“Zionism Unsettled”: Neither False Nor Misguided

by James M. Wall

The battle has begun over Zionism Unsettled.Photo Paul Rahm Times Union.com

The Christian Century opened round one by publishing an attack on Zionism Unsettled, a study guide developed for the study of Zionism, a secular ideology formed in the 19th century, which has had a major impact on Jewish–Christian relations.

The battle will continue June 14, when the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) gathers for national deliberations in Detroit, Michigan.

The attack ran under the headline, False witness: A misguided ‘study guide’. The guide was developed, and published in January of this year, by The Israel/Palestine Mission Network (IPMN), one of 40 networks approved by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and funded by each network’s church members.

The picture above is not from Zionism Unsettled. It is from an Amnesty International blog that appeared in the Albany, NY, Times Union. It was taken in Hebron, Palestine, during a “round-up” of Palestinian children by the Israeli Defense Force (IDF).

The picture was taken by Paul Rehm, a reservist with the Christian Peacemaker Team. The Times Union blog writes:

One Israel Defense Force soldier involved in a massive sweep through the West Bank city of Hebron,  told international observers: “We don’t arrest normal people. They are not normal people.” Reporting on that mass arrest of 27 Palestinian children – 18 under the age of 12 – on their way to school, the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz demanded only, “The IDF must stop arresting children.”

The picture above of a child bound by the wrists, is pertinent to the discussion of the issues raised by the battle over Zionism Unsettled.  (How strong is the Zionist influence in your community? Ask your local newspaper to run the blog posting and picture that ran in the Albany Times Union.)

In round one of  the Zionism Unsettled battle, much to the credit of The Christian Century, the magazine has thus far run six comments as responses to False Witness, all agreeing to the basic point that the study guide is neither false nor misguided.

The print edition of the Century, in the mails this weekend, did not include the six comments, which were all responses to the web posting.  Presumably these, and other responses, will surface in future print editions

False Witness was written by Christopher M. Leighton, executive director of the Institute for Christian and Jewish Studies in Baltimore (ICJS).

The article is a classic hasbara (propaganda) tactic, skillfully projecting a seemingly compassionate acknowledgement that Palestinians have had it rough since 1948, followed quickly by the author’s rather desperate effort to argue for Israel’s righteous claim to the land which it occupies.

It also makes the classic Zionist “equal sides” argument, as though a massive military force occupying a captive population could be described as anything remotely related to “equal”.

Leighton skirts that anomaly by shifting the discussion to what is “wrong” with the non-violent protest movement, Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS).

BDS began in the Palestinian civil society, with strong religious support. The movement is gaining political strength everywhere on the planet except among Israel’s rapidly diminishing “allies”, most notably the U.S., where both the Congress and the executive  branch have been intimidated into submission to whatever Tel Aviv wants.

One of the four False Witness responses on the Century web site is from Nahida Halaby Gordon, a retired Case Western Reserve University professor. She was born in Palestine and now lives in Wooster, Ohio.  She begins her comment:

Reading your article False Witness it is clear that your acquaintance with Palestinians is minimal and is a result of decades long Israeli hasbara. The article is full of misstatements that are contrary to facts recognized by the majority of experts writing on the conflict and it would take similarly long comments to restore truth.

I am a survivor of the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Jaffa. I experienced the terror of the Israeli forces attack on the civilian areas of Jaffa. My father was wounded in such a terror attack and buildings around our house were hit by Israeli bombardment.

From my personal experience, the practices of the government of Israel have constituted apartheid since the creation of the State in May of 1948.

In Leighton’s article, he insists that the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement is promoted at length in the study guide. He also implies that the study guide pushes for a BDS policy that would extend beyond the Occupied Palestinian Territories to include the entire state of Israel.

I can find no such case being made in the guide. Nine writers contributed to the guide. My research has thus far turned up only three references to BDS.  Not one of these references mentions nor implies anything like a delegitimization of the state of Israel, which appears to be Leighton’s greatest fear.

Christopher Leighton was involved in the founding of ICJS in 1987.  He  has served as its executive director since its founding.  ICJS is unrelated to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), though Leighton is an ordained Presbyterian clergyman.

