Sunday, August 10, 2008

PAUL FINDLEY They Dare to Speak Out 13

Paving the Way fnr the Messiah
Dwight Campbell, the youthful clerk of Shelby County, Illinois, sat quietly through the meeting in a Shelbyville restautant. It was fall 1982, the campaign season in Illinois, and during the session I discussed for­eign policy issues with a group of constituents. Only when the gather­ing had begun to break up did Campbell call me aside to voice his deep concern over remarks I had made criticizing Israeli policy in Lebanon.
He identified himself as a Christian and, speaking very earnestly and without hostility, warned me that my approach to the Middle East was wrong from a political standpoint and, more important, was in con­flict with God's plan. He concluded with a heartfelt injunction: "I would not advocate anything to interfere with the destiny of Israel as set forth in the Bible."
The urgency in his voice was striking. It seemed clear that this pub­lic official, who was well respected in his community, was not compelled to support Israel by external pressure. Nor was he motivated by a desire
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for professional or social advancement. As with many evangelical Chris­tians, his support came from deep conviction.
Americans like Dwight Campbell comprise a natural constituency for Israel and add enormous strength to the manipulations of the Israeli lobby. Democratic Congressman Lee H. Hamilton, chairman of the Mid­dle East Subcommittee, hears similar comments when he visits his district in rural Indiana. At town meetings, which Hamilton conducts, con­stituents frequently speak up. Identifying themselves as Christians, they urge that he support Israels needs completely and without reservation.1
Many U.S. Christians, both conservative and mainline, support Israel because of shared cultural and political values and in response to the horror of the Holocaust.2 Many conservatives feel, as did the young official in Shelbyville, that the creation of Israel in 1948 came in ful­fillment of biblical prophecy, and that the Jewish state will continue to play a central role in the divine plan.
Religious affiliation also tends to influence members of the main­stream denominations, particularly Protestants, toward a pro-Israeli stance. An exclusive focus on biblical tradition causes many Christians to see the Middle East as a reflection of events portrayed in the Bible: twentieth century Israelis become biblical Israelites, Palestinians become Philistines, and so on, in a dangerous, albeit usually unconscious, chain of historical misassociation. The distinction between Jewish settlers on the occupied West Bank and the Hebrew nation that conquered the land of Canaan under Moses and Joshua becomes obscured.
Virtually all Christians approach the Middle East with at least a sub­tle affinity to Israel and an inclination to oppose or mistrust any sugges­tion that questions Israeli policy. The lobby has drawn widely upon this support in pressing its national programs. More important, fresh perspec­tives that challenge shibboleths and established prejudices regarding the Middle East are often denounced by both the lobby and many of its Chris­tian allies as politically extremist, anti-Semitic, or even anti-Christian.
The religious convictions of many Americans have made them sus­ceptible to the appeals of the Israeli lobby, with the result that free speech concerning the Middle East and U.S. policy in the region is frequently restricted before it begins. The combination of religious tradition and overt lobby activity tends to confine legitimate discussion within artifi­cially narrow bounds.
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Conservative Christians Rally to the Cause
Fundamentalist and evangelical groups have been active in this cam­paign to narrow the bounds of free speech. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robert­son proselytize tirelessly for ever-increasing U.S. backing of Israel, citing scriptural passages as the basis for their arguments. As the membership of conservative Protestant churches and organizations has expanded over the last decade, this "Christian Zionist" approach to the Middle East has been espoused from an increasing variety of "pulpits": local churches, the broadcast media, and even the halls of Congress.
Senator Roger W. Jepsen, a first-term legislator from Iowa, told the 1981 annual policy conference of AIPAC that one of the reasons for his "spirited and unfailing support" for Israel was his Christian faith. He declared that "Christians, particularly Evangelical Christians, have been among Israels best friends since its rebirth in 1948." That view is hardly unique, even among members of Congress, but his statement on this occasion aptly expressed the near-mystical identification some Chris­tians feel toward Israel:
I believe one of the reasons America has been blessed over the years is because we have been hospitable to those Jews who have sought a home in this country. We have been blessed because we have come to Israel's defense regularly, and we have been blessed because we have recognized Israel's right to the land. . . .3
Jepsen cited his fundamentalist views in explaining his early oppo­sition to the sale of AWACS to Saudi Arabia, but he credited divine inter­vention as the reason he switched his position the day before the Senate voted on the proposal.4 On election day, November 6, 1984, Iowans— spurred by the Israel lobby—did their own switching, rejecting Jepsen's bid for a second term.
