J’accuse: Christian Denominations That Divest From Israel
On Fourth of July, Americans celebrated the freedom embodied in the Declaration of Independence our founders fought heroically to achieve in the American Revolution. Never take that freedom for granted. Nor be indifferent or hostile to the fate of free peoples struggling against tyranny or the threat of annihilation. That goes for America’s democratic allies, Ukraine, Taiwan, and democratic Israel, which is surrounded by fanatical regimes bent on eradicating it.
Americans of goodwill should therefore deplore the invidious campaign to divest from and delegitimize Israel, which the Obama Administration has aided and abetted fecklessly. On one hand, the administration has doubled down on conciliating America’s repressive enemies, such as revolutionary Iran, using negotiations to tranquilize us from the gathering danger of its nuclear arsenal. On the other, the president has perversely intensified his already strong distaste for Israel.
The administration scorns the legitimate security concerns of Prime Minister Netanyahu, while demanding virtually no concessions from either the Palestinian Authority or Hamas, which seeks to eradicate rather than live with Israel. Likewise, the president refuses to enforce American laws to punish companies that boycott Israel, while moving toward accepting rather than vetoing the UN creating a Palestinian State unilaterally.
Simultaneously an alarming number of American Christian denominations have cast principle aside, leaping fecklessly on the anti-Israel bandwagon that gravely threatens the moral legitimacy and survivability of an embattled, democratic American ally. Add the United Church of Christ to this ignominious list, which includes the Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) and the United Methodist Church, which voted to divest last year. By an overwhelming majority of 508 to 124 with 38 abstentions, the United Church of Christ voted last week to divest from companies doing business or having their products used in the disputed West Bank. The Mennonites also are contemplating divestment but postponed a vote until their session meeting next year.
This invidious campaign to delegitimize Israel violates elementary principles of Judeo-Christian ethics. Before admonishing Israel about the speck in its eye, Christian denominations should remove the log from their own.
Although Israel makes mistakes and invites legitimate criticism — Christianity dismisses the very notion of earthly perfection. The widely respected Freedom House perennially rates Israel as one of the freest, fairest, most innovative, and pro-American state anywhere. Israel is the only country in the Middle East where Christians can worship freely, vote freely, and enjoy American standards of political and civil rights. Contrast that with the repression and chaos roiling the rest of the Middle East –including Gaza and the West Bank –where Christians routinely face not only savage repression, but mortal peril. Witness, for example ISIS’s rampage, crucifying, beheading, and amputating the limbs of believing Christians.
Nor is it illegitimate for Israel to regard itself as a Jewish State. Christian denominations which accuse Israel of apartheid have uttered not a negative word about countless states with crosses on their flags or dictatorships proclaiming Islam as the official religion. The United Church of Christ and others divesting from Israel evidently have no qualms about investing in companies that do business in an authoritarian China, a revolutionary, militantly anti-American Iran, or a corrupt, repressive, anti-Semitic Palestinian Authority on the West Bank or the scurrilous Hamas in Gaza. Likewise, the United Church of Christ and like minded denominations show no inclination whatsoever to divest from Russia, despite Putin’s patently illegal dismemberment of Ukraine. The United Church of Christ also has actively participated in the World Council of Churches — an organization with a lamentable record of turning a blind eye to some of the worst dictatorships in the world, such as Robert Mugabe’s tyranny in Zimbabwe.
So why have these Christian denominations repudiated the Zionism of Reinhold Niebuhr, the greatest protestant theologian of the 20th century?
The anti-Zionists of the United Church of Christ willfully ignore the serious legal and practical arguments for the legitimacy of Israeli sovereignty on the West Bank. The divestment campaign also rests on a dubious definition of Palestinian refugees, exponentially inflating their number, while remaining silent about the greater number of Jews driven out of Islamic countries after 1948. Nor has the United States ever recognized a so-called right of return. Just ask the descendants of the Tories who fled during an American Revolution. Sensible, morally literate Americans offer no apologies for winning their independence. Nor should sensible, morally literate Israelis.
Yet Israelis and their American friends should take heart amidst the alarming campaign to delegitimize Israel. Most Americans rejected the fallacy of moral equivalence between Israel and its enemies that the Obama administration, the United Nations, Western Europe, and the United Church of Christ have cravenly embraced. The large majority of protestants, Catholics, and Jews continue to stand by a free, democratic, pro-American Israel. That holds true even for more liberal mainline protestant denominations that have moved sharply to the left on many issues. Last week, for example, the Episcopal Church resoundingly rejected a divestment measure similar to the one the United Churches of Christ passed. Furthermore, evangelical and fundamentalist Christians constitute Israel’s broadest and deepest base of American support.
The divestment decisions the United Churches of Christ, the PCUSA and like-minded denominations also has angered and disappointed many of their members. Thanks to the fortitude and foresight of our, pastor, elders, and congregation, Malibu Presbyterian Church left PCUSA in 2014 to join a more traditional denomination friendly to Israel: the Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians.
So Israel and its stalwart friends should not despair. Most Americans have not forsaken a democratic Jewish state, regardless of the shameful betrayal of some mainline Christian denominations which have badly lost their way.