False witness: A misguided study guide

May 2, 2014
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In response to the injustices faced by Pales­tinians living under Israeli occupation, many Christians in the United States—including many within the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)—have become proponents of what is known as BDS: boycott/divest/sanctions. While the aim of the movement was initially to put economic and political pressure on Israel to end its occupation of the West Bank, the BDS movement is expanding its attack to challenge the foundational claims of a Jewish state.

Broad versions of BDS target all of Israel, while a narrower version targets only companies that conduct business in the West Bank. The latter movement has garnered support not only from Christians and Muslims but from segments of the Jewish community in North America and Israel. Organizations such as Shalom Achshav and Americans for Peace Now have endorsed the boycotting of goods manufactured in areas east of the 1967 Green Line which are claimed for the future Palestinian state. They have embraced this tactic not only as a means to end the occupation and advance a two-state solution but also to help Israelis realize the ideals in the 1948 Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel: “To foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex.”

BDS activists insist that any collaboration with Israeli firms operating inside the West Bank gives legitimacy to the occupation. One target of the boycott has been SodaStream, which makes home carbonation products for the international market. One of its plants is located in the Ma’ale Adumim settlement and is the largest private employer of Palestinians in the West Bank.

Others argue that companies like SodaStream are helping to form the infrastructure of the future Palestinian state and that all states should be open to foreign investment. They point out that SodaStream offers its Palestinian workers the same salaries, benefits, and conditions as their Israeli counterparts. SodaStream’s CEO, Daniel Birnbaum, claims that his enterprise creates something besides profits: “If [Palestinian and Israeli workers] learn to know each other, to respect each other, to live side by side, which is something that’s going on here but not going on elsewhere, then you have a fundamental ingredient for peace.” If a boycott were to succeed in shutting down the SodaStream plant, roughly 500 Palestinian workers would lose their jobs.

The BDS initiatives focused on the West Bank are the subject of a legitimate debate. But recently the Israel/Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has developed a congregational study guide titled Zionism Unsettled which presses the PCUSA to embrace a strain of BDS that delegitimizes the existence of a Jewish state. The guide maligns the state of Israel and the Jewish yearning for a homeland, a yearning that characterizes every other nation. In doing so the guide abandons the mandate of the PCUSA’s 218th General Assembly “to avoid taking broad stands that simplify a very complex situation into a caricature of reality where one side is clearly at fault and the other side is clearly a victim.”

The claims of PCUSA representatives that the study guide speaks “to” the church rather than “for” it are belied by the facts that the guide was created by a group formed under the direction of the church and that it is advertised on the PCUSA website. The content of the guide does a disservice to the church and damages its ability to play a role in bringing about peace.

The IPMN is right to recognize the Palestinians’ history of displacement and abuse. The Palestinian narrative is rooted in the 1947 United Nations resolution that established the state of Israel and in the ensuing 1948 war (which Palestinians call the Nakba, or the Catastrophe) which led to the expulsion of 700,000 Palestinians. The Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank following the Six-Day War in 1967 and the subsequent Israeli military incursions into Lebanon and Gaza (following the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza) undermined conditions for political conciliation. The ongoing expansion of Israeli settlements, the brutality of Israeli military tactics, and the intransigence of governments—both Israeli and Palestinian—unwilling to make concessions necessary for establishing a Palestinian state have all deepened the desperation of the Palestinian populace and solidified their grievances.

Yet to blame Israel alone for Palestinian suffering, as the guide does—and to recommend a broad BDS initiative targeting all of Israel—is at best historically shortsighted. Those who listen to the Palestinian narrative must also consider the experience of the nearly 800,000 Jews who were expelled from or fled Arab countries after 1948; they have their stories of disaster and betrayal. Nor should we forget the Arab massacres of Jews in Damascus, Hebron, and elsewhere well before the establishment of Israel. Those who claim that the founding of Israel in 1948 or the extension of Israeli borders in 1967 created the problem ignore the long history of the Middle East’s own versions of Jew hatred.

