Come All Ye Haters: NGO Exploitation of Religious Themes to Demonize Israel
- At the height of the holiday season, NGOs (non-government organizations), well-known charities, and church groups once again are exploiting Christmas to conduct political warfare against Israel. In 2014, groups such as Pax Christi, Sabeel, Amos Trust, Holy Land Trust, Israel Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD), Adalah-NY, Wi’iam, and Bethlehem Bible College are using religious themes to advance immoral anti-Israel campaigns, such as BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions). In some instances, the rhetoric used reflects antisemitic theology and sentiments such as comparing Israel to 1st century Romans, portraying Israel as inherently oppressive, and referring to the “tribal god” of Judaism.
- The NGOs discussed in this report use offensive and inflammatory rhetoric in Christmas carols, holiday messages and cards, nativity scenes, and other products. This year, a common theme is the promotion of anti-Israel political advocacy under the guise of religious obligation and motivation.
- Some of the NGOs, including Kairos, Sabeel, Jerusalem Inter Church Center, Wi’am, and St. Yves, are listed by the PLO as “Spokespeople for Christmas in Bethlehem.”
- The abuse of Christmas messages is part of a broad international campaign to introduce into churches political warfare against. As seen in NGO Monitor’s “BDS in the Pews” project, Palestinian Christian NGOs, such as Sabeel and Kairos Palestine, provide the theological and ideological frameworks for these attacks.
- Kairos Palestine published its annual “Christmas Alert” booklet, with contributions from radical anti-Israel NGOs such as Badil, St. Yves, and Defence for Children International – Palestine Section (DCI-PS). Using “testimonies” and “prayers,” the Christmas Alert advocates for Palestinian refugees to “demand their right of return,” campaigns for “reunification” of Palestinian families, and lobbies on behalf of Palestinian prisoners.
- Palestinian prisoners are a common theme in the examples below. However NGO Christmas messages omit the context of deadly terrorism, which is why most prisoners were incarcerated. Likewise, Islamic extremist violence against Israelis and persecution of Palestinian Christians are erased.
- Many of these NGOs are funded by European and other governments. Pax Christi is funded by Belgium (via Broederlijk Delen), UK (via CAFOD), France (via CCFD), USA (via CRS), and Germany (via ZIVIK); Sabeel by Sweden (via Diakonia) and the Netherlands (via ICCO and Kerk in Actie); ICAHD lists European Union, Spain, Ireland (via Trocaire), NGO Development Center (joint funding of Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark, Netherlands), and UNDP as funders; Wi’am is funded by the USA (via the Middle East Partner Initiative), Sweden, and The OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID). As funders, these governments are enablers and share the moral responsibility for the actions of the NGOs.
Religious Themes Encourage Political Warfare against Israel
During the current holiday season, NGOs exploit religious sources and biblical verses as part of their political warfare against Israel. The traditional Christian themes are introduced into a simplistic, one-sided narrative of the conflict that omits terrorism, Hamas control of Gaza, and Israel’s basic security needs to protect its civilian population.
Kairos Palestine is a campaign to promote the 2009 Kairos Palestine document, drafted by a small group of Palestinian Christian clergy. It calls for BDS (boycotts, divestment, and sanctions) against Israel and denies the Jewish religious and historical connection to any part of the Land of Israel. The Kairos Palestine document also ignores more than fifty years of Jewish-Christian reconciliation and denies the legitimacy of Judaism, particularly by arguing that Judaism was superseded by Jesus and Christianity (replacement theology).
- “As for the prisoners, they suffer the most among all Palestinians. They sacrificed long years of their lives for others. Jesus at the beginning of his message says: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim freedom to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free the oppressed,(…)’ (Luke 4:18).”
- “Remember that [Palestinian Christians] are the keepers of the Holy places. Remember all the year round not only at Christmas time…. We need you to stand by our legal and just cause through your governments to end this awful Israeli occupation of our homeland. We need you to pressure your government to put pressure on the Israeli government to implement all UN resolutions concerning the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as soon as possible so that we can have peace here and all over the world.”
