Janet Lahr Lewis is a professional anti-Israel activist who (according to her bio) worked for Sabeel's main office in Jerusalem for 10 years and has since served as the executive director of Friends of Sabeel for two years, in which position she runs their international outreach operations. She has also achieved a level of prominence within the United Methodist Church, which is the largest mainline Protestant denomination in the U.S. Her UMC profile lists her as the UMC "liaison between ecumenical groups and Israel and Palestine"... Janet is the main contact for ... United Methodist visitors who wish to follow the recommendation of the General Conference to spend a significant amount of time in the area with (Israeli and Palestinian) Christians." In other words, the United Methodist Church has installed a strident anti-Israel activist as their primary contact person for groups wishing to conduct fact-finding tours of Israel and the Palestinian territories under church aegis. (More here in this piece on Sabeel)
Lewis, who worked as a civil engineer and "troubleshooter" at a Old Cast Stone Products in Thompson, OH, says she received a calling on a visit to "the Holy Land". According to the bio she posts on the official website for United Methodist missionaries:
I'm not sure how that bio corresponds to the more than 12 years working directly for Naim Ateek at Sabeel, but, putting that aside, the main point is clear: she is the most senior United Methodist missionary in Israel and she is an outspoken partisan for the Palestinians against Israel.
“After taking a typical Holy Land tour and seeing the devastating consequences of the ongoing illegal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, I experienced not only a ‘call’, but rather an undeniable ‘push’ to go back to that not-so-holy land and do whatever I could to help bring about ‘freedom for the oppressed,’” Janet recalls. She sold her house in the U.S. and volunteered for several years, first in the Galilee, then Bethlehem where she “lived with my neighbors under the heavy hand of injustice and military occupation.”
I was wondering what she's been doing lately , so I googled her name and found that she's on a peculiar type of speaking tour. One targeting small town Methodists with her slick, well-honed message. Lewis has been a woman on a mission of late, going from church to church on a tight schedule, spreading her message of opposing the existence of Israel in the name of peace. On September 26, she hosted a conference with Naim Ateek in Bethlehem. (read here) After that, both his and her U.S. tour began. He went to the Sabeel conference in Boston, and she went on a speaking tour of small town America.
On September 30, Lewis spoke at the Angola, Indiana United Methodist Church, which describes her as "the missionary this church supports" (by which they must mean they send her funds).
On October 25, she addressed the Reno, Nevada First United Methodist Church: "News from Holy Land": "Lewis has served in the Holy Land since 1994, coordinating relations between ecumenical groups and their hosts. She is an educator, organizer, journalist and worship leader, working towards a peace for Palestinians and Israelis."
She was in California for a meeting with the good people of Chico, California's Trinity United Methodist Church on October 27. More here, this time featuring an "Arabic Dinner" (in a covered dish?).
On November 2, Lewis "gave the message" at a worship service and an "in-depth presentation of her work" at a potluck dinner at the St. Thomas United Methodist Church of Glen Elyn, Illinois. "Come and learn a little about one place where the church is at work in the world."
From November 2: Wesley United Methodist Church, Naperville: Announcements:
"UM Missionary in Israel/Palestine to Speak at Wesley; Friday, Nov. 2 @ 8 pmThen this notice of another event from a local Illinois paper:
The End the Occupation (ETO) group has invited Janet Lahr Lewis to come to speak at Wesley after their monthly potluck, at 8 pm on Friday, November 2.
Janet Lahr Lewis is a missionary with the Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church and is serving as a liaison between ecumenical groups in Israel and Palestine. Come and hear the story that isn’t told in the American press about life in the occupied territories and the justice of the Palestinian cause. You may wish ~ are welcome ~ to come to the ETO potluck which precedes her presentation at 7 pm."
"Nov. 4: Good Samaritan United Methodist Church will feature missionary Janet Lahr Lewis at 10 a.m. Nov. 4 at the church, 960 W. Army Trail Road, Addison. She will describe her Mission of Peace in Palestine and Jerusalem. Donations for her work will be taken and a luncheon will follow. For details, call (630) 543-3725."Then this from the Downers Grove Illinois First United Methodist Church calendar:
"Tuesday, November 6, 2007: Stories from the Holy Land: Janet Lahr Lewis
Time : 7:00pm to 9:00pm Description: Janet is a UM missionary working in Palestine, sponsored by our Conference. Location: Chapel Hall Organizer: Jonathan Dean"
Then this from Fairview United Methodist Church of Ohio's Miami Valley area:
Monday, Nov. 12 at Fairview UMC, Dayton, 7:00 p.m. Reception following.There was this fund-raising appeal from the November newsletter of the First United Methodist Church of Bloomfield, Indiana:
828 W. Fairview Avenue, Dayton, OH 45406 Ph: (937) 274-2178
Tuesday, Nov. 13 at Aldersgate UMC, Huber Heights, 7:00 p.m. Soup Supper at 6:00 p.m.
