Christian churches, as a result of international pressure organized by Palestinians and their allies, now have to consider resolutions calling for boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel. Unlike the Evangelicals, mainstream Protestant churches have been sympathetic to Palestinian Christians and the Palestinian narrative for some time, and have sought to raise awareness of what they call persecution or oppression of the Palestinians. Increasingly they recommend economic action against Israel and those who do business with it.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America represented the Evangelical position when it rejected divestment proposals regarding Israel in 2007 and 2011. In contrast, mainstream religious adherents have differed on this question. To its credit, the United Methodist Church, in spite of considerable pressure, on May 2, 2012 at its meeting in Tampa, rejected a resolution calling for the Church to join the Palestinian-inspired boycott, divestment, and sanctions campaign against three companies trading with Israel. The UMC had rejected similar resolutions at its previous General Conference in 2008. The UMC in 2012, by a ratio of 2 to 1, opposed action against Caterpillar which supplies bulldozers to Israel; Hewlett-Packard, which provides advanced biometric technology; and Motorola Solutions which supplies surveillance equipment.
The UMC, however, spoke with an uncertain voice. By a 60 to 40 vote, it did adopt a resolution recommending nations should prohibit the import of products manufactured in “Israeli settlements on Palestinian land” — perhaps a warning sign that members of the UMC in some geographical areas did support both boycott and divestment resolutions against Israel. Palestinian pressure is already building to influence the vote at the forthcoming general assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA that will vote on a divestment resolution in June 2012.
Mainstream American missionaries in the past, fostering Arab nationalism for religious reasons, promoted anti-Zionism, if not always anti-Semitism. The existence of Israel as a legitimate state is now being challenged in a number of ways and by a variety of media: by a Palestinian-initiated offensive to portray Palestinians as suffering from human rights abuses and colonial crimes committed by Israel; by the Electronic Intifada, an online Internet news website; by the United Methodist Kairos Response; by individuals and groups, such as the writers and academics Grace Halsell, Timothy Weber, Tony Campolo, and Gary Burge, (Wheaton College), as well as attendees, especially Stephen Sizer, the anti-Zionist Church of England priest, at the Christ at the Checkpoint Conferences organized by the Bethlehem Bible College.
Now, however, a shift in attitude is observable among some Evangelicals. In the past, more extreme figures, such as Campolo, Burge, or Jim Wallis (Sojourners) always championed the Palestinian cause. More recently, however, major leaders such as Rick Warren have seemed to be sympathetic to Muslims; Hank Hanegraaff (The Bible Answer Man), who has been critical of Israel for some time, attended a symposium at Tehran University; Lynne Hybels, wife of the mega-pastor Bill Hybels; and popular speakers such as Shane Claiborne have tended to echo the Palestinian agenda and narrative in speaking to new and younger audiences within Evangelicalism.
Their argument is more based on a number of political factors stemming from acceptance of the fallacious Palestinian narrative of victimhood and unending Israeli oppression of Palestinians — helpful for the Palestinian government to instruct its citizens not to look at it and the corruption and wretched governance as the source of the misery, but instead at Israel and the Jews — less on theological grounds than on politically expedient ones, such as the refusal to agree to be ruled over by anyone non-Muslim. Further, there are no adverse consequences to demonizing Israel as there would be, for example, if if one were to demonize Russia. They minimize the existence of anti-Semitism, and brush aside or totally ignore Islamist attacks on Israel. They openly refuse to accept Israel with a dominant Jewish population , now in existence for 64 years, as an independent, self-governing entity. Instead they advocate the creation of a Palestinian state, sometimes alongside the state of Israel, but often in place of it.
It is therefore heartening to learn of Evangelicals, such as the members of the Pentecostal-Charismatic Faith Church in Hungary, the largest evangelical church in Europe, who are opposing this attempt to disparage and to delegitimize the state of Israel.
About the Author: Michael Curtis is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Rutgers University, and author of the forthcoming book, Should Israel Exist? A sovereign nation under assault by the international community.
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