Sabeel’s 2014 annual Christmas message, written by Naim Ateek, compares the historical period in which Jesus lived to current times:
- “From a Palestinian world view, there are certain similarities between the political conditions in Palestine during the times of Jesus’ birth and the political situation in Palestine today. There is a flagrant occupation that dominates and oppresses people; and there are words that describe what people go through: fear, insecurity, instability, suffering, grief, despair, and other negative feelings that a repressive empire and an Israeli rightwing government can produce.”
- “And more recently, the proposed Israeli Nationality Law does not reflect goodwill towards the Palestinians. However, the coming of Christ conveys the will of God whose very nature is love, compassion, and justice; and whose longing is to see the realization of peace on earth and goodwill among people.”
UK-based Amos Trust advertises an annual Bethlehem Pack, which contains the following theological references to promote advocacy against Israel, including indoctrinating Sunday school children with a theologically motivated political message:
- Provides “Eight simple steps you can take to promote a just peace for Palestine” including: Visit & Tell your story, Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions, Support the Call for an Arms Embargo, and Organise a fundraising or awareness raising event.”
- “Being a Jew living in Nazareth, Jesus would not be allowed by his own leadership to enter Bethlehem. He would have to sneak into Bethlehem ‘illegally’ and maybe get searched at a checkpoint. As he approached Bethlehem and saw the reality, he would probably weep over the town of his birthplace the same way he wept over Jerusalem.”
- “Greetings to you this Christmas season from the little town of Bethlehem. This little town, the place where the Prince of Peace was born continues to face daily hardships. Just this year alone, in the surrounding beautiful villages, hundreds if not thousands of olive trees were burned by illegal Israeli settlers for absolutely no reason but to humiliate and damage the source of livelihood for hundreds of Palestinian families.”
- Amos Trust encourages Sunday Schools and church services to have children make a “replica of a house” and “a piece of paper or a sign representing a demolition order,” and then act out the roles of “Palestinians who own the house; Israeli soldiers (to knock down the house);UK volunteers (a larger group) to rebuild the house.”
Holy Land Trust
Holy Land Trust makes similar claims in its Christmas message, “…accompanied the birth of the Prince of Peace. Looking at it in the context of the situation in Bethlehem then – which is not so much different politically and socially than Bethlehem today – I believe the lesson is in the roles that the characters played in the stories and not their persona and titles. It is not about angels, shepherds and wise men as much as it is about the messengers, the witnesses, the supporters, and the activists.” [emphasis added]
Wi’am, “a grassroots organization” that is involved in BDS, supports the Kairos Palestine document, and often distorts the context of terror, produced “A Word from Wi’am: Christmas is a message of Hope and Defiance,” stating that Israel acts as a “tyranny” comparable to the Romans. Falling back on teachings of contempt against Jews and Judaism, it refers to a “tribal god of retaliation”:
- “Indeed, Christ was born in Bethlehem under the Roman Occupation. As Herod ordered the killing of all children under two years of age, the angel appeared to the Holy Family and asked them to go to Egypt. This story is not strange for us. Our children are still born under occupation. Herod is not only present in Jerusalem but also throughout the Middle East and the entire world. The new herods are instilling fear in whole communities, using religion to depict a god of vengeance, a tribal god of retaliation.” [emphasis added]
- “We will resurrect from death as we will celebrate life conquering injustices on all levels: economically, politically, socially and religiously. Christmas is calling to celebrate life. Celebrating Christmas means taking part in the emancipation from oppression.”
Denominations: Presbyterian Church (USA) and United Methodist Church
Churches also echo the comparison of modern day Bethlehem to Jesus’ lifetime.
