June 18, 2010
Presbyterian Prophets and Israel
Is Helen Thomas a Presbyterian?
One could be forgiven for wondering this after reading “Breaking Down the Walls,” a lengthy report on the Israeli/Palestinian dispute by the Presbyterian Church’s Middle East Study Committee that will be presented for a sustaining vote next month at the church’s General Assembly in Minneapolis. I had hoped that a committee dedicated to studying current events in the Middle East would survey the political/human rights situation throughout the region, but it chose to focus exclusively on Israel. For any Mormon who doubts the wisdom of her church’s policy of political neutrality, it is a must read.
I had high hopes for the report, whose authors claim to be “entrusted as ‘ambassadors of Christ’” with a voice “which is priestly, prophetic, and pastoral.” Their mission is a lofty one: “[W]e are compelled to speak pastorally to ourselves as a denomination and our partners in the region, and prophetically to other powers engaged in this ongoing conflict. We do believe that the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) will once again speak with a clear, priestly, prophetic, and pastoral voice.” Furthermore, this prophetic voice would bring “present realities together in a way that gives honor and glory to Christ.” Mormons love prophets, and I couldn’t wait to read what modern-day Presbyterian prophets have to say about a region that is dear to my heart. The report is problematic on many levels, but its fatal flaw is its authors’ failure to remember an important truth that is boldly stated in their own report: “Prophets and pastors are called first and foremost to truth telling.”
Sadly, there is no truth telling in the following statement: “We still see the [Israeli] occupation as the major obstacle to regional stability.” There are two major wars currently underway in the Middle East. Was America’s invasion of Iraq or Afghanistan caused by Israel’s occupation? The bloodiest conflict in the region’s modern history was the Sudanese Civil War, featuring the mutual slaughter of Muslims and Christians followed by Muslim-on-Muslim atrocities in Darfur. What exactly did Israelis have to do with these fratricidal wars? The second-worst slaughter in the modern Middle East was the Armenian Genocide, which occurred decades before the establishment of Israel. Are Jews in the West Bank responsible for the enmity between Turks and Armenians, or Turks and Kurds for that matter? Number three on our list is the Iran-Iraq War. Does anyone believe that Jewish settlers in Hebron caused the centuries-old Shiite/Sunni or Persian/Arab divides? Ditto for the Algerian Civil War, the Lebanese Civil War, the Yemeni Civil War (which may soon reignite), etc. Anyone who seriously believes that Shiites, Sunnis, Turks, Kurds, Druze, Maronite Christians, Alawites, Persians, Arabs, Copts, and Berbers would be living in greater harmony if only there were no Jews in Judea is obviously bereft of both the spirit of prophecy and common sense. I wish that the governments of the region truly cared more about the Palestinians, but their actions show that they don’t. In addition, Israeli withdrawals from Lebanon and the Gaza Strip have emboldened Hizbollah and Hamas, making the region more, not less, unstable. There may be good reasons for Israel to withdraw from the West Bank, but enhancing regional stability certainly isn’t one of them.
The biased report goes on to make an obscene analogy that has no place in a prophetic paper that purports to give honor and glory to Christ. The “psycho-traumas” of the Holocaust and the “Nakba” (“catastrophe,” referring to the establishment of Israel) are listed side-by-side, though the report dutifully says they “cannot be compared, nor should they be allowed to compete with one another.” I’ll say. In Europe, six million innocent Jewish citizens of various countries were gassed, burned, tortured, killed and raped by an anti-Semitic totalitarian state. They and their leaders did absolutely nothing to bring on this genocide, which was actively supported by Arab leaders like Amin al-Husseini, the Nazi Mufti of Jerusalem and leader of the Palestinian Arabs who befriended Hitler and would later be indicted for war crimes by Yugoslavia (he fled to Egypt to escape indictment at Nuremberg). His relative, Yasser Arafat al-Husseini, shared his Nazi mentality and would go on to lead the Palestinian movement for decades. The prophetic report inexplicably mentions in the same paragraph a competing trauma: “the forced displacement of 750,000 Palestinians in 1948 from their ancestral homeland by the Israel Haganah.” This is a moral outrage.
To begin with, it must be stated loudly and clearly that Palestinians are not a historical people like Armenians and Kurds. They have never had a country and do not have an “ancestral homeland.” Any mention of “Palestinian” before the establishment of Israel in 1948 referred to a Jew, not an Arab. Arabs were simply called Arabs. Indeed, birth certificates issued by the Ottoman and British Mandate authorities for Jews listed their nationality as either “Jewish” or “Palestinian.” Arab babies were Arabs, not “Palestinians.” Only two censuses were taken in Palestine by the British government, in 1922 and 1931. Assuming that the Muslim and Christian inhabitants of the area were Arabs, there were 659,000 Arabs in Palestine in 1922 and 851,000 in 1931, just 9 years later. Natural growth of a population that size cannot account for an increase of 192,000 Arabs in 9 years. When Israel was created 17 years after the last census, it’s safe to say that the Arab population of Palestine included hundreds of thousands of people whose families had lived in the area for many decades (even centuries) as well as hundreds of thousands of recent arrivals. While contemporary Palestinian Arabs have every right to refer to themselves as “Palestinians” and to demand a state of their own, they can’t invent a narrative by claiming to be a historical people.
Though it is led by a prophet, the LDS Church remains neutral in political conflicts, choosing instead to focus on the spiritual development of its members in 176 countries. It is a fast-growing church of nearly 14 million members, 6 million of whom live in the United States. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), on the other hand, professes to be guided by the spirit of prophecy as it declares “truths” about political disputes in the Middle East to the world. It should come as no surprise that the church has lost 500,000 members in the last decade, leaving only 2 million Presbyterians in the U.S. I fervently hope that this misleading report will be rejected by the General Assembly in a few weeks and that its authors will find more productive uses for their time. One suggestion might be to study carefully the words of actual prophets in the Bible. Once you see what real prophets have written, it becomes easier to spot impostors.
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