all opinions
Opinions posts

Responding to ‘Rethinking Mennonites’ approach to Israel and Palestine’

5.16. 2018 Written By: Christopher Barghout 2,346 Times read

“Respectful criticism is welcomed; comments should focus on others’ ideas, not motives, character or faith.” This is in part what The Mennonite, Inc.’s comments policy says. What if this comments policy were applied to articles like Lisa Schirch’s recent piece “Rethinking Mennonites’ approach to Israel and Palestine”? Let’s look at her article and see how it would stack up.

Schirch writes, “Too often Mennonite advocacy for Palestinian rights carries anti-Semitic tones that portray Israel as simply an abusive colonial power.” Right up front, the author directly and without evidence impugns other Mennonites and their ideas, motives and character. Her article bears false witness and smears her opponents as carrying anti-Semitic tones. When you accuse others of racism without evidence, it is clearly a tactic of shutting down those with whom you disagree. Michael George, a Palestinian Mennonite, puts it aptly in his comment: “If I tell the story of my family’s dispossession from their home in Lydda by Jewish militias, am I encouraging anti-Semitism? If I speak out against killing unarmed protesters and jailing children, am I fomenting anti-Semitism? For me, the disheartening aspect of your article is that it plays into my constant fear of being labelled an anti-Semite because I desire justice and human rights for my people.” In other words, Schirch’s article attacks peoples’ motives and character if they seek to speak up for themselves or for others whose lives they care about.

Schirch writes, “More than 800,000 Jewish refugees fleeing persecution from Muslim majority countries that were allied with Hitler in World War II came to Palestine.” Here, Lisa enters Breitbart-style misinformation. That Islam and Islamic nations were allied with Hitler is an easily refuted falsehood. This idea tries to liken Palestinians and Islam to Nazism. The reality is that in places such as Ramleh, a town in present-day Israel, Muslim graves sit next to Christian and Jewish graves, attesting to the reality that during World War II, communal differences were put aside to fight fascism and Hitler. Comparing Islam to Hitler is defamation of the first order. This is pure, unfiltered hate speech, not a difference of opinion or a debate from a different point of view.

Schirch mentions “the pros and cons of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Jews.” This is a smear against the BDS movement. BDS makes clear that is not an action against Jews, but against policies of the Israeli government that Israel can remedy at any time by giving Palestinians equality. The article falsely accuses Palestinian nonviolence as having a racial motivation.

Many news reports on May 14 said something like, “58 Palestinians were killed and more than 2,700 wounded by Israeli gunfire on Monday as protests spread across Gaza in the bloodiest day in the strip since the 2014 war.” This violence was unfortunately totally predictable, as it was known since last year that the United States would open its embassy on that day. On a day when Israeli soldiers shot children in the back and maimed unarmed civilians by the thousands, a simple “how were we to know that this would happen and sorry if you feel offended” kind of apology from The Mennonite isn’t in the spirit of either truth or reconciliation.

Schirch has sought to undermine Palestinian civil society groups who have called for a nonviolent campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) in the spirit of South Africa’s experience of apartheid. She bullies others by answering comments at and Facebook with more comments and attacks. She terrorizes Palestinians such as myself with anti-Semitism when our stories come out. This is not normal or OK. I don’t agree with pro-Israeli views, but ideas expressing views I don’t agree with are very much not what is occurring here. Her article is an over-the-top assault on peoples’ motives, character and faith traditions.

I cannot close by not mentioning the obvious. Palestinians aren’t white. At the very moment when Israel is massacring countless civilians, Mennonites publish articles attacking our character, motives and the faith of Islam in the most vicious ways. Palestinian Lives Matter. Mennonite rules and protections against bearing false witness clearly don’t apply to us. Palestinian Lives Matter. Giving different perspectives must not include defamation. Palestinian Lives Matter. Enough is enough. Palestinian Lives Matter.

Christopher Barghout is a member of Portland (Oregon) Mennonite Church and co-director of Al-Nakba Awareness Project.

The Mennonite, Inc., is currently reviewing its Comments Policy. During this review, commenting on new articles is disabled. Comments that were previously approved will still appear. Comments on older articles can continue to be submitted for review in accordance with the policy below. To promote constructive dialogue, the editors of The Mennonite moderate all comments and comments don’t appear until approved. Anonymous comments are not accepted. Writers must sign posts or log into Disqus with their first and last name. Read our full Comments Policy.

36 Responses to “Responding to ‘Rethinking Mennonites’ approach to Israel and Palestine’”

  1. Jake Janzen says:

    My uncle has a magnet on his fridge that reads, “Remember the power of true words spoken in kindness.” That was about the only thing that Bruce Leichty and I were able to agree on during my email exchanges with him.

    Unless I am mistaken, the comments section on Mrs. Schirch’s article are closed. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. But I think it is an indicator that we as a community have fallen short of that magnet mantra. If we can’t communicate peacefully among each other as Mennonites, how much harder must it be among Jews and Muslims?

