The political war against Israel has intensified recently, led by activists in the United Church of Canada, the Presbyterian Church USA and the United Methodists. Each group produced pseudo-reports, held intense debates and then voted to adopt a form of BDS (boycotts, divestment and sanctions) targeting Israel using allegations of human rights violations, war crimes, and other justifications. In Britain, the Anglican Synod voted to give standing to a radical anti-Israel group known as the Ecumenical Accompaniment Program for Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), a World Council of Churches project that promotes BDS and other forms of demonization.
As part of the global and well-financed war, launched at the infamous NGO Forum of the 2001 UN anti-racism conference in Durban, South Africa, these church-based initiatives erase decades of Arab rejectionism, warfare and terror. They distort the conflict’s history beyond recognition, portray Palestinians as innocent victims, and are key players in the 64-year old campaign to end the right of the Jewish people to sovereign equality in the State of Israel.
The obsessive focus on Israel highlighted moral double standards of these groups. The Presbyterians debated 12 foreign affairs resolutions, all on Israel. They were silent on the deaths of thousands in Syria, the persecution of Christians in Hamas-controlled Gaza and deadly attacks against Christian Copts in Egypt.
In all these cases, the leaders defended compulsive Israel-bashing by highlighting token support from a few fringe Jews. The Presbyterians boasted of “young Jewish activists” who provided “testimony” calling for isolating Israel. A journalist reported, “These activists were mostly affiliated with Jewish Voice for Peace [JVP]… Commissioners said their personal testimony helped undercut prevailing rhetoric on the mainstream Jewish perspective.”
The Canadian version of the JVP provided cover in the United Church, and in the United Kingdom, an official of the Anglican Synod, speaking on the BBC, dismissed the Board of Deputies of British Jews, which denounced the EAPPI. Instead, the Anglicans waved support from “Jews for Justice for Palestinians” – another token fringe group.
Why do the obsessed leaders of these anti-Israel campaigns desperately need a façade of a few Jewish faces and so-called “voices for peace”?
The answer begins with their role in diverting attention and cleansing the immoral stains from overtly antisemitic theological themes, led by a Palestinian Christian NGO known as Sabeel. The Presbyterians, United Church and the United Methodists, among others, are official “partners” of Sabeel.
Sabeel promotes “Palestinian liberation theology,” which includes supersessionism – a medieval doctrine that claims that Christians replaced the Jewish people in God’s promises. This theology also revives the “deicide” charge, blaming “the Jews” for killing Jesus, by comparing Palestinians with the crucified Jesus and Israel as the crucifying power. These ancient teachings of contempt served as the basis for centuries of anti-Jewish persecution. After the Holocaust, the Vatican and mainline Protestants reinterpreted Christian texts to end this practice, but Sabeel and its partners have repackaged the old intolerance as a “progressive” post-colonialist ideal.
While mainline churches long rejected this hate-filled theology, Sabeel perpetuates them with its attacks on Judaism as “tribal” and “primitive,” in contrast to Christianity’s “universalism.” Sabeel’s founder, Naim Ateek, recently said, “the establishment of Israel was a relapse to the most primitive concepts of an exclusive, tribal God.” Sabeel also effectively denies the Jewish People’s right to sovereign equality with its call for “one state.”
While the vast majority of Jews and many Christians reject this abhorrent theology and its use in anti-Israel political warfare, the obsessed church-based BDS campaigners seek justification by giving prominence to the fringe exceptions. When JVP “stands in solidarity” with Sabeel’s antisemitic, anti-Israel message the road is thus opened for Christians to follow. As JVP noted, “The churches pay particular attention to the voices of Jews.”
In Canada, the United Church’s actions are fundamentally immoral, and revive old hatreds against the Jewish people. To claim a moral mandate, the members of the United Church must cease the Israel-bashing, end all ties with Sabeel and other groups that promote hate, and stop exploiting token Jews in order to justify this gross injustice.
This article appears in the September 6 print issue of The CJN