Every suicide bomber celebrated by Palestinian schoolchildren, every copy of the Hamas Charter that calls for the end to the “Zionist entity,” and every missile launched by Islamic Jihad or Hamas or Hezbollah into Israel and targeting civilians makes peace even less of a possibility.

The refusal of Palestinians not only in Gaza but also in the West Bank and East Jerusalem to recognize Israel as a Jewish homeland while at the same time insisting that the same area be recognized as the homeland of the Palestinian people exacerbates the problem. The Pales­tinians’ ongoing insistence on the “right of return” to homes and lands inhabited before 1948 is a dream—one that will not be accomplished and should not be. Only in the case of the Palestinians does the UN grant refugee status not only to the people who left or were forced from their land but to their children and their children’s children. By this definition of refugee, any group, generations later, would be able to claim land. (Transferred to the American context, this practice would mean that the Cherokee should be given Tennessee; the Seminole, Florida; and the Sioux, all of the Great Plains.) Such a move would not only be contrary to international practice, it would wipe out the Jewish identity of Israel.

Financially compensating Palestinians who lost homes and land in 1948 as an alternative to return is a viable option. The Presbyterians might therefore consider investing in what will be the state of Palestine rather than supporting a lost and inappropriate cause.

The study guide couples its biased history with a biased theology that denies Jews their own self-definition even as it recapitulates old anti-Jewish tropes. Reaching a new low, Zionism Unsettled denies any legitimacy to the state of Israel whatsoever.

First the authors call into question the authority of the UN “to order or recommend the partition of Palestine” that led to establishment of the state of Israel. They do not, however, address the UN’s competence to recognize a new state of Palestine or any other new state. Treating the globe’s one Jewish state as exceptional is not a sign of fairness but of bigotry. The guide then reverses course and affirms the UN’s juridical power to condemn Israel. Citing a long list of resolutions that Israel has violated, the authors build a case that undermines the right of a Jewish state to exist and renders it a “rogue.”

Worse, the study guide not only impugns the UN partition resolution and delegitimizes the state of Israel, it goes to the obscene extreme of equating Zionism—the Jewish view of the land of Israel as the Jewish national homeland—with racism. The guide asserts: “Racism is the cornerstone of the Zionist project.” The guide does not, however, see any racism in the insistence by the rulers of both Gaza and the West Bank that no Jew should live within the borders of the Palestinian state to be created in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

The guide exacerbates its delegitimization of Israel by branding it “an apartheid state.” Although the Presbyterian General Assembly rejected previous overtures that attempted to conflate Israel with the apartheid regime of South Africa, the guide uncritically endorses the accusation by claiming that “the Israeli form of apartheid is becoming increasingly entrenched” and the situation has become “irreversible.” The fact that Arabs, Muslims, and Chris­tians are legally vested with full citizen rights in Israel is ignored. By their definition, the authors also need to brand various Muslim nations “apartheid” regimes.

Next, the guide insists that Zionism is a “false theology . . . a heretical doctrine that promotes death rather than life.” It characterizes Zionism as a source of “evil” that leads inexorably to “ethnic cleansing” and “cultural genocide.” It claims that “the major American Jewish organizations bear considerable responsibility” for a “pathology” of supporting Zionism that leads to “self-inflicted blindness.”

Finally, the study guide moves into supersessionism, a view that the PCUSA has previously rejected. “With the coming of Christ and the founding of the Church,” the guide says, “in some sense the old covenant has been replaced or superseded by the new covenant in Christ.” In the sense that the old covenant entailed the promise of a specific land to a specific people, the guide makes it clear that the covenant has been superseded. It thus makes the promises to Israel null and void with Christ’s arrival. In response to Jews who cite Bible tradition to show both a theological and a historical connection to the land, the guide evokes replacement theology and denies the historical connection. Then, in a remarkable example of hypocrisy, it cites Christian theology and Palestinian claims to justify its position.