    Although I do feel a bit attacked by her response to my comment on her article, at this point I feel more worried that she will feel assaulted and discouraged by this article and other responses. Take heart, Lisa. Stay engaged. You are on the right track on several points.

    Although I do oppose some of her ideas, including some identified here, she is enunciating concerns and rhetoric patterns that a LOT of people use. Let’s develop the conversation and learn how to respond truthfully. Not just here but in other venues.

  2. Jack Dresser says:

    Barghout’s critique is both relevant and entirely justified. Schirch recites standard “progressive” Zionist excuses for Israel’s flagrant and serial abuses of human rights and international law. A competition of “narratives” is irrelevant. Galileo and the Vatican also once had competing narratives. One was based on careful observations of fact and clear thinking, eventually proven true. The other was based on ancient tribal mythology. The same is true in Palestine. The historical facts have been conclusively established by Israel’s own historians, including Ilan Pappe, Benny Morris, Avi Shlaim and Tom Segev, following declassification of Israeli archives almost 40 years ago, as well as U.S. consular records, United Nations records, British records and Palestinian historians, including Walid Khalidi and Salman Abu Sitta. The applicable laws are equally well established (see international attorney Francis Boyle’s comprehensive book Palestine, Palestinians and International Law).

    Schirch cites no relevant historical or legal facts. The Zionist movement, also rationalized by ancient tribal mythology, began long before the Holocaust (1897), with displacement of Palestinians throughout the 1930s following World War I and the Balfour Declaration, culminating in a 1948 ethnic cleansing blitzkreig against a disarmed native Palestinian population (that had fought with the British during WWI to liberate their own land from the Ottomans, which the British had simultaneously pledged secretly to Jewish immigrants from Europe). This included 33 massacres, followed by denial of the Palestinians’ RIGHT of return (see UDHR articles 13 and 17). This internationally declared right is the ultimate objective of the March of Return and the Israel’s ultimate fear of losing its majority and living in equality with the people it has brutally terrorized and degraded for so long.

    There are hundreds of ethnic and religious groups throughout the world, and none is entitled on the basis of tribal mythologies to its own country, and certainly not when taken by force in violation of the most fundamental international laws prohibiting aggressive war and enshrining the principle of self-determination (UN Charter, Articles 2 and 55).

    We’ve all known since at least kindergarten that when you take something from someone else, you have to give it back, and when you hurt someone else, you have to apologize and make amends. The Germans have done that ever since World War II, but after 70 years as victims of armed robbery the Palestinians are still waiting.

  3. K. Weaver says:

    This is just a scathing and strange attack on the author’s article. Seems to go against TM policy. It’s an upside-down, distorted reading and exactly opposite of what she is saying.

    What I took away from Schirch’s article is that given Mennonite’s history in the Holocaust, we should be careful not to demonize Jews in our advocacy to support Palestinian rights.

    There are lots of other articles in the media this week about people who actually oppose Palestinian rights. Why does Barghout target this article instead of the people who actually say what he accuses her of saying? She says she wants Mennonites to continue supporting Palestinians against occupation. Why the attack?

    I’ve read other articles about Schirch’s work in Iraq and Afghanistan here in The Mennonite. Isn’t the response here bizarre to suggest she is criticizing Muslims with her history of working in support of Muslims and criticizing occcupation by U.S. and Israel in many countries?

  4. I guess we will all read Scripture in a different light. I believe God will reveal himself to us individually through Scripture reading and prayer. While hermeneutics are valuable and necessary, they do not provide the personal spiritual communion with God that our heart desires. Our hearts “groan” for spiritual food. I am at peace with God, not with the church or the world. I am concerned with the growing anti-Semitism (both Jews and the country of Israel) expressed by Mennonite Church USA. As the church attempts to judge and discipline countries on its own authority, so will God judge the church. God alone is the head of his church, and he will bless and punish.
    We all face his judgment. Let us pray diligently. I find the lack of Christianity on both sides amid personal attacks and falsehoods seemingly coming from nonbelievers.

  5. Respectful criticism is welcomed; comments should focus on others’ ideas, not motives, character or faith.” This is in part what The Mennonite, Inc.’s comments policy says. What if this comments policy were applied to articles like Christopher Barghout’s recent piece?

  6. Lisa Schirch says:

    Chris, I have reached out to you by email so that we might have direct dialogue with each other. I can hear your anger at me, and I share your rage at the Israeli massacre of Palestinians on Monday.

    I did provide citations to every point that you contest in your article. You can find those links in my article, or in a longer response to you on The Mennonite’s Facebook page here:

    As a pro-Palestinian activist for 30 years, it is painful to read your post, which feels like a significant twisting and distortion of the article and my life’s work.

    I am not advocating neutrality at all. A great example of what a “balanced approach” looks like is Jonathan Kuttab’s article…/and-now-what-a…/

    As I note in the article, I oppose occupation. My articles express how we can build a more effective and strategic nonviolent movement.

    • Jake Janzen says:

      Mrs. Lisa,

      My comment here is in response to what you wrote in reply to my post on your article.

