In what is being dubbed an "unprecedented advisory," Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a warning to Christians to steer clear of the "Christ at the Checkpoint" [CATC] conference that took place from March 8th-15th in Bethlehem, and coincided with Israel Apartheid week there. Israel Today , a publication that investigated the conference, concluded that it could pose "a long term threat to Israel's security." According to the official statement of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs:
"The attempt to use religious motifs in order to mobilize political propaganda and agitate the feelings of the faithful through the manipulation of religion and politics is an unacceptable and shameful act. Using religion for the purpose of incitement in the service of political interests stains the person who does it with a stain of indelible infamy."
A ministry official stated that, "the conference is designed for the evangelical Christian leadership leadership -- an extremely important audience to us." Christians around the world should pay close attention to the Israeli government's concern about the dangerous propaganda being fanned and fueled at "Christ at the Checkpoint." According to the conference website: "the checkpoint and the wall become a focal point and symbol of the conflict." Yet the reason for the wall and the checkpoint is never mentioned -- not the daily incitement to destroy Israel, the countless terrorist attacks against it which necessitated the barrier, nor the seemingly corrupt leadership of the Palestinian people.
Looking further into the agenda of this event, the Jewish National News Service pointed out that "Christ at the Checkpoint" emphasizes replacement theology, which teaches that the Christian Church has replaced Israel and the Jewish people in God's purpose and plan so that the Jews are no longer God's "chosen people," and that Christians have replaced them. This is a source of division in the Churches and a stance many Christians resolutely oppose.
Bethlehem Anglican Canon Rev. Naim Ateek , president of the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center, spoke at the inaugural CATC in 2010; he is one of the first church leaders to connect Liberation Theology with the Palestinian cause. Liberation Theology is a political movement in the Catholic church that stresses liberation from unjust economic or political circumstances; in the Palestinian cause, it replaces the Jewish Messiah in scripture with that of a Palestinian Jesus or martyr. As an aggressive anti-Israel campaigner, Ateek stated in an Easter message he once delivered: "In this season of Lent, it seems to many of us that Jesus is on the cross again with thousands of crucified Palestinians around him. It only takes people of insight to see the hundreds of thousands of crosses throughout the land, Palestinian men, women, and children being crucified. Palestine has become one huge golgotha. The Israeli government crucifixion system is operating daily. Palestine has become the place of the skull."
Executive Director David Brog of Christians United for Israel described the speakers of CATC as the "who's who of the new anti-Israel narrative...in a guise of love.... who claim to be "pro-Israel, pro-Palestinian, pro-peace." Just before the conference convened, Brog warned that "almost every speaker will blame Palestinian suffering on Israel and Israel alone." He calls CATC a "dangerously one-sided propaganda campaign against Israel."
According to a World Net Daily report, Brog later lamented about the conference that: "They are so careful about excluding possible justification for Israel's actions that not a word was uttered about the 60 missiles fired from Gaza into southern Israel. ... they are so disconnected from real Christian suffering that there's been no mention of the besieged Christian communities of Egypt, Iraq or Syria."
The report also quotes Dexter van Zile, a researcher and writer for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America [CAMERA] as saying: "The story told in this movement is of Israeli guilt and Palestinian suffering and innocence."
Bishraw Awad, former president of Bethlehem Bible College opened the CATC with a pledge of Allegiance to Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas: "As evangelicals we pledge our allegiance to Palestinian President Abbas and the Prime Minister."
Not only did Abbas complete his PhD with a dissertation that was replete with holocaust denial, he recently reaffirmed that the Palestinians will not recognize Israel as a Jewish state and also declared that any Palestinian state must be completely free of Jews. Yet, possibly to be on both sides of the issue, Alex Awad, a professor at Bethlehem Bible College stated he is "not against Jews living in this country," emphasizing that the "gospel is and should be good news for both Palestinians and Israelis."
Just before the turn of the new year, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned Abbas for referring to Palestinian terrorists in Israeli jails as "heroes." The prime minister rightly stated that "murderers are not heroes" and added that, "Peace can be achieved only when the education toward incitement and toward the destruction of Israel is stopped."
In response to the groundbreaking warning about the CATC by the Israeli government, CATC speaker Gary M. Burge, professor of New Testament at Wheaton College in Illinois, told Christianity Today by email that the statement was "tragic on so many levels" and "ill-informed." He also accused the Israeli government of political propaganda, of being absurd and called the statement "an incitement." Ironically, he substantiated the Israeli Foreign Ministry's warning by accusing the Israeli government of being "worried about this gathering because every year evangelicals are growing in their understanding of this conflict and questioning the standard Israeli narrative of things" -- even as during the conference, rockets were being launched from inside Gaza across the border into southern Israel.
