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60 Minutes Steers Christians Against Israel

9:06 AM, Apr 28, 2012 • By MARK TOOLEY
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60 Minutes cited Christian tourism in Israel as the source of Israel’s concern about Christian attitudes. But more important is Christian influence, especially evangelical, in sustaining pro-Israel U.S. policies.  International anti-Israel groups are specifically wooing and challenging typically pro-Israel U.S. Christians, especially evangelicals, often citing “Kairos Palestine” as evidence of Palestinian Christian suffering and attitudes.

In March, U.S. activists working with Palestinian Christians organized “Christ at the Checkpoint” in Bethlehem, which featured prominent U.S. evangelicals such as evangelist Tony Campolo, Ron Sider of Evangelicals for Social Action, “urban monastic” Shane Claiborne, and Florida mega church pastor Joel Hunter, who is a spiritual counselor to President Obama. Hundreds of U.S. evangelicals attended. Two recent U.S. films have targeted U.S. evangelicals and their Israel stance. One was called “With God on Our Side,” which portrayed mindless Christian Zionism as the source behind Palestinian travails. The other, called “Little Town of Bethlehem,” and funded by an evangelical philanthropist, more subtly portrayed Palestinian peace activists, supported by an Israeli military conscientious objector, as key to ending the Israeli occupation.  A recent “Q” gathering of about 700 mostly young evangelicals in Washington, D.C. featured a winsome Palestinian Christian make his case, with little counterpoint. 

The April 22 60 Minutes story preceded the 12 million member global United Methodist Church’s April 24 – May 4 governing quadrennial General Conference in Tampa, where divesting from firms that ostensibly “profit” from Israel’s occupation in the West Bank is being debated. Four years ago, United Methodists rejected anti-Israel divestment. But this time, dozens of divestment activists are lobbying on site. They cite “Kairos Palestine,” and are grateful to 60 Minutes.  In June, the general assembly of the 2 million member Presbyterian Church (USA), meeting in Pittsburgh, will again debate anti-Israel divestment, having adopted then rescinded it several years ago.   

U.S. Jewish groups are understandably concerned about U.S. denominations potentially inflating the sails of the mostly moribund divestment movement. Probably the Methodists and Presbyterians will again say no. The presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, herself decidedly on the left, has recently specifically rejected divestment.  But 60 Minutes, whether intentionally or not, has become the best ally for turning U.S. Christian opinion against Israel.   

Mark Tooley is president of the Institute on Religion & Democracy.

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