Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Moral Idiocy of the United Church

A recent high-level United Church of Canada report recommends that the United Church should confirm its hostility to Israel. Written by three prominent United Church officials, the Report of the Working Group on Israel/Palestine Policy endorses Palestinian “resistance” to Israeli occupation.
The church officials do specify that such resistance should be non-violent, but as with much in their report, the call for non-violence means less than it might.
I’ve never worried that United Church ministers might strap on suicide vests and blow up busses in Jerusalem. But while officially condemning such violence on the part of Palestinians, the United Church also vigorously promotes the Palestinian Kairos Document. Written by Palestinian Christians, the Kairos Document explicitly okays terrorism, calling it “legal resistance.” (More on the Kairos Document here.)
Do ordinary members of the United Church share the anti-Israel obsession of the clique at the top? Not at all. And I think they’d be appalled if they noticed what their leaders were up to.
In the most offensive paragraphs, the report compares the Palestinians to Holocaust victims. Usually, such comparisons come from obvious antisemites. In this case, I think the church officials are simply so self-absorbed, so wrapped up in anti-Israel politics, so shuttered from reality that they’re unaware of their offensiveness, like a four-year-old who’s overheard the word ‘nigger’ and admires his own cleverness as he runs about shouting it.
On the plus side, the report does notice that the BDS movement – the movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel – “sometimes” crosses the line to “delegitimize Israel’s existence,” which the church rejects.
Unfortunately, this again means less than it might. Because in truth, the only point of the BDS movement is to delegitimize Israel.
The BDS movement is purely a propaganda offensive. It has no economic effect and never will. Yet the report recommends joining the BDS movement through a boycott of Israel, specifically of “all products produced in the settlements.”
Does this mean that the United Church will boycott Agrexco, which exports agricultural products from the West Bank? The British BDS movement does – even though the Palestinians are 100 per cent dependent on Agrexco and similar Israeli companies to export their olives and other agricultural products.
While acting in a way that would crush Palestinian farmers if their efforts were successful, the boycotters get to tell themselves they’re fighting the evil Israelis. And this is what the United Church wants to be part of.
The report claims to take “seriously questions about why Israel is the only country in the world being challenged by a global BDS movement.”
Seriously? The report’s rationalizations are laughably thin. It notes that the Israeli occupation has lasted a long time. Well, yes, ever since 1967 when Jordan invaded Israel and Israel occupied the West Bank in its counter-attack.
Israel has a claim to this territory, which Israelis know as Judea and Samaria, but rather than unilaterally exercising its claim, Israel has maintained a perfectly legal defensive occupation while waiting for the Arabs to negotiate.
In 1994, Jordan finally signed a peace treaty with Israel. But Jordan had previously renounced its claim to the West Bank in favour of the Palestinians, who haven’t been so reasonable.
With the exception of United Church officials who remain willfully ignorant, everyone familiar with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict knows that Israel has offered several comprehensive peace plans, but that the Palestinians have refused them all and made no counter offers.
The United Church’s report calls for an end to the occupation. Fine. But talk to the Palestinians. They won’t even discuss peace. And the United Church report doesn’t suggest they ought to.
By way of rationalizing its singling out of Israel, the report also argues that Israel is a democracy, and therefore, should be held to a higher standard than the autocracies that surround it. To me, this seems rather hard on the downtrodden people of the region.
Syrians are being slaughtered in the thousands by their despotic ruler. But the United Church’s stance is that Syria isn’t a democracy, so too bad for the Syrians.
Or what about the Palestinians of Gaza? Ruled by the despotic fanatics of Hamas, Gazans have no free speech or free press and face arrest for crimes such as dressing immodestly.
Does the United Church find this problematic? Apparently not.
The territory is ruled by a terrorist group that’s not just dedicated to destroying Israel, but openly proclaims its goal is genocide against the Jews.
Will the United Church boycott Gaza? Not a chance.
Instead, the United Church proposes boycotting Israel – because it’s a democracy. Well, so is Canada! Also, like Israel, Canada has a long-standing dispute over land claims: Israel with the Palestinians, ours with First Nations. Also, like Israel, Canada is trying to negotiate a settlement.
Seems to me that these similarities make Canada a perfect target for a United Church boycott. Unless of course the United Church really is boycotting Israel just because it’s a Jewish state.

