A BIAS THICKER THAN FAITH:

CHRISTIANS WHO PUNT FOR THEIR PERSECUTORS

 There are many paradoxes in the propaganda war against Israel. The most puzzling of them perhaps would be the way many Christian groups and Churches side with the Palestinians. On the evidence one would expect the opposite. Believing Christians have every logical reason to be pro-Israel, where alone in the Middle East Christendom’s holy sites are protected; where Christians may pray openly; and where Christian followers face no pressures to convert. On the Palestinian side of the fence none of those freedoms exist.  How in that case to explain groups like the Presbyterians, the World Council of Churches, Christian Aid and so forth aiming their missiles at the Jewish state?  It is the wildest of peculiarities: anti-Israel Christians. Population movements tell half the story, though not nearly the absorbing half. In 1949 Israel had a Christian population of 34000; today the number is 168000, and growing. From the Palestinian side the arrows point the other way. Christians have poured out; perhaps 70 percent who once lived in the West Bank now live abroad. Bethlehem, Christianity’s cradle, provides stark confirmation. In 1950 the city was 80 – 90 percent Christian; today that fraction is down to no more than 20 percent. So in Palestine Christians run the gauntlet, while in Israel they practice their faith freely. Yet churchmen aim their missiles where?

Behind the numbers lies a human tragedy, in phantasmal form. Out of Gaza and Ramallah come leaks and whispers, hole-in-the wall fear-ridden testimonies, tearful stories told behind locked doors. 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 wires, but from the interfaith tinderbox of Palestine, a land bristling with media workers, we hear nothing. When did a flare-up last break out of Mahmoud Abbas’ news embargo and find its way into the media?  Fear and self-preservation also account for the silence. Clerics fall back on reaching out to their persecutors, trusting that love will triumph. Meanwhile they try to cosy up by looking for ways to condemn Israel. But the policy has 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 to Christians, and went public with a dossier that he had previously delivered to Arafat and later Abu Mazen. 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.  

In the West meanwhile irate churchmen compete with secular activists to bring Israeli leaders to book for the type of crimes committed by maniacal tyrants and Apartheid architects. Asserts the Archbishop Emeritus Tutu: ‘Israel doesthings 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 the Church’s sleeve. It – 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 into the Zionist camp. These Presbyterians are worth more than a minute of our time. For one thing they blame Jews for getting blown up by suicide bombers. ‘Occupation is the root of terrorism.’ The root of terrorism outside of Israel, where the suicide bombing tally would be in six figures, is different, and we are not surprised; the dead are Christians and Muslims, not Jews. But we don’t ask the Presbyterians about that; Occupation accounts for Jewish dead. Point out that Arabs murdered Israelis before they occupied anything – before they had a state to call Israel – and you’ll be met with a dry look. Point to the genocide laced charter document of Hamas and you’ll raise a chuckle. And you dare not tackle the Presbyterians, or Christian Aid, on their resolve to obliterate Israel by moving refugees around: (We insist) on ‘the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland.’ Where subterfuge treads irony follows hard on its heels. Who are these refugees but Arabs living in countries where Christians are fair game; where religious cleansing has all but wiped out Christendom’s ancient footprint.

Are there no Christians willing to blow the whistle? To be sure there have been stirrings that augured well. In March 2012 the Bethlehem Bible College held the largest Christian conference in the Middle East. Our ears prick. The plight of Christians in the region was the main agenda item surely. But no – evangelicals from all parts of the world gathered not to defend their faith but to promote a new Muslim state. They came to support ‘a just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,’ a code easily cracked by looking not at the meaning of the words, but at what the words mean. To the Russell Tribunal they meant finding Israel guilty of Apartheid crimes; to the ‘Christ at the Check Point’ (CATC) conference ‘finding a just solution’ is the code for supporting the Palestinian bid for statehood, and forget peace with Israel. In supporting the bid CATC participants attacked their brothers – Christian Zionist groups that support Israel out of a belief that the return of Jews to theHoly Landis a condition for the return of the Messiah, and final redemption. They denounced Christian Zionism as ‘an exclusive theology of the land that marginalizes and disenfranchises the indigenous people;’ a snug fit with their Replacement theology that God’s promises to Israel are null and void. After that it was the turn of the Jews. Participants heard that Israelis have no connection to the people of the bible. Mitri Raheb, a pastor of the Evangelical Church in Bethlehem, denied the connection between modern Jews and those of the Bible. Netanyahu, he said, comes from an East European tribe who converted to Judaism in the Middle Ages. An architect of that first CATC was cleric Stephen Sizer, the vicar who on a trip toTehran made a defense of Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust denial.

So evangelicals, straining not to see fellow Christians under the whip, follow the star to Bethlehem. And even as the Catholic’s ancient Middle East footprint is being wiped out the Pope utters hardly a peep. Perhaps then we must look outside the Church, to the King of Human Rights kings. The United Nations would surely act… One would think. But when last did the UN Human Rights Council vote to condemn a Muslim country for abuse of Christian people? When did the Security Council hold an emergency debate over the perilous plight of Christians in Gaza and theWest Bank?  

These, are they not, glaring ambivalences? Christianity under the whip, yet people of the church clamber to help Christian persecutors and punish Christian-protecting 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 onIsrael’s borders? What if, in good faith and without bad conscience, they cannot? And if goaded to action what would matter most to men of the cloth: attacking Israel or defending Christians?