Jerry Falwell, leader of the Moral Majority and a personal friend of Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir, has been described by The Econ­omist of London as "the silk-voiced ayatollah of Christian revivalism." Acclaimed in a Conservative Digest annual poll as the most admired con­servative outside of Congress (with President Reagan the runner-up), Falwell embodies the growing Christian-Zionist connection.5 He has declared: "I don't think America could turn its back on the people of
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Israel and survive. God deals with nations in relation to how those nations deal with the Jews." He has testified before congressional com­mittees in favor of moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Falwell is perhaps the best known of the pro-Israel fundamentalist spokesmen, but he is by no means the only one.
In the summer of 1983, Mike Evans Ministries of Bedford, Texas, broadcast an hour-long television special called Israel, Americas Key to Survival. Evangelist Evans used the program to describe the "crucial" role played by Israel in the political—and spiritual—fate of the United States. Since the show was presented as religious programming, it was given free broadcast time on local television stations in at least twenty-five states. It was also broadcast on the Christian Broadcasting Network cable system. Yet the message of the program was by no means entirely spiritual.
Interspersing scripture quotations with interviews of public and mil­itary figures and other evangelists, including Pat Robertson, Oral Roberts, and Jimmy Swaggart, Evans made a number of political asser­tions about Israel. These included the wild contention that, if Israel gave up control of the West Bank and other territories occupied after the 1967 war, the destruction of Israel and the United States would follow. Evans also implied that Israel was a special victim of Soviet pressure in the form of "international terrorism," which, were it not for Israel, would be brought to bear directly against the United States and Latin America.
Evans concluded the broadcast with a climactic appeal for Chris­tians to come to the support of "Americas best friend in that part of the world" by signing a "Proclamation of Blessing for Israel." Stating that "God distinctly told me to produce this television special pertaining to the nation of Israel," Evans argued that the proclamation was particularly important since "war is coming, and we must let our president and Prime Minister Begin know how we, as Americans, feel about Israel." He pre­sented the proclamation to both Prime Minister Shamir and U.S. Pres­ident Ronald Reagan, then proceeded to congratulate his supporters: "You never thought you would be having such an effect upon the two most powerful leaders in rhe entire world! But, yes, you are!"6
Still, Evans was dissatisfied with Reagan's response. In an August 1984 fund-raising appeal, Evans blamed the United States for Israel's
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economic woes: "Because of America's encouraging Israel to give up the Sinai and its oil [they lost, he said, $1.7 billion] and because of Israel's assistance to America through defense of the Middle East, Israel is on the verge of economic collapse." He said Reagan was "hesitant" to "alleviate Israel's great pressures."
The Evans theme linking America's survival to Israel was echoed in a full-page ad for the National Political Action Committee, a pro-Israel fund-raising organization, in the December 18, 1983, New York Times. It proclaimed that "Israel's survival is vital to our own," and "faith in Israel strengthens America."
Radio and television broadcasts by Jim Bakker, Kenneth Copeland, Oral Roberts, Jimmy Swaggart, and others routinely proclaim the sanc­tity of Israel through scriptural quotation, usually from the Old Testa­ment, and then reinforce it with political and strategic arguments supplied by the broadcaster.
The arguments find a considerable audience. Most estimates place the number of Evangelical Christians in the United States in the neigh­borhood of thirty million. Jerry Falwell's "Old Time Gospel Hour" is aired on 392 television stations and nearly 500 radio stations each week. Former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin described Falwell as "the man who represents twenty million American Christians."