P.S. At least one United Church minister, Rev. Andrew Love, is trying to counter his church’s anti-Israel stance. (See here.)
This piece was previously published in the Jewish Tribune. And on Harry's Place blog in Britain.

And here are the comments from Harry's Place, preserved here, because at HP, they get deleted after a week:
  26 May 2012, 2:38 pm
Excellent piece! Wonderfully articulate and well-put. Though, I dare say, this doesn’t surprise me at all; the trend(of gratuitous anti-Israel activities) has been blatant and obvious in Methodist/Presbyterian circles(especially in America), and it seems my hopes for Canada distancing itself from the torrent have been crushed.
What surprises me still is that the congregants don’t stop it. When will we see some action, on the part of honest, well-meaning, pious church-goers?
  26 May 2012, 3:57 pm
In 1994, Jordan finally signed a peace treaty with Israel. But Jordan also renounced its claim to the West Bank in favour of the Palestinians, who haven’t been so reasonable.
Its like evicting a squatter and the squatter says that they give up the right to squat in your house in favour of their mates, when they had illegally squatted in the first place.
Paul M   
  26 May 2012, 6:21 pm
This is a great, well written and well argued piece. The only bit that gave me pause — maybe only because I don’t know enough about the United Church — was:
“Do ordinary members of the United Church share the anti-Israel obsession of the clique at the top? Not at all. And I think they’d be appalled if they noticed what their leaders were up to.”
To me this seems like it’s infantilizing the church’s members. Shouldn’t we show them the respect of allowing them agency? As Commentary101 says, where’s the action by churchgoers to put a stop to this? Disinterest and apathy are common human traits, but they’re a poor excuse for allowing evil to be done in your name.
hasan p   
  26 May 2012, 6:39 pm
To me this seems like it’s infantilizing the church’s members. Shouldn’t we show them the respect of allowing them agency?
One could ask the same of union members, elected politicians and stockholders. As for the United Church, its ministers are not elected but ordained. The laity will have little influence over what is taught in theological schools and may have little influence over what their representatives say. And I very much doubt that elections to conferences have either high turnouts or that the congregations know much, or anything, about the candidates that stand in them. There certainly does need to be more action from churchgoers, but that should be done in a way that understands how the United Church works rather than just blaming them for their lack of interest.
  27 May 2012, 12:12 am
I was very pleased to read this article. As a Jew married to a member of the United Church, I have the opportunity to read the United Church’s monthly magazine, “The United Church Observer”. There is rarely an issue that doesn’t have at least one anti-Israel article or letter. Not once has The Observer had an article condemning Syria or the Egyptian treatment of the Coptic Christians. It makes one wonder if the United Church is merely anti-Israel or actually anti-semitic.
Brian from Toronto   
  27 May 2012, 2:30 am
I don’t blame ordinary church members. For the large majority, the church is just where they go to be married or buried. And I don’t see why the (small) number of regular congregants should have to pay attention to an insignificant conflict on the other side of the globe.
On the other hand, ministers are professional, paid members of the church; they really ought to notice what’s done in their name. But for the most part, they seem to be apathetic or they agree with the leadership's hostility to Israel.
However, they don’t all agree, and they’re not all keeping quiet:
  27 May 2012, 9:15 am
Factual error: Jordan gave up it’s claim to the West Bank in 1989 (although there wasn’t a peace treaty for a few more years).
  27 May 2012, 2:10 pm
By way of rationalizing its singling out of Israel, the report also argues that Israel is a democracy, and therefore, should be held to a higher standard than the autocracies that surround it.
Of course, many of those those who single out Israel for criticism will, when it suits them, claim piously that the Palestinian territories are also democratic (“Like them or not, Hamas have a popular mandate and are the legitimate government, etc…”), as are those paragons Iran, Egypt, Tunisia etc etc.
In fact the democratic legitimacy of Hamas is an article of faith with most ‘anti-zionists’. So the ‘we hold democracies to a higher standard’ is a feeble excuse, and demonstrate a nonsensical attitude anyway. We should hold all countries to the same basic standards re human rights, just as in individual countries we hold all citizens equal before the law and don’t give a pass to the badly behaved on the grounds that we shouldn’t expect better from them.
  27 May 2012, 2:25 pm
‘By way of rationalizing its singling out of Israel, the report also argues that Israel is a democracy, and therefore, should be held to a higher standard than the autocracies that surround it.’
Isn’t that a circular argument, tantamount to ‘Israel behaves better, so should be held to a higher account/more penalized for it?’
In a conflict, holding one party to a higher standard than the others is tantamount to taking sides in that conflict +against+ that party and +with her enemies+.
All else is moral idiocy, at best.
  27 May 2012, 2:26 pm
I mean, THINKING all else etc.
  27 May 2012, 2:30 pm
‘Israel is a democracy etc’
What does that argument actually mean, anyway?
Israeli Jews are more sophisticated, educated, western and so privileged? So that they should be more generous to their enemies?
Or Israeli Jews behave better and so, en effait, should be held to a higher account? -a circular argument, it seems to me.
In this case, Israel’s being a democracy is almost treated as though Israeli Jews have more wealth than is just, and so should share it with their enemies, who have less, and so suffer injustice.
  27 May 2012, 2:34 pm
Democracy is +just+ a state in which a people comprise themselves. It may make them more vulnerable to criticism, and certainly means that citizens should have more rights than in tyrannies. But what on earth does it mean for those who would destroy their state, why does it mean that state should be held to higher account?
Palestinian Arab Muslim and Christian nationalists have been hostile to a large scale Jewish presence since the late 19th century. Why does Israel’s being a democracy mean it should be held to higher account than they?

