When the history of Christian anti-Zionism is compiled, it will be necessary to write a entire chapter about Lutheran Pastor Mitri Raheb. Raheb, who is fluent in Arabic, English and German, is particularly skilled at encouraging Christians in the West to promote anti-Israel propaganda.
For example, earlier this month, Raheb spoke in favor of a “Public Witness Report” issued by the World Communion of Reform Churches, an organization with more than 200 member denominations located throughout the world. Like most Christian “peacemaking” statements, the text condemns Israel without holding Palestinians accountable for their misdeeds. For example, it laments the construction of the security barrier without condemning the terror attacks that prompted its construction. It also declares that the Palestinian population of Jerusalem is decreasing, when in fact, it has increased since 1948.
At the assembly, Raheb, a prominent figure in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, encouraged delegates to pass the resolution by telling them that passing the one-sided text would be good for Israelis. “Occupiers are occupied by their own occupation,” he said.
Encouraging Christians to harangue Jews while saying nothing about Arab and Muslim misdeeds is Raheb’s specialty. His primary message to Christians is that Jewish self-understanding is the underlying root of the Arab-Israeli conflict and that jihadist violence that has cost so many Christians, Jews and Muslims their lives is not rooted in Islamic doctrine and history, but is merely a response to political oppression from Arab dictators.
Along these lines, Raheb is able to sell the notion that the Palestinian people are just like the Jews living under Roman rule in first century Jerusalem and as a result can be expected to resist the occupation imposed on them by Israel. In this narrative, Israeli peace offers and withdrawals are inconsequential, as is anti-Jewish incitement put forth by Hamas and the Palestinian Authority.
Raheb does not engage in the same level of incitement as Mahmoud Abbas who has railed about the “filthy feet” of the Jews defiling the Temple Mount or teachers at Al Aqsa mosque who promise that the Jews will be annihilated. But he does not stand in its way, because in his view this is all part of the resistance that is to be expected from the Palestinians.
Hamas, in Raheb’s view, is an integral part of Palestinian resistance. Speaking to the Egyptian daily Al Masry Al Youm in March of 2016, Raheb declared
Hamas is a Palestinian political movement that has an important role. No one can deny this. The Church is in constant communication with Hamas in the West bank via many delegations from the Church. Some people in the church believe in the armed resistance, and we do not disagree. Once you have occupation, you will have resistance.
Raheb then backed away a bit from his affirmation of Hamas with the following:
However, on a personal level, I do not believe in the armed resistance. How would you fight an enemy with arms that were made by him and its allies? It is smarter not to invite your foe to a wrestling match is he was a wrestler, but to invite him to a chess match.”
It’s bad enough that Raheb, a Christian pastor, would distance himself from Hamas’ jihadist violence not because it is wrong, but because it is ineffective. To make matters worse, however, he has descended into some even uglier rhetoric Israel and its supporters. In the same interview quoted above, Raheb spoke of Zionists as having stolen Palestinian culture.
He told the paper that writing and is important part of the Palestinian resistance, “especially when we target the western world so they understand the justice of our cause.” He then exhorted his fellow Arabs to “also work on improving the literature, and Palestinian culture that were stolen by the Zionists.”
Accusing Zionists of stealing Palestinian culture is an ugly trope that is music to the ears of jihadists in the Middle East, but sadly enough, Christians in the West are all-too-willing to affirm Raheb’s narrative by approving anti-Israel resolutions at gatherings where we speaks.
For example, when the Presbyterian Church (USA) passed a divestment resolution in 2004, Raheb was there — telling delegates that it was time for the denomination to take direct action. “Sisters and Brothers,” he said, “this is a moment of truth.”
And when the United Church of Christ passed an anti-Israel divestment resolution in 2015, Raheb was there — speaking of Jesus as if he were a Palestinian — not a Jew — and of a “suffocating Israeli occupation.”
The upshot is that when it comes to planting seeds of contempt for the Jewish state, Mitri Raheb is a regular Johnny Appleseed. He is not a peacemaker, as his followers insist, but a Christian anti-Zionist who mines the bible for tropes he can use to de-legitmize Israel.