- PC (USA)’s representative in the Holy Land, Rev. Kate Taber, wrote in a Christmas 2014 email newsletter: “Today, it seems the current occupying force also feels threatened by Palestinian children and responds with persecution. Palestinian children face many traumas- from home demolitions to settler attacks to denial of family unification. However, one trauma in particular has caught the attention of all human rights advocates: the treatment of children in Israeli military detention….As we celebrate the birth of the Christ child this season, it is impossible for me not to imagine what his life would have been like, or Mary’s as his mother, had he been born in Bethlehem today.“
- United Methodist Church writes in its 2014 message, “Becoming ‘Kairos’ in Times of Suffering,” “Children want to know why. In the Holy Land, outside Bethlehem where Jesus was born, a wall separates Palestinian communities from the rest of the world.”
Pax Christi USA
Pax Christi USA is conducting a letter writing campaign to “Call on Congress to support an end to Israel’s occupation.” Pax Christi states that justice will be served this Christmas if you “Contact your elected officials to underscore the call for help in Gaza in the Dec. 15 letter.”
Palestine Solidarity Campaign
The UK-based Palestine Solidarity Campaign is conducting a BDS initiative “Don’t buy Hewlett Packard this Christmas!” because “HP is contracted by the Israeli government to provide the IT infrastructure to the Israeli navy, whose gunboats pounded the Gaza coast during the summer’s massacre.”
Demonization in the Kairos Palestine Pamphlet
Again this year, Kairos Palestine (see above) published a 60-page “Christmas Alert 2014” pamphlet, slated as an educational hub for religious groups and gatherings. This pamphlet serves as a vehicle for anti-Israel holiday messages for NGOs and churches, including the Alternative Information Center, the World Council of Churches (via PIEF and EAPPI), and Church of Sweden. Examples of demonization:
- Nora Carmi, Kairos Palestine’s Coordinator, wrote, “We cannot accept that the Jewish lobby intimidates us, cripples us and lulls us into a roaring silence, blocking our conscience into passive inaction.”
- Badil’s “The Continuous Forcible Displacement of the Palestinian People” refers to the nakba and a Palestinian right of return: “Since 1948, Israel developed a regime that combines occupation, apartheid and colonization which acts as the root cause of the ongoing forced population transfer of the Palestinian people…After 66 years of our Nakba we still feel that our home is waiting for us and that we will return, if not me my grandchildren, Inshallah…The Zionists managed to displace us because we were a simple peasant population. One day this will change.“
- Society of St. Yves focuses on “The Family Unification Law,” which they claim is a “tenuous and almost hopeless process… [and] juxtaposed with Israel’s Law of Return 1950 is unjustified.” This ignores the fact that 23 terrorist attacks, including a March 2002 suicide bombing in Haifa that killed 15, were carried out through the exploitation of “family entry” into Israel; more than 135 Israelis were killed and more than 700 injured. In 2012, “a West Bank Palestinian naturalized through a family reunification procedure some 15 years ago” planted a bomb on a bus in Tel Aviv. The resulting explosion injured 28; there were no fatalities.
- Defence for Children International – Palestine Section’s program manager Sukaina Khalawi’s advocates for BDS as a tool for “freedom”: “I ask you all including myself to defend our beloved Palestine, preserve our lands, and to boycott any action or attitude or product that maintains the occupation.”
- Sana Malash, who works with UNRWA, states she has been a victim of the occupation, and “if the foreign international aid continues to support Israel, either through projects funding or financial contributions, how is the strong aggressive power of Israel to end?”
- The Center for Defense of Liberties and Civil Rights (Hurryyat): “The Israeli occupation is the main reason, the major sin, the enormous injustice and the greatest evil. Land confiscations, house demolitions, displacements, withdrawal of Id’s, prisoners, and martyrs are all practiced by the Israeli occupation… The prisoners are part of the Palestinian struggle, an indispensable part of our freedom and independence. We as Christians, Palestinians, and citizens must stand by those prisoners who paid a high price for fighting the occupation”
- The terms “terrorism,” “rockets,” and “Hamas” are not found in the pamphlet. This reflects the Kairos Palestine Document’s nullification of terrorism by using the euphemism “armed resistance.” Kairos Palestine claims Israel uses this as a “pretext to accuse the Palestinians of being terrorists and was able to distort the real nature of the conflict, presenting it as an Israeli war against terror, rather than an Israeli occupation faced by Palestinian legal resistance aiming at ending it.” (emphasis added)
NGO Cards, Products, and Events
- ICAHD is selling a Christmas card designed by Palestinian photographer Elias Halabi, whose photographs are meant to “illustrate the burdens and harsh reality that Palestinians go through in their daily life.”
