New York Times Flacks for Jewish Groups Against 15 Major Christian Leaders

by James M. Wall

You have to know American Jewish leaders are really riled up when they call on the New York Times to flack for them against 15 leaders of Christian churches who had the audacity to send a letter to the US Congress, which said, with proper Christian indignation:

As Christian leaders in the United States, it is our moral responsibility to question the continuation of unconditional U.S. financial assistance to the government of Israel. Realizing a just and lasting peace will require this accountability, as continued U.S. military assistance to Israel — offered without conditions or accountability — will only serve to sustain the status quo and Israel’s military occupation of the Palestinian territories.

We request, therefore, that Congress hold Israel accountable to these standards by making the disbursement of U.S. military assistance to Israel contingent on the Israeli government’s compliance with applicable U.S. laws and policies.

Is that clear? These church leaders are saying it is their moral responsibility to tell the Congress that it must hold Israel accountable to U.S. laws and policies when it disburses money to Israel.

So what’s the big news angle in the New York Times story for Saturday, October 20, following the release of the letter from the 15 leaders to Congress?  The lead of the story should be that “American Jewish leaders defend the action of a secular state that receives more U.S. foreign aid than any other nation in the world”.

What these so-called “outraged” Jewish groups are saying is that their feelings are hurt. These American Jewish leaders have worked so hard over the decades to maintain “good relations” with their Christian colleagues, and just as they were about to have yet another “good relations” meeting between Christians and Jews (no mention of Muslims, it must be noted), here come 15 Christian leaders demanding accountability from a secular foreign state for human rights violations carried out with American money.

Horrors, what a thing for Christian leaders to say!

Man (and woman) the barricades, the fragile American relationship between Jews and Christians is under severe threat. In case you have missed this unfolding threat to fragile American relationships between Jews and Christians (still no Muslims involved), this is how the Times’ Laurie Goodstein began her not-so subtle attack on the 15 Protestant  leaders:

A letter signed by 15 leaders of Christian churches that calls for Congress to reconsider giving aid to Israel because of accusations of human rights violations has outraged Jewish leaders and threatened to derail longstanding efforts to build interfaith relations.

The Christian leaders say their intention was to put the Palestinian plight and the stalled peace negotiations back in the spotlight at a time when all of the attention to Middle East policy seems to be focused on Syria, the Arab Spring and the Iranian nuclear threat.

The church leaders did not ask Congress to “reconsider” giving aid to Israel. And note the use of the weasel word “accusations” of human rights, as though Israel’s violations of Palestinian human rights have not been amply demonstrated over the decades. The Times says the letter is intended to “put the Palestinian plight and the stalled peace negotiations back in the spotlight”.   That is balderdash, as Joe Biden likes to say.

The 15 leaders make no reference to a motive for writing the latter. They do not have to. The New Testament is their motive. Putting the Palestinian “plight” in the “spotlight” is Times speak, speculation without attribution. 

The Times failed to explain that the “Jewish groups” that are attacking the 15 Christian leaders, are being directed by a secular organization, the Jewish Council of Public Affairs (JCPA). The Times does not distinguish between religious Jews and political Zionist Jews, a fatal flaw in its coverage. How secular is the JCPA? You be the judge. Here is how the JCPA describes its mission:

The mission of the Council is to serve as the representative voice of the organized American Jewish community in addressing the principal mandate of the Jewish community relations field, expressed in three interrelated goals:

One: To safeguard the rights of Jews here and around the world. Two:  To dedicate ourselves to the safety and security of the state of Israel. Three: To protect, preserve and promote a just American society, one that is democratic and pluralistic, one that furthers harmonious interreligious, inter ethnic interracial and    other intergroup relations.

“To dedicate ourselves to the safety and security of the state of Israel” is not biblical, my friends, it is political. The Times should say so. Instead it puts the JCPA, a secular public affairs organization, under the same umbrella as the rabbis and the 15 Christian church leaders.

The planned Monday interfaith dialogue meeting was canceled by the JCPA, a secular organization. Here is the start of its news release making the announcement:

Canceling an interfaith dialogue meeting, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and other Jewish groups, have called for a summit with the heads of Jewish organizations that have been engaged in the roundtable and the heads of the Christian denominations that penned a letter to Congress calling for an investigation into Israel’s use of the U.S. military aid.

