The Telos Group is one of the primary engines driving a new movement in the Evangelical Christian world. Under the guise of being pro – everyone, pro – peace and pro – justice, this movement is moving Evangelicals away from their historic position of support for Israel toward unreflective support for the Palestinian cause.
The organization is headquartered in Washington, DC, and was co-founded in 2009 by California-born lawyer of Palestinian Christian descent Gregory Khalil and evangelical Christian and former State Department employee Todd Deatherage. On its homepage, Telos describes itself as “genuinely pro-Israeli, pro-Palestinian, pro-American, and pro- peace, all at the same time.” Likewise, the group’s vision, mission and activities sound promising on the surface.
Telos offers a vision of “security, freedom and dignity for every human being in the Holy Land.” They define their mission as one that will strengthen the capacity of American Evangelicals “to help positively transform the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” The group organizes local training seminars and national gatherings to educate Evangelicals about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and brings selected Israeli and Palestinian leaders to the US for speaking tours. Perhaps most significantly, Telos invites strategic leaders in the American Church to participate in all-expense paid educational pilgrimages to the Holy Land.
A closer look at the group’s website reveals that issues essential for the transformation of the conflict and a realization of the vision of “security, freedom and dignity for every human being” are simply not addressed. For example, on the news page, one finds stories about their support of environmentalist efforts, their co-hosting of a conference for women engaged in peacebuilding, and their support of Bedouin women’s rights activists. Postings on their blog frequently use words such as peace and justice, and phrases such as Palestinian suffering.
But aside from offering trite observations such as “There’s been too much war and violence, too much hatred, and too many missed opportunities,” the blog and website offer few tangible ideas or actions that might actually promote peace and justice. And when it comes to addressing real obstacles to security, freedom and dignity for Israelis in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there is nothing at all. The concerns are all about the Palestinians.
Speakers and Pilgrimages
In his January 29, 2014 post, Todd Deatherage wrote that in order to stop the unending violence, a new paradigm needs to be created, “one in which Americans get to know real Israelis and Palestinians, respect them as individuals, and take in their stories.” Based on this statement, the expectation would be that Telos will provide conference and tour participants with equal exposure to pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian perspectives.
Unfortunately, this is not the case.
Indeed, in the description of their educational pilgrimages, Telos acknowledges that their guides “interpret” for participants what they have heard from leaders while on the tour.
As a result, conference and tour participants are presented with a predominantly one-sided narrative that portrays Palestinians as victims and Israelis as oppressors. In spite of language that attempts to sound balanced and fair, emotionally laden stories of Palestinian suffering are highlighted and core issues of the conflict such as Palestinian refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish State and the use of terrorism against Israeli citizens are ignored.
This biased narrative is not surprising in light of the identity and background of those who speak at Telos conferences, and those who are introduced to evangelical leaders invited to participate in one of Telos’ pilgrimages.
Rev. Mitri Raheb
People on pilgrimages meet with leading Palestinian speakers such as Rev. Mitri Raheb, who has a long history of anti-Israel activism. NGO Monitor and the Simon Wiesenthal Center have both criticized Raheb, the Bethlehem-based pastor, due to “his efforts to delegitimize the Jewish State’s existence.” According to the Wiesenthal Center:
In speeches given to various religious symposia and church summits (including the infamous 2004 US Presbyterian assembly that approved a boycott and divestment campaign against Israel), Raheb promoted a ‘Palestinian theology’ that purports that Jews are not the Chosen People and therefore have no right to the Holy Land.
Speaking at the Christ at the Checkpoint conference in Bethlehem in 2010, Raheb offered a racial theory to support his belief that Jews are not the true people of the land of Israel. From his viewpoint, the Palestinians are the indigenous people of the land, and Jesus was a Palestinian. He said:
Israel represents Rome of the Bible, not the people of the land. And this is not only because I’m a Palestinian. I’m sure if we were to do a DNA test between David, who was a Bethlehemite, and Jesus, born in Bethlehem, and Mitri, born just across the street from where Jesus was born, I’m sure the DNA will show that there is a trace. While, if you put King David, Jesus and Netanyahu, you will get nothing, because Netanyahu comes from an East European tribe who converted to Judaism in the Middle Ages.
