UN positions on Israel are not gospel. Why do Christians cite them?

(RNS) — Observers from major Protestant denominations and ecumenical organizations have become accustomed to an inescapable reality: Many of these groups are overly focused on Israel. Christian denominational conventions routinely debate more resolutions on Israel than on any other country.

This focus almost never takes the form of positive acknowledgment – ​​or genuine understanding, let alone solidarity, in the face of the unique threats facing the citizens of Israel. On the contrary, within the main ecclesiastical institutions, it has become routine to condemn Israel, the only diverse democracy in the Middle East.

In recent weeks, the Presbyterian Church (USA) has passed polemical anti-Israel motions at its annual general meeting. The World Council of Churches recently elected as its next general secretary a pastor who has made inflammatory statements about “the Israeli Zionist project”.

Indeed, the attention paid to Israel by Christian leaders does not stop at criticism, but often manifests itself in defamation – and is accompanied by punitive actions, such as boycott measures, not extended to opponents. of Israel or the most abusive regimes in the world.


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No government is beyond reproach and there is no perfect country. Israel, too, is flawed—but its circumstances certainly are too.

Where criticism of Israel crosses a line is in delegitimization, demonization and double standards. If a religious institution sees only evil in Israel, and only suffering among Palestinians, something is wrong. If a moral leader speaks out against the failings of Israeli democracy but not Arab autocracies, that is not prophetic testimony but prejudice. The same goes for whitewashing Jewish national rights and identity but sanctifying Palestinian nationalism.

In Israel, after all, Arabs enjoy far more civil liberties than in Arab countries. Far fewer Arabs have lost their lives to Israel in 75 years than in Arab countries in the past 10 years. And since 1948, when the Jewish population of the Arab lands fell from around 850,000 to just 4,000, the Arab population of the Holy Land area has grown from around 1.3 million to nearly 7 million. Meanwhile, a rarity in the Middle East, the number of Christians has increased in Israel.

Not insignificantly, Israel – one of the smallest countries in the world – has taken extraordinary risks, sacrifices and overtures for peace, repeatedly receiving escalated violence in return. Israel has maintained Islamic administration of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, Judaism’s holiest site, limiting the ability of Jews to pray there. Regional extremists – including Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas – openly seek not coexistence or territorial compromise, but the destruction of the Jewish state within all borders.

Those who accuse Israel – and Israel alone – of “apartheid” should observe the ubiquity of hijabs and keffiyehs in government offices, malls, hospitals and universities there, and wonder if people would wear the same way a kipah or a star of David in Ramallah or Jenin. Those who argue that the Jewish state and pluralism are incompatible might explain why the same logic is not applied to the dozens of states whose flags feature a crescent or a cross.

Too many Christian bodies are ready to renounce the anti-Jewish hostility of the past, but not in the present. Today, the dehumanization of the half of the world’s Jews who live in Israel – and the denial of their roots in the ancestral Jewish homeland, something endemic in official Palestinian discourse – incites endless and indiscriminate attacks. against Israelis and Jewish minorities in the Diaspora.

How can we explain the concern and vehemence of major religious groups towards Israel? Undoubtedly, most Christians are not characterized by any primitive anti-Semitism, and most only want to promote peace and reconciliation.

One answer, of course, is the special status of the Holy Land. Another is the effectiveness of a vocal core of activists, mobilizing selective facts, a simplistic narrative of Palestinians as outsiders and often a fringe element of token Jewish allies. Yet another explanation is that some denominations feel responsible to an Arab Christian constituency – and do not face the ramifications for castigating Israel as they would if targeting Arab governments.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres addresses the emergency session of the United Nations General Assembly, February 28, 2022, in New York. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Another factor, however, is the role played by the United Nations.

UN resolutions, reports and statements are the permanent backbone of ecclesial and ecumenical decisions against Israel. Last week’s anti-Israel motions from the Presbyterian Church (USA) largely cited UN positions on Israel. The World Council of Churches also defended the rhetoric of its next general secretary, saying simply that it “strongly supports UN resolutions”, even as the new leader professed: “We are a faith-based organization – not a political one. “.

But the UN is not an impartial or apostolic body. It is a political body, governed by geopolitics and not by ethics.

Home to nearly 60 Arab and Muslim states but only one Jewish state, the UN itself condemns Israel more than all other countries combined – in the General Assembly, the World Health Assembly and even the Commission on the condition of the woman.

The Human Rights Council, which sits on serial abusers, maintains a standing agenda item on Israel, another on all other member states. Arab countries have held seats on the Security Council, some repeatedly, but never Israel. Dedicated UN divisions and staff expressly promote Palestinian rights, but not Israeli rights. An “international day of solidarity” encompasses the Palestinians but no other people.

One UN agency serves Palestinian refugees, another all other refugee populations of the world. A UN blacklist stigmatizes companies operating in lands controlled by Israel, but not in disputed or occupied areas elsewhere. The UN only considers Jews in their historic heartland as illegal “settlers” – and officially classifies jihadist atrocities as terrorism, but not if they target Israelis. The new Gaza “commission of inquiry” was made up exclusively of anti-Israel supporters – but only after the UN condemned Israel in advance. Hamas, which attacks Israeli civilians among Palestinian civilians, was not even mentioned.

This absurd disc is not the reflection of the real saga of Israel. It is not an expression of justice – and not something that churches can invoke, much less imitate.


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Ranking Democrats and Republicans have long bemoaned the bias of the UN, but some religious activists would call the stance “political,” perhaps dictated by the “Israel lobby.” But these sectarian critics don’t acknowledge political corruption at the UN

It is time for all church leaders – representing over 2 billion Christians, far outnumbering the world’s Jews – to abandon a zero-sum view of power, merit and morality in the Middle East.

The UN is not a prophetic voice, and its statements about Israel are not gospel.

(David J. Michaels is Director of United Nations and Intercommunity Affairs at B’nai B’rith International. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Religion News Service.)

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