US Churches Must Stop Following Israel Down the Trauma Trail

by James M. WallAljazeera re child n Gaza cropped

Avraham Burg , former Israeli Chairman of the Jewish Agency and former Speaker of the Israeli Knesset, has written a book with the provacative title, The Holocaust is Over; We must Rise from Its Ashes.

In a PBS interview with Charlie Rose, Burg told Rose why he wrote the book.

I realized that we must deal with the psyche of the place. And the psyche of the place goes back to the trauma. We’re a traumatized society. My suggestion in the book is a suggestion for a new strategy for the Jewish people, and maybe a new strategy for the West in general, and this is to move from trauma to trust.

Rose: Traumatized by?

Burg: By everything, but mainly the Holocaust. It goes like this. Whenever there is a victim in Israel, whenever somebody is killed in a terror activity or whatever it is, that’s one victim on top of seven wars, on top of 6 million, on top of 2,000 years of problems. So it always the history, nothing is just contemporary state of affairs.

In his book and in his conversation with Rose, Burg, a well-known figure in Jewish political life, offers his explanation as to what leads otherwise rational, compassionate people to cling tightly to the certainty that the 1948 “invasion of Arab armies” grants permission to the state of Israel to use whatever methods are at hand to defend their “newborn Jewish state”.

American churches are filled with “otherwise rational, compassionate people” who remain oblivious to the reality that they are sponsors of Israel’s Occupation of Gaza and the West Bank.  They are a people who are living in the darkness of their ignorance.

Fortunately, Burg is not alone in calling for an end to this ignorance. Right here, on this very modern computer you are reading, you are just one click away from Mondoweiss.

Mondoweiss is a website committed to a pursuit of social justice from a Jewish perspective, both religious and cultural. Under the watchful eye of veteran New York journalist Phillip Weiss, the site conducts a lover’s quarrel with Judaism and Israel, deploring the bad and praising the good.

Pay attention, folks, Mondoweiss has a message for all of us.

Recently, Mondoweiss writer Susie Kneedler turned the site’s attention to a statement issued by leaders of the Christian community.

She harshly criticized the statement from the National Council of Churches and Churches for Middle East Peace, which calls for “bold American leadership to end the conflict” in the Middle East.

What constitutes “bold” action by the US government for these Christian leaders?  Here is a sample:

Both sides must take steps to move the process forward, and we support the President’s efforts to end Israeli settlement growth, to halt Palestinian violence and incitement. It is now time to move to the next stage of diplomacy and to address the tough issues that must be resolved to bring this conflict to an end. (emphasis added).

Appalled at the statement, which any serious student of the conflict will immediately recognize as a pro-Israel statement, Kneedler asks:

Why do “concerned,” supposedly well-intentioned, people, not study the problem more? The American churches finally support the two-state solution when Israel has stolen so much Palestinian property that all Palestine is now crushed into a single state, yet the churches intone the reductive [Likud] mantra that, solemnly pronounces:

“We support the President’s efforts to end Israeli settlement growth, to halt Palestinian violence and incitement.” . . . .We heard more calls for reparations in one twelve-minute 60 Minutes segment about Bernard Madoff’s victims, than . . . “mainstream” [Christian] groups [have] ever [said] about the land that the Israeli government has taken from the people of Palestine.”

Three days after the the two Christian organizations were exposed as Lukidniks, a Mondoweiss posting by David Samel, a criminal defense attorney in New York City, reported on an event at New York’s Sarah Lawrence College.

Two Israeli women who had refused military service were the speakers.

Maya Wind and Netta Mishly of the Shministim, a group of young Israelis who refuse mandatory military service, and are often sentenced to repeated prison terms until they either change their minds or obtain a recognized deferment.

Maya and Netta both served several weeks in jail before being found mentally unfit for military service. To me, the phrase sounded like a declaration of sanity. . . .

. . . Maya and Netta observed that a country that requires mandatory military service and sends its young recruits into the Occupied Territories to exert authority over Palestinians will necessarily become a breeding ground for racism.