Friday, May 18, 2012

United Church pastor breaks ranks on Israel, denounces ‘radical agenda’

Rev. Andrew Love leaving a prayer in a crack in the
Western Wall of the ancient Jewish temple in Jerusalem

A United Church of Canada minister has started a campaign to get rank-and-file members to reject a proposal from the church’s hierarchy to launch an economic boycott against Israel.
“I really want to believe this is the workings of a very active minority in the church,” said Andrew Love, a pastor at a parish in the town of Arnprior, 55 kilometres west of Ottawa.
“The vast majority of people in the pews are not ready to embrace this kind of extremist and radical agenda from a small minority. There is a real disconnect between the leadership and its people.”
He said the proposal contains “elements of anti-Semitism” by minimizing the importance of the Holocaust.
Last week, a working group of the United Church released a paper that called for a selective boycott of goods coming out of what the authors call illegal Israeli settlements, including East Jerusalem. 
This is the fourth proposal concerning sanctions against Israel in the past six years but none was ever voted on by the general council. However, this is the first proposal requested by the church leadership. Other proposals came from grassroots initiatives.
Rev. Love said he will launch a website in the next few days that will ask for support from co-religionists who are also concerned about calls for a boycott and anti-Israel sentiment in the church.
“This report is biased and one-sided and will erode a commitment we made as a church in a [2003 report] to strengthen ties with the Jewish community,” he said.
In 2009, Rev. Love said he travelled to Israel and spent time on the West Bank speaking to families who were having a tough time under Israeli rule. He said at one point he was pelted by stones by Israeli settlers because he was speaking with Palestinians.
“So it’s not that I’m blinded to the plight of Palestinians,” Rev. Love said. “But where is the sense of balance in this report? Once again we are isolating Israel for all our moral condemnation. Shouldn’t we hold to the same fashion other countries in the Middle East? It’s absurd that Israel is singled out because it’s a democracy.”
He added: “The report is almost completely silent on Israel’s very legitimate concerns to protect itself from terrorism as well as the ever present threat from Iran and the proxy forces that work for Iran in the region.”
He said the authors of the report also did not go far enough to denounce the use of the term “apartheid” when it comes to discussing the situation in Israel today.

You can visit Rev. Love’s web site here, and do send him a message of support here - I imagine it’s lonely standing up to the dominant clique in his church.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

A new racism in our kids’ schools

On May 5, an American, Tim Wise, was a keynote speaker at the Toronto District School Board’s  (TDSB’s) Futures Conference on Equity and Inclusive Education.

Wise is a card-carrying member of the American far left and doesn’t believe Israel has any right to exist.

Moreover, he frequently writes for the far left magazine Counterpunch. This magazine also publishes articles by the Holocaust denier Israel Shamir, by Gilad Atzmon who suggests that “maybe Hitler was right,” and by James Petras who believes that the “Zionist power configuration” controls America.

