United Against Zionism and
Jewish, Christian and Muslim Perspectives: Edinburgh University. 5th March 2009.
I am delighted to contribute to this conference and share a platform with Rabbi Ahron Cohen of Naturei Karta and Ibrahim Hewitt of Interpal.
Why is there such a close relationship today between the Christian Right, the political establishment and the State of Israel? Why after 40 years, does Israel continue to occupy territory in Lebanon (the Sheba Farms), Syria (the Golan Heights) and Palestine (the West Bank) while Syria has been pressured to withdraw from Lebanon? Why is Israel able to develop chemical, biological and nuclear weapons disregarding every international agreement while Iran is threatened with pre-emptive attack for seeking nuclear technology? Why has Israel been the subject of more UN Resolutions than any other country in the world? Why has the USA vetoed virtually every one of them? Why have Britain and America become the focus of so much hatred from the Islamic world? Why are our countries the target for Islamist terrorism - despite our commitment to the rule of international law, democracy and human rights? The answers to these questions remain inexplicable unless we factor in what is now probably the most influential and destructive movement amongst Christians today – Christian Zionism.
Christian Zionism Defined
“Christian Zionism is
[essentially] a political movement within Protestant evangelical Christianity
that views the modern state of Israel as the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy,
[mandated by God] thus deserving our unconditional economic, moral, political,
and theological support.”
Christian Zionists are convinced that God blesses those nations that stand with Israel and curses those that don’t. It is deeply mistrustful of the United Nations and the European Community, demonises Muslims and actively opposes the implementation of international law, the Middle East Peace Process and the right of Palestinians to an independent sovereign state alongside Israel.
Significance of the Christian Zionism
Let me give you a flavour of the movement and their strategy from a recent speech given by John Hagee. Hagee is the Founder and Senior Pastor of Cornerstone Church, an 19,000 member evangelical church in San Antonio in Texas. Hagee is CEO of Global Evangelism Television. His programmes broadcast on 160 T.V. stations, 50 radio stations and eight networks into an estimated 99 million homes in 200 countries worldwide on a weekly basis. In 2006 he founded Christians United for Israel with the support of 400 other Christian leaders. Last year he admitted:
“For 25 almost 26 years now, I have been pounding the evangelical community over television. The bible is a very pro-Israel book. If a Christian admits “I believe the Bible,” I can make him a pro-Israel supporter or they will have to denounce their faith. So I have the Christians over a barrel, you might say.”
The assumption Hagee makes, that Bible-believing Christians will be pro-Israel, is the dominant view among evangelical Christians, especially in the USA. How significant is the Christian Zionist movement?
The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life estimates there are 20-40 million Christian Zionists in America. The Unity Coalition for Israel draws together over 200 different organizations and claims 40 million active members. John Hagee has weekly access through TV and radio to 99 million homes in 200 countries. Hagee is just one of thousands of other pastors, television evangelists, authors and politicians who identify with Christian Zionism. In March 2007, Hagee was a guest speaker at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference. He began with these words:
“The sleeping giant of Christian Zionism has awakened. There are 50 million Christians standing up and applauding the State of Israel…”
As the Jerusalem Post pointed out, his speech did not lack clarity. He went on to warn:
“It is 1938. Iran is Germany, and Ahmadinejad is the new Hitler. We must stop Iran’s nuclear threat and stand boldly with Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East… Think of our potential future together: 50 million evangelicals joining in common cause with 5 million Jewish people in America on behalf of Israel is a match made in heaven.”
Now we don’t have time to explore the roots of this movement or deconstruct its dubious theology – for that I commend my two books Christian Zionism: Roadmap to Armageddon? and Zion’s Christian Soldiers? The Bible, Israel and the Church. I would simply say that in the Jerusalem Declaration, endorsed by the Heads of the Churches in Jerusalem repudiates Christian Zionism. Their declaration begins with this statement:
“Christian Zionism is a modern theological and political movement that embraces the most extreme ideological positions of Zionism, thereby becoming detrimental to a just peace within Palestine and Israel. The Christian Zionist programme provides a worldview where the Gospel is identified with the ideology of empire, colonialism and militarism. In its extreme form, it laces an emphasis on apocalyptic events leading to the end of history rather than living Christ's love and justice today.
We categorically reject Christian Zionist doctrines as false teaching that corrupts the biblical message of love, justice and reconciliation.
We further reject the contemporary alliance of Christian Zionist leaders and organisations with elements in the governments of Israel and the United States that are presently imposing their unilateral pre-emptive borders and domination over Palestine. This inevitably leads to unending cycles of violence that undermine the security of all peoples of the Middle East and the rest of the world.