From an early age, Israelis are trained to rule over Arabs, who are viewed as inferiors to be dominated and distrusted. The corrosive effects of this socialization result in favorable election results for avowed racists like Lieberman, while those who actually view Palestinians as equal human beings are marginalized as extremists.

During the question and answer period,  Samel writes about an exchange between a member of the audience and the two women.  It was an exchange familiar to anyone who has ever spoken to an audience that includes supporters of both Palestine and Israel.

Questions from the audience were almost entirely favorable, but one notable exception was from a member of Rabbis for Human Rights.

The rabbi noted that he agreed with much of the presentation, but politely challenged Maya and Netta’s brief historical introduction, as he rehashed the old propaganda line blaming the outbreak of violence in 1948 on the invasion of Arab armies to destroy the newborn Jewish State.

The women chose not to engage in a lengthy debate with the rabbi, but pointed out that his version of history was far from undisputed. It was somewhat disappointing to see a genuinely concerned rabbi spouting such a simplistic and conventional view. It reminded me of Michael Lerner’s occasional forays into the realm of pure nonsense.

“A simplistic and conventional view” would also be an appropriate description of the manner in which Christian leaders have dealt with this issue.  The contrast between the two Israeli women and the collective wisdom of the NCCC and the CMEP is stark and sad.

Where does it come from, this conviction that leads otherwise moderate American Jews, and “concerned, supposedly well-intentioned” Christians, to cling so tightly to the Jewish narrative that the 1948 war was started by the “invasion” of Arab armies determined to “destroy the newborn Jewish state”?

The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, by Israel scholar Ilan Pappe, researched official Israeli government papers, and produced a book that rejects that conclusion as a myth with no foundation in reality.

Read it and you will have information to share with the next “concerned, supposedly well-intentioned” Christian you encounter. And you will understand why Pappe was booted out of his academic post in Israel and is now teaching in England.  Israel’s government needs to sustain the myth for its people and for its American cousins.

The Jewish narrative is, of course, existentially rooted in modern Judaism. It was, after all, their tribe that suffered the horrors of the Holocaust. Christians were not the victims of the Holocaust. Instead, Christians helped create and sustain it. There is no denying Christian culpability.

This involvement in the crime immediately created a deep collective guilt within the Christian community, a guilt encouraged and sustained by successive Israeli governments. Victims need allies to keep their victimhood alive.  Guilt-ridden Christians are easy targets.

This guilt and the ease with which the American Jewish community encouraged, and paid for, trips to the “Holy Land”, was one factor in developing a strong bond between Christians and Jews in the US, who do, after all, share part of scripture once known as the “Old Testament”, now renamed “the Hebrew scriptures” to avoid insulting one half of the Judeo-Christian bond.

That bond has virtually guaranteed that most Christians would agree to live by what Marc Ellis has so perceptively labeled, “the ecumenical deal”, the understanding that shared worship meetings and social justice battles would remain joint, so long as the Palestinian issue remained off the table.

Christian prophetic voices in the religious academy and the denominational leadership, rarely call on Christians to stop with this “both sides” foolishness. They just as rarely call down the wrath of God on Israel’s treatment of the Palestinian people. Poverty and health care reform are easier targets.

In this void of prophetic leadership, there are, fortunately, Jewish voices speaking out:

This conviction seems to emerge from a deep tribal need to cling to a narrative that has hardened into an historical myth that no amount of contemporary harsh reality can shake. It is this same myth that Israel has grafted onto the American psyche.

That “grafting” leads to an automatic US rejection of the important Goldstone Report.

We also forced Palestinian President Abbas to reject the Report, a shameful act on his part, and an even greater shameful act on our part for battering him down with our financial fist.

Ali Abunimah and Babil, a Palestinian news source, have the sordid details, which include the depressing report that, among other considerations, Abbas traded preservation of Palestine’s telephone service in return for agreeing to reject, under Israeli and US pressure, the Goldstone report.