Strange company for a man who calls himself an anti-racist. But in truth, Wise’s mission is to emphasize racial divisions, not bridge them, and on May 5, he lectured Canadian teachers about the evils of “white privilege.”

In his essays, Wise explains white privilege thus: “The concept is rooted in the common-sense observation that there can be no down without an up.” Or if blacks are underprivileged, whites must be “overprivileged.”

To illustrate, Wise gives a laundry list of supposed white privileges, including “not having to worry about triggering negative stereotypes, rarely having to feel out of place, not having to worry about racial profiling, etc.”

Note that these privileges are defined negatively. Obviously, stereotyping is wrong. But how does not being stereotyped amount to a privilege? Or if blacks are deprived of dignity, are we to understand that whites must have too much of it, as if there’s just so much human dignity to go around?

Of course some people do come from a privileged background. I’d say that President Obama’s kids have a leg up on most people – and good for them! Life’s too short to worry about other people’s luck.

But the notion of white privilege is disconnected from any actual privilege. The claim is that ordinary, fair-minded and hardworking Canadians have more than they deserve – but only if they’re white.

A poor white kid with a single mom on welfare may not have breakfast, but theoretically he has a whole knapsack of privileges: male privilege, hetero privilege, ablest privilege – you name it.

Theorists of privilege fall into such absurdities because they discard individuals and see only groups; thus if some whites have been racists, all whites – you, me and our grand kids – are accountable for it.

So, for example, in “Of National Lies and Racial America,” Wise writes: “For most white folks, indignation just doesn’t wear well.”

Why? Because whites are morally compromised by the “genocide of indigenous persons, and the enslavement of Africans.” Obviously, no whites living today committed these crimes but other white people did and so, by the raced-based logic of privilege, whites today bear the responsibility.

Unfortunately, inviting Wise isn’t a one off for the Toronto District School Board. Much worse, the Board incorporates the notion of privilege into the curriculum with learning resources such as the “GLSEN Jump Start Guide: Examining Power, Privilege and Oppression.”

The literature on white privilege notes that students resist the concept. Sociologists Dan Pence and Arthur Fields write: “White students often react to in-class discussions about white privilege with a continuum of behaviors ranging from outright hostility to a ‘wall of silence.’"

Pence and Fields never consider that the students may correctly perceive themselves to be under racist attack.

The GLSEN guide recommended by the Toronto Board instructs teachers to solicit confessions from students about “the times that they have been oppressive or have used their privilege over someone else.”

Doubtless, our kids find it hard to come up with suitable sins. To help them, the guide gives an example: planning “a trip together without recognizing that one member of the group cannot afford to participate.”

That may not sound like oppression to me and you, but it’s all grist for teaching our kids that they’re part of a system of oppression that has produced every crime from slavery to genocide. The GLSEN guide observes that students may feel guilty. What a surprise!

Things may get worse. Professors at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) and the departments of education at York and Ryerson universities are busily lecturing student teachers on the ideology of white privilege.

This hit the news back in 2010 when the media noticed that OISE had granted a student a master’s degree for a thesis denouncing Jews as privileged and racist, and Holocaust education as a Zionist plot. (Read the Toronto Star's report on the scandal here, Werner Cohn's essay here, and his follow-ups here.)

It should come as no surprise that theorists who divides people into oppressed and oppressor groups, into good races and bad should put Jews in the bad column, particularly as the further to the left one goes, the more common it is to find people examining race through the lens of oppression and privilege.

As a parent of two kids in a Toronto public school, I'm glad to say that Toronto School Board truly does support equality for all our students, regardless of race, religion or sexual orientation  – and usually gets things right (though certainly not always). But because it supports equality, the Board must expel the notion of white privilege.

P.S. If Tim Wise has ever given two minutes thought to Canada, it’s not evident from his writings, but no one should doubt his talents as a speaker. At the TDSB’s Futures Conference, he reportedly compared being a person of colour to a disability, castigated Canadians for pervasive racism, and received a standing ovation. 
You can read a report on his talk here. Also, it was Richard K over at Eye on a Crazy Planet who broke the story about Tim Wise speaking at the TDSB's Future's Conference. Be sure to read his original piece here.