The idea that Jews of European descent are not really Jewish is an old anti-Semitic fabrication used to delegitimize the connection between modern Jews, their Israelite
ancestors, and their historic tie to the land of Israel. This fraudulent theory has been debunked by recent genetic studies.
In his book, Legacy: A Genetic History of the Jewish People (Oxford Press, 2012), Dr. Harry Ostrer, Professor of Pathology and Genetics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Director of Genetic and Genomic Laboratories at Montefiore Medical Center, summarized his and other work in genetics of the last 20 years. He not only concluded that all major Jewish groups share a common Middle Eastern origin, but he refuted the belief that there was any large-scale genetic contribution from European tribes.
Archbishop Elias Chacour
Pilgrimage participants also hear from Archbishop Elias Chacour, who resigned his position as the Melkite Catholic Bishop of Galilee in January 2014 in the shadow of charges of sexual harassment, mismanagement and disputes with priests. Chacour plays a prominent role in the 2013 anti-Israel movie, “The Stones Cry Out.” In the context of telling his personal story of expulsion from his boyhood home of Kafr Bir’im, he descends into ugly polemic when he comments that he finds it surprising that “they (the Jews) made others endure what they had endured”.
In so doing, Chacour is suggesting that Israelis are the new Nazis. By attempting to assign any kind of moral equivalency between the removal of residents from a village during a war of self- defense and the systematic extermination of six million Jewish civilians by the Nazis simply because they were Jewish, Chacour exemplifies the one-sided Palestinian narrative promoted by the Telos Group.
Does Chacour or the Telos Group realize that it was the Palestinian nationalist leader, Haj Amin al-Husseini, who collaborated with the Nazis during World War II, asked Adolf Hitler for help to make Palestine Judenrein, and was indicted as a war criminal at Nuremberg?
When persuasive, experienced speakers such as Todd Deatherage, Mitri Raheb, and Elias Chacour present their emotionally laden, one-sided accounts of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there is little chance that listeners who are uninformed about the history and context of the conflict will come away with anything but a conviction that to be truly Christian, one must support the Palestinians and oppose Israel.
The Telos Presidential Advisory Council
In 2013, Telos formed the Telos Presidential Advisory Council. According to their website, this council is “a diverse panel of 20 policymakers and opinion shapers who have been assembled to share their insight into the sectors of faith, politics, and policy.”
While these 20 people may be diverse in terms of occupation, they are not diverse when it comes to their position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
One of the members of the council, Salam Al-Marayati, is a founder and current president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council. He has a long-term history of defending terrorist groups and acts of terrorism as “legitimate resistance.” His hostile view of Israel is evident in a statement made on September 11, 2001 concerning the attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. He said:
If we’re going to look at suspects, we should look to the groups that benefit the most from these kinds of incidents, and I think we should put the state of Israel on the suspect list because I think this diverts attention from what’s happening in the Palestinian territories so that they can go on with their aggression and occupation and apartheid policies.
Another member of the Telos Presidential Advisory Council is Lynne Hybels, a co-founder of Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago. She is a well-known speaker in the new movement within the evangelical world and was one of the speakers at the Christ at the Checkpoint Conference in Bethlehem in 2012.
Under its current leadership, Willow Creek Community Church is a “bastion of anti-Zionism in the Evangelical community.” Its leaders host Gary Burge of Wheaton College, promote his flawed book, Whose Land? Whose Promise? What Christians are Not Being Told about Israel and the Palestinians, as well as The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Tough Questions, Direct Answers (InterVarsity Press, 2013) by Dale Hanson Bourke.
These two books present the reader with a decidely pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel narrative that is riddled with factual errors, sourcing problems, and omission and distortion of facts. As a result, readers are given such a distorted perspective that they are not equipped to have any positive effect on peacemaking.
With people like Salam Al-Marayati and Lynne Hybels on their Presidential Advisory Council, it is difficult to imagine how the Telos Group can continue to assert that they are pro-Israel and pro-peace.
A Significant Source of Telos’ Funding
In addition to the anti-Israel leanings of speakers and board members, a significant percentage of Telos’ funding comes from a source that funds multiple organizations that are hostile to Israel. George Soros, a Hungarian atheist, demonstrates a particular antagonism toward the Jewish State through the breadth of his philanthropy.