Abbas is facing the wrath of his own public for his failure to endorse the Report.  On Monday (August 5), Palestinians poured into the streets of Ramallah to protest their government’s actions.

What price do we pay for letting Israel shape our Middle Eastern policy? We continue to repeat Israel’s lies to the world.

President Obama, if we are to believe the Washington Times, has assured Israel’s leaders that the “secret” of Israel’s own nuclear arsenal, never officially admitted and never opened to international inspection, will remain just that, our little “secret”.

This places the US in the position of demanding that Iran open its nuclear facilities to inspection, while continuing to deny that Israel has its own nuclear arsenal hidden away in a still not acknowledged site in Dimona, Israel.

US Christian churches must insist that our government stop blindly following Israel down the trauma trail.

The scriptures demand it. And if you won’t listen to the scriptures, try thumbing through your hymnbooks. You should be able to find these words from Harry Emerson Fosdick:

Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
For the facing of this hour,
For the facing of this hour.

Save us from weak resignation,
To the evils we deplore.

Picture above of a Gaza child during the invasion, is from Al Jazeera

About wallwritings

From 1972 through 1999, James M. Wall was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, lllinois. He was a Contributing Editor of the Century from 1999 until July, 2017. He has written this blog, wall, since it was launched April 27, 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 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. James M Wall died March 22, 2021 at age 92. His family appreciates all of his readers, even those who may have disagreed with his well-informed writings.
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15 Responses to US Churches Must Stop Following Israel Down the Trauma Trail

  1. Pauline Coffman says:

    Thank you, Jim. Your comments are making me a more critical reader. I’m also absorbing Fisk’s comments in hi 2005 book, The Great War for Civilization. His critique of Stephen Kinzer’s words about the Armenian “situation” (note: not “holocaust” or “genocide”) point out how easily we are led into “being nice.”

  2. DarEll Weist says:

    Jim in 2006, when we both were in the West Bank, it became obvious to me that the Palestinians were scapegoats for the sins of the Holocaust. My question then and now is whether the Israeli’s can make an about face or whether they are so addicted to violence that they will never change.
    I found this editorial in Sunday’s LA Times which is another part of the problem.,0,4630003.story

    DarEll T. Weist

  3. noushin says:

    great piece – Thank you Jim! and Charlie Rose’s interview is also a must watch – I relate to this conversation through my grandmother’s experience who survived the Armenian Genocide. My kids are the first generation in our family to NOT have direct contact with a survivor of those horrors. It makes a difference; I see that they are more “whole.” Avraham Burg talks about this time eventually arriving for Israel.

  4. DarEll Weist says:

    Jim when were in the West Bank in 2006 I can to the conclusion that the Palestinians were the Scapegoat for the sins of the Holocaust. I do not have any faith that the Israelis can chance since I think they are addicted to violence and their insecurity. But it is good that the leaders are acknowledging this. I will send you an editorial from LA about a parallel issue

    DarEll T. Weist

  5. Lorrie Hall says:

    It is sad that the “straddlers” make nice so that there is never pressure for a change in our Middle East policy. For anyone familier with the situation in the West Bank and in Gaza, the portrayal of “two equal sides” is badly off mark.

    It is sad, also, that Obama has caved in to the Israeli lobby (again) to “postpone” the Goldstone Report. Ambassador Rice is acting like Ambassador Bolton and as if she is taking orders from President Bush.

    We voted for change and deserve better.

  6. Eugene V. Fitzpatrick says:

    I know it’s a bit inappropriate to take delight in reading about the tragedy of Palestine, but I couldn’t contain myself with delight that you addressed one of my pet peeves concerning this issue, viz. the maddingly consistent need of Christian spokespeople to address the issue in terms of an emphasis on the “both sides” culpability. Yes indeed. Stop this “both sides” foolishness! The (gentle) criticism of Michael Lerner by David Samel also resonated with me.

