What Lies Behind the Anti-Israel Position of Some Mainline Churches in America?

An Interview with Dexter Van Zile of CAMERA

by Jerry Gordon and Dexter Van Zile (August 2012)

United Church of Christ (UCC) in the 21st Century. So would philo-Semitic Ezra Stiles, Congregationalist Minister and Fifth President of Yale University whose seal  is emblazoned with Hebrew words “urim v thummin,” translated as the Latin “Lux et Veritas,” Light and Truth. Stiles was a supporter of restorationism, the return of Jews to their ancient homeland. Another similarly minded  personality was Asa McFarland, a Presbyterian who in the early 19th Century believed that the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the Fourth Caliphate, would result in the founding of a Jewish Commonwealth. Whitaker would likely be troubled by the Presbyterian Church (USA) resolutions in the past decade seeking divestments from American firms doing business in the Jewish State of Israel founded in 1948. 

United Methodist Church conventions where members support  divestment of Caterpillar, Inc. stock, exhorted by anti-Semitic imagery comparing this to German firms profiting from Nazi death camps during the Holocaust. So might Methodist businessman William Eugene Blackstone, an ardent Evangelist and Christian Zionist who presented a document, the Blackstone Memorial, to President Harrison in 1891 signed by 491 prominent Americans, business moguls like John D. Rockefeller, Cyrus McCormick, Senators, Congressmen, clergymen and some Jewish leaders. His Memorial  followed a Conference in 1890 convened to discuss virulent Russian antisemitism.  The Conference extolled the voluntary resettlement of oppressed Jews in Palestine. Like many Christian Zionists in the 19th Century, Blackstone believed that the resettlement of the ancient Jewish homeland would lead to the Second Coming of Christ and the conversion of Jews, premillennial dispensationalism. Ultimately, he favored the merits of Jewish Zionism. Blackstone was a precursor of Pastor John Hagee, founder of Christians United for Israel that represents tens of millions of committed Christian Zionist supporters of Israel in 21st Century America. 

supersessionism denying G-d’s covenant with the Jewish people and their restoration to their ancient homeland because they rejected acceptance of Jesus Christ. They are silent about the menacing threat of Islamic supersessionism oppressing and terrorizing Christians in Muslim majority countries in the Ummah. Yet, these clerics and international liberal church bureaucrats do not speak out forcefully against the Jihad by Salafists and the Muslim Brotherhood engaged in dispossessing beleaguered Christian Middle East communities like the Assyrians in Iraq, the Syriacs in bloody Syria and the significant Coptic minority in Egypt. It is ironic that these Middle East Christian clerics can convene conferences in the West Bank, while the remnant of Christians there and in Gaza are being subjected to razzias, forced conversions and expropriation of property sending adherents fleeing to Diasporas in the West. 

Coalition for Responsible Peace in the Middle East (C4RPME). We challenged anti-Israel resolutions at the Annual Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) in Orlando in 2005. Those resolutions were directed at opposing Israel’s security barrier that ended the Second Intifada. The resolutions were softened with the aid of American Lutheran pastors and bishops engaged in Jewish outreach. At informal luncheons and sessions with C4RPME team members outside of the Synod’s assembly halls, these Lutheran Bishops and pastors were presented with first hand evidence by a leader in the World Maronite Diaspora of the oppression of Middle East Christian communities. 

In an unpublished article on the episode, we noted the impact of the CAMERA Ad on the ELCA delegates.

We noted in conclusion:

Against this background we reached out to Dexter Van Zile, the Christian Media Analyst at Boston-based, Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA).

George McKenna of George Mason University calls “reverse election.” Instead of having a positive role to play on the world stage the American people and the United States had become a unique source of violence and oppression and injustice in the world. For people who embraced the doctrine of reverse election, the American people decimated the Indians, enslaved Africans, bombed Hiroshima, Nagasaki and were attacking third world peoples in Vietnam and oppressing people all over the world. They forgot that we had fought a war to end slavery, and defeated fascism in World War II. For the leaders of the churches that espoused reverse election from the 1960's on, the notion of American exceptionalism and the legitimacy of anti-Communism was a bad joke. The doctrine of reverse election espoused by mainline church leaders was one of the factors that emboldened them to embrace an anti-Israel narrative. Israel was an easier target for them to attack. Israel ended up becoming the embodiment of everything that was wrong with the United States. For these followers, anti-Zionism was a proxy for anti-Americanism.

Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center lead by an Anglican Canon Naim Ateek. After the Six Day War in 1967, Israel was no longer viewed as the underdog. These churches perceived the Palestinians as innocent victims of Jewish and Israeli aggression. They were fundamentally ignorant of Islamic doctrine and hostile towards the Jewish state. I didn't even hear the word “dhimmi” until 2004. When I heard the word and started to read about the reality of dhimmitude and the life that Christians endured under Muslim majority rule, I was shocked. I had a sense that there was a problem with Muslim attitudes towards non-Muslims. However, I didn't know that it had been systematized and few in these churches knew that. It was one of the reasons why they were so vulnerable to the activism of Palestinian Christians, the meta-narrative, that these churches told particularly in the last decade. They espouse that Israel could bring a unilateral end to the Arab-Israeli Conflict if only they came up with the magical formula of concessions in peace talks. The problem with that view was Israel had been attacked from all the territories it withdrew from over the past several decades. This was a very troublesome reality for these churches.

Justice and Only Justice: A Palestinian Theology of Liberation, which was a treatment of his doctoral dissertation. The book denigrated the notion that the Jews were entitled to a sovereign state of their own. He depicted Zionism as a retrograde expression of the Jewish faith. The Jewish people, who are entitled to a sovereign state, needed one because after the Holocaust Jews could not live in safety in non-Jewish settings. That is true in Europe and it has proven to be the case in the Middle East. Ateek invoked the Book of Jonah as an anti-nationalist text. He used the scriptures to assail modern day Jews. He doesn't use the same scriptures to assail or condemn Muslim or Arab behavior. That is a double standard. I found even more troubling that the experts in interfaith dialogue had largely been silent about what he was doing. Some folks regarded this as peacemaking! He provided a model for anti-Israel peacemaking polemics that still remains in force.

Kairos Political Document. What is it and who supports its positions among church leaders in the Middle East and in the West?

Christ at the 2012 Checkpoint Conference in Bethlehem along with 600 Evangelical Protestants. Who sponsored it and what did it illustrate about the underlying antisemitic agenda of a number of Middle East Christian clerics and denominations?

Bethlehem Bible College which is currently lead by Bishara Awad. He is retiring from his position but the Awad family has been engaged in anti-Israel activism for a long time. What happened at the Christ at the Checkpoint Conference was that the Awad family, Bishara and his brothers Mubarak and Sami, were trying to pass the torch of so-called peacemaking activism to the next generation of Palestinian Christians in the West Bank. That includes Bishara's son Sami, and other Palestinian Christians like Munther Isaac and Yohanna Katanacho. In 2010, there was a previous Christ at the Checkpoint Conference. Canon Naim Ateek was at the 2010 Christ at the Checkpoint Conference. The organizers realized that his message didn't work and he wasn't invited back to the 2012 Conference. The Christ at the Checkpoint Conference challenged Evangelical Protestants. The message they conveyed went something like this:  “You want to spread the gospel. That is what evangelicalism is all about, spreading the gospel and sharing the faith. The problem is that your support for the Jewish State is making it difficult for Christians in the Middle East to share their faith and be able to evangelicalize Muslims in the region and yet  you continue to support Israel.” They were positing a choice between spreading the gospel and standing in solidarity with the Jewish people as they face the threat of Islamism. It is a very shrewd tactic because that message is going to resonate with a fair number of Evangelical Protestants who are truly committed to spreading the gospel. One of the other messages they emphasized was that the Jewish state is a homeland to people who have rejected Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. The question the Conference posed to Evangelical Protestants was do you really want to support a Jewish state? They were not as explicitly hostile as Naim Ateek was during the Second Intifada. Nevertheless, the message was that Christianity has replaced Judaism. The Jewish people no longer have a claim to God's promises made to them in the Old Testament. Israel, by providing a homeland to Jews is an abomination. Every one of the main speeches at the Conference took place in front of a banner depicting a security barrier and observation tower standing in opposition to a church that had a cross. There were two messages conveyed. One was that the cross stands in judgment of Jewish sovereignty and the other that the Israeli security barrier stands as an obstacle to the Christian faith. That symbol was straight out of Leni Riefenstahl’s films from the 1930’s. It was very powerful visual rhetoric. The malevolent Jewish state stands in opposition to Christianity. Even if a speaker didn't say anything at all about the Arab-Israeli Conflict and just gave a straight up Bible study, the overall effect was to use Christianity to highlight the sins of the Jewish state and  Jewish power. I went on a tour of the checkpoint between Jerusalem and Bethlehem. A New Testament scholar went with me.  We looked at the Palestinian men who were in line going through the checkpoint. We were saddened by what we saw because these men were suffering. The New Testament scholar pointed to a man, and asked me “do you think this legitimate? Do you think this justified?” I told him, “A lot of people were killed during the Second Intifada.” He responded: “That was seven years ago.” To the attendees at this conference, the horror of the Second Intifada is ancient history. However, it is not for Israelis. What bothers me is there is tendency to ignore the suffering that Israelis have endured that preceded the construction of the security barrier. The problem is activists associated with this conference have never condemned Palestinian violence and Islamic ideology regarding Jews with the same force with which they have attacked Israel. Christians always like to talk about how Jesus confounded the Jewish millennial expectations of the Messiah. We talk about how the Jews were expecting a conqueror and a king to save the Jewish nation and re-establish sovereignty for the Jewish people. Christians rarely talk about how Jesus Christ contradicts what Mohammad said in the Qur’an or did in his biography. Jesus Christ stands in clear opposition to the behavior of the prophet Mohammad. Jesus Christ offers up a fundamentally different response to the human condition than Mohammad. Many Christians will not acknowledge that. As a former member of the UCC, I have come to the conclusion that if you cannot profess the difference between Mohammad and Jesus Christ you have abandoned one of the central tenants of the Christian faith.

