Since the late 1990s, mainline (AKA, liberal) Protestants in the United States have played a supporting but crucial role in the demonization of Israel in American society and the deterioration of the Jewish condition in the U.S.
Now that mainline Protestantism is collapsing, it appears the mantle for this style of activism is being handed over to another, somewhat healthier religious community in the United States – Evangelical Protestantism.
Two books serve as the markers of this process.
The first book is Whose Land? Whose Promise? What Christians are not being told about Israel and the Palestinians published by Pilgrim Press, the publishing house of the United Church of Christ. This text, written by Gary Burge, was riddled with errors and a hostile theology that portrayed Jewish sovereignty in the Holy Land as an affront to God. In a now notorious passage that was toned down in a subsequent edition published in 2013, Burge interpreted a passage from the New Testament (John 15:6) to affirm his assessment that Jews who try to live in the land of Israel without accepting Jesus Christ as their lord and savior will be “cast out and burned.”
This passage, redolent as it was with centuries of Christian antisemitism, which culminated in the Holocaust — where many Jews were in fact cast out of society, murdered, and then burned — was simply a shock to behold. At the time of his book’s publication, Burge was a professor at Wheaton College, an Evangelical school in Illinois, and a prominent New Testament scholar in the Evangelical world.
He knew what he was doing.
The fact that Burge’s book was published by a mainline Protestant denomination that had condemned Christian antisemitism and lamented the role this ideology played in laying the groundwork for the Holocaust indicated that there was something wrong with the American mainline’s witness about the Arab-Israeli conflict, an assessment that was confirmed by subsequent events.
In the years after the publication of Burge’s text, which was invoked as credible by numerous Christian peacemakers, three mainline churches joined the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement by anti-Israel divestment resolutions. The passage of these resolutions by the United Church of Christ (UCC), the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA), and the Episcopal Church legitimized dishonest anti-Israel propaganda in American society, and in so doing serve to justify hostility toward American Jews who were portrayed as complicit in Israel’s alleged sins.
The impact of this process can be seen in the aftermath of statements made by J. Herbert Nelson, the Stated Clerk of the PCUSA, the church where Burge is an ordained pastor despite his renown as an Evangelical scholar.
On Martin Luther King Day, Nelson declared Israel guilty of 21st century slavery and American Jews as complicit in this crime against humanity. Leveling the charge of “slavery” at American Jews in an atmosphere of antisemitic attacks, many of them perpetrated by African Americans in places like New York City, is a profoundly irresponsible thing to do, but has become par for the course in the American mainline.
Ominously enough, a BLM activist described by his friends and relatives as having mental health problems attempted to murder a Jewish politician in Louisville, Kentucky, where the PCUSA is headquartered, just over three weeks after Nelson made his “slavery” accusation against Israel. To make matters worse, the would-be assassin had recently posted a Tweet portraying Robert Kraft, the owner of the New England Patriots, as a “plantation owner” because of the African Americans who play on his team.
The episode is just another example of how the rhetoric of mainline Protestant leaders and the peace activists supported by this community is similar to the rhetoric of those who attack Jews in Israel or in the United States. Palestinian terrorists rail on about the occupation and the Judaization of Jerusalem, and mainline peace activists unreflectingly repeat these lines of attack in the name of peace and justice.
Eighteen Years After
Sadly, the publication of another book eighteen years after the publication of Burge’s text serves as a harbinger of an ill wind of hostility in the American Evangelical community, which has traditionally supported Israel.
The book is titled Like Birds in a Cage: Christian Zionism’s Collusion in Israel’s Oppression of the Palestinian People. The text is written by an Evangelical scholar by the name of David M. Crump, a former pastor and retired professor at Calvin University in Grand Rapids, Michigan. In his text, Crump makes it clear he thinks Israel is evil and should not be supported by Evangelical Christians in the United States.
Tellingly, the text is published by Wipf and Stock, a publishing house located in Eugene, Oregon. Wipf and Stock recently republished Zion’s Christian Soldiers by Stephen Sizer, a text that had been remaindered by two publishing houses affiliated with the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, a Christian campus organization, because of its bigotry toward Israel.
Like Burge’s book before his, Crump’s 2021 text is promoted as a critique of Christian Zionist support for Israel but is in reality a merciless and dishonest denunciation of Israel and its leaders, who are portrayed as singularly responsible for the suffering caused by conflict in the Holy Land. Nothing the Palestinians do is worthy of condemnation; the only sins recounted at length are those of political Zionists who founded and govern the country. The main thesis of the book is that Jewish leaders would have been able to make peace with the local Arab population in the Holy Land if only they had embraced cultural Zionism (instead of political Zionism) and hadn’t insisted on creating a sovereign Jewish state in the Levant.