A perusal of the ICJS board shows no familiar Presbyterian names, though some may be there, unknown to me. Not that any Presbyterian names are required. ICJS claims no Presbyterian connection.

But based on his False Witness analysis of Zionism Unsettled, Leighton wants to do whatever he can to prevent his denomination from “damaging” Israel’s “right to exist”.

Zionism is as an ideology at war with an enemy. When the pressure increases from the Zionist side of the battlefield, as for example, with the appearance of False Witness in a major national Christian publication, it is safe to assume Zionist operatives see Zionism Unsettled as a danger looming to Israel’s “existence”.

PhotoPalChildmanyIDFarresting1Zionism Unsettled is not a danger to Israel’s “existence”. Modern nations do not “cease” to exist, unless they are militarily destroyed and conquered.  Backed by more than 200 nuclear war heads tucked away in the desert,  defeat does not appear to be an immediate threat to Israel.

The danger posed  to the state of Israel by Zionism Unsettled is that the study guide has the potential to build momentum in the U.S. which could, over time, help release the Jewish people from their current bondage to an increasingly paranoid right wing government.

How? By persuading them to listen to different Jewish and Christian voices and discover that their future does not lie in greater and greater political paranoia coupled with increased military strength. Their safe and productive future lies in reaching a fair and just relationship with their neighbors.

Twenty-six years after it was formed, The Institute for Christian Jewish Studies (ICJS)  decided that 2013 was the right time to broaden its inter-faith study program to include Muslims. In the summer of 2013, ICJS brought in a visiting Muslim scholar, Dr. Homayra Ziad, to lecture and to discuss how best to include Islam in future ICJS programs.

On the surface, the “inter-faith” movement has sold itself as a theological and cultural sharing effort. But dig deeper and the state of Israel (and its “precarious” existence) is at the core of these conversations.

Look more closely at this rationale and you find yourself in idolatry territory. This was the warning that leading anti-Zionist Jewish scholars sent to the fledging state of Israel in 1948: When the state trumps God, the state becomes God.

Leighton’s piece in The Christian Century was written entirely from the perspective of the Zionist narrative, the perspective that shapes the worldview of most Israeli Jews and  a heavy preponderance of Westerners, especially among the leadership classes.ZU covert

Zionism Unsettled boldly presents a different perspective on the history and current reality of the Palestinians. “It is the occupation, stupid”, is so clearly at the heart of the difference between these two narratives, that the issue of justice overwhelms all conversations on the topic.

It is the long muted voice of the Palestinians that Zionism Unsettled is designed to communicate to Western Christians who are so saturated with the Zionist narrative, that even after all the evidence of the Palestinians suffering under occupation, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) will still conduct a “debate” on how to deal with Palestinian occupation at its General Assembly in June.

I was asked to write a pre-publication comment on Zionism Unsettled. This is what I wrote:

“This is a well-timed and important book. It was written and produced by people of the church for the benefit and growth of the people of the church. I urge you to read it carefully and make it priority reading and study for all those you know.

We must understand how the people of Palestine suffer injustice and oppression. It is a problem and a challenge that demands our attention. With the wisdom and insight shared in this book we have an opportunity to take actions that are essential to bring long-overdue justice to the people of Palestine and Israel.”

Now that Zionism Unsettled has reached its public and a discussion of its content has begun, I can only repeat my pre-publication endorsement above, with an added, Amen and Amen.

The picture of IDF soldiers arresting a young girl is from
http://www.derryfriendsofpalestine.org/2012/04/the-caged-bird-sings-for-freedom/

About wallwritings

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.
This entry was posted in Human Rights, Middle East, Middle East Politics, Politics in Religion, Presbyterian Church USA, Religion and politics. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to “Zionism Unsettled”: Neither False Nor Misguided

  1. oldkahuna says:

    Another great piece, Jim! I am honored to be one of your many friends and fans! Amen and Amen!

