A movement based in the town where Jesus Christ was born that claims its aim is to educate evangelical Christians about the plight of their Palestinian brothers and sisters isn’t so much about education as it is anti-Israel propaganda, contends a monitor of U.S. reporting on the Middle East.
The Christ at the Checkpoint movement, which completed its third biennial conference this week and announced plans for another in 2016, gathered as the Gaza-ruling Hamas fired rockets into southern Israel on the heels of an Israeli commando intercept of sophisticated weaponry from Iran.
“What I’m seeing this year is that the CATC movement is not part of an effort to educate people about the Arab-Israeli conflict,” said Dexter van Zile, a researcher and writer for CAMERA, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America.
“It’s about giving people a way to ‘engage’ in the conflict and that means propounding a word of judgment against Israel,” he said. “The story told in this movement is of Israeli guilt and Palestinian suffering and innocence.”
As WND reported yesterday, conference organizers believe evangelicals in the West who embrace a “Christian Zionist” theology that regards the modern Jewish state as a fulfillment of biblical prophecy have blindly sided with Israel and influenced U.S. policy at the expense of the Palestinian people while falsely blaming the Holy Land Christians’ plight on Islam and Arab nationalism.
The Christ at the Checkpoint website says its objective is to “challenge evangelicals to take responsibility to help resolve the conflicts in Israel-Palestine by engaging with the teaching of Jesus on the kingdom of God.”
Luke Moon, with the Institute on Religion & Democracy in Washington, D.C., has noticed an effort to engage more fully with mainstream evangelicals in America:
“These people are savvy. They’ve found a way to reach Middle America,” he said. “They took the liberals out of the program and kept the conservatives. The liberals were prominent at CATC 2010 and 2012, but they are gone.”
Such a move to the center came more sharply into focus with the absence of Rev. Naim Ateek, a Palestinian Anglican priest who espouses liberation theology who played a prominent role in the first conference in 2010.
Nevertheless, at the opening ceremonies for the conference Monday, participants pledged allegiance to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
There are other indications the group is eager to please the PA, which continues to communicate through its political and religious leaders and media the erasure of Jewish history in the Holy Land.
At this year’s conference, the “Jesus was a Palestinian” theme was presented, and one participant, Mitri Raheb, a Lutheran pastor from Bethlehem, alleged that if it were possible to do DNA tests, “Palestinians” would be traced to King David and Jesus, but not, for example, to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Van Zile and freelance writer Brian Schrauger this week, through social media, have described the worldview of the CATC organizers as radically anti-Israel.
“I’m hopeful that the use of social media is helping to impact otherwise lethargic Christians who stand with Israel. I’m hoping people are motivated to act,” said Schrauger. “There are a few people in attendance who are openly dismayed [by the anti-Israel rhetoric]. Overwhelmingly, people here applaud and stand with the rhetoric being promoted.”
That includes claims that before the Zionists arrived in Palestine en masse, the region was a bustling, thriving state and that the first Christians were “Palestinians.”
Despite the speaker lineup being frontloaded with pro-Palestinian speakers, a few presented opposing views, including Oral Roberts University President William “Billy” Wilson, who was criticized by some in the evangelical community, for agreeing to speak at CATC. On Wednesday, Wilson unequivocally distanced himself form the various forms of a doctrine espoused by conference organizers often termed “replacement theology,” which says promises God made to Abraham have been completely filled in the church and there is no future inheritance specifically for the Jews.
Further, at least two of the speakers pointed out that Israel’s security fence has saved lives.
“The security wall was not built to oppress the Palestinian people but to protect Israeli lives – and it has,” said Oded Shoshani, a Messianic Jew who pastors the Hebrew congregation at Jerusalem’s King of Kings fellowship.
Ron Cantor of Messiah’s Mandate echoed Shoshani’s comments: “No terror, no wall. Very simple. Wall put an end to suicide bombing.”
Elsewhere, the rhetoric was more heated, as Alex Awad of Bethlehem Bible College, the conference’s main host, said that he hoped, “We start an evangelical intifada.”
Conversely, CATC organizers bristled when Shoshani brought up biblical promises to the Jews:
“God is bringing Jews back into the land not because of deeds or deserving, but because He is faithful to Old Testament and New Testament promises. The fact that I, a Jew, am standing here is a fulfillment of the Ezekiel 36 prophecy.”
Commenting on the reports from Bethlehem, Christians United for Israel Director David Brog lamented the emphasis on castigating Israel:
“Lovely claims to the contrary, the organizers of Christ at the Checkpoint seem laser-focused on blaming Israel first and blaming Israel only,” he said.
“They are so careful about excluding possible justification for Israel’s actions that not a word was uttered about the 60 missiles fired from Gaza into southern Israel yesterday.”
Brog said “they are so disconnected from real Christian suffering that there’s been no mention of the besieged Christian communities of Egypt, Iraq or Syria.”