The Telos Group works to offer a voice that is “genuinely pro-Israeli, pro-Palestinian, pro-American, and pro-peace, all at the same time.” These are admirable goals, and it is the Telos Group’s self-defined mission to strengthen the capacity of American Evangelicals “to help positively transform the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” To this end, Telos provides many services, such as all-expenses paid pilgrimages to Israel, where they select speakers to address tour participants.
We can all agree that this is a conflict crying out for positive transformation. But the Telos Group can better achieve such a transformation if it pays more attention to the speakers they invite to speak on these pilgrimages. Telos should not get so caught up in the obvious need for work on this issue that it neglects to check the credentials of the people with whom they work.
For instance, Telos pilgrimage participants meet Rev. Mitri Raheb, the pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church in Bethlehem. Speaking at the “Christ at the Checkpoint” conference in Bethlehem in 2010, Raheb offered a racial theory to support his belief that Jews have no connection to the land of Israel:
Israel represents Rome of the Bible, not the people of the land. And this is not only because I’m a Palestinian. I’m sure if we were to do a DNA test between David, who was a Bethlehemite, and Jesus, born in Bethlehem, and Mitri, born just across the street from where Jesus was born, I’m sure the DNA will show that there is a trace. While, if you put King David, Jesus and Netanyahu, you will get nothing, because Netanyahu comes from an East European tribe who converted to Judaism in the Middle Ages.
The idea that Jews of European descent are not really Jews is an old anti-Semitic fabrication, often pulled out in the context of Israel and always highly offensive. This theory has been debunked by recent genetic studies such as Legacy: A Genetic History of the Jewish People.
But if Raheb is questionable, Archbishop Elias Chacour, the erstwhile Melkite Catholic Bishop of Galilee, is an outright anti-Semite who has frequently drawn comparisons between the state of Israel and Nazi Germany. In a presentation given at Calvin Theological Seminary in January 2010, Chacour made a number of statements that demonstrate his belief that his people, the Palestinians, are the indigenous people of Galilee and that Jesus was a Palestinian.
But unlike Raheb, who uses this assumption to argue that modern-day Israelis are not really Jews, Chacour argues that Jesus and his disciples were not Jews at all. He identifies the people of Galilee as distinct from the Jews when he talks about the gathering of the disciples in Jerusalem after the death of Jesus. He states that “the men from Galilee” were in an Upper Room and “the doors were locked out of fear from the Jews. I don’t know why the Jews frighten everybody with whom they live. Is that a problem I think?”
This is a blatantly anti-Jewish statement on more than one level. It is obviously inflammatory for Chacour to suggest that “Jews frighten everyone with whom they live.” But when he distinguishes the disciples as being distinct from the Jews by referring to them as “the men from Galilee,” he de-Judaizes the disciples even though such a position is in fact self-evidently wrong.
For example, the first and second chapters of the book of Acts make it clear that Jesus’s disciples were part of the crowd assembled in Jerusalem for the first Pentecosta crowd the text identifies as Jewish. What the Church calls the Day of Pentecost was the Jewish Festival of Shavuot. Those who heard the disciples speak identified them as “Galileans” (Acts 2:7), which in that historical context also identified them as Jews.
Chacour might object he does not really intend to set up the disciples as non-Jews, but even setting them up against the Jews is incorrrect. The disciples were Jews who participated in the life and rituals associated with being Jewishthere’s no way to downplay that, and indeed no reason to do so (unless their Judaism makes you uncomfortable).
These are not accusations of bad faith. Telos’s leaders and allies believe they are serving the cause of peace and are helping American Evangelicals positively transform the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But by aligning themselves with those who use a combination of racial theory and customized theology to promote a false narrative for the sake of Palestinian nationalism, the Telos Group is complicit in an ideological process that is not only anti-Israel, but one that leads to some very dark consequences.
Tricia Aven works as a Senior Research Analyst for CAMERA, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America. She has a Ph.D. in Hebrew Bible from Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, California, and a Masters in Theology from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California.