Peace with Realism

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Presbyterian Prejudice

by Carlos

Jewish-Christian relations are in a shambles. They need to be repaired.

The controversy over the decision by the Presbyterian Church to divest from companies that do business with Israel is recent, but only one part of a long history of this church's antagonism toward Israel.

Rev. Walter Owensby, now retired, was Associate for International Issues at the Presbyterian Washington Office. He was given the 2001 Peaceseeker Award by the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship.

For many years Rev. Owensby wrote periodic Middle East "World Updates" circulated through the Presbyterian United Nations Office. These updates have expressed a consistent anti-Israel bias. Before examining one of them in some detail, here are a few quotes from earlier ones:

A reasonable agreement on the matter of Israeli settlements is the key to peace. (January 1995)

This of course ignores the fact that settlements are not the only issue, and that Palestinian extremists have always considered all of Israel to be "occupied." This type of simplistic thinking on Israel is common in the Presbyterian Church, which in its 2004 General Assembly resolutions blamed Israel for the violence on both sides: "The occupation must end; it has proven to be at the root of evil acts committed against innocent people on both sides of the conflict." This brushes aside the anti-Israel terrorism that existed prior to 1967 as well as the terrorists' confessed intentions to fight to the destruction of Israel itself.

Rev. Owensby's reports consistently lay disproportionate blame for the conflict on Israel. They repeatedly emphasize the settlements or the occupation as the root of the problem, creating the impression that the key to solution is unilateral Israeli withdrawal. They fail to state how Israel is to defend itself against escalating terrorism if it withdraws without a reasonable peace agreement. Instead, they accuse Israel of "state terrorism" and criticize Israel's efforts to defend itself:

In late February and early March, two waves of suicide bomb attacks by Islamic extremists killed dozens of Israelis in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and wounded dozens more. Those behind the attacks said they were retaliating for Jewish attacks on Muslim worshipers in Hebron two years ago and more immediately for the booby-trap assassination by the Israeli Mossad of Hamas leader Yahya Ayyash. Israel felt justified because he was the alleged master-mind behind a series of suicide bombings that killed 50 Israelis in 1994 and 1995. And on it goes. With no agreed-upon beginning of history, there is always some past atrocity that can be used to justify a present atrocity by either side. (April 1996)

Yahya Ayyash was a member of Hamas and one of their chief bomb makers, so expert he was called "the Engineer." He arranged bombings that caused the deaths of more than 70 Israelis, and no doubt would have been responsible for more had he not been stopped. His complicity in these innocent deaths is not merely "alleged"; the Palestinians are proud of his work and call him a martyr. Yet Rev. Owensby sees no difference between his death and the deaths of dozens of Israeli civilians, using the same word, "atrocity," to describe both. Regarding Ayyash, the search for a "beginning of history" is irrelevant. Ayyash was not killed merely to avenge past massacres but to prevent him from committing future ones. The inability to distinguish the punishment of a perpetrator from the deaths of his victims exhibits a deep moral blindness.

Like the recent General Assembly resolution, Rev. Owensby holds Israel responsible for violent acts on both sides. One of his updates mentions a Hamas suicide bombing that killed and wounded many Israelis - and then criticizes not Hamas, but Israel! He quotes the mother of a girl killed in the blast:

"The latest bombings are a direct result of the repression, subjugation, humiliation and siege that Israel has inflicted upon the Palestinian people. Our government is guilty, doing their utmost to destroy the peace process. They bring upon us death and destruction. I do not criticize the terrorists. They are our creation." (April 1997)

To show that these terrorist attacks are really Israel's fault, Rev. Owensby quotes a grieving Israeli mother who is trying to make sense of her loss. But these bombings were the work of Hamas. Hamas states in its own charter: "Israel, by virtue of its being Jewish and of having a Jewish population, defies Islam and the Muslims," and "Our struggle against the Jews is extremely wide-ranging and grave." There is no excuse for this ethnic and religious hatred. Yet Rev. Owensby places exclusive blame on Israel for the murder of its own citizens.

