Speaking with Forked Tongues:
The New Pacifists’ Doctrine of an Evil Israel
By Werner Cohn
In the conflict between Israel and the Arabs, wouldn’t a self-described peacemaker seek mediation and common ground and good will ? One would think so. Alas, none of this is true of the ostensible pacifist peacemakers of today. On the contrary. These folk, I am sorry to say, are fierce partisans of the Arabs and equally fierce opponents of Israel.
I refer here to the following four groups:
1. American Friends Service Committee [AFSC], an arm of the Quakers
2. Fellowship of Reconciliation [FOR]
3. War Resistors League [WRL]
4. Christian Peacemaker Teams [CPT]
All these groups do anti-Israel propaganda work and all are active in the “BDS” campaign of boycotting Israel. In addition, FOR and CPT send teams of activists to the West Bank to help organize anti-Israel activities among the population there.
(There are also smaller pacifist groups about which I know very little. The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, the organization of the pioneering American pacifist Jeannette Rankin, does not seem to participate in the anti-Israel campaign of the four groups that I discuss here.)
While few institutions are as wholeheartedly devoted to the bitter rejection of Israel, these groups also profess, loudly and insistently, an ideology of humanitarianism, of love of fellow man, of respect for the dignity of nations. To those only familiar with traditional pacifism, it comes as a shock to find these self-styled peace seekers of today preaching (and practicing) a distinctive doctrine of rejection and disdain.
The original pacifist idea, at least at first blush, was surely a brilliant one: a bad peace is better than a good war; wars will cease when men refuse to fight; we are all one another's brothers; love can win over hate. And even when palpably hypocritical, a pacifist appeal can be attractive because war is such an unmitigated disaster. After Adolf Hitler invaded Poland in 1939, he wanted the Allies to desist from attacking him in the west. Thus he addressed the world with a plea for peace -- “I know the miseries of war; I have been in the trenches; those calling for war have no idea of what they unleash” -- and even in that very special case an appeal for peace could draw a certain audience.
Now the pacific professions of today’s neo-pacifist organizations are a good distance from the cynical propaganda ploys of Hitler. These groups attempt to place themselves into a context of more than a century of earnest Christian peacemaking on the part of Quakers, Mennonites, Brethren, and other “historic peace churches.” But with respect to the historic peacemakers, today’s neo-pacifists are Epigoni, renegades.
Nevertheless, lofty sentiments still abound in the formal statements of these groups. Here is one from the AFSC:
This AFSC community works to transform conditions and relationships both in the world and in ourselves, which threaten to overwhelm what is precious in human beings. We nurture the faith that conflicts can be resolved nonviolently, that enmity can be transformed into friendship, strife into cooperation, poverty into well-being, and injustice into dignity and participation. We believe that ultimately goodness can prevail over evil, and oppression in all its many forms can give way.
The statement by FOR is hardly less lofty:
The Fellowship of Reconciliation is composed of women and men who recognize the essential unity of all creation and have joined together to explore the power of love and truth for resolving human conflict. While it has always been vigorous in its opposition to war, FOR has insisted equally that this effort must be based on a commitment to the achieving of a just and peaceful world community, with full dignity and freedom for every human being.
And here is the more secular WRL, only slightly different in tone:
We believe in the transformative power of nonviolent action in our communities, in our world, and in ourselves. We invite you to walk this path with us, away from all forms of militarism and oppression and towards a world based on equality and justice.
Unlike these older groups that were established by mere men early in the twentieth century, Christian Peacemaker Teams [CPT], Mennonite in origin, was started by a higher power, or so its website tells us. It seems that “God granted a spirit of unity” to begin the group in 1988. Its work has brought the group to Hebron on the West Bank. It summarizes its (professed) ultimate aim as follows:
A world of communities that together embrace the diversity of the human family and live justly and peaceably with all creation.
I think that it is fair to say that until (roughly) the war of 1967, the Jews of the world could count on a sympathetic understanding from pacifists. (As, indeed, they could from the political Left. But that is another story.) The Quakers, for instance, were helpful in rescuing Jewish children from Nazi Germany; a cousin of mine was among those helped. In a world in which the very humanity of Jews was questioned, Jews indeed had reasons to thank the Quakers. There was always something willfully naive and more than a bit self-righteous in the Christian pacifist movement, but I would say that the universalistic humanitarian ideals in such groups were essentially genuine. Until, more or less, the current period of political correctness.
Obviously, none of these groups have the same personnel that they once had. Take AFSC, which won a Nobel Peace prize in 1947, a full sixty-five years ago, while still infused with traditional Quaker values. Today the group is politicized by its paid staff and is unrecognizable to many in the older generation of Quakers. One of these, Chuck Fager, has written of his bewilderment.
Each of these groups maintains a website in which its Manichean outlook – a totally wrong Israel, a totally virtuous Palestinian side -- is developed at some length and the reader may wish to examine these sites for the details. With minor differences, the general hostility to Israel and the Jewish people is uniform in all these groups.
The Axioms of the Neo-pacifist anti-Israel Doctrine
1. The West Bank and Gaza are the most oppressed territories in the world.
The websites occasionally mention other trouble spots, but “Palestine” is the only constant territory of concern for these groups. I have not seen anxiety for the Sudan or the rest of the African continent on any of these sites. Nor for China, whose human rights situation, by any objective account, is the worst in the world. Nor do the killings in Syria merit attention.
