- - Thursday, November 12, 2015

When MSNBC used inaccurate and misleading maps in October to illustrate Jewish and Arab land claims in the Holy Land, it took only hours for it to admit their error. Church groups have been using the same set of maps for many years, with no sign of slowing down.

The maps are a set of four (sometimes five) panels purporting to show the shrinkage of “Palestinian” land from 1946 and on. The first panel shows what is currently called Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank almost entirely colored Palestinian green, with the faintest amount of Jewish blue. As the maps progress through 1947 to 1967 to the present day, wending their way through the U.N. partition plan of 1947, the aftermath of the June War and Oslo, the blue gobbles up more and more of the green. The conclusion is obvious: Those nasty Zionist imperialists have been stealing more and more Palestinian land, leaving the real owners no recourse but to try to take it back by murdering elderly Jewish women with kitchen knives.

Wrong. The maps are a sham. It took MSNBC very little time to investigate and to publicly apologize the next day. Later, “MSNBC Live” host Kate Snow admitted that the maps attempted to show that Palestinians once had control over all of modern-day Israel and have seen it shrink since. “We realized after we went off the air the maps were not factually accurate and we regret using them.”

Veteran NBC Middle East correspondent Martin Fletcher added: “There was no state called Palestine. It gave the wrong impression.” What the maps called “Palestine” was the name the British, who conquered it from the Turks in WWI, called until it left the Holy Land in 1948. Indeed, the hundreds of thousands of Jews living there during that period were called Palestinian Jews. The English language newspaper of the Jews was called The Palestine Post. It would only be renamed The Jerusalem Post in 1950. Local Arabs didn’t emerge as a distinct national group called Palestinians until the ‘70s.

As for the land depicted in pre-1948 maps, it included large parcels bought by Jews. Vast amounts of land were either desert, or otherwise not considered arable — at least not until the Jews would later make the desert and rocky terrain bloom. Much land was considered government land, which meant that neither Jews nor Arabs owned it. Yet, even back then, Arabs insisted that everything belonged to the Arab nation.

None of these facts deter a Who’s-Who of mainline churches who continue to deploy the map with impunity, decrying the theft of “Palestinian” land by the Jews and rallying members to vote for punitive measures against Israel.

The maps, apparently the work of an Anglican canon, first appeared nearly a decade ago on the Sabeel U.K. website. The group’s long-standing animus to Israel is so great that they label the two colors Palestinian and Jewish — not Israeli. The Lutheran Church (ELCA) as early as 2009 began offering free cards with the 4-panel graphic on its Peace Not Walls/”Stand for Justice in the Holy Land” handouts and is still used by one of their synods. The Presbyterians (PCUSA) included the maps in the historical analysis prepared for delegates at the 2010 General Assembly, and they accompanied an anti-Israel overture in 2014. Right before a successful United Methodist boycott vote at their last General Conference, committee spokesperson Rev. We Hyun Chang rose to show the maps to all the delegates. The United Church of Christ sports the map on its Church Funds chronicle of Mideast “engagements.”

In 2012, churches lost their exclusive to the lie. The Committee for Peace in Israel and Palestine paid $25,000 to display map posters at 50 Metro-North Railroad stations for 30 days.

How does a lie live so long? Seems that a convenient untruth can often trump the real story. Evidence the celebrated link between homo sapiens and his simian ancestors. Or so people thought of it until that hoax was discovered.

At a meeting of the Geological Society of London in 1912, Arthur Smith Woodward of the British Museum reported on a skull that had been unearthed in a Piltdown gravel pit. The jaw was like that of a modern chimp; the rest similar to a modern human, other than containing a brain about two-thirds the size of that of a human. The fossil was hailed as the missing link between ape and man that scientists were looking for. Piltdown Man was cited by Clarence Darrow at the Scopes trial as evidence for evolution.

It took 50 years before researchers were able to confirm that it was actually a fraud. Someone — probably Charles Dawson, an associate of Woodward’s — had assembled the hoax using a human skull only a few hundred years old, fossilized chimpanzee teeth, an orangutan jaw, some staining liquids, and a file. It took a half-century for the truth to be heard because people preferred to believe the lie. They were comfortable with the idea of human evolution producing a large brain even before the jaw adapted to new foods. They were even more comfortable with human ancestry beginning with a proper Englishman, rather than an African or Asian savage.

So truth will eventually prevail — but only if and when people are prepared to hear it.

In a Gallup poll of attitudes toward the honesty and ethical standards of people in various professions, well over twice as many Americans trusted clergy over television news reporters. Judging by the way the four-panel map of Palestine hoax continues to be recycled by some church groups, they may want reconsider their preference.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein is the Wiesenthal Center’s director of Interfaith Affairs.

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