I wrote to Rev. Owensby through the Presbyterian United Nations Office, protesting the double standard by which he judges Israel in relation to the Palestinians. Here is his response:

I am sorry that you have not found my contributions to World Updates - Middle East more helpful.

In an area of such immense complexity and with the limited space available, it is always difficult to decide upon which events and issues to focus. Since my own work has to do with U.S. policy in the international arena, the actions of states rather than the unconscionable acts of individuals ordinarily take precedence. As Palestinians assume the responsibilities of statehood, their government will increasingly be the focus of critical appraisal.

I shall bear in mind the sorts of questions you raise in your letter as I continue this periodic summary of events and commentary.

In other words, he does not deny the double standard, he defends it. He wrote those words in 1999, yet even now that the Palestinian Authority has established a track record the Presbyterian Church has not become any more balanced in its criticism.

The Last World Update

I would now like to examine Rev. Owensby's final World Update, Fall 2001, issued shortly before his retirement. It is a comprehensive statement that the Presbyterian Church still uses as a resource, so it is still quite relevant. It is posted on the web site of Churches for Middle East Peace, of which the Presbyterian Church (USA) is a member.

Once again Rev. Owensby's characterization is one-sided, casting Israel in the role of predator and the Arabs as victims.

By the end of World War II, the Jewish population of Palestine stood at 564,000. Tens of thousands more came illegally in the years immediately following. Political pressures were building in the U.S. and Europe, as were Jewish and Arab attacks on the British Mandate Troops and Jewish terrorist actions against the Arab population. The British wanted out of a situation they could not control. With no effective voice calling for protection of Arab rights and interests and western nations anxious to atone for their silence during the holocaust, the western-dominated United Nations in 1947 proposed a partition of Palestine which gave 55 percent the land to the 600,000 resident Jews and the remainder to the 1.3 million resident Palestinian Arabs.

Rev. Owensby does not specify these "Jewish terrorist actions." Presumably he is referring to the activity of the Irgun and the more radical "Stern Gang." Their principal target was the British mandatory government, although they did commit some acts of reprisal for Arab anti-Jewish violence. The mainstream Jewish leadership, including Chaim Weizmann, David Ben Gurion, the Haganah, and the Jewish Agency, strongly condemned their actions.

Rev. Owensby makes no mention of Arab terrorism during that period, creating the false impression that the Arabs were innocent victims. Arab riots (pogroms) against Jews go back at least to 1920. In 1929 Arab mobs attacked Jews in several cities and destroyed Jewish villages. During the Arab Revolt of 1936 -1939 there were more widespread Arab attacks against Jews. In contrast to the Jewish leadership, Grand Mufti Hajj Amin al-Husseini and the Arab Higher Committee not only failed to comdemn these riots, they orchestrated them.

Terrorism is not to be defended on any side, but omitting pervasive Arab terrorism in even a brief history of the British Mandate is a gross act of misrepresentation.

Rev. Owensby persists in his attempt to cast the Arabs as victims:

People in the West tended to regard the struggle for land as one between a Jewish David against the Goliath of Arab powers. The reality was quite different. The Jewish resistance force designed to drive out the British and secure the U.N.-offered land for a Jewish state, numbered almost 60,000 under arms, vastly more than organized Palestinian forces.

The key word appears to be "organized." Rev. Owensby has just told us, in the previous excerpt, that Palestinians outnumbered Jews two to one. Now he appears to be playing a selective numbers game, although he admits that "the combined armies of the surrounding Arab states may have been greater" (quite an understatement!). However, the Arab armies lacked a central command and were not as well organized as the Jewish forces. This seems to be a common theme of the new revisionist history of the 1948 war: even though it began with the invasion of five regular Arab armies, the Jews are still to blame because they were better organized!