- War on Want (UK) continues to promote its politicized Christmas cards depicting the security barrier paired with traditional Christmas images.
- Adalah-NY held its 8th annual “Anti-Apartheid Holiday Caroling at Leviev’s”, a New York jewelry store owned by Israeli businessman Lev Leviev. The protest is part of Adalah-NY’s ongoing campaign against Leviev. Activists were invited to sing from “The Boycott Leviev Holiday Songbook – Why SHOP when you can help STOP Apartheid,” including altered versions of traditional holiday songs. Featured on this year’s Facebook invitation was the song “Oh the diamonds inside are sparklin’, But they can’t hide what’s behind ‘em, They’re funding apartheid, so, Just say no, Just say no, Just say no.”
- The UK Palestinian Solidarity Campaign (PSC) continues to sell a politicized Christmas card related to the conflict. This year’s version includes a sketched version of “Palestine” with death toll statistics and distorted legal claims on the back. PSC is also advertising “Open Bethlehem” screenings, a film that claims Bethlehem is an “imprisoned” town.
- If Americans Knew is sponsoring a campaign “Bethlehem in 2014,” which included Christmas cards and a “Christmas billboard” in Atlanta that depicts graffiti artist Banksy’s vision of a modern day Joseph and Mary being blocked by the security barrier.
- Bethlehem Bible College is selling a “Nativity set with separation wall.”
|Pax Christi||Belgium (via Broederlijk Delen), UK (via CAFOD), France (via CCFD), USA (via CRS), Germany (via ZIVIK)|
|Sabeel||Sweden (via Diakonia), Netherlands (via ICCO and Kerk in Actie), U.S. and Canada (via Mennonite Central Committee and Catholic Organization for Development and Peace)|
|Holy Land Trust||U.S., UK|
|Israel Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD)||European Union, Spain, Ireland (via Trocaire), NGO Development Center(joint funding of Switzerland, Sweden,Denmark and the Netherlands), U.S., and Canada (via Mennonite Central Committtee), UNDP|
|War on Want||Ireland, UK|
|Wi'am||USA (via the Middle East Partner Initiative), Sweden, The OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID)|
|Bethlehem Bible College||U.S., UK, Netherlands (via CAFOD and Kerk in Actie)|
|St. Yves||Germany (via Misereor and Missio),Norway (via Norwegian Refugee Council), Netherlands (via Cordaid)|
|Defence for Children International- Palestine Section (DCI-PS)||Netherlands (via ICCO, Kerk in Actie, Stichting Kinderpostzegeks Nederlands),NGO Development Center (joint funding of Switzerland, Sweden, Denmark,Netherlands), Germany (via EED), Italy(via Cultura e Syiluppo), Spain (via Mundubat), Belgium (via Broederlijk Delen), European Union, Switzerland (via Swiss Interchurch Aid and HEKS), UNDP|
|Alternative Information Center||Sweden (via Diakonia), Netherlands (via ICCO), Spain (via Mundubat), France (via CCFD, UJFO, Commission Nationale Consultative des Sroits de, and Foundation France), Switzerland (via Geneva Municipality)|
|World Council of Churches (EAPPI, PIEF, Jerusalem Inter-Church Center)||Norway, Canada, Germany (via Bread for the World, EED and Diakonie Auslandshilfe- Osterreichische), UK (via Christian Aid), Denmark (via DanChurch Aid), Finland (via FinnChurch Aid),|