by James M. Wall
The battle has begun over Zionism Unsettled.
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”.
Zionism 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.
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