conference ministers on 8 June 2005, posted on UCCtruths.com on 19 August 2005. Retrieved 16 September 2009, www.ucctruths.com/Archive/2005AugustArchive.html and www.ucctruths.com/JohnThomasletteronDivestment.html.

[29] John Thomas, “The IRS, the IRD, and Red State/Blue State Religion,”  lecture presented at Gettysburg College, 7 March 2006; United Church of Christ, 12 March 2006. Retrieved 20 October 2009, www.ucc.org/news/john-thomasthe-irs.html?print=t.

[30] Quoted in Jeff Walton, “There Is Nothing Fuzzy or Hazy about the Occupation,” Institute on Religion and Democracy, 28 April 2008. Retrieved 16 September 2009, www.theird.org/Page.aspx?pid=604.

[31] So, at least, it has appeared to this author during 2005-2009.

[32] “On Rescinding and Modifying Certain Actions of the 216th General Assembly (2004) Regarding the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict,” approved by the PC(USA)’s General Assembly on 21 June 2006. Retrieved 10 September 2009, http://pc-biz.org/Explorer.aspx?id=689.

[33] The resolution was sent to the denomination’s Executive Council for implementation as part of a consent calendar approved by the General Synod. This resulted in the resolution’s implementation without being debated in committee or on the floor of the General Synod.

[34] “Divestment (80132-FA-NonDis),” rejected as part of a consent calendar by the UMC’s General Conference on 28 April 2008. Retrieved 8 September 2009, http://calmcs.org/2008/Menu.aspx?type=Petition&mode=Single&number=132.

[35] Dexter Van Zile, “Still the Silence,” Jewish World Review, 29 June 2007. Retrieved 7 September 2009, www.jewishworldreview.com/0607/silence_still.php3.

[36] Dexter Van Zile, “Rev.’s Kinnamon and Thomas Get It Right on Ahmadinejad,” CAMERA, 26 September, 2008. Retrieved 18 September 2009, www.camera.org/index.asp?x_context=2&x_outlet=118&x_article=1543.

[37] “Wall around Palestine,” Resolution A039. Retrieved 3 September 2009, http://gc2009.org/ViewLegislation/view_leg_detail.aspx?id=743&type=Original.

[38] Dexter Van Zile, “ELCA Rejects Extremism, Expresses Concern for Both Palestinians and Israelis,” 25 August 2009. Retrieved 3 September 2009, http://camera.org/index.asp?x_context=2&x_outlet=118&x_article=1720.

[39] “Israel-Palestine Consultation Report,” 16 June 2009. Retrieved 3 September 2009, www.ucc.org/synod/pdfs/gs27report-onmiddleeast.pdf.

[40] “Solidarity and Friendship with Iran,” 27th General Synod (2009), United Church of Christ. Retrieved 21 September 2009, www.ucc.org/synod/resolutions/gs27/solidarity-and-friendship-with-iran.pdf.

[41] The background material accompanying one of the resolutions obliquely accused Canadian MPs of taking bribes to work on Israel’s behalf. It also falsely accused – without substantiation – unnamed Canadian MPs of being “dual citizens with Israel.” See Dexter Van Zile, “Update: Proponents of Israel Boycott Attempt Hijack of United Church of Canada,” CAMERA. Retrieved 8 September 2009, http://camera.org/index.asp?x_context=7&x_issue=51&x_article=1707.

[42] Dexter Van Zile, “Hijacking Interrupted: United Church of Canada Says No to Anti-Israel Boycott,” CAMERA, 14 August 2009. Retrieved 8 September 2009, http://camera.org/index.asp?x_context=7&x_issue=45&x_article=1715.

[43] “Israel-Palestine Conflict (80441-GM-R323),” adopted by the UMC’s General Conference on 2 May 2008. Retrieved 8 September 2009, http://calms.umc.org/2008/Menu.aspx?type=Petition&mode=Single&number=441.

