Should Reference to “Antisemitism” Stop Discussions on the Middle East?

This is a substantial excerpt from an email of mine to a friend who was disturbed when I called much of the anti-Israel discourse antisemitic:

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I don’t think that a description of anti-Semitism or racism should stop a discussion.  In fact, that’s when the discussion should really begin.  If we don’t acknowledge the racism that is endemic in our society, how can we have a meaningful discussion among African-Americans and whites?  If whites admitted their own prejudices and the discriminatory features of much of our culture, then we could all really get down to business.  Focusing on peripheral issues and proxy arguments, rather than the substantive matters (the hard stuff),  allows tension to fester and exacerbates the problem.  I’ve seen this in dialogue groups since I’ve been working in this profession:  they’re often feel-good sessions rather than meaningful exchanges.  We never really seem to get around to what matters because we’re so busy avoiding painful words, topics, and emotions.  I hope that we have reached a level of maturity where can be forthright and straightforward with one another without degenerating into name-calling and shouting.

As to anti-Semitism itself, we do need to call something for what it is.  In this case, the arguments detailed in the denominational resolutions simply make no logical sense and are purely emotional appeals to sympathy for a favorite victim.  Upon analysis, and with the added benefit of evidence and accurate information, the arguments of resolution supporters do not cohere or withstand minimal scrutiny.  I tried to explain this fact in my letter.  From this I can only reasonably infer that anti-Semitism is a major factor.  How else does one explain the silence of church leaders regarding the atrocities committed by totalitarian governments in the Arab and Muslim world of the Middle East?  How else can one explain resolutions that advocate divestment from Israel, but let all repressive regimes of the Arab Middle East completely off the hook?  How else can one explain the sympathy for suicide bombers, and the concomitant lack of concern for Israeli victims of terrorism?  In what other way can we interpret resolutions that focus on the ugliness of the security barrier (an aesthetic issue), when human lives (including spouses, parents, and grandparents) are at stake, than to infer that Jews do not have the right to defend themselves?   How is it that very few in the church leadership acknowledge that Israel acquired Gaza and the West Bank because Arabs tried to conquer Israel, destroy the country, and kill as many Jews as possible (“drive them into the sea,” as Gamal Abdul-Nasser and Yasser Arafat so succinctly put it)? How can it be that no resolution demands that the PLO (not to mention Hamas) remove references in its official charter that condemn Zionism and call for the annihilation of the state of Israel and the removal of any Jews who settled in Israel in the nineteenth century and afterwards?   How is it that, given the complicity of many European Christians in the holocaust, their churches have not given more attention to the precipitous rise of vandalism and violence against Jews in North America, and especially in Europe?

Lives are at stake, and most church leaders do not seem to notice (or care) that many of these lives are Jewish.  Now I hear some say that the war in Iraq is a pro-Israel, Jewish war.  This is ugly and dangerous stuff and has serious consequences for real living people.

Hatred of Jews is especially deep in the Arab and Muslim world.  If you want to know how large numbers of Arabs view Jews, take a look at these attachments, especially the video clips from an Egyptian state television soap opera (2002) that depict the Protocols of Zion (the notorious, forged anti-Semitic document) and even the more ancient blood libels against Jews–these clips are among the most chilling and disgusting I’ve ever seen.  And this is not fringe, but mainstream Arab and Muslim opinion in the Middle East.  If you don’t have the stomach for it, I understand, but this is the ugly truth [See my post from August 9, 2005, for some of these documents: http://mysticscholar.org/2005/08/09/antisemitism-in-the-middle-east/]

There are many congregants at the local level who don’t agree with their leaders . . .  I’m sure that this is true of churches and seminaries in other communities.  This is the level at which we must now work, because only with personal contacts can people recognize the humanity of those who are different.  Jewish-Christian dialogue at the upper level of organizations has run its course.  We now must find a meeting point at a more personal level like ours.

Let’s keep this discussion going.  This is very important.

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1948 in Modern Imagination: Anti-Zionism and Antisemitism

I wrote the following email in response to a friend who sent me an article (by Alain Epp Weaver) arguing that much of Christian critique of Israel is not antisemitic: http://divinity.uchicago.edu/martycenter/publications/sightings/archive_2005/0818.shtml

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This is interesting.  The events of 1948, however, are far more complex than the author indicates.  Arab nations not only rejected Israel’s statehood, but also rejected the U.N. partition plan that would have offered Palestinian Arabs almost half of what is now Israel.  Arabs preferred to destroy Israel and kill all Jews, even though Jews had lived in then Palestine for two millennia.  In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, there were many areas with Jewish majorities. In 1948, Arab nations encouraged Arabs in Palestine to leave their homes so that they could create a crisis that would lead to the destruction of Israel.  The Israeli military was implicated in some expulsions, but Arabs nations took an even greater interest in seeing the Arab residents of Palestine expelled.  In general, Arabs simply did not like Jews and wanted them out.  The Mufti of Jerusalem had even sided with Hitler and the Nazis.  If the Germans had ever taken charge of the Middle East, you can imagine what Arabs would have done to resident Jews.  The bottom line:  in 1948 Israeli Jews wanted to make accommodation with their Arab neighbors, but the Arabs despised Jews and (later in the words of  Gamal Abdul-Nasser and Yasser Arafat) preferred to drive them into the sea.

