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Watch Out for "The Elders" By: Mark D. Tooley
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, August 03, 2009

"The Elders" are coming to the Middle East, ostensibly bringing wise diplomatic counsel, but actually are likely to deliver yet another ultimatum to Israel.

A brainchild of British billionaire and gadfly Richard Branson, "The Elders" are ostensibly a wise junta of "eminent global leaders" bringing "their collective influence and experience to support peace building, help address major causes of human suffering and promote the shared interests of humanity."

Naturally, Jimmy Carter is an Elder.  So too is retired South African Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, former Irish President Mary Robinson, former Brazilian President Fernando Cardoso, former Marxist Mozambican first lady (and later wife to Nelson Mandela) Graca Machel, and former Norwegian Premier Gro Bruntland, along with several other Third World luminaries and global justice advocates, all of whom are left of center.

These Elders generally advocate a flavorless globaloney approach to the world, usually guided by all the usual bromides echoing among the bureaucracies of the United Nations, the European Union, most NGO's, Ivy League universities, and left-leaning philanthropies like Ford, Rockefeller, and Ted Turner's United Nations Foundation.  The Elders seem to draw their oxygen, stale though it is, from a self-enclosed phalanx of these mutually re-enforcing chattering societies. 

Branson, founder of Virgin Atlantic Airways, brainstormed and funded The Elders into existence with musician Peter Gabriel in 2007.  The Elders were to showcase leadership for the "global village," modeled on communal elders in "traditional societies."  Much like the cartoon Super Friends, such as Batman and Wonder Woman, who strategized together in the Hall of Justice before saving the world, The Elders "work both publicly and behind the scenes, collectively and individually, in areas of conflict such as; Kenya, Cyprus, Darfur and Zimbabwe and also work on a number of global issues, such as health and gender equality."

The Middle East is next on their hit list of special concern.  Elders going there in late August will include Carter, Tutu, Robinson, Brundtland, Cardoso, plus Branson himself.  Supposedly, the Elders "have no intention of intervening" in the current Middle East peace process, whatever that is.  Instead, they will meet a "wide cross-section of Israeli and Palestinian society including grassroots organizations, young people, members of civil society, independent experts, business leaders and others."  Supposedly, the Elders want to support "those who are working hard for peaceful coexistence."  But since The Elders evidently could not find any sufficiently wise heads who are pro-Israel to join their elite ranks, the counsel and media hype they generate will predictably urge increased pressure upon Israel, while minimally, if at all, criticizing Palestinian and Arab intransigence. 

In early July, The Elders condemned the "justification of discrimination against women and girls on grounds of religion or tradition."  The Elders' barely 100 words statement benignly urged religious leaders to end "discriminatory practices within their own religions and traditions."  They did not cite any specific religions or practices that mistreat women because such detail would have ignited unwanted controversy and forced The Elders into criticizing radical Islam, which of course they do not want to do.  

Predictably senior Elder Jimmy Carter exploited the opportunity to denounce his favorite target, conservative Christian, especially his fellow Southern Baptists, who are oppressing women by denying them ordination into the ministry.  Although he first "resigned" from the Southern Baptist Convention over its conservatism nearly 10 years ago, Carter likes periodically to re-announce, for dramatic effect, as he did in his recent British and Australian op-ed. In fact, Carter remains very active in his Southern Baptist congregation, so from what exactly he "resigned" is unclear.

As Carter The Elder told it, pervasive "discrimination" against women by Southern Baptists presumably equals the injustice of female genital mutilation, stoning of sexually active women, or denying women legal equality with their husbands, so common in Muslim countries where Sharia is inscribed into civil law.  

Commendably unlike The Elders as a group, Carter's op-ed actually, if only briefly, mentioned that in "some Islamic nations," women are "restricted in their movements, punished for permitting the exposure of an arm or ankle, deprived of education, prohibited from driving a car or competing with men for a job. If a woman is raped, she is often most severely punished as the guilty party in the crime."  But he did not dwell on these points, quickly insisting that the "same discriminatory thinking lies behind the continuing gender gap in pay and why there are still so few women in office in Britain and the United States."

Carter, despite his status as an Elder, is not always proficient at proportionate judgment.  In a radio interview early this year, Michael Medved pressed Carter to denounce Hamas and Islamist aims to kill Jews. Carter was reluctant, responding:  "If you want to talk about ancient history, Christians believe that in the second coming, Christ can't come back to the Holy Land until all Jews are either dead or become Christian."

Sometimes, despite his eagerness for aggressive and accommodating diplomacy with other religions and nations, Carter prefers unthinkingly to adopt the worst characterizations of his own country, and of Christianity. Israel, too, is a favorite target.  Southern Baptists are famously pro-Israel.  Carter, so ashamed of his own supposedly backwards fellow religionists, reflexively portrays Israel as the centrifuge of Mid-East strife.

Carter's fellow Elders almost certainly will not disagree.  Archbishop Tutu infamously likens Israel to Apartheid South Africa.  And former Irish President Robinson just as infamously presided over the UN's often anti-Semitic 2001 World Conference against Racism. So watch out, Israel.  Here come The Elders.

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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