Jews have regarded the land of Israel as their home since Old Testament times. Indeed, Jews have consistently lived in the land from then until now. To this day, practicing Jews pray facing Jerusalem; they declare at the conclusion of every Yom Kippur service and Passover celebration, “next year in Jerusalem”; and they pray daily for “the peace of Jerusalem.”

This connection to Israel is not only a religious view supported by prophecies to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and their descendants. For many Jews, the connection to Israel is a historical one. The term Zionism originated in the 19th century as an expression of Jewish nationalism: secular Jews promoted the Zionist ideal in their quest for a national homeland where they could find safety from a Europe in which they were facing increasing discrimination and persecution. The Zionist ideal of a homeland, determined not by theology but by history, has informed Jewish identity for more than a century.

By erroneously insisting that Zionism—the Jewish yearning for a national homeland, a yearning that all peoples have—is racist, the study guide bears false witness against Jews. By accusing Israel of being an apartheid state, the guide ignores the facts on the ground, fails to acknowledge the rights possessed by non-Jews in Israel, and conceals Palestinians’ goal of having a state where no Jew can live. By pathologizing the Jewish people and by failing to have any conversation with the representatives of the “major Jewish organizations,” the guide’s authors break with the church’s commitment to peace, to justice, to fairness, and to a two-state solution.

For 26 years I have worked in an organization that brings Christians and Jews into difficult conversations about scriptural and theological issues. We have labored long and hard to confront misunderstandings that are embedded within our traditions. The clergy, educators, and scholars with whom we work wonder why the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is shifting from a limited critique of Israel to a campaign of delegitimization. They want to know why Zionism Unsettled omits divergent points of view, promotes historical caricatures, and disseminates heavy-handed indictments.

I am convinced that the change reveals a growing sense of desperation. There is an emerging conviction that a two-state solution is no longer possible. Despair is spurring people to conclude that the time has come to choose sides. Frustration is eclipsing hope. Yet a church that no longer believes in the possibility of reconciliation will betray its gospel proclamation.

Instead of pursuing divestment and boycotts, and certainly instead of denying legitimacy to Jewish self-definition and the state of Israel, the better option would be to focus on communication coupled with creative investment. Presbyterians will better express the gospel of love when they relinquish the vindictive impulse to punish Israel and find opportunities to direct their resources to helping Palestinian stakeholders.

In fostering creative reinvestment, the church would also be standing in solidarity with many Muslims as well as fellow Christians in Palestine. The IPMN, in conjunction with its divestment partners, gives the impression that its support of broad-based BDS reflects the universal interests of Palestinians. Yet there are significant Palestinian voices who have spoken out against boycotting Israel. Mahmoud Abbas, head of the Palestinian Authority, has supported a boycott of products in the settlements but has also said: “We don’t ask anyone to boycott Israel itself. We have relations with Israel, we have mutual recognition of Israel.”

Christians need to resist the messianic zealotry that animates Israeli settlers and Christian Zionists, who dream of Israel annexing the West Bank. At the same time, they need to fend off anti-Zionist ideologues who have jettisoned the role of peacemakers because they believe that Palestinians cannot win unless Israelis lose. If religious communities are to play a constructive role in the Middle East, they will need to enter into interfaith coalitions and risk unsettling conversations. They will need to invest their time, energy, and resources to create positive facts on the ground. In facing this challenge, Christians, Jews, and Muslims will either find ways to stand together in the midst of their differences or they will fall apart.


Israel as "apartheid state."

