Op-Ed: The NGO's That Stole Christmas
Jason Edelstein, NGO MonitorThe writer is communications director of NGO Monitor, the watchdog organization based in Israel founded by Professor Gerald Steinberg.
(Professor Gerald Steinberg, founder and president of NGO Monitor, contributed to this article.)
In the 2011 Christmas season, NGOs such as Sabeel, War on Want (UK), Amos Trust, and Adalah-NY are manipulating traditional Christmas songs, images, and messages to exploit the holiday to advance immoral anti-Israel campaigns and, in some cases, crude anti-Semitism.
The “charities” use offensive, inflammatory rhetoric in Christmas carols; holiday message; and cards, nativity scenes, and other products.
These NGOs have hijacked Christmas to promote their extremely divisive boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) and demonization campaigns.Manipulating religious symbols and images in this manner is deeply offensive, and clearly does not foster an environment of coexistence among Israelis and Palestinians, but rather a hate-filled agenda.
Several organizations promoted boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaigns through politicized Christmas carols. Groups sang outside stores selling Israeli products and used lyrics to falsely and cynically accuse Israel of human rights violations, while ignoring the thousands of war crimes inherent in the ongoing rocket attacks launched from Hamas-controlled Gaza.
Adalah-NY held its annual “Anti-Apartheid Holiday Caroling” on December 17, 2011 in front of a New York jewelry store owned by Israeli businessman Lev Leviev. The protest is part of Adalah-NY’s ongoing campaign against Leviev, and invited activists to sing awkward versions of traditional holiday songs. This year, the event was held in conjunction with Code Pink, whose Stolen Beauty campaign targets the Israeli company Ahava.
In their lyrics, the NGOs use the “Ethnic cleansing and apartheid” blood libels, and chanted “Selling beauty creams, / Blood mixed in with mud”; other inflammatory lyrics include “That beauty cream you bought her / Makes her soul disappear.”
In California, Code Pink activists wore bridal dresses while singing carols outside a Bed, Bath & Beyond store.
Philly BDS activists sang carols against “apartheid walls.”
Sydney’s Coalition for Palestine sang carols referring to the “ethnic cleansing” libel.
Classical antisemitic themes and images in NGO Cards Nativity Scenes
UK-based Amos Trust is advertising its annual Bethlehem Pack, “a resource to help churches talk about the current situation in Bethlehem at carol services and Christmas events.”
The Pack refers to Christian symbols in order to conflate the suffering of Jesus with the experience of Palestinians, explaining “If Jesus was born today in Bethlehem, the Wise Men would spend several hours queuing to enter the town” and “If Jesus was born today in Bethlehem, much of the shepherds’ fields would have been confiscated for illegal Israeli settlements.”
These theological references are direct successors to millennia of Christian anti-Semitic campaigns.
Sami Awad, Executive Director of Holy Land Trust, contributes additional demonizing rhetoric to the resource packet: “No matter where you stand in Bethlehem, you can see the effects of the cold grip of this brutal and humiliating occupation.”
Amos Trust is also publicizing a nativity scene “complete with separation wall,” highlighting the theological theme in its anti-Israel campaigns
Friends of Sabeel – Detroit is selling Christmas cards as a “fundraiser in support of Friend of Sabeel - North America,” one of which implies the destruction of the Jewish state by depicting a map of Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza as one territory filled in with the phrase “The Empire will not last!”
War on Want, which receives British government funding, continues to promote its politicized Christmas cards that depict the security barrier paired with religious Christmas images. This radical NGO also urges supporters to “donate as much as you can afford this Christmas” to “Help stop bulldozers destroying Palestinian homes.”
IPSC is also selling its own Christmas cards with a depiction of the three wise men at the security barrier, claiming that “Their path would be blocked by Israel’s Apartheid Wall and it’s doubtful if they would be allowed through the checkpoints.”
In messages during the holiday season, Christian organizations Kairos Palestine and Sabeel employ religious themes, recalling a long history of antisemitic theology.
The Bethlehem Call, a document published by Kairos Palestine following its December 2011 conference, accuses Israel of “systematic ethnic cleansing and the geo-cide [sic] of Palestinians.” In this Call, Kairos Palestine, which has previously used religious language to deny the Jewish historical connection to Israel and to advance BDS campaigns, wrote: “The severity of the Palestinian situation makes comparisons with apartheid in South Africa superfluous and almost irrelevant.” It also exploits religious themes to demonize Israel, attesting that “God does not take kindly to injustice and the perpetrators of injustice.” The authors also “reject calls to cease advocating and practising BDS.”
Several church groups, including the United Church of Christ, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, promoted Kairos-Palestinian’s Bethlehem Call on their websites and blogs.
In Sabeel’s annual Christmas message, Naim Ateek accused Israel of attempting to “eliminat[e] the Palestinians, denying their political rights, and stripping them of their human dignity and land.”
Linking the suffering of Palestinians to Christian themes revives traditional and deep seated anti-Semitic theology. By employing these tactics, and grossly misrepresenting a complicated conflict, these NGOs are making peace recede even farther than it already has.