Christ at the Checkpoint 4: How far is too far?

On March 7-10, 2016, the fourth "Christ at the Checkpoint (CatC) Conference will take place in Bethlehem. The 2016 theme will be, "THE GOSPEL IN THE FACE OF RELIGIOUS EXTREMISM." From their own website, they give the world their mission that is: " The mission of “Christ at the Checkpoint” 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."

This sounds really commendable at a time when the whole Middle East seems to be sitting on a powder keg with a very short fuse. Biblically speaking, anything done in the name of Yeshua and following His teaching should lead to peace and turning the other cheek. Furthermore, the leadership of CatC claims that, "The conference will bring Palestinian and international Evangelical leaders, to study and explore the rise of religious extremism within Christianity, Judaism, and Islam and how this impacts the Israel/Palestine conflict. We will also explore what the Bible has to say about religious extremism in any form. Together, we will seek a Biblical response to religious extremism, and find ways that provide an alternative through living out the kingdom of God. "

Their mission appears to deal with any form of extremism within Christianity, Judaism and Islam. In and of itself, this year's conference seems balanced and very informative, but the problem is that CatC conferences build every two years on the work accomplished by the previous conference(s), and as such, CatC has gained a reputation that increasingly lacks ethical stability. The first three conferences were all advertised under the banner of "reconciliation" but at the end of the day, each one resembled more a witch hunt against Israel than a dialogue to find a healthy compromise. Unfortunately, many evangelicals are blinded by Palestinian victimhood rhetoric.

Much could be gleaned from the CatC Manifesto, for which I wrote a review in 2012. Back then I recognized that it included some truths, half-truths and lies, all mixed. So I looked at each of the 12 articles carefully. It is well worth reviewing again.

1. The Kingdom of God has come. Evangelicals must reclaim the prophetic role in bringing peace, justice and reconciliation in Palestine and Israel.
DISAGREED: Kingdom Now Theology claims among other things, that Yeshua’s Kingdom was inaugurated at His first coming while Scripture states that He will reign as Messianic King on the throne of David from Jerusalem in a yet to come Millennial Messianic Kingdom (Psalm 72:8, 11, 17; Isaiah 9:7, 11:6-11; Jeremiah 23:6, Zechariah 3:10).

2. Reconciliation recognizes God’s image in one another.
AGREED: God created man and woman in His image, regardless of ethnicity. (Genesis 1:27; 5:1; 9:6; 1 Corinthians 11:7; Ephesians 4:24). Although inviting blatant anti-Israel speaker like Stephen Sizer defeated that purpose.

3. Racial ethnicity alone does not guarantee the benefits of the Abrahamic Covenant.
DISAGREED: The benefits of the Abrahamic Covenant are multi-faceted. They include God's promises to both the Jewish people and the nations (non-Jews) through Abraham, yet the physical land is ONLY promised to the Jewish people, ethnic descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Genesis 12:1-3, 7; 13:15;17:7-8, 19; 25:5-6; 26:3; 28:3-4; 35:9-15.)

4. The Church in the land of the Holy One, has born witness to Christ since the days of Pentecost. It must be empowered to continue to be light and salt in the region, if there is to be hope in the midst of conflict.
AGREED: Yeshua’s last command to His disciples was to make disciples of ALL NATIONS (Matthew 28:18-20; Luke 24:47)

5. Any exclusive claim to land of the Bible in the name of God is not in line with the teaching of Scripture.
DISAGREED: The land of Israel belongs to God Himself (Leviticus 25:23). He chose to make a covenant with Abraham that would include that piece of land as an eternal AND unconditional part of that covenant. Additionally, God’s gifts are irrevocable (Romans 11:29).

6. All forms of violence must be refuted unequivocally.
AGREED: Yeshua always taught peace between His followers and unbelievers as much as possible, making Christianity a most unique faith were disciples of Messiah must EVEN love their enemies (Matthew 5:39-48; Luke 6:27-35, Romans 12:17-21.) The participation of a Hamas sympathizer at the 2016 conference is directly opposed to the statement made in article 6.

