PARAMUS — A Christian church s pro-Israeli views came under fire Sunday when a small group of protesters picketed during worship services, carrying signs that said "No More Wars for Israel."
With police looking on, members of the anti-Zionist group Project Strait Gate marched outside the Maranatha Church of the Nazarene to protest what they believe is the church s "destructive" support of Israel.
The four demonstrators engaged little, if at all, with parishioners as they marched the Midland Avenue sidewalk for three hours, targeting the church s display of an Israeli flag next to an American flag in its front windows.
Rich Siegel of Teaneck, a protest organizer who wore a "Free Palestine" button and a scarf displaying the Palestinian flag, said the group sought to peacefully protest Israel s efforts to maintain its sovereignty over the Palestinians.
He equated those efforts with an "extreme" form of Zionism.
"Zionism has taken over Judaism, Zionism has taken over the country, and now Zionism has taken over Christianity," said Siegel who, like some other Strait Gate members, is Jewish.
The church, led by the Rev. Charles Rizzo, did little to respond to the protests other than handing out a yellow flier that explains its pro-Israel positions.
"You have your right to protest and the sidewalk is yours," wrote Rizzo, who did not allow the marchers to move onto church property.
"Acts of war always are tragic," Rizzo wrote. "No matter how hard you try to avoid civilian casualties, they will occur. If I read you correctly, you seem to suggest that no Christian can bear the sword?"
Rizzo, whose church also displays an Israeli flag inside its sanctuary, said the marchers had a right to protest even if its motives were questionable.
Project Strait Gate is a national group that protests the "inability or unwillingness of some Christian church leaders to act out their God-ordained mandate to be peacemakers," according to its Web site.
Rizzo, however, said the Web site preaches "hatred" because it takes views that are anti-Israel, but appear to be latent anti-Semitic.
"The problem is that the wrong people hear it," Rizzo said.
Rizzo said his church s pro-Israeli views have prompted anti-Israeli, and anti-Semitic protests in the past. Swastikas were once painted on the building, and motorists occasionally slow down to hurl anti-Semitic taunts at the church and its members.
But those acts have never prompted the church to reconsider its views, he said. Rizzo and other evangelical Christians believe that the 1948 establishment of Israel is fulfillment of biblical prophecy that Jews will return to the Holy Land before the second coming of Jesus Christ.
"I believe in the literal fulfillment of biblical prophecy," Rizzo said in an interview Friday.
The protesters said the church had crossed a line in supporting countries that, in their view, support "death and destruction." Motorists who slowed for a look at the protest had a different view of things, calling the sign-carrying group "anti-Semitic."
But the protesters were unswayed. "Christian churches should not be displaying the flags of foreign countries," said Howard Rothman of Bridgeport, Conn., who carried a sign that said, "Jesus Did Not Teach Ethnic Cleansing."
Staff Writer John Chadwick contributed to this article. E-mail: email@example.com