On May 14, the day the United States moved its embassy to Jerusalem and congratulated itself for advancing the peace process, the U.S.-supported Israeli military […]
“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 themennonite.org 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.
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