Every religious faith has alienated and disaffected members. But using and exploiting disgruntled Jews to delegitimize the Jewish people, their faith and their homeland has a uniquely tragic history in Christian political polemics.
Sadly enough, this history is playing itself out at the “Christ at the Checkpoint” conference that is currently taking place at the Reed Conference Center near Oklahoma City.
Witness one of the “star” speakers at the conference: Mark Braverman, a Jew, who works with Christian anti-Zionist organizations such as Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center, Kairos USA (where he works as executive director), and Evangelicals for Middle East Understanding (where he works as a consultant).
Braverman is author of Fatal Embrace, a political polemic which, among other things, downplays Hamas’s hostility towards Israel and Jews. It also places all the blame for the Israel-Palestinian conflict on the Jewish people’s flawed self-understanding. Evidently, Braverman is among the few Jews on earth to possess the true insight into how Jews should properly understand themselves.
Narcissistically, he took to the stage on Oct. 16 to signal his moral superiority and damn the Jewish people. “I do not want to base my identity on being different, better or scared,” he said, with false modesty. “You see where that leads. It leads to the bombs of Gaza. It leads to the checkpoints of Jenin—that’s where it leads.”
The audience of approximately 150 Christians—many of them affiliated with the United Methodist Church—nodded along as Braverman flirted with them by saying that, while he remains a Jew, he regularly preaches from the New Testament in churches on Sunday mornings. This causes people to ask him when he converted to Christianity.
“I don’t know what that means, but I wish things had gone differently in the first century so that I wouldn’t be having to answer that question,” he said. Too bad God didn’t consult with Mark Braverman and his wishes.
Declaring that modern-day Israel is a sick society, Braverman described Zionism as a settler colonial project that engaged in ethnic cleansing against the Palestinians. Speaking of the Western Wall, Braverman said, “I do not go to that place. That’s a ‘Nakba’ scene. That’s a genocide scene. That was a Muslim neighborhood that was 600 years old. A woman died when they bulldozed that in 1967. I don’t go there. It’s not a holy place. It’s the opposite.”
Braverman said that in their zeal to confront the problem of anti-Semitism and supersessionism after the Holocaust, Christians threw the baby out with the bath water and abandoned the anti-tribalist message that Jesus offered to the world. He came to this conclusion after reading the works of Anglican Priest Naim Ateek who is notorious for his anti-Zionist and, in some instances, antisemitic rhetoric. From reading Ateek, Braverman said he learned that Jesus was the best prophet and best rabbi of all.
Amazingly enough, Braverman even asserted that modern-day Jews in America and elsewhere don’t really have any connection to the Hebrew people described in the Hebrew Scriptures. They are instead descendants of a tribe in Europe that converted to Judaism in the eighth century – a theory debunked long ago.
In sum, the image of the Jewish people, which Braverman gave to his audience, was that of a benighted, violent people who are unable to come to peace with themselves and the people around them. And the audience ate it up. I looked around and saw Munther Isaac, a Lutheran Pastor from the West Bank. With starstruck eyes, he beamed at Braverman during his talk, as did Bob Roberts, a prominent evangelical pastor from Texas, who also spoke at the conference.
What drives these Christians to use and exploit disgruntled Jews like Braverman? Personally, I am saddened, less for Judaism than for Christianity, less for the attacked Jewish minority than for the attacking Christian majority. A confident faith doesn’t need to parade around broken members of other faiths.
Dexter Van Zile is a researcher at the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis (CAMERA).