Forcibly evicted or fearing massacre, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians left their homes in Jewish majority areas. They have never been allowed to return, thus beginning a Palestinian refugee problem that still bedevils all hopes for peace.

This is another currently popular distortion of history. There were some expulsions of Arabs, but those did not occur until after the Arabs initiated the war. Primary reasons for the flight of the Palestinians, which Rev. Owensby omits, included the fear of being caught in the middle of a war the Arabs were about to initiate, and the urging of Arab leaders for residents to leave until the armies finished the job of obliterating the Jews.

The order from Arab leaders to the Palestinian population to leave is no fabrication. It is documented in Arab sources:

Who gave such orders? Leaders like Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Said, who declared: "We will smash the country with our guns and obliterate every place the Jews seek shelter in. The Arabs should conduct their wives and children to safe areas until the fighting has died down."

The Secretary of the Arab League Office in London, Edward Atiyah, wrote in his book, The Arabs: "This wholesale exodus was due partly to the belief of the Arabs, encouraged by the boastings of an unrealistic Arabic press and the irresponsible utterances of some of the Arab leaders that it could be only a matter of weeks before the Jews were defeated by the armies of the Arab States and the Palestinian Arabs enabled to re­enter and retake possession of their country."

In his memoirs, Haled al Azm, the Syrian Prime Minister in 1948-49, also admitted the Arab role in persuading the refugees to leave: “Since 1948 we have been demanding the return of the refugees to their homes. But we ourselves are the ones who encouraged them to leave. Only a few months separated our call to them to leave and our appeal to the United Nations to resolve on their return.”

On April 3, 1949, the Near East Broadcasting Station (Cyprus) said: "It must not be forgotten that the Arab Higher Committee encouraged the refugees' flight from their homes in Jaffa, Haifa and Jerusalem."

"The Arab States encouraged the Palestine Arabs to leave their homes temporarily in order to be out of the way of the Arab invasion armies," according to the Jordanian newspaper Filastin (February 19, 1949).

One refugee quoted in the Jordan newspaper, Ad Difaa (September 6, 1954), said: "The Arab government told us: Get out so that we can get in. So we got out, but they did not get in."

"The Secretary-General of the Arab League, Azzam Pasha, assured the Arab peoples that the occupation of Palestine and Tel Aviv would be as simple as a military promenade," said Habib Issa in the New York Lebanese paper, Al Hoda (June 8, 1951). "He pointed out that they were already on the frontiers and that all the millions the Jews had spent on land and economic development would be easy booty, for it would be a simple matter to throw Jews into the Mediterranean.... Brotherly advice was given to the Arabs of Palestine to leave their land, homes and property and to stay temporarily in neighboring fraternal states, lest the guns of the invading Arab armies mow them down."

(Source: Mitchell G. Bard, "The Refugees," Jewish Virtual Library, which contains the full citations as well as several additional references.)

Yet in spite of all the evidence, Israel's modern critics persist in trying to cast the Jews as the predators in 1948.

Let us look at Rev. Owensby's statement a little more closely: "They have never been allowed to return, thus beginning a Palestinian refugee problem that still bedevils all hopes for peace." The passive voice creates an ambiguity: Who never allowed them to return? No mention is ever made of the Jewish refugees from Arab lands, because Israel absorbed them, whereas the Arab states have not allowed the integration of Palestinian refugees. Is Israel to shoulder all the responsibility for them as well?

Rev. Owensby similarly attempts to cast Israel as the predator in the Six-Day War of 1967:

Years of tension between Israel and Syria over water resources and frequent Israeli-Arab clashes in border areas led to a joint defense agreement between Egypt, Jordan and Syria and the flexing of their military muscles. While he pointedly insisted that any war would be initiated by Israel, in May, 1967, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, closed the Strait of Tiran, Israel’s gateway to Africa and Asia.