According to “Bad Investment: The Philanthropy of George Soros and the Arab-Israeli Conflict” by Alexander H. Joffe, PhD, published by NGO Monitor in May 2013, Soros’ foundation funds close to thirty organizations that spend inordinate time and resources condemning Israel. Telos received approximately half its funding from Soros’ “Foundation to Promote Open Society” for the years 2008-2010.
The Telos Group received a grant in 2010 for $238,000 from the Foundation to Promote Open Society to “train Israeli and Palestinian civil society leaders and human rights activists on effective engagement with US policymakers and the public and to facilitate relationship building between partners and leading US policymakers.” It previously received $363,000 in 2009 and $112,500 in 2008. These amounts comprised approximately half of the organization’s funding. The organization does not make its financial data public.
Telos’ 990’s reveal significant growth for the organization as their total revenue went from $254,588 in 2009 to $1,419,546 in 2012. In 2012, $511,686 was spent on leadership pilgrimages, where Christian leaders are given “complete educational pi
lgrimages” in Israel and the Palestinian territory. In the same year, $322,298 was spent on programs that provide education and training for human rights activists and leaders.
Telos’ Effect on the Evangelical Christian Perspective Concerning the Conflict
The increase in revenue parallels an increase in the effect that Telos is having on the Evangelical Christian perspective concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, particularly that of the millenial generation. Some millenials question the validity of previous generations’ backing of Israel and tend to accept the Palestinian narrative as a way to demonstrate the value they place on their perception of peace and justice.
A key example of the division between generations concerning support of Israel is demonstrated by Steven Strang and his son Cameron. Steven publishes Charisma, a leading evangelical monthly with a consistently pro-Israel perspective. Cameron publishes Relevant, a very popular magazine among millennial evangelicals. When Relevant was first published in 2003, it was as supportive of Israel as Charisma. For example, in December 2005, it published a pro-Israel piece called “Israel: Why You Should Care.” However, in more recent years, the magazine has taken a sharp turn.
The March/April 2014 issue features an article written by Cameron Strang titled “Blessed are the Peace Makers.” This piece addresses the action the church must take to work for peace in relation to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Irony abounds in the fact that the cover of the magazine shows a Palestinian throwing a firebomb towards Israeli security forces in Hebron, and the picture on the first page of the article features Palestinian youth with rocks in hand looking directly at the photographer.
What is most significant about the article is the blatant evidence of the direct influence of the Telos philosophy on Cameron Strang. Themes of peace, justice, and the dangers facing the Palestinian church run throughout. Theological perspectives that have historically undergirded Christian support of Israel are presented as being in opposition to this new movement’s definition of justice, which emphasizes the need for Christians to understand how Palestinians are suffering as a result of alleged Israeli oppression.
Palestinians do face hardships, and the Church in the Middle East does face danger. However, the hardships are a result of the actions of Palestinian leaders, who embezzle millions of dollars given for aid, hoard fuel for their own use, fail to pay the suppliers of electricity, and steal 800 million dollars meant for the poor through front companies for investments. And the source of danger for the Church is not Israel, the only country in the Middle East where the Christian population is growing as a result of Israel’s freedom of religion.
As events throughout the Middle East demonstrate, the source of danger for the Church is militant Islam.
Strang does not hold the Palestinian leadership responsible for any of the problems endured by their people, he makes no reference to how Israelis have suffered from years of continual terrorist attacks on their civilians, and he ignores the very real danger faced by Christians everywhere in the Middle East, except for Israel.
The article concludes with a direct reference to the Telos philosophy, where Strang says, “…many are beginning to believe it is possible to be authentically pro-Israel, pro-Palestinian and pro-peace”.
The fact that this statement from Strang is immediately followed by a succession of quotes from Todd Deatherage of Telos reveals the effect that Telos has had on one particular leader in the evangelical world; a leader who publishes a magazine widely read by millennial evangelicals.
Dale Hanson Bourke
Another example of the effect of the Telos narrative, which claims to promote peace while making demands only of Israelis and not of Arabs, is demonstrated in The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Tough Questions, Direct Answers (InterVarsity Press, 2013) by Dale Hanson Bourke. Bourke is the author of ten books and numerous articles, and has served on the boards of World Vision, International Justice Mission, and Sojourners.
