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Christian Evangelicals Increasingly Support Palestinian Human Rights

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An article in Middle East Quarterly, a pro-Israel publication, reports that support for Israel is eroding among American evangelical Christians, with only 30 percent in a recent survey stating support for Israel above Palestinians.

This trend is even more pronounced among youth, according to an article by David Brog, Jewish-American executive director of “Christians United For Israel (CUFI), a major pro-Israel organization. Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu has called CUFI “a vital part of Israel’s national security” and columnist Charles Kauthammer has said, “I do not know of an organization in the world more important to Israel than CUFI.”

Brog’s article, “The End of Evangelical Support for Israel?” is largely pitched as a wake-up call to Israel partisans who, according to Brog, “must take this threat seriously.” (For more on Brog, see below.)

Brog quotes a journalist reporting in 2012 about the “the largest gathering of young evangelical leaders in America,” the Catalyst convention: “In dozens of random conversations, I noted that Millenians … expressed solidarity with the Palestinians and annoyance with Israel. This is a seismic shift in the American church and a serious threat to Israel’s one traditional area of support.”

A decade ago, Brog reports, “As if out of nowhere, a block of fifty to one hundred million friends of Israel were poised to enter the national debate and safeguard the U.S.-Israel relationship for generations to come.”*

Today, however, Brog describes a significant reversal. As more and more evangelicals learn the facts on Israel-Palestine (Brog calls such information an “anti-Israel narrative”) they are dropping their unconditional support for Israel.

While evangelical support for Israel has often been attributed to their theology, Brog’s article indicates that the significant factor in the shift is learning the true situation in Israel-Palestine.

Brog states that there is a precedent for such an about-face. While many mainline Protestant churches used to support Israel, he states that today “to the extent the mainline denominations act corporately in connection with the Jewish state, it is to divest from it.”

Similarly, as evangelicals learn more about the issue, Brog reports that “more leaders of this generation are moving toward neutrality in the conflict while others are becoming outspoken critics of Israel.”

Brog writes, “Questioning Christian support for the Jewish state is fast becoming a key way for the millennials to demonstrate their Christian compassion and political independence.”

Today, Brog writes, many of those 18 to 30 are “rebelling against what they perceive as the excessive biblical literalism and political conservatism of their parents. As they strive with a renewed vigor to imitate Jesus’ stand with the oppressed and downtrodden, they want to decide for themselves which party is being oppressed in the Arab-Israeli conflict.”

Brog cites a 2010 Pew survey of evangelical leaders attending the Third Lausanne Congress of World Evangelization that “contained two bombshells. It showed that only a minority of those evangelicals polled sympathized primarily with Israel. alison weir bookAnd it demonstrated that American evangelical leaders were actually less inclined to support Israel than evangelical leaders in general.” The survey found that 49% of American evangelical leaders sympathize with both sides equally and 13% sympathize primarily with the Palestinians.

Brog also notes that the survey indicated that evangelical support for Israel was “never as universal as was commonly believed.”

Much of the increased awareness of the situation, Brog reports, comes from evangelical experts on the Middle East who are speaking and writing widely on this issue, producing documentaries, organizing trips to the region, and creating conferences to inform Christians on the facts.

In the last few years three documentaries were made by Christians specifically for Christians to inform them on Palestine: With God on Our Side, Little Town of Bethlehem, and The Stones Cry Out. They were created by, respectively, Porter Speakman, a former Youth with a Mission member, Mart Green, chairman of the board of trustees of Oral Roberts University, and Yasmine Perni, an Italian journalist. Brog also names evangelicals such as Jim Wallis, Tony Campolo, Serge Duss and sons Brian and Matt, and Palestinian Christians such as Sami Awad and Naim Ateek as among those educating Christians on Palestine.

Christian Universities and Palestine

Brog reports that while numerous people are aware of the work on college campuses for justice in Palestine, “many observers do not realize that such efforts are also “being waged on America’s Christian campuses.”

In his article Brog describes activities on four of America’s major Christian colleges:

Wheaton College

Brog reports that Wheaton College in Illinois is “commonly referred to as the “evangelical Harvard,” noting, “Some of the most prominent church leaders in America have graduated from Wheaton, including the Rev. Billy Graham, Sen. Dan Coats (Republican, Indiana), and George W. Bush’s former speechwriter Michael Gerson.”

