• Groups such as Sabeel, War on Want (UK), Trócaire, and Pax Christi manipulate Christmas symbols and traditions to advance boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaigns. These campaigns are part of the Durban strategy that seeks to eliminate Israel through international isolation.
  • Friends of Sabeel – North America circulated a list targeting Israeli companies to boycott during Christmas shopping. The vast majority of these companies are located within the 1949 armistice lines and are included because they are Israeli or Jewish.
  • As in the past, War on Want is promoting donations to Stop the Wall (Palestinian Grassroots Anti-Apartheid Wall Coalition - PGAAWC).  
  • War on Want, Amos Trust and The Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC) are selling Christmas cards and wood carvings depicting the security barrier as part of the nativity scene.
  • Many exploitations of Christmas conflate the suffering of Jesus with the Palestinians, invoking classical antisemitic themes and blood libels against Jews. 

Overview

During the 2010 Christmas season, NGOs such as Sabeel, War on Want (UK), Trócaire, and Pax Christi are once again exploiting the holiday for radical attacks against Israel, through politicized Christmas carols, cards, and messages, and calls for donations and gift giving. This year, there is a greater emphasis on promoting BDS (boycotts, divestment, and sanctions) campaigns, as well as attacking the security barrier despite greatly reduced suicide bombings and other terror attacks.  

BDS Christmas Campaigns

NGOs are exploiting Christmas 2010 as an opportunity to advance the BDS movement through false apartheid claims and identifying Palestinians with Jesus. 

War on Want’s campaign “Help win justice for the Palestinian people this Christmas” accuses Israel of “illegal Occupation,” “daily human rights abuses,” and “the siege on Gaza and the Apartheid Wall.” As in previous years, this NGO calls for holiday donations in the form of “alternative gifts,” in order to “launch a sustained campaign against UK companies that are profiting from the Occupation” and to “secure compensation for those who have lost land due to construction of the Apartheid Wall.” 

Friends of Sabeel--North America circulated a list of ten companies to boycott entitled “All I want for Christmas is an End to Apartheid,” stating that “While there are many Israeli and multinational companies that benefit from apartheid, we put together this list to highlight ten specific companies to target.” The vast majority of the list comprises companies located within the 1949 armistice lines and are included because they are Israeli or Jewish-owned.  

For example, Teva Pharmaceuticals is included because it is “one of the largest generic drug manufacturers in the world” and part of a “well established industry in Israel.” The Delta Galil textile company is featured because its founder and president is a “a close associate of former Israeli Pr0esident [sic] Ehud Barak”; similarly, Estee Lauder is boycotted because chairman Ronald Lauder is also the chairman of the Jewish National Fund.

Adalah-NY (not the same as Adalah in Israel), a central actor in the BDS movement, held a  demonstration in front of Lev Leviev’s store in New York. Adalah-NY has been holding this demonstration annually since 2007. Activists doctored traditional carols and stories such as “The 12 Days of Boycott” and “The Grinch who Tried to Steal Palestine,” claiming that Leviev’s “dark task” and “true crime” are to “steal Palestine.” The song also blames Leviev for alleged human rights violations in Africa. 

The UK-based Ahava Boycott Campaign also composed an alternative BDS carol, “Away with Ahava! No more Dead Sea mud! Its settlement products are tainted with blood.” This is part of a longstanding campaign by BDS activists against Ahava.

Palestine Solidarity Campaign markets “Ideal Christmas Presents,” including a “Boycott Israeli Goods/Justice for Palestine T-shirt.”

Problematic Theology 

NGOs also exploit Christmas, using inflammatory rhetoric to promote a distorted and biased view of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The head of Sabeel, Naim Ateek, published a Christmas message blaming Israel alone for the failure of the peace process: “The problem today lies with the unwillingness of the government of Israel to respect the demands of international law.” Ateek accuses Israel of using “peace rhetoric while daily it devours Palestinian land. . . One is reminded again of the words of the prophet Isaiah, ‘The way of peace they do not know, and there is no justice in their paths.  Their roads they have made crooked; no one who walks in them knows peace’ (Is. 59:8).”    Invoking the Prophet Isaiah recalls classical antisemitism, which uses Biblical sources to argue that Jews are intractably immoral.