      You state that “there are many forms of Zionism,” as if there is some kind of modern “Zionism light” which seeks only to co-exist in the lands of ancient Israel. Zionism is an insistence on STATEHOOD, born out of the fervent nationalism that swept through 19th century Europe, which was largely empire at the time. It is a demand for exclusive political power, which continues to this day. I just haven’t seen a convincing argument that Zionism isn’t racism. Zionism is a relatively recent development in Jewish history, and it was opposed by the Jewish people who remained in the Holy lands during the diaspora. Check out the assassination of Israel de Haan. Zionism does not equal Judaism.

      Also, you oppose BDS because they refer to Zionism as “settler-colonialism.” Due to the trauma and oppression of the Jewish people in Europe, I can agree that it is not as immoral as the imperialist aspirations of Britain, France, Spain, etc. But it is still a drive towards population transfer.

      • Lisa Schirch says:

        Hi Jake,

        I would love to talk with you more. In my research on Zionism and its meanings, I found at least 10 definitions from people across the political spectrum. You are right that for many people Zionism simply means military control and takeover of Palestine. And that is certainly the dominant form. But many Jews we interviewed last fall denounce that form of zionism. They simply believe Jews deserve some sort of self-determination and ability to protect themselves, and would acknowledge that Palestinians have those same rights.

        In Jonathan Kuttab’s article I posted in my earlier comment, I think Kuttab has clearly listened to and understood some of Jewish Israeli concerns and interests. That is why I think his approach is “balanced.” Because he retains the humanity of Jews in his proposal for the future. I agree with you that the current mainstream form of Zionism that demands military control of all the land is not compatible with justice. But it is unlikely that millions of Jews are going to abandon the idea of Jewish self-determination after the Holocaust and pograms. So many Jews are working at definitions of zionism that do not equate with military control. I’d be happy to talk more if you are open: And I do apologize if my comment felt hurtful in any way.

  7. If 50 Israeli soldiers had been massacred by Palestinian soldiers who used civilians as shields would their have been any outcry? I supposed they would have deserved it because of their evil practices. The Mennonite peace standard applies only if it meets their view of justice. The worldpeaceview, mennopeaceview and Godpeaceview are incompatible. God alone will judge us.

  8. David says:

    I ultimately feel that while I don’t believe U.S. American Mennonite anti-Semitism has the role in this story that Lisa does, and while I’m very concerned with her framing of some issues, Lisa has taken great care to acknowledge and validate the Palestinian experience. I’m really grateful to her for her work in ensuring we acknowledge and respect the Jewish experience and the active positive work of Jewish groups. I hope you two have a productive conversation.

    I think these are important and powerful thoughts, Chris. I shared parts of your frustration with Lisa’s piece. And I found two parts you note here particularly valuable that I hadn’t even noticed. Firstly, that BDS is not “against Jews,” which suggests anti-Semitism, but rather against settlement policies. Secondly, the point about Muslim nations allying with Hitler. I’m ashamed this didn’t stand out to me in my first reading, as I’ve read a lot about the Second World War in the Near East, and it is a grievous mischaracterization for many reasons — I’m happy to post a second comment if anyone cares to hear more. I imagine, however, that Lisa doesn’t intend this as a smear, but rather had heard this stated elsewhere — I’m sure variations of it are oft-repeated — and repeated it without investigating WWII in the Near East. And to be fair, while it’s not at all accurate as stated for many reasons, anti-Semitism was certainly present in Arab Nationalism even before the creation of Israel, so there’s a definite kernel of truth.

    • Bill says:

      If you click the bloglinks in Schirch’s article, you will see that she lists ways that coalitions can be built between Jewish anti-occupation groups and Palestinian groups, has denounced Israeli aggression repeatedly, and explains why movements such as BDS can be a part of the solution if used correctly, but will fail if used as the only method.

      Barghout’s “response” is full of misinformation and attempts to smear and demonize Schirch. He misunderstands her point that to build an effective anti-occupation movement, we need to address antisemitism and instead uses straw man tactics to confuse the reader and shame her.

      Before you assume Schirch doesn’t know what she is talking about regarding BDS, read her blogs detailing the strategy of building a wide coalition to support justice for Palestinians. If you still disagree, I would love to hear what specifically you disagree with.

      In addition, Schirch posted a list of all the Jewish anti-occupation groups on The Mennonite’s Facebook page illustrating that they were some of the loudest voices protesting the massacre in Gaza.

      There are thousands of Jewish anti-occupation activists. Unfortunately, most of them think BDS is anti-Semitic because they are led to believe it doesn’t just call for boycott of the settlements, but all of Israel, including individual Israelis. Change that, make them understand BDS better, use it as one tactic, and gain allies for a coalition. What’s so hard about that?