If you want to know how large numbers of Arabs view Jews, take a look at these attachments, especially the video clips from an Egyptian state television soap opera (2002) that depict the Protocols of Zion (the notorious, forged anti-Semitic document) and even the more ancient blood libels against Jews–these clips are among the most chilling and disgusting I’ve ever seen.  And this is not fringe, but mainstream Arab and Muslim opinion in the Middle East.  See my August 9 post in this blog on these documents: http://mysticscholar.org/2005/08/09/antisemitism-in-the-middle-east/

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Antisemitism and Anti-Israel Mainline Christian Resolutions

I wrote the email below in response to a Jewish leader.

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I certainly do not have all the answers to this.  But I still believe that we cannot underestimate historical prejudices against Jews, both inside and outside of Christianity.  Anti-Semitism may not be the best term, but it’s the only one we have that has any real meaning to people (anti-Judaism is a soft term that renders hate academic and gets people off the hook).  Anti-Semitism is embedded in Christian consciousness and does not disappear just because we all get together in dialogue groups and feel good about our broad-mindedness.  Nor do scholarly discussions of the Jewishness of early Christianity substantially change the way large numbers of ordinary people still think and live.  And the problem exists just as much among evangelicals and fundamentalists.  Their agenda happens for a moment to align with the mainstream Jewish agenda.  That can change in the blink of an eye, however.  Considering the Jewishness of Jesus (and even Paul), this fact still amazes me, but it is what it is.

William Nicholls has written an excellent book on this subject (with a discussion of left-wing anti-Semitism as well) and offers some possible intellectual solutions:  Christian Antisemitism:  A History of Hate (Northvale, NJ:  Jason Aronson, 1995).  I highly recommend it to you (especially chapters 10-13).  In the meantime, we have to develop relationships with Christians (especially key leaders) in mainline denominations that are based on human connections and intimate friendships where we interact with one another in day-to-day life (not just in professional meetings or dialogue groups).  This is the key.  I believe that a divestment resolution was not proposed at the General Assembly in part because of the relationships I have with certain Disciples, my willingness to take time out to work with them behind the scenes, and their consequent willingness to put themselves on the line by standing up against some of their friends (as well as long-term allies) and opposing the resolution against the barrier.  This required tremendous courage on their part that none of us should underestimate.  We need to acknowledge them and thank them (and others like them) profusely.  Each one of them is a mensch.  The supporters of the resolution knew they had a fight on their hands and made a tactical decision to postpone divestment until another day.  They also were surprised by the number of people voting against the resolution (about one-third).  Bonds among people often transcend prejudices and ideologies by establishing a mutual basis for trust.  There were other factors at the Disciples’ General Assembly, but this one was fundamental.

If Jewish leaders can establish closer ties to certain Christians, this will have a profound effect.  Such a process may involve going to a church service as a Jew or discussing a Christian topic or going to hear lectures on Christian theology.  These are necessary steps to effect mutual respect and healing.  When I teach or write on a Christian topic, the response is always more positive than I anticipate, and it changes the way Christians view my presentations and publications on Jewish subjects (including political ones).  At the same time, one always maintains one’s Jewish identity and does not back down when presented with anti-Semitic attitudes and beliefs.  Developing personal relationships allows for honest and frank conversation and exchange in a way that professional posturing does not.  The practical effect is the development of trust that can trump ideology. This may be difficult and uncomfortable, but it can work.  What we’re doing now does not. Admittedly, in Nazi-occupied Europe and (more recently) in the former Yugoslavia, friends and neighbors turned on one another in vicious ways.  So there are certainly no guarantees.  In that type of situation, the persecuted can only flee, resist, or hope to rely on the truly righteous (i.e. Righteous Gentiles).  I do not think that we now face such a predicament.  In the present circumstances, personal connections still offer us the best opportunities and the most hope.

Of course, we have to continue outlining the arguments (which I very much enjoy doing), but people tend to listen more attentively and openly when there is fundamental trust.  Obviously, the more of us engaged in building such relationships, the more effective we will be.  That’s my two cents, for what it’s worth.

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Prejudice Against Israel and Jews in the Media (BBC)

BBC video on on liberal anti-Israel prejudice:

Chapter 1:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tbznv15JQ5M; Chapter 2:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cd30pyNZMMc; Chapter 3:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ZGv0I4FSLg;  Chapter 4:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K10x-2TeiFk

By way of clarification, there is just as much prejudice on the right.  It just comes out in a different form, which sometimes looks like support for Israel, but in fact usually undermines Israel’s future and stability.

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Antisemitism in the Middle East

Here are some links to documents that deal with Arab/Palestinian/Iranian antisemitism:

1) An overall summary: http://www.memri.org/report/en/print2680.htm

2) Mickey Mouse and the Blood Libel

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDpZFmC54mg&playnext=1&list=PL25B74E23BA87C6D1&index=24

3) Knight Without a Horse:  Some Plot Summaries: KnightWithoutAHorse

4) Hamas Summer Camp:  http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2005/07/31/HAMAS.TMP

5) Protocols of Zion among Palestinians: http://www.palwatch.org/STORAGE/OpEd/Protocols_of_the_Elders.pdf

Links

KnightWithoutAHorse
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