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The Episcopal bishops' misguided protest

The most easily mocked cliché to arise out of the post–September 11 world is the one that goes like this: If we do (or don't do) such-and-such, then the terrorists win.

Surely, though, it's neither a cliché nor an overstatement to observe that if presumably well-meaning Americans turn against Israel, then, yes, the terrorists win. Indeed, if Osama bin Laden can be taken at his word, the destruction of Israel was one of the main objectives behind the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Sadly, last week there was strong evidence — in the streets of Boston, no less — that US support for Israel rests on shaky ground.

According to reports by Boston Globe religion writer Michael Paulson, three leading Episcopal bishops — Roy Cederholm, Barbara Harris, and Thomas Shaw — staged a protest outside the Israeli consulate to register their displeasure over Israel's military incursions into the West Bank, especially Bethlehem. Leaders of other denominations expressed at least qualified support. All made it clear that one of their principal objectives was the creation of a Palestinian state.

Now, reasonable people can differ over the admittedly heavy-handed tactics of Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon. But Israel, like the United States, is trying to survive a desperate struggle against terrorism. For the bishops to criticize Israel without mentioning the numerous Israeli civilians who have been killed by Palestinian terrorists was ahistorical at best, morally obtuse at worst. Currently, Israel is trying to respond to the assassination of a Cabinet member, tourism minister Rehavam Ze'evi, at the hands of a terrorist. And every few days, Israeli civilians die at the hands of Palestinian terrorists — including, most recently, Sunday, when a gunman opened fire on a bus in Jerusalem, killing two and injuring more than 40.

As for a Palestinian state, the bishops appear to forget that Sharon's predecessor, Ehud Barak, offered exactly that to PLO leader Yasir Arafat in July 2000, and that Arafat — rather than negotiating for still more concessions, which certainly would have been his right — rejected it out of hand and launched a new wave of terrorist assaults.

What is especially frightening about our own war against terrorism, both abroad and at home, is that it is now clear that it is being fueled by a vicious brand of anti-Semitism — something both Andrew Sullivan, in the New Republic, and Jonathan Rosen, in the New York Times Magazine, have discussed recently with considerable insight and horrifying details, from the fantasy that the Mossad was behind the September 11 attacks to the libelous myth that Jews knead the blood of Arab children into their Passover matzoh.

Not for a moment do I think the Episcopal bishops harbor any anti-Semitic thoughts or feelings. Nevertheless, their one-sided protest played into the hands of anti-Semites who seek the destruction of Israel — especially since the bishops chose to stage their protest just weeks after September 11, thus lending credence to the idea that US support for Israel will weaken now that we ourselves are under attack.

According to today's Globe, the bishops and Jewish leaders are scheduled to meet on Wednesday. Let's hope the bishops listen — and learn.

Issue Date: November 5, 2001

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