Thursday, July 16, 2009

Methodist missionary to Israel: having portrait of Golda is "not very American"

In honor of the Fourth of July holiday, Janet Lahr Lewis, the United Methodists' chief liaison for Methodist visitors to Israel and Palestine, has published a column on the Methodists' official website in which she complains that the U.S. Ambassador's residence in Israel has on its walls

"portraits of ... Golda Meir, Menachem Begin, even Theodore Hertzl -- not very American in my view."

She goes on to write that

"For me, though, the Israel independence day evokes visions of slaughter and destruction, of forced marches and imprisonment. The U.S. Independence Day evokes thoughts of “freedom fighters” and “patriots.” ... Why don’t we refer to Palestinians fighting for the same rights as “freedom fighters” and “patriots,” instead of as “terrorists” and “extremists”?"

Lewis' column is published in the July 13, 2009 edition of the "Faith in Action" newsletter published by the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, which can be read here.

Lewis serves as the coordinator of Methodist missionaries working in Israel and Palestine. A biographical statement on their website states that
"Lewis ... educates visitors about the realities of the situation, organizes conferences, develops media campaigns, offers worship opportunities, hosts delegations to the area and oversees other special events ... (She) is the main contact for Volunteers in Mission teams and United Methodists who wish to follow the recommendation of the denomination’s General Conference to spend a significant amount of time in the area with local Christians."
While serving as the United Methodist liaison to Israel and Palestine, Lewis simultaneously served for many years as one of the leaders of the Palestinian organization Sabeel, working in Sabeel's Jerusalem office and organizing their international outreach. Sabeel is one of the main promoters of the anti-Israel boycott and divestiture movement. (Read here.)

The Methodist church may have their reasons for questioning how "American" their countrymen are. They should make those reasons explicit, rather than snipe in an offhanded manner. If they consider having portraits of Israeli leaders to be un-American, they should explain exactly why. If they cannot, they should apologize for promoting the view that friendship with Israel represents disloyalty to the United States.

Moreover, the United Methodist church needs to explain why their liaison in Israel and Palestine, charged with facilitating both missionary visits and church tours to the area, would characterize the founding of the State of Israel in such a biased, distorted manner.

Lastly, the United Methodists should clarify whether they agree with Lewis' characterization of Palestinian military actions against Israel as patriotic freedom-fighting.

Do these views represent the official policy of the United Methodists or are they only the personal views of their chief missionary representative in Israel?


Anonymous said...

"For me, though, the Israel independence day evokes visions of slaughter and destruction, of forced marches and imprisonment..."

That there was destruction and death, yes. That's because five Arab states attacked Israel after its establishment. Imprisonment? Yes, but of Arabs terrorists.

Forced marches? WHAT? Where?

The only forced marches I've heard of was of prisoners of Nazi concentration camps near the end of World War Two. If he means the Arab refugees, I don't see where the Jews forcibly marched the Arabs anywhere. The question of why Arabs fled has been dealt with over and over, but I've never heard any mention of forced marches.

Bryan said...

I am a United Methodist sympathetic to the right of Israel to exist and defend itself from any and all threats. I read Lewis' article, the Methodist missionary to Israel referred to in this blog, and I was ashamed. Instead of being more concerned about sharing the gospel of Jesus the Christ to Palestinians and Jews she seems to be only concerned about one party over the other. But hey, that doesn't surprise me anymore when it comes to our missionary sending board. Granted, Israel isn't perfect, but neither is it completely in the wrong.


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