We reject the teachings of Christian Zionism that facilitate and support these policies as they advance racial exclusivity and perpetual war rather than the gospel of universal love, redemption and reconciliation taught by Jesus Christ. Rather than condemn the world to the doom of Armageddon we call upon everyone to liberate themselves from the ideologies of militarism and occupation. Instead, let them pursue the healing of the nations! We call upon all Churches that remain silent, to break their silence and speak for reconciliation with justice in the Holy Land.”
Matrix of Racism
Since 1967, the strategy of successive Israeli governments has been to militarily occupy, expel Palestinians and then colonize the West Bank, Golan and Gaza, in breach of international law. The strategy involves land seizure, house demolitions, settlement construction, linked by bypass roads exclusively for Israeli settlers and roadblocks for the Palestinians.
The final element of what Jeff Halper calls this Matrix of Control has been the construction of the separation barrier - Ha'hafrada in Hebrew - meaning 'separate' or 'apart' as in apartheid. With the protection and funding by successive US administrations, reinforced by the Christian Zionist lobby, Israel has been able to ignore international opposition to the illegal occupation of Palestine, and criticism of human rights abuses. Repeated UN Resolutions have gathered dust. And the intention of the Roadmap Principles and Annapolis Agreement to the creation of a viable independent sovereign Palestine seems increasingly to be a futile exercise in appeasement.
Israel has just voted and it is not clear what government is going to emerge. All indications are that it will be headed by Netanyahu and be more right wing than the outgoing government of Ehud Olmert.
Israel is faced with a
choice. It is really quite simple. It wants to be a democracy, a Jewish State and
retain the Occupied Territories. Israel wants all three but can only have two.
Option 1: The One State Solution
Israel can annexe the Occupied Territories and give all Palestinians equal rights but it would have to amend its constitution and cease being a Zionist State. That is not going to happen in the short term but its possible in the long term that by mutual agreement some kind of 'federation' may emerge between Israel, Palestine and Jordan, for example, of the kind that has occurred in the European Community.
Option 2: The Two State Solution
Israel can remain a Zionist State and a democracy but to enjoy both it must give up the aspirations of Eretz Israel - the 'greater' Israel and withdraw from the Golan Heights, Gaza and the West Bank to the internationally recognised borders (The 1949 Armistice line, aka the green Line assumed in UN Resolution 242). This is the position favoured by the international community as expressed in the Roadmap for Peace, Annapolis Agreement and latest Quartet Statement and UN Resolution 1850.
Option 3: The Apartheid State Solution
Israel can continue to annexe and settle more Palestinian and Syrian land in the Occupied Territories and Golan, continue to control of Palestinians by military force and also remain a Zionist state. This is the option favoured by many within Netanyahu's Likud party, (Netanyahu, for example opposed the withdrawal from Gaza). Livni, his opponent has also indicated that she believes the national aspirations of Israeli Arabs lies in a Palestinian homeland, not Israel. While some Israeli parties oppose a Palestinian State, others justify one as a means of expelling Israeli Arabs. Whichever faction wins, the Israeli electorate has clearly moved to the Right. It is becoming more and more obvious that the present Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza is nothing less than a form of Apartheid. What can we do?
Jesus said “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:9)
As a follower of Jesus Christ, I repudiate the use of violence as a means of resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict. To clarify my position and to anticipate such criticisms, in my book Zion's Christian Soldiers, I wrote the following: "It is true that at various times in the past, churches and church leaders have tolerated or incited anti-Semitism and even attacks on Jewish people. Racism is a sin and without excuse. Anti-Semitism must be repudiated unequivocally. However, we must not confuse apples and oranges. Anti-Zionism is not the same thing as anti-Semitism despite attempts to broaden the definition. Criticising a political system as racist is not necessarily racist. Judaism is a religious system. Israel is a sovereign nation. Zionism is a political system. These three are not synonymous. I respect Judaism, repudiate anti-Semitism, encourage interfaith dialogue and defend Israel’s right to exist within borders recognised by the international community and agreed with her neighbours. But like many Jews, I disagree with a political system which gives preference to expatriate Jews born elsewhere in the world, while denying the same rights to the Arab Palestinians born in the country itself."
That is why I believe passionately that we must find peaceful, democratic, non-violent, constructive ways to express their anger and frustration at the appalling suffering in Gaza during the recent attacks and the ongoing military occupation of Palestine which denies millions of people their basic human rights. We must not to seek revenge or retaliation as this will only play into the hands of extremists on both sides. Violence breeds violence. Jesus said “Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.” (Matthew 26:52)
Seven Practical Steps
I want to recommend seven peaceful and proactive initiatives through which we can contribute to a just and lasting peace in the Middle East, working alongside likeminded Israelis and Palestinians. I am sure you already active in one or more of those initiatives.
