“I wonder if it’s because they’re thinking, ‘How can this be a Chosen People if they’ve done such evil?’ Maybe if I were a Palestinian I would be drawn to that theology.” – Dan Juster in Q&A at Christ at the Checkpoint, when asked if he thought Bethlehem Bible College believed in replacement theology, March 12th 2014
Before Dan Juster spoke at Christ at the Checkpoint, he reassured Messianic Jews that he was going to “really challenge” replacement theology, and the anti-Israel narrative in Bethlehem. Juster underscored this in Israel Today magazine:
“I think if we Messianic Jews are invited to participate and we do not, we leave the narrative to those who have replacement theology and very anti-Zionist narratives. As long as we have freedom to express ourselves in a fair way my philosophy is to go to those who do not agree and dialogue. I will be speaking about the Jewish people and the Land promises.”
Juster’s friends on both sides of the Messianic debate over CATC urged us to hope for the best from his talk, and in that spirit we posted a prayer request for Dan last night – hoping he would speak boldly and clearly.
As you can see from the quote above, Juster thought he was going simply to oppose replacement theology. But it was never going to be that simple. Juster’s anti-Zionist opponent Gary Burge also claimed to oppose replacement theology, putting Juster in a difficult position. Indeed, Burge skewered Juster early on in the debate, by stating:
“my deepest fear in this conversation is frankly not about theology, not ultimately. It is about religious heritage as privilege.”
This was exactly what we warned about last week, yet Juster seemed ill prepared to respond to him.
Burge launched into why he thought the idea of Zionism as God’s land promises to Jewish people did not sit well with the New Testament idea of God giving promises to the whole world through Jesus. He also criticised Israel heavily for its political actions, laying the gauntlet down for Juster. Juster was given 25 minutes for his own talk – as Burge was – yet Juster spent half of this time giving some background as to who he was, without directly addressing the question.
Juster clearly felt on the defensive, and began to offer a revisionist history of Zionism as a wholly negative response to pain, rather than as a positive project embarked upon by visionaries and pioneers. Juster portrayed Israel as a response to Jewish pain – a response to “pogroms and holocausts”, but was more targetted in his appreciation of Palestinian pain:
“I come to this conference with trepidation, because I’m speaking to my Palestinian brothers and sisters, because you are experiencing enormous pain. The pain is almost incomprehensible.”
Juster also appeared to claim that Israel was formed by a “Jewish intifada”, which seemed a one-sided, simplistic and anachronistic way to describe the War of Independence and the diplomatic achievements of the nascent Jewish state in 1948. Ultimately, Juster painted the creation of Israel as a Jewish homeland as bleak and negative. He found a receptive audience.
To be fair, Juster did talk about justice on both sides of the fence, at one point saying:
“Is it just for all these missiles to be aimed at us? No”
In this, Juster became the first Messianic Jew at CATC to voice any semblance of Israel’s security concerns; something which Wayne Hilsden, Evan Thomas and Richard Harvey failed to do in 2012. Such a bold statement in Bethlehem was a form of progress, of sorts.
Perhaps Juster chose not expand too much, as he appeared to have been deeply moved by the anti-Zionist film The Stones Cry Out, which utterly whitewashed the issue of Palestinian terror. Later on, Juster almost condemned Palestinian terrorism, but ultimately cushioned the impact of his words, when he said:
“we need to talk about terrorism, we could spend 3 days doing it, with a lot of prayer”
Note there was no direct complaint from Juster that Palestinian terrorists were murdering Jews causing them to build a security fence, but rather a general suggestion to talk about terror, which he hurriedly sought to contextualise by saying we should pray about it.
What we found quite disturbing was when Juster suggested he’d be happy with a one-state solution which would mean Israel would no longer be the Jewish homeland:
I’m for best way to mitigate suffering for all ppl here. If that’s 2-state solution, OK. If it’s Israeli citizenship [for Palestinians], OK.
All this prompted Stephen Sizer to tweet:
#CATC2014 Dan Juster is speaking eloquently and has much in common with Gary Burge. Good to see unity in action”
We would agree with Sizer here, in that it was certainly hard to find any points of disagreement between Juster and Burge of note. Indeed, Juster went further than perhaps any of the replacement theologians by seeming to offer an implied defence of an antisemitic theology, when he said:
“I don’t know all the professors at Bethlehem Bible College but I think replacement theology is very strong, and I wonder if cos they’re thinking, ‘how can this be a Chosen People if they’ve done such evil?’ Maybe if I were a Palestinian I would be drawn to that theology.”
Here Juster appears to be rationalising Palestinians to think negatively of Jews as collective perpetrators of evil; it is hard not to see this as some kind of explaining how antisemitism was an understandable response. Even CATC shied away from tweeting this line.
Finally, there was a particularly unpleasant conversation about secular Jews, which I feel was particularly upsetting, and I hope that our readers can see why. The back-and-forth went like this:
Burge – “that secular Jew on the beach on Tel Aviv…”
Juster – “taking off their clothes on the Sabbath. What could be worse?” *audience laughter*
Burge – “What’s that game they play on the beach? Anyway, you would describe them as not living out an Abrahamic life. If they are not living in concert with the covenant – do we say to that community playing paddle ball make claims to covenant of Abraham?”
Juster – “if they dont let themselves get wooed to God, they’re really in a lost condition.”
Burge and Juster are laughing at the idea of a secular Tel Aviv resident playing matkot, in his/her beach gear in the hot sun. They both assume that this kind of person displeases God and has no faith, Juster later assumes they are in a “lost condition.”
Would Burge or Juster dare to make crude stereotypes about the way everyday Palestinian girls in Ramallah choose to enjoy themselves or dress, and would the audience laugh at them – and would theologians condemn them to a “lost condition”?
We don’t see anything wrong with playing matkot on the beach in your sunglasses and swimwear. But the purpose of this conversation seemed to facilitate a sneering attitude to Tel Aviv residents – in keeping with the general tone of the conference.
We have to say that Dan Juster’s CATC talk today was worlds apart from the criticisms of CATC which he made a few days prior to Messianic Jewish leaders. Juster had complained that CATC offered no critique of radical Islam; yet here he was without any mention of radical Islam himself.
Juster may well rue the missed opportunity that CATC was – a 25-minute talk that involved much irrelevant material. He may well make a promise to himself, that he will write a powerful article to redress the balance once he’s back across the checkpoint.
By then, the moment will be gone.