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Both the 7.6 million United Methodist Church and 2 million member Presbyterian Church (USA) will ponder anti-Israel divestment at their governing conventions later this year. Specifically targeted are 3 firms that ostensibly profit from the “occupation:” Caterpillar, Motorola, and Hewlett-Packard.
Perhaps with this battle in mind, Friends of Sabeel-North America (FOSNA), a chief anti-Israel advocate among churches, has hired a Presbyterian minister as its new organizer to reach a “wider Christian audience.” Sabeel’s describes his goal as addressing the “increasing awareness among American Christians and the Palestinian Christian community and the principles required for a ‘just peace’ between Israel and Palestine.”
In other words, the organizer will rally U.S. Christians initially for anti-Israel divestment and more ultimately against any special U.S. friendship for Israel, with the final goal of deconstructing Israel as a primarily Jewish democracy.
The new Sabeel organizer is the Rev. Donald Wagner, who recently served at Eastern Mennonite University in Virginia. He previously headed Evangelicals for Middle East Understanding, which seeks to disengage U.S. evangelicals from their traditional pro-Israel stance. In the 1980s he headed the Palestine Human Rights Campaign. Seemingly Rev. Wagner combines Mainline Protestant, evangelical and Anabaptist connections that will greatly enhance his anti-Israel work.
Mainline Protestant elites have been anti-Israel since the 1967 war. They identify Israel as a Western, pro-U.S. power and colonialist victimizer, against which faithful Christians must labor under a Liberation Theology theme. In contrast, evangelicals remain the largest pro-Israel demographic in America. But increasingly the Evangelical Left is persuading evangelical elites (especially in academia and missions groups) who are anxious to disassociate from the Religious Right to identify with purportedly oppressed Palestinians. And Anabaptists, such as Mennonites and Brethren, are pacifists and traditionally few in number. But both left-leaning Mainline Protestants and evangelicals increasingly embrace the Anabaptist tradition to justify their contempt for America and its “empire.”
The Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem understandably wants to deploy FOSNA as its U.S. arm to appeal to all these key American religious constituencies. Rev. Wagner seems ideal for the task. ”I am very pleased to have Don leading FOSNA’s programs,” explained Sabeel founder and chief the Rev. Naim Ateek, who is a Palestinian Anglican clergy. “He demonstrated long ago his passion for justice for oppressed Palestinians, and he has been committed ever since.”
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