Molly Norris, she said “Let's draw pictures of Mohammed.” There was a cleric in Yemen who said she needs to be killed. At the urging of the FBI Ms. Norris went underground into virtual witness protection. There is great fear associated with speaking the truth about Islamic doctrine. Not every Muslim wants to oppress Christians and Jews. However, the problem is that there aren’t a sufficient number of them that oppose this. I have come to the conclusion that Islamic ideology represents the great human rights challenge to humanity and world peace in the 21st century. That is reflected in doctrinal treatment of non-Muslims and women. Just the same way those Christian teachings about the Jewish people represented a great theological challenge during the 20th century. Let me illustrate what I mean. Take a look at a book called Christians and Muslims – the Dialogue Activities of the World Council of Churches and the Theological Foundation. It was published in 2000 and written by a woman named Jutta Sperber. If you read this book it provides a frightening summary of the impact of Islam on non-Muslims. It lays out how some of these teachings really do encourage the oppression of Christians in Muslim majority countries. Today if you were to read this book some people would accuse the author of being Islamophobic. Yet, this book was published and translated from the German with support from the World Council of Churches in 2000. In the years since 2001, the World Council of Churches has virtually forgotten what was published in this book that it helped publish. The book talks about how extreme Islamists are trying to take over Indonesia. It talked about how Christian men who married Muslim women in the Philippines were attacked and castrated by Muslim extremists in that country. It talked about how Coptic Christians suffered under Muslim majority rule in Egypt. Since 2001 Islamist violence and charges of blasphemy for criticizing Islam have rendered discussion of these subjects taboo.

Canadian Institute for the Study of Antisemitism at the University of Manitoba in Canada, talks about how antisemitism is a second skin for Western civilization. She writes that some of her students in Canada are afraid to use the word “Jew” in their writings. They will use the word Jewish as if it's a noun. The reason behind this is the word “Jew” has such connotations as to be an insult to call somebody a Jew. That helps explain why we find Muslim hostility towards Jews unremarkable. The reason why is we've embraced a supersessionist attitude towards Jews on our own as Christians. We find Muslim hostility towards Jews equally unremarkable. We may not like it. However, it is not something that we really express outrage over largely because it affirms some of the subconscious attitudes that we have about the Jewish people and their institutions. Even if we explicitly rejected antisemitism and racism in all its forms it is easier for some people to stay quiet when other people say terrible things about the Jews. That is what we are contending with. We are stuck between two supersessionist impulses. Christian supersessionism towards Judaism and the Jewish people declares that the Jewish people no longer have a role to play in history. The other supersessionism is Islamist hostility towards Jews, Christians and other unbelievers. Because we cannot speak openly about Muslim hostility towards Jews we are unable to acknowledge the mistreatment of Christians in Muslim majority countries.

watch the video that MEMRI recently translated from an Egyptian television show where they brought some people on, it was like Egyptian Candid Camera. Have you seen that Jerry?

Testament of Jean Meslier, an atheist priest in France, has some of the most scathing criticism I have ever read of the Christian faith. It was a testament written in secret not published until after he died. He might have been killed if it was published during his lifetime. We have a basic right guaranteed in our Constitution to speak openly about religion and not expect to be threatened with murder or some sort of fine or imprisonment. Those are the ultimate consequences of the efforts to promote blasphemy laws on the international stage at the United Nations. That is catastrophically stupid. We know that those laws will be used to silence debate about the future of Islam which is one of the great issues facing humanity. The people who are going to suffer the most as a result of those Islamic blasphemy laws are Muslims themselves who don't want to live under the medieval doctrine of Sharia.

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