Social justice?

The theology of extreme Christian Zionism is concerning to many Christians in the West who believe that some pro-Israel Christians are focusing more on politics than on individual people. Other Christians oppose Christian Zionism because some Christian Zionists are obsessive about end-times prophecies and premillennial dispensationalism (this ignores the fact that many Reformed Baptists, evangelicals and Protestants support Israel without having dispensationalist theology).

In attempting to approach the issue in a different way, many Christians such as Colin Chapman, Gary Burge, John Hubers and Stephen Sizer have challenged Christian Zionist theology and politics in an attempt to, in their view, redress the balance. These theologians see Christian Zionists as obsessed with Armageddon and insensitive to Arab Christians, and thus they attempt to prove themselves different by focusing on present issues in the Middle East rather than future prophecy, and claim to sympathise with Christian Arabs and Palestinians. In attempting to express support for the Palestinians, many of these Christians enthusiastically take up anti-Israel politics, and align their worldview on Palestine with ideas common in Muslim majority countries. Thus, opposition to Christian Zionism becomes opposition to Zionism itself. These Christians not only oppose premillennial dispensationalist eschatology, but also the Jewish right for self-determination.

These Christians thus speak about Christian ‘social justice’, and use ideas from the school of liberation theology. Liberation theology was a Latin American-based movement that sought to link Christianity with Marxism. The ‘poor of Christ’ whom Jesus spoke to in the Beatitudes were the oppressed peasants of Latin America, whilst the corrupt Pharisees were represented by American imperialism and corrupt Latin American dictatorships. Palestinian liberation theology, as developed by Naim Ateek, is a different concept. In Palestinian liberation theology, Jesus does not take sides between the rich and the poor, or between the ruling classes and the working classes/peasants, but between people of one nation and another. Jesus becomes a Palestinian, oppressed by Israelis. Here is an example of Palestinian liberation theology espoused by Naim Ateek, who enjoys great support amongst Christian anti-Zionists:

“It seems to many of us that Jesus is on the cross again with thousands of crucified Palestinians around him…. 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.” (Ateek, Easter Message, April 6, 2001)

According to Ateek’s twisting of Biblical themes, Israel operates a crucifixion system, and the Palestinians become linked with Jesus’ death. Such powerful imagery is designed to cast the Palestinians in the minds of Christians as like Jesus without fault, and the Israelis as particularly sinful. So although they accuse the Christian Zionists of oversimplifying the Middle East by supporting Israel over Palestine, we see how many Christian anti-Zionists crassly oversimplify the Middle East conflict by whitewashing Palestinian crimes and demonising Israel.

Whilst many pro-Palestinian Christians claim to be supporting Palestinian Christians, there is more to this claim than meets the eye. The suffering of Palestinian Christians is often blamed exclusively on Israel, despite evidence of persecution against Palestinian Christians by the PLO, Fatah, Hamas, and other Islamist movements. (In extreme cases, Christian anti-Zionists acted as apologists for Iran and its proxies Hamas and Hezbollah – see here for more details). However, many Palestinian Christians cannot publicly speak out against Palestinian authorities for fear of reprisal, whilst they are encouraged by the same authorities to speak out against Israel as Christians.

Whilst many high profile Christian anti-Zionists claim to be interested in social justice, many have a tendency just to see Israelis as wrongdoers, or to focus on Israeli wrongdoings. Some Christian anti-Zionists blame Israel for most if not all of the problems in the Middle East, and don’t treat Zionism as a nationalist movement, but as an attempt at a land grab, presenting Jewish nationalists (Zionists) as thieves of Palestine, motivated by their religious beliefs about holy land. But seeing Zionism as merely motivated by religion fails to take into account that the Zionist movement was pioneered by secular Jews with secular beliefs, for whom Palestine was the appropriate and natural place for the establishment for a Jewish homeland due to the Jewish people’s historic ties with the land of Israel.

In this way of thinking, with Israel cast as essentially the root cause of all problems in the Middle East, if there were no Israel then there would be no anti-Zionism [similar to the logic that claims if there were no Jews then no anti-Semitism, no children then no paedophilia, no women then no rape etc].

Christian anti-Zionists support this narrative through select passages in the Old Testament which warn of a Jewish exile from Israel, and an interpretation of the New Testament which excludes the Jews from having any national identity. However, whilst high profile Christian anti-Zionists like Stephen Sizer think Jewish nationalism is illegitimate, they strongly support Palestinian nationalism. Yet if Christians are to deny Jews the right to a national homeland, then all nationalism should be condemned. Christian anti-Zionists are at a loss to explain why it is only Jewish nationalism that must be opposed and analysed.