Here are some specific problems with the text.
Crump Equates Political Zionism With Nazism
Crump argues explicitly that political Zionism is the modern-day equivalent of Nazism. “American Evangelism,” Crump writes, “is helping to finance political Zionism’s flagrant imitation of Nazi Germany.”
Crump isn’t talking about the Holocaust specifically, but Israeli “land theft” in the West Bank, as if a territorial dispute with the Palestinians that the Israelis have tried to end with numerous peace offers is the equivalent of the Nazi invasion of and mass murders in Czechoslovakia, Poland, the Soviet Union, France, the Balkans, and Belgium during World War II.
In his efforts to portray Israel’s founders as antisemitic Nazis, Crump distorts history egregiously. For example, he describes Theodor Herzl as promoting as an “ethnocentric vision” that was “cynical,” “fatalistic,” and “naively Romantic.” Crump adds, “Unfortunately, Herzl’s formative embrace of an organic, tribal nationalism, centered as it was around the mystical union of ‘blood and soil,’ will forever flag political Zionism’s historical kinship to the National Socialist party and Nazi Germany’s Third Reich.”
To portray Herzl as a proto- or crypto-Nazi, Crump omits any reference to Herzl’s hope for Jews and Arabs living in peace in the state as enunciated in his text Altneuland. And there’s Crump’s dishonest description of Der Judenstaat as a text rooted in “the many disappointments of Jewish Emancipation.”
Herzl wasn’t “disappointed” with the failure of Emancipation in Europe to bring about improvements in the Jewish condition. He was afraid of what was going to happen next. He had covered the trial of Alfred Dreyfus, the French Jew falsely convicted of espionage on behalf of the Germans in 1895. He was at the parade ground at the Ecole Militaire in Paris where the crowd shouted, “Death to Judas! Death to the Jew!” during Dreyfus’s degradation ceremony. He knew what would happen next. Herzl’s desire for a Jewish state wasn’t rooted in “disappointment” over the past but desperation about what the future held.
To further this “sovereign Jews as Nazis” narrative, Crump invokes Lenni Brenner, an anti-Zionist Jew whose writings have been sold by David Irving’s Institute for Historical Review (a Holocaust denial outfit), to highlight Jewish “collaboration” with the Nazis before the Holocaust. Crump relies in part on Brenner’s characterization of Georg Kareski, a German Jew who wrote nice things to and about the Nazis in 1933, declaring for example that just as the Nazis wanted a rebirth of German national life, so did the Zionists.
Writing in 1987, historian Walter Laqueur provides some context: “Kareski was a self-important fool, but his plan was hardly to hand over his fellow Jews to the crematories of Auschwitz. He proposed rather, the evacuation of all German Jews over a period of 25 years—a utopian project, but not a murderous one.”
While working to tie Israel’s founders and leaders to the Nazis, Crump omits any reference to the connections between the Palestinian cause and actual Nazis during the 1940s. As has been recounted many times elsewhere, Haj Amin Al Husseini met with Hitler in 1941 where the two leaders agreed that they a shared enemy – the Jews. Husseini also protested efforts to transfer Jewish children out of concentration camps in Europe, writing numerous letters to heads of states allied with Nazi Germany to prevent these transfers.
This information demonstrates the hostility Jews faced in the Holy Land before, during, and after Israel’s creation, which brings us to our next point.
Crump Exaggerates the Prospects for Peace Between Jews and Arabs in the Holy Land
In assailing Evangelical support for Israel, Crump argues that Israeli leaders ignored the possibility of Jews and Arabs sharing the land in question. In his second-guessing of Israeli actions, he ironically accuses Israel’s supporters of second-guessing the Palestinian response to a “serious offer of democratic coexistence to a shared land, had the scheme been supported by Zionism’s most important leaders.” Crump also asserts that there is an “abundance of historical evidence that the local Palestinian population would have been positively disposed to sharing the land with the growing Jewish community has serious efforts has been made in that direction.”
To buttress the notion that there “was an unrealized potential for peace” in the Holy Land, Crump cites Oriental Neighbors: Middle Eastern Jews and Arabs in Mandatory Palestine by Abigail Jacobson and Moshe Naor. Crump writes that this book “describes the long-standing friendship and cooperation that existed between Arab Jews, Christians, and Muslims prior to the arrival of Zionist, Ashkenazi settlers from Eastern and Central Europe.”
