The Israel Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church (USA) has released a new education guide to the study of Zionism and Israel. In the study guide, the group squarely blames all the ills of the region on Zionism, which it implicitly compares to Nazism.
According to the 74-page pamphlet and accompanying DVD, Zionism is responsible for destroying both the indigenous Palestinian population through oppression and the thriving Jewish community in the diaspora due to backlash. It contends that Zionism represents a minority position among the Jewish community, as most Jews opt to remain where they are and not move to Israel. It praises “brave” Jews who speak out against Zionism and Israel, and accuses powerful Jewish groups of suppressing dissenting voices.
In its press release regarding the pamphlet, the PCUSA wrote:
“What role have Zionism and Christian Zionism played in shaping attitudes and driving historical developments in the Middle East and around the world? How do Christians, Jews and Muslims understand the competing claims to the land of Palestine and Israel? What steps can be taken to bring peace, reconciliation and justice to the homeland that Palestinians and Israelis share?
“Zionism Unsettled embraces these critical issues fearlessly with inspiring scope. The booklet and DVD draw together compelling and diverse perspectives from Jews, Muslims and Christians in Israel, Palestine the United States and around the globe. By contrasting mainstream perceptions with important alternative perspectives, Zionism Unsettled serves as a guide to deeper understanding.”
Taken at face value, these statements reflect a desire to understand the complex situation in the Middle East and perhaps take positive steps towards reconciling the two sides. However, the pamphlet’s bias is evident through its manipulative use of quotes, its blatant disregard of inconvenient facts and its generally one-sided approach to the conflict.
The Times of Israel listed several egregious misrepresentations. Among them, a quote from Rabbi David Hartman is used to demonstrate support for wholesale genocide of Palestinians: “’Let’s really let them understand what the implication of their action is,’ he said of the Palestinians. ‘Very simply, wipe them out. Level them.’” However, in its original context, Hartman was referring strictly to terrorist entities.
Additionally, Israel is held responsible for initiating the 1982 war in Lebanon, but no aggressor is mentioned in any war launched by Arab countries against Israel, such as 1948’s War of Independence. The booklet blames Israel for ignoring resolutions passed against it in the UN, but blames the UN for giving Israel a “disproportionate share of territory” in the 1947 Partition Plan. Only the Jewish Irgun, an underground fighting unit in British Mandatory Palestine pre-1948, is labelled “terrorist” in the booklet.
The PCUSA claims the pamphlet, which was released ahead of the church’s biennial General Assembly, was met with immediate critical acclaim, but its supporters also betray the booklet’s bias.
In the press release, Walter Brueggemann, professor emeritus at Columbia Theological Seminary in Atlanta, is quoted as saying, “The urgency of the Palestinian plight in the face of Israeli intransigence indicates that intentional, concrete and sustained public action is necessary to respond credibly to the crisis. Zionism Unsettled is a welcome study guide. It will prove an effective vehicle for helping to mobilize public opinion so that both attitudes and policies can be transformed in the face of an imperious and exploitative ideology.” Brueggemann, once a supporter of Israel, has since accused Israel of exploiting ancient biblical promises to create a “toxic ideology.”
Neve Gordon, an Israeli political scientist and supporter of the BDS movement, had this to say in praise of the work: “In my work I am inspired by the great Jewish prophets’ struggle for justice and freedom, while simultaneously I am often astounded how certain strains in Judaism and Christianity invoke the Bible in order to justify oppression and social wrongs in Israel/Palestine. Therefore I welcome the effort to emphasize a conception of Judaism and Christianity that espouses universalistic ethics – whereby all humans are imago dei – and to use it to expose injustices carried out in my homeland.”
Needless to say, the Jewish community at large is less enthusiastic about the publication. In a statement released Friday, Bnai Brith International said the work “promotes virulent hatred of Israel, as well as animosity toward the historic rights and fundamental sensibilities of Jews across the religious and political spectrum.”
“The seemingly balanced approach is a façade,” said Rabbi Noam Marans, AJC’s director of Intergroup and Interreligious Relations. “The study guide is reminiscent of medieval Christian polemics against Judaism, with the authors claiming to know better than the Jewish community how Jews define themselves. This is another example of the ongoing effort to demonize Israel by a cadre of people who want to see the dismantlement of the Jewish state.”
“This outrageous screed is the theological twin of the infamous 1975 UN ‘Zionism is Racism’ resolution,” accused Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. “‘Zionism Unsettled’ is a hit-piece outside all norms of interfaith dialogue. It is a compendium of distortions, ignorance and outright lies – that tragically has emanated too often from elites within this church.
“To be clear, this publication isn’t an attack on particular Israeli policies but on the very idea of a Jewish return to Zion.”