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:


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:]

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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DR. LAURENCE H. KANT (LARRY KANT), MYSTIC SCHOLAR: Engaged Mysticism and Scholarship in the Pursuit of Wisdom; Discovering meaning in every issue and facet of life; Integrating scholarship, spirituality, mysticism, poetry, community, economics, and politics seamlessly. Historian of Religion: Ph.D., Yale University, 1993 (Department of Religious Studies); Exchange Scholar, Harvard University, Rabbinics, 1983-84; M.A., 1982, Yale, 1982 (Department of Religious Studies); M.T.S., Harvard Divinity School, 1981; B.A., Classics (Greek and Latin), Tufts University, 1978; Wayland High School (Wayland, MA), 1974. Served on the faculty of Cornell University (Ithaca, NY), York University (Toronto), and Lexington Theological Seminary (Lexington, KY). Works in many languages: Ancient Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Aramaic, Syriac, English, French, Italian, German, Modern Greek (some Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish). Holder of numerous honors and awards, including The Rome Prize in Classics (Prix de Rome) and Fellow of the American Academy of Rome.

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