‘Jesus Was a Palestinian’: The Return of Christian Anti-Semitism
Redacted from an in-depth investigative report
By the brilliant Melanie Phillips
June 14, 2014
Within the Protestant world, many churches are deeply hostile to the State of Israel. They present the Palestinians as victims of Israeli oppression while ignoring the murderous victimization of Israeli citizens at their hands. This much is generally known. What is less known is the even more disturbing fact that this perverse animus is increasingly fed not by the politics of the present moment but by theology.
This is all the more striking because millions of evangelical Christians are among the most passionate supporters of Israel in America and elsewhere. These Christian Zionists believe the Hebrew Bible’s account of how God chose the Jewish people to form a kingdom of priests and promised them the land of Israel. That religious belief has turned Christian Zionists themselves into a key target for evangelization on the part of those churches that have Israel in their crosshairs
The Christian world likes to forget it, but the history of its relationship with the Jews is terrible. In medieval Europe, the Catholic Church used blood libels to incite the population against the Jews, converted them at knifepoint, and murdered them in great number.
These pogroms were driven by a particular demonology called replacement theology, also known as supersessionism. Going back to the early Christian father Origen (182–254 C.E.), this idea holds that, because the Jews denied the divinity of Jesus, all the promises God had made to them now belong to Christians. Exiled from God’s love, the Jews had become the party of the Devil.
It is a variant of liberation theology, the doctrine propounded in the 1960s to suggest that socialist revolution was the proper fulfillment of the Christian duty to the poor. In this iteration, Jesus becomes a Palestinian persecuted by the Jews while Jesus’s descendants—who knew he had any?—become today’s Palestinians, crucified in the very land that was promised to them. Their liberation would, of course, require the dissolution of the Jewish state.
These malevolent concepts, spreading from Palestinian Christians to churches in the West, are rooted in an audacious strategy adopted by the Palestinian Authority to deny Israel’s right to exist by changing Jewish history to suit its own end. Part of this strategy involves denying that Jesus was a Jew from Judea and turning him into a Palestinian who preached Islam.
Clearly, this is a tall order: Rome didn’t change the name of Judea to Palestine until 136 C.E., and Islam first surfaced in the seventh century C.E. Nevertheless, the Palestinian leadership repeatedly claims that Jesus was a Palestinian!
In his Christmas message last year, the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, described Jesus as a “Palestinian messenger.” In the same month, the PA’s chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, who had described Jesus as “Palestine’s first martyr,” said that Jesus was “the first Palestinian after the Canaanite Palestinians.”
While Jesus is represented as a Palestinian Arab, the Jewish people of today are apparently not Jews at all. As Mitri Raheb, a Lutheran pastor in Bethlehem, said in 2010: “I’m sure if we were to do a DNA test between David, who was a Bethlehemite, and Jesus, born in Bethlehem, and Mitri, born just across the street from where Jesus was born, I’m sure the DNA will show that there is a trace. While, if you put King David, Jesus, and Netanyahu [together], you will get nothing, because Netanyahu comes from an East European tribe [the Khazars] who converted to Judaism in the Middle Ages.”
In a similar vein, Jewish statelessness has been turned into a theological invented imperative by those using the Bible originating from the Jews themselves to delegitimize Israel!
Increasingly, such claims are making inroads into Western churches, whose hostility toward Israel has long been fueled by their relationship with churches in Arab countries. This hostility has been heavily influenced by the World Council of Churches (WCC), which was founded in 1948, within months of Israel’s own founding. As a result, the WCC hardly ever mentions the persecution of Christians around the world. Instead, it displays an institutionalized obsession with demonizing Israel.
There have been repeated attempts to get these churches to withdraw their investments from companies connected to Israel. In 2005, the Virginia and New England conferences of the United Methodist Church passed resolutions calling for divestment. In 2004, a divestment resolution singling out Israel as a target was passed by the general assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). That resolution also claimed that Israel’s “occupation” had “proven to be at the root of evil acts committed against innocent people on both sides of the conflict.”
Although the Presbyterians subsequently rescinded their policy of singling out Israel as a target for divestment, in 2012 they voted for boycotting products manufactured in the West Bank.
As for the Church of England, Canon Andrew White, formerly the archbishop of Canterbury’s envoy to the Middle East and now the vicar of Baghdad, is a Christian Zionist. According to White, Palestinian-influenced replacement theology has now gone viral within the Church of England. The biblical God is viewed as the God of the oppressed; the Palestinians are the oppressed; and the Church must therefore fight for justice against their oppressor, the Jews, so the Palestinians can enter their promised land. This analysis, says White, in which politics and theology thus became inextricably intertwined, has influenced entire denominations, the majority of Christian-pilgrimage companies, and many of the major mission and aid organizations.
This shows breathtaking disregard for the facts. Located a few minutes’ drive down the road from Jerusalem, Bethlehem was once predominantly Christian. In 1948, some 80 percent of its population was Christian; now, with the Arab take-over, it is estimated at between 20 and 40 percent. According to Justus Weiner, a legal scholar at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, the number of Christians in Bethlehem declined precipitously under Jordanian occupation from 1949 to 1967, when thousands of Muslims were settled in the town.
“Christian Arabs have been victims of frequent human-rights abuses by Muslims,” Weiner has written. “There are many examples of intimidation, beatings, land theft, firebombing of churches and other Christian institutions, denial of employment, economic boycotts, torture, kidnapping, forced marriage, sexual harassment, and extortion. Palestinian Authority (PA) officials are directly responsible for many of the human-rights violations. The situation of these Christians has become grim.”
The one place in the Middle East where Christians are safe and are thriving is Israel. According to Merkley, the Christian population of Israel rose sixfold from about 34,000 in 1948 to nearly 180,000 in 1998. It is the only country in the Middle East where, over the last half century, the number of Christians has grown in absolute numbers and has remained stable as a proportion of the whole population. Everywhere else Christian populations are in decline, in many cases precipitously.
This scapegoating of Israel is all the more astonishing considering the persecution of Christians at the hands of Islam. According to Open Doors, a nondenominational Christian group, about 100 million Christians are currently being persecuted around the world in more than 65 countries. Of the top 10 countries on the list—North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Maldives, Mali, Iran, Yemen, and Eritrea—eight are majority-Muslim states threatened by what Open Doors called Islamic extremism.
In Egypt, Coptic Christians have been attacked, murdered, and driven out. In Syria, whole towns have been emptied of their Christian populations. In December 2013, at least 1,000 Christians were killed in clashes with Muslims in the Central African Republic. “They are slaughtering us like chickens,” one Christian said. In the same year, seven Christian churches were torched by Muslims in Russia.
In February 2014, jihadists bombed churches in Zanzibar for being “dens of non-believers.” In March 2014, members of Somalia’s Al-Shabaab militia publicly beheaded a mother of two girls and her cousin after discovering they were Christians. The same month in Nigeria, more than 150 Christians were butchered in a massacre in Kaduna, one of innumerable attacks on Christians there. In Sudan, Christians have been hacked to death for refusing to convert to Islam or burned alive inside their churches. In Eritrea, more than 3,000 Christians are in jail. There are innumerable similar instances. Yet on all this carnage among their own flock, the churches are almost totally silent.
There are two main reasons that progressive Protestant churches have adopted an anti-Israel narrative. The first is the hemorrhaging of their base. Churches that were once in the forefront of social reform in both America and Britain have seen their influence dwindle along with their congregations. Championing the “poor and oppressed” Palestinians seems to offer a significant role in the national conversation.
The second reason is the eclipse of faith among the progressive clergy. Increasingly unwilling or unable to preach the literal truth of scripture, they have turned themselves into campaigners for the poor and oppressed.
Now there is an even more alarming development. The latest Christians to succumb to this delegitimization of Israel and the return of replacement theology are among the evangelicals, the very bedrock of Christian Zionism.
Sweeping Jews out of the land of Israel also means sweeping them out of their own history.
Hand in hand with Christian Palestinianism has come the steady Islamization of the Church. Increasingly ignoring its Jewish roots, the Church has reached out instead to Islam. In a paper published in 2007, Margaret Brearley, a British scholar of interfaith relations and former adviser to the archbishop of Canterbury, wrote that Anglicanism as a whole seemed to be gradually uprooting itself from its Judaic heritage. It was no longer normative for Anglican clergy to know Hebrew, and, if clergy studied another religion at theological college, it was now more likely to be Islam than Judaism.
The essential problem, says Canon Andrew White, is the lack of will in the church to face the difference between Judaism and Islam. “They don’t want to recognize that their faith comes from Judaism,” he said. “They talk instead of the ‘children of Abraham’ as if we are all in it together. The reality is, however, that although Islam and Judaism have a lot in common in terms of customs, they are as far apart as Christianity is from heathenism.”
As a result, the Church of England is conniving at an obnoxious historical revisionism. Muslims claim not only that they inhabited the land of Israel before the Jews but also that Islam was somehow the real Judaism before the Jews corrupted their own religion. The Koran says Islam came before Judaism and Christianity, and was the faith practiced by Abraham, who was a Muslim (3:67–68). It refers to Islam as the religion of Abraham many times (2:130, 135; 3:95; 4:125; 6:161).
This failure to address the theological roots of Christian anti-Jewish prejudice left the Protestant churches open to the politically opportunistic and revisionist Palestinian application of the doctrine and its use as a weapon against the State of Israel.
As Christians are murdered by Islamists across the world, some of their churches are directing their passions elsewhere. They are busily rewriting history, constructing a theology out of gross political distortion and lining up once again with historic forces of unfathomable darkness. It is not just the State of Israel that is being threatened as a result. Stamping upon its parent, the Church is embracing its own assassin—and the West’s nemesis.
About the Author
Melanie Phillips is a columnist for The Times (London) and the author of The World Turned Upside Down: The Global Battle over God, Truth, and Power (Encounter).