    I would not want you to get a big head, but I must add that your “Wallwritings” endeavor is superb. My ego says that this guy Wall must be tapping my phone because I keep reading in his columns my very own thoughts

  7. Cotton Fite says:

    Jim, When I read Burg’s book just after it was published, I was elated that this voice was coming from a respected Jew and former Knesset member whose credentials as a loyal Israeli, seemingly, couldn’t be questioned. I think he also contributed to retrieving $ stolen from Jews in WWII and hidden in Swiss bank accounts. What I don’t get is why there has not been more controversy about it, first, in Israel, and then, in the US. Until this interview with Rose, I hadn’t heard a peep about it.


  8. Paul Verduin says:

    Dear Jim–I’m in full agreement with most of what you write, but would go a step or two further. First, in my view the notion of universal “Christian culpability” for the unspeakable crime of the Holocaust is at minimum much overblown. Recall that predominantly Christian countries like the U.S., the British Commonwealth nations (including Great Britain), and an array of other countries with sizable Christian populations (like Russia) were engaged in total war against the Nazi government of Germany for between four and six years, and lost hundreds of thousands of lives to utterly defeat the regime that was rather belatedly discovered to be murdering the Jews in the lands it occupied. U.S., the British Commonwealth, and French military deaths alone numbered more than a million persons, according to reliable sources, and the Soviet Union suffered well over seven million military deaths.

    It has sometimes been charged that the U.S. and Britain failed to make liberating the Nazi death camps and bombing the hideous crematoriums a priority once they were discovered late in the war. This may or may not be so, but if so, much to be regretted. But two salient facts bear remembering. First of all, the arrival of new Nazi superweapons like the V-2 rockets sent against London, and air-tested jet fighter planes that seemed poised for production, made defeating the German war machine unquestionably the primary business at hand. Secondly, 21st century hindsight conceals from us the looming fact that until the U.S. deployment of its horrific atomic bombs more than two months after Germany’s defeat, it seemed certain that a major U.S.-led invasion of Japan, costing possibly two-hundred- thousand U.S. casualties, would be a certain necessity.

    Hence, in the spring of 1945, it seemed that an Allied military victory by mostly Christian nations over the perpetrators of the Holocaust would simply signal a transfer and intensification of the Allied military effort from Europe to the Pacific theatre of war, and to the ominous challenge of invading and defeating Japan, a foe as ruthless and inhumane as Germany.

    In the face of these World War II realities, the assertion of universal Christian culpability for the Holocaust seems open to question, to say the least, and the general U.S. Christian sense of guilt for this abomination seems fundamentally misguided.

  9. Bill Gepford says:

    Thank you again, Jim for your always incisive reflections. When we refer to the violence by the state of Israel we need to keep in mind that it is not just physical (military checkpoints, Gaza, etc. ) but also the kind that gets professors fired from their jobs in American ( and Israeli) universities, politicians who get fired from their legislatures or even Congress, international religious and secular leaders, alike, who are refused visas to visit the United States, like Bishop Tutu– all in the interest of continuing to hide the truth from the American peoole who are constantly cajoled into paying for the mess to the tune of billions and billions of dollars.

    If intelligent, responsible and credible members of the Jewish community both in the United States and in Israel are not able to convince the Israeli government leaders of their charades (as well as respected members of Congress, and President Obama, for whom I also voted expecting some real honest to God change), tell me, just what hope is there?

    Avraham Burg, and the others, need to be singled out for some kind of national heroic recognition, a “medal of honor” for bravery, who have been standing up for the truth while in Political “harms way.”

    Bill Gepford

  10. wallwritings says:


    Your comment is longer than I usually add to my posting, but your insights are worthy of further attention.

    You make good points. Culpability, of course, was part of the Zionist myth, a sense of guilt that was not widely felt. I agree with you that it was not universally a factor in Western thinking.

    But it was sold as part of the myth. The fear of being seen as anti-semitic is also a part of the myth, as is the current myth that criticism of Israel is anti-semitic.

    Jim Wall

  11. RE: Obama’s Failure and Henry Kissinger’s memo of 1969, which stated:

    “While we might ideally like to halt actual Israeli possession, what we really want at a minimum may be just to keep Israeli possession from becoming an established international fact.”

