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The Holocaust, Israel, and Canadian Protestant Churches.

The Holocaust, Israel, and Canadian Protestant Churches. By Haim Genizi. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2002. xvi + 320 pp.

I wonder how many North American Jews had ever heard, three years ago, of Durban, South Africa, or of Concordia University in Montreal. Now, however, they have entered Jewish consciousness as sites of anti-Israel bashing, and have confirmed for many that anti-Zionism is just the old anti-Jewish hostility in new attire. One of the difficult tasks facing historians of the contemporary Jewish experience is to probe the relationship between longstanding attitudes toward Jews and newer attitudes toward the State of Israel.

Haim Genizi, professor of history at Bar Ilan University, has decided to tackle an aspect of this topic in his new book. Despite a title that promises an examination of attitudes toward Jews during the Holocaust, the author does not offer much in the way of new research on this topic, especially in comparison with the work of Alan T. Davies and Marilyn Nefsky. (1) The book's main focus, instead, is on the attitudes toward Israel held within the United Church of Canada (UCC), the largest Protestant denomination in Canada, with some attention to the attitudes of the other Protestant denominations.

Genizi argues that a bias against Israel has existed for some time within Canadian Protestant denominations, but grew stronger after the 1967 Six Day War and intensified after Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1982. He offers two main reasons. He implies that the long tradition of Christian supersessionism, which denied the legitimacy of Jews as political actors after they had rejected Jesus as Messiah, persists in the many harsh attitudes toward Israel. (Genizi does acknowledge, almost parenthetically, that other religious factors, such as the centrality of the Social Gospel in the UCC, have led to sympathy for the disadvantaged generally, and Palestinian refugees specifically.) Genizi also contends that Christian Arab churches became increasingly effective as pro-Arab lobbyists, especially after they organized themselves in the Middle East Council of Churches, established in 1974. The Middle East Council has affected policies within the World Council of Churches, which in turn influenced many of the Canadian churches, either through the ecumenical Canadian Council of Churches or more directly through individual denominations.

The strength of the book lies in the extensive research that Genizi has done on the evolution of attitudes toward the State of Israel within the UCC. Genizi's discussions of the other Protestant churches in Canada are not as well researched or developed, although the comparative focus does offer some insight into the workings of the liberal UCC and Anglican Church in contrast to the more inward-focused and conservative Presbyterians and Baptists. He has carefully combed the archives of the UCC in Toronto and has read systematically and extensively through the most influential print medium within the UCC, the United Church Observer (UCO). This enables Genizi to chronicle how pro-Arab advocacy within the World Council of Churches influenced the views of many members of the UCC, and he paints detailed portraits of personalities, organizations and incidents. He provides the most complete account to date of the nadir of postwar relations between the UCC and the Jews, when A.C. Forrest was editor of the UCO and became increasingly focused on--some said obsessed with--the situation in the Middle East, blasting the Israeli government and the pro-Israel lobby. Forrest's intemperate accusations and acceptance of vitriolic articles, including one by a known member of the American radical right, embarrassed many of his colleagues in the UCC, and led to a law suit filed by B'nai B'rith against Forrest, the UCO, and the Church.

The section on the UCC, however, is poorly organized, and the narrative and analysis suffer. The UCC does not have a hierarchy and is not highly doctrinal. Only the General Council has the authority to issue official statements, and the decision-making process incorporates wide-ranging consultations. Thus, to analyze the development of the spectrum of attitudes within the UCC, it makes sense to set out the general theological outlook within which the Church operates and to analyze chronologically how the various streams of opinions coincided or collided within the church. Instead, Genizi takes a more episodic approach, with one chapter devoted to how attitudes changed within the UCC's influential Committee on the Church and International Affairs, another on attitudes in the UCO, with various statements of the General Council sprinkled among them.

Especially disjointed is Genizi's treatment of the relationship between changing attitudes toward Jews and Judaism and attitudes toward Israel. For example, Genizi notes that, in 1997, the UCC General Council issued a document titled "Bearing Faithful Witness: United Church-Jewish Relations Today" for its member churches to discuss. The text looked to dismantle some old attitudes toward Judaism, including supersessionism. But this seems to be toleratio ex nihilo, as the author gives no inkling of how these views had emerged in the UCC over the previous decade and more. This is no small matter, for Genizi suggests that anti-Israel attitudes flow from [earlier] Christian teachings on the Jews. However, positions critical of Israel have co-existed with the new theological liberalism, even though it renounces supersessionist anti-Judaic tropes.

The author does correctly understand that an analysis of the development of attitudes and policies within the UCC should take into consideration how the Jewish community tried to parry the various anti-Israel thrusts. He has also looked into the archives of the Jewish community, especially the Canadian Jewish Congress. He suggests that the Jewish community was too sensitive to criticism of Israel, and that each and every criticism of Israel should not be taken as camouflage for persistent antisemitism. Genizi, however, does not distinguish between legitimate criticism of Israel and unfair attacks, and does not provide an analysis of what constituted an exaggerated response from the Jewish community.

In evaluating his thesis, then, we can say that Genizi offers evidence of how a pro-Arab policy developed within Canadian Protestant denominations. He does not prove that anti-Jewish sentiments have shaded into anti-Israel attitudes. By virtue of the rich information in this volume, however, the material for further analysis is available. The Holocaust, Israel, and Canadian Protestant Churches is recommended to anyone interested in Jewish-Christian relations in North America after World War II, and in Protestant attitudes towards the State of Israel.

(1.) Alan T. Davies and Marilyn F. Nefsky, How Silent were the Churches? Canadian Protestantism and the Jewish Plight During the Nazi Era (Waterloo, 1997).

Richard Menkis

University of British Columbia
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Author:Menkis, Richard
Publication:American Jewish History
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 1, 2002
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