Parsing anti-Semitism

Shun anti-Jewish prejudice, but it's OK to criticize government injustice
January 31, 2005

There is increasing concern that anti-Semitism is on the rise and that it is partly expressed in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This is a legitimate concern. As the church, we are called to be responsive to any form of discrimination and long have called for “purging … all traces of … racism and religious bigotry, including and especially all anti-Semitism” (Executive Council 1985).

It is no doubt likely that anti-Semitism will creep into the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We should be equally vigilant that such expressions are quickly recognized and repudiated. At the same time, it’s important that the Episcopal Church has the right to criticize Israeli government policy where there is injustice.

The Episcopal Church differentiates between “anti-Jewish prejudice (sometimes referred to by the imprecise term ‘anti-Semitism’)” and the “propriety of legitimate criticism of the State of Israel.” (General Convention 1991). The church is often critical of our own government’s policy. We also have spoken to other governments in different parts of the world regarding human rights abuses and other concerns.

Historically, the Episcopal Church has criticized policies of Palestinian groups, especially around the use of violence against innocent Israelis. The task of the church is to confront injustice whatever the source.

Demonization and extremist accusations of either Israeli Jews or Palestinians is unacceptable. One common accusation is that the PLO supports the destruction of Israel. The PLO has supported the two-state solution since 1988. Charges that the church refers to Israel as a “criminal state” are simply false. However, Israel’s violations of international law under the Geneva Conventions and the International Court of Justice long have been areas of contention and tension.

The Episcopal Church now is looking at the question of whether the church is profiting in its investments from companies whose businesses support the infrastructure of the occupation or violence against innocent Israelis. The five major Jewish organizations in the United States have said that they “are heartened by the move toward balance that is reflected in this process.” Further, the Episcopal Church always has stood for the right of Israel to live in peace and security with her neighbors. And it equally supports the creation of a viable and secure Palestinian state, with Jerusalem as the capital of both Israel and Palestine.

People of goodwill in both the Israeli Jewish community and the Palestinian community are working for a just resolution to the conflict, and the Episcopal Church is doing all it can to be a faithful partner in the process. Our primary partner, the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem (made up largely of Palestinians), along with other Christians in the region are to be commended for their long and courageous nonviolent pursuit of peace.

To respond to this commentary, write to Episcopal Life or e-mail commentary@episcopal-life.org. We welcome your own commentary at the same address.

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