With no confidence that the international community would defuse the situation without eroding Israel's gains, Israel launched a pre-emptive bombing of Egyptian airfields, destroying almost three-quarters of that country's aircraft.

Nasser's blockade of Israeli shipping was clearly an act of war. Prior to that event, Arab terrorist attacks had been escalating. Nasser ordered the United Nations Emergency Force to leave the Sinai, and began massing troops near the Israeli border. Egypt and Syria, who had formed an alliance, proclaimed the coming "extermination" and "annihilation" of the "Zionist presence." Israel did not fight this war to prevent "eroding its gains." It fought to ward off the latest Arab rejectionist threat to its existence, the Arab resolve to destroy the Jewish state since the day it was created.

(Note: the original version of Rev. Owensby's report, which was issued by the Presbyterian U.N. Office, did not even mention Nasser's blockade of the Strait of Tiran.)

Rev. Owensby continues to oversimplify:

It has long been clear that the United States does not have a single foreign policy for the Middle East. Rather there is an Israel policy and a policy for all other areas. The two are frequently at odds in ways that contribute to regional instability. This acknowledged "special relationship" with Israel has complicated greatly the achievement of important U.S. goals in the region. At the heart of U.S. tensions with many countries in the Middle East is their frustration of dealing with an open American double standard that always favors Israel.

Where the "double standard" is can be quite debatable. When America condemns Israel's "targeted assassinations" but practices them itself, is that not a double standard? Speaking of a "double standard that always favors Israel" overlooks pressure that America has applied to Israel, for example withholding of loan guarantees to discourage settlement expansion. President Bush's Roadmap for Peace is actually a quite even-handed document, demanding significant concessions from both sides. To speak of an American "double standard" that "always" favors Israel reveals more about the bias of the speaker than about American policy.

Rev. Owensby seems to have an exaggerated notion of the extent of American support:

There is a large measure of American guilt at having joined other nations in turning a deaf ear to Jewish cries for help before the Nazis embarked upon a murderous "final solution." If our national sense of guilt can now be relieved by supporting Israeli claims to lands and resources not ours, that is an easy policy for U.S. politicians to support. It only requires not asking too many questions.

But America does not support "Israeli claims to lands and resources not ours." It has pressured Israel to halt the expansion of settlements. It has pressured Israel to build its security fence as close to the Green Line as possible. Those who hold a deep malice toward Israel often accuse America of being Israel's lackey or a puppet of the "Jewish lobby." Rev. Owensby comes dangerously close to echoing such sentiment. The phrase about "not asking too many questions" implies an attempt to silence Israel's critics. And indeed this is what Rev. Owensby believes:

Americans adopting a nuanced stance on Middle East issues that make them seem less than fully supportive of Israel's claims have often been attacked as being anti-Semitic. This has been a powerful weapon used by some Jewish individuals and organizations in silencing criticism of the government of Israel. Particularly, no politician wants to risk having to defend him- or herself against such charges. It is safer to vote with the large majorities that accompany any action touching upon Israel.

Rev. Owensby's oversimplifications hardly amount to a "nuanced stance." I would also like him to produce citations of any public charges of anti-Semitism that were made solely because somebody criticized Israel. Ironically, the accusation that Israel's supporters bring up anti-Semitism to silence their critics has itself become a "powerful weapon" used to silence any mention of anti-Semitism even when it may actually exist. It has become almost a reflex. It cannot be denied that much criticism of Israel really is anti-Semitic; yet when one tries to point this out one is told, "You are only saying that because you don't like criticism."

And now he gets to the "Jewish lobby":

Israel and its American supporters have had extraordinary success in working the U.S. political system to produce unwavering backing for Israel's needs, policies and perspectives. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is widely acknowledged to be among those few lobbying groups that dominate political action on their issue. AIPAC coordinates the spreading of millions of dollars each year to candidates for the U.S. House and Senate and for lobbying the incumbents.

