Many years ago, the leaders of Boston’s Old South Church decided it would be a wonderful idea to invite Naim Ateek of the Sabeel Liberation Theology Center for a public event where he would be given the opportunity to practice his main “religious” activity: the libeling of Israel and her supporters.
Given Ateek’s fondness for using biblical language that paralleled Israeli activities with the killing of Christ, you won’t be surprised that the Jewish community (with a bit of prodding) came out in force to protest the event.
During that protest, I actually crossed from our crowd to theirs in order to put something I had written into the hands of the pastor responsible for the controversial program. Needless to say, she refused to soil her eyes with it (although she did manage to maintain a friendly, albeit rictus-like grin, while ignoring the chaos her choice had triggered). But a pair of more vocal Israel haters associated with the church did choose to confront me, declaring that I was “bearing false witness.”
The fact that the “witness” they claim I was falsifying consisted of them stuffing their political opinions into the mouth of the Almighty was as lost on them, as was any of the other points I tried to make. But this event, once again, demonstrates what it would take for us to “turn the tables” on Israel’s enemies.
First, we would have to find or found an organization like Sabeel which would make it their religious duty to smear Palestinians and Arabs as not just enemies of Israel, but enemies God. Then we would have to spend years infiltrating other religious organizations, moving our allies ruthlessly up the ranks to the point where they developed a stranglehold over any and all dialog related to the Middle East (as the Israel Palestine Mission Network – IPMN – currently maintains over the PCUSA).
With those assets in place, the next step would be to get these bodies to officially condemn all those who oppose us, not just for their political positions but for their existence (which we would ensure was labeled an “Apartheid” and “Nazi-like” crime). And then we would have to blanket the planet with these newly acquired official church-based endorsements, with no concern whatsoever regarding how our activity might impact those organizations we just demanded embrace our cause.
Needless to say, this kind of behavior is not part of our psychological or community make up. But, then again, neither is letting our fellow countrymen languish in refugee camps for generations, allying with every totalitarian that comes down the pike, or splintering into factions based on religious and political fanatical ideologies that solve their differences through beheadings and car bombings. So I suppose there is an upside to not turning yourself into your enemy for short-term advantage.
Especially since, the behavior of the PCUSA and UCC notwithstanding, we are hardly alone with regard to allies in the Christian (including the Arab-Christian) world. For example, the Christian Empowerment Council (CEC) in Israel recently published a nice little guide to help fellow church members deal with the BDS scourge within their organizations. And, unlike some of the puss that routinely comes seeping out of Sabeel or IPMN, this booklet uses Christian messages related to love and understanding to guide its advice to other Christians.
While some of the historical material might seem fairly 101 for most of you out there, it’s a good demonstration of how much many Christians (including those participating in BDS discussions and debates) have to learn about the basics.
And what really impressed me was the CEC’s way of leveraging Biblical understanding not to turn others (including the BDSers) into enemies, but to instead call for greater perspective, love and forgiveness – the opposite messages that boycotters want to shove into the mouth of their allies of convenience in the churches.
There are certainly additional works you can read if you want to know more about the evolution of Church attitudes towards Israel and the Jews. Rabbi Yehiel Poupko’s Looking at Them Looking at Us is still my favorite short monograph on the subject, and I’m currently reading an interesting book called The Arab-Israeli Conflict in American Political Culture which uses social science to explore the diverging realities of Democrats and Republicans, Evangelical and Mainline Christians, and even different elements of the Jewish community vis-à-vis the subject of Israel.
But for anyone dealing with Christians who are struggling to understand the conflict, you could do a lot worse than placing CEC’s Christian Guide to the BDS Movement into their hands.