Recently I met with a Jewish leader who specializes in interfaith work. He commented that anti-Israel activism within the churches has probably peaked. But he also noted that the field of operations is now broader. Anti-Israel activism has spread from declining Mainline Protestant denominations to the more vibrant evangelical world. U.S. evangelicals are traditionally the strongest pro-Israel demographic in America, so neutralizing their traditional views would be strategically significant.
This Jewish friend noted that Israel had defeated attempts to destroy it militarily. And it has defeated attempts to destroy it by terrorism. Anti-Israel boycotts and divestment movements have largely failed. Israel is strong economically. Now the focus of Israel’s enemies is to delegitimize Israel psychologically and spiritually. This battle might be longer term and harder to fight, he said.
An example of this new battle appears in this article about self-professed “progressive evangelical” Serge Duss, who is on the board of advisors for David Gushee’s and Richard Cizik’s New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good. Other personages on this board of advisors include Ron Sider, Jim Wallis, Joel Hunter, Brian McLaren, Amy Laura Hall, and Tyler Wigg-Stevenson.
Last Fall, Gushee and Cizik released an “Open Letter to America’s Christian Zionists,” in which they cited Iranian nuclear weapons as God’s potential judgement on Israel’s mistreatment of Palestinians. I joined with other concerned Christians in responding to their outlandish suggestion.
Duss seems to fully share the Gushee/Cizik agenda on the Middle East. He has several times addressed J Street, a Jewish group that is typically critical of Israel. Last year he questioned (as reported by Commentary) whether today’s Israeli Jews have any connection to the Jews of the Bible:
“The misconception that most Evangelicals have, particularly conservative Evangelicals – I consider myself a progressive Evangelical – is what we learned in Sunday school. And what we learned in Sunday school about the Old Testament and particularly King David, we have carried forward three, four, five thousands years, where there is a belief that the modern state of Israel and modern Israelis are the extension of the Children of Israel of the Old Testament. You, only you – I can’t, but only you can disabuse Evangelicals of that mythology. How many rabbis I’ve heard say in settings, ‘We are not the Hebrews, the Children of Israel of the Old Testament’? And unless conservative Evangelicals particularly hear that message from Jews in America today and Israelis in Israel, minds will not be changed.”
Meanwhile, the divestment/boycott approach continues to play itself out. The recent United Methodist General Conference rejected direct anti-Israel divestment but endorsed a symbolic “boycott” of firms profiting from the “occupation.” The Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly in a few weeks will ponder divestment. Probably it will fail. But certainly policy statements that demonize Israel and even obliquely dispute its existence will continue from many oldline church groups as well as Evangelical Left groups such as the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good.
The preoccupation with Israel’s sins, real and imagined, by the Religious and Evangelical Left, to the exclusion of any substantive concern about human rights anywhere else in the world, remains a scandal. Christians in all churches should insist on a public witness by Christian leaders that comprehensively expects policies of human dignity from all governments, including Israel’s many adversaries.