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Thoughts on Careless or Irresponsible Use of the Term “Anti-Semite” – Updated

11:33 am in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

Michael Walzer, political philosopher

Three recent events have brought an onslaught of hurling the term “anti-Semite” toward a number of people who certainly do not warrant such an epithet:

1)  The October 5th, 2012 letter by fifteen leading Christian clerics to the U.S. Senate, requesting the latter body investigate the legality of U.S. military aid to Israel.

2)  Objections from an array of people in U.S. public life to the mid-November 2012 bombardment of the Gaza concentration camp by Israeli forces.

3) The possible nomination by president Obama of former GOP U.S. Senator Chuck Hagel to be the next Secretary of Defense.

The last of these three instances has evoked an almost shocking level of vitriol directed toward a public figure who has been what most regard as a voice of sanity in the midst of crazed rhetoric toward Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas or the Palestinian people themselves, by uber Zionists.  Perhaps the best known example of this malevolence was in an article by Daniel Halper in the Weekly Standard on December 13th (emphases added):

In response to reports that Barack Obama is likely to choose Chuck Hagel to be the next secretary of defense, a top Republican Senate aide emails, “Send us Hagel and we will make sure every American knows he is an anti-Semite.

When asked to elaborate, the aide writes, “Hagel has made clear he believes in the existence of a nefarious Jewish lobby that secretly controls U.S. foreign policy. This is the worst kind of anti-Semitism there is.”

I wrote about this at Firedoglake on December 15th, in a somewhat humorous piece, but the anonymous quote cited by Halper is just one of many hits against Hagel that went beyond careless or irresponsible, and into libel territory.  The list of his detractors is long, and getting longer by the hour.  Yet the list of his supporters seems to be lengthening even more rapidly.

Beyond my concern for the sliming of Hagel by use of the anti-Semite libel is a tangential concern that came to my attention from an exchange in the on-line journal Dissent Magazine, between University of California sociologist James B. Rule and Princeton University political philosopher Michael Walzer.  The Dissent article is behind a paywall, but the blog Mondoweiss carried a synopsis of it on December 17th that revealed claims of anti-Semitism by Walzer toward the July 6th vote at the Presbyterian General Assembly, to boycott products from illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank.  Walzer’s protest shows careless and irresponsible accusations toward an entire Christian denomination, which, in my mind, is an egregious fault for such a noted academic and scholar (emphasis added):

Now, I have been reading recently about the effort, narrowly defeated, to get American Presbyterians to divest from companies doing business in Israel. The debate about divestment was fierce…. I couldn’t find a single item describing Presbyterian engagement with any other contemporary state or society. I Googled “Presbyterians and China,” looking for some protest against the settlement of Han Chinese in Tibet, a project on a far larger scale and much more effective than anything the Israeli Right has been able to do on the West Bank. I could not find a single item. Not a word. Jim Rule probably doesn’t find this “jarring.” But I do; I was uncomfortable reading the Presbyterian debates, while I am, most of the time, at ease in a synagogue.

Philip Weiss, who published the Mondoweiss synopsis editorialized on Walzer’s statement:

So he is saying that the Presbyterians went after Israel because they don’t like Jews, and that scares him.

The utter carelessness of Walzer’s claim was easily revealed by commenters at the post.  Here is part of a comment by Hostage: Read the rest of this entry →

Abe Foxman Threatens to End Jewish-Christian Interfaith Dialogue Over Investigation Request

3:19 pm in Uncategorized by EdwardTeller

Christian-Israel flag pin

Back on October 5th, the leaders of several American Christian churches sent a joint letter to Congress [PDF]:

We urge an immediate investigation into possible violations by Israel of the U.S. Foreign Assistance Act and the U.S. Arms Export Control Act which respectively prohibit assistance to any country which engages in a consistent pattern of human rights violations and limit the use of U.S. weapons to “internal security” or “legitimate self-defense.”

More broadly, we urge Congress to undertake careful scrutiny to ensure that our aid is not supporting actions by the government of Israel that undermine prospects for peace. We urge Congress to hold hearings to examine Israel’s compliance, and we request regular reporting on compliance and the withholding of military aid for non-compliance.

Here’s the list of signatories:

Rev. Gradye Parsons Stated Clerk of the General Assembly Presbyterian Church (USA)

Mark S. Hanson Presiding Bishop Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Bishop Rosemarie Wenner President, Council of Bishops United Methodist Church

Peg Birk Transitional General Secretary National Council of Churches USA

Shan Cretin General Secretary American Friends Service Committee

J Ron Byler Executive Director Mennonite Central Committee U.S.

Alexander Patico North American Secretary Orthodox Peace Fellowship

Diane Randall Executive Secretary Friends Committee on National Legislation

Dr. A. Roy Medley General Secretary American Baptist Churches, U.S.A.

Rev. Geoffrey A. Black General Minister and President United Church of Christ

Rev. Dr. Sharon E. Watkins General Minister and President Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Rev. Julia Brown Karimu President, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Division of Overseas Ministries Co-Executive, Global Ministries (UCC and Disciples)

Rev. Dr. James A. Moos Executive Minister, United Church of Christ, Wider Church Ministries Co-Executive, Global Ministries (UCC and Disciples)

Kathy McKneely Acting Director Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns

Eli S. McCarthy, PhD Justice and Peace Director Conference of Major Superiors of Men (CMSM)

Some of these religious leaders issued supplementary statements from the offices of their own faith.  The United Church of Christ, representing over a million peopleissued a statement:

The UCC has sought to constrain the militarization of the Middle Area after the passage of a 2005 General Synod resolution, said Dr. Peter Makari, area executive to the Middle East and Europe for Global Ministries.

