ELCA’s detrimental obsession with Israel
By Sarah Chin 31 August, 2016
In 1995, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) issued "For Peace
in God's World,” calling on Lutherans to "strengthen the will and ability to
resolve conflicts peacefully" and “conciliate differences.”
On August 11, 2016, ECLA betrayed the lofty goals expressed in that document
by adopting resolutions calling on the U.S. government to end all aid to
Israel, and embracing BDS (boycotts, divestment, sanctions) tactics.
Claiming that Israel is an "occupying power" that does not recognize or
adhere to international human rights standards, the decision was driven by
the Lutheran Isaiah 58 group, with support from a coalition of anti-Israel
organizations and activists, including Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP),
American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), and the US Campaign to End the
Israeli Occupation. These resolutions place the sole blame for the
continuation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the feet of Israel,
ignoring Palestinian violence and incitement.
Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) is a U.S.-based political organization, was
instrumental in engineering these decisions. JVP, which refers to itself as
the “Jewish wing” of the Palestinian solidarity movement, provides the
façade of significant Jewish support for BDS and other forms of
demonization, while also seeking to create “a wedge” within the American
Jewish community and generate general polarization over Israel.
The group romanticizes Palestinian violence against Israeli civilians,
referring to it as “Palestinian popular resistance” and lionizing “a new
generation of Palestinians … rising up en-masse against Israel’s brutal,
decades-old regime of occupation, settler colonialism and apartheid.” Such
flirtations with terror are enough to show how JVP is not an appropriate
partner for the ELCA.
And yet JVP is often the leading partner used by groups looking to justify
their demonization of Israel and embrace of the BDS agenda. JVP’s greatest
contribution to Christian groups like ECLA is to shield them from the
accusation of antisemitism. JVP is so popular within Christian frameworks
because they provide this critical safety net that allows others to pursue
distorted, one-sided agendas.
Thanks to Isaiah 58's influence, the church also voted to end investment in
companies that profit from Israel's "occupation." But who is influencing
Isaiah 58? An August 10, 2016 Huffington Post article co-written by ECLA
and Isaiah 58 member Dale Loepp, and Rabbi Michael Davis of JVP is an
example of the rhetoric used by anti-Israel organizations to turn Christian
denominations against the Jewish state.
The article goes on to call on Lutherans to support BDS as a duty to
Christian Palestinians, while referencing the 2009 Kairos Palestine
document, which calls for BDS against Israel, denies the Jewish historical
connection to Israel in theological terms, and solely blames Israel for the
continuation of the conflict. Kairos rationalizes and trivializes terrorism
while rallying churches worldwide to demonize and delegitimize Israel.
Naim Ateek, an original signatory to the Kairos document and founder and
director of the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center exemplifies
further why Kairos is problematic. Ateek, who frequently employs
antisemitic imagery, has blamed Israel for suicide bombing attacks against
its citizens. Sabeel, the group run by Ateek, is a reflection of its
leader. Its anti-Israel message is often intertwined with theological
antisemitism; intertwining Palestinian nationalist ideology with its narrow
interpretation of Christian theology. Through Sabeel, Ateek pushes
liberation theology to justify attacks on Israel. Whether it is stripping
Jesus of his Jewish heritage and referring to him as a Palestinian or
disparaging Judaism and its texts, calling it "tribal," "exclusionary," and
Through working with nefarious groups like JVP and relying on the
problematic Kairos Palestine document, ECLA's actions actually obstruct
peace efforts. Delegitimizing Israel, rejecting Jewish connection to the
land, and promoting BDS are not only ineffective but contrary to the values
which they profess.
This is not to say that Christian groups do not have a role to play in the
Middle East. Christians throughout the region are being persecuted in
alarming numbers. People are being tortured and killed and houses of
worship are being destroyed, all leading to a rapid decline of the Christian
population throughout the region. That is except for Israel, where the
Christian community is protected, growing, and thriving. If the ECLA is
truly concerned about their brethren in the region, this might be a good
place to start. A laser-like focus on Israel, promoting the immoral BDS
agenda, and ignoring and justifying violence helps no one.
Sarah Chin is a researcher at NGO Monitor