Nor is the American style of evangelistic programming confined to U.S. shores. Its pro-Israeli message is now broadcast from the Middle East itself. The High Adventure Holyland Broadcasting Network of George Otis has maintained the Voice of Hope radio station in south­ern Lebanon since the first Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1978. He describes it as an effort "to bring the Word of God to an area that has not had the Word of God in many centuries." Otis named his broadcast ministry after his personal conviction that "Jesus [is] high adventure"; but over the past several years the station has been actively involved in adven­ture of a more secular sort.
The late Major Saad Haddad, the Lebanese commander of the Israeli-backed militia that controlled southern Lebanon prior to the Israeli inva­sion in 1982, frequently used the Voice of Hope to broadcast his military objectives, including threats against civilians. Evangelist Otis, overlook­ing grim aspects of Haddad's rule, described Haddad as a "born-again" Christian who was a "good spiritual leader" to the people of southern
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Lebanon. The U.S. State Department confirms that Haddad often car­ried out threats to shell civilian areas, including the city of Sidon, "with­out previous warning." Haddad rationalized these attacks as reprisals against the Lebanese government fot not meeting his demands for salary payment. (The Lebanese government ceased paying the salaries of Had-dad's forces after he was dishonorably discharged from the Lebanese army.)
In the spring of 1980, Haddad forces used five U.S.-built Sherman tanks in an attack on a Boy Scout Jamboree near the city of Tyre, killing sixteen boys. Haddad's gunners also shot down a Norwegian medevac helicopter that arrived to help the wounded. The scout gathering, which was sponsored by the Christian Maronite Church, was just beyond the limits of "Free Lebanon," or "Haddadland," the area controlled by Had-dad's Israeli-backed army. Haddad announced at the time that such attacks would continue until the Lebanese government provided more electricity to this area and recognized Haddad schools.
In the late 1970s, with the support of both Israel and the remain­ing Christian forces in the south, High Adventure Ministries established the Star of Hope television station in southern Lebanon. Otis himself described the Israeli support as "a miracle": "Did you ever think we would see the day when the Jews would push us for a Christian station?"7 Yet since the television station assured more effective communication with the public—for military and other purposes—Israeli approval seemed more the product of sound strategic thinking than of divine intervention. Like the Voice of Hope before it, the new Star of Hope was financed through tax-deductible contributions of money and equipment from donors in North America.
In 1982, Star of Hope was presented to Pat Robertson's Christian Btoadcasting Network as a gift. Robertson upgraded the facility and renamed it Middle East Television (METV). The Christian separatist World Lebanese Association—which is affiliated with AIPAC—describes METV as "generally sympathetic to the Christian Maronites of the region and to Israel." It adds that, for years, METV was accused of links to Israel and the now-defunct Israel-allied Christian militia, the South Lebanese Army (SLA).8
Through endeavors such as METV, American evangelical broad-casring supported the Israeli government indirectly by emphasizing the
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moral and religious commitment to the Jewish state that many Ameri­cans already feel, and directly by broadcasting in the Middle East mes­sages that promote the military objectives of Israel and its Lebanese allies.
Jerry Falwell periodically conducts tours of Israel for born-again Christians. Although Falwell is careful to avoid the appearance of money flowing from Israel to the Moral Majority, former Israeli Prime Minis­ter Menachem Begin demonstrated his commitment by arranging for a jet plane to be sold to Falwell's organization at a substantial discount.
Besides Falwell's, there are many other Christian groups offering Israel their support. In eastern Colorado, more than ten churches coor­dinate an annual "Istael Recognition Day" involving films, lectures, cul­tural exhibits, and sermons reaching more than 25,000 parishioners. The National Christian Leadership Conference for Israel (NCLCI) holds an annual conference in Washington that is attended by more than 200 del­egates representing Christian groups from all over the United States. As Dr. Franklin H. Littell, president of NCLCI, has noted, "Concern for Israel's survival and well-being [is] the only issue that some of the orga­nizations evei cooperated on."9
Other publicized events have included an October 1982 "Solidarity for Israel Sabbath" at Washington's Beth Shalom Orthodox Synagogue, in which evangelical leaders and local rabbis joined to "build bridges" and coordinate their efforts in behalf of Israel, and the "National Prayer Breakfast in Honor of Israel," which has become an annual event in the nation's capital.