“The letter signed by 15 church leaders is a step too far,” said JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow.  “The participation of these leaders in yet another one-sided anti-Israel campaign cannot be viewed apart from the vicious anti-Zionism that has gone virtually unchecked in several of these denominations. We remain committed to the enterprise of interfaith relations because it is central to the development of a just and righteous society”.

To be clear, some of the Jewish groups that signed the JCPA letter, have rabbis in their titles, making them religious. But others, like the American Jewish Committee, are not religious.

Jewish theologian Marc Ellis has warned Christian leaders that when they agreed to accept the “ecumenical deal” with their Jewish counterparts, they were opting out of any possible prophetic leadership in the Middle East.  The deal, by the way, was the tacit understanding between earlier generations of Christian and Jewish leaders that they would work in all sorts of common projects, ranging from cooperative civil rights struggles in the U.S. to mutual worship events in local communities.

That “deal” has always reminded me of what my father used to say about the Methodist and Baptist churches in our “dry” Georgia county.  Usually speaking so my teetotaling mother and aunt could hear him, he would declare, “The churches are in cahoots with the bootleggers in this county.”

He was right; the church folks, unwillingly, of course, kept the county dry while the bootleggers made enough illegal whiskey to satisfy the needs of the pious members of the community who wanted a “little pick up at the end of the day”.  At least, that’s what my teetotaling father always said.

The kicker in the Marc Ellis description of the “ecumenical deal” was the understanding that Israel always would be off limits to religious criticism by the churches.  Essentially, the deal was this: We work  together, but you leave Israel alone.

The deal was sweetened over the years by all-expenses paid clergy trips to the Holy Land and some shared breaking of bread among Jews and Christians (still no Muslims, of course).The deal between our contemporary churches and our contemporary bootleggers has held firm, until, that is, U.S. denominations started passing resolutions calling for boycotts, divestments and sanctions (BDS), to protest the continued violations of human rights in Palestine.

Those resolutions outraged the same Jewish leaders who are now upset by the letter to Congress from the church leaders. That’s why these Jewish leaders infiltrated religious denominational meetings to intimidate voters and water down resolutions as much as they could.

Now, in October, 2012, 15 U.S. Protestant church leaders are fed up with the lack of human rights action by the U.S. government. So it was that together they composed a remarkable statement and sent it off to the U.S. Congress.

Jewish leaders, and publications like the New York Times, were suddenly confronted by a new phenomenon from within the churches. You could almost hear them asking, like a puzzled Butch Cassidy, who are these guys, anyway? Who are these 15 U.S. church leaders with their outrageous defiance of the “ecumenical deal”?

To begin with, the 15 church leaders are heavyweights, top officials for their denominations. They include the leaders of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the United Methodist Church, the National Council of Churches, the United Church of Christ, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the American Friends Service Committee (a Quaker agency) and the Mennonite Central Committee. Two Catholic leaders also signed, not including the Catholic Council of Bishops.

These are not just leaders of a few religious groups, which a Protestant version of the Jewish Council of Public Affairs could corral into an interfaith dialogue meeting.

These are the major-domos of American Protestantism, which raises the question of what exactly gives the JCPA and its scattered letter signers, these “outraged Jewish groups” as the Times calls them,  the right to claim religious standing in this conversation. Many of these Jewish groups are secular and function as part of the Israel Lobby, a collection of lobbying organizations that have Israel, not Judaism as their primary client.

The false premise that Goodstein, and the New York Times operate from is that the 15 Christian church leaders are required to “get along” with the Israel Lobby, not the Jewish religious establishment of this nation.  Are church leaders required by the Times to “get along” with the National Rifle Association and the Chamber of Commerce?

This false premise is blending apples and oranges, nothing consistent about it.

A bit of history could be helpful here. When the modern state of Israel was created by the United Nations on November 29, 1947, the vote in the UN General Assembly was 33 to 13, with 10 abstentions. The General Assembly vote  was preceded by decades of dialogue within world Jewry. Many Jewish religious leaders reminded the Zionists in their midst that idolatry was prohibited by Scripture, citing the passage, ” Thou shall  have no other God before me (Exodus 20:3)”.

Zionism was a political movement that created a modern secular state.  It did so through force of military arms and by the blatant exploitation of the horrors of the Holocaust. They called their new state a “Jewish state”. That, however, is a secular ethnic designation, not a religious one. It also contradicts the foundation of a democracy, since at its formation the state contained a substantial number of non-Jews.

In the years leading up to 1947, there was considerable Jewish religious opposition to the creation of a secular state of Israel. The battle was between Zionists and non-Zionists. The biblical admonition that it is idolatry to equate a state with Yahweh, was ignored.