 7. Palestinian Christians must not lose the capacity to self-criticism if they wish to remain prophetic.
AGREED: In any conflict, ALL parties must be willing to recognize fault and prepared to adjust accordingly. (Proverbs 18:12; Ephesians 4:2; Philippians 2:3; Colossians 3:1-17.)

8. There are real injustices taking place in the Palestinian territories and the suffering of the Palestinian people can no longer be ignored. Any solution  must respect the equity and rights of Israel and Palestinian communities.
PARTIALLY AGREED AND DISAGREED: While mutual respect of human beings as being made in God’s image is at the core of peace and reconciliation, what is meant by “injustices in the Palestinian territories” remains to be defined. (Genesis 1:27; 5:1; 9:6; 1 Corinthians 11:7; Ephesians 4:24.) The further we advance in history, the more accepted the Palestinian narrative becomes. Unfortunately, it is not founded on historical facts but purely fabricated. Please don't take my word for it, take the time to study the facts!

9. For Palestinian Christians, the occupation is the core issue of the conflict.
PARTIALLY AGREED AND DISAGREED: While nobody enjoys living in a land that they feel is theirs and yet is occupied by a foreign people group, it remains to be proven biblically that Jewish people are the occupiers. All previous Scriptures cited about the land lead to an opposite view (See verses under points 3 and 5).

10. Any challenge of the injustices taking place in the Holy Land must be done in Christian love. Criticism of Israel and the occupation cannot be confused with anti-Semitism and the delegitimization of the State of Israel.
AGREED: While it is possible to disagree with Israeli policies, much of what has been labeled as anti-Israelism or even anti-Zionism has really been antisemitism in disguise. Genuine Christian love is at the core of any reconciliation and is irrespective of color or race. (2 Corinthians 5:14; Ephesians 3:19; Colossians 3:14). CatC continues to invite a plethora of speakers who are very good at pointing the finger at Israel "the occupier" and "apartheid state", but rarely do they speak of radical Islam, terrorism and/or antisemitism.

11. Respectful dialogue between Palestinian and Messianic believers must continue. Though we may disagree on secondary matters of theology, the Gospel of Jesus and his ethical teaching take precedence.
PARTIALLY AGREED AND DISAGREED: Respectful dialogue means that both sides must be heard and both sides must listen. Agreeing on the Gospel of Yeshua doesn’t negate God’s covenants with the Jewish people (Romans 1:16; 9-11.) Even the recent "Larnaca Document" signed in Cyprus between Palestinian Christians and Messianic believers sounds more like a trap than a true breakthrough. For instance, in their article 2.2, both parties agree to disagree on what constitutes lethal violence. Seriously? So Israel's counter-terrorism actions against Hamas should be seen as one version of "lethal violence" on equal footing with Hamas bloody terrorism?

12. Christians must understand the global context for the rise of extremist Islam. We challenge stereotyping of all faith forms that betray God’s commandment to love our neighbors and enemies.
AGREED: While again I find the statement misleading as it could be taken to mean that there is a justification for radical Islam’s violence, I agree that Christian love is always to be the foundation of any lasting peace and reconciliation (See verses under points 6).

So this year, more evangelicals are joining the CatC ranks. People like "Bible Answer Man" Hank Hanegraaff. I used to listen to Mr. Hanegraaff when I was a young believer, what a disgraceful theological shift. One wonders if he is he still using the same Bible since he is not seeing Israel in the plan of God anymore? But there are so many other people that are taking center stage at CatC 2016 in the name of Christian love and reconciliation and yet, they clearly show bias against Israel and in some cases hatred.

Jack Sara claims that he lives in Jerusalem, Palestine
Jonathan Kuttab recently tweeted that we should no longer consider Hamas a terrorist organization
Salim Munayer claimed that the many tunnels built by Hamas were mostly to carry food and drinks.
• Mustafa Abu Sway has written books used by Hamas and is known as an Islamist.

So forgive me for not getting too hopeful about the fourth iteration of "Christ at the Checkpoint."  I think that it is progressively getting worse. How can we possibly speak of Christian love, justice and reconciliation with such a line-up of hypocrites at best and antisemites at worst?

