Deck the Halls with Exploitation: How Anti-Peace NGOs Abuse and Misuse the Message of Christmas
Similar to previous years (see NGO Monitor reports for 2014, 2013, 2012), many politicized NGOs and well-known charities have been exploiting the 2015 Christmas season with anti-peace campaigns, some of which glorify terrorism.
Groups such as Sabeel (funded by Sweden, via Diakonia, and the Netherlands via ICCO and Kerk in Actie), War on Want (funded by UK, EU, and Ireland), Adalah-NY, Kairos Palestine, and Amos Trust are again using religious and holiday themes to demonize Israel. These organizations utilize inflammatory and offensive rhetoric in their Christmas carols, holiday messages, appeals, and religious imagery.
At the same time, their messages strip the context, omitting references to deadly Palestinian terrorism and other violence against Israelis. They fail to condemn the escalation of attacks against civilians in the last quarter of 2015 – stabbings, car rammings, and drive-by shootings. For example, many of these so-called Christmas messages allege that the security barrier causes harm to Palestinians, while failing to mention its role in protecting civilians against terror attacks.
The abuse of Christmas messages is part of a broad international campaign of political warfare conducted against Israel in some churches. Palestinian Christian NGOs, such as Sabeel and Kairos Palestine, provide the theological and ideological frameworks for these attacks.
Despite claiming to promote moral agendas with messages of peace, these NGOs and charities actually abuse this holiday and religious symbols. Their intolerant and theologically charged messages aggravate an already polarized and violent conflict.
The Politicized anti-Israel NGOs exploiting the message of Christmas
The following politicized, pro-Palestinian NGOs exploit religious themes in order to demonize Israel and encourage unwarranted and counter-productive political warfare against Israel.
Al Quds University
Al Quds University, which has received funding from the EU’s Partnerships for Peace program, displayed a “martyrs tree.” The tree’s decorations included pictures of terrorists who had conducted attacks against Israeli civilians over the previous few months. The tree was revealed in an event attended by the University’s President and the Mufti of Bethlehem.
Kairos Palestine is an NGO that promotes 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 repeats ancient antisemitic themes, including the dogma that Judaism was superseded by Jesus and Christianity (“replacement theology”).
The 2015 Christmas booklet distributed by Kairos Palestine encourages religiously motivated campaigns against Israel, particularly regarding Israel’s security barrier and procedures:
- “This prolonged occupation contorts the great human values born in the cradle of our Abrahamic faiths. Arguments about divine election and misinterpretation of the Holy Book are summoned to deny Palestinians their God-given rights and to justify policies of dispossession and expulsion. ‘They say: ‘Peace, peace’ when there is no peace’ (Jer. 6:14)….In the following reflections Hanadi takes us to the Apartheid Wall and reconfirms the love of parenthood and the struggle for normality under the wall’s suffocating impact.”
- The booklet includes a comment by H.B. Michel Sabbah, Patriarch Emeritus of the Roman Catholic Church: “The geography has not changed since the time of Jesus Christ. There is still a barrier of hatred between Jews and Samaritans. Today there is also an economic and military barrier as well as the barrier of hatred. We need to be liberated from both…
- Also featured in the booklet is Christ at the Checkpoint, which seeks to advance exclusivist Palestinian nationalism within Evangelical Christian churches, as well as replacement theology: “‘The fact that Jesus Christ had a message about the checkpoints, a tool to humiliate my people, was news to me!’ (Amira Farhoud) ‘If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.’ Jesus addressed the Roman soldiers who used to force the Jews to carry their belongings 1 mile, Jesus has asked them to walk not only one mile but two miles, as a sign of defiance and challenging the law.”
Additionally, on the first day of Advent, Kairos Palestine released a statement marking the UN International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. The statement blames the victim by putting the onus for terrorism against Israeli civilians on Israel itself:
- “Sunday, 29th November 2015, is the first day of Advent as well as the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People initiated by the United Nations. Tragically in Palestine, this time of Advent is beginning at a very dark time. In Bethlehem, clashes erupt almost daily, Israeli forces have closed down Hebron completely and Palestinian Jerusalemites are facing another round of harsh discrimination and house demolitions. In fact, instead of preparing for Christmas, Palestinians are struggling with the consequences of the past weeks.”
- “We are mourning all innocent victims of the recent weeks. Resistance is a right and a duty for Christians and all Palestinians. We clearly support this right to resist the prolonged occupation and aggressions by successive Israeli governments and hereby call for a resistance in the logic of love.”
Sabeel claims to be an “ecumenical grassroots liberation theology movement among Palestinian Christians,” which “encourages Christians from around the world to work for justice and to stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people.” Sabeel is active in anti-Israel political campaigns, including church divestment campaigns, and supports a “one state” formula, meaning the elimination of Israel as a Jewish state.
As in previous years, Naim Ateek uses Sabeel’s 2015 annual Christmas message as a vehicle for demonization of Israel:
- “The Government of Israel has allowed the empowerment of the extremist settlers and many Palestinians and Israelis have become the victims. The illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories continues unabated; the Israeli lust for land and settlement building is unrelenting; and the monopolizing and Judaizing of Jerusalem continues unchecked. Such tragic facts cannot be glossed over but must be faced, admitted, and taken into account.”
- “The prophetic cry against the Israeli government’s continued disregard of Palestinian political and human rights and its infringements on international law have become subdued and muted. It is the responsibility of our church leaders, Imams, and Rabbis in Jerusalem and throughout the world to take a stronger and clearer stand against Israeli oppression of the Palestinians.”
