Israel is facing a threat from theologians and activists in prominent Protestant churches throughout the world, in addition to the threats posed by “lawfare” and the Goldstone Report, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, charged on Tuesday.
Cooper was speaking at a plenary session of the seventh annual Jerusalem Conference in the capital.
“Theologians and activists in some prominent Protestant churches are seeking to destroy Israel from Above,” Cooper warned. “Their activities threaten to turn traditional friends into enemies and erode support for Israel in the United States.... They cast Israel as a theological mistake, conceived in the sin of the last gasp of Western colonialism.”
According to Cooper, the center of the Protestant theological war against Israel is the Geneva-based World Council of Churches, an umbrella organization of liberal church bodies, boasting a worldwide following of 349 churches and 580,000 members.
He said one of the most prominent denominations in the WCC is the Presbyterian Church, which was the first to call for divestment from Israel. Cooper warned that 50 members of the US Congress belonged to the Presbyterian Church and, although many of them were friends of Israel, church policy was run from the top by a tight group of activists.
“Anti-Israel momentum is building,” Cooper warned. He charged that the leadership of these churches had “accepted the Arab narrative.”
Cooper said he was specifically concerned by three documents published by members of the WCC in the past three years. They are known as the 2007 Amman Call, the 2008 Bern Perspective and the 2009 Kairos Document, issued by Protestant theologians last December.
Cooper stressed that the Amman Call, issued at the end of a WCC conference called “Churches Together for Peace and Justice in the Middle East,” supported a peace settlement with Israel based on a two-state solution and the right of return for Palestinian refugees.
In another section, the authors of the Amman Call wrote, “Risk the curses and abuse that will be aimed at you and stand in solidarity with us and our Palestinian brothers and sisters of all faiths as we defiantly reject the possibility that the occupation will continue.”
In the following year, a group of Protestant theologians gathered in Bern, Switzerland to review the theological underpinnings of Christian attitudes toward Israel, Cooper continued. No Jews were invited to participate. The Bern Perspective, as the document the group issued was called, denied the Jewish understanding of a connection between themselves as a people and the Land of Israel.
“In effect, this marked the return to replacement theology, in which Jews were stripped of their legitimacy,” charged Cooper. Replacement theology holds that the Christians replaced the Jews as the people of the Bible.
“It is not fair to deny our validity as a people and a nation and to take away our Torah,” said Cooper.
According to the Bern Perspective, “the contemporary conflict in Palestine-Israel resounds with biblical metaphors. However, there was significant consensus in the conference that the Bible must not be utilized to justify oppression or supply simplistic commentary on contemporary events, thus sacrilizing the conflict and ignoring its socio-political, economic and historic dimensions.
“We are called not only to expose manipulations of scripture that ignore context and complexity, but to offer readings of text that promote the values of God’s kingdom: justice, peace, reconciliation and forgiveness…. Let us continue to critically and creatively examine notions of the ‘Promised Land,’” reads the document.
Cooper also expressed concern over the Kairos document, which wholeheartedly embraced the moderate Palestinian political line (as opposed to Hamas), arguing that the Palestinian resistance was a response to the 1967 occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, that religious liberty and freedom of access to the holy places was denied under a “pretext” of security, and that Palestinians suffered from the “wrong interpretation” of theologians who maintained that God had promised the land to the Jews.
The document called on “individuals, companies and states to engage in divestment and in an economic and commercial boycott of everything produced by the occupation.”
Cooper also warned that there were indications that some Evangelical
Christians were also becoming hostile to Israel and that it could mark
the beginning of a dangerous trend.
However, he added that it
was not too late for Israel and the Jewish community abroad to engage
in dialogue with the Protestant churches and rekindle their friendship
toward Israel. One of the problems, said Cooper, was that few Israelis
were aware of the threat from these churches