“The UCC has been consistent in its condemnation of violence, regardless of its source,” Makari said.

The UCC joins its ecumenical partners “in expressing the concern that U.S. assistance to Israel has been and remains unconditional, is in violation of U.S. law on foreign assistance, and contributes toward the continuation of a military occupation of Palestinian lands, which is antithetical to efforts to promote peace between the Palestinians and Israelis,” Makari said.

The churches and religious organizations, committed to seeking a just peace between Palestinians and Israelis, also point to what they write is a “troubling and consistent pattern of disregard by the government of Israel for U.S. policies that support a just and lasting peace. Specifically, repeated demands by the U.S. government that Israel halt all settlement activity have been ignored.”

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, representing over 3.4 million parishioners, issued a long statement regarding the letter to congress, quoting the head of the church,the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop:

“When as Lutherans we say that all the baptized will strive for justice and peace in all the earth, it means that we will be immersed in complex issues. While we do not all agree on the best way to establish justice and bring peace, we will be involved in lively, respectful, passionate conversations,” said Hanson.

“From Palestinian Lutherans, I hear discouragement about the lack of progress and questions about where the voice is of American Christians,” said Hanson. “Our letter seeks to be a partial answer to such questions, that we are clear in our resolve to continue to work for a just and lasting solution for Israelis and Palestinians.”

Together, the signatory churches represent more people than live in Israel of all faiths.  Yet there were almost no news articles about the letter in the American press, outside of some Jewish community news outlets and sites, when the investigation request was sent and announced.  There were a number of them in the Israeli press.

Late this past week, though, the story gained more notice, when Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League protested the letter, and then announced he is pulling out of an upcoming National Council of Churches meeting:

The Anti-Defamation League said Thursday (Oct. 11) it has withdrawn from an Oct. 22 U.S. Jewish-Christian interfaith meeting to protest a letter from some Protestant participants that urged Congress to rethink U.S. funding to Israel.

ADL National Director Abraham Foxman said the signatories’ actions — without first informing Jewish groups — have “seriously damaged the foundation for mutual respect” necessary for interfaith dialogue.

Daniel S. Mariaschin, executive vice president of B’nai B’rith International, called the letter “a thinly veiled attempt to try to harm Israel, and U.S.-Israel relations.” The Reform movement’s Washington-based Religious Action Center said the letter “mischaracterizes” the situation in Israel and the Palestinian territories, “wrongly holds only Israel accountable” for regional problems “and does not advance the regional and security interests of the U.S.”

Interestingly, J Street, the lobbying group formed in April, 2008, as a liberal alternative to AIPAC (I hosted J Street founder Jeremy Ben-Ami here at firedoglake in 2011, for a book salon on his work, A New Voice for Israel), has condemned the Christians’ letter:

It was inevitable. Constantly under pressure from the Jewish center-right (Reform rabbis, for instance), J Street has thrown in the towel. Read its document of surrender. 

In response to the letter from Christian denominations urging that aid to Israel be compliant with U.S. law, J Street has joined Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation league and the half-million a year hacks that run the other Jewish organizations to blast the Christians. (See Foxman letter).

J Street agrees with them that aid to Israel is an entitlement. It must never be questioned unless you also add ” criticism of Israel’s behavior with appropriate criticism of, for instance, rocket fire from Gaza into Israeli civilian areas.” You must also  ”put the present situation into a historical or political context that might provide a fuller appreciation for the complexity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict over many decades.”

Each new month brings another Christian group to question what its relationship should be with the increasingly hostile, increasingly racist and overtly apartheid state of Israel.  And increasingly, Jewish groups in America are being asked to be openly critical of  these moves, whether it be this one, or votes to consider divesting from businesses in Israel, or with firms which enable the occupation and colonization of the West Bank.

Rather than inquire as to why these spiritually-founded religious bodies feel impelled to sanction Israel, many Jewish organizations, commentators and public figures are likening these moves to anti-Semitism, which it most certainly is not.  These Jewish protesters seem to fail to understand that these labels, thrown around like they are in such cases, not only will not stick or sting, they will further alienate Christians who are already committed to courses of action they have tied to the doctrines of their beliefs.

Marc Ellis observed the following, while covering the debate during the Presbyterian assembly vote on divestment, last summer:

When it became clear that Israel as a state wasn’t interested in justice for Palestinians and that Jewish leadership in America was only interested in silencing Christian misgivings about Israeli occupation policies, it was only a matter of time before the Jewish-Christian love fest came to an end.

Among the liberal Christian denominations, Christian support for Israel is on life support. The back-up oxygen tanks, already in use, are running empty. There isn’t any way of resurrecting the interfaith ecumenical deal. The “Christians are evil/Jews are innocent” genie is out of the bottle, never to return.

Indeed, it is out of the bottle.  Here is a comment to an article on Foxman’s announcement in Arutz Sheva:

If you really respected the other guy’s faith, you’d be practicing it. Just as is said about gays, you can hate the sin and love the person, there is nothing to love about religions that have persecuted and murdered millions of Jews for the past 2,000 years.

The bottom line is that Christian-Jewish ecumenical relations have entered a new phase over the past two years.  I expect these actions protesting Israeli and American policies will grow more acute, rather than less.