Identicide: Christian Palestinianism and the strange death of Jesus the Jew
“We have been taught for centuries that the Jews are the Chosen People. We do not believe anymore that they are the Chosen People of God, since now we have a new understanding of that Choseness.” (Father Elias Chacour, Catholic Archbishop of Israel, 1999).
What is Christian Palestinianism?
Christian Palestinianism is a phrase coined by Paul Wilkinson, an evangelical author based in Manchester, England. Wilkinson defines Christian Palestinianism as “an inverted mirror image of Christian Zionism,” and describes it as “diametrically opposed to that of biblical Christian Zionism, and whose opposition to Israel and her Christian allies is expressed in their outspoken support of the Palestinian agenda.”
The term Palestinianism, however, seems to have originated in the writings of Jewish Egyptian author Bat Ye’or. In Eurabia: the Euro-Arab Axis, she outlines the growing phenomenon of Palestinian replacement theology and the gradual Islamization of Christianity. Christian Palestinianists, according to Ye’or interpret the Bible from the viewpoint of the Quran and “do not admit to any historical or theological link between the biblical Israel, the Jewish people and the modern State of Israel.”
Christian Palestinianists and their supporters in the West recognize the political benefit of undermining the State of Israel’s biblical foundations. This is achieved by stripping the Bible of its Jewishness, neutralizing the prophetic significance of the Land of Israel and recasting Jesus as a Palestinian. This is despite the fact that Jesus was a Galilean Jew and the word “Palestine” didn’t exist during his lifetime.
Wilkinson places the birth of Christian Palestinianism at the end of the 1980s. However, the groundwork had already been laid in 1967 by an Arab-Christian memorandum entitled “What is Required of the Christian Faith Concerning the Palestine Problem.” The document, which had the blessing of Catholic and Orthodox clergy, declared that it is “a total misunderstanding of the story of salvation and a perversion of God’s plan for a Christian to want to re-establish a Jewish nation as a political entity.”
In one of its most audacious passages, the memorandum reads: “The Christian conscience should always discern what is the authentic vocation of the Jewish people and what is the other side of the coin, that is, the racist State of Israel.” In fact, the memorandum calls for a permanent exile of the Jews on the grounds that “the Jewish race was chosen to serve the salvation of Humanity and not to establish itself in any particular religious or racial way.”
The theological underpinning of Christian Palestinianism is a rebranded version of replacement theology. Fulfillment theology is based on the premise that the life, death and resurrection of Jesus was a spiritual fulfillment of God’s promise to return the Jews to Israel. Therefore the Jews – and by extension the Land of Israel – have no prophetic meaning and have fulfilled their roles in salvation history. The theologian N.T. Wright, for example, argues that Israel’s restoration was achieved through the resurrection and that Jewish ethnic identity is no longer important on a religious level. The Land of Israel, Jerusalem and Temple are all obsolete, according to Wright, because Jesus embodies all three.
Although keen to neutralize the prophetic significance of the Bible for Jews, Christian Palestinianists have no problem with appropriating the tradition for themselves. In 2005, the Anglican bishop of Jerusalem, Riah Abu el-Assal, claimed of Palestinian Christians: “We are the true Israel […] no-one can deny me the right to inherit the promises, and after all the promises were first given to Abraham and Abraham is never spoken of in the Bible as a Jew.”
In 1997, the Palestinian Authority aired a program that claimed the stories in the Torah took place in Yemen, not in Israel. The PA also says there is no evidence that the Western Wall has anything to do with Second Temple.
Christian Palestinianists question or even condemn passages in the Bible that elevate Israel above other nations. In fact, the prime mover of the Christian Palestinianist movement, Naim Ateek, who is the Anglican canon of St. George’s Cathedral in Jerusalem , has stated that some Bible passages are explicitly “exclusivist.” There is a “great need to ‘de-Zionize’ these texts,” he believes.
In 1989, Ateek published the founding document of Christian Palestinianism, Justice and Only Justice: A Palestinian Theology of Liberation, which drew much of its strength from South American liberation theology. Five years later, Ateek founded an organization called Sabeel – the Palestinian Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center. Sabeel means “the way,” which is a clear reference to both Jesus as “the way,” and the early name of the Christians, who were called “followers of the way.”
The version of liberation theology espoused by Ateek is that of Jesus as “a Palestinian living under an occupation.” In his 2001 Easter message, Ateek spoke of Jesus as “the powerless Palestinian humiliated at a checkpoint.” Apart from the fact that Jesus wasn’t a Palestinian, this is harmless enough. But Ateek then steps up the rhetoric, with disturbing anti-Semitic undertones:
“In this season of Lent, it seems to many of us that Jesus is on the cross again with thousands of crucified Palestinians around him. It only takes people of insight to see the hundreds of thousands of crosses throughout the land, Palestinian men, women, and children being crucified. Palestine has become one huge Golgotha. The Israeli government crucifixion system is operating daily. Palestine has become the place of the skull.”