Crump avoids a difficult question: where were these Askhenazi Jews to live if not in Mandatory Palestine? They were being driven out by fits and starts from Europe in the 1880s by increasingly violent levels of antisemitism in that region. If those Jews had stayed in Europe, it is very likely that they too would have died in the Holocaust, but at least they wouldn’t have interfered with the supposedly idyllic relations between Jews and Arabs already living in Palestine. Without saying so explicitly, Crump is predicating peace in the Holy Land on Ashkenazi Jews staying where they were in Europe despite the consequences.
Is this a proper Christian response to the plight of Jews in Christian-majority Europe? Who is more at fault here? The Ashkenazi Jews who fled persecution, or European Christians who drove them out?
Downplays Hamas Role in Kidnapping
Crump’s animus toward Israel is particularly evident in his treatment of the 2014 kidnapping of three Jewish teenagers in the West Bank. Crump reports that the kidnapping and eventual murder of the teenagers took place “near the illegal settlement of Alon Shvut.” Does Crump mean to imply that the kidnapping was somehow legitimate because it happened near a place where Jews are not wanted? Were the teenaged Jews themselves “illegal” and therefore legitimate targets of violence?
In his description of the event, Crump chides then Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for announcing that Hamas, an organization dedicated to Israel’s destruction, was responsible for the kidnapping, “despite the fact that (as would later be revealed) that the government had no evidence to support that charge.” Crump goes on to declare, “The Hamas leadership in Gaza denied any knowledge of the kidnapping,” and that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas “insisted that Hamas was innocent” of the act.
“Unfortunately,” Crump writes, “none of these Palestinian denials nor any contrary information that came to light prevented Netanyahu from making bellicose public statements and calling for revenge.”
Whether or not Hamas leaders knew of the operation, the murders were perpetrated by members of the organization. In 2015, Haaretz reported that “all three perpetrators were well-known Hamas operatives.” This directly contradicts Crump’s assertion that Netanyahu had incorrectly blamed Hamas for the kidnapping-murders. To further underscore Hamas’s responsibility for the attack, the organization praised the killers for their actions by releasing a song that lionized them after their deaths. In effect, Hamas was taking credit for the kidnappings and murders after the fact. Why did Crump withhold this information from his readers?
Downplays Iranian Hostility
Crump invokes the controversy over a mistranslation of a 2005 speech by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to chide Israeli leaders for their repeated claim that Iranian leaders have publicly declared Iran’s desire to “wipe Israel off the map.” He asserts that belief in this assertion is demonstration of “naiveté” on the part of Israel’s Christian supporters. No, Ahmadinejad did not say Israel should be wiped off the map, but that it “must vanish from the pages of time.” Not much of a difference, really.
To make the mistranslation appear more crucial and relevant than it really is, Crump adds that “In 2012 even Israel’s Minister of Intelligence and Atomic Energy, Dan Meridor, admitted that no Iranian leader had never [sic] threatened Israel.” He cites New York Times blogger Robert Mackey as the source of this fact. But Mackey was blogging about an article written by New York Times Reporter Ethan Bronner who, as documented in this CAMERA article here, included the following passage:
All official translations of Mr. Ahmadinejad’s statement, including a description of it on his Web site (www.president.ir/eng/), refer to wiping Israel away. Sohrab Mahdavi, one of Iran’s most prominent translators, and Siamak Namazi, managing director of a Tehran consulting firm, who is bilingual, both say “wipe off” or “wipe away” is more accurate than “vanish” because the Persian verb is active and transitive.
Bronner also declared: “So did Iran’s president call for Israel to be wiped off the map? It certainly seems so.”
In other words, Crump relied on a blog entry by Robert Mackey that misquoted an article by New York Times reporter Ethan Bronner to make his case that people who believe that Iran has evil intentions toward Israel are “naïve.”
Declarations that Israel must be wiped off the map are a staple of anti-Israel propaganda in Iran. Ahmadinejad has spoken of “a black and filthy microbe called the Zionist regime.”
Is thinking that Iranian leaders have, over the years, expressed a desire for Israel’s destruction really all that naïve? Or is Crump himself being naïve in his belief that a single mistranslation is actual proof that Iranian leaders do not have hostile intentions toward the Jewish state?
Sadly enough, anti-Zionists will praise and invoke Crump’s distorted text, not in spite of errors like these, but because of them. Leaders in the Evangelical world should look at the impact Burge’s text had on the American mainline’s attitude toward Israel before promoting it the text to their followers.