The fact is that many interest groups in this country use lobbies, and many are quite influential. That is the way our system works. AIPAC does nothing illegal, and groups opposed to Israel are also organizing political action committees. Yet Israel's critics often single out AIPAC as a manifestation of "Jewish power" which, intentionally or not, resonates with classic anti-Semitic charges throughout history that Jews have inordinate power and are trying to "dominate" everybody else.

Rev. Owensby goes on to criticize U.S. foreign aid to Israel and American support of Israel in the U.N., stating that "The American veto in the United Nations Security Council has been used to protect Israel from actions and criticism it finds unacceptable." Again I would like Rev. Owensby to be specific. Which anti-Israel resolutions, pushed hard by a coalition of Arab states, does he wish America had not vetoed?

As to the peace process itself, again Rev. Owensby oversimplifies:

The Palestinian position as expressed by the PLO has been consistent for years: the international borders between the States of Palestine and Israel should be the armistice cease-fire lines in effect on June 4, 1967.

Regarding the PLO, its position as expressed in its Charter and never formally changed calls for the total elimination of Israel. Rev. Owensby also does not mention another complicating factor: the firm Palestinian demand of a "right of return" of Palestinian refugees into Israel, which would effectively eliminate the Jewish state by altering its demographic balance.

Rev. Owensby squarely blames Israel for the failure of the Camp David 2000 peace talks. He echoes the Palestinian line that Israel offered only a state of isolated cantons or "pockets" rather than a contiguous sovereign state, when in fact Israel's final offer was far more generous (see Dennis Ross's new book, The Missing Peace: The Inside Story of the Fight for Middle East Peace.) Rev. Owensby charges that Israel "broke off the talks," failing to mention that Arafat walked out of the process at the crucial moment and launched a terror war against Israel instead of responding seriously to its latest offer. The failure even to mention Arafat's rupture of the process so distorts history that it would appear to be evidence of the writer's malice.

Rev. Owensby continues with some strong criticism of Israel's settlements policy, some (but not all) of which I agree with. (At times my Presbyterian dialogue partners have made the willingness to criticize Israel a litmus test of legitimacy. But only certain criticisms of Israel are considered acceptable. It should be possible to criticize Israel without having to accept Rev. Owensby's simplistic distortions and consistently one-sided reading of history. And it should also be possible to criticize the critics.)

Here is another incredible example of Rev. Owensby's distorted vision:

In Israel, security is the national preoccupation. The knowledge that Israel is vastly superior militarily to any Arab country and to all Arab nations combined is not enough to make Israelis feel secure. Even being told that it has the full military backing of the United States does not make either the people or the government of Israel feel secure. While there is currently no viable threat to the existence of the state of Israel, the personal security of individual Israelis cannot be guaranteed. That is a reality that will not change until the injustices of the occupation are ended.

This statement echoes the Palestinian charge that Israel uses its security as an "excuse" for everything it does. Meanwhile Israeli society has been under siege as never before. Terrorist groups pledged to Israel's total destruction have been waging an unrelenting war against that society, escalating their weaponry from rocks to guns to bombs to missiles. And just over the horizon is the prospect of Iran, a sworn mortal enemy of Israel and sponsor of the terrorist group Hezbollah, acquiring nuclear capability. To say that "there is currently no viable threat to the existence of the state of Israel" defies common sense.

And will the "personal security of individual Israelis be guaranteed" once the "injustices of the occupation are ended"? Not likely. According to the extremist groups now warring against Israel, all of Israel is occupied territory. Even the Palestinian Authority has published maps with no Israel on them, just "Palestine." "Occupation" is not an excuse for terrorism, nor will terrorism cease with the end of the occupation.

Rev. Owensby then criticizes the Oslo process:

The elusive peace process begun in Oslo and confirmed by handshakes in Washington was producing nothing for Palestinians -- no meaningful sovereignty, continued growth of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, and unrelenting economic hardship. Despair overcame hope.