Pax Christi once again published its list of ideas for actions in “Prayer and Solidarity for the people of the Holy Land.” They suggest that supporters use the Pax Christi Bethlehem Story PowerPoint with a school, family, or parish group. Ignoring intra-Palestinian violence and the targeting of Christians by Islamists, the presentation falsely attributes the declining percentage of Christians living in Bethlehem to “the government of Israel … buil[ding] this large wall around the town of Bethlehem.” Replete with images of the “large wall,” the presentation dismisses Israeli security concerns – “they think the wall will keep them safe” – and asks the children to ”imagine Mary and Joseph trying to get through the wall to Bethlehem today.”

Pax Christi’s “list of ideas” also directs readers to the Just Peace For Palestine website for resources on the Arab-Israeli conflict. This website includes a call for BDS and accuses Israel of “segregation.” 

Trócaire (funded by the Irish government) asked supporters to purchase a gift of olive trees because “Palestinians have faced enormous hardship since Israel started building its Separation Wall around the West Bank in 2002.”  Trócaire also claims that a “gift of olive trees . . . will also support Israeli and Palestinian organisations working to promote a just and lasting peace.”  Yet, Trócaire funds some of the most radical organizations (Badil, Palestinian Center for Human Rights, Al Mezan) operating in the Arab-Israeli conflict, many of which are active in BDS and have signed an anti-normalization pledge to “reject any normalization activities with the occupier, neither at the political-security nor the cultural or developmental levels.”

A Beirut-based group named the “Never Before Campaign for Justice in Palestine” has posted a video for Christmas asking, “If he [Jesus] were here today, what would he say?” It opens with a close-up of a traditional nativity scene and ends with pictures of Jesus and Mary superimposed on the separation barrier. The accompanying text states, “Bethlehem is surrounded by a racist wall of biblical proportions, by regime which is racist to biblical proportions.”  

Christmas Cards and Nativity Scenes

As in previous years, War on Want is selling Christmas cards depicting the security barrier and traditional Christmas images. The Ireland Palestinian Solidarity Campaign is selling a card with a Madonna and child image in green, red, and white – the colors of the Palestinian flag. 

The Amos Trust Large Wall Nativity comes “complete with separation wall” depicting the “current situation in Bethlehem.  It includes... a palm tree to replace the wall for a more traditional nativity scene – ideal for churches and campaigners.” One may also buy the “poignant” and “ironic” Small Wall Nativity, where “this year the wise men won't get to the stable.” 

The Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC) features in its online store a wood nativity scene similar to the one sold by Amos Trust. IPSC requests of its supporters: “This Christmas, when you think of the birth of Jesus, we ask that you also remember Palestine and the historic injustice being carried out today…The set depicts what the famous events of over 2000 years ago might look like today, the two wise men (and one wise woman) find their path to the Manger of Jesus blocked by the modern monstrousity [sic] that Israel calls ‘the seperation [sic] barrier’ and which the rest of the world calls the Apartheid [sic] Wall.”

The IPSC is also features a Christmas card with the three wise men’s path blocked by the security barrier: “Imagine the bewilderment of the three wise men if they tried to bring their gifts to Bethlehem today. Their path would be blocked by Israel's Apartheid Wall and it's doubtful if they would be allowed through the checkpoints.”

Conclusion

Through the use of holiday and religious symbols, NGOs are manipulating Christmas to advance a political agenda, including anti-Israel boycotts. In some cases, the association of Palestinians with Jesus’ suffering invokes classical antisemitic tropes.   

The prevalence of Christmas-linked BDS reflects an increase in the intensity of these campaigns. These groups are exploiting the holiday themes and fueling the conflict, rather than publicizing a message of peace and co-existence.