This is shocking and inflammatory on a number of levels. The Palestinians are indeed restricted in their movements because of the terror threat, but being held up at a checkpoint is hardly a crucifixion. The reference to “hundreds of thousands of crosses throughout the land” is obviously figurative but the image is overblown and patently absurd. If any place on earth should be dubbed Golgotha, surely it should be Auschwitz or Treblinka, not the West Bank. The reference to the “Israeli government crucifixion system” is outrageous and quite possibly anti-Semitic, given the old canard about Jews being responsible for the death of Jesus.
The Kairos Palestine Document
Perhaps the Christian Palestinianist movement found its ultimate expression in the Kairos Palestine Document. Published in 2009 and subtitled “A moment of truth: A word of faith, hope and love from the heart of Palestinian suffering,” the paper was a rehash of the 1967 Arab-Christian memorandum.
Notably, the Kairos document (which can be found on the World Council of Churches website) speaks on behalf of Christian and Muslim Palestinians, who apparently share a “deeply rooted” history and a “natural right” to the land. In contrast, Israel is an alien entity, and only exists because of Western guilt over the Holocaust. Not surprisingly, the document makes no mention of Muslim involvement in the Holocaust, nor does it comment on the decades of Jewish immigration in the decades before Hitler’s genocide.
The Holocaust aside, the State of Israel is associated with the words “evil” and “sin.” According to the text, the “occupation” is an affront to both humanity and the divine, and “distorts the image of God in the Israeli who has become an occupier.”
The document criticizes Christian Zionism as being “far from Christian teachings” and praises the first intifada, referring to it as a “peaceful struggle.” Terrorism, while not sanctioned, is excused on the grounds that Israel is ultimately responsible for Palestinian acts of violence against Jewish civilians.
And if any proof is needed that conformity is in fashion, the document calls for economic sanctions against Israel: “Palestinian civil organizations, as well as international organizations, NGOs and certain religious institutions call on individuals, companies and states to engage in divestment and in an economic and commercial boycott of everything produced by the occupation.”
This, according to the writers of the text, is an example of non-violent protest, despite the fact that there is nothing praiseworthy about ruining Jewish businesses and putting Palestinians out of work.
Christian Palestinianism in the West
Since the turn of the century, Christian Palestinianism has been warmly embraced by various Christian groups in the West, notably Anglicans, Presbyterians, evangelicals and left-wing protestants, such as the Quakers. Apart from attacking Israel, westernized Christian Palestinianists have gone to great lengths to ridicule and invalidate Christian Zionism.
In 2004, the General Synod of the Reformed Church in America declared Christian Zionism to be an “extreme form of dispensationalism,” a “distortion of the biblical message,” and an impediment to a “just peace in Israel/Palestine.” In 2007, the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland accused Christian Zionism of portraying “an unjust God, with an unjust people.”
Many of the books attacking Christian Zionists accuse the latter of advocating “Armageddon” rather than justice. As well as removing the prophetic significance of the scriptures, books such as Anglican vicar Reverend Dr Stephen Sizer’s Christian Zionism: Road-map to Armageddon? misrepresent and deride centuries of mainstream protestant tradition.
Sizer, a virulent opponent of Israel, believes there is a sharp distinction between God’s covenant with Israel and the beliefs of Jesus’s disciples. “There is,” he says, “no evidence that the apostles believed that the Jewish people still had a divine right to the land, or that Jewish possession of the land would be important, let alone that Jerusalem would remain a central aspect of God’s purposes for the world.” Sizer adds: Jerusalem and the Land of Israel “have been made irrelevant to God’s redemptive purposes.”
Sizer is a regular contributor to Islamic media outlets, including Iran’s Press TV. He has been photographed with Arafat, and with Zahra Mostafavi Khomeini, the daughter of the Ayatollah. He has met with – and publicly defended – Raed Salah, a Hamas fundraiser who accuses the Jews of making Passover bread with the blood of Christian children. (There are numerous photos of Sizer and Salah enjoying each other’s company.)
Sizer seems unembarrassed by the fact that his own remarks and writings stray into anti-Semitic territory. For instance, he once stated that the reason Jews “were expelled from the land was that they were more interested in money and power and treated the poor and aliens with contempt.” In 2011, he posted a link on his Facebook page to an anti-Semitic website called “The Ugly Truth,” and in the same year, he went to Malaysia to work with Viva Palestina, whose leading activists include Holocaust-denier Matthias Chang.
