Much has been made in the Jewish community – too much, in my humble opinion – of the recent letter signed by 15 Protestant church leaders calling for Congress to review and possibly suspend U.S. aid to Israel, our closest ally in the Middle East. The signatories believe that “unconditional U.S. military assistance to Israel has contributed to this deterioration, sustaining the conflict and undermining the long-term security interests of both Israelis and Palestinians.” To add insult to injury, the letter was released with no notice on a Jewish holiday, just days before a scheduled interfaith meeting between Protestant and Jewish leaders. Predictably, Jewish leaders angrily withdrew from the meeting and denounced the letter. It is hard to see how this troubled dialogue can be resurrected in the near future.
A letter like this doesn’t come out of a vacuum. The offending churches -- Presbyterian Church (USA), Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, United Methodist Church, National Council of Churches USA and the United Church of Christ (UCC) – are all mainline Protestant bodies. In a recent Pew survey, white mainline Protestants knew less about Christianity and the Bible than Mormons, white Evangelicals, white Catholics, black Protestants, Jews and atheists. By way of contrast, Mormons and white Evangelicals, the most knowledgeable groups on those topics, tend to be very strong supporters of Israel. Instead of developing talking points on Israel to present to Protestant leaders, I think that Jewish leaders would accomplish more by creating Bible study courses, perhaps co-taught by rabbis and pastors, that could be used to educate Protestant congregants and leaders on Jewish themes in the Bible.