APRIL 8, 2002
A Spreading Conflict
-- Martin E. Marty
The escalating belligerence on both sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has caused alliances to shift and solidify. Suicide ttacks on Israel bring partisan Jews into at least temporary alliances. Israeli military attacks on Palestinians bring Muslims of many sorts together, and unite Arab Muslims and Arab Christians in coalition. Yet belligerence also causes fissures and magnifies schisms within communities. Christian communities worldwide cannot avoid this spreading conflict.
Israel has long complained that Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox Christians, and liberal Protestants, however warm and friendly they are to Jews and Judaism, have been too ambivalent in their support of Israel and remain so now. This ambivalence has puzzled and angered many Jews, who count on the kinds of Christians just mentioned to be anti-anti-Semitic. Why can they not be pro-Zionist and thus, in the eyes of many Israelis, consistent?
Meanwhile, Zionists in Israel and in the Diaspora have had to accept the uncritical support of one wing of conservative evangelical Protestantism, though culturally they have often been distanced. Billy Graham's taped words to President Nixon reinforce the idea that evangelicals were often domestically (culturally more than theologically) "anti-Semitic" but theologically and politically "pro-Zionist." There is no space here to explain "dispensationalists" and why they believe the state of Israel must survive in order for Jesus' second coming to occur. Simply note that these are factors, and that conservative evangelicals can be counted on by Israel, who can do no wrong in their eyes. Foreign policy makers in America can also count on their support for all policies pro-Israel, but have to view it all in different ways. (I have my eye on a Forward (March 29) clipping that cites Gary Bauer, head of a conservative activist group, urging the president not to meet with Yassir Arafat.)
Meanwhile, Protestants, I among them, of many sorts get daily e-mails from Mennonites and Quakers, Lutherans and Catholics, who minister to and among the Palestinians and know and love Palestinian Muslims. They see their people being killed and humiliated and ask Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox Christians to become more visible -- to speak up more. Those they ask tend to see complexities, shades of gray in human history, and to seek some "balance" -- some justice they have not seen in Israel's dealings with Palestinians for fifty-four years. If and as they do speak up, they do and will be the subject of polemics from the Christian Zionists.
So the fissures among Protestant camps may grow, and old tensions may become newly visible among many Christians and Jews. This would be yet another sad by-product of the current tragic circumstances.