Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Chomsky, Pappe, Roy, Walt among Speakers at Biblical Studies Conference

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Chomsky, Pappe, Roy, Walt among Speakers at Biblical Studies Conference

Article excerpt

More than 150 people from more than 20 states and three foreign countries gathered in Lexington, MA Sept. 17 to 19 for the Society for Biblical Studies' annual national conference, titled "Christians and the Holy Land: What Does the Lord Require?" The Arlington, MA-based non-profit, which specializes in socially responsible travel to Israel, Palestine and Jordan, examined aspects of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories and U.S. foreign policy in the broader Middle East. Organizers aimed to present points of view that are either deliberately suppressed or ignored by the mainstream American media.

While attendees were almost uniformly enthusiastic about the conference, a handful represented the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA). Frustrated by their inability to disrupt the conference, at least one leftthe conference voicing threats to this writer, a United Methodist minister and the executive director of The Society for Biblical Studies. In advance of the conference, local rabbis tried to pressure and intimidate the pastor of the church where the conference was held. One warned of protests that did not materialize. Instead, he placed Zionist propaganda on the windshields of cars in the church parking lot.

Noam Chomsky, professor emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), gave the keynote address, entitled "The Iran Nuclear Deal: Some Critical Questions." He reminded the audience that Iran and the U.S. have a long history of antagonism dating back to the CIA's 1953 overthrow of Iran's democratically elected government and the installation of the shah. Chomsky pointed out that, while Iran might not be a model of humanitarian governance, it is far less repressive and more democratic than such stalwart U.S. allies as Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

In my own remarks, I pointed out that while the phenomenon of so-called Christian Zionism is usually associated with fundamentalist Christians, Christian support for the State of Israel is far more prevalent among liberal, progressive Christians. Against the Zionist canard that criticism of Zionism and of Israel is a new form of anti-Semitism, Christian Zionists in fact outnumber Jewish Zionists by at least 14:1-therefore, Christian criticism of Zionism is a critique of other Christians.

Christian critiques of Christian Zionism tend to focus on fundamentalist Christian Zionists represented by the likes of John Hagee or the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem. Indeed, if we assume conservatively that only half of all fundamentalist Christians in America (ca. 28 million) are Christian Zionists and all Jews in the world (ca. 14 million) are Zionists, which we know is an overestimate, then a conservative ratio of Christian Zionists to Jewish Zionists is 2:1.

However, once Christian Zionism is more correctly understood to include mainstream Christians, then the ratio of Christian to Jewish Zionists increases to 14:1 worldwide. So unless we factor in the mainstream Christians who are active Zionists, we cannot fully comprehend the support for the Zionist enterprise in the U.S.

Christian support for Zionism is especially strong among Christian clergy involved in Jewish-Christian dialogue, where Christian support for Israel is a precondition for the dialogue. Reinhold Niebuhr and Robert Drinan are prime examples of liberal Christian Zionism. …

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