NEW YORK (May. 10)
The presence of pro-Arab elements in Key positions in a number of major American Christian churches, coupled with the growth of Arab Moslem communities in America, has created a formidable source of anti-Israel as well as anti-Jewish attitudes in the U.S. The American Jewish Committee was told today.
Two studies of different aspects of the problem of anti-Israel and anti-Jewish intrusions into American public opinion were released at the opening session of the AJCommittee’s 73rd annual meeting, continuing through Sunday at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel here.
One of the studies, titled “Anti-Israel Influence in American Churches.” by Judith Banki, AJCommittee’s assistant director of interreligious affairs, indicates that while public opinion polls show American Christians to be more sympathetic to Israel than to her Arab antagonists, an anti-Israel, pro-Arab attitude has been much in evidence in certain segments of American Christianity.
The study placed the major source of anti-Israel sentiment “among Protestant denominations with long-standing involvement in missions to the Arab Middle East; in churches and church-related groups engaged in aiding Arab refugees; among certain left-wing ‘liberationist’ ideologues; and in communions with predominantly Arab constituencies, whether Catholic or Eastern Orthodox.
In these quarters, the report notes, champions of the Arab cause often influence church policies and organizational resolutions for beyond their numbers, giving church groups a pro-Arab “tilt” by constantly pressing for statements critical of or detrimental to Israel. “There is also a potent anti-Jewish legacy in Christian tradition,” the study observes, “which sometimes comes into play when Israel is being discussed; in such Instances anti-Israel sentiment takes on an anti-Jewish coloration.”
ROLE OF ‘LIBERATION THEOLOGY’
A second source of anti-Israel sentiment within the churches is the current ideology, sometimes referred to as “liberation theology,” which calls upon Christians to identify with oppressed peoples and makes the active pursuit of racial, social, and economic justice a religious obligation.
In theory, Mrs. Banki notes, liberationist thought should not lead to anti-Israel positions, for Jews, too, are a minority, and Israel ” is a beleaguered democracy if there was ever one. “But the some “selective morality which singles out Israel for special abuse in the United Nations is also at work here,” she comments. Some liberationist activists champion the Palestinians as oppressed Third World people and brand Israel as a racist, colonialist outpost of American imperialism.
Anti-Israel sentiment is also fostered by some leaders of American Arab Christian churches although not all American Christians of Middle Eastern background are against Israel, Mrs.-Banki points out. Many Americans of Lebanese back ground support Israel as the defender and ally of the beleaguered Christian community in Lebanon. But those hostile to Israel are a point new influence in American Christianity. They have used public relations techniques skillfully and on occasion have mode common cause with Moslem leaders. From their leadership positions in their own churches, they have pressed non-Arab church groups and agencies, such as the National Council of Churches (NCC), for anti-Israel positions.
Both at the NCC and in every major church group, there are persons sympathetic to Israel and interested in Jewish-Christian dialogue, but they are not as close to the centers of institutional power and funding, and are frequently outweighed by the various anti-Israel sources when matters pertaining to the Middle East are on the agenda, the report says.
ROLE OF MOSLEMS IN THE U.S.
The second report, titled “Islam in America,” indicates that poverty and lack of opportunity in their native lands are motivating thousands of Moslems to emigrate to other countries, including the U.S. About 2,000,000 Moslems reportedly are now in this country, of whom approximately 200,000 are Arabs.
Not surprisingly, in view of recent history, the report notes, there is a marked degree of hostility to Israel and Zionism among many of the Moslems. Moslems working in the auto industry in Detroit, for example, are attempting to force the United Auto Workers to get rid of its State of Israel Bonds.
“The recent newcomers bring with them a new strong feeling of Arab identity and political consciousness,” this report says. “Thanks chiefly to this vigorous, active influx, the Moslem community in the U.S. has emerged from a long period of inactivity and assimilation. The number of mosques and Moslem organizations has multiplied rapidly, the use and study of Arabic has increased, and new life has been infused into existing organizations, such as the Federation of Islamic Associations, which the Arab Moslems have almost taken over.”
Moslem political and cultural activity, like the report states. “This is due in part to the current nationwide trend of ethnic consciousness and to a desire to organize at least as effectively as the Jewish community has done. But another reason is the growing importance of the Middle East and the revival of pan-Islamic ideology there.”
The report was prepared for the AJCommittee by Lois Gottesman, a Middle East scholar at Princeton University. Ms. Gottesman conducted an intensive study of the social, economic and political makeup of the Moslems in the United States.
Rabbi Marc Tanenbaum, AJCommittee’s notional interreligious affairs director, reported that a series of academic and theological dialogues and seminars have been inaugurated in recent months and will be carried forward systematically as a major emphasis of AJCommittee’s program during the coming three years.