  2. judy neunuebel says:

    I cannot tell you, Mr. Wall, how pleased I am to read your comments on this Christian Century article. Though I do appreciate and enjoy much of the magazine, I was infuriated not only with Christopher Leighton’s article in the current issue, but once again with John Buchanan’s editorial and I’m happy to learn four responses to the article were run. I’m hoping they will appear in future print versions of The Century. The absence of your editorials in the magazine are a great loss and I do miss them but am grateful for Wallwritings, some of the clearest, most consistent, useful information available on the topic. I regularly re-post them on Facebook.
    Thank you and please continue!
    Sincerely,
    Judy Neunuebel

  3. Fred says:

    It is sad to see a magazine like the Christian Century espousing ideas as though it were an Israeli hasbara (propaganda) piece. Israel is an apartheid nation and clearly should not be supported by people of conscience. But it is supported by and large by the mainstream media,, which censors what’s going on, and of course by our Congress, that acts like an extension of the Israeli Knesset (Parliament)

    Progressive forces in the Presbyterian church can no longer be intimidated by those individuals whose main focus is not justice and equal rights, in Israel/Palestine, but who focus on protecting Israel’s image. Israel is maintaining an horrendous oppression of people simply because they are not Jews, but mainly Muslim and Christians. These groups are very much alone when dealing with the might of the Israeli army, whose weapons and instruments of oppression are supplied by our own government. Israel’s policies are terrible, but our own government’s collusion and support of these policies are just as bad. We provide Israel with billions of our tax dollars, even as it persecutes Palestinians. Our representatives listen to the people who give them money, not people seeking justice. This is a huge problem, and it’s why our government acts the way it does.

  4. lgeorgepomo says:

    I heartily second (and third!) all three of the above comments, very gratefully. My first visit to Israel and Palestine was just over 25 years ago, and though the conditions have continued to worsen, the awareness and publicity has increased exponentially–thanks to voices like yours, Jim, and the IPMN. I do hope The Christian Century will someday re-emerge from the clutches of delusional, discriminatory “dialogue”.

  5. Roy Hayes says:

    Amen. Peace, Roy

  6. Fr. Robert says:

    What is behind the watershed non-violent BDS movement is simply the power of truth to penetrate and shake the foundations of evil, the description of the Occupation in the Kairos Palestine document.

    Likewise, Jim, your article, and the ZU publication itself threaten the Lobby hasbara in a similar way. And the Christian Century article, like the dramatic attacks on BDS, are evidence of a panicked and failing hasbara campaign sent on the run by such challenges. Thus the occupation, the settlements, and Israeli apartheid are losing ground, and themselves are increasingly self-defeating. Thanks for hastening the process.

  7. Ed Thompson says:

    Jim, this is a brilliant article. Detention of children and raids in the middle of the night by the Israeli military on behalf of the Israeli government can only be described as evil and reprehensible. One can try to white wash this evil by saying that “throwing stones” merits such egregious practices but that will only play to the most hard-core people who believe that a military victory and “God’s will” make it possible for Israel to do absolutely anything in the name of security.

    Thank you especially for this witness regarding Zionism Unsettled. Rabbi Brant Rosen covered some of these points in his blog dialogue with Leighton. It is obvious that Pastor Leighton digested nothing that Rabbi Brant said.

    It is time for J Street, Americans for Peace Now, T’ruah and other liberal Jewish organizations to call for an end to Israeli policies and practices that permit child detention. Child detention must end. Settlements pale in comparison to child detention when one looks at the moral standards of most people in the world. When world opinion on child detention reaches a critical mass, Israel will have no choice unless extremists with their distorted view of security dominate the political process. When will ending child detention become so horrible that anyone who does it routinely will be included in the catchall word “terrorists?”

  8. AWAD PAUL SIFRI says:

    Jim, This was an absolutely brilliant article. Thank you so much.
    The Israeli agents of darkness will not be able to hide the truth for long. BDS will continue to expose Israel’s tyrannical apartheid regime. It is becoming more evident to most people around the world and the US mainstream will catch up, thanks to people like yourself.

  9. Fr. Robert says:

    Pleased to announce that we are distributing a copy of ZU to each participant in our Challenging Christian Zionism conference in October in B.C., and we should be able to confirm tomorrow that we have a Canadian distributor for the publication. (The first printing has sold out, and they are in the second printing now). Thanks for all the publicity!

  10. William Gepford says:

    I am so grateful for your writings, especially to so bravely speak the truth. I continue to be saddened by our own government’s (republican or democratic) complicity in its support of Israel’s constant propaganda. When it comes to this issue, our government has little integrity.
    so, Amen! to you.

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