As early as 2006, distinguished Nobel Peace laureate Jimmy Carter, father of the Camp David Accord, dedicated Christian, non-fundamentalist Baptist, and peacemaker par excellence, characterized the secular State of Israel as "apartheid" in its policies towards Palestinians. (See his Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.) Deploring the Holocaust and the Nazi nearly successful genocide of Europe's Jews, one can affirm the State of Israel's right to exist, while not endorsing especially Netanyahu's deplorable treatment of Palestinians, particularly in seizing their lands and building settlements for Israelis in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.. In the Reformed tradition, Presbyterians take seriously the enormous depths of evil of which human beings are capable--yes, Jews included, who, sadly, far too often, have been regarded as the fair-haired child who can do no wrong. While I do not agree with everything in Zionism Unsettled, and cling to a two-state solution, with the birth of a new State of Palestine, It is good that we are finally hearing the side of Palestinians--including Palestinian Christians, such as the Very Rev. Neem Ateek. BDS certainly worked in demolishing the apartheid of South Africa. Boycott by mainline churches even worked to remedy largely the former deplorable, slave-labor conditions in the central Florida Immolokee tomato fields. May BDS on the part of PC(USA) and other mainline denominations, now work to end Israeli apartheid!
Dwyn Mounger, Knoxville, TN

I am a victim of Israeli apartheid!

Reading your article “False Witness” it is clear that your acquaintance with Palestinians is minimal and is a result of decades long Israeli hasbara. The article is full of misstatements that are contrary to facts recognized by the majority of experts writing on the conflict and it would take similarly long comments to restore truth.

I am a survivor of the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Jaffa. I experienced the terror of the Israeli forces attack on the civilian areas of Jaffa. My father was wounded in such a terror attack and buildings around our house were hit by Israeli bombardment. From my personal experience, the practices of the government of Israel have constituted apartheid since the creation of the State in May of 1948. I who traces my Christian ancestry to the time of Pentacost cannot return to the land of my birth, but any Jew not born in Palestine nor having any ancestry related to Palestine is allowed to “return”. This is just one example of a law that separates the two ethnic groups: one for Jews and the other for Christians and Muslims! You state that Palestinian citizens of Israel have equal rights to Jewish citizens of Israel. This is plainly false. Look at the numerous laws that discriminate between the two ethnic groups.

Furthermore, to expect Palestinians to recognize Israel as a “Jewish” state would further erode the rights of its Christian and Muslim inhabitants who already suffer from prejudicial and racist treatment.

I am a Presbyterian and have been so since baptism as a child in Jerusalem. I laud the attempt of the Israel Palestine Mission Network (IPMN) in bringing to our attention just some of the root causes of the conflict in Israel/Palestine. IPMN was granted the mandate to advocate for Palestinian rights by our General Assembly in 2004. They are a group of dedicated people who are concerned for the human rights of both the Israeli and Palestinian peoples. I see the publication, Zionism Unsettled, as a brave attempt to put before us issues that need to be discussed and studied. It may be a trite sentence but nevertheless true: “Truth will set us free”.

Whose False Witness?

Christopher Leighton’s ad hominum attack on a distinguished group of Presbyterian and ecumenical scholars and social justice advocates, accusing them of bearing false witness, gives new definition to his own “desperation.” Although Israel has located 450,000 of its citizens on Palestinian land defined by the United Nations, imprisoned tens of thousands of Palestinian men, women and children over decades, built by-pass roads with the help of U S money that cut the West Bank into Bantustans and taken-over the Jordan River valley for its vast date palm plantations, its rationale is elementary. Israel can do this because the Palestinian lands are theirs by right of ancient occupation. Even though the so-called promised land was already occupied by other peoples, e.g. Canaanites, Zionism and its evangelical Christian partners service Israel’s faith-based claim to virtual real estate entitlement. The spurious claim by Leighton (and perhaps also by his publisher, The Christian Century) that the Presbyterian IPMN Network believes “Palestinians cannot win unless Israel loses,” raises a new question about who is making false witness.

