Last week it was the accusation that Campus Watch is part of the Zionist conspiracy to run America. This week the accusation is refined somewhat, as reported by Rami Khouri in the Daily Star, who quotes Reverend Donald Wagner, professor and director of the Center of Middle Eastern Studies at North Park University in Chicago. Wagner is a leading American supporter of efforts to persuade churches to divest from Israel. He is also a vocal supporter of various Palestinian organizations such as Sabeel, which offer variations on traditional Replacement Theology, in effect that by rejecting Jesus the Jews gave up any claim to the Holy Land, and that the Palestinians are in fact the new Jews. Coincidentally our friend Alyssa Lappen has a major article about this subject today.
"There seem to be two levels of the current campaign. One in general is directed against professors and Middle East studies programs by Campus Watch and similar groups, using internal and external pressure on funders to reduce any kind of pro-Palestinian or justice-oriented program calling for a two-state solution and a full Israeli withdrawal from occupied Arab lands," he said. "We felt this at our university, by local clones that copied Campus Watch, but Columbia University has been the major target of this campaign."
In Wagner's version "pro-Israeli" groups (like CW) are working along side "Christian Zionist" allies (anxious for Armageddon) to thwart "justice-related programs."
First of all, so far as I can tell there are no Protestants running around Campus Watch Central calling for the End of Days. Second of all, why should any academic program be "justice-related"? Justice is a concept dependent on empirical foundations, an adequate grasp of the facts from which informed opinions may then flow. The very idea of pedagogy being "justice-related" - while perhaps satisfying to Wagner's liberation theology - is an oxymoron. Is not neutrality and impartiality towards facts and opinions the very essence of "justice"? Or does Wagner's concept require certain conclusions to be preordained? The answer is obvious, and evidently for CW and others to offer opposition is risible and very possibly a theological affront.
What is interesting about Wagner is the self-righteous posturing of a man who has experienced multiple epiphanies regarding Israel's unique form of worldly and otherworldly injustice. The answers are self-evident precisely because they derive from his theology, and the rhetoric of education, and love, are deployed to remake the world in an appropriately "just" manner. That they also are used to excuse Wagner's allies' Judaeophobic theology is a mere side matter. It is not surprising that he blames the decline of Christian communities in Israel and the Palestinian territories on Israeli aggression and a lack of "justice."
But that this obsessiveness regarding Israel and Palestine seems in no way matched by interest in "justice" for Christians elsewhere in the Arab, Muslim or wider worlds is also not surprising. He is merely the inverse of the mythical image he projects and then lustily demonizes, Christian Zionists. And whatever their shortcomings - if indeed they exist as a coherent group and not as a broad assortment of Protestant eschatologies - other Christian evangelicals actually do take an interest in the plight of their co-religionists outside of one particular plot of real estate.
Whether or not Armageddon is upon us is a matter for others to determine. The recent failure of the Yankees, and the possible World Series bid by the White Sox, may be signs. Donald Wagner's lack of an even remotely balanced approach to the Middle East makes these portents as likely as the prophecying he laments in others.