2. The hardships on the West Bank and Gaza are exclusively the fault of Israel.
Corollary: Israeli use of force is completely unprovoked.
An AFSC statement of June 2002 about Gaza is typical of this neo- pacifist stance. Israel is condemned for actions concerning Gaza, without any mention at all of the continuing rocket assaults waged from Gaza against Israeli civilians. The statement’s only reference to the possible responsibility of other parties is directed against the United States: “While Israel bears primarily responsibility for ending the blockade, the United States government must also be held accountable for its continued support for the blockade, its provision of unconditional military assistance to Israel, and the political cover it gives Israel at the UN.”
Although the pacifist rhetoric insists on non-violence, these pacifists almost never acknowledge Arab violence against Jews. There was one occasion in 1996, and perhaps another in 2002, when CPT spokesmen protested Hamas violence against Jewish civilians. As far as I know, there has been no neo-pacifist voice raised against the ongoing rocket attacks from Gaza. When I asked a CPT activist about this, she told me that she is no position to do anything about rockets.
Nor do the neo-pacifists acknowledge, in any of their statements, the verbal violence of the Arab media, the incitements to violence, or the celebration of suicide terrorists as martyrs.
3. Israeli actions and West Bank Jewish settlements are “illegal.”
The charge of “illegality” is a staple of anti-Israel propaganda. Presumably the “illegality” refers to international law. But chapter and verse of such law is rarely mentioned; nor the fact that the Israelis have frequently shown such hostile interpretations of the law to be without validity.
But whatever the consensus of international lawyers may be, it is inconsistent for the neo-pacifists to be concerned with the letter of the law here when they see no legal problem in the 1948 invasion of Israel by seven Arab armies. Moreover, it is part of the doctrine of all the neo-pacifist groups that “civil disobedience,” surely not legal in the narrow sense, is a positive good.
4. Violence on the part of Arabs is to be condoned, but not openly.
These pacifists, for the most part, consider themselves followers of Jesus, but on at least one point they surely differ, viz. Jesus’s well-known condemnations of hypocrisy.
All these groups speak of “non-violence” as their method of opposing Israel, but they speak with a forked tongue. It is true that the neo-pacifist groups do not explicitly praise, support, or participate in Arab violence. That role is played by the shadowy International Solidarity Movement (ISM), a friend, ally, and co-worker of all four of these neo-pacifist organizations.
We now have a detailed 84-page report on the ISM by the Meir Amit Center. In it we learn that the ISM routinely justifies Arab terror, that it occasionally participates in terror, and that, in effect, it has created an atmosphere that promotes suicidal actions (as in the case of ISM activist Rachel Corrie).
All of our neo-pacifist groups work with IMS. Kathy Kerr of CPT, in her 2009 book “As Resident Aliens,” says of the ISM activists that “most people on CPT's Palestine teams, and most Palestinians appreciate deeply their presence in the West Bank and Gaza.” AFSC has nominated one of the co-founders of ISM, Ghassan Andoni, for a Nobel Peace Prize. Another ISM leader, Kevin Clark, has appeared at AFSC functions. FOR, WRL, and AFSC have jointly sponsored activities like the “Gaza Freedom March.” So by indirection, at the very least, the neo-pacifists encourage and participate in the Arab violence.
5. The Only Good Jews are the anti-Israel Jews.
A small minority of the world’s Jews are actively anti-Israel. Some of these, for instance Noam Chomsky, are well known and are often quoted. Nevertheless this is a small group, perhaps one percent of the Jews of the world, no more numerous than, say, Jewish mafiosi or Jewish nuclear physicists. Yet it is this one percent of Jews that the neo-pacifists have embraced as the good Jews, the ones they work with, sign petitions with, get arrested with; it is this one percent that is used by the neo-pacifists as evidence of their good-will to the Jewish people.
The old ASFC, as part of the Quaker denomination, was named a Nobel Peace Prize winner in 1947. Fifty-nine years later, in 2006, the present-day ASFC leaders used this old Nobel Prize to formally nominate a Jew for a new Nobel Prize. That Jew was Jeff Halpern, whose activities and pronouncements are as extreme as anyone’s in the anti-Israel camp. For example, Halpern has said that Palestinians who negotiate with Israel are “Quislings.” I have had occasion to write about him here.
Another Jewish favorite of the neo-pacifists is Lynn Gottlieb, whom they call “rabbi” although she is not a graduate of a rabbinic seminary. Gottlieb has been an AFSC staff member in San Francisco and part of an FOR delegation to Iran in 2008. In the meantime she is on the board of the self-styled Jewish Voice for Peace, which advocates, more or less, the dissolution of Israel. Not all JVP members are Jewish, according to its website. Nor are all of its “rabbinic” leaders rabbis. I have written about this group here.
The neo-pacifist websites occasionally refer to Jewish friends and supporters, but every one of these, as far as I can determine, is a declared enemy of Israel – one of the one-percenters of the Jewish people.
I have found encounters with the neo-pacifists puzzling. Occasionally individuals among them can create an impression of great sincerity. But their use of pacifist rhetoric is puzzling in its inconsistency. Why are they concerned for Arabs and not for Jews ? And why for Palestinian Arabs but not Syrian Arabs ? And why is there no concern in these circles, at all, about the humanitarian disasters in China, in Africa ? As Dostoyevsky observed long ago, man is a mystery. But in his portrayal of the self-righteous fanatics in The Possessed, he may have also contributed to an understanding of today’s neo-pacifists.