The Theological Roots of the Christian Left’s Turn against Israel

Nov. 21 2022

Earlier this year, in a brief statement in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr., one of the leaders of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) singled out Israel—and no other foreign country—as guilty of “21st-century slavery” and urged American Jews to call upon the U.S. government to cease supporting Israel’s “immoral enslavement.” Such rhetoric has become normal for the PCUSA. But, notes Mark Tooley, even if this denomination is one of the worst offenders, it very much represents a broader trend among left-wing American Christians:

For the old religious and evangelical left, Israel often represents Western civilization, colonialism, and imperialism. For aging [devotees] of liberation theology, the Palestinian cause offers the narrative of a Third World people oppressed by First World wealth, technology, and cultural superiority. Israel is an ally of the United States, and from the religious left’s perspective, is an unwelcome extension of American (and British) power into the Mideast. The Palestinians, from that view, are victims of the American imperium, meriting special advocacy by concerned justice-minded American Christians.

Evangelical leftists relate to this narrative, often informed by their own neo-Anabaptist perspective, which is pacifist and anti-empire. Israel of course has by necessity a significant military force, much of it made possible through American aid. This rankles neo-Anabaptists who think anti-violence is the gospel’s chief theme.

There is sometimes another underlying concern for neo-Anabaptists. They are discomfited by ancient biblical Israel, with its divinely ordained kings, warrior heroes, armies, and military victories, all of which defy the neo-Anabaptist stress on God as supremely peaceful. If only unconsciously, they are inclined towards a form of Marcionism, the early church heresy that minimized the canonical authority of the Old Testament. This discomfort with the Hebrew scriptures facilitates unease with modern Israel.

The religious left’s animus towards Israel leads to often absurd contradictions and double standards, especially for a denomination like the PCUSA. It and the other mainline Protestant bodies have countless statements condemning Israel for ostensibly oppressing the Palestinians among other depredations. But they are largely silent about human-rights abuses so prevalent among Israel’s Arab neighbors, including the Palestinian Authority, not to mention countless repressive regimes around the world.

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Read more at World

More about: Anti-Semitism, Jewish-Christian relations, Liberation theology, Presbyterians

Will Tensions Rise between the U.S. and Israel?

Unlike his past many predecessors, President Joe Biden does not have a plan for solving the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Moreover, his administration has indicated its skepticism about renewing the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. John Bolton nevertheless believes that there could be a collision between the new Benjamin Netanyahu-led Israeli government and the Biden White House:

In possibly his last term, Netanyahu’s top national-security priority will be ending, not simply managing, Iran’s threat. This is infinitely distant from Biden’s Iran policy, which venerates Barrack Obama’s inaugural address: “we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”

Tehran’s fist is today otherwise occupied, pummeling its own people. Still, it will continue menacing Israel and America unless and until the internal resistance finds ways to fracture the senior levels of Iran’s regular military and the Revolutionary Guards. Netanyahu undoubtedly sees Iran’s growing domestic turmoil as an opportunity for regime change, which Israel and others can facilitate. Simultaneously, Jerusalem can be preparing its military and intelligence services to attack Tehran’s nuclear program, something the White House simply refuses to contemplate seriously. Biden’s obsession with reviving the disastrous 2015 nuclear deal utterly blinds the White House to the potential for a more significant victory.

To make matters worse, Biden has just created a Washington-based position at the State Department, a “special representative for Palestinian affairs,” that has already drawn criticism in Israel both for the new position itself and for the person named to fill it. Advocated as one more step toward “upgrading” U.S. relations with the Palestinian Authority, the new position looks nearly certain to become the locus not of advancing American interests regarding the failed Authority, but of advancing the Authority’s interests within the Biden administration.

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Read more at 19FortyFive

More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Iran, Joe Biden, U.S.-Israel relationship