[44] “Socially Responsible Investment Task Force (8032-FA-NonDis-!),” adopted by the UMC’s General Conference on 28 April 2009. Retrieved 10 September 2009, http://calms.umc.org/2008/Menu.aspx?type=Petition&mode=Single&number=832.

[45] Dexter Van Zile, “The Bias Remains the Same,” CAMERA, 3 January 2008. Retrieved 10 September 2009, www.camera.org/index.asp?x_context=7&x_issue=51&x_article=1419.

[46] Gregg, “East-Jerusalem-Separation Barrier,” 4 September 2009 entry on blog titled “Straight Speaking Express,” hosted on the UCC site “My UCC.” Retrieved 21 September 2009, http://community.ucc.org/post/gregg/blog/east_jerusalem_separation_barrier.html.

[47] Dexter Van Zile, “Lutheran Bishop Responds Angrily to CAMERA Letter,” CAMERA, 8 June 2009. Retrieved 21 September 2009, http://camera.org/index.asp?x_context=7&x_issue=5&x_article=1682.

[48] David Squires, “Rev. Jeremiah Wright Says ‘Jews’ Are Keeping Him from President Obama,” Daily Press, 10 June 2009. Retrieved 20 October 2009, www.dailypress.com/news?dp-local_wright_0610jun10,0,7603283.story.

[49] Grance Franke-Ruta, “Wright Says He Didn’t Criticize All Jews,” Washington Post, 12 June 2009. Retrieved 20 October 2009, www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/06/11/AR2009061104139.html.

[50] Chuck Currie, “Commentary: Jeremiah Wright’s Anti-Semitic Comments Must Be Condemned (Updated),” UCC in the News, 11 June 2009. Retrieved 20 October 2009, http://community.ucc.org/post/ucc-news/commentary_jeremiah_wrights_antisemitic_comments_must_be_co.html#comments.

[51] Stephen Goldstein, Israel-Palestine: A Mission Study for2007-2008. Women’s Division, General Board of Global Ministries, United Methodist Church, 2007.

[52] Ibid., 102.

[53] Dexter Van Zile, “Methodist Manual Maligns Israel, Stereotypes Jews,” CAMERA, 13 February 2008. Retrieved 16 September 2009, www.camera.org/index.asp?x_print=1&x_context=48&x_issue=4&x_article=1449.

[54] Mitri Raheb, Bethlehem Besieged (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress Press, 2004).

[55] Ann E. Hafften, ed., Water from the Rock: Lutheran Voices from Palestine (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress Press, 2003), 57-58.

[56] Ibid., 58. Al-Dura’s death was invoked in a similar manner in another essay in this collection (“This Time of Crisis Calls Out to God”) written by Pastors Michael and Susan Thomas (77).

[57] For a detailed analysis of the al-Dura controversy, see Richard Landes’s website, seconddraft.org. See also “Jamal Al Durah Presents: Scars from the Past.” Retrieved 17 September 2008, www.youtube.com/watch?v=4U03h2oEZd0.

[58] Peter Pettit, “Palestinian Lutheran Voices” (review essay), Lutheran Quarterly, Vol. 20 (2006): 92-96.

[59] Dexter Van Zile, “Mainline Churches Embrace Gary Burge’s False Narrative,” CAMERA, 23 August 2007. Retrieved 29 October 2009, www.camera.org/index.asp?x_context=2&x_outlet=118&x_article=1356.

[60] Gary Burge, Whose Land? Whose Promise: What Christians Are Not Being Told about Israel and the Palestinians (Cleveland: Pilgrim Press, 2003), 82.

[61] Ibid., 92-93.

[62] Benny Morris, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 226-227.

[63] Christine Caldwell Ames, Righteous Persecution: Inquisition, Dominicans, and Christianity in the Middle Ages (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2009), 229.

[64] Burge, Whose Land?, 176.

[65] “Relationship between the UCC and the Jewish Community,” 16th General Synod, United Church of Christ, 1987. Retrieved 6 August 2009, www.ucc.org/education/polity/pdf-folder/relationship-between-the-ucc-and-the-jewish-community-1987.pdf. The other four denominations covered in this essay have issued similar statements with varying degrees of authority.