The 15 church leaders have declared that they believe it is their moral responsibility to question the continuation of unconditional U.S. financial assistance to the government of Israel. The cancellation of an interfaith meeting by the Jewish Council of Public Affairs was a political move which the New York Times helped to promote.

The JCPA and its letter signers have no dogs in this hunt. They can be as outraged as they want.  This is still a free country. But the 15 church leaders have made the right religious, not political, move. They are speaking the language of “moral responsibility” in a letter directed to the U.S. Congress on the matter of U.S. funds used by Israel to violate the human rights of the Palestinian people.

Interfaith dialogue has always been nothing more than a device used by American Jewish groups to intimidate the American churches into keeping the ecumenical deal. By this intimidation, these groups have followed the example set by the government of Israel which has long used the so-called “peace process” to sustain its occupation and expand its borders, always to the detriment of the Palestinian people.

It is the right time for the leaders of the American churches to make their moral demand to the Congress. With their letter, they have done so, courageously, considering the political climate of our time. Interfaith dialogue can wait.

One Final Update:

Senator George McGovern died early Sunday morning at the age of 90.  He was in hospice care in South Dakota at the time of his death. Eleanor Clift has the story, which includes this insight into McGovern’s approach to politics.

Losing the presidency, McGovern wrote, was “one chapter in a long, complex and richly happy life.” He grieved, he said, not for himself, but for the thousands more young Americans and Vietnamese destined to lose their lives in a war he would have brought to an end.

In light of the posting above about the 15 church leaders, one of whom is the current head of the United Methodist Church, it must be noted that George McGovern was the son of a Methodist preacher. He studied at a United Methodist seminary before changing his major to history.

Earlier Wall Writings postings on McGovern are here and here (scroll down on this one to the final half of the posting.)

About James Wall

James M. Wall is currently a Contributing Editor of The Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, Illinois. From 1972 through 1999, he was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine. Jim launched this new personal blog April 24, 2008. If you would like to receive Wall Writings alerts when new postings are added to this site, send a note, saying, Please Add Me, to jameswall8@gmail.com Biography: Journalism was Jim's undergraduate college major at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. He has earned two MA degrees, one from Emory, and one from the University of Chicago, both in religion. He is an ordained United Methodist clergy person. He served for two years in the US Air Force, and three additional years in the USAF reserve. While serving on active duty with the Alaskan Command, he reached the rank of first lieutenant. He has worked as a sports writer for both the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, was editor of the United Methodist magazine, Christian Advocate for ten years, and editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine for 27 years.
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26 Responses to New York Times Flacks for Jewish Groups Against 15 Major Christian Leaders

  1. Willis Unke says:

    It’s about time some American religious leaders show some moral courage and join the likes of Albert Einstein, Jimmy Carter, and Archbishop Tutu.

  2. Jim, this is a great post; thank you. I was most interested in and pleased by your frequent references to the exclusion of Muslims in “interfaith” matters. I have personal experience with this phenomenon, both at my local and at a much wider level; I think I paraphrase correctly that the Jewish (too often gatekeepers for political/militant Zionism) participants intone: “We are not ready yet for inclusion of Islam or Muslims in our gatherings (or fact-finding or educational travel, or joint statements, etc.).” That is not “interfaith” dialog; that is not a commitment to attempting to overcome the intrusion of politics or a secular ideology into theological explorations of faith, good works, and adherence to God’s commandments.

  3. Fred says:

    It’s good to see these major Christian denominationms finally speak out. Perhaps they will do so more now that the ice has broken. Let’s hope they are not intimidated by the Jewish groups attempting to silence them. American policy towards Israel is an issue clearly for all Americans, not just Jewish Americans. Israeli apartheid and ethnic cleansing of non Jews from Palestine is a crime under International Law, and of course, a moral crime.

    Most Jewish groups unfortunately, support Israeli apartheid, and want the US to continue to support these crimes as well. Unfortunately, this includes religious Jews and secular Jews.

    There are of course many great exceptions, such as Jewish Voices for Peace, which stand unabashedly opposed to Isralei apartheid, and the unequal treatment of Jews and non Jews in Israel and Palestine. They are the conscience of the Jewish people. The Christian leaders who spoke out, in this letter are now becoming the conscience of the Christians of this nation. Let’s hope they’ll continue.

  4. Bob says:

    And let us say: amayn.