IPMN & Zionism Unsettled

Not every criticism of the Israeli strategy in Israel/Palestine is automatically anti-Semitic, although this is what the public is so often led to believe. It is convenient to attack IPMN and Zionism Unsettled as "anti-Semitic" when the detractors don't want to address human rights violations and Israeli government policy. Anything to detract from what's really going on, like Sec. of State Kerry mentioning "apartheid" and Israel in the same sentence. Juan Cole has an excellent piece on this: "John Kerry Acknowledges Israeli Apartheid and 5 Ways He Is Understating It".

Although IPMN members are all members of PC(USA) churches or presbyteries, as shown in our by-laws posted on our website, no denominational funds were used to produce Zionism Unsettled. In fact, everyone who worked on Zionism Unsettled - except the graphic designer - worked pro-bono.

IPMN has posted a complete FAQ document, answering all questions and criticisms of Zionism Unsettled: http://www.israelpalestinemissionnetwork.org/main/index.php?option=com_c...

False Witness

I will leave to others to enumerate the distortions in Christopher Leighton's article "False Witness". There are many. Since Christian Century and, I presume Rev. Leighton are interested in dialogue, I look forward to Christian Century publishing a response to his article by someone selected by the authors of Zionism Unsettled and IPMN. I do want to comment, however, on John Buchanan's editorial which introduces this article. He entitles it "Weep Together". "Is it too much to hope that somehow Jews and Palestinians could weep together? Is it too much to hope that both admit their own culpability?" While I am sure well intentioned, Rev. Buchanan appears blind to the fact that the reconciliation we pray may eventually come will only be possible when justice is established. The actions of Israel make it, and have made it plain for many years that it has no intention whatsoever of allowing a just settlement to be reached. He then asks that both Jews and Palestinians admit their culpability. He appears to have forgotten that Israel is the oppressor and Palestinians are the oppressed. He appears to have forgotten that the power differential between these two people make his question laughable - if only it were not so very sad. The Rev. Cotton Fite

Not Fooled Twice

Christian Century's False Witness.
Former editor, James Wall, has an excellent response to this ugly article on his blog. It addresses the inaccuracies and ploys of the article well. But all Century readers do well to wonder about Rev. Buchanan and his agenda. This is not the first time he has used the pages of the Century to try to influence a vote for divestment at an upcoming General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA), Buchanan's denomination. Previous attempts were kind, and sincerely dialectic. Not this article. It is stunning to read Mr. Leighton's argument that calls for divestment, and honest depictions of Israeli occupation, are an injustice to Israel. This is about justice, justice for the Palestinians, and justice for the decent people of the Israel/Palestine Mission Network of the PCUSA. Mr. Leighton writes, "Despair is spurring people to conclude that the time has come to choose sides." The time for choosing sides is long past! The state of Israel does not negotiate in good faith. The Israeli Defense Forces do not negotiate at all. Surely, we are right to chose sides. How can it be wrong to stand with the oppressed, and against nations that oppress and corporations that enable the oppression? I just have to wonder what economic interests Rev. Buchanan has in attempting to undermine calls for divestment. In what social circles does his use of the formerly venerable Christian Century enable him to move? I haven't canceled my long-standing subscription yet. But if there is no space made for someone from the IPMN to offer a response, space that should have been given along side Leighton's awful article, then I will certainly make my choice of sides clear, and invite others to do the same. Leighton's screed represents an unprecedented, underhanded and ugly low for Rev. Buchanan's editorship. It is one for which there must be an apology, and amends made.

Rev. David Oliver-Holder
Bayfield, Wisconsin


Sadly, all the responses so far illustrate the very problem that Christopher Leighton discusses in his article--the one-sidedness of BDS supporters, who have finally reached the point of demanding an end to Israel as a Jewish state. While Leighton indicates that both sides have legitimate grievances, the respondents only see fault in one (Israel). Rev. Oliver-Holder even calls Leighton's article a "screed" representing "an unprecedented, underhanded and ugly low for Rev. Buchanan's editorship." It's hard to believe that this writer is referring to the same article that I read.

