There is a church in Connecticut, the First Congregational Church of Old Lyme, which puts a tremendous amount of energy into what it professes is an effort to promote peace between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs but in actuality simply spreads lies, distortions and outright hatred.
One of the centerpieces of its efforts is an annual conference, generally on a Saturday night and Sunday afternoon, which it misleadingly calls a "Tree of Life Conference."
I recently attended the Sunday afternoon portion of this year's conference, on November 8. This is their fifth conference and I've gone to four of them. (I missed it one year when I blessedly had another commitment.)
There are lessons which may be learned at events such as this, although it sometimes takes a strong stomach. One improvement this year was not including a luncheon in the middle.
One lesson I learned years ago was that groups which include either peace or justice in their name or their mission are generally not really interested in either.
(Food for thought: It is obviously impossible to undue the injustice done to the Jews by the Arabs over six decades of rejectionism, war and terror. For Israel to insist that there could be no peace without justice would effectively say there could be no peace, period.)
Evidence of the extremism of the Tree of Life Conference was that one of the more moderate voices was Nihad Awad, executive director of CAIR, the Council of American-Islamic Relations. CAIR was named by Federal prosecutors as an unindicted co-conspirator in a criminal conspiracy to support Hamas and keeps finding its officials and employees arrested on terrorism-related charges. Daniel Pipes has a compilation of some of CAIR's legal problems at http://www.danielpipes.org/blog/2003/06/cairs-legal-tribulations.
The organizers do provide what they call the Jewish or Israeli perspective, scouring the sewers for Jews and Israelis on the fringe to defame Israel. One of the lessons from these conferences is that the Israel and the Jewish community are both very good at producing Jews who enjoy defaming their own people and nation.
The final portion of the conference prior to a question and answer period was for three people to present what was billed as the Christian, Muslim and Jewish perspective.
What was supposedly the Jewish perspective was given by Mark Braverman, who admits he's on the fringe and doesn't even belong to a synagogue. More telling is that while some of the other presenters gave lip service to peace and a two-state solution, Braverman went right out, asserted the very concept of a Jewish state was unsustainable and effectively said he hoped Israel would not continue to exist. Braverman also tried to use the Holocaust against the Jewish people, describing as a vehicle for political indoctrination.
In Braverman's defense, it must be pointed out he never repeated a blood libel; that was left to Huda Musleh, a thirteen year old Palestinian Arab who repeated the libels about Israel stealing and selling body parts.
In terms of balance, there was none other than an observation I made during the last portion of the program, when there was an opportunity for questions from people in the audience.
I pointed out that there are multitudinous accusations that people only get to hear the Israeli side, but the Tree of Life Conference certainly put a lie to that. Along with those accusations usually come the assertion that it's important that all sides be heard, and that certainly wasn't the case that day at the First Congregational Church of Old Lyme. While Israel isn't perfect, it is not the devil incarnate as depicted that day and the Palestinian Arabs aren't the blameless angels they are depicted as.
The First Congregational Church of Old Lyme certainly has the right to organize incredibly biased and misleading programs, but nobody should be fooled into thinking those programs do anything to promote peace; they do just the opposite.
Those who really do want to further the cause of peace need to pick up the ball.