  5. Patricia says:

    I am glad that I can finally feel respect for some Christian leadership in regards to questioning the bias of US policies in favor of supporting a brutal Israeli machine that does not recognize boundries. But then we Americans must recognize our own history of brutality against Indian Nations, Blacks, Mexicans, Japanese Americans, Chinese, etc. when we do, then we recognize that violence , human rights violations, and illegal occupation has been the norm. Where was the ” Christian leadership”????

  6. J. Martin Bailey says:

    I was pleased Christian leaders spoke so clearly. I intend to write to the UCC President who signed with my gratitude…and to Peter Makari who helped prepare the statement. I hope that some of them will also address a letter to their Jewish counterparts, indicating that they responded to Israel’s repeated rejection of world criticism to their illeagal and immoral treatment of their Palestinian neighbors.

    The Jewish leaders know full well that even inside their own community there are those who would like to hold Israel accountable. Indeed, there are Israelis who are deeply concerned with the militancy of the settlers and the wrong headedness of the current prime minister. I put my hope and trust in Barak Obama–during his second term I hope he speaks forcefully to Bibi Netanyahu…

    Mart Bailey

  7. wallwritings says:

    Chris Hedges, one of our finest columnists, remembers George McGovern. Hedges was 15 when he was actively working in a McGovern campaign.

    http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/mcgovern_he_never_sold_his_soul_20121021/

    “McGovern, even before he ran for president, held heroic stature for us. In 1970 he attached to a military procurement bill the McGovern-Hatfield Amendment, which would have required, through a cutoff of funding, a withdrawal of all American forces from Indochina. The amendment did not pass, although the majority of Americans supported it. McGovern denounced on the Senate floor the politicians who, by refusing to support the amendment, prolonged the war. We instantly understood the words he spoke. They were the words of a preacher.

    “Every senator in this chamber is partly responsible for sending 50,000 young Americans to an early grave,” he said. “This chamber reeks of blood. Every senator here is partly responsible for that human wreckage at Walter Reed and Bethesda Naval [hospitals] and all across our land—young men without legs, or arms, or genitals, or faces or hopes. There are not very many of these blasted and broken boys who think this war is a glorious adventure. Do not talk to them about bugging out, or national honor or courage.

    It does not take any courage at all for a congressman, or a senator, or a president to wrap himself in the flag and say we are staying in Vietnam, because it is not our blood that is being shed. But we are responsible for those young men and their lives and their hopes. And if we do not end this damnable war those young men will some day curse us for our pitiful willingness to let the Executive carry the burden that the Constitution places on us.”

    McGovern’s moral condemnation was greeted in the chamber with stunned silence. When one senator told McGovern he was personally offended by his remarks, McGovern answered: ‘That’s what I meant to do.’”

    Jim Wall, Wall Writings

  8. C. Jones says:

    IT IS TIME!! I am so pleased that these 15 leaders have finally confronted Congress requesting that our U.S. Congress actually follow what is stated in our laws and policies regarding “disbursement of U. S. military assistance to Israel”!

  9. Mary says:

    MAY THE COURAGE TO SPEAK THE TRUTH SPREAD THROUGH THE COMMUNITIES OF FAITH AND GOOD WILL LIKE A VIRULENT VIRUS AND SNOWBALL, AS IT GOES, UNTIL THE EYES OF ANYONE WITH A CONSCIENCE ARE OPENED TO THE HORRORS THAT OUR TAXES ARE FUNDING! THANK YOU JAMES WALL!

  10. Gloria says:

    Hooray for thesse brave religious leaders. And where is the response from Congress and our Presidential candidates on this letter and the Jewish response? Does courage stop at the doors to Congress and the White House?

  11. AWAD PAUL SIFRI says:

    Thank you, thank you, Jim, for an absolutely outstanding commentary.

    The 15 courageous Christian leaders – may God bless them – have led the way and have finally allowed American Christian churches to penetrate the gruesome barriers of Fear, Intimidation, Bribery, and outright Blackmail.

    These barriers, supported by unquestionning lavish US aid, have been set up by highly organized radical Zionist groups whose secular (non-Jewish) goals have been specifically designed for allowing the Zionist Apartheid state of Israel to continue enslaving another country and another people, namely, the Palestinian natives of the Holy Land.

    The “ecunemical agreement” that immorally allows Israel freedom from accountability is Un-Christian, Un-Jewish, and Un-Muslim. It should be abrogated and replaced by one that includes Palestinian-American Christians and Muslims, as well as, progressive Jews, if nothing else.