We need more light, not more heat.


Most of the people who have commented on "False Witness" have already pointed out the inaccuracies and misleading statements it contains. I simply want to express my disappointment that my favorite magazine would print an article like this. I count of Christian Century to give me an accurate picture and analysis of any issues that are addressed. I hope to see corrections and another viewpoint published soon.

Dexter Van Zile

Christopher Leighton's treatment of Zionism Unsettled was actually pretty charitable. Zionism Unsettled offers three big lies.

1. Christian and Jewish Zionism has been sheltered from debate and the plight of the Palestinians has been taboo in mainline churches. Since when?

Jews and Christians have been debating about Zionism since before Israel was founded. And people have been expressing concern about the Palestinians for decades. Gary Burge, no friend of Israel, and whose ideas are highlighted in Zionism Unsettled, has boasted of the success of Evangelicals for Middle East Understanding in changing the discussion in American Evangelicalism.

And then there is Churches for Middle East Peace, founded in 1984 to promote the Palestinian cause.

Given the historical record, no one can honestly assert that debate over Zionism and Israel has been stifled or that the plight of the Palestinians is a "taboo" subject in mainline churches. And that's what Zionism Unsettled does.

2. Jews had it good in Muslim majority countries until the arrival of Zionism in the Middle East and that Jewish existence is alive and well in Iran.

The record is pretty clear on this. Jews live in fear in Iran according to the U.S. State Department. And Jews, like Christians have been subjected to oppression in Muslim-majority countries for centuries.

3. Palestinian suffering is solely the fault of Israel. "Zionism is the problem," the text states.

No one who has paid any attention to the Arab-Israeli conflict can ignore the fecklessness, corruption and incompetence of Arab and Palestinian leaders.

And speaking of ad hominem attacks, the text defames Reinhold Niebuhr for being indifferent to the plight of the Palestinians. When he spoke to the Committee of Inquiry in 1946, he addressed these concerns directly, and in part two of "Jews After the War," which was published in the New Republic in 1942 he acknowledged it as well.

And the folks who invoke James M. Wall as a respectable commentator? He is now serving on the editorial board of Veterans News Now, which has published the writing of former klansman David Duke.

Israel My Glory

I agree with so many of you but also have found this suggestion from 2001 helpful. Will bring my comment from "Weep Together" to this thread too.

#We all turn to theologians who have spoken time and time again to us on many subjects. Ellen F. Davis contributes here with truth and beauty from p. 85 of her classic Getting Involved with God (2001):
"So we may pray that those who share God's love for the land of Israel, especially the Jews and Palestinians who live there, may love it patiently, with unswerving devotion in the absence of exclusive possession. Probably there is no emotional feat more difficult for peoples who know that they belong to the land more fully than it can ever belong to them."#

Letter from Walter T. Davis Jr.

The tone of Christopher Leighton’s attack on Zionism Unsettled, a congregational study guide published by the Israel Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), is proof that Zionism has become an untouchable sacred cow. The typical tropes of emotional responses when sacred cows are called into question are ad hominem attacks, name calling, distortions of others’ positions, and cherry-picking statements out of context. Leighton employs them all. He makes sweeping condemnations but fails to substantiate his charges by reference to the text itself. And he ignores the fact that four-fifths of the criticisms of Zionism cited in Zionism Unsettled are from Jews themselves, many of whom were once Zionists.

Leighton also fails to mention that Zionism Unsettled is a condensed and edited version of diverse essays by ten different authors (a Palestinian Muslim theologian-philosopher; a Palestinian Christian pastoral theologian; two Ameri­can Jews, one of whom is a rabbi; an Eastern Orthodox scholar; a noted Roman Catholic feminist theologian; and four Presbyterians). These writers take different positions on key theological and ethical issues related to the three Abrahamic religions. These full essays, together with a preface by Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann, will be part of a book published in September by Wipf and Stock. The IPMN has responded to many frequently asked questions about the project on its website: http://bit.ly/ZU_FAQs.