5464 Old Troy Pike in Huber Heights, OH Ph: (937)-233-8151.
Janet Lahr Lewis, a missionary through the General Board of Global Ministries, serves as the Coordinator of Friends of Sabeel-International at the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem, Palestine. Friends of Sabeel support the work of Sabeel-Jerusalem by promoting nonviolent solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Janet's responsibilities are numerous. She circulates updates about developments in the ongoing crisis and suggests courses of action people can take to address it. She educates visitors, organizes conferences, develops media campaigns, offers worship opportunities, hosts delegations to the area and oversees other special events.
“Christ calls us all to be ministers of justice,” she observes. “Through my work with the Palestinian Christian community, I will be able to answer this call by working for a just and lasting peace for Palestinians and Israelis, so that reconciliation and healing can occur.”
A native of Cleveland, OH, Janet earned an associate degree in civil engineering and architectural design from Lakeland College and has studied theater arts at Texas Christian University. Prior to her current assignment, she worked for twelve years with
Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem. She has also worked closely with Archbishop Elias Chacour, a prominent Palestine Christian peace activist.
The United Methodist Women geographic mission study for 2008 is on Palestine, so this is an excellent opportunity to receive current, first-hand information about the area. We invite you to join us for these presentations.
November Outreach Spotlight:And this notice of fund-raising from the ground up: The Lake Villa, Illinois United Methodist Church collected $26.85 in pennies for Lewis between April and September. (They had a collection bucket in the back of the sanctuary).
UM MISSIONARY LIAISON IN JERUSALEM
What it is: The United Methodist Church liaison in Jerusalem is a ministry established in 1987 at the request of Palestinian churches. Janet Lahr Lewis has recently succeeded Rev. Sandra Olewine in this mission, serving as Coordinator of Friends of Sabeel-International. Friends of Sabeel is a network of international organizations that promotes nonviolent solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. With seemingly endless challenges in the Middle East, it is important that we continue to support this vital United Methodist mission. Please consider making a donation by cash or check in this month’s yellow mission envelope. Make checks payable to FUMC with Missionary in Jerusalem on the memo line.
What it means: “After taking a typical Holy Land tour and seeing the devastating consequences of the ongoing illegal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, I experienced not only a ‘call,’ but rather an undeniable ‘push’ to go back to that not-so-holy land and do whatever I could to help bring about ‘freedom for the oppressed,’” Janet recalls. She sold her house in the U.S. and volunteered for several years, first in Galilee, then in Bethlehem where she “lived with my neighbors under the heavy hand of injustice and military occupation.” “Christ calls us all to be ministers of justice... Through my work with the Palestinian Christian community and Sabeel, I will be able to answer this call by working for a just and lasting peace for Palestinians and Israelis, so that reconciliation and healing can occur.”
-Janet Lahr Lewis
That's just what I found in a brief google search, so I assume I'm missing most of her speaking engagements. Too much information? Why am I boring you with this trivia? Grassroots organizing can shape debates and influence policy-making virtually unseen. The religious anti-Zionism of Sabeel, Janet Lahr Lewis' message, is intrinsically anti-Semitic and is aimed at delegitimizing the state of Israel. This very extreme message is working its way into the mainstream because professional propagandists like Lewis are given a forum in American churches. That's how public opinion is being shaped from the ground up.
During the Great Depression, Father Coughlin spun a yarn about Jewish bankers taking control of the world. Father Coughlin proved that a virulently anti-Semitic message can be made acceptable to millions of American Christians given the right climate. He used the mass-media to spread his hatred, so everybody knew what he was saying when he said it. Sabeel activists like Janet Lahr Lewis are largely flying beneath the radar, helping to frame the debate and shaping future generations outside the awareness of the mass media. That's how the divestment campaigns have gotten as far as they have. In spite of the fact that they haven't yet succeeded, they have become part of the mainstream debate. That is, in and of itself, a sort of success for Sabeel. They can wait for the political climate to change to see if the ideas they're planting will grow.
So now these ideas are promoted in small town churches, by people respected and liked within their communities. That is why Janet Lahr Lewis' speaking tour is important.
We must not let a new generation of anti-Semitic demagogues put a friendly, acceptable face on bigotry.
Janet Lahr Lewis