The third such breakfast conference, given February 1, 1984, attracted more than 500 supporters of Israel, most of them Christians. The setting was brightly decorated with Israeli flags and symbols, includ­ing apples bearing Star of David stickers. The printed program for the affair boasted an imptessive list of political and evangelical leaders, including Edwin Meese III (who was unable to attend, it was announced, because of his just-announced nomination as attorney general); Meir Rosenne, Israeli ambassador to the United States; and representatives from the National Religious Broadcasters and other conservative Protes­tant groups. Congressman Mark Siljander of Michigan, a member of the Middle Easr Subcommittee, delivered a stirring reaffirmation of evangelical solidarity with Istael: "It's not that we are anti-Arab. We seek peace in God's plan."
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The breakfasts were coordinated by the Religious Roundtable, a group that describes itself as "a national organization dedicated to reli­gious revival and moral purpose in America," yet maintains as one of its primary purposes the advancement of the Israeli cause. Edward E. Mc-Ateer, president of the group, was known in the Washington area as a partisan speaker and editorial writer on behalf of Israel. He used the religious format of his organization to back such political stands as closer U.S.-Israeli strategic cooperation, restriction of U.S. arms sales to Arab states, and transfer of the United States embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. In 1984 McAteer was an unsuccessful candidate for the Senate in Tennessee.
Writing in the Washington Post on January 2, 1984, McAteer sup­ported the Israeli intervention in Lebanon, likening opponents of the invasion to "the premed student who proposed removing only half a cancerous growth [the PLO] because of the blood generated by surgery." Considering the fact that the invasion led to staggering civilian casual­ties, this crusading knight of the Religious Roundtable certainly cannot be accused of fear of blood.
Perhaps inspired by Mike Evans Ministries, the prayer breakfast committee created its own "Proclamation of Blessing" for Israel. Issued in the name of "Americas 50-million-plus Bible-believing Christians," it included a curious mixture of religious, political, and military points: a call for "strategic cooperation" with Israel is followed by an appeal to "the God of Israel, Who through the Jewish people, gave to the world of Scriptures, our Savior, Salvation, and Spiritual blessings"; scriptural selections affirming the divine right of the Jews to the Holy Land, fol­lowed by language rejecting the "dual loyalty" charges against American Jewish supporters of Israel; and a call for the transfer of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, accompanied by an exhortation that "the Scripturally-delin-eated boundaries of the Holy Land never be compromised by the shift­ing sands of political and economic expediency."
Cooperation between Jewish and conservative Protestant groups has an important impact in the political sphere. In a 1983 Jerusalem press conference, Jerry Falwell declared that "The day is coming when no can­didate will be elected in the United States who is not pro-Israel."10 Although the Moral Majority has not had 100 percent success in putting its favorites in power, many candidates for high office, regardless of their
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own religious inclinations, now often feel compelled to address the issues that are on the evangelical political agenda.
Many conservative Christians see a theological basis for this sup­port, as they ascribe to Israel a prominent role in the interpretation of Christian doctrine. On the one hand, it is maintained that Israel deserves Christian support because it exists as the fulfillment of biblical prophecy. Old Testament passages are most often quoted in defense of this view. On the other hand, many Christians back Israel because they believe that the Jewish people remain, as they were in biblical times, the chosen people of God. The same advocate will often cite both arguments. The prophecy argument is held by the most conservative fundamentalist groups, such as the Moral Majority, and has received more public atten­tion, but the covenantal view is probably held by a larger segment of Americas 40 million conservative Christians."
Dr. Dewey Beegle of Wesley Theological Seminary commented on the differing views of Israel held by American Christians in his 1978 book, Prophecy and Prediction: "All Christian groups claim to have the truth, but obviously some of these views cannot be true, because they contradict other intepretations which can be verified."