This latest text avoids essential issues in the conflict such as the role played by Islamic anti-Semitism. It also ignores historical context such as the plight of Jewish refugees who were forced to flee from Arab countries after Israel’s creation in 1948 and the role the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem played in lobbying the Nazis to expand their genocide of the Jews to the Middle East during the Holocaust.
In the acknowledgments in her book, Bourke says:
I will always be grateful to the Telos Group and Staff, who introduced me to these issues with immense respect for all people involved and an unwavering committment to peace. Todd Deatherage, Greg Khalil and Amy Fisher were wonderful guides as we journeyed together…
While the Telos group isn’t directly responsible for Bourke’s failure to cover the conflict in a comprehensive manner, the fact that she attributes her education concerning the issues to the influence of Todd Deatherage, Greg Khalil and staff-member Amy Fisher while on a Telos pilgrimage raises serious questions about how well – or how fairly – the organization educates its constituency about the conflict.
If Bourke’s avoidance of essential issues and historical context is any indication, it would seem that a Telos pilgrimage cannot be trusted to provide an accurate or fair education concerning the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.
Donald Miller is considered to be a rising star among the millennial generation and was featured in Cameron Strang’s Relevant’s May/June 2012 edition. After visiting Israel and the Palestinian territories in the fall of 2012, he wrote a blog on November 19, 2012 titled, “The Painful Truth About the Situation in Israel.”
As he said in the blog, much of the time he spent with “a group of journalists” was spent in the West Bank, “interviewing Palestinian leaders.” “The stories we heard were heartbreaking.” Miller makes no mention of having spent time in Israel or of hearing similar heartbreaking stories from Israelis.
In what comes across as a very weak attempt to give a balanced perspective, he says “To be sure, on both sides of this issue there are crimes against humanity. Hamas is widely known for the atrocities they commit against the innocent…” But he follows this statement with commentary about how H
amas rockets are unguided and fall into empty fields, while “Israeli rockets into Gaza fall on one of the most densely populated regions in the world. Combined with the poverty, unemployment and imprisonment, these rockets leave a population helpless and incite anger and a desire for revenge.”
The statement that rockets “fall” on a densely populated region implies that Israel does what Hamas does – that they just shoot rockets randomly to see what they can hit. This is blatantly false. Israel makes precision strikes at the source of rockets directed against them, only targets militants and goes to great efforts to avoid civilian casualties.
This reality is demonstrated through the testimony of British Colonel Richard Kemp, a seasoned veteran of the Gulf War who has spent considerable time in Iraq and Afghanistan. On October 16, 2009, he testified to UN Watch concerning charges of war crimes against Israel during “Operation Cast Lead,” which lasted from December 27, 2008 until January 18, 2009.
Speaking from experience, he said, “The Israeli Defense Forces did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare.”
To illustrate his statement, Kemp recounted how the IDF dropped 2 million leaflets and made over 100,000 phone calls to warn civilians of targeted areas. Missions were aborted that would have taken out enemy capabilities if they posed a threat to civilians. The IDF also allowed significant shipments of humanitarian aid into Gaza during the operation. These are all actions that according to a veteran of multiple wars are “normally quite unthinkable” in the context of a conflict.
In spite of these facts, Miller creates a false moral equivalency between Hamas’ unprovoked attacks on Israeli civilians and Israeli strikes against those who fire those rockets.
Does he actually believe that this erroneous perspective will help to promote peace in the region?
After giving a couple of examples of the heartbreaking stories he heard from Palestinians, Miller goes on to say:
A common misunderstanding is that this is a religious war. But that’s hardly the case. The tension has as much to do with race, language, culture and land as it does with religion. I would not say religious differences are the problem as much as many from each side seeing the other as beneath them in human value. The situation feels more like the United States before the civil rights era, only more bloody.
The perception that the conflict does not have to do with religion is a faulty one that attempts to conceal the religious foundation for Palestinian rejection of the existence of Israel. Instead the conflict is cast as a colonial dispute over land, in which the Palestinians are indigenous to Israel and the Jews are European colonizers.
