Friday, October 24, 2008

Email to editor of Evangelicals Now

Dear Dr Benton

I started writing this email at 12:05 on Friday morning. I was so angry at the article by David Rushworth-Smith in the latest EN that I could not sleep. I will try to write in measured and calm tones, but you need to know how disappointed, enraged, sickened and offended I am at this article and your decision to publish it. I am now seriously questioning why I bother continuing to subscribe to your newspaper.

It is well-known that evangelicals have differing views on the politics and theological significance of the modern state of Israel. In your June edition, you gave 25 words to one side:

"May saw the 60th anniversary of the setting up of the state of Israel, which many evangelical Christians see as a fulfilment of biblical prophecy." [This was an addendum to the article entitled "Israeli government awards British preacher," on page 3 if memory serves me right.]

Your latest edition gives a whole page to someone who takes an extreme opposing position, a position which borders on racism. I have included links and sources so that you can establish the accuracy of these strong words for yourself.

The very title and presupposition of the article is that the anniversary of the state of Israel should not be celebrated but mourned, indeed it is something for which Christians should apologise. According to the EUMC Working Defintion of Antisemitism , denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination is antisemitic. The entire tone of the article is that it would be better if the state of Israel did not exist: does Mr R-S wish such a fate on any other nation in the world? Would he really prefer the world's one Jewish state not to be? Would he prefer that Jews fleeing postwar Europe had remained homeless, or remained as prey for the antisemitic vultures of "Christian" Europe?

In his first sentence, Mr Rushworth-Smith refers to unspecified "Jewish believers" who have signed a statement saying they would not celebrate Israel's 60th anniversary. This is flawed on numerous grounds. Firstly, the phrase "Jewish believers" is often used as shorthand for "Jewish believers in Jesus". Mr R-S's words could therefore be read as suggesting that some Messianic Jews mourn rather than celebrate the state of Israel, something which (in my experience) is totally untrue and potentially libellous. If Mr R-S means Orthodox Jews he should say this, not use loose language carelessly. Secondly, this "argument by ethnic admission" is entirely fallacious: some Arabs celebrate the state of Israel, whilst a minority of Jewish people flirt with Holocaust Denial and the majority deny that Jesus is the Messiah: presumably Mr R-S does not subscribe to those positions. Thirdly, to use Jews to argue against the existence of the Jewish state is reminiscent of the tactics of the Nazis who played off Jews against other Jews. Fourthly, some anti-Zionist Jews, such as the maverick Orthodox group Neturei Karta, have participated in Ahmadninejad's Holocaust Denial conferences. Does Mr R-S want Christians to follow their example in this as well?

In the penultimate paragraph in the second column, Mr R-S refers to the Palmach/ Hagannah as a "Jewish Zionist terrorist organisation". In fact it was set up in 1921 to defend Jewish settlement against attacks by Arab raiders and later became the Israel Defence Forces. (Source: Martin Gilbert, Israel: A History [Doubleday, 2008], p. 47. Sir Martin Gilbert is one of the country's leading historians and the official biographer of Sir Winston Churchill.) For much of the time the Palmach distanced itself from the (genuine) terrorist groups which Mr R-S mentions, the Irgun and the Stern Gang.

Mr R-S's treatment of the "golden years" says nothing, but nothing, about Arab terrorism in the period from 1920-1948. There were riots and attacks on Jewish settlements throughout the period, and there were attacks on the British as well: did these have no impact at all on Christian activities? Needless to say, Mr R-S says nothing about Arab terrorism anywhere else in the article either. There is no context given to current Israeli security measures (the tanks in one photo and the security barrier in another, captioned "the new gate out of the walled enclosure called Bethlehem"). The security barrier was built to stop Israelis being killed, and has been demonstrably successful: 431 Israelis were killed in 137 suicide bombings between September 2000 and the completion of the northern and most of the Jerusalem sections of the wall, 100 in March 2000 alone. After the completion of the wall in the north, there was not a single terrorist attack across that section. By December 2004, the number of suicide attacks launched from the West Bank had fallen by 84% in less than two years. (Figures from Sir Martin Gilbert's updated Israel, A History, p. 631.) Since Mr R-S neither mourns these Israeli dead nor condemns (or even acknowledges) their killers, am I entitled to conclude that he has no objection to Israelis being murdered?

