Persecuted persecutors: something much darker

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By Brendan Goldman

"A persecuted people who are now persecuting others" — so one Presbyterian leader at a recent Oak Park church event depicted the current Israeli leadership and its policies.

As a characterization of Israel's politicians, this comment is merely inaccurate: most of Israel's current leaders were born in the Jewish state, free from the historic persecution that Jews faced in the Christian and Islamic worlds.

As a sweeping indictment of 2,000 years of Jewish history, this claim is much more than that: placed in the context of other comments made at these events, which associated the Jews with the most brutal of their historic enemies, these words are indicative of what the New Republic's literary editor, Leon Wieseltier, would call "something much darker."

Oak Park and River Forest churches, including St. Giles and Grace Lutheran, have recently hosted events addressing the Middle East conflict. These forums were inspired by the Kairos Palestine Document — an anti-Israel Arab-Christian manifesto that has drawn eager support from western Christian critics of the Jewish state.

At these events, speakers and commentators have made claims such as the Roman Empire's bloodthirsty occupation of Judea and the rebirth of the Jewish state were analogous events and Israel's policies toward its Christian and Muslim populations constitute "ethnic cleansing" — a term that brings to mind the Tutus in Rwanda, the Serbs in Bosnia, and the ____ in ____. I'll leave those last blanks for you to fill in.

So let's take a quick look at the finer points of the Nero/Nazi-esque "ethnic cleansing" alluded to above. Since the events described here expressed support for an Arab-Christian manifesto, let us consider the persecution of Arab Christians in the Middle East.

There is only one country in the Middle East that has not compelled its Christian population to flee en masse since the end of World War II. Syria? No, its "freedom fighters" have driven out one-third of its Christian population in the last two years alone. Iraq? Not quite. It has lost two-thirds of its Christians since it welcomed democracy. Egypt? Nope. Coptic Christians have fled by the tens of thousands since their country's brief flirtation with representative government. Gaza? No, since the Israeli withdrawal in 2005, more than half of Gaza's Christians have fled.

Then where? Despite the impression given at these church events, it turns out the Jews have not quite gotten ethnic cleansing down. Their state's Christian population has increased six-fold since its rebirth. Six-fold. I guess the Jews should have taken closer notes when the Romans were lecturing.

My point is not that Israel's treatment of its Christians or Muslims is perfect; it's not. My point is that in the midst of the very real ethnic cleansing of Middle Eastern Christians, our churches are not holding forums on Syria, on Egypt, on Iraq, or on Gaza. Scapegoating the Jewish state at this time is not just counterproductive. It is absurd. It is embarrassing. And it is something much darker.

Brendan Goldman is a PhD student at Johns Hopkins University studying the history of Jews and Christians living in the Islamic Middle East.

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Leonard Grossman from River Forest, Illinois  

Posted: November 27th, 2013 9:46 PM

The recent forum at Grace Lutheran was unfortunate. Rather than shedding light, it kindled misunderstanding and hostility. We need a new paradigm for discussing and understanding the middle-east that gets beyond talking about what has been done to or by one side or another, and asks how and where we can go from here. This does not mean denial, it means acceptance. Not an easy task.

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