Like many biblical scholars, Beegle has concluded that the scriptural basis that pro-Zionist Christians often cite for the establishment of mod­ern Israel does not withstand close scrutiny. The issue, however, is not whether the scholarship of Beegle or that of the Moral Majority is the more sound, but the importance of open debate of such difficult issues. Here again, the experience of a published author is revealing. Because his book dealt with the controversial issue of modern Israel and its relations to biblical tradition, many publishers, even those who had handled pre­vious works by this scholar, declined to publish it. One of these told him bluntly: "Your early chapters on the biblical matters of prophecy and prediction are well done. The only chapter that seriously disturbs us is 'Modern Israel Past and Present.'" Beegle was informed that his views on Israel, which accept the legitimacy of the modern Jewish state—albeit not on biblical grounds—would be "bound to infuriate" many readers.
Yet the fact that a book or a point of view is controversial is not, at least in the United States, usually grounds for rejection. Dr. Beegle viewed Christians and Jews who disagree with him in this way: "We know that these people think alike and feel alike and are going to help
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each other. It's perfectly natural. All I'm saying is we ought to have just as much right on the other side to speak out openly and put the infor­mation out there."12 His book finally was published by Pryor Pettengill, a small firm in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Many Christians who are neither fundamentalist nor evangelical are also inclined to accept the supposed counsel of prophecy as justification for Israel's dominant role in the Middle East. One former American pres­ident appeals to be among their number. President Reagan, in his Octo­ber 1983 telephone conversation with AIPAC executive director Thomas A. Dine, turned a discussion of Lebanon's present-day problems into a discourse on biblical prophecy:
I turn back to your ancient prophets in the Old Testament and the signs foretelling Armageddon and I find myself wondering if . . . we're the gen­eration that's going to see that come about. I don't know if you've noted any of those prophecies lately but, believe me, they certainly describe the times we're going through.13
Reagan's views are not unprecedented, even in the Oval Office. His views reflect the wide credence given to biblical prophecy—and its use to justify Israel's existence. George W. Bush, despire his membership in the mainline Methodist Church, has identified himself as born-again.
A Puzzling Paradox
Recognizing Israel as the fulfillment of biblical prophecy implicates the Christian-—and, even more so, the Jew—in several paradoxes. First, con­servative millennialist Protestants have traditionally sought to convert Jews to Christianity, and relations between the two groups have often been less than cordial. Jews instinctively mistrusted Southern Baptist Jimmy Carter because, as Jewish author Roberta Strauss Feuerlicht writes, "In Jewish history, when fundamentalists came, Cossacks were not far behind."14
Ironically, the Christian groups most likely to accept a biblical basis for supporting Israel are also those most likely to feel the necessity of Jewish conversion to Christianity, an extremely sensitive issue to Israelis. Dan Rossing, director of the Department for Christian Communities in the Israeli Ministry of Religious Affairs, states the problem succinctly:
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the evangelical "theological scheme clearly implies that Jews have to become Christians—clearly not today, but some day."15
Many evangelical organizations carry on missionary activities in the Middle East, particularly in Israel, that are strongly opposed by many Israelis. The evangelists openly proselytize, seeing conversion of the Jews as another precursor of the times that the "recreation" of Israel in 1948 is said to foretell.
The International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem, an organization that works to foster support for Israel in twenty nations, is one of a num­ber of evangelical organizations that have come under fire recently for missionary activity inside Israel. The "embassy" was opened in Jerusalem in October 1980 as a gesture of "international Christian support" for the controversial transfer of the Israeli capital to that city from Tel Aviv.16
Despite expressing political support for the state of Israel, the Inter­national Christian Embassy devoted some of its efforts to the conversion of Jews to Christianity, an act that made the organization controversial in the eyes of many Israelis. In Israel, Orthodox Jews have been active in pressing for legislation banning foreign missionaries and in organiz­ing opposition against them.17 Despite the monetary support and good­will brought to Israel by these organizations, they are widely regarded as Trojan horses. There have even been physical attacks on their members.
