Last month, the Annapolis Summit began resuscitating a Middle East peace plan which began in 2003. Secretary Condoleezza Rice did a masterful job of bringing the Israelis and Palestinians together along with many of their regional neighbors. She hosted over 40 invitees and at least began the long awaited process of negotiating peace. Together, the Israelis and Palestinians made statements to the press that indicated that progress would soon be made.
Contrary to these public statements, Middle Eastern pundits predicted that the summit would not yield a great deal of fruit. They referenced behind-the-scenes disputes about nearly everything - including the list of attendees. In fact, the "common declaration" did not even get settled until it was nearly “show time” in Annapolis. The document had been worked on for months and is supposed to serve as a basic guideline for future peace negotiations.
These early difficulties do not bode well for any quick progress on the deeper, final issues. In fact, last week Palestinian sources posted press releases that accused Israel of conducting 22 raids on Palestinians and kidnapping 28 citizens. Although I am not certain that this data can be trusted, I am certain that the peace process will be contested in the future. The U.S. is obligated to continue to help peaceful negotiations continue, but I do not hold out much hope for peaceful reconciliation between Palestinians, Jews, and their Middle Eastern neighbors in the near future.
Many evangelical Christians are locked into supporting Israel, come what may. Many groups like Christians United For Israel led by Pastor John Hagee and The Jerusalem Connection International led by Dr. Jim Hutchens feel strongly that America will soon be challenged to back away from Israel for internal political reasons. They are seeking to expand the base of American voters who will encourage U.S. politicians to remain solidly behind Israel. They will work hard at developing a broader multi-racial, multi-ethnic group of U.S. supporters. This means working with both the black and Hispanic religious communities. The easiest minority for pro-Israel groups to access will be the black community.
Why will they partner with the black church? The answer is simple. They have the common ground of the Old Testament to build strong unity. They also could be attracted by the historic importance of the black vote to the Democratic Party. Black advocacy for Israel will increase the bi-partisan political power of the movement. The black church in America has grown significantly in recent years and will become an even greater factor in mainstream politics nationally.
Three years ago, Dr. George Barna and I co-authored a book entitled High Impact African-American Churches which was nominated for an Evangelical Christian Publishers Association book award. We argued that the black church is one of the most vibrant branches of the U.S. church. We observed that the once beleaguered institution that fought for black civil rights and deliverance from poverty has now emerged into both fame and fortune.
There is one huge glitch in this discussion. Evangelicals must bridge the black/white divide in the church. I believe that the black church will hear this call for two reasons: the biblical role of Israel and the American Jewish community’s historic involvement in civil rights.
Time will not permit me to specifically delve into the theology that will bring Christians together to support Israel. I will, however, take a moment to describe the Jewish involvement in the civil rights movement.
Most American Jews supported the civil rights movement. Some more than aggresively than others. For example, the NAACP began in 1910 with the help of prominent Jewish medical doctor-turned-activist, Dr. Henry Moskowitz . This influential man eventually held high offices in the New York City government and remained a lifelong philanthropist for civil rights causes. In addition to Moskowitz’s role, there were other Jewish co-founders of the NAACP as well as many of members and leading activists. Their efforts went beyond political work and extended to the realm of education. Philanthropist Julius Rosenwald funded the creation of numerous primary school, secondary schools, and colleges. In fact, he contributed to over 2,000 institutions.
Fast forwarding to the ‘60s, Jews were second only to blacks as the most represented, ethnic group working for black rights. Some historians say that Jews made up nearly half of the volunteers involved in the 1964 Mississippi Freedom Summer. This was an important contribution because they made up only 2% of the population. Other scholars say that approximately 50% of the civil rights lawyers who worked in the south were Jewish. These courageous people did three wonderful things - raised funds for the cause, did volunteer work, and sometimes risked their lives.
Evangelical groups are not likely to give up on Israel. They will no doubt eventually succeed in attracting African Americans and Hispanics to their cause. Who knows. Maybe a new generation of “freedom riders” will rise up to bring help to Israel, just as Jewish people have done for blacks.