One year ago the Presbyterian Church USA passed a resolution considering selective divestment from companies doing business with Israel. Since then a number of the mainline Protestant churches have taken actions hostile to Israel and Middle East peacemaking. Some representatives of PCUSA even met with Hezbollah terrorists, praising them for their “goodwill towards the American people” and stating that “relations and conversations with Islamic leaders are a lot easier than dealings and dialogue with Jewish leaders."
To its credit, PCUSA reprimanded these representatives, but the descent down the road of ideological extremism continues apace in the national offices of the PCUSA, the Anglican Church, the United Church of Christ, and the Disciples of Christ. This week in Orlando, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America may join the downward spiral as may the United Methodist Church later this year. Importantly, the majority of mainline Protestants remain solidly pro-Israel. They seek a fair resolution to the conflict and understand that extremist Arab rejection of Israel and terrorism are the fundamental obstacles to Israeli-Palestinian peace.
Not so many national leaders, who focus only on “occupation” and are increasingly swayed by Palestinian nationalists and political ideologues interested in posturing instead of peace. The churches officially support a two-state solution, but these leaders have fallen prey to the rhetoric of those rejecting Israel’s legitimacy, like Sabeel’s Naim Ateek who invokes the hateful language of “crucifier” in describing Israel and preaches “one land, two peoples, three religions.” Anyone understanding Middle East politics knows this is code for a one-state solution that would destroy the State of Israel and relegate Jews to defenseless “dhimmis,” i.e. second class residents subject to Islamic authority.
In July The United Church of Christ and the Disciples of Christ passed kindred resolutions demanding that Israel “tear down” its defensive barrier against Palestinian suicide bombers. More than the divestment campaigns, these resolutions exposed to all the deep bias of this radical ideology. Truth was the first casualty: the resolutions made up “facts” or used false outdated claims. They alleged that the barrier “effectively annexes 50% of Palestinian land,” affects “680,000 Palestinians or 30% of the Palestinian population,” and makes a “negotiated two-state solution unachievable.” Yet the authoritative March 3, 2005 study by The Washington Institute for Near East Policy found that the barrier’s final route will include only 5%-8% of land beyond the pre-1967 armistice lines, and encompass only 5,400 Palestinians, who comprise a mere 0.3% of Palestinians (excluding Jerusalem). The report indicates that the barrier closely follows President Clinton’s recommended outcome for the final status negotiations, and concludes that it “will not serve to impede a two-state solution, but rather to facilitate such an outcome.”
Law was the second casualty: The resolutions systematically presented tendentious interpretations of the Geneva Convention, UN Security Council Resolution 242, and the decision of the Israeli Supreme Court. In fact Article 27 of the Geneva Convention and Article 51 of the UN Charter give countries the right to take measures to defend itself from attack. 242 calls for withdrawal from territories only in exchange for “termination of states of belligerency,” and allowed for modifications to the pre-1967 lines. Predictably, the resolutions omit these important points. They also cited the Israeli Supreme Court as evidence for its position, when in actuality the court found the barrier to be legal and ordered a change in its route plan to minimize Palestinian hardship. Israel has complied and rerouted the barrier-also conveniently omitted by the resolutions.
These distortions of fact and law are not what most disturb Jews, Israelis and people seeking peace. Certainly the barrier poses hardships for many Palestinians-as it does for many Israelis. Yet the resolutions never mentioned that the main purpose of the barrier is defensive: to shield Israeli civilians from suicide bombers and terrorists. Inexplicably, protecting the lives of Israeli children, women and non-combatants does not appear at all in the resolutions. Over the past four years more than 900 Israeli civilians have been murdered by Palestinian terrorists. In one month alone before the barrier was built, 85 Israelis were killed in 9 separate suicide attacks. Israelis have the right to protect themselves from terrorism no less than do Americans or British, and the barrier has been most effective. A report of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs (July 5 2004) demonstrates that the barrier has reduced the number of suicide attacks by 90% and the annual number of Israelis murdered by terrorists by more than 70%. A fair and responsible resolution would have included a parallel demand that Palestinians lay down their bombs, or minimally, a denunciation of terror specifically against Israelis. But neither was considered, and the unilateral call to remove the barrier gives terrorists a clear path to murder more Israeli civilians.
With this radical anti-Israel bias, the churches have thrown away their moral compasses regarding the Middle East. In a grotesque twist of Christian ethics, the resolutions’ framers find it in their hearts to be concerned that the barrier is “visually and psychologically offensive,” but evidence not one iota of concern for protecting Israeli lives from wanton terror. Their callous placing of Palestinian convenience over saving innocent life voids the resolutions of any moral seriousness. It convinces many that these resolutions can contribute nothing to peace that must protect all parties in the conflict and that these churches act in bad faith when they claim to care about Israeli security or Jewish life.
Fortunately, most Americans-even most mainline Protestants-are not buying this extremism and its moral loopiness. It is becoming increasingly clear that church leaders now face a choice: between truth or false witness, between supporting the peacemakers or abetting the terrorists. This is the choice between offering just solutions that enhance church authority or partisan rhetoric that undermines church credibility and relevance. They can no longer have it both ways. For the sake of all, we pray they choose the former.
Dr. Eugene Korn is Director of Jewish Affairs at the American Jewish Congress