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.
What could possibly be harmful about a group of socially-engaged Christians gathering for a summer festival in Cheltenham, England? On the surface, it seems innocent enough.
So what if I told you that this glorified summer camp – known as Greenbelt – is simply an excuse for self-righteous Christians to demonize and delegitimize the State of Israel under the umbrella of human rights? Would you be shocked? No, probably not – but you might be more surprised to learn that one of the main attractions at the festival is a prominent Israel-hating American Jew.
The Greenbelt festival – “where faith, arts and justice meet” – is an annual gathering of Christians, many of whom are young people enticed by the prospect of worshipping Jesus, having fun in the sun and engaging in social activism. Greenbelt has been doing this for four decades. But critics of the organization point out that the festival is now a staunch critic of Israel and a purveyor of pro-Palestinian propaganda.
Christians who attend the festival in the third week of August will be bombarded with anti-Israel messages. On offer will be the opportunity to sign up to a trip to “Palestine” in order to “rebuild a demolished home” in Bethlehem. (Sorry, there are no offers of help to rebuild demolished homes in Sderot.) Apparently, rebuilding a Palestinian house is a “practical way to stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people” and “experience first-hand life under occupation.”
Solidarity with the Israeli people is obviously out of the question.
Solidarity with the Israeli people is obviously out of the question.
Such trips to the fictional country of Palestine are (according to the colorful Greenbelt website) acts of “creative resistance.” This is the kind of left-wing nonsense that really excites self-righteous liberal Christians who can’t think of anything better to do than to rally to the side of Jew-hating terrorists. What is “creative resistance” anyway? It sounds like they intend to paint a scary picture on Israel’s security barrier.
You won’t be surprised to learn that Greenbelt is a boycotter of Israeli goods from the so-called occupied territories (which according to the Bible is the land promised to the Jews, but never mind). Christians are called “to make a stand” by boycotting produce from the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria.
To drive the point home, Greenbelt director Paul Northup compares Israel to South Africa: “In the 1980s, Greenbelt joined people all over the world in championing the boycott of goods from South Africa as a form of protest against the unjust apartheid regime there.”
Of course, there is not a single word about the murder and maiming of Jews by Palestinians. Nothing about how Arabs regularly vandalize Jewish property and damage holy sites in Jerusalem and Hebron. Also omitted is any mention of Palestinian-sponsored anti-Semitism in PA-authorized textbooks or the fact that the Arabs have repeatedly rejected a negotiated peace with Israel. As usual, it’s all Israel’s fault. And it’s such a boring cliché.
All of which is bad enough. But what really irritates me is the fact that the main attraction at this year’s Greenbelt festival is a Jewish American called Mark Braverman who was “transformed by witnessing the occupation of Palestine” (his words) on a trip to Israel in 2006. He now condemns Zionism as racism.
Braverman may be “reared in the Jewish tradition” (his words again) but he is no friend of the Jews. Braverman has thrown his weight behind a number of morally dubious Christian organizations, most notably the Friends of Sabeel North America and the Presbyterian Church, both of which promote a nasty ideology called Christian Palestinianism, which involves recasting Jesus the Galilean Jew as a Palestinian martyr and stripping the Bible of any Zionist overtones, thus neutralizing the prophetic significance of the Land of Israel.
Braverman hates Israel so much that he regularly endorses the anti-Semitic Kairos Palestine organization, which claims to speak on behalf of Christian and Muslim Arabs who share a “deeply rooted” history and a “natural right” to the land of “Palestine.” Some years ago Kairos Palestine produced a major document which branded Israel as evil and sinful. The text (which can be found on the World Council of Churches website) audaciously claims that the presence of a Jewish community in Judea and Samaria “distorts the image of God.” It is a depressing fact that Braverman was present at the unveiling of the Kairos Palestine document in Bethlehem in 2009. He also gave a speech celebrating its launch.
Despite his authorial ambitions (he has written books castigating Israel), Braverman is too stupid to realize that he is a pawn in somebody else’s game. In love with his own image as a human rights activist, he fails to see that he is a marketing tool in the hands of anti-Semites. Anti-Israel organizations like Greenbelt and Kairos Palestine are able to deflect accusations of anti-Semitism by obtaining the approval of a small handful of Jews, who are mainly from the Far Left.
So as far as Greenbelt is concerned, the presence of just one Jew is enough to legitimize its program of Israel demonization and delegitimization. This is the depths to which political discourse has sunk.
Luckily, a number of Christians are not convinced by Greenbelt’s Israelophobic agenda. Indeed, some are furious that Greenbelt has been hijacked by an anti-Israel contingent. Pastor Mike Fryer, the founder of a group called Christians for Zion, has expressed deep concern about the political trajectory of Greenbelt. And he is very worried that Christian children who attend the festival will be negatively influenced by Braverman and other anti-Israel speakers.
In an interview with The Jewish Telegraph, Pastor Fryer said that “one of the biggest problems with the [Greenbelt] camp is that there are a lot of kids in attendance.” He added: “We cannot allow them to grow up thinking Israel is evil.” It is a sobering thought that a new generation of Christians could grow up hating the Jewish state. It would also be an unfortunate throwback to a bygone age when Christian children were taught that Jews were Christ-killers. According to Greenbelt and co, Jews are now Palestinian killers.
Pastor Fryer (who visits Israel two or three times a year) aims to set the record straight. He is outraged by the lies perpetrated by Israel’s enemies. And he is particularly concerned that the people of Sderot and other victims of Palestinian terrorism are being ignored by the international Christian community. “The people living there are traumatized as a result of the constant rocket fire,” he told the newspaper.
The pastor plans to use his knowledge of Israel to oppose Braverman’s harmful message. He is arranging for a group of around 50 pro-Israel Christians to attend the Greenbelt festival in order to spread a pro-Israel message and to “pray for Israel.” I wish him luck.
Pastor Fryer’s persistent and generous support for Israel and the Jewish people is to be applauded. He stands in direct contrast to Mark Braverman who has betrayed the Jews in order to sell a few badly-written books about the plight of the Palestinians and to ingratiate himself with anti-Semitic gentiles who care nothing for the security or human rights of the Jewish people.