Support legal, political and human rights organisations calling for the investigation of alleged war crimes in Gaza. Al Haq, is one of fifteen human rights, humanitarian and peace organizations, that have called on the European Union (EU) and Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to take strong and immediate action to hold Israel accountable for grave breaches of international humanitarian law and gross violations of international human rights law. Al Haq’s report is detailed and comprehensive. The United Nations, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), British Parliamentarians and Amnesty International have also called for an investigation, in particular into the use of phosphorous bombs, as also reported in the Times. The International Criminal Court are also investigating whether proceedings can be initiated. We must support multilateral and bipartisan investigations of war crimes whether committed by the Israeli military or Hamas.
An Arms Embargo
Support Amnesty International and other humanitarian agencies calling for an arms embargo against Israel and Hamas. Amnesty write, “A full arms embargo on all parties involved in the Gaza conflict is urgently needed to prevent further unlawful attacks and other violations of international law.” Amnesty highlight, for example, how foreign supplied weapons have clearly been used by Israel and Hamas.
Support the Global BDS Movement and the work of agencies such as War on Want and the Interfaith Group for Morally Responsible Investment (IMRI) who have exposed the way Western companies have profited from the illegal Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Golan and Gaza. We are free to choose what products we buy and what companies we support. We should make morally responsible decisions. The recent decision of the Church Commissioners of the Church of England to sell their shares in Caterpillar, agreed by General Synod two years ago, but initially rebuffed by their Ethical Investment Advisory Group, is an example of good practice. Caterpillar has been implicated in the use of D9 bulldozers by the Israeli military against civilians in breach of international law. The death of Rachel Corrie was a tragic consequence of the use of bulldozers to demolish homes in Gaza.
Support the United Nations Durban Review Conference to be held in Geneva in April. The Durban Review Conference, to be held in Geneva, Switzerland, 20-24 April 2009, will evaluate progress towards the goals set by the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance in Durban, South Africa, in 2001. The Review Conference will serve as a catalyst to fulfilling the promises of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action agreed at the 2001 World Conference through reinvigorated actions, initiatives and practical solutions, illuminating the way toward equality for every individual and group in all regions and countries of the world.
Another practical way to defeat racism is to support the work of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD) founded by Dr Jeff Halper. They are rebuilding homes destroyed illegally by the Israelis. His article, “The Key to Peace, dismantling the matrix of control”, is brilliant.
Engage in interfaith dialogue with Jews, Christians and Muslims who respect one another and are committed to working in common cause for peace with justice in Israel-Palestine and other parts of the world where faith communities are presently in conflict. We need to show that the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures do not endorse a Zionist agenda (my books). Examples include the Forum for Discussion of Israel and Palestine (FODIP), the Three Faith Forum, and The Interfaith Council.
We can actively support the economy of Palestine and Gaza, through initiatives such as Zaytoon. The Cooperative Society has just announced its decision to stock olive oil from Gaza. The Co-operative Group is to become the first supermarket to stock Fairtrade Palestinian olive oil - the first Palestinian product to receive Fairtrade certification. The Equal Exchange Fairtrade Palestinian Extra Virgin Olive Oil will be available in around 300 stores across the UK. Prime Minister Gordon Brown has also welcomed the announcement, saying: “I’m delighted that, at the beginning of Fairtrade Fortnight, Fairtrade-certificated Palestinian olive oil is to go on sale in British supermarkets. Olive oil production plays an essential part in the West Bank economy. In buying this oil, British shoppers will be helping the farmers of Palestine to make a living.” Almost 75% of Palestinians live below the United Nations poverty line. Olive and olive oil production is a vital source of livelihood for Palestinian communities in the West Bank and Gaza, where olive production is a crucial alternative to abandonment or desertification. For many, the olive harvest provides their main means of survival.
Get behind the local, national and European democratic processes as a way of expressing your views and bringing about change in government policy – here and in Israel/Palestine. Lobby your MP with your concerns and participate in national lobby events so that collectively the will of the people can be expressed in democratic, peaceful and law abiding ways. Over the Gaza bombings, over 100 Members of Parliament lobbied for a cessation of violence and in February, for example, the Foreign Affairs Committee conducted a Gaza evidence session.
We must also lobby for those same fundamental human rights for Palestinians. Whether we support the Two State or a One State solution - after 40 years, apartheid with Bantustans is no longer acceptable.
To people of faith present, what does the Lord God Almighty expect of us? The prophet Micah expressed God’s will, thousands of years ago. It has not changed. “He has shown all you people what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8). As Jesus said, “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.” (John 13:17)
Garth Hewitt has written many songs about the plight of the Christian community in Israel and Palestine. One of them, based on some verses from the Jewish Talmud, is called ‘Ten measures of beauty God gave to the world’. I would like to close by using it as a prayer.
May the justice of God fall down like fire
and bring a home for the Palestinian.