Another Anglican notable, Desmond Tutu, has likened Zionism to racism and repeatedly referred to Israel as an “apartheid” state. He is also a supporter of boycotts. Tutu, a friend of Yasser Arafat and Hamas’s Ismail Haniyeh, accepted the role as patron of Sabeel International in 2003. This is the same Sabeel that is spearheading the Christian Palestinianist movement in the Middle East. It is perhaps no surprise that US attorney Alan Dershowitz has called Tutu a “racist and a bigot.”
The number of Christian organizations censuring the Jewish state is increasing. It is common for left-wing Christians to exonerate the Palestinians of any historical and contemporary accountability, thereby holding Israel solely responsible for ending the crisis. In 2009, the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches released a statement condemning the so-called Israeli occupation and encouraging a boycott of goods made in settlements. Significantly, the World Council of Churches is also calling for the internationalization of Jerusalem.
Meanwhile, Christian Aid and the Quakers are calling on the UK government to implement a total ban of settlement goods. In North America, the United Church of Canada is heading towards an official boycott policy. And the Church of England, which has a large overseas membership, is considering whether it should adopt the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Accompaniers Programme in Palestine and Israel. The EAPPI is blatantly pro-Palestinian and holds the Jewish state solely responsible for resolving the situation in the West Bank.
Islamic appropriation of the Jesus and crucifixion
When Arafat made his first Christmas appearance in Bethlehem in 1995, he invoked the Christian nativity by crying, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, goodwill towards men.” To which the crowd responded, “In spirit and blood we will redeem thee, O Palestine!”
Bethlehem obviously held a special place in Arafat’s heart. Not because he had any special love for Jesus and Christianity but because it was a political rallying point. Bethlehem, according to Arafat, was the “birthplace of the first Palestinian Christian, Jesus Christ.”
Arafat’s reference to the nativity is obviously a ploy to unite Muslims and Christian Arabs against Israel. In and of itself, this is unspectacular, but when placed in the wider context of Islamic replacement theology, the (mis)use of Jesus is sinister. (Arafat not only proclaimed that Jesus was a Palestinian but is “our Lord the Messiah,” which is an astonishing statement for a Muslim to make. Referring to Jesus as Lord is to detract from the strict monotheism of the faith, a grave sin known as shirk.)
The appropriation of the crucifixion by Muslim Palestinians in their war on Israel is puzzling. The image of the crucified Palestinian/Jesus is a common propaganda motif. And yet the Quran says that Jesus wasn’t put on the cross but was raised up to heaven. So, not only are Muslims committing an act of apostasy by referring to Jesus as “our Lord” they are even refuting their own sacred scripture by claiming Jesus was a crucified Palestinian. (This is not the only example of Muslims cherry-picking the Quran to suit their agenda. The Quran explicitly states the Land of Israel is a Jewish and not a Muslim inheritance.)
Other times, Jesus is referred to as a Shahid, a holy martyr of Islam. Arafat often referred to Jesus as the first Palestinian martyr, which is historically incorrect and is at odds with Islamic tradition. There are no references to Jesus as a Shahid in Islamic works, and it is impossible for Jesus to be a martyr if he did not die on the cross, which is the view of the Quran.
The final step in the Palestinianization of Bethlehem is the news that UNESCO – the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization – has approved a Palestinian bid to categorize the Church of the Nativity as a World Heritage Site.
It is fairly obvious that the Palestinian bid is politically motivated. UNESCO’s approval effectively endorses a specifically Palestinian culture and heritage that is distinct from the history of Israel.
Obviously, the invention of the Palestinian Jesus and the misuse of the crucifixion as a political weapon is just one more lethal narrative aimed at demonizing Israel and is not an authentic reconciliation with Christianity. In fact, the Christian population in the West Bank has ebbed away under PA rule. And yet Christians in the West seem happy to play along with the pretense that nothing is amiss because they both share the same enemy – Israel.
The globalization of Chrislam
One of the most alarming developments in the Christian world is the alliance between a number of evangelicals and the Muslim world. Examples of cooperation abound.
Christians and Muslims for Peace (CAMP) is an organization that devotes itself to discovering common ground between the two religions through an exploration of the Quran and the Bible. Based in California, CAMP is led by Dr William Baker, the former chairman of the neo-Nazi Populist Party. In 2002, Baker was fired from Crystal Cathedral Ministries when his anti-Semitic inclinations and ties to the Far Right were exposed by the media. (This is the same Robert Schuller who once told an Imam of the Muslim American Society that “if he came back in 100 years and found his descendants Muslims, it wouldn’t bother him.”)