    Israel should be held accountable for its tyrannical treatment of Palestinian Christians and Muslims, ethnic cleansing, genocide, home destruction, land annexation and confiscation, usurpation of water resources, totally illegal settlers and settlements. Israel should be accountable and brought to face the World Court, before it receives any US military aid.

    With few exceptions, the silence of most of organized Christianity in the US has been deafening for 64 years. It makes the action of the “Group of 15 Christian Leaders” a truly admirable heroic act. It is time to unmask the false prophets of Baal-Israel and to do so NOW.

  12. William Anderson says:

    Congratulations to the 15 and to Jim Wall. Now where are the Episcopalians, Catholics and Baptists?

  13. Jim – this was a truly excellent piece. Thank you so much for your clear and strong voice and many thanks to those 15 leaders who refused to be silenced.

  14. Ed Thompson says:

    Thanks, Jim, for your usual excellent job of getting to the heart of the matter. I am overwhelmed, angered, disappointed and frustrated when the Jewish establishment fails to even acknowledge prophetic voices no matter how articulate they are or how loudly they shout.

  15. Cotton Fite says:

    T’would be nice to point out the “slant” this article took (as you aptly document) in a pithy NYT letter to the editor or an op ed. Maybe JVP could pull it off. I know they’re working on it, and maybe IMEU can help. Maybe the NYT would also recognize the former editor of the Christian Century.

  16. Lisa Kosowski says:

    I’m so tired of cringing after I hear the phrase “Jewish leadership.” There are no democratically elected leaders of the American Jewish community, so those who purport to be speaking on our behalf are self-appointed. I looked up JCPA: it’s an umbrella organization. The local member group in Chicago is the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation. That explains their right-wing agenda, doesn’t it?

  17. Pingback: More Fallout from the Protestant Leaders’ Letter on Aid to Israel « Shalom Rav

  18. Sylvia Williams says:

    What are the details of this aid? Does anyone know? or is it unimportant at this stage?

  19. Thanks for your prophetic courage, Jim. Please know that there are Jewish leaders who stand with you and share your religious values.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rabbi-alissa-wise/rabbis-support-protestant-leaders-call-to-end-unconditional-military-aid-to-israel_b_1989772.html

  20. wallwritings says:

    Brant,

    I appreciate your support. But the courage on display here has nothing to do with this writer. The courage in this episode is lodged entirely in the 15 church leaders who have demonstrated courage by breaking with years of church passivity on this issue of justice. And thank you for pointing out that there are Jewish leaders–including you–who stand with the 15.

    Jim Wall

  21. wallwritings says:

    Forwarded to Wall Writings

    From Jim Winkler, general secretary, United Methodist General Board of Church & Society:

    Jim, thanks for this. I remember when the ‘dialogue’ began in 2004. The Jewish groups asked us Christians to send them all statements, resolutions, etc. prior to finalizing them for their ‘input.’ I was the one who asked if this was to be a reciprocal relationship. Of course not, was the reply. We all laughed and moved on from there. So it is especially ironic that they now holler that we failed to run this statement by them first.

    Most of our churches have spoken clearly on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for years. Our own people (as evidenced by the responses to your post) have been unaware of what the churches have been plainly stating and, of course, the major media have ignored our many resolutions and statements. Once we began talking about divestment and reviewing military aid to Israel the Jewish groups took notice of us.

    Jim Winkler

  22. Harris W. Fawell, Member of Congress (retired) says:

    Jim: Your article in regard to 15 top Christian leaders speaking out with a letter to Congress about the continuation of U.S. financial assistance to the secular government of Israel (offered without conditions or accountaility) is so long overdue. How unique! Christian leaders demamanding accountability from a secular foreign state for fmany years of human rights violations carried out with American money and with no questions ever being asked!. It is obviously the right time for the leaders of the American churches to finally make these moral demands to the Congress. May God be with them. They will need supreme assistance.
    Harris W. Fawell, Member of Congress, (Retired, 1998)

  23. Fred says:

    Jim Winkler. Your statement about what we agreed to run by the Jewish groups, which would not be reciprocated by them, was enlightening. Pretty much of a double standard.

    Why not directly challenge them to condemn Israeli apartheid, house demolitions based on religion, and land theft to build apartheid housing and roads? Ask them how in God’s name they justify these crimes. What they are doing to another people, simply because they are not Jewish, is amoral.

    Fred

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