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.