[66] This is a multivolume series written by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins and published by Tyndale. The first of these texts is titled Left Behind: A Novel of Earth’s Last Days. These books, which tell the story of the rapture and the resulting Armageddon, have sold millions, sparking a cottage industry of criticism from liberal Protestant theologians who condemn their allegedly pernicious influence on the American people.

[67] Robert O. Smith, “Christian Zionism: It Challenges Our Lutheran Commitments,” The Lutheran, June 2009, 18.

[68] Ibid., 22.

[69] Robert O. Smith, “Jewish-Christian Difficulties in Challenging Christian Zionism,” Christianzionism.org, 2 February 2006. Retrieved 22 September 2009, www.christianzionism.org/Article/SmithR02.pdf.

[70] Social Responsibility in Investments Committee of the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church, “Corporate Engagement by the Episcopal Church on Issues Related to Israel and the Palestinian Territories,” 3 October 2005, www.anglicancommunion.org/the-holy-land/data/usa.pdf.

[71] Yossi Klein Halevi, At the Entrance to the Garden of Eden: A Jew’s Search for Hope with Christians and Muslims in the Holy Land (New York: Harper Perennial, 2002), xv.

[72] Ibid., xvi.

[73] Dexter Van Zile, “Hezbollah and the PC(USA): A David Project Backgrounder,” David Project Center for Jewish Leadership, December 2005. Retrieved 22 September 2009, http://judeo-christianalliance.org/materials/Hezbollah%20and%20PC(USA).pdf.

[74] Alexa Smith, “Two staffers gone in wake of Hezbollah meeting,” Presbyterian Outlook, ” 12 November 2004. Retrieved 3 November 2009, http://www.pres-outlook.com/news-and-analysis/1-news-a-analysis/1285.html. Also see Wilgoren, Jodi, “Presbyterians Say Meeting in Middle East Isn’t Official,” New York Times, 2 December 2005.

[75] “UCC Fueling Anti-Semitism,” Ucctruths.com, 12 June 2007. Retrieved 22 September 2009, http://ucctruths.blogspot.com/2007/06/ucc-fueling-anti-semitism.html. This rally was organized in part by Rev. Diane Ford Jones, minister of communication and mission education for UCC’s Justice and Witness Ministries in Cleveland, Ohio. Rev. David Wildman, who serves as a staffer of the General Board of Global Ministries for the UMC, also serves on the Steering Committee of the U.S. Campaign to End the Occupation.

[76] Dexter Van Zile, “Presbyterian Peacemakers Promote Hezbollah Website and Anti-Israel Incitement,” CAMERA, 14 October 2009. Retrieved 22 October 2009, http://camera.org/index.asp?x_context=7&x_issue=37&x_article=1751.

[77] Sabeel, “The Jerusalem Sabeel Document.” Retrieved 22 October 2009, www.sabeel.org/etemplate.php?id=39.

[78] Dexter Van Zile, “The Episcopal Church’s Anti-Israel Media Campaign,” CAMERA, 6 September 2006. Retrieved 22 October 2009, www.camera.org/index.asp?x_context=7&x_issue=45&x_article=1194#.

[79] Dexter Van Zile, “Rev.’s Kinnamon and Thomas Get It Right on Ahmadinejad,” CAMERA, 26 September, 2008. Retrieved 18 September 18, 2009, www.camera.org/index.asp?x_context=2&x_outlet=118&x_article=1543.

*     *     *

Dexter Van Zile is Christian media analyst for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America. His writings have appeared in numerous American Jewish newspapers as well as the Jerusalem Post, Ecumenical Trends, and the Boston Globe. He has a BA in politics and government from the University of Puget Sound and an MA in political science/environmental studies from Western Washington University. He is a Massachusetts native.

About Dexter Van Zile

Dexter Van Zile is Christian media analyst for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America. He has a BA in politics and government from the University of Puget Sound and an MA in political science/environmental studies from Western Washington University.