- Through the use of holiday and religious symbols, NGOs such as War on Want, Amos Trust, and Pax Christi are manipulating Christmas to advance a political agenda, and in some cases, may be promoting antisemitic canards.
- NGOs organized an event entitled, “Bethlehem Now: Nine Alternative Lessons and Carols for Palestine,” involving “traditional carols with untraditional lyrics, interspersed with poetry and prose readings, to highlight current reality in the Holy Land.” The tendentious lyrics and themes of the event led to strong condemnations from Christian and Jewish community leaders.
- War on Want is promoting an “Alternative Gift” of donations to Stop the Wall (Palestinian Grassroots Anti-Apartheid Wall Coalition – PGAAWC). PGAAWC focuses on “stopping and dismantling the Apartheid Wall” and supporting the boycotts, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement.
- War on Want and Amos Trust are marketing Christmas cards depicting the security barrier and conflating Jesus with the Palestinians.
- On December 2, 2008, Christian Aid hosted a fundraiser called “From Bethlehem to Bristol.” While the fundraiser appears to be a departure from the explicit and extreme demonization of Christian Aid’s previous campaigns, it still provided a one-sided perspective on the conflict.
In advance of Christmas 2008, several British NGOs have returned to previous theological offensives against Israel by combining emphasis on Bethlehem, stories of Palestinian suffering, and false allegations of Israeli cruelty. Through Christmas cards, carols, and charity fundraising, War on Want, Amos Trust, Pax Christi and others condemn Israel’s security barrier and erase the Palestinian terror campaign that necessitates it. As in previous years when NGOs used Underground station advertisements and greeting cards, these campaigns capitalize on holiday sentiment and Christian religious symbols to declare that “the wall must fall” and present a biased view of the conflict.
Christmas Cards: War on Want and Amos Trust
War on Want and Amos Trust are marketing Christmas cards depicting the security barrier and conflating Jesus with the Palestinians — a familiar theme among UK NGOs. The Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign is selling similar items to protest the “illegal structure” of the “apartheid wall,” thereby also appealing to religious prejudices.
A War on Want card shows Mary and Joseph encountering a Bethlehem that is “effectively sealed off from the outside world by Israel’s Separation Wall” and “Mary and Joseph being frisked on their way to find an inn for the night.” This is reminiscent of another card from previous years, featuring “the three wise men trying to get to Bethlehem but being forced to dig underneath Israel’s separation wall.”
Similarly, Amos Trust advertises cards that portray Santa Claus walking along the security barrier with a bag of gifts, ringing a bell. The inside text ends, “as we celebrate the child born in Bethlehem – let us not forget God’s children living in Bethlehem today.”
Additionally, as in previous years, Amos Trust offers the “Wall Nativity,” which comes with a prayer guide and “complete with separation wall [and] depicts the current situation in Bethlehem.” This project has been criticized for its anti-Semitic undertones.
Anti-Israel Lyrics in Christmas Carols
On November 26, 2008 a fringe group calling itself Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods organized an event entitled, “Bethlehem Now: Nine Alternative Lessons and Carols for Palestine,” involving “traditional carols with untraditional lyrics, interspersed with poetry and prose readings, to highlight current reality in the Holy Land.” The event was held at the prominent Anglican church St James, Piccadilly, and proceeds supposedly went to Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) and Open Bethlehem. While MAP is funded to provide medical aid to Palestinians, many of its activities focus on political campaigning, including accusations that the Israeli government is responsible for “harsh (and illegal) measures of collective punishment.” And Open Bethlehem, a Trocaire-funded NGO, blames the “Israeli-built wall” for “an unprecedented wave of emigration, particularly among the city’s Christians,” ignoring the targeting of Christians by Muslim extremists and Palestinian terror.