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. Much of the text, including the examples below, is the same as in years past:
- “If Jesus was born today in Bethlehem, the Wise Men would spend several hours queueing to enter the town. The shepherds, despite being residents of Bethlehem, would struggle to graze their sheep as their land, annexed by the building of the Separation Wall…”
- “For peace to come to Palestine and Israel, we must speak out about the injustices faced by Palestinians and support them with our prayers, both at Christmas and throughout the year.”
- “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 people to read prayers as a sign of support at Christmastime and year round, prayers with language such as: “God-with-us, you sit down in our midst. Nothing can separate us from your love – not towering concrete walls or the deep darkness between searchlights…You are with our brothers crowded at the checkpoint, with our sisters witnessing for peace…Born into poverty to displace people living under occupation…we know that your love can never be contained by the walls of separation.”
Wi’am Palestinian Conflict Resolution and Transformation Center
Wi’am is involved in BDS, supports the Kairos Palestine document, and often distorts the context of terror. This year Wi’am released a Christmas Smile Proposal, under the headline “WE WILL NOT ALLOW THE GRINCH TO STEAL CHRISTMAS,” to raise money to fund a Christmas event. The proposal claims that:
- “Christmas is coming to Bethlehem and the Holy Land amid injustices of occupation incarnated in human rights violations, restrictions on movement, crippling economic situation that leaves people with great burden and cripple families and their children who succumb to hopelessness, despair and lack of direction.”
- “Yet for many families in Palestine parents are faced with impossible obstacles in which the creation of a cheerful environment becomes difficult and also providing a gift at Christmas might be unattainable or even imaginative.”
Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation (HCEF)
HCEF is an ecumenical group of American Christians. It promotes the Kairos Palestine document, and applies a Palestinian liberation theology that fuses Christian theological antisemitism with Palestinian nationalist ideology.
- On its Facebook page HCEF posted a picture with the caption: “Give the gift of hope to Palestinian Christians this Christmas Season.”
In the picture, children are holding a picture which says “Allow the little children, and don’t forbid them to come to me.”
- HCEF also posted: “Holy Land: A Christmas Under The Sign Of Soberness,” which blames Israel for separating Bethlehem and Jerusalem, but without mentioning the past and ongoing terrorism that explains Israel’s security measures: “Despite the Wall, these two towns, that of the birth of Christ and that of his death and Resurrection, are inseparable.”
- In a report “Palestinian Children Celebrate Christmas Despite Current Conflict During HCEF’s 11th Annual Journey To Bethlehem,” HCEF claims, “Unfortunately, due to the intensified Occupation, many of the schools and scout groups that typically participate in the Journey were unable to attend this year.” HCEF fails to mention that the movement restrictions were the result of the intensification of Palestinian violence in the Jerusalem area.
PAX Christi, established in Europe in 1945 as a “global Catholic peace movement,” promotes the Palestinian narrative of the “Nakba” [catastrophe] and urges the international community “to hold Israel accountable for its statist crimes of oppression and collective punishment.”
- In its Action and Resources for Advent and Christmas 2015, PAX Christi promotes a politicized report by the Society for St. Yves, “Last nail in Bethlehem’s coffin” (August 2015), which refers to Israel’s security barrier as an “annexation wall.”
- Also included is a slideshow, “A Bethlehem Story,” which accuses Israel of causing the Christian population to decline (when in fact it has grown) and compares modern day Bethlehem to Jesus’ lifetime.
Embrace the Middle East (EME)
Embrace the Middle East runs schools, and organizes programming and other community development initiatives. It also promotes an entirely biased and distorted view of the conflict based solely on the Palestinian narrative of victimization and Israeli aggression.
- EME’s Advent Resource Pack includes a story that compares the ”occupying power” of the Romans in the time of Jesus to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (with Israel in the role of the Romans and Palestinians likened to Jesus).
American Friends Service Committee (AFSC)
AFSC actively promotes BDS campaigns against Israel; accuses Israel of “apartheid against Palestinians”; and advocates for the “right of return,” meaning the end of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people.
- AFSC’s General Secretary Shan Cretin, in her Christmas 2015 email newsletter, used AFSC’s BDS activism as a prime example of the work donations would support.
Israel Palestine Mission Network (IPMN)
- IPMN, in addition to sharing the Kairos Palestine Christmas message, begins its own Advent 2015 message with: “As we prepare for Christmas this year let us consider places around the world where real hope for real peace continues to dwindle. In Palestine, the Apartheid Wall and illegal settlements limit our mobility, deny us access to our natural resources, and strangulate our economy. Wherever one looks, be it the prolonged and inhuman siege in Gaza, the isolation of East Jerusalem and the fragmentation of the West Bank, the fabric of Palestinian society is being torn to shreds.”
NGO Cards, Products, and Events
- Adalah-NY held its 9th Annual Anti-Apartheid Holiday Caroling, protesting outside a New York City jewelry store owned by Israeli businessman Lev Leviev. The protest is part of Adalah-NY’s ongoing campaign against Leviev. 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.”
- War on Want (UK) continues to promote its politicized Christmas cards depicting the security barrier paired with traditional Christmas images.
- 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.”
- The UK Palestinian Solidarity Campaign (PSC) continues to sell a politicized Christmas card related to the conflict.
- If Americans Knew continues to sell their politicized Christmas cards depicting the three wise men unable to reach Bethlehem due to Israel’s security barrier.
- Bethlehem Bible College continues to sell a “Nativity set with separation wall.”