Today, Wheaton is the home of Professor Gary Burge, an author who speaks widely on Israel-Palestine. “When Christians United for Israel (CUFI) announced plans to hold an event at Wheaton in January 2009, Burge went on the offensive,” Brog reports. “CUFI’s student members came under such intense pressure that they moved their event off-campus: There would be no pro-Israel event at the evangelical Harvard.”

Oral Roberts University

Brog writes that Oral Roberts University “has deep conservative Christian roots.” “Oral Roberts himself was a Pentecostal televangelist and a strong friend of Israel,” a number of major preachers in America graduated from the school, and pro-Israel preacher John Hagee has been on its board of trustees.

Today, however, the chair of the board of trustees chair is the aforementioned Mart Green, whose film is a powerful depiction of the Palestinian nonviolence movement. The university’s current president is Dr. William “Billy” Wilson, who was named as a speaker for what Brog calls “the leading anti-Israel Christian conference,” Christ at the Checkpoint, held at Bethlehem Bible College in March 2014.

Bethel University

Brog writes that Bethel is “representative of the direction that America’s Christian colleges are taking.” He notes, “Like many Christian schools, Bethel emphasizes racial reconciliation and cultural openness and has accordingly developed numerous opportunities for its students to study abroad.”

In 2010 Bethel’s president Jay Barnes and his wife visited Israel and the Palestinian Authority to explore establishing a study abroad program in the area. During the trip they visited Bethlehem.

Upon their return Barnes posted a poem on the university’s website:

Incredible conflict exists in the land of Jesus’ birth/ I believe God mourns.

The wall is a constant reminder of many lost freedoms/ I believe God mourns.

For more than 60 years, people have lived in poverty in refugee camps/ I believe God mourns.

Apartheid has become a way of life/ I believe God mourns.

Extreme disproportional distribution of resources, such as water, exists/ I believe God mourns.

Hundreds of villages have been demolished to make room for settlements/ I believe God mourns.

Human rights violations occur daily/ I believe God mourns.

The Christian population is declining as many are leaving to avoid persecution/ I believe God mourns.

In 2012, Brog reports, President Barnes hosted a “Hope for the Holy Land” evening at Bethel, featuring “long-standing Christian critics of Israel.”

A growing trend

A similar transformation involves the son of leading evangelical publisher Steven Strang, who has been a regional director for CUFI. The younger Strang, Cameron, has his own publishing organization, Relevant, whose website says it reaches over two million twenty- and thirty-something Christians a month.

Less than a decade ago Relevant was extremely pro-Israel. But then, Brog writes, Cameron Strang visited Israel and the Palestinian territories, “and everything changed.”

Relevant’s May/June 2012 cover featured prominent author Donald Miller. In 2008 Miller had been chosen to deliver the first night’s closing prayer at the Democratic National Convention, and, according to Brog, Miller “is considered a rising star among America’s 20-something evangelicals.”

After visiting Israel and the Palestinian territories with Strang, Miller began to discuss the situation in Palestine, writing:

“In September a group of journalists and I visited Israel and stood on a hill overlooking the wall separating Israel from Gaza. From our viewpoint, we could see the controversial territory where 1.6 million Palestinians have been walled in and secluded from the outside world. They are, essentially, imprisoned.

“The walls erected around the West Bank and Gaza separate families from families. Many mothers will not see their children again. Millions will never return to the homes their families had occupied for hundreds of years. … Thousands of Palestinian students at American universities will never see their families again.

“Israel gives most Palestinians fresh water once each week. … In Gaza, Israel also rations their food, allowing only so many calories per human being.”

The beginning of the end?

Brog warns that Israel partisans “must take this threat seriously,” despite the fact that the pro-Israel side “is still far ahead in the battle for the hearts and minds of America’s evangelicals. Just one pro-Israel organization, Christians United for Israel, has over 1.6 million members, chapters on more than 120 college and university campuses, and sponsors thirty-five pro-Israel events across the country every month. Anti-Israel Christians do not come close to matching CUFI’s size, activity, or influence.”

He writes, however, that the long-term trend described above presents a challenge, stating that what he calls “anti-Israel Christians” are “on a roll” and “are reaching an ever expanding network of evangelicals in the United States.”

Brog warns: “The day that Israel is seen as the moral equivalent of Hamas is the day that the evangelical community—and by extension the political leaders it helps elect—will cease providing the Jewish state any meaningful support.

