In its determined insistence that both the origin and solution to the war between the Arabs and Israel somehow revolve around settlements and "occupied territory," The New York Times echoes a line first popularized immediately after the Six Day War by a gaggle of liberal Christian clerics.
There is a widespread impression that prior to June 1967 Israel was beloved by American liberals who turned lukewarm only when the Jewish state lost its underdog status. While it's true that most mainstream liberal politicians at the time were, for a variety of reasons, pro-Israel, the same could not be said for liberals in academia and in an often overlooked but influential source of elite opinion - the major Protestant denominations, which by the mid-1960's were almost uniformly leftist in their political orientation.
Indeed, it was hardly a coincidence that some of the most hard core anti-Israel sentiment in the 1960's could be found among liberal churchmen and old State Department hands; the symbiotic relationship between liberal Protestantism and the American foreign service is a story masterfully told by Robert Kaplan in The Arabists (Free Press, 1993).
And so it was that on July 7, 1967, not a month after the end of the Six Day War, the executive committee of the liberal National Council of Churches released a statement lambasting Israel for the "unilateral retention of lands she has occupied since June 5."
Also on July 7, 1967, a remarkable letter in The New York Times made the equation between Israelis and Nazis that in later years would become all too familiar:
"All persons who seek to view the Middle East problem with honesty and objectivity will stand aghast at Israel's onslaught, the most violent, ruthless (and successful) aggression since Hitler's blitzkrieg across Western Europe in the summer of 1940, aiming not at victory but at annihilation," wrote Dr. Henry P. Van Dusen, a former president of Union Theological Seminary, the academic centerpiece of liberal Protestantism in America. (Van Dusen and his wife jointly committed suicide in 1975.)
Dr. J.A. Sanders, one of Union Theological Seminary's more prominent professors, proved himself Van Dusen's equal in obtuseness by offering the following observation in an article in the liberal journal Christian Century:
"Let us imagine that the United Nations decided that, to compensate for the crime of genocide against the American Indian, the state of New Jersey should be given to the remaining Indians in the United States....And that the present inhabitants of New Jersey who did not wish to live under an Indian government in the newly created state of 'Algonkin' could live in tents and camps in New York, Pennsylvania and Delaware. A wildly impossible event, of course, but a not altogether unjust analogy."
To which Howard Singer, in his luminescent book Bring Forth the Mighty Men (Funk & Wagnalls, 1969) responded, "Well, no. It is a hideous analogy....Palestine was not 'given' to the Jews by the United Nations; they did not have it to give. The United Nations did not create anything new; it merely 'legitimatized' what already existed. The United Nations did not defend what it had legitimatized; it could not, it had no troops of its own, it was as much a debating society then as now. The Jewish community in Palestine proved its reality by soundly defeating the armies of the neighboring Arab states. What difference, then, did United Nations 'legitimatization' make? None, actually. The United States still clamped an embargo on arms to Israel, even though the United States had recognized it as a nation."
Regarding the refugees Singer added: "Nobody seems to ask why there were Arab refugees in the first place, even before the [Six Day War]. The answer, of course, is that back in 1948 there was another war. And who started that one? If Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq had not invaded Palestine in 1948 there would have been no war and no refugees...."
It's unlikely that anyone on the Times editorial board has ever read Bring Forth the Mighty Men, but even if a copy of that long-out-of-print work were to fall into the hands of every board member, it still wouldn't help. When it comes to the Middle East, the otherwise adamantly secular editorialists at the Times write not from a vantage point of cold reason but from one of religious faith - the faith of liberal churchmen like the late, unlamented Henry Van Dusen.