The following editorial appears in the August 2006 issue of Christianity Today. It has not been updated since July 10, and events in the Middle East have progressed significantly since then.
At this writing, the Israeli government and the "house divided against itself" that tries to represent the Palestinian people are locked in a lose-lose struggle. Israel responded to missile attacks and a kidnapping with a major incursion into the Gaza Strip, resulting in more than 50 civilian deaths. Hamas is eagerly capitalizing on the resulting resentment.
But as just one hot spot on a globe full of brush fires, Israel has attracted far more than its share of criticism. American churches have not hesitated to pile on. A 2004 report from the Institute on Religion and Democracy showed that mainline Protestants criticized Israel for human-rights abuses at a rate far exceeding most other nations. Only the United States came close to Israel's infamy in this activist universe.
Strangely, repressive Middle Eastern countries like Saudi Arabia and Syria received no criticism at all. The IRD study asked "whether anti-Jewish animus may play some role in the churches' skewed human-rights advocacy."
But two events this summer suggest that Israel and the Jewish community are starting to get more respect.
First, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) changed its 2004 action calling for "phased selective divestment in multinational corporations operating in Israel." By an overwhelming vote, it created a substitute policy that urged the denomination to be sure that its financial investments "as they pertain to Israel, Gaza, East Jerusalem, and the West Bank, be invested in only peaceful pursuits" and to look for "positive outcomes." Thus, the PC(USA) moved from being punitive toward one side to being constructive toward both parties. It also apologized for having caused hurt and misunderstanding.
The American Jewish community applauded the action, while Presbyterian leadership immediately began to spin the story. But the assembly's unwillingness to entertain any amendments to the recommendation and its overwhelming vote (483 to 28) demonstrated a clear rejection of the discriminatory attitudes embedded in the 2004 action.
A second event also gave Israel some long-overdue respect. The International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent finally welcomed into membership their counterpart organization in Israel (the Magen David Adomthe MDA or Red Star of David). The formal excuse for keeping the Israeli rescue and first-aid organization out of the international network was a 1929 policy that limited the number of symbols. On the battlefield and in other emergencies, quick recognition of the Red Cross and Red Crescent increases safety and expedites cooperation. But everyone knew that adding a Red Star of David to the approved list was not going to throw a disaster response into confusion. For the past 50 years, the American Red Cross has recognized the sheer prejudice behind excluding the MDA, and for the past six years, the American group has protested the exclusion by withholding $45 million in dues from the international organization.
Last year, a new symbol was approved (the "Red Crystal") which the MDA can use with or without its Star of David when engaged in international operations. That paved the way for this year's formal welcome. Sadly, Muslim nations fought it to the end.
Fighting prejudice is what these two events were really about. Presbyterian divestment from Caterpillar or Motorola would not have hurt either company significantly. The MDA will not see huge changes in its emergency response operations. But the Jewish community knows intimately the power of prejudice, and Christians and all good citizens have a responsibility to fight it where they find it.
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Our full coverage of the Israel-Lebanon conflict is available on our site.
The International Committee of the Red Cross has more information about the new Red Crystal symbol.
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