Peace with Realism

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Conclusion: Criticism, Condemnation, and Dialogue

I could have chosen many examples to expose the anti-Jewish undertone of much of what passes for objective criticism of Israel today. The Sanders are by far not the worst. I believe they are good people. However, their view of Israel is misinformed and distorted, and some of the ideas they promote are poisonous. In Section 1 ("Is Criticizing Israel Taboo?") I mentioned my reasons for choosing to focus on them. I would like to conclude by saying a little about the implications for Jewish-Christian relations.

The Sanders have acknowledged support from over two dozen Presbyterian churches across the U.S.A. I have had a close relationship with one of these churches, having co-taught a class on Jewish-Christian relations with its pastor. When this church announced it was supporting the Sanders, I felt I had to bring to its attention the nature of what the Sanders are propagating on their web site. I made it clear that I was not objecting to the wishes of the church to give aid to the Palestinian community. I did not ask for a cessation of such aid. In fact, I expressed my own admiration of the church's wish to help. I do support aid to the Palestinian community, as long as it is strictly humanitarian. I only hoped that the church would find some way to separate itself from the sentiments expressed on the Sanders web site.

What I got instead was a lengthy report prepared by one of the ministers defending the Sanders and denying their clear bias. The report also echoed some of their anti-Israel charges, for example, that Israel is an apartheid state, and supported and praised the International Solidarity Movement. The presence of actual anti-Semitic material on the web site, let alone a systematic and extremely one-sided anti-Israel bias, seemed of no concern to the church leadership.

At the very least this report seemed indicative of a perceptual divide that has harmed Jewish-Christian relations today. I believe it is crucial to form alliances between Christians and Jews, and have devoted much of my life to trying to accomplish this. But unfortunately there seems to be a growing misunderstanding between Jews and some important segments of the Christian community. The Sanders have received the official support of the Presbyterian Church (USA)(51), and their views seem typical of many members and leaders of this denomination and of much of liberal Protestantism in general. It therefore seems important to address these views, and to make it clear what supporters of Israel may find objectionable in them.

The Sanders site is a good example for study precisely because it appears to represent an idealistic commitment to human rights, while containing enough material to make explicit the anti-Jewish subtext that often accompanies intense criticism of Israel but that is not always spoken.

What I have tried to demonstrate beyond any doubt is that much material on the site fulfills the criteria not only for anti-Zionism but for anti-Semitism. We began this discussion by proposing the following objective criteria (see Section 1): criticism of Israel may be considered anti-Semitic when it judges Israel by a double standard, when it resurrects classic anti-Semitic themes, and when it attacks not only Israel's policies but its right to exist. The Sanders site does all three.

My conclusion, therefore, is that much work needs to be done to repair the wounds to Jewish-Christian relations. Israel has received much support from some segments of the Christian community, and I honor and welcome that support as long as it does not try to shape Israel into a theological vision that may work against Israel's best interests. However, liberal Protestantism has condemned the support Israel has received from the Christian Right, and the pastor of the church I mentioned has even preached from the pulpit about "an unholy alliance by ultra right Christians and Jews." My response is that if liberal Protestant churches are unhappy about support for Israel from the Christian Right, they must take some responsibility for having created a moral vacuum by their anti-Israel bias, which the Christian Right has legitimately chosen to fill.

I do not question the morality of support for Palestinians who are in need. I do question the morality of the condemnation of Israel that too often goes with it. Why do those who are so quick to condemn every effort Israel makes to defend itself against a program to murder its civilian population have hardly a word to say about:

And why, with all the demands we hear, even from many Jews, for Israel to admit its sins, is there no corresponding demand for self-criticism from the Arab side?

Is it genuine caring to ignore the brutality the Palestinians suffer at the hands of their own leaders, and then boast about the good one does by throwing Nazi language at Israel? Does it make sense to talk about Israeli "brutality" as if Palestinian terrorism were simply a minor inconvenience rather than the traumatizing of an entire nation? We who are members of the Jewish community and supporters of Israel cannot understand what looks to us like obvious hypocrisy.

Of course Israel is not always right. Of course Israel has made some terrible mistakes. Of course Israel could do more to advance the peace process, even if the Palestinians don't reciprocate. And Israel is not always nice in its treatment of Palestinians. But Israel is fighting a war for its survival, a war launched by the Arabs, and it has been fighting this war since 1948. Whatever mistakes or misguided policies Israel may be guilty of do not justify calling Israelis Nazis while glorifying the Arab "resistance." Just read the papers, watch the TV reports, and see what brutal forms this "resistance" is taking and has taken ever since Israel's founding. Israel's mistakes do not begin to compare with the Arabs' long history of atrocities as well as their concentrated efforts to wipe Israel off the map ever since it was established, efforts that have changed in form but have not diminished in intensity. But Israel seems to be the only country judged by the standard: You must be without blemish, or you don't have the right to exist.

It is my very strong hope that the wounds in the Jewish-Christian relationship can be healed. But first we need to recognize and address the perceptual divide. When people on all sides can leave their extreme positions and meet each other in the center, then there may be hope. Then we can truly criticize and learn from each other without feeling compelled to react in fear. And we need to hear each other's criticisms, as long as they are fair and come from true concern rather than condemnation. Calling Israelis Nazis, crying "fifty years of occupation," calling for the end of Israel and its replacement with a binational state, crying "apartheid" and "racism" while ignoring the systematic and institutionalized race hatred propagated throughout the Arab world - these are all extreme positions. They close down dialogue. And without dialogue there will be no learning, there will be no change, and there will be no end to the suffering.

Today there are opportunities for Jewish-Christian dialogue that never existed before. Old prejudices, once taken for granted and never questioned, are much weaker. Christianity's awareness of its Jewish roots is much stronger. Jewish respect for Christianity has also been increasing. We must take advantage of this opportunity and strengthen our ties. We must talk to each other, instead of continuing to throw words at each other.

There is more than enough hatred flowing through the world. Please, let us be careful about our language and question our positions. Christian support for Arab anti-Semitism is a desecration of God's name. We must get beyond that, or we are all in danger.

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Israeli-Palestinian Conflict:
Peace with Realism