    A leading authority that “established the international fact” in 1986, was Mordechai Vanunu who told the truth and provided the proof of Israel’s seven story underground WMD Facility.

    The Israeli and USA government lacked the imagination to comprehend that the truth cannot be shut up or buried “under the ground, it will but grow, and gather to itself such explosive power that the day it bursts through it will blow up everything in its way.”- Emile Zola

  12. Rusty Curling says:

    Thanks Jim,
    The myths surrounding the establishment of Israel as a Jewish state are legion and deeply rooted. Any exposing of these myths is greatly helpful.
    A reminder that Mordechai Vanunu is still under virtual house arrest in East Jerusalem. He cannot travel and is not allowed to speak out under threat of imprisonment. But listen for the bells at St. Georges Church. That;s Mordechai ringing them. That Modechai’s freedom is so curtailed because he did what was right is also a violation of human rights, but we’ve come to expect that from Israel haven’t we.

  13. Dear Rusty and All,

    Vanunu has not rung the bells @ St. Geo since he moved out of the guest house 3 years ago.
    I saw him last on June 14, 2009 and Vanunu told me: “They renewed the restrictions to not speak to foreigners until November.
    I meet foreigners every day. I am talking with people every day. The Central Commander of the General Army testified in court that it is OK if I speak in public as long as I do not talk about nuclear weapons.”

    On July 6, 2009, Israeli Supreme Court President Dorit Beinish continued to deny Vanunu the right to leave the state for another 6 months claiming his “case is still generating great interest, like any other security-related case. The media’s attention he gets is proof of that.”

    That judge made a very bad ‘joke’; The truth is that my website-and those that publish me- are the only media who have been reporting on Vanunu’s FREEDOM of SPEECH Trial and it began in Jan. 2006 on the same day Hamas was democratically elected.

    You can hear this 21st century prophet-see and hear him speak for himself in 2005, 2006, 2008 video interviews @ VANUNU ARCHIVES: You may also write him through his site: PS: Vanunu turns 55 this October 14

  14. Eugene V. Fitzpatrick says:

    Friends of Sabeel forwarded to its membership an article from the Lutheran Church, ELCA Synod, detailing the effort by its bishopric to prod President Obama to take positive action on the Israeli-Palestinian stalemate. Because it came on the heels of the above Wallwritings article of 10/05/09, I am moved to comment on the fact that the Lutheran endeavor manifested the same erroneous thinking which Jim Wall criticizes in this posting above.

    The rhetoric of the ECLA leadership in the Israeli-Palestinian issue is a good example of the “both sides” mentality that Wall criticised.

    The Lutheran bishops plead with Obama to halt the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land and then, right on Pavlovian-conditioned cue, they indulge their irrepressible need to declare that the Palestinians must cease hostilities against Israel. The reader then consciously or sub-consciously sees the conflict in terms of a rigid SYMMETRY whereby he/she conceptualizes the issue in terms of a shared and equal culpability.

    The bishops cannot get it into their brains, captives as they are of the American pro-Israel Zeitgeist, that there’s no need to insult the Palestinians with their moral caveats. If the Israelis treated the Palestinians as fellow human beings, with graciousness, charity and good will the last quarter of a century, Palestinian violence against their neighbors would be a rarity.

    The lack of safety for Sderot can be totally ascribed to Israeli racism and Israeli avarice. Bishops, you mean well but don’t tell the Palestinians to stop shelling Sderot. Tell the Israelis to join the family of civilized humanity. While you’re speaking to them, take the gloves off your hands, and the diffidence off your faces.

    Gene Fitzpatrick

  15. Bill Gepford says:

    I am with you Gene, violence certainly does beget violence. Anyone who knows the history of the 1896 Zionist mentality, that came out of the World Zionist Congress meeting in Oslo, also knows where the violence first started and why. The truth needs no defense. It is its own defense. In time it will all be exposed for what it is worth. I have been waiting only 56 years.

    Bill Gepford

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