“A Common Word Between Us and You” is an open letter from the leaders of the Muslim community to Christians, published in 2007. It opens with the lines: “Muslims and Christians together make up well over half of the world’s population. Without peace and justice between these two religious communities, there can be no meaningful peace in the world.” A large number of Christians responded positively to the statement. The most highly publicized response was written by a group of four academics from the University of Yale, entitled Loving God and Neighbor Together. The response included the lines: “Before we ‘shake your hand’ in responding to your letter, we ask forgiveness of the All-Merciful One and of the Muslim community around the world.”
In 2009, Rick Warren, the well-known evangelical author and pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, addressed 8,000 Muslims at a national convention in Washington D.C. The convention was organized by Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), which champions terrorist organizations and disseminates extremist literature. Since then, Warren has been involved in an initiative called the King’s Way, a partnership with a number of California mosques, which involves the establishment of a set of principles outlining the shared principles of Islam and Christianity, including the declaration that both faiths worship the same God.
A number of evangelicals, including Stephen Sizer, Presbyterian writer Gary Burge (who has criticized Judaism’s “territorial world view”) and Professor Donald Wagner, have participated in events sponsored by the Bridges of Faith (an evangelical Christian-Muslim dialogue group) and the Muslim World Islamic Call Society, which until recently was funded by the Gaddafi regime in Libya. On the Bridges of Faith website, the dialogue group states that it “looks forward to a day when we can make our deliberations public through the publication of papers, open meetings and media outreach in order to spread the message of tolerance and commonality of values to a wider community of grass-roots groups, as well as a wider community of inter-religious dialogue.” It remains to be seen whether “the message of tolerance” will extend to the State of Israel.
In February 2008, Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, told Radio 4′s World at One that some aspects of Sharia law should be introduced in the UK to accommodate Britain’s Muslim community. The archbishop’s comments were welcomed by Mohammed Shafiq, the director of the Ramadhan Foundation, who said: “Sharia law for civil matters is something which has been introduced in some western countries with much success.”
This, and other bridge-building exercises, may turn out to be the start of a political variation of Chrislam. Strictly speaking, Chrislam is a syncretistic religion of Nigerian origin that combines Islam and Christianity. Established in the 1970s, the followers of Chrislam recognize both the Bible and the Qur’an as holy texts. The religion is very local and only commands around 1,500 members.
Nonetheless, the principles behind Chrislam are the same principles that are shaping an alliance between western Christianity and Islam. Indeed, there are already various so-called insider movements in the Christian missionary industry. (Insider movements are when Christians from a Muslim background still attend mosque and perform Islamic rituals.)
Open Doors USA President Carl Moeller has referred to the insider movement as a “fourth branch” of Christianity: “Muslims are turning to faith in Jesus Christ, and out of that movement is emerging an entirely new way of expressing Christianity within the context of the Middle Eastern culture.” However, this “entirely new way” has been criticized by right-wing evangelicals for not teaching sound Christian doctrine.
The fact that many Christians are reaching out to Islam suggests they are pre-empting the very real possibility that Islam will be the dominant religion in Europe in fifty years’ time. If this is the case, then it is a tacit admission of defeat and an example of self-imposed dhimmitude. Dhimmitude, says Ye’or, is the “surrender of the Christian clergy and political leaders to the Muslim jihad armies, and their submission to Islamic domination of both their lands and peoples.” In exchange, Christians receive a pledge of protection or dhimma.
According to Ye’or, the first step towards dhimmitude and the Islamization of the Church is “the removal of the Gospels from their Judaic matrix.” For this to happen, Jesus the Jew must be killed and replaced by Jesus the Palestinian.
The ethnic cleansing of Jesus and the Jews
In recent decades, the quest to rescue Jesus’ Jewish identity has yielded much fruit. Geza Vermes, Robert Eisenman, E.P Sanders, James Tabor, R. T. Herford, George Foot Moor and Hyam Maccoby are among those who have highlighted Jesus’ Jewish identity and origins. Combined with the shared interest in the Dead Sea Scrolls, Jews and Christians have found common ground in the exploration of the Jewish roots of Christianity.
Jesus was born of a Jewish woman in the Judean town of Bethlehem, and was given the Jewish name of “Yeshua,” literally “Joshua.” He was circumcised, attended synagogue services and the Temple, wore tassels, was referred to as “Rabbi,” and observed the Sabbath, Passover and Sukkots. He quoted from the Hebrew bible and clearly saw himself as fulfilling the scriptures in some way. He held the Torah in high esteem and reiterated the importance of the Shema. He also made it clear that he had “come for the lost sheep of Israel” and that “Salvation is of the Jews.”
