Israel received over one-third of human rights criticism from mainline Protestant denominations and over one-half when criticisms toward the United States are factored out. Yet Freedom House (and every other human rights group) blames Israel for a “very small proportion of world human rights abuses – and hardly the worst of those.” Does this suggest some kind of animus against the Jewish people?
While careful to distinguish legitimate criticism of Israel from the charge of anti-Semitism, the report notes that the political rhetoric between historically anti-Semitic groups and the Protestant mainstream is converging.
In Europe, there are concrete alliances between leftist Christians and anti-Semitic organizations. The World Council of Churches (a European counterpart to the NCC) is led by leftist European elites who support antiwar and anti-globalization movements where “anti-Semitism is often the key subtext.” These movements serve as “an incubator for rising anti-Semitism,” according to scholar Gabriel Schoenfeld (The Return of Anti-Semitism, p.86).
Such alliances don’t formally exist in America – yet – but the evidence of sympathy between “mainstream” Protestants and anti-Semites is growing. In a February 2004 speech on the war in Iraq, Jim Winkler, the general secretary of the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, said:
The only possible way [Operation Iraqi Freedom] could be sold to the American people was to allege that Saddam’s regime represented an imminent threat to the United States. We now know that plans to invade Iraq were afoot more than a decade ago by a far-right band of Washington insiders known as neoconservatives. Their plans were not to remake the Middle East into a bunch of democracies – they really have no objection to several of the royal autocracies and dictatorships in the region – but to ensure Israel could continue to act with impunity against the Palestinian people.
The report concludes that while this statement is not overtly anti-Semitic, the use of term “neoconservative” as a code word for “Jews,” the charges of secrecy and loyalty to Israel, and the one sided criticism of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, fits popular anti-Semitic rhetoric. Winkler made no effort to distinguish his ideas from that rhetoric.
In August 2004, the website of the Witherspoon Society, an association of Presbyterian liberals, posted a letter describing Israeli Jews as “a colonial implant of religious zealots – the guests from Hell who have remained on as the sole owners of Hell.” Despite protests, the letter remained on the site.