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Echoes of the PLO By: Mark D. Tooley
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, December 05, 2008

Recently, Episcopal Church Bishop John Chane of Washington, D.C., delivered a jeremiad against Israel at the largest Episcopal congregation in the nation’s capital (excluding the National Cathedral). The nearly 2,000 word “sermon” almost never cited God, except for a reference to the Trinity in the first line. Otherwise, it read almost like the editorial of a left-wing, secular European newspaper.  

Evidently, Bishop Chane and his wife recently visited Israel, Jordan, and “Palestine,” and he “can no longer sit back and assume that in time all will be well in that troubled part of the world.” In fact, Chane’s preoccupation with Israel’s sins predates by several years his recently concluded pilgrimage. He has inveighed several times previously against his least favorite nation. Unsurprisingly, his latest blast against Israel has been circulated by Sabeel, a Palestinian advocate of neo-Marxist Liberation Theology. 

Chane opened his latest philippic against Israel with a special memory from 2003, when he joined evangelical Left activist Jim Wallis in visiting British Premier Tony Blair to implore that Britain’s not  join the liberation of Iraq. Obviously, Blair was not persuaded by their prophetic pleas. But according to Chane, Blair “begged” the prophets to urge President Bush to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Unappreciative of their offer, Bush “refused meet with this broad representative religious community” to discuss Middle East peace. Absent policy guidance from Wallis and Chane, the U.S. has failed to establish nirvana between Israelis and Palestinians. 

Evidently, the Palestinians bear no blame for the absence of peace, as Chane’s “sermon” exclusively faulted Israel and its U.S. patron. Democracies, he intoned, uphold the rule of law, respect human rights, and protect the freedom to worship. But Chane’s junket through the Middle East has persuaded him of what he really already long assumed: America’s “trusted democratic ally in the Middle East” is hypocritical in its failure to uphold democratic principles.

As proof, Chane cited the “illegal” Israeli “settler housing” in the West Bank, “all built while the Israeli government casts a blind eye.” These sinister Israeli homes evidence “handsome construction,
” with a “manicured lawn” and a “suburban feel that resembles a California sprawl.” According to Chane, Israel is violating the 1907 Hague Convention prohibiting an occupying power from expropriating public land other than for public use by the occupied population. The bishop described a Palestinian family named Nassar, whose property outside Bethlehem is targeted by Israeli settlers, who are browbeating the Nassars to relocate. Meanwhile, a “tent of nations” set up by “pilgrims” has set up in solidarity with the Nassars. Chane spent an afternoon in the tent of nations, and sarcastically asked: “Is this the behavior of a democracy that cherishes and lives by the rule of law?”

Chane did not mention that so far Israeli courts have protected the Nassar property.

Bishop Chane also visited Gaza, which is “cordoned off like a prison for those who live there...steeped in poverty.” The Episcopal hospital there is short of medicines because of Israeli prohibitions, he bemoaned. Next door is a church, which has a “gaping hole in the roof left by an Israeli rocket that exploded in front of the altar that left the interior strewn with plastic.” Chane recalled that when the church was hit, he indignantly filed a protest with the Israeli embassy in Washington, which coldly informed him that the strike was “an unfortunate accident of war” and merited no compensation. Meanwhile, Chane claimed that patients waiting to leave Gaza for emergency medical care in Israel have died because of waiting hours for border clearance. 

In his further catalogue of Israeli-caused nightmares, Bishop Chane complained that Palestinian Christians outside Jerusalem who want to visit places of worship there must obtain scarce permits from Israel. This difficulty is “especially painful” for Muslims trying to visit the temple rock and its mosque during Ramadan. And then there is the “obscenity” of Israel’s security barrier, which has turned Bethlehem into a “ghost town” and impoverished Palestinians everywhere.

“The truth be told I am appalled,” Bishop Chane fumed from his pulpit. “No one, absolutely no one, has the right to take another person’s life in the name of God,” was the bishop’s closest reference to Palestinian terrorism. “And no one, absolutely no one, has the right to take another person’s land in the name of God,” he insisted, speaking of the Israelis, making them equally culpable. “Jews, Christians and Muslims have the moral obligation to denounce violence as the solution to any and all disputes between Palestine and Israel,” he insisted, as though Christians and Jews were regular instigators of terrorism. Chane ignored his own plea, as his long “sermon” failed specifically to condemn Palestinian terror, instead referring abstractly to unfortunate “violence.”  

Bishop Chane is disgusted by American politicians who failed to “speak out and condemn violations of human rights and religious freedom denied to Palestinian Christians and Muslims” by Israel. And he is again “appalled  that there is so little or no discussion by politicians seeking the highest office in the land about the devastation of the Palestinian economy as a result of the construction of the security wall by the Israeli government.” He promised that will not commit the “crime” of silence as “Palestinians are humiliated, their human rights are violated, their lands taken from them, and are too often forced to immigrate to other countries because they feel they and their children have no future in their ancient homelands.”

For ten days, Bishop Chane toured the Middle East, listening to pro-Palestinian propaganda pep talks, apparently not curious enough to ask questions. Why did the Israelis “occupy” the West Bank and Gaza in 1967? Why is there still not a truly functioning Palestinian state when both Israel and the U.S. support one? Why did Israel built a security barrier? Why are permits needed for Palestinians entering Jerusalem? Why has Israel (and Egypt, for that matter) largely sealed its border with Gaza? What is the attitude of Palestinians towards Israel’s right to exist? How will the tiny minority of Christians among Palestinians fare under Hamas rule, or even under Fatah rule? What rights do Christians have in surrounding Arab nations compared to Israel? Where is there democracy elsewhere in the Middle East?

Answers to any of these questions would have disrupted the anti-Israel narrative of Bishop Chane’s “sermon,” hence his preference not to pose them. Instead, he and other anti-Israel prelates prefer to be “appalled” by the pretend reality of their myopic anti-Israel perspective. 

Mark D. Tooley is president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy. He is the author of Taking Back the United Methodist Church.

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