The dilemma faced by the Israeli government in dealing with Chris­tian groups such as the International Christian Embassy is essentially the same as that faced by American Jewish groups in forming their rela­tions with conservative Christian groups in the United States.18 While spokesmen within Israel, such as Rabbi Moshe Berliner, decry the inher­ent threat to Judaism posed by proselytizing fundamentalists—"Are we so gullible as to take any hand extended to us in friendship?"—the Israeli government under both Begin and Shamir offered an emphatic reply: "Israel will not turn aside a hand stretched out in support of Israel's just cause."19
In November 1980 Jerry Falwell was awarded a medal in recogni­tion of his steadfast support of Israel. The award came at a New York dinner marking the hundredth anniversary of the birth of Zionist leader Vladimir Jabotinsky and was made at the behest of Prime Minister Begin. Opposirion to the presentation was intense.20 Henry Siegman, executive director of the American Jewish Congress objected to "the way
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[Falwell] conducts his activities and the manner in which he uses reli­gion." In Israel, the Jerusalem Post quoted Alexander M. Schindler, for­mer chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, as saying that it was "madness and suicide if Jews honor for their support of Israel right-wing evangelists who constitute a dan­ger to the Jews of the United States."21
What Schindler meant was illustrated by a remark that Falwell had made at a Sunday service in his own Liberty Baptist Church in Lynch­burg, Virginia. He declared that God did not "hear Jewish prayers." He later expressed regret over this remark, but for many Jews, it con­firmed their suspicion that Falwell was more interested in their con­version than in the security of Israel. His protestation that "the Jewish people in America and Israel and all over the world have no dearer friend than Jerry Falwell" has not made Jewish leaders forget his fun­damentalist religious bias against Judaism, yet they openly continue to cultivate the support of American evangelicals in backing Israel. The paradox is striking.
New View from Mainline Churches
The pro-Israel alliance between American Jews and conservative Protes­tants emerged at a time of friction between the Jewish community and the mainstream American Christian community. That friction increased with the widespread objection among Christians to the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1978.
In September 1981 United Methodist Bishop James Armstrong issued a letter to Indiana United Methodist ministers in which he sharply criticized the "Falwell gospel" and the "Moral Majority mentality." He pointedly observed that:
Israel was seen as God's "chosen people" in a servant sense. Israel was not given license to exploit other people. God plays no favorites.22
Christian concern over events in the Middle East, particularly the suffering of Palestinian refugees, has been a source of tension between Jewish and Christian groups for some time. Although traditional efforts toward ecumenical cooperation between American Judaism and the mainline churches continue—as is reflected in the establishment by the
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American Jewish Congress of the Institute for Jewish-Christian Rela­tions—larger denominations have, since the early 1980s, begun to view the Middle East in a new light.23
The mainline churches focus more and more on the need to respect the human rights of the Palestinian refugees, as reflected in a series of church policy statements that show more sympathy for the plight of these refugees than many Jewish groups find acceptable.24 The United States Catholic Conference, United Presbyterian Church, United Methodist Church, American Baptist Churches, United Church of Christ, and others have called for mutual recognition of the Israeli and Palestinian right to self-determination, Palestinian participation in peace negotiations, and Israel's withdrawal from lands occupied in the 1967 war. Several of the churches have identified the PLO as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.25
As the Reverend Charles Angell, S.A., associate director of Graymoor Ecumenical Institute, observed, for the American churches to commit themselves to such an "evident clash between their position and that of the state of Israel abroad and the majority of the American Jewish organiza­tions at home" represents a break with the past. He feels that the "funda­mental shift" occurred after the 1973 war, when Christians responded sympathetically to appeals from the Arab side for a peaceful settlement.
