Is this an unfair charge? Don't people have the right to disagree with Israeli government policy? Sure they do, and plenty of Americans--including American Jews--express their criticism loudly and often. But fair criticism is balanced, and a real concern for peace requires such balance.
For an example of balance, take recent statements by the Catholic Bishops of the United States. In late November, they joined the National Council of Synagogues to condemn the wave of anti-Semitism around the world. "We are alarmed by a wave of attacks on synagogues and Jews that have occurred in North America and Europe in the past several weeks," the statement said. "Scores of acts of vandalism and numerous personal assaults have been reported."
In a separate November statement, the bishops demanded that Syrian troops be pulled out of Lebanon. "It is gravely troubling that, a decade after the close of the civil war, Lebanon is not yet a fully sovereign state. We call on the government of the United States to work energetically for the withdrawal of foreign troops from Lebanon, and for respect for its sovereignty, territorial integrity, and political independence."
And their statements on the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians have called on both sides to pursue negotiations and step back from violence. I have not agreed with everything they said, but it is clear that they are searching for peace, security for Israel, and some balance and moderation in their own remarks.
But balance and moderation have never characterized the mainline denominations when it comes to Israel. They have almost always been anti-Israel, pro-PLO stalwarts. The most recent evidence is in a December 12 statement by the "Ecumenical Delegation to Jerusalem" from mainline churches, representing views from such groups as the Episcopal Church, the National Council of Churches, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, the Presbyterian Church USA, the United Methodist Church, and the United Church of Christ--often represented at the very highest levels. The statement is incredibly one-sided and biased. While the ostensible purpose of the trip was "to express solidarity with Christian churches there," the group's statements express greater solidarity with the Palestinian Authority and its political goals.
What's missing from this statement? There is not one single word of criticism of the Palestinian Authority. Nothing about the lynching of two Israeli soldiers, which disgusted the civilized world. Nothing about terror attacks that have killed Israeli mothers and their children. Nothing about Palestinian use of children in the front lines. Nothing about the viciously anti-Semitic rhetoric emerging from some Muslim clerics. Nothing! Instead, this delegation wants an indefensible Israel with its 1967 borders--and wants it flooded with enough Palestinians under the so-called "right of return" to be sure the Jewish character of the state would also be in jeopardy.
And there is more dangerous nonsense in the statement. For example, is it really true that "oppression breeds terrorism"? Were the Americans who destroyed the federal building in Oklahoma City oppressed? Do we believe the American soldiers blown up at Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia or in the Marine barracks in Beirut were killed because of American oppression? Can murderous hatred and religious prejudice not breed terrorism?
Go back to the beginning of the statement and note that all the "people" whose "voices" the delegation heard seem to be Palestinian. It seems that way because it is true: While they visited the Israeli Foreign Ministry, according to their reports there is no evidence they met with one single Israeli victim of Palestinian terrorism or violence. While one of the group's organizers stated that "It is crucial that we sit down with those who are victims of the violence," apparently they concluded that there were no Israeli victims. This lack of balance is really prejudice in its dictionary definition: The delegation went there having prejudged the situation and wanting to hear no inconvenient facts from the Israeli side.
Mark Tooley of the Institute for Religion and Democracy in Washington, D.C., has taken a careful look at mainline church statements about the Israel-Palestinian violence, and his summary is instructive: "None of the statements touched upon the possibility that Palestinian violence was orchestrated to pressure Israel for more territorial compromises. Nor did any criticize the incitements to violence and cries for vengeance from official Palestinian media. None cited the denials of Israel's right to exist that continue to come from official Palestinian sources. And none expressed any concern about human rights abuses and corruption under Arafat's de-facto dictatorship over the 90 percent of Palestinians who now live under his authority. It should also be noted that mainline church officials, despite their professed concern for international peace and justice, have limited their protests about human rights abuses in the Middle East to Israel. One can look in vain through church archives over the last 30 years for any substantive criticism of Arab governments, even though they include some of the worst persecutors of Christians, a topic that presumably would interest U.S. churches."
There are, of course, other theories. Some of the mainline churches have a presence, including missionaries, in Arab countries. This may make them more sympathetic to the Arab cause or more vulnerable to pressure if they deviate from the Arab line on Israel. The NCC also includes Christian Arab churches, and some of these may be pro-Palestinian as well. And one cannot overlook another explanation, painful though it may be: anti-Semitism, now disguised as anti-Israel feeling.
Whatever the explanation, statements like that of the "Ecumenical Delegation" do not advance the cause of peace in the Holy Land. They are wasted opportunities, which we must regret because the churches of the United States could play a far more positive and helpful role.
The lesson for Jews is that such statements must be protested strongly. This "Ecumenical Delegation" was no peace commission, no study group, no goodwill tour, but an expression of anti-Israel bias. Next time some ecumenical group gathers, the first item on the Jewish agenda should be that bias--not business as usual.