The Christian Divide: Liberal Protestants Criticize Israel, the Religious Right Defends Her

The latest battle in the ideological war over Israel/Palestine took place the other day at a high school outside Boston. Andover High had invited a pro-Palestinian group called Wheels of Justice to talk at the school. Local Jewish groups rose in opposition; the event was cancelled. Then the ACLU stepped in and the event took place, 300 people jammed into a library, with loud protest.

A few comments:

1. As Jimmy Carter has shown, there is a new actor on the political stage: liberal Christians. (Per the Globe):

The Rev. Ralph Galen, minister of Andover’s Unitarian Universalist Congregation and a member of Merrimack Valley People for Peace, said [Rabbi Robert] Goldstein’s stance against Wheels of Justice has disappointed him. “The situation in the Middle East is so complex that it’s already at a boiling point,” said Galen, who helped bring The Wheels of Justice to neighboring North Andover two years ago with less resistance. “It just pushes us over and it’s so hard to maintain our rationality, but we must.”

Liberal Protestants used to be quiet about the Middle East, now they’re demanding to be heard; the Presbyterian church, for instance, is debating divestment. This is part of the rage at Jimmy Carter: rightwing Jews want to keep the Middle East club exclusive.

2. Contrast the liberal churches’ position with the strength that pro-Israel groups are drawing from the religious right. See Zev Chafets’s new book, A Match Made in Heaven, about evangelicals’ support for Israel, reviewed lately in Commentary Magazine. Chafets calls it the “wonderful Judeo-evangelical alliance.” I wonder how wonderful it is. To preserve Israel from criticism, the American-Jewish community is being drawn further and further right.

3. The Globe article features a student at Andover High calling for a balanced panel discussion of the issues, rather than “just” Wheels for Justice. The pity to me here is that a Jewish kid is being mobilized in an argument about a country he probably has never been to, and whose apartheid-like practices he has no idea of. The pressure on Jewish kids these days is sure intense! I feel for them. When I was a little Jewish kid, I was protesting the Vietnam War with my parents and hearing about the Freedom Riders. What larks! True enough, I was being indoctrinated, too, but it was a hopeful set of values, one I still choose to embrace, liberal universalist ideas going back to abolitionism. These kids are being indoctrinated in a narrower set of religious-nationalist values: basically, Arabs Bad, Israelis Good.