Mainline Protestant Gathering Declares Solidarity with Israel

“We are committed to stand with Israel and the Jewish people,” declared a group of mainline Protestant activists from Western Europe and North America who met in Jerusalem just prior to last month’s escalation of hostilities around Gaza. The group also vowed to “stand with persecuted Christians and other minorities in the region.”

The 20 participants in the November 5-8 Protestant Consultation on Israel and the Middle East came from denominations such as the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the United Church of Canada, the British Anglican and Methodist churches, the Dutch Reformed Church, and the Lutheran churches of Germany and Scandinavia. Leaders of these denominations have resorted to increasingly harsh statements and gestures condemning Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. At the same time, mainline church officials have remained largely silent about human rights abuses under neighboring Middle Eastern regimes.

Consultation participants joined in a closing declaration: “We are distressed to see how certain European and North American church officials approach the Israeli-Palestinian dispute as if it were a zero-sum game. They fall in line with the international campaign that purports to help the Palestinians by delegitimizing Israel.”

Participants criticized the targeting of Israel for boycotts, divestment, and sanctions. “This approach is unjust,” they said, “and it is unhelpful to the cause of peace.” They added that “such strategies lend encouragement to the forces that have vowed to destroy Israel.”

By contrast, the Protestant activists “affirm[ed] our love of Israel. We believe that God remains in covenant with the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” They repudiated “the ‘replacement theology’ that claims Israel has no further place in God’s plans.”

“Our love for Israel does not contradict our love for other peoples in the region, including the Palestinians,” the declaration insisted. “We believe it is possible to pursue justice and peace in ways that attend to the rights and needs of all peoples of the region.”

Consultation participants told of hearing testimony of Coptic Christians from Egypt and Assyrian Christians from Iraq about the perilous situations they face in countries where Islamist movements are gaining power. “We have also come to see the hostility to Israel as part of a larger pattern,” the declaration observed. “The forces that refuse to tolerate the existence of a Jewish state are fiercely intolerant of other religious and ethnic minorities in the Middle East.”

The November consultation was co-sponsored by the Ecumenical Theological Research Fraternity in Israel and the B’nai B’rith World Center in Jerusalem. B’nai B’rith Center director Alan Schneider spoke to the Jerusalem Post about consultation participants: “They are often lone voices [in their churches] who have taken personal initiatives to counter this wave of anti-Israel agitation, and so we hope that this [consultation] will be the beginning of ongoing contact and cooperation among the participants.”

The anti-Israel agitation struck a nerve in the U.S. Jewish community in October, when 15 top mainline U.S. Protestant officials sent a letter to Congress demanding “an immediate investigation” into “widespread Israeli human rights abuses against Palestinian civilians, many of which involve the misuse of U.S.-supplied weapons.” The church officials suggested the possible “withholding of [U.S.] military aid” from the Jewish state. In protest, leading U.S. Jewish organizations cancelled a planned Jewish-Christian dialogue meeting.

Participants in the Jerusalem consultation were eager to assure Israelis, diaspora Jews, and others that the anti-Israel ecclesiastics did not represent most church members. As Israel continues to come under attack, rhetorical as well as military, it has many more friends than it may realize. A survey last year by the Pew Forum showed mainline U.S. Protestants sympathizing with the Jewish state over the Palestinians by a 46 percent to 12 percent margin.

Alan F.H. Wisdom, a freelance writer in Falls Church, VA, is an adjunct fellow with Institute on Religion & Democracy. He was a participant in the November consultation in Jerusalem.

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  • Bert

    More failures of Jewish leadership that are too passive and defensive. Jewish leadership has failed to educate America about the immense help that Israel has been to America over the decades including Israeli help in winning the cold war. Jewish leadership consistently fails to speak up boldly when U.S. officials engage in anti-Israel treachery. It is a disgrace that after four years of hostility by Obama towards Israel two thirds of U.S. Jews still support him and over a thousand U.S. rabbis publicly support Obama in violation of the separation of church and state.

    • R.C.

      Most Jews in America–are Marxist in their political and cultural orientation–what else is to be expected from them.

  • Moishe Pupick

    Tu., 12/11/12 common era

    The American Jewish Establishment is as useless today as it was in the late 1930's, when the Holocaust was taking on its evil form. Intermarriage and assimilation have taken a large toll on American Jewery. The Reform movement bears major responsibility for this weakening. Reform "Judaism" was concocted to reduce or even eliminate antisemitism– in Germany. . . .

  • Suzanne

    It's nice to hear that there are at least a few people with moral clarity in the Mainline churches pertaining to the situation of Jews and Christians in the middle east. These same people, however, have to take the fight back home and fight the anti-Semitic "leadership" in their churches who pretend to speak for all their members.

  • Guest

    46 percent to 12 ? What, are the other 42% Muslims?

  • Ghostwriter

    It's good that many mainline Protestant churches are standing up to the anti-semites and saying,"Israel has a right to exist."

  • middletom

    As a member of one of the mainline Protestant churches, it has made me sick to see how the alleged leaders of the church have so turned against Israel. The group in Jerusalem have it right but their influence in leadership circles, I suspect, will be small. I pray that their words have an effect.

  • Chad

    The problem with all of this is that the public somehow views the official pronouncements of ecclesiastics as having Divine authority, whereas statements by dissenters (even if they reflect the attitudes of the majority of church members) are seen as mere opinion.