By Donald Zev Uslan, Reprinted with Permission of Vision Magazine
Donald Zev Uslan, MA, MBA, LMHC, NCC, CRC is a medical and rehabilitation psychotherapist from the University of Washington in Seattle, Washington, now living in Jerusalem. His specialty over a 45-year career has been working with individuals and groups with complex chronic illnesses, most of whom had been psychologically, physically, or sexually abused in childhood.
Israel has been mildly distracted from terrorism, political horse-trading and the World Cup by accusations and counteraccusations between two notable personalities: the wife of a senior political figure and a popular YouTube counter-missionary.
This is a “battle royale” of “He said, She said,” covering potential lawsuits and allegations about who is or who may not be a “Messianic believer.” But is the spotlight being thrown in the right corner?
[Note: In this writer’s opinion, the most responsible and objective reporting to date on this issue can be found in an exclusive article in the Jewish Chronical by Johnathan Sacerdoti.]
The significance of the quote above, “Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read” by the venerable comic Groucho Marx represents the inside and outside of Jewish awareness (brevity and levity are an important contribution to Israeli society). Diaspora Jews have no idea about what this fuss is about, and Israeli’s are too thoroughly entertained and preoccupied to see the point.
The irony: this conflict is actually about missionizing and missionaries in Israel, not recriminating assertions by public figures against each other… as observed by the sarcastic Duck in the cartoon above.
The conflict between these two public figures is at the instigation of a missionary who has inculcated himself into Israeli media and social services. He made allegations about the religious beliefs of the wife of a senior political figure. But he has since removed himself from the line of fire by “apologizing.”
This is emblematic and symbolic of the issue of missionaries in Israel: they are now so well integrated into the public sphere of social services, media, politics, and activism that the fight isn’t with them, that is, their legal and social right and ability to convert Jews to a belief in Jesus, but, rather, fighting over them.
Evangelical missionaries are not obvious, not transparent to the vast majority of Israelis
To American Jews, missionizing in the United States is simply an irritant. To Israelis, missionaries are the trifecta: You hate ‘em, you love ‘em, or they don’t exist.
Ironically, evangelical missionaries have successfully segmented Israelis along a complex continuum by exporting their theological view of the right to “freedom of religion” a la Western values. Subsequently, this has had a stifling and deluding effect on our Jewish culture and heritage.
The evangelical missionary presence, to those Israelis who are aware of them, brings out a deeply rooted Israeli obstinate toughness and pride: “No one can convert me. Let them try.”
These are complex and confusing problems. Thus, we do what we do best: we fight amongst ourselves. while the missionaries, and the world, take a ring-side seat as spectators.
Fundamentalist Christians, primarily from the United States, are exporting and financing missionaries to Israel with the intent of influencing Jews toward Christian beliefs and ultimately fulfilling their eschatological dreams of “One New Man” under Jesus.
This is far more sophisticated than the images of the white-gowned conversions in the baptismal pools on the Jordan River and the colorful characters handing out tracts on Ben Yehuda street.
In Israel, we have the 21st Century continuation of the 2,000 years of imperialistic Christianity to supplant Jewish identity using high-tech methods and linguistic artistry.
As noted in the excellent book “Judaism and Christianity: A Contrast,” by Rabbi Stuart Federow:
“…the idea of responding to the efforts of Christian missionaries presents a great problem. Let us say I am standing between two Christians. The first is a missionary Christian, …, and who therefore attempts to convert me to his faith. The second is a liberal Christian, … who does not even consider trying to convert me to his faith…I make the very simple, most basic disagreement with the missionary Christian that Jesus was not the Messiah.
“By doing this, I have not only denied the faith of the missionary Christian, I have also denied the faith of the liberal Christian. This means that it is virtually impossible to respond to a missionary without the possibility of also insulting the faith of all Christians everywhere, including those who are our friends. This is a problem for Jews because we have been trained from birth not to hurt another’s feelings, especially those who are our friends and would never consider attacking our beliefs.”
I have spoken at length with Jews in Israel who work tirelessly to gain and encourage the support of Christians for our country. They have difficulty distinguishing between those “good” Christians who really do want to aid and support the development of Israel (no matter their personal beliefs or theology), and those who have predatory designs on our demise as Jews. They are all against missionizing but cannot (and will not) make the effort to distinguish between the two, in part because of the financial and political support, and in part because of the social/theological dilemma outlined by Rabbi Federow.
The “Nintendo Effect”
The “Nintendo Effect” (named after the gaming console) is a quasi-psychological concept concerning becoming desensitized to destruction by watching and playing video games of destruction. Similarly, Israelis have become desensitized to evangelical missionaries because of their becoming intertwined in so many areas of daily life. They have attempted and succeeded, to make themselves largely invisible, part of the landscape.
By misappropriating Jewish identity and through simplistic religious interpretations, evangelical missionaries in Israel blur the demarcating line of Christian cultural condescension that has been its hallmark for 2,000 years. Now with new slick marketing and slogans such as “One New Man.”
We need to change our focus from each other as “the Other” to evangelical missionaries as “the Other” who are disrupting our efforts to develop an independent, evolving Jewish Israel.
While some argue that we benefit from right-wing Christian financial and political support, and kind-hearted actions, it’s a gamble that puts our very essence at risk for the non-discerning and uninitiated. The evangelical missionary efforts to undermine Jewish identity and target our people are an attack on our very souls. It is a form of Jew-hatred, or of anti-Semitism if you will.
We have to look beyond our tragi-comic headlines and realize this seemingly ridiculous rumble is much larger than we could ever imagine. We need to throw the spotlight on missionary influence in the Jewish state and how it will determine how we define ourselves as a society.