      • David says:

        Hi Bill,

        This must be a very difficult week for you, I’m very sorry. I have read Lisa’s piece on the pros and cons of BDS, and have not assumed that she doesn’t know what she’s talking about. I very narrowly took issue with the very narrow framing of BDS “against Jews,” which implies a strong connection with historic boycotts and victimization intended to target Jews broadly for being Jews. BDS, of course, intends to target Israel for imposing a racialized order in which many people are permanently impoverished, many others are second-class citizens, and millions are permanently expelled from their family’s homes, traumatized and with the burden of support imposed on others.

  9. David Gerber says:

    Did you take a look at Schirch’s research on the pros and cons of BDS? Her link explains the difference between a boycott of settlements vs the BDS movement which boycotts the entire state of Israel.

    She names all the Jewish groups that practice a boycott of the settlements, but that oppose the BDS movement because of the pages on its website that denounce the entire state of Israel. I recommend reading her research paper on BDS. It is more complex than you suggest.

    And on the Arab Jewish refugees that fled from Muslim countries, the article does have a reference for that also. I’ve seen that cited in a number of reputable books that there were nearly a million Arab Jewish refugees that came to Israel. Do you have sources that put it into question? I don’t think many Mennonites know about these Jewish refugees.

    • Jack Dresser says:

      David Gerber, this is the latest in a long series of Israeli/AIPAC efforts to undermine the BDS movement. There were some Jewish refugees expelled by Arab countries which understandably no longer trusted their long and comfortably established Jewish populations after the Zionist takeover of Palestine. But many more were stampeded into emigration by false flag Mossad attacks on synagogues since Israel needed to increase its population to further dominate and displace Palestine’s indigenous Muslim and Christian people (see the book Ropes of Sand documenting this in Baghdad). Most emigrated voluntarily, recruited to Israel over 20 years post-Nakba by attractive promises including receipt of stolen Palestinian properties.

      Palestinian refugees with land and property claims against Israel are registered with UNRWA, the UN agency established specifically for their massive needs, acute in 1948-49. All 58 original UNRWA camps are still operating since Israel has refused their right of return. There are now some 6 million UNRWA-registered refugees. Jewish refugees were free to register claims with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees but to my knowledge have not done so for 2 reasons: (1) they were given stolen Palestinian properties in Israel, and/or (2) they have not been denied their right to return by any Arab country, including Morocco which actively protected its Jewish citizens during the Holocaust and both Egypt and Iraq which proactively invited their refugees to return using large advertisements in major international newspapers.

      • Jake Janzen says:

        First let me say that my understanding of Israeli history comes from Martin Gilbert’s detailed and well-researched book on it. I recommend it to anyone.

        Jack Dresser, in general, I think you bring up some valid points… and then take them too far.

        Yes, the notion of a mass Jewish exodus from oppressive Arab/Muslim countries needs to be re-examined. Zionists aggressively recruited Jewish people from anywhere they could, (and still are) in order to establish a majority where they wanted a state. There were incentives to anyone who came, cash payments to governments so that they would ALLOW their Jewish citizen to emigrate, and I believe a lot of Zionist propaganda exaggerating the threats against Arab Jews. But I believe the Baghdad bombing incident you reference was a single event by an extremist, rather than the State sanctioned pattern you suggest. I guess I’ll have to read Ropes of Sand.

    • Jack Dresser says:

      “the difference between a boycott of settlements vs the BDS movement which boycotts the entire state of Israel” is a false distinction. The entire state of Israel was established by force on stolen land in 1948 and 1967 in flagrant violation of international law and human rights. Israel’s 1949 admission to the UN was conditional on permitting refugees to return and international administration of Jerusalem, both pledges Israel has ignored. Without the reliable US veto, it would probably have been expelled from the UN years ago. It has built a “Jewish” state only by illegal ethnic cleansing and illegal exclusion of refugees, and therefore has no valid claim to legitimacy. This is why BDS should target Israeli businesses and institutions in both Israel and the West Bank/East Jerusalem (the latter’s illegal annexation in 1980 was immediately declared null and void by the UN).

      Israeli Dalit Baum has provided a website identifying organizations to be targeted by BDS with the reasons for each ( Check it out, the list is extensive. Very little if any of Israel is innocent.

      • Jake Janzen says:

        “Very little if any of Israel is innocent.” This statement REALLY takes things WAY too far. You are condemning an entire country, including a lot of people who have supported Palestinian rights at a much greater risk to themselves than any American might face. I support BDS, but statements like this are why many peace and justice advocates oppose it.

        Keep in mind that most of the most horrific things that were done to establish that state of Israel were carried out by people who are long dead. While Israelis may be benefiting from the dispossession, and continuing the injustice, a lot of it is based on choices they did not make (and probably wouldn’t based on a modern understanding of equal rights). The focus should be on where things go from here. Issuing a broad condemnation only undermines your influence.

