Op-Ed: Attack Israel or Defend Christians? It's a No Brainer
Steve Apfel, South AfricaThe writer is director of the School of Management Accounting, in Johannesburg and is the author of, 'Hadrian's Echo: The whys and wherefores of Israel's critics.' SBPRA 2012, and a contributor to a new book: "War by other means: Israel and its detractors." Israel Affairs, 2012
You’d never think it, hearing a church leader declare that Christianity today is the most persecuted religion of all; but for bodies like the World Council of Churches and men of the cloth like Reverend Stephen Sizer or Desmond Tutu it’s a no-brainer: attack Israel.
At a time when their ‘brothers in Christ’ pay the ultimate price for attending church in Nigeria, for selling Christian books in Gaza, for risking life and limb to be a Christian in Saudi Arabia or Pakistan – even as believers in Christ die for their faith, churchmen aim their missiles where? at uninvolved Israel, at the Mid-East’s one Christian safe country.
Why would not the Church, en bloc, campaign for Israel? That’s a lot more than a no-brainer.
For a start there’s the ‘Philistine factor.’ When Isaac prospered incredibly in Canaan, the resident Philistines looked askance. ‘The dung of Isaac’s donkeys is worth more than all of the king’s gold and silver!’ they moaned. So they stopped up Abraham’s old wells – the same wells Philistine livelihood depended on – and told Isaac and family to leave.
Cutting off their nose to spite their face, Israel-boycotting Christians are today’s Philistines. ‘You may be good to our religion, but Palestine is not for Jews. Leave!’
Another factor would be self-preservation. In the "West Bank" and Gaza Christians run the gauntlet; so much so that 70 percent who once lived in the "West Bank" [the part that is now the Palestinian Authority, ed.] now live abroad.
Bethlehem, Christianity’s cradle, offers a bleak example. In 1950 and later, while under Israeli rule, the city was 80 – 90 percent Christian; today that fraction is down to no more than 20 percent.
Since Hamas took over Gaza in 2007, half the Christian community has fled. Christmas decorations and public displays of crucifixes are forbidden. In 2010 Rami Ayad, owner of Gaza's only Christian bookstore, was murdered and his books incinerated.
Who knows the totality of fear, cruelty, theft, assault, homicide perpetrated on reclusive Christian pockets? Who cares to know? When Muslim-Christian strife rocks another country, it’s all over the media, but from the interfaith tinderbox of Palestine, a land bristling with correspondents and churchmen, we hear nothing.
What accounts for the silence? Resident clerics fall back on ‘love thy neighbour’ and hold out a hand to Muslim persecutors. At the same time, they cosy up by looking for ways to condemn Israel, a tactic that failed even well-connected clerics.
There was the Greek Orthodox priest, a one time ally of Yasser Arafat, who ran a Christian TV station from Bethlehem. Eventually he got fed up with what was happening, and went public with a dossier he had delivered to Arafat, and later Mahmoud Abbas. In it he gave 70 detailed cases of attacks on Christians: beatings, sexual harassment, and scores of land theft cases. After going public he fled abroad.
A third difficulty for anti-Israel Christians would be the competing, and overriding, pull of the new religion: Human Rights. With equal fervour they kneel for Jesus and for human rights. Some worship the subsidiary god of liberation theology, lending the perception that the conflict is a struggle between oppressed Palestinians and oppressing Zionists.
Long before Israel became a state, the very idea of a Jewish return to the Holy Land provoked strong feelings in Protestant leaders. In the last century, American missionaries developed close ties with Arab Christian and Muslim communities, embracing the pro-Arab, anti-Zionist narrative. Similar ecumenical ties with Jewish communities would have allowed for a more balanced perspective of the conflict.
In "human rights", men of the cloth invest all the trappings, all the passion, of a faith – often more than they invest in Christian identity. And they mix the two freely. The BDS movement is full of such people. Figureheads like Desmond Tutu and bodies like the WCC and SABEEL crucify Israel, literally, at times.
Naim Ateek, a Palestinian Anglican priest, likes to hark back to the Passion: ‘It seems to many of us that Jesus is on the cross again with thousands of crucified Palestinians around him. Israel’s crucifixion system is operating daily.’
Apartheid is Tutu’s altar for the sacrifice. ‘Israel does things that even Apartheid South Africa had not done.’
The Presbyterian Church of America, helping Tutu’s claim go down, alludes to what those things might be, though what they actually are remains up its sleeve. Israel commits ‘horrific acts of violence and deadly attacks on innocent people.’
If you want the Presbyterians to be specific you are there and then booked as a rabid Zionist. And don’t tackle BDS Christians on their plan to obliterate Israel by flooding it with refugees. Christian Aid, for one, ‘insists on the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland.’
Where subterfuge treads, paradox follows hard on its heels. Who are these refugees but Arabs from countries where Christians are fair game? And even as the Catholic’s Middle East footprint is being wiped out, the Pope utters hardly a peep.
These, are they not, glaring ambivalences? Christianity under the whip, yet rank and file - along with figurehead clerics - clamber to support Christian persecutors and boycott Christian-friendly Israel. Can men of the cloth, even pooling their faith, justify the perversity? Can they square the circle of anti-Israel activism mixed with indifference to Christendom’s plight hard on Israel’s borders?
Yes they can – through another faith: replacement theology. Attend to Greek Orthodox Helen Thomas, even with her lost status. Before being fired, the White House Press Corps member of 57 years told the Jews ‘to get the hell out of Palestine. (The Palestinian people) are occupied, and it’s their land; Israelis should go home - to Poland, Germany, America and everywhere.’
What is this but admonishment of the unchosen people for disregarding the Lord’s decree? Thinks Helen Thomas while haranguing the Jews: You were exiled by God from the land He gave you. Go back to where you came from, to the broken nation the Lord meant you to be: a wandering witness people, living in misery, daily demonstrating the truth of the New Testament you rejected. God meant for you to be permanently exiled, so get the hell out!
It was Augustine in the fourth century who made the exile of the Jews a matter of theological proof. Long after him, Pope Pious X, while giving an audience to Theodore Herzl in 1904, reiterated Augustine’s dogma:
‘The Jews, who should have been the first to acknowledge Jesus Christ, have not done so to this day. And so if you come to Palestine and settle your people there, we will be ready with churches and priests to baptize all of you.’
A Jesuit journal at the time explained that the Jewish people ‘must always live dispersed and vagrant among the other nations so that they may render witness to Christ by their very existence.’ So, the Vatican’s refusal to recognize the new Israel in 1948 was not a matter of pro-Arab bias, but a matter of dogma.
The likes of Sabeel and EAPPI, the WCC and Presbyterians, the Orthodox Church, Tutu and Sizer on their pedestals, think in Helen Thomas’ words. Get the hell out; return to being the witness wanderers the Lord meant you to be.
Thus goaded to action, men of the cloth attack Israel, leaving Christianity to expire on the doorstep.
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