The section entitled "Freedom of Religion" is simply shocking, not least because of Mr R-S' failure to distinguish "the State of Israel" from "Gaza" (which is ruled by Hamas) and the "West Bank" (which is governed by the Palestinian Authority). It is well-known that Arab Christians in Israel proper enjoy full freedoms, and Evangelicals among them cooperate with Messianic Jews in evangelism. In Gaza the situation is different because Hamas is a violent Islamist group responsible (among other things) for the murder of the owner of a Christian bookshop. In the West Bank, it is well-documented that the Christian population is suffering and declining because of pressure from the Palestinian Authority: Israel is not to blame. But one would not know this from Mr R-S's version of events.

Mr R-S says that "evangelical believers in the Holy Land suffer so badly." Yes, of course Arab Evangelicals are suffering as a result of the conflict, but so too are Israeli Messianic Jews, at least two of whom have been killed in suicide bombings. Why is Mr R-S not expressing solidarity for them as well? Is he incapable of showing compassion for Israeli pain? Why does he not recognise that the number of Israeli Messianic Jews has risen from 12 in 1948 to 10-15,000 today? Is even that not something to celebrate?

Mr R-S makes the ludicrously false claim that there were no Jewish people in the land between 70 AD and 1948. In fact there was continuous settlement in Safed, Tiberias, Hebron and Jerusalem from biblical times onwards (see M Gilbert, The Routledge Atlas of the Arab-Israeli Conflict [Routledge, 7th ed. , p. 2) and Jerusalem has had a Jewish majority since 1880. Some (many?) of the missions and Christian groups he mentions in the first paragraph of his second column had the express aim of reaching the local Jewish population, as did the 1839 Palestine expedition of Robert Murray M'Cheyne and his friends.

Mr R-S's version of the history of the foundation of the state of Israel in 1948 is hugely distorted, referring to land being stolen from rightful owners. What actually happened was that the Jews accepted the UN's partition of the land whilst the Arabs rejected it, and proceeded to attack Jewish settlement in every part of Palestine. The Jews defended themselves (at a cost of 1% of Israel's population) and, in the context of this Arab-initiated war, between 550,000-900,000 Arabs fled their homes, for a variety of reasons, one of which was being encouraged to do so by their own leaders, not being "herded out" as Mr R-S puts it. It is also well-known (and was pointed out in an article in EN by Tony Higton in 2000) that more Jews fled from Arab countries in 1948 than Arabs fled from what became Israel. Why does Mr R-S show no compassion for these Jewish refugees, most of whom settled in Israel because they had nowhere else to go?

Finally, and most disgracefuuly, R-S cites Jeff Halper, Ilan Pappe and Norman Finkelstein as respected Jewish academics. In fact, all three have been exposed as fraudulent scholars on numerous occasions:

Halper: see here, here and here

Pappe is a postmodern revisionist historian who has himself admitted that facts are unimportant, see:

Efraim Karsh, Pure Pappe
Seth J. Frantzman, Flunking History
Ilan Pappe has also participated in propaganda hoaxes.

Earlier this year, Pappe gave an interview to a German neo-Nazi newspaper: SO HOW DARE MR RUSHWORTH-SMITH CITE HIM AS A CREDIBLE SOURCE?

As for Norman Finkelstein, he has been referred to as "the Nazis' favourite Jew", his book The Holocaust Industry can be found reproduced on Nazi websites the world over. You can get a flavour for his writings by looking at these links:

Deborah Passner, Norman Finkelstein�s Fraudulent Scholarship
Paul Bogdanor, The Scholarship of Norman Finkelstein
Steven Plaut, DePaul University�s Moment of Truth
Alan Dershowitz, Finkelstein�s Bigotry
Noam Chomsky�s disciple Norman G. Finkelstein dismisses the Holocaust as an extortion racket against Germany, says that Jews run America, compares Israelis with Nazis, justifies al-Qaeda, champions Hezbollah, speaks alongside Hamas supporters and gives interviews to Holocaust deniers.