      • David says:

        Jack, I find many of your remarks here highly suspect, and some completely inappropriate. Like in all countries, a vast swathe of Israelis are children and young people who have not at all shaped Israeli policy, and they are of course innocent. Indeed, most all Israelis alive today had no hand in any of the events you describe in your various posts here, and your implication of collective guilt is highly troubling — even though you are ostensibly just talking about boycott targets. At least one of the books you’ve referred to — the one on Zionist-Nazi collaboration — does indeed highlight some illustrative and disturbing cooperation but grossly distorts the import of it and works uncharitably. Your comment on false flag attacks massively distorts the importance of possible false flag attacks (it’s not conclusively known Mossad carried out false flag attacks on Jews, though it certainly seems plausible, tellingly and horrifyingly). The vast numbers of Jewish refugees from many nations weren’t all because of the Baghdad Bombings.

        Unfortunately word limits preclude a thorough response. I think you’re straying into anti-Semitic rhetoric and conspiracy and that is a grievous shame. What a pity these conversations attract people who hate Jews and also Muslims and Arabs.

        • Jack Dresser says:

          David, if anything I said is “suspect” I can provide you a 10-30 book reading list to get up to speed, and IMHO there is nothing “inappropriate” in exposing facts since only salient and deliberately concealed facts, however inconvenient, can lead to problem solutions that have long been evaded.

          Obviously I don’t include children in assignment of moral responsibility for Israeli society, which should go without saying. Unfortunately, however, Israeli children are subjected to grotesque dehumanization of Palestinians through their educational system, as described by Israeli professor Nurit Peled-Elhanan, who views their education as preparation for IDF duties controlling, degrading, disabling, imprisoning and killing Palestinians. Several interviews of Nurit, daughter of an IDF general, whose own daughter died in a suicide bombing, can be seen on Youtube.

          I also recommend Youtube videos of her brother Miko, now a US citizen and author of “The General’s Son.” I especially recommend the video of his presentation at our 2015 Veterans for Peace conference in San Diego:

          As for the adult population, over 90% cheered on the Gaza massacres in 2008-09 and 2014, and my Jewish friends who have visited and lived there describe Israel as a virulently and intolerably racist society which remains oblivious to the suffering inflicted upon their displaced, occupied, segregated, captive Palestinian population. Most want “peace” of course, meaning pacification of the natives, but equality, freedom and justice for the natives are topics almost wholly ignored since these would transform their “Jewish” state into a multi-ethnic democracy. But without this there can be no peace.

          As Miko’s father predicted after the 6-day war, Israel would hopelessly degrade itself by maintaining a military occupation of Palestinians, and French-Israeli Michel Warshawski sees Israel ghettoizing itself behind its own walls and building itself “an open tomb.”

          And please don’t drag out the old, simple-minded, threadbare “anti-Semitism” canard. By identifying itself with Judaism, and using Judaic mythology to justify its criminality, Israel degrades Judaism, is itself profoundly anti-Semitic and is appalling to my principled Jewish friends and to principled Jewish organizations such as Jewish Voice for Peace.

    • David says:

      Hello David,

      Lisa’s original remark was that “more than 800,000 Jewish refugees fleeing persecution from Muslim majority countries that were allied with Hitler in World War II came to Palestine.” This is a pretty serious mischaracterization, one unfair to the Arab world and reinforcing some dangerous narratives, and was NOT supported at all by the citation she posted. According to the article Lisa linked, fewer than a third of the 800,000 Jews had come from other parts in the Middle East by 1950, suggesting Nazism/WWII weren’t big factors in the exodus. Few if any (the lines are blurry) fully independent Arab nations even existed during WWII, which precludes the concept from the start. Many Arab regions from whom Jewish refugees came fielded substantial troops and supplies for the Allies — notably vast swathes of North Africa and Britain’s numerous possessions around the Persian Gulf. Through revolts and volunteer units, some Arabs also fought or advocated for the Axis — notably some Iraqis, Palestinians, and Syrians — but not as nations or even broad movements and much more as part of colonial/anti-colonial dynamics (Britain and France were quite harsh as colonial powers there in recent decades). Certainly not out of uniform and broadly felt ideological Nazism and nowhere near 800,000 refugees came from those areas to Israel.

      • Jack Dresser says:

        Yes, the assertion of “Muslim majority countries that were allied with Hitler in World War II” is a serious mischaracterization. Those that had long suffered under French and British colonization saw Germany as a potential rescuer from their common enemies, but transfer of German Jews to Palestine through the Haavara agreement was not to their liking. Despite their potential relief from colonial domination, most Arabs rejected Nazi racism and more fought with the allies than with the Reich.

      • Lisa Schirch says:

        I agree that “allied” was a poor word choice and that many Muslims supported and welcomed Jews, both in Palestine and the wider Muslim world.

        Just as the Israeli massacre of Palestinians at Deir Yassin created widespread fears prompting many Palestinians to leave their homes in the Nakba, so too did massacres of Jews in the region also prompted refugees fleeing their homes.

        Most Arab Jews left after 1950. But there is wide evidence Nazis reached out to and co-opted some Muslim leaders.

        In working with Muslims in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, I have found many dear friends. I have also been exposed to Muslims who deny the Holocaust, suggest that Jews could have stayed in Europe and antisemitic desires to kill “all Jews”.

