Peter Beinart on Matt Duss, Authentic Christian

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There is a history  certainly of Christian anti-Semitism and the corollary is true there is Jewish animosity to Christians. 


I mention all this because my friend Matt Duss, who currently serves as Bernie Sanders’ foreign policy advisor, is reportedly being considered for a job in Joe Biden’s State Department. As in the case of Rob Malley, hawks are calling Matt anti-Israel. As in the case of Rob Malley, they’re attacking Matt’s father. But Matt has a vulnerability that Rob didn’t: He’s a Christian, and his faith is central to his views on foreign policy, including Israel-Palestine. 


That’s a good thing—because Matt is a Christian in the tradition of Reverend William Sloane Coffin and Reverend William Barber. His Christianity makes him care about the powerless and the abused, whatever their race, religion or nationality. And yet, in Washington today, it’s more perilous for Matt to talk about how his Christian faith compels him to care about human rights in Israel-Palestine than it is for Mike Pompeo to talk about how his Christian faith compels him not to. The ancient Jewish anxiety about Christians has become morally warped. In the hands of the Israeli government and its American Jewish allies, it has become an anxiety directed solely toward those Christians who care about justice.


Matt’s father, Serge, was born in a displaced persons camp in Germany after World War II.
Serge Duss took from this experience an obligation to help others dispossessed by oppression or war. In 1983 he moved his family from New York State to the Philippines, where he worked for World Relief, a Christian organization that helped Cambodian, Laotian and Vietnamese refugees. Later, he helped World Relief ferry persecuted Christians and Jews out of the Soviet Union. During the second intifada, Serge Duss worked with NGOs that brought aid to people in the West Bank, an experience that awakened him to the brutality of Israel’s occupation. 

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Matt has applied this humanitarian impulse to American foreign policy. Like his father, he hasn’t focused exclusively on Israel-Palestine. A. In 2018, he helped Sanders introduce a bill to end US support for Saudi Arabia’s horrific war there, thus laying the groundwork for the Biden administration’s decision last week to do just that. But Matt hasn’t ignored Israel-Palestine either. He’s helped Sanders—a man shaped by his own family’s story of persecution—become the boldest voice for Palestinian rights in the Senate.


From a career-perspective, Matt’s commitment to Palestinian rights has been utterly irrational. Had he simply kept his head down—like most other aspiring Democratic foreign policy wonks—he’d be entering the Biden administration without opposition. But I suspect that Matt’s faith makes such moral evasion impossible. So, instead, he must now endure the Simon Wiesenthal Center declaring that his rhetoric about Israel—which would be standard fare at a J St event or in the pages of Haaretz—is “infected with Jew-hatred.”


It’s a good example of how warped establishment Jewish discourse about Christians has become. Because you know whose rhetoric the Simon Wiesenthal Center doesn’t think is “infected with Jew-hatred?” Donald Trump’s.


It’s a simple bargain: If you’re a Christian who disregards Palestinian rights, establishment Jewish organizations will often disregard your flirtations with anti-Semitism. AIPAC has sponsored speeches by Pastor John Hagee who—in addition to being blatantly Islamophobic—has suggested that the Rothschilds control the US economy.” In 2005, Benjamin Netanyahu declared that “we have no greater friend in the whole world than Pat Robertson,” the evangelical leader who wrote an entire book about globalist economic conspiracies, much of it lifted from anti-Semitic sources.

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If, only the other hand, you’re a Christian like Matt, who believes Palestinians deserve freedom, you will be tarred as anti-Semitic even if you work for a Jewish Senator and have gained the deep admiration of many Jewish activists and writers. Not only that, but your father will be tarred as anti-Semitic even though he devoted years of his life to rescuing Jews from the USSR.

Most American Jews disapprove of this perverse double standard. In their views on Israel, they are closer to Black Christians—who tend to support Palestinian rights—than they are to the white Christian evangelicals who leading Jewish organizations embrace. On domestic issues as well, from abortion to same-sex marriage to climate change, Jews and conservative white evangelicals are on opposite sides. All of which may help explain why, in a 2017 Pew Research Center poll, Jews were the only religious group that felt less favorably towards evangelicals than they felt toward atheists.
Every Christian, progressive, conservative or somewhere in between, should be considered innocent of anti-Semitism until proven guilty. But there’s a big difference between the distrust many rank-and-file Jews feel toward conservative Christians and the distrust that Jewish leaders feel toward progressive Christians. The difference has to do with power. The distrust many ordinary Jews feel toward Mike Pompeo didn’t bar him from the State Department. The distrust that America’s establishment Jewish organizations feel toward Matt Duss just might.


I look forward to the day when Christians like Matt Duss can say, without fear of imperiling their careers, that in defending people whose lands are stolen and whose villages are bulldozed and whose freedom is denied, they are living the teachings of Jesus Christ. And I look forward to the day when America’s most powerful Jewish leaders will respond not with smears but with admiration. Because if Christians—as a result of their history—owe Jews anything, it is not to defend Benjamin Netanyahu. It is to live up to the highest teachings of their faith, which in the Book of Luke calls on Christians “to set at liberty those who are oppressed.” Like his father, Matt Duss has dedicated himself to that principle, sometimes at considerable cost. I hope he has the chance to do so at the State Department.