For those who need a reminder about the contents of the Charter of Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip and has a joint agreement with Abbas and Fatah, it states that Israel "will rise and will remain erect until Islam eliminates it as it had eliminated its predecessors." It also echoes the motto of its parent organization, the Muslim Brotherhood: "Allah is our objective. The Prophet is our leader. Koran is our law. Jihad is our way. Dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope."
Despite the anti-Israel propaganda, Luke Moon, of the Institute on Religion & Democracy in Washington, D.C, issued a critical warning about the conference's agenda, referring to the organizers of the CATC as "saavy" and having "found a way to reach Middle America....they took the liberals out of the program and kept the conservatives. The liberals were prominent at CATC 2010 and 2012, but they are gone."
Back in 2012, David Parsons, media director of the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem [ICEJ], warned that "what makes this 'Christ at the Checkpoint' conference unusual is that it is largely an initiative of Christians from the Evangelical movement, whose ranks traditionally have held favorable views on Israel." ICEJ Executive Director Reverend Malcolm Hedding -- a South African-born anti-apartheid activist, theologian and evangelical minister -- also pointed out in 2012 that "certain segments of evangelical Christianity are being drawn away from the movement's traditional support for Israel by those claiming the moral high ground in advocating for social justice." He stated that many of these "liberal, anti-Israel Evangelicals" are showing up at the CATC conference and they view Israel as an "occupying power oppressing the Palestinians." Hedding also pointed out a disturbing fact that they use Israel's security "wall as a prominent symbol of injustice" and that "such imagery is powerful and takes well informed minds to counter them." He further warned that "the lack of information has started to dupe many Evangelicals, who are being shamed into abandoning Israel because they are supposedly uncompassionate and blocking peace;" and that finally, "this new initiative aims to totally discredit pro-Israel Evangelicals with clever lies and distortions."
Yet as Luke Moon warned, this year was different as CATC for the most part, "took the liberals out of the program." It also included some opposing views. For example, Oral Roberts University President William "Billy" Wilson, unequivocally distanced himself from the doctrine of "replacement theology" which asserts that Christians are the "new Jews." A couple of other speakers pointed out that Israel's security wall is in place to save Israeli lives from terrorism.
Despite the attempt to shroud the real agenda of the "Christ at the Checkpoint" conference, its manifesto is revealing . It "condemns all forms of violence unequivocally," yet states that "Christians must understand the global context for the rise of extremist Islam" and furthermore "blames the 'occupation' as the core issue of the conflict;" and although CATC boasts a mandate of dialogue and reconciliation between Israeli and Palestinian believers, there are still those voices that are seemingly rejected from the conference. In a report released by Israel Today, entitled, "The Message 'Christ at the Checkpoint' Didn't Want to Hear," it is argued that CATC organizers do not want to hear from those Israeli voices that have been victimized by Palestinian terrorism or able to expose the Palestinian nationalist agenda.
One case has been highlighted: in late 2010, Israeli tour guide Kay Wilson and her visiting Christian friend, Kristine Luken, were attacked by Palestinian terrorists outside Jerusalem. Luken was killed and Wilson suffered severe injuries. Wilson approached one of the CATC speakers about speaking at the 2012 convocation, but was told that her story was "not what the Lord wants," a phrase that is sadly abused by some Christian leaders to exercise control -- akin to a kind of spiritual or psychological extortion -- over the follower. Wilson then expressed dismay about "how any Israeli.... Messianic believer, could justify participating in a conference that has chosen to associate itself with theologians advocating Replacement Theology and Palestinian officials with clear ties to recognized terrorist organizations." She further stated, "For any self-respecting person, and especially for Israelis such as myself, the endorsement of terror by association, at a Christian conference, is obscene."
Wilson is not off base; Israeli government officials have expressed the concern that the "blame Israel" propaganda coming out of the conference "ultimately serves, even if unintentionally, to encourage violence and stir up even more radical Islamic terror." They say it is "just the type of religion-fueled imagery that has in years past resulted in the worst kind of Christian anti-Semitism" -- disturbing words, given recent anti-Semitic Church history and the state of inertia that gripped the Church during the Nazi attempt to wipe out the Jewish people.