        In my article, balance refers only to seeing the humanity of all sides. Yes, I agree with you that we should take a side against occupation! That is what I have done for 30 years in my own pro-Palestinian, anti-occupation work.

    • John says:

      Notice how it seems to be ok to kick out all Jews from their Arab or Persian homelands because of Zionism—that’s insane. Would we have done that to Muslim citizens after 911. I am coming to strongly re-examine what it means to be a Mennonite.

  10. John Kampen says:

    Lisa Schirch has bravely begun the conversation that Mennonite Church USA committed itself to when it passed the “Seeking Peace in Israel and Palestine” resolution. In the second section of that resolution we admitted our “Failing to do the hard work of examining our participation in antisemitic belief and practice” and our “Failing to understand the significance of the state of Israel for many Jewish people and the diversity of perspectives and understandings among Jews related to Israel and Zionism.” We committed ourselves to a very difficult conversation that we as Mennonites have never undertaken before. All previous attempts to venture into this area of discussion have floundered. Lisa has identified some of the “hard truths” that must be part of this discussion. Let us begin to engage these issues as well as all of the other concerns which we committed ourselves to when the church adopted the resolution.

  11. Jack Dresser says:

    Not only were Arab nations not allied with Hitler, but the Zionist terror group Lehi offered to join Hitler to force the British out of Palestine. Moreover, the World Zionist Organization collaborated with Hitler to allow wealthy German Jews escape to Palestine with most of their assets transferred as German exports to break the international Jewish boycott of Germany (see Edwin Black’s “The Transfer Agreement”). Think about it. Without that manipulation the German economy might have collapsed and the Holocaust prevented!

    US proposals to allow German Jewish emigration to the US in 1938, 1943 and 1947 were blocked by American Jews since the Zionists wanted all Jews in Palestine. Their single-minded objective to develop Palestine might fail, they feared, if escaping Jews had other, preferable alternatives (see Alfred Lilienthal’s 1953 book, What Price Israel).

  12. Jake Janzen says:

    Yes, it should be pointed out that Avrahim Stern (of Lehi) sought alliance with Hitler, just as Amin al-Husseini did. For each, it was a move to gain favor in the event that the Axis powers won the war. It should also be noted that the Mufti of Jerusalem did not represent the entire Palestinian population, so it is a distortion to act as if Palestinians were Facist/Nazi.

    But to assert that the holocaust could have been prevented without the transfer of wealth held by German Jews? That goes to far in demonizing the Jewish people.

    Yes, United States limits on Jewish immigration absolutely contributed to Palestinian dispossesion. There should be widespread condemnation of that (I think there already is) and I think it should influence current refugee immigration policies. But I’ve heard that a poll of Americans after WWII showed that a significant percentage believed that Jews “deserved” the holocaust, so there would have been plenty of opposition to Jewish immigration at the time. To suggest that the immigration proposals were blocked by American Jews in order to force refugees into Palestine goes way too far in demonizing the Jewish people, again.

    • Jack Dresser says:

      Jake, don’t confuse a suggested possibility with an “assertion.” And don’t confuse the WZO with Jews in general, almost all of whom probably knew nothing about WZO collaboration with the Nazis, or of the WZO quid pro quo with Britain in WWI that produced the Balfour Declaration and arguably cost Germany victory in that war, and contributed to subsequent German anti-Semitism surprising to their Jewish population that had been well-integrated into German society for centuries.

      To oppose Israel is to oppose state terrorism, ethnic cleansing, settler colonialism, denial of human rights to an entire dispossessed and occupied people, stealing homes, olive groves, citrus orchards, 11 cities, over 500 villages, agricultural land and resources, bullying, degradation, and lying about it all. I don’t believe those are Jewish values. By committing these crimes in the name of Judaism, Israel itself is grossly anti-Semitic.

      This was anticipated at that time by a plurality of the worldwide Jewish population which opposed the Zionist movement, including the small indigenous population of Palestinian Jews (about 10% of pre-1920 Palestinians) who had previously lived in harmony with their Muslim and Christian neighbors.

  13. David Bontrager says:

    1 TIMOTHY 2 1:8 NIV
    1I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— 2for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 3This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. 5For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, 6who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time. 7And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle—I am telling the truth, I am not lying—and a true and faithful teacher of the Gentiles.
    8Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing.

    Where is the prayerful church? Where are its prayer leaders? Have we forsaken Jesus Christ as the one mediator between God and mankind? In todays perilous world should the church not be in continuous petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving for all people? Will we wait for God’s wrath to descend upon us? Pray for God’s true church and its leaders to live in all godliness and holiness! Without prayer the church will fail.

    Where is the role of prayer? Have we become Godless in our own faith, relying on our own superior wisdom and desires? Do we need repentance of our own moral judgment and superiority? Are we truly Christian?

    Habakkuk 3:2 NIV
    Lord, I have heard of your fame,
    I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord
    Repeat them in our day,
    in our time make them known,
    in wrath remember mercy.

