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.