Instead of watching the conference online and be indoctrinated by a false narrative, you would better spend your time watching a series of videos directed by my dear friend Perry Trotter from New Zealand. The site is Evangelical Zionism and it divides into seven videos for a total of 45 minutes very well spent. I really wish that the speakers and attendees of CatC 2016 would spend that 45 minutes watching these videos, then I would be hopeful that we possibly could have a balanced dialogue. Unfortunately, I think that CatC has now gone too far. Sadly, many evangelicals do not see it that way!

How did Zionism become a cuss word?

Growing up in France in the 60s, I often heard conversations about Zionism and Israel at family gatherings. I didn't really understand what they were all about except that there were always a few family members who spoke passionately about Eretz Yisrael. Some even occasionally spoke of the possibility of returning to the Land. Zionism was some sort of magical, mystical word that made people both dream and argue in the same breath. It never got bad press, except maybe from the few Jewish family members who were comfortably assimilated in France and wouldn't fathom making Aliyah. Fast forward to 2016 and Zionism has now become a cuss word in many circles around the world.

The term “Zionism” and “Zionist” were coined in 1890 by Jewish activist Nathan Birnbaum (1864-1937) who also played an important part in the first Zionist Congress in 1897. The word “Zion” comes from the Hebrew tzion, a reference to Jerusalem and often, by extension, to the land of Israel itself (first mentioned in II Samuel 5:7.)

According to scholar Mitchell Bard, Zionism is: “ The national movement for the return of the Jewish people to their homeland and the resumption of Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel.  Additionally, Israeli diplomat, politician and historian Abba Eban defines it as follows: “Zionism is nothing more — but also nothing less — than the Jewish people's sense of origin and destination in the land linked eternally with its name.

Over the years, we have heard about historical, political, practical, cultural and even Christian Zionism. Today we hear more about anti-Zionism because the word has been given a new meaning that is so politically charged and so negative. How did we go from "The national movement for the return of the Jewish people to their homeland and the resumption of Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel" to a movement labelled as "occupation", "colonization" or even "racism?"

After the early Zionist pioneers of the late 1800s, the Jewish people started to move back to the land of Israel in the late 40s from all over the Diaspora. They were drawn to Israel for reasons as various as political, familial, economic or even religious. Nothing was frowned upon by anyone. Then came Yassir Arafat, the PLO and the Palestinian quest for self-determination. Unfortunately, the Palestinian cause was one without a land...something had to happen!

"Wait a minute! What if the Palestinians were a people displaced by Jewish colonialists who stole their land, kicked them out and even killed them? This is a long shot but if we keep at it, the masses will eventually buy it!" This might be what went through the minds of Yassir Arafat and his cronies. Zionism slowly started to acquire a bad reputation. It would take several decades to get as bad as it is now, but eventually, it started to spread beyond the Middle East to the rest of the western world

For a while, the damage inflicted on Zionism was counteracted by a strong support from Evangelical Christians who became known as "Christian Zionists." They based their support of Israel on a belief that the Bible spoke of that land given to Jewish people by God Himself. They also made a strong connection to End-Times prophecies including and involving Israel in a very strong way all the way to the end.

In Genesis 12:1-3, which I like to call “God’s foreign policy as it pertains to Israel” we see that God made a covenant with Abraham, further confirmed through Isaac (not Ishmael) and Jacob. In that Covenant, He gives the Jewish people the deed to the Land of Canaan (Exodus 13:11). This is further developed in Genesis 12:1-3, 7; 13:15;17:7-8, 19; 25:5-6; 26:3; 28:3-4; 35:9-15. Anti-Zionism is simply a human attempt at rewriting a Divine Covenant between God and the Jewish people and because of that, it can be deemed as anti-biblical and is bound to failure. If God changed His mind, this would also make Him a Covenant breaker and a liar.