The intention of Zion­ism Unsettled is to initiate a long-suppressed dialogue about the nature and consequences of Zionism. In fact, the study guide is not uncritical of the essays that make up the chapters of the book and provides discussion points at the end of each chapter raising critical questions about each essay. Sadly, instead of dialogue, Leigh­ton succumbs to diatribe.

For example, he declares that Zionism Unsettled “denies any legitimacy to the state of Israel whatsoever.” Not true! Not one of the ten authors does this. They all strongly oppose a Jewish state, because ethnocracies do not provide equal rights for all their citizens, as the state of Israel demonstrates so clearly in its basic laws and in recent legislation. For people who are trapped in a Zionist framework, calling into question a Jewish state is tantamount to blasphemy, but more and more former Zionists are now agreeing that in a pluralistic society a state cannot privilege one group of citizens (Jews in this case) over another, because it will lose its status as a democracy.

The international community is in agreement on this issue. No other country has recognized Israel as a Jewish state, yet Israeli prime minister Ben­jamin Netanyahu has repeatedly de­manded that Palestinians do so as a condition for peace. To recognize Israel as a Jewish state would undermine both international law and the universally accepted human rights covenants on which that law is based. Andrew Levine of the Institute for Policy Studies makes this crystal clear in an April 2014 essay in Counterpunch titled “The Crisis of Liberal Zionism,” concluding, “The denial of full citizenship rights to Palestinians living in Israel proper is an even more glaring embarrassment for liberal Zionism.”

The basic premise of Zionism Unsettled is that when theological exceptionalism (entailing higher status for insiders, lower status for outsiders) is combined with political power, it produces violence. Examples abound in the history of all three Abrahamic religions. “History has demonstrated with tragic repetition the straight line from sacred claims of special status to separation, prejudice, discrimination, and violence toward other people” (p. 8).

Can Leighton document that Zionism is unrelated to almost seven decades of dispossession and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians conducted by the state of Israel? Can he show how the laws, policies, and practices that Israel applies to Palestinian citizens of Israel and Palestinians in the Occupied Territories do not meet the criteria for apartheid as defined by the 1973 International Con­vention on the Crime of Apartheid? Rather than address the issues raised by Zionism Unsettled, Leighton keeps trying to change the subject, making one ask if something else is going on here.

The timing and the tone of this article in the Christian Century leads us to believe that the primary target of this ad hominem attack is not the content of Zionism Unsettled but the resolutions and overtures coming to the June 2014 PCUSA General Assembly regarding divesting church funds from three American companies that contribute to and profit from the violence of Israel’s military occupation of Palestine. This attack is a red herring, dragged across the path of the Assembly to divert attention from its real business of ensuring that Presbyterian Foundation and the PCUSA pension funds do not profit from the misery of occupation, to say nothing of speaking the truth and acting for justice in the real world. Pres­byterians will see the big picture, because we take pride in our thorough and careful process and our historic stance for justice.

Walter T. Davis Jr.
Project coordinator for Zionism Unsettled and professor emeritus, San Francisco Theological Seminary, San Anselmo, Calif.

Response from Christopher Leighton

Walter Davis and his team are right to call attention to the suffering of Palestinians. They are right to challenge Israel to live up to its democratic ideals and to end practices that threaten minority populations. These points were never at issue in my article.

Davis argues that the criticism of Israel and Zionism has become “tantamount” to blasphemy in public discourse. This sweeping generalization would evidently make Israel and much of the Jewish community filled with blasphemers, for Zionism and the democratic character of Israel have been fiercely discussed and debated since their inception. Davis maintains that criticisms of Israel are routinely suppressed, which the guide links to “the fear and blindness spread by the major Jewish organizations” (p. 23). Davis then boasts of the number of Jews who were recruited to echo the guide’s foregone conclusions. Yet there was no effort made to include Christian, Jewish, or Muslim scholars whose positions might contest the guide’s advocacy. Readers of the guide were given no content that would equip them to seriously wrestle with the critical questions listed at the end of each chapter.