  14. Kathy Shantz says:

    I was surprised and shocked by this vitriolic response to Lisa Schirch’s thoughtful and thought provoking article. Mennonite institutional involvement in the tragic Israeli Palestinian conflict has historically been on the Palestinian side and inevitably this has led to a limited understanding of and sympathy for the Israeli side. Lisa has simply pointed this out and quite reasonably suggests that building broad based coalitions among Palestinian and Israeli peace groups must be based on understanding and respect for the human security needs of both sides. She further suggests that anti-Semitic aspects of Mennonite history and identity need to be addressed in order for Mennonites to become more fully engaged with both sides. I would encourage fair minded people to read all of what Lisa has written. Her research and writing calls on Mennonites to undertake a deeper understanding of and involvement with both sides of this conflict. Engaging with only one side is not the way forward.

  15. Richard MacMaster says:

    Lunching with Israeli friends last week I was surprised to hear all of them warmly defend IDF actions in Gaza and government policy generally. The group included an Israeli rabbi who has long stood up for human rights. I did not criticize them then nor do I now.

    For seventy years Jewish identity, religion and ethnicity, has been linked with what would otherwise be seen as a secular Middle Eastern government. I think that is a tragedy, but it is understandable. Given the centuries of past history, it is understandable that many Jewish people will equate criticism of Israeli policy with antisemitism, even when voiced by fellow Jews.

    I do not feel that my ethnicity or religious faith is in any way bound up with the policies or actions of the United States government and I have openly opposed much of what successive Democrat and Republican administrations
    have done in my 83 years.

    Obviously many Jewish people, especially in Israel, feel the same way. They do call out the Netanyahu regime for its excesses, but at a price.

    References to Nazism and the support some Mennonites or some people under European colonial rule may have given them seems to me to muddy the waters.

    If we’re repenting, it should be for things we ourselves did. I grew up on Long Island, New York. I’m old enough to remember the rampant antisemitism in the United States well after the Second World War from deed restrictions that prevented a friend from buying a house in a new subdivision to “Gentile Clientele Only” notices, sometimes posted, sometimes merely understood, to Klan crosses burned on a suburban lot where a new synagogue was building.

  16. Ed Epp says:

    I have debated whether or not to add a comment. I have been involved in the Middle East for over 20 years now. A couple of reflections on the issues around this article.

    First, I object to the characterization that the Mennonite response in the region was one sided and did not take into account a Jewish experience. The Mennonite response was based on justice and need. We took great care to frame issues not in terms of religion or ethnicity, but political policy of illegal acts and actions. For example, settlements and forced evictions are not Jewish but policies that are unjust. The dilemma is that some want to silence any criticism of the Israeli government policy by equating that with antisemitism or lack of taking into account the Jewish experience.

    Second, there is anti-Semitism in Mennonite circles. I saw it too often. I was always careful and worried that my work and communication would be used to further this agenda. I took great care in my communications to try to address this point and still do today. (It is ironic that some in the Evangelical circles unequivocally support the state of Israel while denying respect to the legitimacy of Jewish faith and spirituality – a form of anti-Semitism.)

    Third, we do need to critically look at Mennonite history both in terms of anti-Semitism, but also our own history of settlement. There is injustice in some of our history (in Canada, Paraguay, etc) that we should address. Thankfully it is being addressed today. That should, in no way however, deter us from speaking out on injustice in the Middle East. We need to do both/and.

    Fourth, the Holocaust was evil and must be remembered and never repeated. Let us remember that the Holocaust was perpetuated by European Christians and not Palestinians or Arabs or Muslims.

    • K Weaver says:

      Ed, I think Lisa Schirch would agree with your comment. She says in her article that Mennonites have done important and good humanitarian work. And I agree with you and her that Mennonites should continue advocacy for Palestinians.

      Many if not most Jews would strongly dislike her article because she names the Nakba and Palestinian justice issues.

      She does make the distinction between important criticism of Israeli policy, and the subtle ways Mennonites talk that illustrate our lack of understanding of Jewish history and perspectives.

      If it is wrong to suggest that we can be better Mennonites if we humanize Jews and refrain from demonization, then what space is there to attempt to live out the MCUSA resolution?

      There are only a handful of Mennonite Jews. I can’t imagine why any would want to weigh in on the conversation given the very personal attacks against this Mennonite woman, or against Jews in general.

      • Lisa Schirch says:

        Ed, I do agree with much of what you write. But on your first point, I think it would be helpful to hear more on the following:

        1) Did MCC take any action to address the antisemitism that existed amongst Russian Mennonites, or to help Jews also fleeing persecution after the Holocaust? Did MCC advocate for the US to accept Jewish refugees trying to come to the US or Canada?

        2) When MCC began working in Palestine, what types of outreach to Jews and Jewish organizations took place?

        3) What substantive work does MCC do today to address antisemitism in the church, or to learn more about Judaism, or Jewish perspectives on Israel, other than MCC work with Jewish organizations focused on Palestinian rights end occupation today,

        4. Why didn’t MCC officially send anyone to the “Mennonites and the Holocaust” conference at Bethel in March? Why hasn’t MCC made a statement or noted publicly that it is wrestling with how to respond to this history?

