“I wish that all Jews are like Jesus. We will have peace in our country.”
That’s the message Rev. Dr. Yohanna Katanacho, professor of biblical studies and academic dean at Nazareth Evangelical College in Israel, told an audience of Christians attending the Christ at the Checkpoint Conference in Bethlehem in March 2016.
It’s an ugly statement that encapsulates Katanacho’s view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: It is all the fault of Israeli Jews who need to become more Christ-like if there is to be peace. Palestinian and Muslim misdeeds are not worth mentioning, only Jewish misdeeds.
During this same talk, Katanacho declared that Israel’s dream of being a Jewish state “has become more sacred than human life and that human rights are transgressed for the sake of this dream.” He also stated that “Jewishness in Israel has become an obsession for Israeli Jews and a nightmare for Palestinians because of its extremist views and determination to create a world filled with masters and slaves.” He continued: “The Jewish dream has become a mantra for the hatred of one’s neighbor.”
Invective like this is more appropriately directed at ISIS, a murderous jihadist organization that has been declared guilty of genocide by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry for having murdered thousands of Christians and Yezidis in Iraq. Despite some friction between Christians and Jews in Israel, the Jewish state protects its religious minorities, while jihadists in Muslim countries oppress and murder them.
Israel is the one country in the Middle East where the indigenous population of Christians (and other religious minorities) has increased since 1948. In Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Egypt and elsewhere they’ve been murdered by folks intent on establishing sharia law.
Ironically enough, Katanacho made these propagandistic statements in a presentation about how he and other Palestinian Christians should relate to their Jewish neighbors in Israel at the CATC conference, which is held by Bethlehem Bible College every two years in a putative effort to promote “peace” between Israel and the Palestinians.
At these conferences, which have been held every even-numbered year since 2010, Palestinian Christians give two contradictory messages.
Out of one side of their mouths, they try to convince Christians in North America and Europe that Palestinian Christians are influential players in Palestinian society and can offer a credible witness for peace to their countrymen.
Out of the other side of their mouths, they do everything they can to demonstrate to their patrons in the Palestinian Authority (who protect them from their Muslim neighbors, some of whom are members of Hamas) that they hate Israel as much as everyone else living in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and that they can be counted on to assail the legitimacy of the Jewish state to Western audiences.
Munir Kakish, president of the Council of Evangelical Churches in the Holy Land, demonstrated his use to the Palestinian Authority when he boldly declared that his organization was at the service of anti-Zionism.
“Palestinian Evangelical churches are working on the intellectual and ideological rejection of Zionism and racism against our people,” he said to an audience that included PA officials, some of them in military uniform. Given that he lives in Ramallah, the headquarters of the PA in the West Bank, one has to cut Kakish some slack, because these folks are breathing down his neck.
It’s another thing altogether for Katanacho to attack Israel while remaining quiet as a fearful church mouse about Palestinian and Muslim misdeeds because you see, he is an Israeli citizen, as is his wife. (His three children are American citizens by virtue of being born in the United States while Katanacho was studying for a Ph.D. in Illinois.)
It is pretty unreasonable for a Christian like Katanacho to hate the country that keeps him and his family safe from jihadist violence that has destroyed Christian communities in Iraq and Syria, but reasonableness is not this pastor’s strong suit. For example, at the 2010 Christ at the Checkpoint Conference, Katanacho declared that “Judaism is being transformed into a militant religion through the state of Israel. He then asked rhetorically how the Islamic world is viewing Judaism. “Through Israel!” he said.
Katanacho is misleading his audience in a big way. While it is true that Muslims throughout the world have been taught to hate Jews as a result of anti-Zionist propaganda broadcast by numerous sources, hatred for Jews was present in Muslim countries long before Israel was established in 1948.
The Koran, Islam’s holy book, is filled with anti-Jewish invectives that inform Muslim attitudes toward Jews today. For example, Sura 3:112 in the Koran declares that “Ignominy shall be their portion wheresoever they are found …. They have incurred anger from their Lord, and wretchedness is laid upon them.” And Sura 5:61 declares that Muslims should not take Jews and Christians for friends. And Sura 98:6 delclares that Jews along with idolaters “are the worst of created beings.”
The hadiths or collections of statements reportedly made by Mohammad during his life are also filled with hostile anti-Jewish invective. One well-known quote from Muhammad indicates that the rocks and trees will report when Jews are hiding behind them so that Muslims can kill them in the last battle.
Muslim anti-Semitism is not something Katanacho has addressed in his career as a Christian theologian because for him, it’s all about the Jews and their failings. Given his jaundiced view of Jews, it seems reasonable to ask why he has chosen the Jewish homeland as his home.