Earlier this month, a website called Veterans News Now (VNN), removed James M. Wall from its editorial board, where he was listed as “associate editor,” and moved his name to a list of the site’s “frequently featured writers.” To outsiders the change might seem like a demotion of sorts, but the move was probably made at Wall’s request in an effort to diminish the controversy generated by his affiliation with the website. VNN is an antisemitic website that has promoted an illustrated version of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion prepared by David Duke, former Grand Wizard of the Klu Klux Klan. In a promotional article published on VNN, Duke takes “fake but accurate” to new depths, asserting that it does not matter that the original Protocols were a fabrication because the story they told about the Jews is true; his book proves how.
This is just one of the antisemitic articles published at VNN. Another describes Israel as at the center of an “elite global war/genocide machine.” Holocaust denial and conspiracy theories that blame Israel for 9/11 are also well represented at VNN. It is the type of stuff one would expect to see in The Dearborn Independent or Der Sturmer.
This is all worth noting because from 1972 to 1998, Wall served as editor of the flagship journal of liberal Protestantism, the Christian Century. For a decade after he retired as editor, Wall wrote regular columns for the magazine and his name remains on the masthead as “contributing editor.”
Wall’s articles on VNN are not as virulent as the other articles that appear on the website, but his message fits right in. Presbyterians who oppose divestment from Israel are “Israeli agents.” Republicans who support Israel are “wearing the kippah.” According to Wall, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is one of the culprits who have “stolen” Congress from the American people. All this comes without irony from a man who serves on the Board of Directors of the Saudi-funded Americans for Middle East Understanding, an organization that has promoted anti-Israel propaganda in the U.S. for decades.
A brief blog entry posted on the website of the Christian Century last month stated that Wall’s presence on the Christian Century’s masthead is “not an endorsement” of what he writes elsewhere. We may be glad for that, but the episode highlights a troubling aspect of the magazine’s historyits persistent enmity toward Jews and expressions of their collective identity. This enmity ebbs and flows from one historical era to the next and there have been times when the magazine has repented of it. But one thing remains constant: The magazine directs more criticism at Jews who defend themselves than those who pursue their destruction.
This tendency was clearly evident when the magazine was under the control of Charles Clayton Morrison, a Disciples of Christ Minister who brought the publication out of bankruptcy and ran it until his retirement in 1947. Morrison used his magazine to assail Jews who refused to disappear into the melting pot of American society. Hertzel Fishman, author of American Protestantism and the Jewish State (Wayne State Press, 1973), noted that Morrison warned in 1937 that “Democracy cannot guarantee our American Jewish brethren against the emergence of a crisis in which the prejudice and anger generated by their long resistance to the democratic process will flame up to their great hurt.”
Morrison’s opposition to Zionism was pronounced. In the 1930s, he promoted the agenda of the anti-Zionist American Council for Judaism and published articles written by Louis Minsky, a British-born Jew who condemned his fellow Jews for responding “hysterically” to the rise of Hitler. In 1942 Morrison accused Rabbi Stephen Wise, president of the World Jewish Congress and an ardent Zionist, of exaggerating the horror of Hitler’s violence against Jews in Europe, when in fact, Wise’s warnings were on target. In response to the accusation, Wise wrote “I have no hesitation in saying that this indictment of me for reporting, rather than of Hitler for committing the most awful crime of history, is of a piece with the distorted and thwarted mind of Dr. Morrison touching every Jewish question that is brought up for discussion of the pages of the Christian Century.”
Morrison’s legacy proved to be an embarrassing one for the Christian Century. In 1985, Martin Marty a long-time senior editor, wrote a defense of the magazine’s coverage during the Holocaust, but even here, he had to admit “Charles Clayton Morrison and the Christian Century were deeply flawed.”
The magazine’s coverage of Israel improved remarkably after Morrison’s departure. Under the editorship of Kyle Haseldon, the Christian Century was highly critical of Arab threats to destroy Israel prior to the Six-Day War in 1967. After the war ended, the magazine asked why supporters of the Arab cause had become so quiet. “What can Arab sympathizers say about this snip of history except to confess that their party planned and attempted to execute a ruthless war of extermination against Israel?”
After James M. Wall became editor of the Christian Century in 1972, the magazine continued to acknowledge the problem of Arab rejectionism toward the Jewish state. “That there is a conviction that the State of Israel should not exist is not just Jewish paranoia; it is a widely held belief among Arabs,” Wall wrote in 1974.
But even in the early 1970s, the Christian Century stacked the deck against Israel. Wall wrote Israel was losing its soul because of its policies toward the Palestinians. “The Jew has been oppressed too long to wear easily the mantle of oppressor,” Wall wrote in 1974. But Wall rarelyif everasked what impact inveterate hostility toward Jews and Israel had on the “souls” of Muslim and Arab peoples in the Middle East. It was all about Jews, their homeland, and whether or not they lived up to the ethical demands of their faith. Typically the answer was no.
At the same time, the Christian Century pushed a fairy tale about the growing influence of nonviolent activism in Palestinian society. During both the First and Second Intifadas, the magazine published articles stating that nonviolent activists were gaining traction in Palestinian society. One article stated that the 1936 uprising led by the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, was “largelythough not whollynonviolent.” In fact, violent attacks on Jews were one of the most salient characteristics of the 1936 riots, which played a role in stopping Jewish immigration into Palestine during the Holocaust. Another article published in April 2001, (written by Tom Getman, an official from the Evangelical charity World Vision) stated that the Palestinian Authority had “made it very clear in recent days that the use of guns and suicide bombs is unacceptable.” Whatever the Palestinian Authority had said, it was eyewash. The PA lionized suicide bombers during the Second Intifada. This didn’t stop the Chrisitan Century from publishing a piece by Palestinian propagandist Rashid Khalidi asserting that the Palestinian Authority was “as surprised as anyone else by the Second Intifada.” In fact, the PA called for a general intifada in Jerusalem weeks before it began. It was no surprise. It was planned.
Wall stepped down as editor in 1998 to be replaced by Rev. Dr. John Buchanan, a prominent leader in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and a pastor of a church in Chicago. Things did not change much under Buchanan’s leadership until 2004 when the Presbyterians passed a divestment resolution targeting Israel. The passage of this overture, plus visits by Presbyterian staffers with Hezbollah in Lebanon, started to damage the reputation of the mainline community served by the magazine.
The Christian Century then published a number of articles countering the anti-Zionist propaganda that the magazine had previously supported. In 2006, the magazine published a scathing critique of the anti-Judaism of Naim Ateek, a Palestinian Christian darling of the divestment movement. The critique, written by Vanderbilt scholar Amy-Jill Levine, criticized Ateek for “trafficking in a ‘recycled anti-Judaism that depicts Israel as a country of Christ-killers.’” This was the first of several articles published over the next few years that assailed the anti-Israel propaganda that had taken root in the mainline, but the genie could not be put back into the bottle. In 2014, the PC(USA)’s General Assembly approved a divestment resolution targeting Israel, affirming the distorted narrative about the Arab-Israeli conflict that had been promoted in the Christian Century for years.
Dexter Van Zile is Christian Media Analyst for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA).