Yesterday, the Christ at the Checkpoint conference began in Bethlehem. It brought together evangelical Christians from around the world who are supportive of the Palestinian Christian community. As you know, Israel believed it had the evangelical movement sown up via pastors like John Hagee and his group, Christians United for Israel. That’s why the Israeli foreign ministry reacted with fury at the well-attended Bethlehem conference.
I’ve read many disturbing statements from Israeli ministries, which alarmed and discouraged me. But the MFA’s naked, vitriolic threat chilled me to the bones. Here is the right-wing Israel Today, which happily published the MFA’s bullying:
[The MFA] regards the CatC [Christ at the Checkpoint] conference as a serious long-term threat to Israel’s security.
…An MFA official said that…the event “is particularly problematic, because it is designed for the evangelical Christian leadership – an extremely important audience to us.
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.”
…Government officials are concerned that…CatC…serves, even if unintentionally, to encourage violence and stir up even more radical Islamic terror.
…The government of Israel has made it clear that those who participate in this type of religious manipulation to incitement are marked, both figuratively, and as a focus of further action on the part of the authorities in Jerusalem.
Even if you partially discount the breathlessly pro-Israel wannabe journalistic tone, the notion that devout Christian adherents of non-violence would pose a serious long-term threat to Israel is almost pathologically delusional. That they should be blamed as accomplices to acts of radical Muslim terror is yet another preposterous claim. By making such nutty statements, the foreign ministry shows itself to be more suited to running a nuthouse than the foreign policy of a 21st century democratic nation.
Imagine in this day and age, a so-called democracy thinks it can use bare-knuckle tactics to intimidate its purported enemies. It’s shocking. But not so very shocking when you consider the foreign ministry is run by Israel’s leading Islamophobe, Avigdor Lieberman. The latter continues to call the few Israeli Palestinian MKs supporters of Palestinian terror.
While there may be some in the world who would be scared off by such tactics, I would think that most who attended would be well-schooled in them and not easily intimidated.
I wanted to explore critically the foreign ministry’s claim that these particular evangelicals are exploiting religion “in the service of political interests.” This is a false characterization of pro-Palestinian evangelicals. First, many of them aren’t anti-Israel at all. But they are deeply sympathetic to the humanitarian needs of the Palestinians. As fellow Christians, they feel the same sense of connection that we Jews feel toward fellow Jews in need. The only political element in their support of Palestinian Christians is their conviction that political sovereignty would protect and empower Palestinians Christians and allow them to lead normal lives. This is a far cry from exploiting religion for the sake of political gain.
But the greatest hypocrisy here is the MFA’s refusal to recognize that this is precisely what it and the Israel Lobby do in their embarrassing romance with American Christian Zionist evangelicals like Hagee. Israel refuses to recognize the anti-Semitic tropes in Hagee’s apocalyptic theology that blames Holocaust victims for their own murder; and predicts the demise of huge portions of world Jewry in the Armageddon that will lead to Jesus’ Second Coming. Hagee’s embrace of Jews is cynical because Israel is nothing more than a useful tool that will be discarded when End Times come.
The Israeli government’s embrace of the evangelical movement also is cynical because no Israel Jew agrees with its theology. American Jews are even more suspicious of evangelicals and their adoration for Israel. There is essentially no common ground between Israel and the Christian groups except mutual convenience. Israel has lost the support of the mainstream Christian churches, and it increasingly loses support among young American Jews. So evangelicals, with their considerable political power, are a useful substitute for all that Israel has lost and is losing in other spheres.
A perfect example of this cynical manipulation by the Israel Lobby is its embrace of young evangelicals like Chloe Valdary, who recently enjoyed an all expenses paid trip to the Aipac national conference, where she was photographed with StandWithUs’ local self-described “gay Arab Jew,” Hen Mazzig. Valdary has been adopted by Lobby groups like CAMERA and StandWithUs. The former has showered her campus group, Allies for Israel, with $6,000 per year. Three different Lobby groups have paid her way on Israel junkets.
In return, Valdary acts the attack dog by viciously assaulting Jewish academics and activists like Prof. Judith Butler, who she called “a vile anti-Semite.” She even implied that she was a Nazi in a broadside in Seth Klarman’s Times of Israel. Valdary accused Israeli military refusers Maya Wind and Eran Efrati of being filled with “psychopathic self-abhorrence.”
Valdary claims to work for African-American minister, Dumisani Washington and a group called the Institute for Black Solidarity With Israel. Washington is a disciple of Hagee’s and prominently features CUFI on his website. Last week, Washington published a defense of Valdary in which he twice published the lie that I am an “anti-Zionist” (once in the headline). The Daily Caller, which published his screed, has ignored my demand that it correct the headline and remove the falsehood.
— Chloé Simone Valdary (@cvaldary) March 11, 2014
As an aside, in a Twitter thread last night, Valdary denied a critical tenet of evangelical Christianity’s literal reading of the Bible by denying the Creationist claim that the world is 4,000 years old. It makes you wonder whether she’s being properly schooled in evangelical theology by the CUFI crowd.
So when the Israeli foreign ministry carps about Christians exploiting religion for the sake of partisan politics and warns that such acts stain people with infamy, they ought to look in the mirror before they speak. Israel is entirely the guilty party in this matter. Its exploitation of Christian evangelicals (and their willing collaboration) is shameful.
I first read about this story in Daoud Kuttab’s coverage in Al Monitor.