As a result of both an unexplained focus on Israel, a theology which denies Jews the right to a homeland, and a lack of sympathy for Israeli concerns, many people accuse scholars like Stephen Sizer and Colin Chapman of antisemitism. There is also an element of conspiracy theory amongst leading Christian anti-Zionists. Colin Chapman claims that Jews in America have power ‘out of all proportion’ to their numbers, whilst Stephen Sizer has blamed Israelis for taking part in 9/11. Sizer himself has even spoken at a conference alongside Holocaust denier Fred Tobin.

One of the most popular experts on Christian social justice is Brian McLaren, who appears to support Ben White’s call for a boycott against Israel and Israelis. The boycott call is not just a boycott of the Jewish state but of individual Jewish Israelis. Thus, in the name of social justice and Christianity, Bryan McLaren advocates the exclusion of Israelis from global affairs. This attitude however is not confined to the realms of theology, but finds its out-workings in the anti-Zionist campaigns of the Friends of Sabeel, Diakonia, Amos Trust and War on Want, as well as plenty other Christian charities, in the name of social justice.

Friends of Sabeel, whilst using Christian language, is often supported by suspicious characters, and its international patron Desmond Tutu promotes paranoid, antisemitic conspiracy theories about a powerful Jewish lobby in America. Diakonia, the Swedish charity which represents five Swedish Christian denominations, is closely linked with Sabeel. Whilst Sabeel claim to love Israel, many of their members support racist boycotts against Israel. And, whilst Diakonia claim to be interested in Christian social justice, Diakonia’s own policy officer has admitted that the charity is “more a lobby group with a clear political agenda for the Middle East than a Christian aid organisation.” Similarly, Christian Aid has for years attacked Israel; in fact there is a whole blog set up watching Christian Aid for antisemitism.

Christian Aid’s patron Jenny Tonge had to step down from her post when she said she sympathised with suicide bombers. Tonge is now a patron of Friends of Sabeel UK, as are two bishops heavily involved with Christian Aid. The former director of World Vision, Tom Getman, has praised Hezbollah’s political leader Hassan Nasrallah and its spiritual leader Sheikh Fadlallah for their insights and criticisms of Christianity. Oxfam ran a poster campaign in Belgium urging people not to buy Israeli fruit, and showed a picture of an Israeli Jaffa orange dripping with blood, for which Oxfam later apologised.

Yet true social justice surely sees neither Israelis nor Palestinians, but human beings. So boycott campaigns which will exclude one group to purportedly support the other cannot themselves be socially ‘just’. Through a claim to be practising social justice, some Christians end up developing racist and antisemitic non-Christian ways of thinking. Such Christians may not recognise this, but until they do, their words about social justice will be very hard to take seriously.

Christians should, surely, encourage harmony between people in Israel and the Palestinian territories, emphasising what they have in common and encouraging reconciliation and dialogue. Instead, by dividing people into good (Palestinians) and bad (Israelis), Christian anti-Zionists merely construct barriers between people, rather than tearing down barriers as they would like to imagine themselves as doing.



Filed under Ahmadinejad's Christian soldiers?, bigotry, boycotts, morally responsible investment

15 responses to “Social justice?

  1. Aslan

    Excellent post, thanks.

  2. John Smith

    Awesome post, unanswerable!

  3. Fisherman

    You didn’t see Jesus himself boycotting anyone when Israel really was under occupation by the Romans! These Christian boycotters are being very unlike the Jesus they claim to be like!

  4. Gwunderi

    Naim Ateek of Sabeel hates Christian Zionists for their support of Israel and even distorts theology to “proove” that they are wrong.

    He sais they support Israel for the the biblical “I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse” (Genesis 12:3), and here I think he is partially right, although there are many Christians who support Israel not for theological means at all, as I do.

    In his article “A Biblical Reflection on Genesis 12:3” he tries to “proove” that the blessing is not only ment for Jews but also for Arabs:
    « … Genesis 12:3 was addressed by God to Abraham before he had any children and long before he came to Canaan. There is no mention of “Israel” or “Jews” by name but the words have been understood as a blessing to Abraham’s lineage. Since Ishmael and Isaac were both Abraham’s children, the blessing presumably must have included both and their descendents, i.e. the Arabs and Jews. Christian and Jewish Zionists, however, have interpreted the text as an exclusive blessing given to Jews while the curse they allot to the Arabs, thus butchering the text and using it to fit their modern political agenda.»

    He continues to show the “dire consequences” of this “misunderstanding”:
    «Genesis 12:3 could directly lead to passages such as Deuteronomy 7:2 where the Israelites were summoned by God to ethnically cleanse and utterly destroy their enemies, i.e. those who have been cursed, namely, the indigenous people of the land, the Canaanites.»

    The clou – as he continues:
    «Such self-righteousness and arrogance was deeply embedded in the psyche and be¬liefs of some people and seemed to have surfaced frequently.»

    Who could he mean by “some people”? Surely not the Jews, as he continually claims not to be an anti-semite; he even loves the Jews at the point that he wants to live with them in ONE “federal and democratic” state …

    And surely the next is not his own desire, but only a “warning from God”:
    «As an example, the prophet Amos observed how such arrogance was playing itself out … He addressed them with God’s word in a sharp and abrasive way. “O children of Israel, … Surely the eyes of the Lord God are on the sinful kingdom. I will destroy it from the face of the earth …” (Amos 9:7-8).»

    And surely all “Friends of Sabeel” all over the world only want to prevent Israel from being “destroyed from the face of the earth” (by Gods justice of course and not by its enemies).

  5. Fran

    Dr Ateek might try reading Romans Chs 9-11 carefully. He might find out that St Paul sternly warns non-Jewish followers of Christ ‘not to boast against the branches’ of God’s own olive tree. Then again, as St Paul was Jewish, Dr Ateek might not wish to hear what the Apostle to the Gentiles had to say to us.

  6. I have just added a comment but it has not come up? Was it because I added a url? Or is this moderated. I was not given a prompt.

  7. Fran are you sure you have fairly understood Naim Ateek’s work? Do you think your suggestion of antisemitism is fair or wise or conducive to building peace? What is your response to the shooting of Tristan Anderson in March this year? What is your response to the death of Rachel Corrie, James Miller or Tom Hurndall? Have you seen the footage of Palestinian fisherman footage being shot at in October 2008 or Palestinians harvesting crops in January 2009?

    I have seen plenty of footage of what is happening in Sderot, I have witnessed the pointlessness of suicide bombings over the years (that have now stopped as a tactic). I weep just as you must when people are killed.

    But my concern is that there are other ways to look at the conflict.

    Naim Ateek and Stephen Sizer like you and me do not have the complete answers to the conflict but like all of us offer a perspective that is invaluable.

    I give thanks that you have voiced your concerns just as I give thanks for Naim Ateek and Stephen Sizer.

    Grace and peace.

  8. seismicshock

    sorry there Stewart, I’ve got pre-moderation settings. It’s up now.

  9. [Thanks for replying #8 but I could not see it. I have reposted it without any urls – it must have gone to your spam box – it was sent prior to 7.12pm]

    God’s peace and blessing to you Seismicshock,

    The fact that you have written this blog shows you care about the world and about how we are to create God’s Kingdom, a Kingdom of love.

    However, my sadness is that this blog has unfairly vilified good people like Stephen Sizer and Naim Ateek. People who like you seek for peace and justice for all people in God’s kingdom.

    Part of the challenge as human beings is to communicate a message in the shortest possible time and not have this misunderstood by a listener or distorted by the retelling of what someone has said or allegedly said.

    When we talk about the Palestinian-Israeli-Arab conflict it is easy to jump to conclusions if someone speaks with a different voice given we all have thought about this conflict deeply and over many years and so have our own strongly held perspectives.

    My prayer and hope is for all people in the region to see each other as fellow human beings and look to encourage peace, justice and security for the other.

  10. Gwunderi

    So let’s see what these “unfairly vilified good people” like Ateek teach and preach:

    «By not demanding “absolute justice”, Palestinians are making a significant concession. They are seeking only “justice connected with mercy”. For most Palestinians, it means that they do not “seek destruction of the state of Israel and 100% of the land.”» (Atlanta, Georgia, July 2001)

    So the “significant” concession MOST of the Palestinians are willing to make is not to destroy (the whole of) the state of Israel, although that would mean “absolute justice” …

    And despite Israel is a great danger not only to regional, but to global peace:
    «We are concerned about the delegitimization of International Law that Israel models when it ignores the International Court of Justice, the Geneva Conventions and United Nations resolutions. The potential for these institutions and laws to resolve conflicts is weakened globally when one party chooses to selectively ignore its rulings.» (in “A Call for Morally Responsible Investment” of April 2005; three months later the UN launched its BDS campaign)