This is another distortion of history. Oslo did produce for the Palestinians. It produced the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Palestinian cities. It produced Palestinian autonomy as a step toward sovereignty. And it produced the Palestinian Authority.

The Palestinians used their autonomy to consolidate their terrorist war. The more autonomy they gained, the more the terrorism increased. The Palestinian Authority, rife with corruption, did not serve its constituents well. Rev. Owensby also does not mention its many violations of the Oslo Accords, nor that Arafat renounced the agreement to his own people in Arabic on the very day that he signed it. Arafat later compared the Oslo agreement to a peace treaty Muhammad made for ten years but broke after only two. Yet Rev. Owensby continues to portray Israel as the aggressor - "Palestinians continue to bury most of the dead and bandage most of the wounded" - without mentioning the proportion of those Palestinians who were participants in terrorist acts, nor that only the Palestinian side has a consistent policy of intentionally targeting civilians.

Rev. Owensby next criticizes Israel's possession of the whole of Jerusalem since the Six-Day War, lamenting that it did not become an internationally administered city as the original partition plan specified. Much outrage has been expressed now that Israel has control of the city, even though for the first time members of all faiths can visit their holy places freely. When Jerusalem was under Jordanian occupation Jews were barred from visiting the Western Wall and Jewish cemeteries and synagogues were used as garbage dumps and latrines - yet one can recall no Presbyterian outrage at that situation.

More than any other location in Israel, Jerusalem has been the target of terrorist attacks, bombings on buses, shopping centers, and restaurants. Yet Rev. Owensby complains that "Provocations of Israel's occupation forces have frequently been the excuse for closing the city entirely to Palestinians from the West Bank or for slowing the flow past military checkpoints," implying once again that Israelis have no security problem and make it up only as an "excuse." His report consistently minimizes the effects of terrorism on Israeli society.

Rev. Owensby criticizes Israel's use of Jerusalem as its capital and states that to acknowledge Jerusalem as the capital of Israel "would prejudge the outcome of negotiations, which alone can resolve issues of conflict and lead to peace." This is nonsense. The reason the U.S. does not formally recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital is to avoid inflaming Arab sensibilities. The final Clinton/Barak plan offered the Palestinians shared control of Jerusalem while Israel would still maintain its capital there; thus recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is not incompatible with being open about the outcome of negotiations.

Concerning the Palestinian refugees, Rev. Owensby points out their having to live in squalid camps and seems to feel that Israel should agree to take in as many of them as possible. He does not mention that the surrounding Arab countries kept them in those camps to avoid the burden of absorbing them and to use them as a political weapon. In contrast, Israel has made a great effort to absorb the comparable number of Jewish refugees from Arab lands. Rev. Owensby does not seem to recognize the problems Israel would face in accepting thousands of Palestinian refugees, while he does feel the pain of the Arab states who have rejected those refugees for so long:

It is notable that no consideration was evidently given to the political dilemmas faced by Lebanon and Syria in extending citizenship to large numbers of the almost 700,000 refugees they now host.

Final Recommendations

Finally, in making his recommendations for future American policy, Rev. Owensby does say that "The U.S. should press the Palestinian Authority to make clear that it will no longer indulge violent action by paramilitary groups as an unofficial alternative to announced Palestinian policy." But he immediately follows this with "At the same time, the U.S. must urge Israel not to use particular acts of violence as an excuse for abandoning or delaying negotiations and agreement on the final status issues" - as if the the peace process can have any meaning if it does not involve a cessation of terrorist violence. Once again there is that word "excuse." What incentive does Israel have to remain at the negotiating table and make concessions as long as the violence continues? It seems that Rev. Owensy cannot even bring up the subject of anti-Jewish terrorism without trivializing it.

Rev. Owensby's concluding recommendation:

Americans must urge the U.S. media to give a fairer and more balanced picture of what is happening. This includes giving greater attention to the vast majority of Muslims who condemn the political use of terror as an expression of religious faith.