I was relieved to learn that the authors of Zionism Unsettled do not deny the legitimacy of the state of Israel. This point was uniformly missed by the scores of ministers, rabbis, educators, and lay leaders with whom I have studied the guide. Perhaps the authors’ intentions were overshadowed by the context of the larger BDS (boycotts, divestment, sanctions) movement, a movement that is shifting its position from efforts to end the occupation to strategies to discredit the 1947 UN resolution that established the state of Israel, to isolate and delegitimize its right to exist, and to fashion a dream for a binational entity on the ruins.

Or perhaps readers reached these conclusions because the guide is steeped in inflammatory rhetoric that shuts down the possibility of civil exchange before it can begin. Classifying Israel as an apartheid nation that is bound to an ideology inexorably driven to dispossess and ethically cleanse the Palestinians does not serve as a basis for constructive engagement.

Davis and his team are right to call attention to the dangers of ethnocracies and in particular the problems that emerge with the fusion of religion and nationalism. The legislation before the Knesset to proclaim Israel “the Jewish state” will demand sustained examination and critique. It remains to be seen what exactly this identification means. In the meantime, it is worth noting that were the Knesset to declare Israel “a Jewish state,” Israel would join approximately 40 percent of countries in the world that have woven religion into their national identities, including not only Arab and Muslim nations but Spain, Iceland, Finland, Denmark, Argentina, Norway, and Great Britain.

What compounds the challenge is that “Jewish” entails an ethnic and not simply a religious category. To eliminate ethnicity as an acceptable element sets a standard unattainable for most countries. Unless Davis wants to make Israel the exception, his condemnation implicates all those nations that blend religion and ethnicity into their national identity.

The partisan advocacy of Zionism Unsettled screens out the voices of those who identify with the various political, cultural, and religious allegiances that are lumped into the category of Zionism. If mutual understanding and peacemaking are the goals, this guide comes up woefully short.

Keep the Seminoles on the reservation?

I agree with one part of what Mr. Leighton says--there were atrocities committed against Jews in 1948 and since, and this should be recognized. Unfortunately, he then goes off the rails. The Seminole Indian analogy is a strange one for him to use--logically, given his position, what he is saying is that Native Americans and Palestinians both need to be kept on the reservation, and allowing them off the reservation would destroy the character of the countries where they would become citizens.

The difference, of course, is that white Americans far outnumber the Native Americans, which means that when predominantly white America finally did agree to let the Native Americans off the reservation, it posed no "demographic threat". Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza, and elsewhere may outnumber Israeli Jews. That would change the demographic balance. Is this supposed to be bad? Since when did any group have the right to expel people from their homeland so they could establish a state with the correct ethnic composition? So there is no ethical basis for what Mr. Leighton defends. He elides the issue by never spelling out the implications.

The real problem with a one state solution is simply that we don't know if it would work. Perhaps it would lead to civil war. But then say that. Then people could discuss the real issues involved in making any solution work. A viable two state solution would probably involve very porous borders, unless the idea is to give the Palestinians two carefully isolated Bantustans. But then, a two state solution with very porous borders would face the same risk of war and terrorism from extremists (on both sides) as a one state solution.

Finally, Mr. Leighton says that if Israel is to be branded an apartheid state, so must those countries which declare themselves Muslim. Perhaps--one would have to look at each case separately. No doubt Israel's neighbors do have very bad human rights records. It doesn't change the fact that Israel exists as a Jewish state because of ethnic cleansing, and that people on the West Bank live under two different sets of laws, depending on their ethnicity, with one being favored and one not.