    But perhaps the Israelis would become better people if they would live in one state with the (christian) Palestinians and learn mercy from them. So Ateek’s “ideal solution” (his final solution) to the conflict, is the one-state solution where the Jews would of course be a minority, at best “dhimmis” under sharia law, if they survive.
    Even «Edward Said, who spoke at an internat. conference hosted by Sabeel in 1998, admitted in 2000 that he worried what would happen to a Jewish minority in a single state. “It worries me a great deal”, he said. “The question of what is going to be the fate of the Jews is very difficult for me. I really don’t know. It worries me.”»
    And that was when Hamas & Co had less influence than today …
    I admire Ateek’s unlimited optimism …

    In the case (surviving) Jews were not allowed the same rights as the Arabs (by sharia law), would Ateek than start a boycott campaign – or in Christian terminology “morally responsible investment” – against this “one state”?

    (Even if the great majority of Palestinians were not extremists, and even if there was not so widespread anti-semitism all over the whole world – why does Ateek deny only the Jews a little homeland and self-determination?)

    This is only a very little sample, the whole (biblical) vocabulary of Ateek, each of his statements, actions and even sermons are highly antisemitic. But he portrays himself as struggling for “justice”, and the people who attend his conferences all over the world (ISM activists included) call themselves “peace makers”, the only “voice in the wilderness”: «Standing alone for justice is not new for Christians. We may be a voice in the wilderness but when we act out of the conviction of our faith … » (what sublime words …)

    Following Ateek there would surely be peace soon, perhaps there would be no Jews any more in “Palestine” or they would be reduced to “dhimmis” (with no say but let alive thanks christian and muslim mercy) – but anyway there would soon be “christian made” peace.

  11. Dear Gwunderi,

    Thank you for your perspective.

    Again I am concerned that Ateek is being misrepresented. Given Ateek is a Christian he falls within the dhimmi category you mention. Ateek has no desire for Jews, Muslims or Christians to be discriminated aginst or persecuted. Ateek seeks an equal political voice, an equal respect for historical injustices to both Jewish and Palestinian people. A binational state is what was proposed by Judah Magnes. This is not some sinister plot by antisemites, but a sensible approach to working ouyt how to share land between Jewish and Palestinian people. In the short term we are geared for a two state solution. My concern is that the best solution is one that seeks to ensure peace, security and justice for all the 11 human beings in the region. Certainly 42 years of occupation is not a positive step forward and certainly not recognising the mistakes of 1948 are not conducive to peace and reconciliation. Just as violent resistance against Israelis is counterproductive.

    Gwunderi what are your thoughts on Rabbi Michael Lerner, Uri Avnery, Jeff Halper or Rabbi Arik Asherman?

    What are your thoughts on the shooting of Tristan Anderson? the death of Rachel Corrie, Tom Hurndall or James Miller?

  12. Gwunderi

    I don’t say the binational state solution is a sinister plot by antisemites; they debate on it openly, anyone can attend Ateek’s conferences or read the “Jerusalem Sabeel Document” e.g. – that doesn’t change that it’s a “sensible approach” (as you call it) to a “democratic” and even “humanitarian” final solution.

    I don’t know the two Rabbis you mention. And I have read only little from Avnery, but I got the impression he talks as if he had never heard of Jew hatred among muslims, or about Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood or the Grandmufti etc. and thinks the conflict is about land – I don’t like him.

    Jeff Halper is a stupid blockhead (although he is a Jew) – you asked, I answer. As to Rachel Corrie I think she served and still serves not only the Palestinian, but also the UN’s* cause, so she had what she wanted. Very cynical, isn’t it? Perhaps it is, for she was only 23? years old and probably mislead. So the ones who have her on their conscience are those “peace activists” who insitgate young people to risk their lives and so become martyrs for a “just cause”, which is “just” only by deliberately distorting history not to recognize the true facts anymore.


    Hope I could make clear my position …

  13. Gwunderi

    P.S. I don’t hate Palestinians (in general), not at all. But I can’t stand these “peace activists” from abroad, Europe or overseas, who’s activism is feeded only by Jew hatred. In fact, if the Palestinian’s “enemies” were not the Jews, anybody would interest their fate (that I even wrote once to a Palestinian peace activist – she didn’t agree).

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