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Does ELCA have a Jewish problem?

Rabbi Abraham Cooper is the Associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein is Director for Interfaith Relations at the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper is the Associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein is Director for Interfaith Relations at the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

At the moment that much of the world is trying to free itself from hatreds of the past, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) seems intent on bringing them back. In a letter it sent to US Congress, ELCA promotes a modern-day blood libel against the Jewish State, which it accuses of training the murderers of George Floyd. It is a libel right out of the playbook of Martin Luther’s On the Jews and Their Lies. That work, which urged the burning of synagogues, was hailed by the Nazi newspaper Der Stürmer, as the most radically anti-Semitic tract ever published.

George Floyd? What could Israel possibly have to do with George Floyd? Unless you believe in the global Jewish conspiracy and that everything therefore can and should be blamed on the Jews or the Jewish state.

ELCA apparently does. Rev. Rafael Malpica Padilla, executive director of ELCA Global Mission, faulted Israel’s “repressive tactics against Palestinians” for police brutality against black Americans. “As it has been reported, the kind of police tactics used to kill George Floyd are among those taught to a number of police departments that have taken part in training by Israeli police and military forces. For example, 100 Minneapolis police officers received counterterrorism training from Israelis at a conference held in 2012.”

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Now, the approved use of the “neck restraint” appeared in the Minneapolis police code as far back as 2002. Explicit mention of using a leg to execute it appears there in 2010, a few years before any contact with Israeli police. According to the UK’s Channel 4, neck-kneeling was involved in the pre-2012 deaths of suspects in Pittsburgh, Bloomfield, NJ, and the Bay Area. So the practice predates any contact with Israelis. Interestingly, the police participants at the conference – which took place in Chicago – were not specifically from Minneapolis, but from the entire state of Minnesota.

What the 2012 conference in Chicago did teach was how to fight terrorism against civilians, something with which Israelis have too much experience. Knees? Micky Rosenfield, the national spokesman for the Israeli police declared: “There is no procedure that allows an officer of the Israel police department to carry out an arrest by placing a knee on the neck of a suspect.”

Malpica Padilla was not the only ELCA official creating fake news to incite Jew-hatred. Kathryn Mary Lohre, Assistant to the Presiding Bishop of the ELCA and Executive for Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Relations & Theological Discernment, wrote on the ELCA website: “The racism that has kneeled on the necks of Black Americans for 400 years is part of the same global pandemic as the racism that has been kneeling on the necks of Palestinians for 53 years of military occupation, and that has been even more suffocating under Israel’s nation-state law, adopted in 2018.”  Just who has been “suffocating” since 2018? Israel’s nation-state law did recognize that Israel is the homeland of the Jewish people, without detracting a smidgeon from the rights accorded to Israel’s non-Jewish minorities. Those are rights that simply don’t exist for minorities – including Palestinians – in some twenty explicitly Muslim states in the Middle East, some of which persecute Christians, none of which bothers ELCA.

Where did the screed begin, that Israel was responsible for training Derek Chauvin? It began with an unsupported accusation in a British socialist paper. (They later walked it back.) It was given a boost in an interview with the UK Independent by actor Maxine Peake. (She later disowned it.) It was then tweeted by a Labour Party official, Rebecca Long-Bailey. (She was fired for it, and later repudiated the Jewish conspiracy implication.) That leaves ELCA, having no more to go on than Luther did in his infamous anti-Jewish work. 

It is no secret that ELCA is hostile to Israel. So be it. Criticism is allowed, and sometimes can be legitimate. But when it is based on outright lies and incitement, it betrays something deeper. What do you suppose that might be?

We don’t believe for a moment that these fake news campaigns reflect the thinking of the average Lutheran any more than we think that the average cop was capable of murdering George Floyd. We do believe that, that at a time of national crisis and reflection of riots, economic dislocation, social media hatred and uncertainty, Lutherans have an obligation to remove the stain of anti-Semitism from their church by cleaning up and clearing out some of their own administration.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper is the Associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and its Director of Global Social Action.  Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein is the Center’s Director of Interfaith Affairs.

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