Members of the Jewish community have largely received the state­ments of the mainline churches as threats to their religious rights. Despite more than forty official statements by Protestant and Catholic organi­zations in the past two decades condemning anti-Semitism as unchris­tian, Christian officials who assert the right of all peoples—not just Israelis—to territorial security and a decent standard of living are accused by the Israeli lobby of anti-Semitism.26
Christian churches have been accused of "self-delusion" in opposing both anti-Semitism and, at the same time, Israeli government policies that restrict or violate the human rights of Palestinian refugees.27 Even confirmed humanitarian and pacifist groups such as the Quakers have been branded anti-Semitic for urging greater restraint and mutual under­standing upon all of the contending parties of the Middle East. Journalist Ernest Volkmann even sought to pin the anti-Semite label on the Rev­erend William Howard, president of the National Council of Churches (NCC), for his criticism of the June 1981 Israeli air strike against the Osirak nuclear reactor in Iraq.28
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The paradox thus becomes compounded: mainline Christians who accept the legitimacy of the Jewish faith but question some policies of the Jewish state are branded anti-Semitic, while evangelical Christians who back Israel but doubt the theological validity of Judaism are welcome as allies. The experience of the NCC is instructive. An NCC insider describes the relationship between the council and the American Jewish community as "the longest case record of Jewish influence, even more than in government." For many years, no one in the Jewish community had serious complaints about the council. Whenever disagreement arose, the Jewish leadership demanded—and usually received—prompt action. As a former NCC official described it, Jewish leaders would come "en masse with the heads of departments of about half a dozen different Jewish agencies and then really lay it out. They felt that they had a spe­cial right to get direct input to the council leadership."
The Committee on Christian—Jewish Relations, long a part of the council hierarchy, gave special attention to fostering cooperation and understanding between Christians and Jews in the United States. In addition, Inter-Faith, a division of the NCC devoted to humanitarian programs, was, despite its ecumenical title, for several years composed solely of Jewish and Christian groups.
The Committee on Christian-Jewish Relations has traditionally been known to share whatever information or new council materials it con­sidered important with the American Jewish Committee. This practice was troubling to some council officials, as the committee is not a religious body; although it maintains a religious affairs department, it is mainly a lobbying organization. Jewish organizations of a primarily religious nature, such as the Synagogue Council of America, are not so closely involved in the workings of the council. But because top-level adminis­trators at the NCC are understandably sensitive about the charge of being anti-Israel or insensitive to Jewish concerns in any council actions or publications, the oversight of NCC activities and literature by the American Jewish Committee has been accepted as standard procedure— up to the point of accepting long cririques of proposed materials
A representative of one of the largest Protestant denominations observed that the American Jewish Committee had "much more effect" on the content of NCC study materials than his office, even though his denomination accounted for the purchase and distribution of three-quarters of these publications.
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After several years of mounting Jewish criticism—during which the council had debated, but failed to adopt, a number of resolutions on the suffering of Palestinian refugees—the NCC decided in December 1979 to issue a Middle East policy statement. As Allan Solomonow, a frequent commentator on religion, put it, "... because of sttong Jewish criticism it became apparent that the NCC, which up to that point did not have a clear stand on the Middle East, had to have one." Solomonow also said, "[The consensus was that] the only way to limit criticism was to say exactly what you feel about these issues." But the Middle East policy statement that ultimately appeared was nevertheless unacceptable to many American Jewish groups.
Declaring that "the role of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. is to seek with others peace, justice, and reconcili­ation throughout the Middle East," the controversial final section of the statement included a call for control of arms transfers to the Middle East and an appeal for "reciprocal recognition of the right of self-determina­tion" by the government of Israel and the PLO.
The Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, which had not pre­sented its views in open forum, quickly denounced the statement as "a naive misreading of the contending forces and issues in the Arab—Israeli conflict which can have mischievous consequences."
Pro-Israel writers and commentators seized upon the policy state­ment as an example of growing anti-Semitism within the NCC—despite the clear emphasis of the text on secure peace for all peoples and denun­ciation of violent acts on every side. Journalist Ernest Volkmann, in his book A Legacy of Hate: Anti-Semitism in America, somehow managed to cite the policy statement as the prime example of "an indifference to American Jews that has occasionally strayed into outright anti-Semitism." The Campaign to Discredit Israel, the "enemies list" assembled by AIPAC, goes to the length of claiming that "some segments of the National Coun­cil of Churches" are tools of a "systematic effort" to attack Israel's image in the United States. A high-ranking NCC official at the time summed up the matter this way: "For years, no one in the Jewish community had any serious complaints about the National Council; and then, when they started to have political decisions that ran afoul of conventional pro-Israeli opinion, all of a sudden it became anti-Semitic and suspect."
