Student Union opens ‘hasbara’ room in effort to fill public diplomacy vacuum.
Speaking in the basement of Westminster Presbyterian Church (WPC) in Minneapolis on July 3, 2010, Jeff Halper, founder of the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions, offered a relentless denunciation of Israel to a group of Presbyterians.
During his talk, Halper expressed hope that efforts to brand Israel as an apartheid state will get more traction going forward partially as a result of the deaths resulting from the fighting on board the Mavi Marmara a few weeks earlier. For Halper, the deaths highlighted Israeli intransigence, not the hostile intentions of those on the vessel.
“I think we have turned a corner with Israel’s help,” he said.
Throughout his talk, Halper gave his audience advice on how to challenge those who defend Israel from attacks like his.
“What people are going to tell you all the time is you’re not being fair to Israel,” he said. “You’re not being balanced.” There is not a symmetry of power, Halper said, and as a result, there’s no reason for criticism to be balanced. “There’s only one occupying power,” he said. “The Palestinians are not occupying Tel Aviv.”
Halper’s advice on how to respond to efforts to defend Israeli policies as responses to security threats was particularly pointed.
“Say, ‘What about home demolitions?’ That will shut them up.” Advertisement
Halper’s commentary fit right in with the agenda of the Israel-Palestine Mission Network (IPMN) of the PC(USA), which sponsored the luncheon at which he was speaking. The luncheon was one of a number of events organized by the IPMN that assailed the legitimacy of the Jewish state during the PC(USA)’s 2010 General Assembly. Other events on the IPMN’s roster at the WPC included a review of Alan Hart’s recent book, Zionism: the Real Enemy of the Jews, a review of The Invention of the Jewish People by Shlomo Sand and personal testimony by Linda Ramsden, whose talk was titled “My Journey Away from Christian Zionism.”
Two days later, Halper testified in favor of an overture submitted to the PC(USA)’s General Assembly declaring Israel guilty of the crime of apartheid. Speaking before the committee charged with dealing with peacemaking overtures related to the Middle East, Halper argued that the PC(USA) should affirm the resolution to help “prevent the establishment of new apartheid regime in the world.”
During his testimony, Halper asked rhetorically what it was about South Africa’s apartheid regime that mobilized activists all over the world. “How did that affect us here in Minneapolis or in the United States or anywhere else?” He continued:
Because if you have a state based on racism that’s in our international family, it sullies all of us. This was a global issue, apartheid. It had to do with global morality, global politics and so we all spoke out against it. It’s the same in the case of Israel. Israel is a global issue. The Israel-Palestine conflict is as General Petraeus says, compromising American interests, but more than that, the South Africans mobilized the churches all over the world.
The churches are the moral voice. If the churches go away, if the churches simply go on with business as usual while apartheid regimes are established in front of our eyes, then where are we? So there’s a special responsibility of churches.
Israel is establishing an apartheid regime. There is no more occupation. The occupation has become a permanent bi-national reality and I ask you all to speak out while we can against a new apartheid.
With these utterances, Halper portrays Israel, out of all the countries in the Middle East, as uniquely worthy of contempt and criticism and Christian churches. In Halper’s worldview, Israel, which has regular elections and grants ethnic and religious minorities the right to vote and participate in governance, is condemned while truly racist regimes that murder their political opponents are ignored.
As harsh and unreasonable as this testimony is, he has said worse to other groups. Speaking at a Sabeel Conference held at Boston’s Old South Church in 2007, Halper suggested Israeli officials were contemplating a “final solution” in regards to the Palestinians. He told the audience that Israeli leaders “don’t believe that peace is possible” and that “the Israeli government has done the same thing that the Bush administration is trying to do – mystify the conflict, to depoliticize it so that there’s no solution – the problem is them. And if the problem is them, then of course to put it in very harsh terms then of course the only solution the final solution.”
Hamas and Hizbullah have both expressed a desire to destroy Israel and murder Jews, yet Halper accuses Israeli leaders of contemplating genocide.
Halper wasn’t the only Jew condemning Israel at the Presbyterian General Assembly. Stefanie Fox from Jewish Voice for Peace also spoke to the committee that dealt with Middle East peace issues, calling on the PC(USA) to divest from Caterpillar.
Divesting from Caterpillar because it sells goods to Israel is not “inherently anti-Semitic and it does not de-legitimize Israel,” she said. “In fact, it de-legitimizes the occupation and the use of these weapons, which of course is illegal in the first place. Be a friend to Jews and divest.”
Yet another Jewish critic of Israel who was in attendance at the PC(USA)’s General Assembly in Minneapolis was Mark Braverman who, like Halper, is a regular speaker at Sabeel events where he holds Israel and Jews up to a biblical standard of conduct while ignoring the sins of their adversaries.
For the anti-Israel activists in mainline liberal churches, one-sided testimony from these activists is manna from heaven. Not only does it legitimize the received wisdom that Israel is (or should be) a pariah state, it also protects Christian anti-Israel activists from charges of anti-Jewish bias on the grounds that Jews would not say such terrible things about Israel if they were not true. The message they offer is that it’s the Jews – and not the people who hate them – who are the problem; Iran, Hizbullah, Hamas aren’t really so bad, it’s the Jews and their state we need to worry about.
Despite the inherent hostility and unfairness of this story, so-called peace activists in mainline liberal Protestant churches have lionized Jewish activists who tell it, portraying them as the authentic Jewish voice that Christians (and other Jews) should listen to.
Dexter Van Zile is a media analyst for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA). His articles have appeared in numerous American Jewish newspapers as well as the Jerusalem Post, Ecumenical Trends, and the Boston Globe. A longer version of this essay can be found at www.camera.org.
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