By MARK TOOLEY, FRONTPAGEMAG—
Recently “Christianity Today,” the prominent evangelical journal, spotlighted the “Top 5 Books on Israel & Palestine,” as asserted by Gary Burge, a professor at Chicago-area evangelical Wheaton College, one of evangelical America’s most prestigious schools.
Burge is a crusader for trying to shift evangelicals away from their typically pro-Israel stance. All five books naturally tout a pro-Palestinian perspective to varying degrees. E vidently a book offering the Jewish experience did not merit attention.
The first book Burge touted was “Blood Brothers” by Elias Chacour, the Melkite Greek Catholic Church Archbishop of Akko, Haifa, Nazareth and All Galilee. As Burge recounts, Chacour recalls his life story as a Palestinian cleric, confronting the “thorny problem of struggle and reconciliation in Galilee.”
Another book is “I Am a Palestinian Christian,” by Mitri Raheb, a Lutheran pastor in Bethlehem, whom Burge describes as “one of the leading Christian intellectuals in the Palestinian church.” A third book “On the Road to Armageddon: How Evangelicals Became Israel’s Best Friend” by Timothy Weber, explains “why America and its evangelical communities are so ardently pro-Israel.” A fourth book is “Coffins on Our Shoulders: The Experience of the Palestinian Citizens of Israel,” by Dan Rabinowitz and Khawla Abu-Baker, who are sociologists, “one Israeli and one Palestinian, tell their personal stories growing up near each other in Haifa.” The final book, “Whose Promised Land?: The Continuing Crisis over Israel and Palestine” by Colin Chapman is perhaps somewhat more impartial. As Burge describes, it is a “poignant and compelling history of the Israel-Palestine conflict, told by a British Christian scholar who now resides in Cambridge,” who was for “many years a professor in Beirut and, thanks to his fluency in Arabic, can see this struggle from the inside unlike many others.”
Burge’s book selection for Christianity Today asserts his overall narrative of Israel as an imperialist intrusion on indigenous Palestinians, for which America and especially America’s pro-Israel evangelicals are especially culpable. By telling stories of victimhood by Palestinians, especially the tiny Christian minority, Burge hopes to influence evangelicals towards neutrality or, better yet, pro-Palestinian advocacy.
Ostensibly this new stance will deliver oppressed Palestinians from their imperialist overlords, who will accede to Palestinian demands thanks to U.S. pressure. The assumption is that initial Palestinian political victories will actually help Palestinians, especially its Christians. What is the basis for this assumption? It’s not clear. Where in the Middle East currently are Christian minority groups living safely under pluralistic democracy?
Burge and fellow Evangelical Left anti-Israel crusaders of course assume that Israeli intransigence is the primary blockage to peace. But what if Israel unilaterally withdrew to its pre-1967 borders, abandoned Jerusalem, and allowed an unlimited right of return for all Palestinians claiming descent from original Palestinian residents in what is now Israel? Would these unilateral concessions completely appease most Palestinians and create mutual concord? Or would they not likelier feed thirsts for even greater victory, to include the eradication of Israel as a Jewish nation?
Contrary to the anti-Israel narrative that Burge prefers, if the actual obstacle to peace is Palestinian refusal to accept the permanent reality of Jewish Israel, then what Burge et al advocate only fuels greater strife and suffering for Palestinians. In reality, peace is only attainable if most Palestinians firmly accept Israel’s permanence and settle for a Palestinian state based in the West Bank, not dreams of a greater, and Jewish-free, Palestine.
The Burge/Evangelical Left narrative on Israel/Palestine also unquestioningly accepts the public pronouncements of a handful of Palestinian Christian clerics and activists without admitting these besieged Christians have little choice to say anything else.
Their survival requires constantly burnishing their Palestinian nationalist credentials. It’s interesting that the Evangelical Left, so critical of American nationalism, and of Israeli nationalism, makes such easy cause with Palestinian nationalism.
Burge serves on the board of Evangelicals for Middle East Understanding, an ongoing campaign to neutralize pro-Israel evangelicals. This group met at the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College in November 2012, featuring anti-Israel speakers like Church of England priest Stephen Sizer. Burge was also prominent in the 2010 film “With God on Our Side,” which targeted evangelical audiences, and which aimed to caricature Christian Zionists as end-times zealots indifferent to Palestinian suffering.
If Burge and anti-Israel Evangelicals, ostensibly so concerned about Palestinian Christians, actually got their way, the result almost certainly would be even greater suffering for all Palestinians. Israel is sufficiently strong militarily and economically that it will persevere. Any hope for Palestinians requires acceptance of mutual co-existence.
But intentionally or not, the anti-Israel Evangelical Left urges policies that would inflame unrealizable Palestinian hopes for eradicating Israel but actually only ensure their own continued marginalization.
The “Christianity Today” anti-Israel book suggestions from Burge superficially offer empathy for Palestinians. But like most leftist political naiveté, the policies to which they point are foolish for all.
Mark Tooley is President of the Institute on Religion and Democracy (www.theird.org) and author of Methodism and Politics in the Twentieth Century.