As volatility continues to flourish in the Middle East, it seems pro-Israeli groups here in America are looking for new ways to garner support for the Jewish state.
After decades of what the Jewish Forward's Nathan Guttman calls "contention over a range of issues" between blacks and Jews, these mostly Christian organizations are apparently reaching out to African American evangelicals in an effort to formulate a strong alliance. Guttman writes:
Christians United for Israel, the largest non-Jewish, pro-Israel organization in the United States, has scheduled two October events in New York intended to highlight the group’s increased outreach to black evangelicals who hold positive views of the Jewish state. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the pro-Israel Washington lobby, is conducting a similar effort, aimed primarily at African-American student leaders.
While Jewish and blacks once shared a struggle for civil rights here in America, in recent years, there hasn't been as much uniting the two cohorts. But now, the notion that a bond should be formed surrounding support for Israel is giving new hope for advocates of the Jewish state. Michael Stevens, CUFI’s coordinator of African-American outreach, has the following to say about efforts to re-create a relationship between the two ethnic groups:
“The biblical argument is our first and strongest motivation for supporting Israel, but the next motivation should be this joint history. I firmly believe that Dr. Martin Luther King was a strong African-American Zionist, but I think nine out of 10 African Americans don’t know that.”
Stevens, who is a senior pastor at University City Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, says that he hopes to help blacks realize their community's strong pro-Jewish core beliefs. Additionally, he plans to work to remind the community about God's promise in the Bible that those who bless Israel will also be blessed. “This was lost in the past 40 or 50 years," he says. "And we want to bring it back."
The group's web site announced that they had hired Stevens back in 2010. In a statement, the organization recognized the importance of reaching out to blacks to accomplish their mission of gaining support for Israel. The announcement reads:
African American churches are a vital and vibrant part of America's spiritual life. We know that if CUFI is to succeed, we need to include the energy and dedication of America's black churches in our movement. Therefore, CUFI has decided to focus on reaching out to this important community. Towards this end, we are proud to announce that we have hired Pastor Michael A. Stevens, Sr. as our new African American Outreach Coordinator.
Here's a video clip of Pastor John Hagee speaking highly about Stevens' new position:
This month, CUFI is living out these ideals and targeting black churches with two events -- one on October 25 and another on October 26. These events, called, “Gathering of Solidarity With the State of Israel," will take place in African-American churches. Already, the group claims to have "many thousands" of black supporters, but has not been specific in stating exactly how many people are on board.
In addition to CUFI's work in faith communities, AIPAC is targeting college campus which are historically black. In fact, over the past few years, the group has even been taking African American student leaders on trips to Israel.
But despite these efforts, some predominately-black churches have decided not to participate. Rather than jumping on board with a staunchly pro-Israel message, some black Christian leaders are more interested in seeing a conversation develop between Jews and Palestinians. Take, for instance, Bishop John White, whose African Methodist Episcopal Church wants its members to focus more on understanding than on taking sides. White explains:
“Some of the evangelicals support one side and not the other, and I say we should understand that all three religions need to find ways of working together to bring peace."
Relations between Jews and blacks have an interesting history. During the Civil Rights era, Jewish activists supported blacks and fought against segregation. But later on, leaders like Louis Farrakhan created a wedge, and some began to contend that there was anti-Semitism brewing in some circles.
Below, watch Farrakhan making relatively recent statements that were widely regarded as anti-Semitic:
Furthermore, Guttman reports:
There were also local flashpoints in New York, including one in which Jews bitterly fought a proposed public housing project in the Forest Hills section of Queens in the 1970s, and another when blacks attacked Lubavitch Hasidim, killing one, in Brooklyn’s Crown Heights in 1991.
And in the 1960s, some black leaders openly sided with the Palestinians, depicting Israel as a white country that was oppressing the native population. Much of this rhetoric, though, has since dissipated.
Now, it seems efforts are centered upon gaining black support for Israel in the epic Middle Eastern battles that continue to rage.
(H/T: Jewish Forward)