Israel and Zionism suffer from many foes, not just the Palestinians. The United Nations General Assembly passed resolution 3379  in 1975, in which it stated that "Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination." It took sixteen years for the UN to revoke that statement in 1991. But the damage was done and would continue to be inflicted on Israel and the Jewish people to this day. Today, many countries in the Middle East continue to see Israel as the enemy. They describe Zionism in no uncertain terms:

• Ahmadinejad used to call for the complete destruction of the Zionist Regime.
• Khameini believes that the Zionist Network dictates US policies which a lie taken straight from the early twentieth century hoax known as The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion.
Hamas claims that, "The lie of the Zionist Holocaust crumbles with countless holocausts committed by the Zionists."

Should a Zionist agree with every single decision made by the Israeli government? Of course not!  Should a Zionist systematically reject any prospect of shared land space between Jews and Palestinians if peace is truly the goal? Probably not! Yet, these and many more libelous statements by Israel's enemy have poured over into the Evangelical Church. The Palestinian narrative has become stronger than the biblical narrative. The Christian Zionists of yesterday has morphed into a politically correct Christian "Palestinianist." As a result, very few within the Evangelical ranks continue to support Israel. Zionism has truly become a cuss word and yet, the Bible never changed. Anti-Zionism is almost always antisemitism in a cloak of social justice.

Many followers of Yeshua (Jesus) look at the Bible and clearly see that God is NOT done with Israel. They see a glorious future for the people and the Land. While their numbers are dwindling down, these people are still called Christian Zionists as they recognize Israel’s biblical right to the Land and the Jewish people right to return to that Land. Christian Zionism is a noble cause and is part of what every Bible believing Christian should promote because God Himself declared it to be true in His Word.

The foundation for Zionism was established by God in the book of Genesis. It continues to run through like an uninterrupted thread through the tapestry of Jewish history. If Zionism has existed for a long time, we also cannot deny that God used people like Theodore Herzl, Achad Ha’am, Eliezer Ben Yehuda, Chaim Weizmann, David Ben-Gourion, Golda Meir and many others to further promote the Jewish people right to the Land of Israel. What God established, no man can destroy (Jeremiah 31:35-37).

The Six Dangers of Christian Palestinianism

There has been a shift in Christian theology as it pertains to the Church’s relationship with Israel and/or Palestinian Christians. Loyalties once rooted in biblical principles are quickly changing. For followers of Yeshua (Jesus), it should not be much of a struggle to recognize Israel’s right to exist as well as the desperate need of the Jewish people for their Messiah.

Nevertheless, there is a real crisis facing Evangelicals today. A growing number of Bible believers appear to have made it their personal duty to act as theological referees between Jews and Palestinians. One of the key words heard over and over is “reconciliation,” and it often punctuates the various programs and projects aimed at bringing both Jews and Palestinians to Yeshua. It seems to be the ultimate goal of Evangelicals involved in such programs. But is it really? For any reconciliation to work, it must be a two-way street. Reconciliation needs to include forgiveness, mutual acceptance and a desire to press on together towards a common goal. The new trend in question is known as Christian Palestinianism.

Christian Palestinianism is a new way to look at the Middle East. It is almost like a new worldview. It has ramifications politically, historically geographically, archeologically, culturally and even spiritually. In his book For Zion’s Sake, Dr. Paul Wilkinson defines Christian Palestinianism by opposing it to Christian Zionism. He writes: “Christian Palestinianism is an inverted mirror image of Christian Zionism. All the basic elements of a Christian Zionist eschatology are reversed, so that the Bible is seen to be Christian, not Jewish, the land of the Bible is Palestine not Israel, the son of God is a Palestinian not a Jew, the Holocaust is resented not remembered, 1948 is a catastrophe not a miracle, the Jewish people are illegal occupiers not rightful owners, and biblical prophecy is a moral manifesto and not a signpost to the Second Coming.”[1]

I believe that Christian Palestinianism is a distorted view of God’s Word hiding a political agenda behind a reformed theology, resulting in a presentation of Christian Zionism as heretical. The Bible is slowly getting “de-judaized,” paving the way for Islam’s influence to overtake Judeo/ Christian history. This shift from Israel to Palestine in the Christian psyche really is a slap in God’s face and a grave altering of His Word. Postmodernism’s thirst for social justice and tolerance has positioned many Evangelicals on the other side of the spectrum from Christian Zionism to Christian Palestinianism. It could be argued that Christian Palestinianism is Replacement Theology amplified. It presents six dangers as follows:

• A Distortion of God’s Word
The promise of Genesis 12:1-3, made by God to Abraham and the Jewish people, still stands. The land boundaries of Genesis 15:18-20 have never changed and have yet to be fully fulfilled:“To your descendants I have given this land, From the river of Egypt as far as the great river, the river Euphrates: the Kenite and the Kenizzite and the Kadmonite and the Hittite and the Perizzite and the Rephaim and the Amorite and the Canaanite and the Girgashite and the Jebusite.”

Why is it that almost nobody questions the historical and biblical revisionism of people like Stephen Sizer, Naim Ateek, Elias Chacour and the likes? We are seeing 21st century Christians blinded by reports of occupation and ethnic cleansing against Palestinians completely turn their back on Israel. But even more than changing one’s interpretation of the Bible, we also witness rejection of the inspired Word of God.

• A Rejection of God’s Word
Christian Palestinianist Naim Ateek recently wrote in Sabeel’s newsletter Cornerstone: “The lesson is clear for me: whatever does not agree with the hermeneutic of God’s love for all people has no authority for us and must not be read even if it is written in the Bible…Jesus had a hermeneutic of God’s love for all people and Isaiah’s words did not comply with that criterion.” [2]

This desire to ignore and even reject Scripture from the Tenach simply because it appears to be in conflict with later teachings of Yeshua is strangely reminiscent of Islam’s “Law of Abrogation,” when Qur’anic verses can be annulled, when historically superseded by contradicting ones. Such an approach to God’s Word is inherently wrong, yet many Evangelicals take their lead from people like Naim Ateek on what they perceive to be a valid biblical approach to the Middle East crisis.

Biblical illiteracy is running rampant within the Evangelical Church, and it creates a very shaky foundation upon which historical revisionism can be built with very little challenge, if any. Christian Palestinianists excel at biblical revisionism. They will go as far as painting Yeshua as the first Palestinian. This far-fetched revisionist approach to Yeshua’s origins has been heavily promoted by the Palestinian Authority. [3]

In both cases of distortion and rejection of God’s Word, the authority of the Bible is put in question. The God of the Bible, who is the God of Israel, as well as the God of Abraham Isaac and Jacob, is made into a different god. This allows for the insertion of a revised agenda favoring the Palestinian people at the expense of Israel and the Jewish people.

The concept of Eretz Yisrael being the Palestinian homeland and that of the existence of a native Palestinian people were already looming over the horizon a couple of decades ago, but today it is no longer discussed. The land ownership is accepted without questions. The false premise of a biblical Palestine was propaganda long enough to become truth, with no longer needing to be checked for biblical accuracy.

• A One-Sided Reconciliation
Accusations of “apartheid,” “colonization,” “ethnic cleansing,” or “nazification” of Palestine are constantly brought-up without ever speaking of terrorism, rocket attacks and human rights violations ordered by Palestinian leadership of both Fatah and Hamas. Islamic terrorism is simply dismissed and, in some cases, even justified. Christian Palestinianism offers a one-sided reconciliation, and that, of course, is no reconciliation at all.

• God the Covenant Breaker
Christian Palestinianism changes God from a covenant maker and keeper to a covenant breaker. While it might not be clear to many Evangelicals yet, for Christian Palestinianism to exist, Israel has to cease to exist.
What better way to postulate that Israel has become irrelevant than to say that God’s covenants with the Jewish people have been changed? If God had reneged on His covenant or changed the original recipients of His covenantal blessings, it would become obvious that He is done with Israel and the Jews.

But God never changed His mind when He said to Abraham: “I will establish My covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you. I will give to you and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.”

If God were a covenant breaker, He would also have to be a liar. 1 Samuel 15:29 tells us otherwise: “Also the Glory of Israel will not lie or change His mind; for He is not a man that He should change His mind.”