The relationship of the geopolitical goals of the Palestinians and their religious belief is made clear in Palestinian Authority and Hamas documents. Article 7 of the PLO’s Palestinian Charter refers to the spiritual connection with Palestine in the context of the need to be spiritually acquainted with the land in order to be prepared for armed struggle. Article 15 of the same document mentions the need to mobilize “spiritual capacities” in order to “repulse the Zionist, imperialist invasion from the great Arab homeland.” And article 9 of “The Movement’s Essential Principles” in Fatah’s Constitution states that liberating Palestine is a “religious and human obligation.”
The Hamas Charter makes the connection between political aspirations and religious motivation even more explicit. The Charter begins with “The Charter of Allah: The Platform of the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas)” and an introduction that calls on Allah for help in its jihad “for the purpose of liberating Palestine.” Article 12 of the charter states:
Hamas regards Nationalism (Wataniyya) as part and parcel of the religious faith. Nothing is loftier or deeper in Nationalism than waging Jihad against the enemy and confronting him when he sets foot on the land of the Muslims. And this becomes an individual duty binding on every Muslim man and woman; a woman must go out and fight the enemy even without her husband’s authorization, and a slave without his masters’ permission. This [principle] does not exist under any other regime, and it is a truth not to be questioned.
These documents make it obvious that the conflict over the Holy Land is very much a religious war for those who wage jihad against “the enemy.” Yes, the struggle is over land, but it is not a colonial dispute. It is a cause driven by religious motivation and the belief that Israel doe not have the right to exist. Therefore, it is not only foolish, but dangerous, for Telos to be teaching Christian leaders that the conflict is not religious.
Alan Rudnick and the American Baptist Churches
Miller’s explanation that the conflict is not a religious one sounds much like the testimony contained in Alan Rudnick’s account of his experience as a participant on a Telos pilgrimage, an account that clearly demonstrates the Telos effect.
An article featured on the Telos website, “Telos Pilgrimage Alumni is Highlighted in Local Paper,” describes the effects of participating in a Telos-sponsored trip on Alan Rudnick, pastor of First Baptist Church in Ballston Spa, NY. The American Baptist Churches General Secretary, Roy Medley, the President of ABC-USA, Ruth Clark, and clergy leaders from within the denomination also participated in the pilgrimage.
In the article, Rudnick describes the trip as ”an emotional, political, and human experience,” in which he learned that “the conflicts are not religious, but geopolitical.” He was so moved that he is already planning to return with a group from his region.
The effect of participating in a Telos pilgrimage is abundantly clear. Participants are emotionally moved by exposure to human experience, and are persuaded that the conflict is geopolitical at its core and not religious. This immunizes them from understanding the underlying religious component that has fueled the conflict for many years.
It is good to be moved by exposure to human experience. And it is true that much tragedy has occurred as a result of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, a denial that the conflict is influenced by religion not only ignores the facts, but presents an obstacle to any constructive attempt to deal effectively with the issues that fuel that conflict.
How can the Telos Group possibly hope to contribute to peace when they refuse to deal with the full spe
ctrum of issues that stand in opposition to that peace?
The articles by Cameron Strang and Donald Miller and the book by Dale Hanson Bourke offer a distorted view of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. In different ways, all three of these publications deny the religious component of the conflict, omit the impact of militant Islam, absolve the Palestinian leadership of any responsibility for the conflict, and portray Israel as the only responsible party.
To varying degrees, these three evangelical Christian leaders have been influenced by the vision and mission of the Telos Group. The effect that Telos has on their targeted audience, as demonstrated through the testimony of Alan Rudnick on their own website, makes it clear that Telos is not “pro-Israeli” as they claim.
How else can one explain the anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian position adopted by those who absorb their message?
The fact that they receive substantial funding from George Soros’ “Foundation to Promote Open Society” also suggests a particular orientation in relation to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.
Receipt of significant funding from an individual or foundation that supports so many organizations that are hostile to Israel makes Telos’ identity as a organization that claims to be“pro-Israeli” suspicious at best and disingenuous at worst.
Furthermore, their claim to be “pro-peace” is negated by the fact that they accept funding from an organization that funds multiple groups that work to increase anti-Israel tensions in what is already a troubled region. As a result, their stated desire to work for peace cannot be taken seriously.
Unfortunately, the Telos Group is either an unknowing instrument in the hands of George Soros, or is a willing accomplice to his anti-Israel agenda, intentionally infiltrating the evangelical world for the purpose of eroding support of Israel in favor of the Palestinian narrative.