Darien church pulled into fake article mailer accusations
A Darien church has recently been pulled into controversy after a mailer of an article falsely accused it of harboring a “virulent anti-Semite” under the “guise of Evangelism.”
As first reported in the CT Jewish Ledger, a fake article that attacked the Noroton Presbyterian Church and two of its pastors was put in mailboxes some time during the night of Friday, Feb. 8.
The article, regarding Hanna Massad, said the church was offering Massad a “safe base of operations” and called him a “virulent racist and anti-Semitic Palestinian agitator.” The author of the fake article was listed as Dexter Van Zile, a Christian Media Analyst for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA).
When Van Zile and CAMERA were contacted regarding the article, they denounced it as fake.
The Ledger reported Van Zile said “I was sent an email about the hoax article by the church’s pastor. He wrote he really hoped I didn’t write it because it was untrue and unkind.”
“Whoever wrote the article used my name to pursue a personal vendetta against a local church,” Van Zile said. “To say I’m upset and angry is, well, an understatement, shall we say.”
“I never wrote the absurd article nor did the Jerusalem Post ever publish it,” Van Zile said. “The whole thing’s a hoax, from beginning to end.”
Van Zile pointed out that the Jerusalem Post is an internationally influential newspaper with a reputation for covering stories of global significance. “The notion that they’d publish a long attack piece on a church in Darien, Connecticut is ludicrous,” he said.
“My hope is that nobody in Darien was harmed by this malicious article,” Van Zile said. “If I can discover who penned it, I will see what legal actions are available to me.”
Van Zile spoke with The Darien Times on Wednesday, Feb. 27.
He said the creator and distributer of the fake article and mailer was likely someone angry about Hanna Massad’s involvement with the church. Van Zile said he had been critical of Massad in the past but that the accusations in the fake article were false and “disgusting.”
Van Zile’s criticism of Massad has centered around what he says is Massad’s lack of forthcoming and honest criticism of Hamas because he is from and still has family and friends in the Gaza strip.
“He cannot tell the truth because he or the people he loves could get hurt,” he said.
According to the Council on Foreign Relations, Hamas is a Palestinian militant movement that also serves as one of the territories’ two major political parties. A nationalist-Islamist spinoff of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas was founded in 1987, during the first intifada, and later emerged at the forefront of armed resistance to Israel. The United States and the European Union consider Hamas a terrorist organization.
According to CFR, Hamas is the main Palestinian armed resistance group, but the Islamist movement has struggled with governance since assuming control of Gaza.
On the Noroton Presbyterian Church website, Hanna Massad is listed under the Christian Mission to Gaza page.
Massad and his family are listed as living in Amman, Jordan, “where he ministers to a church of over 200 Iraqi refugee families.” He also helps “to arrange short term mission trips for U.S. doctors to come and help provide trauma and crisis counseling and other medical needs.”
The website also says Massad "regularly travels to Gaza to serve the poor and needy (Christians and Muslims) providing food, medicine and support and encouragement.” He also pastors the Gaza Baptist Church and ministers to hundreds of Iraqi and Syrian refugees who have fled the persecution of Isis.
It is unclear from the site where Massad currently lives, but the website reports he and his family “are spending June 2016/2016 on sabbatical living locally in Wilton.
In a Jan. 3, 2019 article on The Jerusalem Post, Van Zile criticizes Massad for being outspoken about Isis yet not as aggressively critical of Hamas.
“It’s not as if Massad can’t call out evil for what it is,” he wrote.
“He describes how one father fled Aleppo, fearing that his daughters ‘would be kidnapped and raped by ISIS militants.’ He explicitly described ISIS members as 'torturers' and 'terrorists' who, among other things, 'slaughtered' children of Egyptian families 'on the beaches of Libya.' Hamas has, thankfully enough, not reached the level of violence that ISIS has. But it has perpetrated great acts of violence that Massad just can’t seem to bring himself to describe with the same specificity,” Van Zile wrote.
“Why? The answer is obvious. Massad operates under the thumb of Hamas in the Gaza Strip and has to watch what he says about life in the Strip. In other words, he has to lie by omission about Hamas and then blame Israel’s occupation for the suffering Palestinians endure. By way of comparison, Massad has little to fear by helping Christian refugees in Jordan, so he can speak freely about ISIS,” he wrote.
Van Zile said he knows Palestinian Christians that exhibit anti-Semitic behavior, but “Massad is not of them.”
While the leaders of Noroton Presbyterian wouldn’t address the specific accusations, the church released the following statement to The Darien Times.
“The leadership and staff of Noroton Presbyterian Church are always committed to serving and caring for others in the name of Jesus Christ. We are troubled by recent articles in the media concerning our church and are working through the appropriate channels to get matters corrected,” it said.
Van Zile forwarded emails that he sent to the Rev. Greg Doll, pastor of Noroton Presbyterian, after he discovered the false article had used his name.
“It is a glimpse into the abyss. There are times when people — church people even — are in conflict. And given the brokenness of the world, the best we can hope for is that God is somehow able to use these conflicts to His good purposes,” he wrote.
“I’ve been pretty clear in my criticism of how people in the Christian world deal with issues related to the Arab-Israeli conflict. The letter distributed to your community was a dirty trick. I condemn it unreservedly. I am disgusted by it. In the long run, the person who wrote this article did more harm to themselves than to the community,” he wrote.
In another email, Van Zile wrote, “I have been very critical of Hanna Massad but he at least signs his own name to what he writes and says publicly. He has come forward, said his piece and taken his lumps. Whoever wrote this article lacks the courage Rev. Massad has shown.”
Van Zile said he has a suspicion as to who was behind the fake article mailer but would not offer the name. He said he feels that the church wants to put the matter behind him and providing the name would do the opposite.
However, Van Zile did say that putting material in people’s mailboxes is a crime, and if he was asked by a postal authority, he would provide the appropriate information.
In an email to The Darien Times, Van Zile confirmed for the record Hanna Massad “does not strike me as an antisemite.”
“He has friends and relatives who live in the shadow of Hamas and as a result, he cannot speak publicly about the things it does wrong for if he does, people will get hurt. I have written about other Palestinian Christians who traffic in antisemitic rhetoric. Hanna Massad is not one of them. I have concluded he tells a distorted narrative about the Arab-Israeli conflict but he does not do so out of animus, but fear,” he wrote.