He continues: “Those who reject such facile moral equivalence must take this threat seriously. They cannot let the evangelical community go the way of the mainstream Protestant leadership.” Their “lies,” he says, “must be confronted early and often.”

Brog’s article appeared in the Spring 2014 issue of Middle East Quarterly.

A few months later Israel launched its August 2014 “Protective Edge” invasion of Gaza, killing 2191 Palestinians, the vast majority of them civilians – 521 of them children and infants. During the same period Hamas resistance fighters killed 71 Israelis, the large majority of them soldiers, one a child.

During its massive invasion, Israeli forces destroyed 61,800 homes, damaged or destroyed 62 hospitals, 220 schools, and caused $7.8 billion in damage to Gazans – and this was the third major invasion in five years.

Then within two weeks after a ceasefire had been agreed to, Israeli forces had already killed at least two Palestinians, one sixteen years old; kidnapped several dozen Palestinians, including two seven year olds and an eight year old; confiscated 1,500 acres of Palestinian land; destroyed dozens of homes and buildings; and committed numerous other violations of human rights. During the same period Hamas forces had not not fired a single rocket, attacked an Israeli target, or committed any actions to break the terms of the ceasefire.***

Brog’s concern is justified. Many Americans who are finally learning such facts are beginning to suspect that Israel is not morally equivalent to Hamas. It is inferior.

Brog’s article suggests that the coming months will see a renewed propaganda effort from CUFI and other members of the multi-billion dollar Israel lobby.

However, as a leader of the lobby once said, a lobby thrives in the dark. As Brog reports, numerous people from across the religious and political spectrum are now turning on the light.

Alison Weir is executive director of If Americans Knew, president of the Council for the National Interest, and author of Against Our Better Judgment: How the U.S. was used to create Israel.

Notes.

* This wasn’t entirely “out of nowhere.” Groups and individuals working to create Israel during the first half of the 20th century had specifically undertaken efforts to influence Christians to support this project.  For more on this see Against Our Better Judgment: The Hidden History of How the US Was Used to Create Israel.) After Israel was established through its 1947-49 founding war, Israel and its partisans continued such efforts, including providing a jet plane to Jerry Falwell, facilitating his ability to reach Christians with a version of theology that benefited Israel.

** For more information and additional statistics on the August 2014 Israeli invasion of Gaza and its aftermath see http://www.ifamericansknew.org/cur_sit/violence-gaza-14.html

Two articles discuss David Brog and his influential role in “Christian” Zionism:

 1. An article by journalist Troy Anderson in Charisma magazine, “Where Your Israel Donation Really Goes,” reports:

“Brog is the powerhouse behind the Christian organization, yet he’s also a conservative (non-Messianic) Jew. He brought two other Jews on board: Shari Dollinger from Atlanta as one of his coordinators and Ari Morgenstern as communications director. Morgenstern ensures CUFI’s messaging is consistent with what Brog wants—which is to convey that evangelical Christians support Israel, yet (to his Jewish supporters) are also “safe” because CUFI will never proselytize.

“Brog, who was chief of staff to liberal Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania for seven years, is said to run CUFI like a political campaign. He has talking points, stays focused and rallies his constituency. He’s well liked by those who work with him and known for being a brilliant strategist. But one by one, the higher-profile Christian leaders who helped Hagee start CUFI are dropping off as the organization becomes more focused on political lobbying.

“It’s no secret that one of the most powerful lobbying groups in Washington, D.C., the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), has long wanted a “Gentile arm,” and some believe they now have it in CUFI. Jewish leaders and philanthropists love to attend CUFI’s events to see the genuine enthusiasm and love expressed for Israel. Though there’s still rousing Christian music and prayer at these events, there’s most certainly no proselytizing. As a result, many wealthy Jews have pumped tens of thousands of dollars into CUFI.

“Like Hagee, Brog has learned how to straddle the line between the evangelical and Jewish communities, and it shows in CUFI’s growth. The organization boasts of having more than 1 million “members,” though insiders know such membership consists of nothing but CUFI having your email address. There’s nothing to pay, nothing to sign. And even if you drop out, you’re still counted as a member. Given this, insiders say the number of actual donors is closer to 30,000 to 50,000.

