One of Mainline Protestantism's harshest critics of Israel is United Methodist missions official David Wildman, who commonly likens Israel to Apartheid South Africa. Wildman was also a strong advocate for anti-Israel divestment, which the 11 million member United Methodist Church rejected earlier this year, similar to other Mainline Protestant denominations.
But Wildman's anti-Israel credentials remain strong. So naturally his denomination's Capitol Hill political lobby office recently hosted a seminar for its Summer interns to hear Wildman extemporize about "justice" in the Middle East.
Relying on his usual Apartheid metaphor, Wildman declared that Israel's stance towards the Palestinians is the “most explicit institutional means of using identity-based discrimination to advance colonial land grabs.” In a report by the interns themselves that appeared on the website of the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, Wildman denounced Israel for its ostensible policies of “arbitrary arrest, illegal imprisonment, prohibition of mixed marriages, and expropriation of landed property.”
Supposedly Wildman speaks with authority, because he is the official "Executive Secretary for Human Rights and Racial Justice in Mission Contexts and Relationships at the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries," a $150 million church agency based in New York City. That agency once eagerly supported Marxist liberation movements in Latin America and elsewhere under the aegis of Liberation Theology. But Marxism died, and Liberation Theology lives on with vigor for the Religious Left almost only in application towards Israel and the Palestinians.
The Methodist missions official was determined to share the supposed facts about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, because “the U.S. government and media repeatedly depict the situation as a conflict between two sides: one good, the other bad; one democratic, the other terrorist.” Actually, the conflict can be blamed on colonialism, he asserted, by which he presumably meant Israel's.
It is Wildman's theme, as it is for the Religious Left as a whole, that Israel embodies Western imperialism against oppressed Third World victims struggling for liberation. "The apartheid regime was the last colonial settler regime on a continent where all the colonizers and settlers lost power," Wildman explained at a pro-Palestinian Friends of Sabeel conference in 2005 in Toronto. "The US represents a country where the settlers won and all but exterminated the indigenous population after seizing most of the land by force. Israel is one of the last places where a colonial settler project is actively seizing land from the indigenous population."
Serving as an official with the United Methodist missions agency does not preclude but instead facilitates Wildman’s extensive campaigning for anti-Israel policies such as divestment. He serves on the steering committee of the U.S. Campaign to End Divestment, a coalition of pro-Palestinian, Muslim, Religious Left, and secular left-wing U.S. groups, including the Green Party, and the once infamous (from Cold War days) but now largely forgotten Institute for Policy Studies.
Wildman seems to act as a nexis among pro-Palestinian church groups, frequently speaking to or writing for organizations such as Sabeel, Americans for Middle East Understanding and the Jerusalem Fund in Washington, D.C. Himself a former long-time anti-Apartheid activist of 20 years ago, Wildman specializes in explaining pro-Palestinian arguments to church groups, and explaining “Zionist” pro-Israel church groups to Palestinians.
Speaking to the Palestine Center of the Jerusalem Fund in late 2004 in Washington, D.C., Wildman outlined how a “Christian Zionist worldview” supposedly legitimizes colonial exploitation as part of God’s plan. "It is no accident that the divestment movement is making connections with apartheid South Africa because much of Zionism makes the connection, in terms of taking the land of others," Wildman opined. "It's a theology that is deeply exclusivist and racist,"
Earlier this year, the Palestinian Information Center gratefully reported that Wildman had been in Gaza to examine Palestinian suffering under the Israeli “siege” there and would explain to Americans “what is really going on” regarding Israel’s oppressions in Gaza. It’s vital to enlighten Americans, especially its church members, about Israel’s crimes because the United States facilitates Israel’s misdeeds, according to Wildman.
“Each year the US government directs billions of our taxpayer dollars to military and economic aid to Israel - which already has the largest military force in the entire region,” he told Friends of Sabeel in 2005. “U.S. aid enables and perpetuates Israel's longstanding occupation and violence against Palestinian communities, which in turn makes justice and peace for all impossible."
At that 2005 Toronto event for Sabeel, Wildman further enthused about anti-Israel divestment campaigns, which “take decisions out of the halls of Congress, out of the corridors of power, and empower people in the pews, in classrooms and in union halls to act.” Boycott and divestment initiatives enlist a “much wider range of groups - churches, students, trade unions, academics,” which “now seek nonviolent means to end Israel's military occupation and systematic denial of Palestinian human rights.”
Wildman was mostly just basking in the now faded glory of his anti-Apartheid divestment crusade of two decades past. The anti-Israel divestment attempts have now failed just about everywhere they have been attempted throughout the West, from churches to universities, to trade unions. But advocates of divestment like Wildman still retain their positions of influence within some Western church bureaucracies. And their obsessive animosity towards Israel will only search for new outlets.
Mark D. Tooley directs the United Methodist committee at the Institute on Religion and Democracy in Washington, D.C.