For a generation after World War II, particularly given revelations of the Holocaust, most American Protestant denominations embraced a more tolerant attitude toward Jews. Since the 1980’s, however, there has been a marked shift, evident in the anti-Israel positions adopted by more liberal denominations like the United Methodist Church (UMC); the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in America (ELCA); the Episcopal Church in the United States of America (ECUSA); and the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. (PCUSA).
At its meeting in Fort Worth this weekend, the National Conference of the UMC will consider adopting a robust divestment policy toward Israel. When the 218th General Assembly of the PCUSA convenes in San Jose in June, it may adopt a resolution calling for a “temporary end” to military and foreign aid to Israel based largely on specious depictions of Israeli policy and military actions.
In general, the vast preponderance of criticisms leveled against Israel by more liberal Protestant denominations betray a blatant anti-Israel imbalance that the religious left justifies based on Israel’s military, financial, and political power.
From the perspective of the religious left, those who have power obtain it at the expense of the powerless and therefore are justifiably open to greater criticism. In the 1980’s, the American religious left cast the United States as a behemoth in international affairs, devising a moral equivalency argument equating the United States with the Soviet Union.
Reverend William Sloan Coffin, pastor of New York’s Riverside Church (where Nicaragua’s Sandinista president Daniel Ortega spoke in 1986), once prayed, “Were we to repent of our self-righteousness, the existence of Soviet missiles would remind us of nothing so much as our own.… Afghanistan would suggest Vietnam.”
This same mindset, with doctrinal roots in liberation theology, undergirds contentions maintaining that Israel, a powerful nation, accord to a far higher standard of behavior than the Palestinians. The argument is bogus.
Typical of such justifications are those below, made by a PCUSA peacemaking activist to friends, which maintain that an imbalance in power makes it acceptable to hold Israel to a higher standard of behavior while excusing Palestinian terrorism as a legitimate asymmetric response.
● Israel has nuclear weapons, the Palestinians have suicide bombers.
● Israel has tanks and fighter jets, the Palestinians have Molotov cocktails.
● Israel has all the land, money, and resources, the Palestinians have been kicked off their land and had their resources stolen.
● Israel is a nation, accountable on the world stage, the Palestinians have no nation or effective government to be accountable.
● Israel is powerful, the Palestinians are not.
The first two justifications specifying a military imbalance, while technically correct, are irrelevant. Though Israel has never threatened to use nuclear weapons on the Palestinians, the perception that the Israelis possess them deters their avowedly hostile neighbors. Furthermore, nuking Gaza or the Palestinian territories would wreak radiological havoc on Israel itself. (Officially, Israel does not acknowledge possessing nuclear weapons.)
Certainly, Israel’s first-rate defense forces employ technologically advanced weaponry while the Palestinians use suicide bombers, mortars, rockets, and small arms. Although guerrilla tactics constitute a legitimate asymmetrical alternative for Palestinians, terrorism (violence directed against innocents) does not.
Israel uses its U.S.-supplied F-16 fighter-bombers and AH-64 Apache helicopters in precision strikes against terrorist targets. Hamas and other Palestinian groups purposely target Israeli innocents. Israelis riding on buses, shopping in markets or eating in restaurants in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, or simply living in Sderot or Ashkelon, are innocents; Hamas leaders and fighters are not.
The third charge is likewise specious. The Palestinians were not “kicked off their land.”
First, there never was a Palestinian state or tribe. In 1948, after UN Resolution 181 set into motion the creation of Israel, Palestinians either fled or joined with six Arab armies attempting to annihilate the newborn Jewish state.
Second, while Israeli forces occupy some of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, prior to June 7, 1967, the Jordanian army occupied these areas. International law specifies that treaties establish national boundaries and as yet no treaty defines Palestinian boundaries.
Furthermore, while Israel occupied Gaza from June 1967 until 2005, Cairo declined offers to return it to Egyptian jurisdiction. Israel also occupies the Golan Heights, a military staging area seized from Syria in 1967. Giving up the Golan would constitute strategic folly.