“Meanwhile, little is known about CUFI’s finances other than funds raised. The organization says neither Hagee nor his wife, Diana, receives any compensation from CUFI. Yet when Charisma asked CUFI the same questions asked of other organizations in this report—particularly about administrative costs, leader salaries and budgetary breakdown—Morgenstern declined to comment…”

2. The excerpts below are from “How Christian is Christian Zionism? An Update on its Uneasy Interaction with Jewish Missions and Evangelism” by David Brickner, Executive Director, Jews for Jesus [a pro-Israel organization.] Presented at the 26th Annual Lausanne Consultation on Jewish Evangelism-NA, March 2-4, 2009, Phoenix, Arizona

“This century has seen the rise of two powerful organizations…  They are the most sophisticated, financially powerful and prominent Christian Zionist organizations today. They, more effectively than their forebears in the ’80s and ’90s, have diluted the gospel message, diverted gospel resources and discouraged a balanced perspective toward the Israeli/Arab conflict.  In fact, unbelieving Jewish men run both organizations.”

The two organizations are “International Fellowship of Christian and Jews” and “Christians United for Israel” (CUFI)

Regarding CUFI, Brickner writes:

“Though headlined by well-known charismatic pastor and preacher John Hagee, CFI’s executive director is David Brog, an unbelieving Jewish attorney who served in various positions in the Senate including chief of staff to Senator Arlen Specter.  Brog, author of Standing with Israel: Why Christians Support the Jewish State, has been quite plain about Christians United for Israel’s rejection of evangelism…

“Brog made it clear in an interview in the Washington Jewish Week that ‘all Christians United for Israel events are strictly non-conversionary and that the group will have no Jewish converts as speakers at events or on the organization’s Board.’ Brog went on to say; ‘The group tells people that if you cannot put aside your desire to share the gospel with Jews there’s the door.’

“Of course this would be expected policy coming from any organization run by unbelieving Jews.  The fact that the organization states that it is Christian yet excludes fellow Jewish Christians from participation is both racist and unchristian.  Tuvya Zaretsky tells the story of having been invited apparently accidentally to a program sponsored by Christians United for Israel and the Israel Christian Nexxus, a pro-Israel lobby group.  When he called to confirm participation, Patricia Johnson, who was working on the event, told him that he was invited by accident and because he was a Jewish believer in Jesus was not welcome.  Said Zaretsky,

“’Somehow these Christians do not realize that if they want to bless Israel, they must extend that blessing to all of Israel – including those within the Body of Messiah and those who still need to be introduced to Him.’

“Sadly, it is not just that Jewish believers are not welcomed in Christians United for Israel.  Neither is the gospel. And not just because of the Jewish unbelievers.  The well-known figurehead of CUFI and perhaps the most prominently known Christian Zionist today is John Hagee…”

“Unfortunately it’s not easy to tell what the scope of resources is behind the Christians United for Israel group.  They have not filed a form 990 with the IRS.  Hagee’s Global Evangelism Television Inc. does have filings, but only as recently as 2004.  At that time they had an annual income of over $10,000,000 and Hagee’s compensation from the company was $500,000 a year.  Of course the 18,000-member church that he pastors, Cornerstone, is separate from the television ministry. One presumes he receives a salary from the church as well as whatever royalties his more than a dozen books provides.

“Christians United for Israel, as I said, has not registered any financial information, although news articles can give us an indication.  In October of 2007, according to the Jewish News Weekly, CUFI raised 8.5 million dollars for Israeli causes at Hagee’s “Night to Honor Israel” event.   If you look on the CUFI website you will see several “Night to Honor Israel” events scheduled each month.

“CUFI does identify its regional directors, some of whom are well known political Christian Zionists.  One of the better known is Robert Stearns of Robert Stearns International Incorporated, doing business as Eagles’ Wings Ministries.  Stearns’ organization is best known for organizing the Day of Prayer for the Peace of Jerusalem.  It reported income of $2,800,000 for the year 2007, and states its purpose is to “promote the message of Christianity.” However, Eagles’ Wings Ministries does not encourage prayer for the salvation of Israel, the only true hope for peace…”

 

 

 

 

 

Alison Weir is executive director of  If Americans Knew and president of the Council for the National Interest. An excerpt of her book was published in the March 21-23, 2014 issue of CounterPunch. Upcoming book talks can be seen on the book’s website.

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CounterPunch Magazine

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