In the article "The Role of the Churches: Compliance and Confrontation" published by the ADL's Dimensions, A Journal of Holocaust Studies, Victoria J. Barnett wrote, "Churches throughout Europe were mostly silent while Jews were persecuted, deported and murdered." Barnett goes on to point out the "few Christians in the Protestant Confessing Church who demanded that their Church take a public stand in defense of the Jews" and how their efforts "were overruled by Church leaders who wanted to avoid any conflict with the Nazi regime." Although some Church leaders across Europe and North America condemned the Nazis, there was a priority of how to maintain "good relations with colleagues in the German Churches."
While many Churches have acknowledged their failures and complacency during Hitler's reign of terror -- with confessions of guilt by Catholic Churches in France and Germany, as well as by many major Protestant denominations -- there is a pattern of repeating the anti-Semitic transgressions of history that is evident today. The United Church of Canada , for instance, has instituted boycott and divestment drives against Israel that are causing dissension in the church; as well as in the Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopal Churches and the World Council of Church's Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel [EAPPI], which supports the boycott, divestment and sanctions [BDS] movement and a Palestinian "right of return".
The BDS movement has been heavily engaged in targeting the Churches because (as stated on its website):
"Religious institutions are seen in many communities as embodying important moral and ethical principles. As such, their support of the Israeli state imparts a sense of legitimacy onto its actions. Religious institutions must understand that the Israeli state operates on exclusionary basis and actively discriminates against non-Jewish religious faiths. This applies especially to Palestinian Christians and Muslims."
Robert O. Smith, Program Director for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America/Middle East and North Africa, and co-moderator of the Palestine-Israel Ecumenical Forum of the World Council of Churches, authored a book, More Desired Than our Owne Salvation, in which he argues that "fundamental presumptions about Israel's innocence and collective immorality of Palestinians have been conflated with general suspicions of Islam, suspicions developed through Western Christian history." Smith portrays American Christian Zionist leaders as "lunatics, heralding God's judgments with an apocalyptic literalism," yet he fails to make any case against the validity of Christian Zionism. He opportunely ignores the historic Jewish struggle against Arab nationalism and voices such as that of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah and the Muslim Brotherhood's Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, both of whom have called for the death of all Jews.
Returning to the "Christ at the Checkpoint" manifesto: it states that "Christians must understand the global context for the rise of extremist Islam." One wonders what these organizers think that context is, given the bloodshed in Syria, the widespread slaughter and persecution of Christians in Islamic states, the violence between Shia and Sunni traditions and the genocide against non-Arabs in Sudan's Darfur region, as just a few examples.
As for the manifesto stating that it "condemns all forms of violence unequivocally," the CATC conference gave a warm welcome to a protagonist of violence on its Facebook page: "We are glad to confirm that his Excellency the Palestinian Prime Minister Dr. Rami Hamdallah will attend and speak in the opening session of the conference." Hamdallah -- who reportedly ended up backing out the last minute -- once oversaw a Hamas-sponsored "Splendors of Terror" exhibition put on at An-Najah University in September 2001, where students reenacted the gruesome suicide bombing of the Sbarro pizzeria in downtown Jerusalem that had taken place only six weeks before the exhibition, in which 15 civilians, including seven children and a pregnant woman, were murdered, and another 130 wounded. Under "Hamdallah's tutelage, [the attack] was commemorated as a heroic act of Palestinian resistance."
In terms of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, long before Israel even became a state, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem was working with Hitler to wipe out the Jews. Another point missing from CATC is understanding the sacredness of Muslim lands to the faith of the Islamist as well as the duty of conquest. In 641, two decades after Muhammad's flight to Medina, Caliph Umar issued a decree that Jews and Christians be expelled from Arabia in accordance with Muhammad's eventual decree upon his deathbed: "Let there not be two religions in Arabia." To this day, Islamists seek to wipe Israel's existence off the face of the map, as is routinely done -- literally, symbolically and wishfully -- in Palestinian textbooks and maps, in which Israel has been totally displaced. Israel was attacked by Arab states in 1948; forced to engage in a pre-emptive strike in 1967, and is currently under constant threat of obliteration from surrounding Arab States. It is worrisome, as recognized by Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, that any Christian conference such as "Christ at the Checkpoint" can profess an agenda of peace, while attempting "to use religious motifs in order to mobilize political propaganda," presumably for Israel's destruction.