Some of Finkelstein's work is tantamount to Holocaust Denial: again, WHY IS MR RUSHWORTH-SMITH CITING HIM? For a comprehensive demolition of Finkelstein's "scholarship" on the Holocaust and on Israel, Mr R-S would do well to read the relevant chapter of E Alexander & P Bogdanor (eds.), The Jewish Divide over Israel: Accusers and Defenders (Transaction Publishers, 2006, pp. 135-161).

Dr Benton, I do not expect you to have a comprehensive grasp of the nuances and sources of Israeli historiography. I would however hope that you would have a sufficient grasp of current events to recognise that Rushworth-Smith's article is massively one-sided and relentlessly blind to Israeli pain.

Whether Mr Rushworth-Smith likes it or not, it is a fact that there are British and Israeli Messianic Jews in British evangelical churches. Most if not all believe that Israel has the right to exist and defend itself. Some of my family live in Israel and are protected by the wall which the likes of Mr Rushworth-Smith can only demonise. I know at least one Israeli believer, at least one British Messianic Jew, and at least one Gentile who has an Israeli wife who have stopped subscribing to EN because of its perceived anti-Israel bias. If you give 25 words to one side of the debate and (however unwittingly) a whole delegitimising, demonising, flawed and polemical page to the other, you do very little to change their minds. Do you really want to drive Messianic Jews away from mainstream evangelicalism? If so, keep right on. If you don't (and I know that you don't), you owe it to them to rethink your editorial policy on the Middle East conflict - drastically.



Anonymous said...

Very interesting - the November 2008 issue is now on the Evangelicals Now web site, but the article you mention is nowhere to be seen. Perhaps they have got the message...

Matt said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Matt said...

It would be very, very good indeed if they got the message.

Brilliant response, James!

Couple of odds and ends:

1. I think it's interesting that today's Pfefferkorn-flavoured self-hating Jews seem to pander to rationalist academia, still with the idea of ingratiating themselves in, apparently for personal gain, with those who would vie for the destruction of the Jews and/or Israel. More ominously, they at times remind one not just of Pfefferkorn, but of the odious Anton Margaritha, whose writing actually had a role in influencing Luther to write his frankly evil tract, "On the Jews and their Lies."

2. I wonder why there is only a focus in EN on the Palestinian refugees? I guess the Jewish population who had to flee Iraq, Egypt and Syria weren't that big of a deal.

I also wonder when we may see something in EN like, "The sad tale of Spiro, who still has the key to his great-grandfather's house in Smyrna which they were forced to flee in 1923, but to which they still cherish a hope of an eventual return." (Or was it Gurmeet, with the key to his grandfather's flat which he wistfully recalls from his childhood in Lahore?) Probably not especially soon.

James said...

Hi Matt,
I believe that EN are going to put a "balancing piece " in their next edition... too bloody right.

Jonathan Hunt said...

Hm. I must have missed that article. I'll have to dig the copy out and read it. Very good response, James.

Oof! said...

Could it be that EN has pulled the article? I can't find it.

James said...

Thanks both. Jonathan: the article is on p. 18 of the Nov edition. It's a shocker. It diesn't appear on the EN website.

Jonathan Hunt said...

What did you make of the 'alternative' opinion piece in this month's EN, James?

James said...

Hi jonathan,
I'm going to post on that later this week,


Stephen Sizer said...

One act of anti-semitism is one too many. But widening the definition to cover legitimate criticism of political actions and so inhibit free speech will not diminish but fuel real anti-semitism.

And by the way, Adrian, Garth and Ibrahim Hewitt are not related.

James said...

I don't know whether you posted this before or after the debate we had about Leeds Uni. I have nowhere "widened the definition [of antisemitism] to cover legitimate criticism of political actions and so inhibit free speech". I have suggested that denying Israel's right to exist, and citing known anti-Semites to bolster one's "argument", might just indeed be antisemitic. As for free speech, when are you going to reinstate comments on your own blog?

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