Why are taxpayer monies of Western democracies being used to fund anti-Jewish polemics more reminiscent of medieval disputations than 21st century pluralism?

How did government funds come to be used over recent years to enable the Christ at the Checkpoint (CatC) conference – now in its third iteration this week at Bethlehem Bible College – where such polemics were sounded in the past?

The CatC conference revives medieval theological antisemitism in its discussions of how to advance the Palestinian nationalist agenda within Evangelical churches toward disrupting traditionally strong support for Israel. In support of the BDS campaigns and the wider political war to demonize Israel, replacement theology, de-Judaization of Jesus and the defamation of Judaism are consistent themes.

The BDS movement sees churches as central to achieving their objectives:

Religious institutions are seen in many communities as embodying important moral and ethical principles… Divestment campaigns that target companies such as Caterpillar have been initiated in a number of major Christian churches. Not only will successful divestment campaigns financially weaken the Occupation, but will raise both the public profile and legitimacy of the BDS campaign.

One of the main vehicles for waging this political war against Israel is to revive the themes of religious disputations of the Middle Ages, in which ecclesiastic authorities required rabbis to debate priests on whether Judaism or Christianity was the “true faith.” This stacked deck often resulted in anti-Jewish persecutions.

But, this is the 21st century and most Christian leaders, including Pope Francis, know it. He wrote in his Evangelii Gaudium, “We hold the Jewish people in special re­gard because their covenant with God has never been revoked… With them, we believe in the one God who acts in history, and with them we accept his revealed word.”

The organizers and participants in the CatC event are responsible for a very dangerous exception that could have major repercussions. And they are aided in this form of religious warfare by a number of allies and funders who should know better. A new NGO Monitor report details the funding sources for the Bethlehem Bible College (BBC) and the Holy Land Trust (HLT), the organizers of CatC. HLT supports anti-Israel BDS, including signing a petition in May 2005 calling for the academic boycott of Israel, and signing the 2005 “Palestinian Civil Society Call for BDS.”

Between 2006 and 2012 the National Endowment for Democracy, mostly funded by the U.S. Congress, granted the pro-BDS HLT $232,300. (In 2011 and 2013 NED did not fund HLT.) The British government provided HLT with ₤15,000 in 2010-2011.

Indirect governmental funding from the Netherlands via Cordaid (Catholic Organization for Relief and Development) to HLT and the BBC is also evident. Cordaid is a partner with BBC and Cordaid’s latest Annual Report (2012) refers to unspecified financial “commitments” made to named beneficiaries, including BBC and CatC.

HLT also lists Cordaid as an “international associate” and “partner” without providing donation amounts.

More Dutch funding comes from Kerk in Actie, which offers the opportunity to donate to BBC via its website, with a goal of raising €25,000. KIA promoted Christ at the Checkpoint in 2010. KIA states that it does not receive Dutch government funding; yet the organization’s annual report documents receipt of funding from unspecified governmental bodies.

Medievalism triumphant?

Unlike Pope Francis’s conciliatory words about Judaism, the tone and substance at CatC is decidedly hostile and benighted.
At CatC 2010, Anglican Rev. Stephen Sizer declared, “Jews who reject Jesus Christ are outside the covenant of grace.” At the same conference, Rev. Mitri Raheb offered a racial theory of Jewish origins saying, “I’m sure if we were to do a DNA test between David, who was a Bethlehemite, and Jesus, born in Bethlehem, and Mitri, born just across the street from where Jesus was born, I’m sure the DNA will show that there is a trace. While, if you put King David, Jesus and Netanyahu, you will get nothing, because Netanyahu comes from an East European tribe who converted to Judaism in the Middle Ages.”

Anglican Rev. Naim Ateek, founder of the anti-Israel Sabeel, told CatC 2010, “There is an emphasis on that part of the Old Testament that, for me, really reflects a tribal understanding of God.” He also said, “Jesus was a Palestinian who lived in Palestine.” In 2011, Ateek declared that the “establishment of Israel was a relapse to the most primitive concepts of an exclusive, tribal God.”

Theologian Dr. Gary Burge told CatC 2012, “God is continuing to have a program with the Jewish people who Paul describes as enemies of the Gospel.”

Ironically, the conference mission is to “challenge Evangelicals to take responsibility to help resolve the conflicts in Israel-Palestine…”

To this end, CatC offers several field trips “conducted by our partner Holy Land Trust” to checkpoints, the “segregation Wall,” an “East Jerusalem” Palestinian neighborhood and meetings with Palestinian families.

No visits appear to be organized to Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem nor are meetings with Israeli Jewish families listed. Moreover, there are no apparent outings to the many Jerusalem sites where Palestinians carried out suicide terrorist attacks. There is a token visit to a West Bank settlement for a “brief tour” and meeting with one Israeli settler. The only Jews apparently scheduled to speak at CatC are so-called Messianic Jews.

Presbyterian theologian Professor Stephen R. Haynes wrote, “When Christians are confronted by the word-sign ‘Jew,’ they are more likely to conjure theological types and anti-types, not to mention cultural and literary stereotypes, than to think of real individuals with the same hopes, failures and foibles as non-Jews… Jewish security is threatened whenever real Jews are associated with the ‘Jew’ of the Christian imagination.”

This variant of the “Christian imagination” of which Prof. Haynes writes appears to be dominant at the “Christ at the Checkpoint” event. This may be the organizers’ right. But, why should Western governments enable it?

For full details on government and other funding of Christ at the Checkpoint, download NGO Monitor’s report here.