A slightly shorter version of this piece was originally published in the Jewish Tribune and on Harry's Place in Britain.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

As much of the world starves, the UN investigates Canada

By Hillel Neuer. From the National Post 
There is no food and no clean water, nothing,” Mahmoud, a 12-year-old boy from Homs, Syria, told Reuters Thursday. “There is no shop open and we only have one meal a day. How can we live like that and survive?”
According to the World Food Program, half a million people don’t have enough to eat in Syria. Fears are growing that the regime is using hunger as a weapon.
This is the kind of emergency which should attract the attention of the UN Human Rights Council’s hunger monitor, who has the ability to spotlight situations and place them on the world agenda. Yet Olivier de Schutter of Belgium, the “Special Rapporteur on the right to food,” is not going to Syria.
Instead, the UN’s food monitor is coming to investigate Canada.

That’s right. Despite dire food emergencies around the globe, De Schutter will be devoting the scarce time and resources of the international community on an 11-day tour of Canada—a country that ranks at the bottom of global hunger concerns.

A key co-ordinator and promoter of De Schutter’s mission is Food Secure Canada, a lobby group whose website accuses the Harper government of “failing Canadians…and [failing to] fulfill the right to food for all.” The group calls instead for a “People’s Food Policy.”

I asked De Schutter if his time wouldn’t better be spent on calling attention to countries that actually have starving people.

“Globally, 1.3 billion people are overweight or obese,” he responded via his spokesperson, “and this causes a range of diseases such as certain types of cancers, cardio-vascular diseases or (especially) type-2 diabetes that are a huge burden.”

In other words, the hunger expert is not even that interested in hunger, but the opposite. Sure, we should all eat less fries, but do Canadians need a costly UN inquiry to tell us that?

Before Canadians can take De Schutter seriously, they ought to ask him some serious questions about whether his mission is about human rights or a political agenda.

First, consider the origins of the UN’s “right to food” mandate. In voluminous background information provided by De Schutter and his local promoters, there’s no mention that their sponsor was Cuba, a country where some women resort to prostitution for food. De Schutter does not want you to know that Havana’s Communist government created his post, nor that the co-sponsors included China, North Korea, Iran and Zimbabwe.

These and other repressive regimes are seeking a political weapon to attack the West. That is why the first person they chose to fill the post, when it started in 2000, was Jean Ziegler. The former Swiss Socialist politician was a man they could trust: In 1989, he announced to the world the creation of the Muammar Gaddafi Human Rights Prize.

The award spread propaganda for its namesake, and elevated his ideological allies. Recipients include Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez. In 2002, the prize went to convicted French Holocaust denier Roger Garaudy — and to Jean Ziegler himself.

From 2000 to 2008, Ziegler’s UN reports and probes turned a blind eye to the world’s hungry. Instead he attacked America, the West, capitalism and Israel. The human rights council applauded him, and repeatedly renewed his mandate. Only because of term limits did they replace him in 2008 with De Schutter, who praises and emulates his predecessor.

De Schutter’s consistent argument is that if there is hunger, Western countries are to blame. His attacks on international trade are so ideologically extreme that even Pascal Lamy, head of the World Trade Organization and a member of the French Socialist party, criticized De Schutter’s approach for threatening to drive food prices higher and “exacerbating the negative impacts on poor consumers.”

Second, even when they visit the right countries, Ziegler and De Schutter reach the wrong conclusions. Ziegler went to Cuba, but it was a staged visit that hailed Castro’s policies as almost divine. De Schutter went to Syria—in 2010, long before the current crisis — and mentioned several problems, but his report took pains to repeatedly praise the Assad regime.

Like Ziegler, De Schutter has repeatedly made one-sided attacks on Israel lacking any nexus to his mandate. Last July, he issued a pre-emptive attack against his own boss, in a press release titled “UN Special Rapporteur opposes Ban Ki-Moon’s conclusions on flotilla.” De Schutter was outraged that a panel appointed by the UN chief found that Israel’s blockade of Gaza, to stop Hamas importing Iranian missiles, was actually legal — contradicting what De Schutter’s human rights council had said the year before.

Hunger is a human rights issue. Tragically, what most interests De Schutter and his council is scapegoating the West. For the next two weeks, that means Canada.

Hillel Neuer, originally of Montreal, is executive director of UN Watch in Geneva