This sounds good, but up till now there has been no evidence that "the vast majority of Muslims" "condemn the political use of terror" when Israel is involved. Even those Muslim groups who have condemned the 9/11 attacks either make no mention of or make an exception for terrorism against Israelis. If Rev. Owensby were right on this point, there would be more than hope, there would be progress. But unfortunately Palestinian violence seems to enjoy widespread approval in the Muslim community worldwide.


This article, with its informative-sounding subtitle "Where are we and how did we get here?" is not careful and objective analysis; it is anti-Israel propaganda. It makes Israel responsible for the entire conflict and omits or trivializes Arab provocations and contributions to the ongoing violence. It would be easy to dismiss if it were simply the work of an isolated individual. But this article was written in connection with Rev. Owensby's work for the Presbyterian United Nations Office and issued under the name of that office. It is a fair representation of long-standing Presbyterian attitudes toward Israel.

The Presbyterian Church now rightly finds itself on the defensive after the firestorm of criticism following its recent General Assembly resolutions. Its defense of its actions, now and in the past, is disingenuous. One tactic it has often used is to accuse its critics of not being able to tolerate any criticism of Israel. But the willingness to criticize Israel should not oblige one to accept any distortion or selective presentation of the facts that the Presbyterian Church deems appropriate.

Another tactic has been to deny that its divestment decision has anything do to with comparing Israel to South African apartheid, just because the word "apartheid" does not actually appear in the resolution. However, Presbyterian Church representatives have very often encouraged this comparison. Here are just a few samples, all taken from the Presbyterian Church (USA) web site (emphasis added):

The 216th General Assembly approved several measures opposing the Israeli occupation of Palestine Friday, including a call for the corporate witness office of the Presbyterian Church (USA) to begin gathering data to support a selective divestment of holdings in multinational corporations doing business in Israel/Palestine.

Divestment is one of the strategies that U.S. churches used in the 1970s and '80s in a successful campaign to end apartheid in South Africa.

(Source: Alexa Smith, "Assembly Endorses Israel Divestment,", July 2, 2004.)

Another one:

The past week, we have been at the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s General Assembly meeting in Richmond. We are extremely pleased that our denomination’s highest council of elders has chosen the former when it comes to the Middle East. As a church, we have turned our back on Christian Zionism, a militant fundamentalism which seeks to speed the arrival of Armageddon, wielding great political might based on narrow understandings of prophetic Scripture. As a church, we have called on Israelis and Palestinians to return to negotiations, recognizing that the future of that land is a shared one. As a church, we will use a strategy successful against apartheid and begin a targeted divestment of companies invested in Israel, pressuring for an end to the occupation.

(Source: "A Letter from Elizabeth and Marthame Sanders in the United States,", July 8, 2004.)

And finally, this from the leader of the Presbyterian Church himself:

Surely you can understand the frustrations of Palestinian Christians and Muslims forced to live under a clear form of apartheid. (Source: Clifton Kirkpatrick, "Letter from Clifton Kirkpatrick to President Bill Clinton,", undated.

The repeated insistence of the church that it is not comparing Israel to apartheid is hypocritical and dishonest.

And then there is the always popular tactic of accusing people of crying wolf every time they dare to raise the issue of anti-Semitism.

Rev. Owensby bristles at the suggestion that his biased writing might be taken as anti-Semitism. Then simply call it what it is: a systematic, one-sided distortion of the facts.

There has been one positive result of the Presbyterian Church's campaign against Israel. It has now gone so far that the true sentiments of this church are no longer hidden, and at last are receiving the attention they deserve. There needs to be more dialogue about this. Christians and Jews of good will must get together, talk to each other, work hard for healing, and try to undo the damage of organizations like the Presbyterian Church, whose anti-Jewish bias is an anachronism we can no longer afford to overlook.

August 2004

Israeli-Palestinian Conflict:
Peace with Realism