Tuesday, August 21, 2012
Christian churches risk poisoning relations with Jews
By Abraham Cooper and Yitzchok Adlerstein, The Ottawa Citizen August 12, 2012
Protestant denominations have been gathering to set the moral compass for the future of their churches. They have been grappling with theological, ecological, social and geo-political challenges at their major conclaves.
And then there is the Holy Land.
While their co-religionists bleed in Syria and Nigeria and cower in fear in Egypt, Pakistan and Iran, some find solace in zeroing in only on the misdeeds — real and imaginary — of the Jewish state.
In York, The Church of England’s General Synod recently voted to endorse the World Council of Churches’ “Ecumenical Accompaniment Program.” This program, in partnership with anti-Israel groups that reject a two-state solution, issued a publication titled Chain Reaction, calling for sit-ins at Israeli embassies, hacking Israeli government websites, and supporting for the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign whose goal is eliminating the Jewish State.
The rhetoric showed raw contempt for Jews. Speakers complained of powerful Jewish lobbies, of too much Jewish influence. They criticized Jewish organizations for having the chutzpah to protest against their proposals, even as they trotted out marginal anti-Zionist Jews parroting the extreme anti-Israel agenda.
Dr. John Dinnen waxed biblical, invoking the Jew who did not cross the road to help another human being in the story of the Good Samaritan. Today, he charged, “the Palestinians are being pushed over, while the Jews are quite powerful,” before correcting himself and saying “Israelis” instead of “Jews.”
The Church of England co-mingled classic European anti-Semitism with a theologically wrapped extreme political anti-Israel campaign.
But there were a few sane voices who would not be cowed. One church member revoked her monthly donation of 150 pounds that she had been remitting for two decades. “It is shameful that at a time when there are beheadings, forced female circumcision, intolerance, persecution and killing of Christians, destruction of churches and Christian graves, torture and murder throughout the vast majority of the remainder of the Middle East … what exercises the mind of Dr. Dinnen and the Synod is … Israel, the only democracy in the area,” wrote Janet Brook in a letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Meanwhile across The Pond, American churches chose a different path. Calls to divest from companies doing business with Israel — Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard, and Motorola Solutions — were rejected. The rank and file saw through these measures as punitive and one-sided. Significantly, Presbyterians and Episcopalians voted to invest in Palestinian and Israeli ventures. They decided that improving the lot of people on the ground, not wallowing in harsh rhetoric, is the way to help foster Middle East peace.
Still extremists had their say. Their pro-BDS resolutions outraged the Jewish community and Christian supporters of Israel. Some demanded that Israel be labelled an “apartheid state.” Other resolutions called for the embrace of the Kairos Palestine Document, which denigrates Jewish history in the Holy Land, coddles terrorism, promotes economic warfare against the Jewish state and blames Middle East woes exclusively on Israel. All these resolutions failed, although Presbyterian Church U.S.A. passed a “pro-peace” resolution to boycott dates and cosmetics originating in Israeli settlements.
One can argue that events in the region from the installation of a Muslim Brotherhood president in Egypt, to the brutal bloodletting in Syria, to Iran’s double threat of terrorism by proxy and nuclearization, will supersede any measures by Protestant denominations.
So are these Christian debates and resolutions irrelevant? Hardly.
The exclusive focus on Israel/Palestine has rendered mute the World Council of Churches and many of its affiliates — mute to the suffering, denigration and murder of their coreligionists in the Middle East. Forced conversions in Hamas-ruled Gaza, the targeting of Coptic Christians by Muslim extremists in Egypt, the ethnic cleansing of Iraqi Christians in the historic Assyrian Triangle, elicit barely a whisper of protest.
Nothing will change for the threatened millions of Christians, unless and until these churches begin to pass resolutions, cajole politicians and petition the international community on their behalf.
While white-hot anti-Israel invective and bare-knuckled economic warfare may salve some consciences, they will surely corrode decades of positive developments in Christian-Jewish relations.
Next up is the United Church of Canada’s August conclave, underway this week. While the Middle East roils in the name of peace, church members will consider a report on Israel/Palestine that calls for a boycott of goods from settlements. It will also apologize to Palestinians for previously having asked them to recognize the Jewish State.
Perhaps the Palestinians should agree to a two-state solution, the report argues, but it is insulting to ask them to recognize that their neighbour is a Jewish state, the sole democracy in a region of more than 20 Muslim states.
Should the UCC embrace the resolution, it is unclear how it would help to advance peace.
What is clear is that it won’t help a single Palestinian, it will poison relations with Canadian Jewry and it will signal to Muslim extremists everywhere that they have nothing to fear from those followers of Christ who are prepared to fight evil only if it involves the people of Israel.