Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) tries to organize American religious opinion against Israel with relatively measured tones. Its participants predictably include officials from the left-dominated Mainline Protestant denominations, liberal Catholic orders, and the Greek Archdiocese of North America, as well as the Antiochian Orthodox Church in the U.S. Its official “friends” include more overtly anti-Israel diehards like Friends of Sabeel – North America, which essentially wants to dissolve Jewish Israel in favor of a multi-ethnic “Palestine.” Various advocates of anti-Israel divestment, an otherwise largely defeated cause, are also “friends” to CEMP, including the Episcopal Peace Fellowship, the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, and the Methodist Federation for Social Action.
The star of CMEP’s annual “advocacy” conference in Washington, D.C. starting June 13 will be Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori. Comfortably liberal Episcopal refinement is exactly the sort of tone that CMEP often prefers to mask its more provocative agenda. Bishop Schori is enmeshed in the melt-down of her own denomination, including lawsuits against departing local congregations, and its schism with the more theologically orthodox global Anglican Communion. But denouncing Israel still merits her attention.
Last week, she wrote President Obama a relatively long, substantive and, by Religious left standards, temperate denunciation of Israel’s interception of the Gaza-bound flotilla. But the bias and preoccupation with Israeli sins, perceived or real, are still obvious, even if cloaked in Episcopalian politesse. Admitting all the details of the flotilla event are still unclear, she still insisted: “It is clear, however, that the deaths of civilians working to deliver humanitarian aid could not have happened absent the counterproductive Israeli blockade of Gaza.” Ostensibly there are “far better ways to protect Israel’s security and promote moderate political leadership in Gaza than a blockade that intensifies human suffering and perpetuates regional insecurity.”
What are the alternatives to counteracting Hamas rule in Gaza short of a partial blockade against it? Like most Israel critics, Bishop Schori does not say. And as with other professions of supposed concern about Israel’s “security,” Bishop Schori and other clerics who publicly pontificate about the Middle East almost never offer substitute proposals for whatever Israeli defenses they reject. The security wall is supposedly an outrage, but what else will impede suicide bombers? Israel’s continued security oversight of the West Bank is purportedly oppresses the Palestinians. But since most Palestinians still seem to reject a Palestinian state existing peacefully alongside a Jewish Israel, what are the other options? Religious and secular complainants insist that removal of Jewish settlements from the West Bank is prerequisite for peace. But the abrupt closure of all Jewish settlements in Gaza hardly generated good will and instead seemed only to stimulate appetite for more Israeli concessions. Browbeating Israel into endless accommodations that only feed an inexhaustible expectation by Palestinians for further Israeli retreat and eventual Arab/Islamist triumph seems to be the Religious Left’s main strategy for Middle East “peace.”
“Instead of enhancing Israel’s security, the blockade has harmed its international standing and imposed an inexcusable humanitarian toll on the people of Gaza,” Bishop Schori insisted in her letter to Obama. “While Israel has allowed a very limited amount of humanitarian aid to enter Gaza, the restriction on basic goods for agriculture, fishing, and infrastructure construction has caused poverty and joblessness to soar.” This may be true, but why is Israel exclusively at fault for Gaza’s suffering? How was Gaza faring before to the blockade, and under the rule of the Palestinian Authority? What evidence is there for Palestinian leadership genuinely interested in responsible governance rather than indefinite conflict?
Bishop Schori provided details about the number of trucks with supplies entering Gaza per day. The concern is partly admirable, if sincere. But why is a U.S. Episcopal Bishop obsessed with living standards for Gaza, or the Palestinians, when hundreds of millions globally live in far greater poverty? Would Palestinian GNP, in Gaza or the West Bank, interest liberal U.S. bishops at all, absent Israel as the targeted culprit? How many anti-Western dictators have blockaded or literally starved hostile populations much larger than Gaza, without a murmur from Bishop Schori or the Religious Left?
Rather than tacitly backing an ill-advised blockade, the U.S. should work with its ally, Israel, to promote constructive new policies toward Gaza that serve the aims of peace and security,” Bishop Schori lectured. The former oceanographer and teacher wants “continued efforts to halt violence, and credible long-term strategies to support Palestinian leaders who are actively working for peace,” while also drawing “support and legitimacy from across Palestinian society.” She suggests “political reconciliation so that a future Palestinian government can draw strength both from its internal support and from its external actions on behalf of peace.” How does the Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop, unable to reconcile the divisions within her own denomination of tea sippers and Volvo drivers, propose to reconcile Hamas with other Palestinians, much less Israel?
For Schori, the goals for the Middle East are simple. The Episcopal Church has “repeatedly” supported a “secure Israel with defined borders, whose right to exist is universally recognized; a sovereign, independent and secure state for the Palestinian people; and shared custody and protection of the holy sites in Jerusalem held sacred by the three great Abrahamic faiths.” This rhetoric appeals to Episcopalians snugly secure in their New England hamlets. But how many Palestinians, even outside Hamas, share this vision?
Schori instructed Obama to shift our nation’s posture” towards “lifting the blockade,” while also “robustly” encouraging “long-term peace.” She also expects “direct negotiation between the parties,” i.e. apparent recognition for Hamas. How will abandoning the Gaza blockade and recognizing Hamas, which would surely inflate that Islamist group’s prestige and ambitions, advance peace? In the rarified and often beautiful world of Episcopal liturgy, noblesse oblige, gothic spires, and ancient endowments, simply demanding “long-term peace’ may seem quite attainable over a lunch at the country club. In the real world of guns, power, and even more ancient hatreds, appeasement often only breeds greater conflict.
Bishop Schori’s pleas to appease Hamas were relatively more thoughtful than other Religious Left voices. United Methodist lobbyist Jim Winkler histrionically bewailed Israel’s “high-seas piracy” against the “Freedom Flotilla.” But her appeal to Obama, and her likely commentary to Churches for Middle East Peace later this week, are just as feckless, and, if heeded, just as dangerous.