Lyrics for the “Twelve Days of Christmas” include: “Twelve assassinations, Eleven homes demolished, Ten wells obstructed, Nine sniper towers…And an uprooted olive tree.” “Once in Royal David’s City” was changed to “Once in royal David’s city stood a big apartheid wall…”
Numerous NGOs participated in the event. War on Want was an official supporter and Bruce Kent, vice president of Pax Christi was a special guest with a reading role. After the event he said, “The carols pointed out exactly what is going on in occupied Palestine today. I am delighted they have had the publicity that this has generated. Anyone who speaks against Zionist policies is labeled anti-Semitic.” Also in attendance was Baroness Jenny Tonge, former trustee of Christian Aid. The composers drew inspiration from Garth Hewitt, founder of the Amos Trust, who also wrote some of the alternative lyrics.
Christian and Jewish community leaders strongly condemned the event. Israeli Ambassador to Britain, Ron Proser, said “it was appalling to see a church allow one of its most endearing seasonal traditions to be hijacked by hatred.”
Alternative Christmas Campaigns
War on Want and Pax Christi are also endorsing politicized Christmas campaigns. War on Want is promoting an “Alternative Gift” to “promote peace in Palestine”: a donation of £10 to Stop the Wall (Palestinian Grassroots Anti-Apartheid Wall Coalition – PGAAWC) to fund one-day’s worth of campaigning materials for this radical anti-Israel NGO. PGAAWC focuses on “stopping and dismantling the Apartheid Wall” and supporting the boycotts, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement. It is also a signatory of the Palestinian Civil Society position paper on the Durban Review Conference, which labels Israel a “racist” and “apartheid” state. (PGAAWC does not reveal its donors.) War on Want’s description of the barrier is again highly prejudicial and ignores Palestinian terrorism.
Pax Christi promotes a list of ideas for Advent and Christmas 2008 to “raise awareness of how the people of Bethlehem are living now.” The NGO proposes “build[ing] a Wall around or through [the “Christmas”] crib and discuss who would be inside or outside.” Pax Christi also recommends the “Pax Christi ‘Bethlehem Story’ powerpoint for children to show Bethlehem as a living place today.” Ignoring intra-Palestinian violence and the targeting of Christians by Islamic extremists, the presentation 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.”
Christian Aid’s Fundraiser for Bethlehem
Before Christmas 2004, Christian Aid initiated a highly emotive and tendentious “Child of Bethlehem” campaign: posters featuring a young Palestinian girl who had been hit in the eye by Israeli shrapnel and her bloodied doll with “matching” wounds. The campaign generated controversy in England, and led to conciliatory meetings with leaders of the British Jewish community.
On December 2, 2008, Christian Aid hosted a fundraiser called “From Bethlehem to Bristol.” The keynote speaker was Nader Abu Amsha, director of the YMCA in Shepherd’s Field (Beit Sahour) near Bethlehem. In an interview given on the day of the event, Abu Amsha accused Israel of “committing crimes…against humanity” and dismissed Israel’s security concerns. Proceeds from the event went to “support the work of Christian Aid partner organizations in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories,” reportedly the YMCA. However, Christian Aid’s other regional partners include some of the most radical NGOs involved in the conflict — Sabeel, ICAHD, and the Alternative Information Center.
While the fundraiser appears to be a departure from the explicit and extreme demonization of Christian Aid’s previous campaigns, it still provided a one-sided perspective on the conflict. In a news report about the event, a Christian Aid representative stated: “In the run up to Christmas and the season of goodwill, we want to raise awareness of the fact that all should have access to land, health and education.” As NGO Monitor has demonstrated, Christian Aid engages in a highly politicized approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict, and its reports disproportionately focus on alleged Israeli “violations.”
During the holiday season, some British-Christian NGOs claim to emphasize the “current reality in the Holy Land,” yet they represent only one side of that reality and contribute to the conflict. Their linking of the suffering of Palestinian Christians with that of Jesus, who was born in Bethlehem, recalls centuries of antisemitism and blood libels against the Jewish people. Through the use of holiday and religious symbols, these NGOs are manipulating Christmas to advance a political agenda, and in some cases, may be promoting antisemitic canards.