|Methodist Manual Maligns Israel, Stereotypes Jews|
The Women’s Division of the General Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church, a denomination that is considering divesting from Caterpillar in protest of Israeli policies at its upcoming General Conference, has published a “Mission Study” by Rev. Stephen Goldstein, an ordained Methodist Minister who serves as Assistant General Secretary for the Mission Personnel Program Unit of the General Board of Global Ministries.
Rev. Goldstein portrays the Jewish people as too paranoid, and psychologically scarred to be trusted with self-determination. Accompanying this “Mission Study” is an equally distorted “Study Guide” prepared by Rev. Sandra Olewine which encourages people to embrace an anti-Israel narrative through a process of dialogue, meditation, and worship. (For length considerations, this analysis will limit itself to the text prepared by Rev. Goldstein.)
The main thesis of Rev. Goldstein’s blurry, inaccurate and one-sided hagiographic treatment of the Arab-Israeli conflict is that Israelis are too obsessed with the Holocaust to affirm the humanity of the Palestinians and too crippled by their history of suffering to take the risks needed to make peace. In his text, Rev. Goldstein, a Jewish convert to the United Methodist Church, portrays Israel as exhibiting the same characteristics of Jewish life and Judaism that he found repellent and dissatisfying as a youth while growing up in Fort Lee, New Jersey.
The Mission Study also systematically suppresses and omits any information that would undercut his unstintingly negative portrayal of Israel. In particular, he downplays the 60-year history of Arab violence against Israel, fails to credit Israeli efforts to negotiate an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict, downplays the violent aftermaths of the Camp David and Taba negotiations of 2000-2001 and the withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. He also ignores persistent expressions of hostility toward Jews and Israel in state-controlled mass media throughout the Middle East. All these failings serve to buttress Rev. Goldstein’s efforts to portray Israel’s use of force as a belated, psychotic and hysterical response to the Holocaust perpetrated by Nazi Germany in the 20th Century rather than a response to the attacks Israel currently faces and has faced since its founding in 1948.
Ultimately, Rev. Goldstein’s strategy is to offer a distorted narrative about the Arab-Israeli conflict replete with glaring omissions. He then encourages his readers to assess and evaluate Israel’s behavior using the incomplete and distorted narrative he offers. The goal of this text is not to promote a just assessment of the Arab-Israeli conflict, but to generate support for divestment at its upcoming General Assembly.
In Rev. Goldstein’s text, Israeli attitudes toward its neighbors are not a response to the repeated multi-army attacks against Israel during its 60-year history. Nor are Israel’s attitudes toward Palestinians a response to the spate of suicide attacks that took place during the Second Intifada. And they are not a consequence of the threats it currently faces from groups like Hamas and Hezbollah that engage in attacks on Israeli civilians and which have on numerous occasions called for Israel’s destruction.
In Rev. Goldstein’s treatment, Israel is responding to the destruction of European Jewry at the hands of the Nazis in the 1940s. The trauma over this event has damaged the Israelis to the point that they are unable to make peace with their Arab neighbors, Rev. Goldstein asserts. This thesis outlined on pages 100-103 of the mission study in which he writes:
On page 102, Rev. Goldstein writes, “Standing behind each Arab or Palestinian, Israelis tend to see SS men determined to push them once again into gas chambers or crematoria.” In his discussion of the Six Day War (discussed below), Rev. Goldstein portrays Israelis as suffering from a “psychosis” and as “hysterical.”
Ultimately, Rev. Goldstein portrays Israel as congenitally incapable of completing one of the most basic tasks required of any sovereign state – maintaining peaceful relations with its neighbors. He does not, however, fairly or accurately describe the obstacles Israel has faced in the pursuit of peace.
In Rev. Goldstein’s view, the failure to achieve an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict, is entirely a consequence of Jewish self-identity as expressed in Israel, and not the consequence of Arab behavior or attitudes toward Israel. While the Holocaust does play a significant role in Israeli and Jewish identity, to assert baldly that it “has been the single most significant factor in Israel’s unwillingness to trust their Arab neighbors or the Palestinians” is to ignore or downplay the more than 60-year history of violence against Jews and Israel in the Middle East.
Non-Jews and non-Israelis in the U.S. are also afflicted with Holocaust consciousness, Rev. Goldstein asserts. On page 102 he writes:
On this score, Rev. Goldstein is wrong, and egregiously so. Nearly every mainline or progressive Protestant church in the U.S. has condemned Israeli policies in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, while remaining virtually silent about Arab and Muslim culpability for the continued existence of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Rev. Goldstein’s Mission Study is but one case in point.
For example, in 2004, the Presbyterian Church (USA) passed a resolution stating the occupation was at the “root” of violence against innocents against both sides of the conflict. And in 2005, the General Synods of the United Church of Christ and the Disciples of Christ passed resolutions asking Israel to take down the security barrierwithout asking the Palestinians to stop the terror attacks that prompted its construction. And later that year, the Evangelical Lutheran Church endorsed a “Peace Not Walls” publicity campaign that emphasizes the impact of the security barrier on the Palestinians and downplays the impact of Palestinian terrorism against Israel. And the Episcopal Church’s witness about the Arab-Israeli conflict has also been decidedly one-sided.
Instead of condemning the genocidal hostility expressed toward Jews by groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, progressive mainline churches have obsessively condemned and attacked the very aspects of the Jewish state that prevent these groups from achieving their goal – Israel’s ability to procure and field military hardware, field an army, and construct a security barrier and attack those who would – and have – killed its citizens. While Israel’s use of force is clearly subject to moral judgment and criticism, a “just” assessment can only be achieved by an honest description and acknowledgement of the threats faced by Israel – an acknowledgment that progressive Christians have largely been unwilling to conduct.
This is not a new phenomenon. Self-proclaimed progressive Protestants have been a persistent source of anti-Zionist and in some instances, anti-Jewish rhetoric in the United States since the first half of the 20th century. They have remained so after the Holocaust.
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