Richard MatherRichard Mather writes and edits for Israel News Online. He has also written for the Jewish Media Agency, Poetica Magazine, Drash Pit, Voices Israel and Chabad Lubavitch’s Holiday Times Magazine. He lives in Manchester, England.
A new report has revealed the extent to which some Christian non-governmental organizations and charities are using Christmas as an opportunity berate the Jewish state.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Sabeel, Kairos Palestine and a number of UK-based charities are among those organizations employing anti-Israel – and sometimes anti-Semitic – rhetoric in their festive messages, cards and nativity scenes.
In his 2012 Christmas message, Naim Ateek, the founder of the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center, compares Israel to the Roman Empire, claiming that the “people of first century Palestine were looking for salvation and liberation from the oppressive yoke of the Roman Empire.” He adds: “Today’s Palestinians are looking for salvation and liberation from the oppressive yoke of Israel.”
Ateek is the former Anglican canon of St George’s Cathedral in Jerusalem. He has spoken of his desire to “de-Zionize” certain passages of the Bible that do not conform with his brand of Christianity. Ateek’s portrayal of Jesus is “a Palestinian living under an occupation,” the “powerless Palestinian humiliated at a checkpoint.” In his 2004 Easter message, for instance, he characterized the Israeli presence in Judea and Samaria as a “crucifixion system.”
According to NGO Monitor, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has endorsed Ateek’s warped ramblings. But this is hardly surprising. The Lutheran Church in America is aggressively anti-Israel. Its website, for example, features a seasonal diatribe penned by Pastor Mitri Raheb, who has this to say:
“So what if Jesus were to be born today in Bethlehem? If Jesus were to be born this year, he would not be born in Bethlehem. Mary and Joseph would not be allowed to enter from the Israeli checkpoint, and so too the Magi. The shepherds would be stuck inside the walls, unable to leave their little town. Jesus might have been born at the checkpoint like so many Palestinian children while having the Magi and shepherds on both sides of the wall.”
UK-based Christian Aid and the Amos Trust have also used Christmas to bash Israel. The common theme is the image of Jesus as the Palestinian baby hemmed in by the security barrier and surrounded by Israeli tanks and soldiers. Again, this is to be expected. Christian Aid is a heavily politicized charity which wants the UK government to ban imports from Judea and Samaria. The Amos Trust is closely linked with a group called Kairos Palestine, which has published a document in time for Christmas and contains the astonishing assertion that Israel is more dangerous than Iran:
“While Israel raises the alarm about Iran, claiming that its nuclear threat is the main source of instability in the Middle East, reality shows otherwise: indeed, the illegal Israeli occupation is the root cause of unrest in our region.”
What is worse is that the document comes dangerously close to resurrecting the unpleasant myth of deicide. Modern-day Israelis are effectively branded as bloodthirsty imperialists who want to kill Palestinians (i.e. the Son of God) in order to keep hold of “the land” stolen from God. The fact that the Amos Trust and other Christians continue to peddle such absurdities is another blot on the faith which has done so much damage to the Jewish people over the centuries.
Kairos Palestine is the organization that produced the notorious Kairos Palestine Document in 2009. The document, which can be found on the World Council of Churches website, claims to speak on behalf of Christian and Muslim Palestinians, who apparently share a “deeply rooted” history and a “natural right” to the land.
In contrast, Israel is an alien entity, and only exists because of Western guilt over the Holocaust. Notably, the State of Israel is associated with the words “evil” and “sin.” The “occupation,” says the text, “distorts the image of God in the Israeli who has become an occupier.”
This is the sort of rubbish which is typical of Christian Palestinianism, a deeply unpleasant philosophy in whereby the Bible is stripped of its Jewishness, thereby neutralizing the prophetic significance of the Land of Israel and transforming Jesus from a Galilean Jew into a Palestinian martyr.
In essence, the theological underpinning of Christian Palestinianism is a rebranded version of replacement theology. Fulfillment theology is based on the premise that the life, death and resurrection of Jesus was a spiritual fulfillment of God’s promise to return the Jews to Israel. Therefore the Jews – and by extension the Land of Israel – have no prophetic meaning and have fulfilled their roles in salvation history.
Christian Palestinianism is a phrase coined by Paul Wilkinson, an evangelical author based in Manchester, England. Wilkinson, who is a Christian Zionist, defines Christian Palestinianism as “an inverted mirror image of Christian Zionism.”
The word "Palestinianism", however, seems to have originated in the writings of Jewish Egyptian author Bat Ye’or. In Eurabia: the Euro-Arab Axis, she outlines the growing phenomenon of Palestinian replacement theology and the gradual Islamization of Christianity. Christian Palestinianists, according to Ye’or interpret the Bible from the viewpoint of the Quran and “do not admit to any historical or theological link between the biblical Israel, the Jewish people and the modern State of Israel."
On a theological level, Christian Palestinianism is entirely self-defeating. If God no longer honors his covenant with the Jews and the Land of Israel, then the whole foundation of Christianity collapses.
Jesus, in fact, was historically a Jew who studied with Tannaitic scholars. And as Israel's Irish Embassy posted before the post was taken down, he, as a Jew, would not dare enter PA-controlled Bethlehem today.
A God who changes his mind about the Jews is no longer the God of Jesus. Palestinianism is not only un-Biblical, it is un-Christian. In the Christian Palestinianist worldview the God of Israel is replaced by the anti-Semitic God of Palestine.
Christians who endorse such views need to take a long, hard look at themselves and ask whether it is ethical to be peddling anti-Jewish propaganda. They should also ask themselves if their actions are likely to lead to a fresh outburst of religiously-motivated anti-Semitism.
The trouble is, history shows that many Christians need no excuse to persecute the Jews. There seems to be an in-built tendency to scapegoat the Jewish people for the world’s ills. This is bad news not only for the State of Israel and the Jewish diaspora, but also for Christianity.
History will not look kindly on a faith that largely backed the Nazis and then went on to persecute the world’s only Jewish state.