Critics do not like to note, however, that the policy statement rec­ognized rhe right of Israel to exist as a "sovereign Jewish state" rather than
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as a "sovereign state," as some on the panel preferred. Butler identified this as "one of the most hotly debated phrases in the policy statement," because some members of the drafting committee refused to vote for the completed document unless it specified the Jewish identity of Israel. The document also explicitly reaffirmed the long and continuing close relationship between the Jewish community and the National Council of Churches.
In April 2002 a delegation of the council, whose general secretary was former Representative Robert Edgar (D-PA), toured the Middle East. Upon its return it issued a statement urging an end to Israel's occu­pation of the West Bank and Gaza, the establishment of a viable Pales­tinian state, and "the sharing of Jerusalem by the two peoples and three faiths."29
God's Empire Striking Back?
As interest in the Middle East and humanitarian concern for the Pales­tinian refugees becomes more widespread among Americans of all reli­gious persuasions, many Jewish groups and their pro-Israel allies are more adamant in rejecting open discussion as a means to broader public under­standing. Under such pressures, even activist religious groups that are involved in campaigning for social justice and world peace often grow timid when the Middle East becomes a topic of discussion.
In October 1983 the Sacramento Religious Community for Peace (SRCP), a group that works to foster ecumenical cooperation in support of peace and social issues, organized a major symposium, titled "Faith, War, and Peace in the Nuclear Age," at the Sacramento Convention Cen­ter. A large number of religious organizations, including the Sacramento Jewish Relations Council, cosponsored the symposium under the aus­pices of the SRCP. In early September, as publicity for the symposium was being arranged, the Sacramento Peace Center (SPC), another well-established local activist group, asked that a flier publicizing its memo­rial service for victims of the refugee camp massacres in Lebanon be included in the SRCP mailings for the symposium. Since it is routine for peace organizations in the area to cooperate in this way, Peggy Briggs, codirector of the SPC, was shocked to be informed that the flier would not be included in the promotional mailing.30
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The SRCP told Briggs that the Sacramento Jewish Community Rela­tions Council—the strongest local Jewish group and a major participant in SRCP activities—had made it known that if the flier appeared in the mailing, Jewish participation in the symposium would be withdrawn. This would have meant not only diminished support from the large local Jewish community, but also the loss of a rabbi who was scheduled as one of the keynote speakers.
Helen Feely, codirector of the SRCP, further informed the SPC that no literature prepared by the SPC Middle East task force could be dis­played during the proceedings. In discussing the matter later, Feely was emphatic: "The Middle East task force has absolutely inflamed the Jew­ish community here, because they do not uphold the fight of Israel to exist. That material is just inflammatory."31
Greg Degiere, head of the SPC Middle East task force, protested that his group did recognize Israel's right to exist.32 He pointed out that the SPC called for an end to war in the Middle East, respect for the human rights of all persons in the region, and mutual recognition between Israel and the PLO. The prohibition on discussion of the Mid­dle East, along with the restriction on the center's right to distribute information, was accepted, however, as the cost of Jewish participation in the symposium. Lester Frazen, the rabbi who served as a keynote speaker and thus helped provoke the issue, had unusual credentials for a showdown over free speech. He had boldly asserted his own First Amendment right at the outset of the 1982 Israeli march into Lebanon. He was among the leaders of a Sacramento march, which consisted mainly of fundamentalist Christians, who expressed their joyous sup­port for the invasion with a banner proclaiming: "God's empire is strik­ing back!" Yet Frazen and his backers denied the Sacramento Peace Center the right to memorialize the victims of that invasion or to call for a negotiated end to killing on both sides.
In light of this background, it is not surprising that, although the official title of the gathering was "Faith, War, and Peace in the Nuclear Age," the agenda failed to address conflicts in the Middle East, the region many observers believed to be the most likely center of nuclear con­frontation. As Joseph Gerson, peace secretary for the American Friends Service Committee in New England observed, "The Middle East has been the most consistently dangerous nuclear trigger. Presidents Truman,
5 They Dare to Speak Out
Eisenhower, Johnson, and Nixon all threatened to use nuclear weapons there. . . ."33
The Uproar over Palm Sunday

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