        • Ed Epp says:

          I have a couple of responses to your questions.

          1. I do not believe MCC was in any way active to support Jews fleeing the Holocaust. Although this was before my time, it was wrong and I would hope we would repent as well as commit to other actions if it happened today. That error of course does not cause paralysis of action since that time in the Middle East.

          2. MCC, and I, had regular meetings with the Israeli Social Service responsible for the Occupied Territories. At that time we had a registration with them. We explored with them working in Israel in poverty issues. They repeatedly told us to concentrate on the refugee camps. There was discussion other than Palestinian issues with even the Israeli government. It would be wrong to assume these discussions were not happening.

          3. I personally had an ongoing dialogue with a high ranking member of the Israeli Embassy in Canada. At one time I arranged for him and a Palestinian to speak in a Mennonite Church adult Sunday School. He cut off dialogue with me after the Israeli forces bombed a shelter in Cana in Lebanon and I sent him a letter describing the funeral – which I attended – of 118 women and children and asked him if he supported this action.

          4. I arranged for a Jewish writer from Winnipeg to travel to both the West Bank and Gaza to interview people that he selected. These articles were published in the Winnipeg Free Press with no pre-reading of them by MCC. It was agreed that we would make introductions and have no editing power.

          5. I was one of the people who founded an interfaith dialogue in Winnipeg between Muslim, Jewish, and Mennonite groups. Part of this was a direct Jewish Mennonite dialogue which sought to understand each others faith. There was some rich discussions in that group. One of my stated goals for that group was to have dialogue that goes beyond the Israeli Government issues. Another stated goal was to work at understanding between Mennonite and Jewish community members to address anti-Semitism.

          6. I cannot say why MCC did not send a delegate to the conference as I am outside of those circles today. It would be unfair to use that to label my actions of previous years.

          7. Whenever I spoke in Mennonite Churches I always emphasized how any criticism I would have against any government would not be a criticism against the people or religious beliefs of people in that country. That would especially be true in discussions around the issues of Israeli government policy. I actively corrected comments I thought were anti-Semitic.

          Lisa, it is so easy to so broadly label a past without looking carefully at actions of that time. It felt to me like your questions were more statements to prove your central point. This is why I hesitated to enter into such online discussions and likely won’t in the future. People seem to have their minds made up.

          Did I always say and do the right thing – of course not. There are things that I said that were overly harsh and certainly actions which were misunderstood. Did I seek to address the issues fairly, with dialogue on all sides – I think so. Looking back I was remarkably unsuccessful in creating dialogue and understanding, but I am at peace with how I did it and the attempts.

          • Lisa Schirch says:

            Dear Ed, I think this is a really interesting and important history for you to tell. As I noted in my article, I think MCC’s work in the past and present in support of Palestinians is absolutely important. I think Mennonites did important work and should definitely continue their advocacy for justice for Palestinians. I don’t feel critical of your work, and I apologize if my questions felt like accusations. That was not the intent. I truly am interested in learning more.

            I have experienced many presentations on these issues in Mennonite churches in the last 50 years. There was a lot of information on Palestinians, and almost no information on Israelis or Jews. I think we can do better. For many years I was completely blind to many of these issues I am now raising.

            Again, I’m grateful that you took the time to write and to share your stories. And I’m glad you agree we can now look at next steps and what is required. – Lisa at

  17. Jack Dresser says:

    Kathy, I don’t consider calling out equivocation “vitriolic.” Your comments reflect acceptance of conventional misframing Americans have been relentlessly subjected to. First, being on the Palestinian “side” is a newly emerging development after many decades of saturation in the heroic and whiny Israeli narrative beginning with the Exodus book and film, both commissioned works of fiction. We don’t need to hear any more of that; it’s had far to long a hearing already.

    Second, it is part of Israeli propaganda to call it a “conflict.” Do we call any other armed robbery a “conflict”? And is a robbery victim obliged to negotiate with the robber about how much to give back? In a discussion between Israeli historians Avi Shlaim and Shlomo Sand, they agreed the Nakba was a “rape.” Do we call a rape a “conflict”? In a rape there is often no direct evidence, but in this case the evidence is massive and public. The relationship is correctly categorized by the UN as a “belligerent occupation” and is in violation of multiple articles in the UN Charter, the UDHR, and the 4th Geneva Convention.

    Third, you imply that we must honor “both sides.” Of course the armed robber and rapist are entitled to present a legal defense in a criminal court proceeding. This is not a civil court disagreement between equal claimants. Israelis, not the Palestinians, have relentlessly stolen, mass murdered and falsely imprisoned, and belong under indictment by the International Criminal Court. The only “side” that matters is the truth, objectively documented by the historical record and judged under applicable international law as determined by international tribunals from which Israel has been protected by OUR country. This makes pursuit of justice OUR citizenship responsibility.