A Christian leader in Brazil says he’s alarmed by what he regards as a campaign by evangelicals to spread pro-Palestinian and anti-Israeli propaganda.
Julio Severo, a pro-family activist and blogger, told WND he’s concerned about a speaking tour in Brazil that features Bethlehem Bible College President Emeritus Bishara Awad in support of Open Doors, International.
Severo told WND that at an event in Brazil, Awad spoke of “the Palestinian plight provoked by Israel.”
“He did not mention anything about Muslim violence against Christians,” Severo said.
Severo worries that the tour will gain credibility because of the sponsorship.
“I am only a very small Christian, and to expose Open Doors for opening doors to such anti-Israel, Christian Palestinianism is a big challenge,” Severo said.
He said his concerns are both political and theological.
“In the speech, he repeatedly mentioned that he and his people are under occupation,” Severo said. “As a Christian, he didn’t give the Israeli point of view.”
“Many Christians support Israel whether it is right or wrong, but don’t look into the issues of peace and justice,” Awad said. “If that’s being political then fine, but unfortunately, some people, instead of coming and listening and participating, just attack us. We want to have serious engagement with Zionist groups, and have open forum for ongoing dialogue.”
Awad told WND in an interview that his ethnic background is an important factor in how he sees the Palestinian-Israeli issue.
“I am an Arab and my people are under occupation. But I am also a Christian and love the Lord Jesus,” Awad said. “My people are suffering greatly under the occupation. The economy is terrible and my people are under great economic stress.
“We aren’t suffering at the hands of the Muslims in Palestine,” Awad said. “Some people don’t want to believe this and that is their right.”
Severo is skeptical and he points to a report by the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America. In that report, Awad is quoted as saying an Israeli-built wall completely encircles Bethlehem.
“We have many problems in this land. We are under military occupation. The Israelis built a wall around us and this wall goes around Bethlehem,” Awad said.
But the committee report points out that a map shows that the wall doesn’t completely encircle Bethlehem.
However, Awad added that he knows the situation would only be more severe for his people if Bethlehem and the Palestinian Authority territory were under the control of the surrounding nations.
“Looking at the countries around us, like in Syria and in Lebanon, there certainly is persecution of Christians, and Christians are leaving. The people here are leaving because they don’t like to be under occupation,” Awad said.
“However, if the tables were turned (and an Arab neighbor controlled the territory), I would be very scared because of what I see around those countries,” Awad said. “I see how the Muslims are treating people and how they’re ever treating their own people. They’re killing their own people. There’s no mercy; there’s no love.
“It’s becoming more and more extreme with extreme Muslims. Even some moderate Muslims are happy about what’s going on in Syria with Muslims killing Muslims,” Awad said.
“The Middle East is in an uproar altogether, and I’m afraid the table will be turned around one of these days and the Palestinians will be under a worse regime than right now under Israel,” Awad said.
But Awad emphasized, “I don’t want my people to be under anyone’s control, under anyone else’s guns.”
Open Doors spokesman Paul Estabrooks said neither Open Doors nor Bethlehem Bible College is anti-Israel.
“Bishara thoroughly enjoyed his trip to Brazil celebrating OD-Brazil’s 30th anniversary. He was there to promote OD, not to promote his school or Palestinian causes.
“I spent one week at BBC and heard not one word of negativity toward Israel,” Estabrooks said.
Estabrooks explained that there is a significant theological debate surrounding the Arab-Israeli conflict and even whether Israel has a right to the land the modern state of Israel occupies.
Awad said he and Bethlehem Bible College reject what is termed by critics as “replacement theology,” the belief that the Christian church has taken Israel’s place as the inheritor of God’s covenant blessings and promises.
“I do not believe in replacement theology, and I believe in the right of Israel to exist,” Awad said.
Estabrooks confirmed Awad’s claim.
“He expressed that he does accept Israel as a nation and he does not personally, nor does the Bible college, hold to replacement theology. In recall, he thought that his emphasis at the meeting was just on the New Covenant, not on anti-Israel propaganda as charged,” Estabrooks said.
In a search of the Bethlehem Bible College website, the college’s “FAQ” page has this comment about the relationship between the college and Israel: “Due to Israeli occupation, Bethlehem residents have lost thousands of dunums of land for the purposes of Israeli settlement construction and the building of the separation wall.”
The site says, “Political violence during the 2nd Intifada and the continual loss of land have created a desperate economic situation in the city of Bethlehem, which has an unemployment rate of 22.4 percent, the highest in the West Bank.”
The college has not responded to WND’s requests for comment.
Estabrooks said: “Let me assure you that Open Doors also does not endorse or propagate replacement theology nor are we in any way anti-Israel as a nation of God’s chosen people. Neither have I heard this expressed or taught in my many experiences at Bethlehem Bible College over a 20-year period.’
Estabrooks explained Palestinian Christians have a different view of Israel, because they are both Palestinian and Christian.
“Furthermore, Christians I have met in Palestinian Israel are far more aggrieved at the mistreatment they receive from Israelis than the minimal challenges presented by Palestinian Muslims against them. Is it not understandable then that Palestinian Christians might express publicly the frustrations under which they live each day?” Estabrooks asked.
Estabrooks said that Open Doors subscribes to Christian author and pastor John Piper’s views of Israel. Piper’s seven points are as follows:
- God chose Israel from all the peoples of the world to be his own possession.
- The land was part of the inheritance he promised to Abraham and his descendants forever.
- The promises made to Abraham, including the promise of the land, will be inherited as an everlasting gift only by true, spiritual Israel, not disobedient, unbelieving Israel.
- Jesus Christ has come into the world as the Jewish Messiah, and his own people rejected him and broke covenant with their God.
- Therefore, the secular state of Israel today may not claim a present divine right to the land, but they and we should seek a peaceful settlement not based on present divine rights, but on international principles of justice, mercy, and practical feasibility.
- By faith in Jesus Christ, the Jewish Messiah, Gentiles become heirs of the promise of Abraham, including the promise of the land.
- Finally, this inheritance of Christ’s people will happen fully at the Second Coming of Christ to establish His kingdom, not before; and till then, we Christians must not take up arms to claim our inheritance; but rather lay down our lives to share our inheritance with as many as we can.