• A Demonization of Israel
Once one is convinced that God is finished with Israel and the Jews, it becomes easier to extrapolate the generalization that Israel is the cause of evil against the Palestinians. The accusations against Israel come from Palestinians, Liberals and some Evangelicals. They come so strongly that at times, it becomes difficult to define one source from another. Additionally, the liberal media has absolutely no other agenda than demonizing the victims and victimizing the perpetrators. Facts no longer matter in our postmodern global village. As a matter of fact, radical anti-Zionism is now part of the fabric of society and is in the process of becoming the standard by which one measures his/her degree of tolerance and multiculturalism. French author Pierre-André Taguieff develops it further in his recent book Israel et la Question Juive when he writes: “ Intellectual and political conformism moves alongside radical anti-Zionism, having nothing to do with a critique of Israel’s politics but rather aiming at the final destruction of the Jewish State.” [4]

• A Promotion of Islam
In her book Eurabia: the Euro-Arab Axis, Jewish author and activist, Bat Ye’or, describes Christian Palestinianism as “Palestinian Marcionism:” “The Christian policy that would eliminate the Jewish source of Christianity by suppressing the link between the Hebrew Bible and the Gospels represents an old and lingering trend, always opposed by the Church. Today, Palestinian Marcionism (Palestinianism) paves the way for the Islamization of the Church as it prepares mentalities for an Islamic replacement theology…and encompasses the whole paraphernalia of traditional anti-Semitism.” [5]

Bat Ye’or’s assessment has tragically proven true in the last eight years. Christian Palestinianism is well on its way to de-judaize Yeshua–a job that the gentile branch of Christianity generously contributed to, out of ignorance and sometimes, pure hatred of the Jews over the centuries. Christian Palestinianism will also continue to invalidate much of the Jewish Scriptures as history gets re-written and Jewish references get replaced to accommodate the “Islamization” of the Bible.

While it would be tempting and almost accurate to describe Christian Palestinianism as anti-Semitism, we must be careful in labeling this new trend. Some Christian Palestinianists are clearly anti-Semitic, but this doesn’t allow us to paint with broad strokes and simply say that Christian Palestinianism IS anti-Semitism.

I believe that it is a fair assessment to claim that Christian Zionism and Christian Palestinianism can be found on two opposite sides of the spectrum in terms of the Church’s relationship with Israel and the Jewish people. In fact, Christian Palestinianism is Christian anti- Zionism. But rather than labeling Christian Palestinianism as anti-Semitism, I would rather place it as one of the key components of the latest trend in anti-Semitism: Eschatological anti-Semitism.

Being well aware of the fact that anti-Semitism is the “irrational hatred” of the Jewish people, I see the obvious converging of many unlikely allies against Israel. Islam, Liberals and Evangelicals have many reasons to disagree ideologically and spiritually, yet they find it acceptable to go against Israel in one accord. Campus Intifada, BDS, media bias, historical revisionism, and Holocaust denial are different arrows in Satan’s quiver of hate.

An evangelical might not be as determined to destroy Israel as a radical Muslim is, but they have become co-conspirators and co- perpetrators. As such, they become guilty of the same crime in the eyes of the God of Israel.

God was the first Zionist but He also sent Yeshua for both Jews and Arabs. I am obviously pro-God and thus I am pro-Israel, but being pro- Israel doesn’t mean that one is anti-Palestinian, sadly, and I must say irrationally, the opposite is seldom true!

[1] Wilkinson, Paul R.: For Zion’s Sake (Paternoster, Nottingham, England, 2007) p. 65

[2] Ateek, Naim: Sabeel Newsletter: Cornerstone (Winter/Spring 2014), p.3-4.

[3] http://palwatch.org/main.aspx?fi=157&doc_id=13536

[4] Taguieff, Pierre-André: Israel et la Question Juive (Les Provinciales, Paris, France, 2011), p. 191-192.

[5] Bat Ye’or, Eurabia: The Euro-Arab Axis (Teaneck, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson Univ. Press, 2006), p. 213.