However, Christian Palestinianism has a done a great deal to undermine this. The Palestinian Jesus falsehood is a shocking return to the “Jesus was an Aryan” falsehood of the Far Right or the Church-sanctioned portrayal of Jesus as a fair-skinned, blue-eyed gentile. The identicide of the Jewish Jesus is also redolent of an ancient heresy known as Gnosticism, sometimes described as a metaphysical anti-Semitism.
Ye’or, in her book Eurabia: the Euro-Arab Axis, writes of the theological similarities between Palestinianism and Marcion gnosticism, which rejects the Hebrew Bible and believes the God of Israel to be a lower entity than the God of the New Testament. Likewise, Christian Palestinianism either ignores the Hebrew scriptures or wants to de-Zionize the prophecies that do not suit the Palestinian agenda. As with Marcionism, God is no longer the God of Israel with a special interest in the fate of the Jewish people, but the God of Palestine.
The ethnic cleansing of Jesus is part of a wider effort to de-Judaize the Jewish people in order to undermine their claim to the land of Israel. So as well as being de-chosen by God, the people of Israel are not even Jewish, according to some Christian Palestinianists. In the mid-1990s, the Palestinian Authority aired a program that claimed Palestinians are the real descendants of the biblical Israelites. One of the so-called experts who was invited to appear on the show was Jarid el-Qadaweh, who declared: “In my blood there is more of the Children of Israel than in that of Ariel Sharon and Benjamin Netanyahu.” Mitri Raheb, the pastor of Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem, has used the figure of Jesus to question the ethnic validity of the State of Israel:
“I’m sure if we were to do a DNA test between David, who was a Bethlehemite, and Jesus, born in Bethlehem, and Mitri, born just across the street from where Jesus was born, I’m sure the DNA will show that there is a trace. While, if you put King David, Jesus and Netanyahu, you will get nothing, because Netanyahu comes from an East European tribe who converted to Judaism in the Middle Ages.”
Like el-Qadaweh, Raheb claims the average Palestinian is native to the land and is genetically similar to Jesus. In contrast, the average Israeli is an interloper from eastern Europe and is genetically dissimilar from Jesus. This raises the controversial question: is there such a thing as a Jewish gene? Extensive DNA testing does show there is such a thing. But the question of “who is a Jew?” is wide open to interpretation and has been debated for thousands of years, sometimes with devastating consequences.
Christian Palestinianism is a religion of resentment. It is a projection of a sense of inferiority onto an external scapegoat. Thwarted by failure, Christian Palestinianists blame their problems on “the Jews.” This is done by killing Jesus the Jew and resurrecting him as Jesus the Palestinian. The God of Israel is also declared dead, only to be replaced by the anti-Semitic God of Palestine.
Of all the anti-Israel discourses that exist today, Christian Palestinianism is perhaps one of the most shocking. Shocking because it wants to de-Judaize both Jesus and the Bible, as well as undermine Jewish identity. Shocking because it also revives the notion of Jews as killers of Christ. Moreover, the post-Holocaust reconciliation of Jews and Christians is lethally undermined. The work of Geza Vermes, and others like him, who have examined in close detail the Jewishness of Jesus, is being cast aside in favour of a quasi-gnostic Jesus.
On a theological level, Christian Palestinianism is entirely self-defeating. If God no longer honors his covenant with the Jews and the Land of Israel, then the whole foundation of Christianity collapses. A God who changes his mind about the Jews is no longer the God of Abraham, Moses or Jesus. Palestinianism is not only un-Biblical, it is un-Christian.
Pro-Palestinian Christians in the West need to take a long, hard look at themselves and ask whether it is ethical to be consorting with liars, terrorists and anti-Semites. They should also ask themselves if their actions are likely to lead to a fresh outburst of religiously-motivated anti-Semitism. The trouble is, history shows that many Christians need no excuse to persecute the Jews. There seems to be an in-built tendency to raise their fists against the descendants of Isaac and Jacob. This is bad news not only for the State of Israel and the Jewish diaspora, but also for Christianity itself, which will not survive another destructive wave of anti-Semitism.
As it says in Ezekiel 35, “Because you harbored an ancient hostility and delivered the Israelites over to the sword at the time of their calamity, the time their punishment reached its climax, therefore as surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I will give you over to bloodshed and it will pursue you. Since you did not hate bloodshed, bloodshed will pursue you.”
Let’s hope Christian Palestinianists take note of Ezekiel’s prophecy. But given their track record, they would probably decry its exclusivism and attempt to de-Zionize it.