May the mercy of God pour down like rain
and protect the Jewish people.
And may the beautiful eyes of a Holy God
who weeps for His children
Bring the healing hope for His wounded ones
For the Jew and the Palestinian.
Melanie Philips has written an article in the
Spectator. She makes
unsubstantiated claims about my views which I will respond to in more detail in
I have never said that I wish Israel, “will disappear just as did the apartheid regime in South Africa.” I have never believed this and categorically reject any position that threatens the integrity of Israel as a sovereign nation.
On the contrary I have repeatedly stated in writing (for example here, here and here) that I wish to see a safe and secure Israel with internationally recognised borders, alongside a sovereign independent Palestine.
To clarify my position and to anticipate such criticisms, in my book Zion’s Christian Soldiers?, I wrote the following:
“It is true that at various times in the past, churches and church leaders have tolerated or incited anti-Semitism and even attacks on Jewish people. Racism is a sin and without excuse. Anti-Semitism must be repudiated unequivocally. However, we must not confuse apples and oranges. Anti-Zionism is not the same thing as anti-Semitism despite attempts to broaden the definition. Criticising a political system as racist is not necessarily racist. Judaism is a religious system. Israel is a sovereign nation. Zionism is a political system. These three are not synonymous. I respect Judaism, repudiate anti-Semitism, encourage interfaith dialogue and defend Israel’s right to exist within borders recognised by the international community and agreed with her neighbours. But like many Jews, I disagree with a political system which gives preference to expatriate Jews born elsewhere in the world, while denying the same rights to the Arab Palestinians born in the country itself.”
I endorse the position taken by the Heads of Churches in Israel regarding the need for a peaceful resolution of the conflict.
Others such as former US President Jimmy Carter have made comparisons between Israeli policies in the Occupied Territories and South Africa under apartheid.
I do wish to see the present illegal occupation of Gaza, the Golan and the West Bank disappear, but only as a result of the peaceful implementation of all relevant UN Resolutions, the Roadmap to Peace previously agreed by the US, EU, Russia and UN in April 2003, and Annapolis Agreement of November 2007 and Quartet Statement of December 2008.
Israel, Palestine, peace and apartheid
Americans need to know the facts about the abominable oppression of the Palestinians
The many controversial issues concerning Palestine and the path to peace for Israel are intensely debated among Israelis and throughout other nations - but not in the United States. For the past 30 years, I have witnessed and experienced the severe restraints on any free and balanced discussion of the facts. This reluctance to criticise policies of the Israeli government is due to the extraordinary lobbying efforts of the American-Israel Political Action Committee and the absence of any significant contrary voices.
It would be almost politically suicidal for members of Congress to espouse a balanced position between Israel and Palestine, to suggest that Israel comply with international law or to speak in defence of justice or human rights for Palestinians. Very few would deign to visit the Palestinian cities of Ramallah, Nablus, Hebron, Gaza City or Bethlehem and talk to the beleaguered residents.
What is even more difficult to comprehend is why the editorial pages of the major newspapers and magazines in the US exercise similar self-restraint, quite contrary to private assessments expressed forcefully by their correspondents in the Holy Land.
My new book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, is devoted to circumstances and events in Palestine and not in Israel, where democracy prevails and citizens live together and are legally guaranteed equal status. It is already possible to judge public and media reaction. Sales are brisk, and I have had interesting interviews on TV. But I have seen few news stories in major newspapers about what I have written.
Book reviews in the mainstream media have been written mostly by representatives of Jewish organisations who would be unlikely to visit the occupied territories, and their primary criticism is that the book is anti-Israel. Two members of Congress have been publicly critical. Some reviews posted on Amazon.com call me "anti-semitic," and others accuse the book of "lies" and "distortions". A former Carter Centre fellow has taken issue with it, and Alan Dershowitz called the book's title "indecent". Out in the real world, however, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. The book describes the abominable oppression and persecution in the occupied Palestinian territories, with a rigid system of required passes and strict segregation between Palestine's citizens and Jewish settlers in the West Bank. An enormous imprisonment wall is now under construction, snaking through what is left of Palestine, to encompass more and more land for Israeli settlers. In many ways, this is more oppressive than what black people lived under in South Africa during apartheid. I have made it clear that the motivation is not racism but the desire of a minority of Israelis to confiscate and colonise choice sites in Palestine, and then to forcefully suppress any objections from the displaced citizens. Obviously, I condemn acts of terrorism or violence against innocent civilians, and I present information about the casualties on both sides.
The ultimate purpose of my book is to present facts about the Middle East that are largely unknown in America, to precipitate discussion and help restart peace talks (now absent for six years) that can lead to permanent peace for Israel and its neighbours.
Another hope is that Jews and other Americans who share this goal might be motivated to express their views, even publicly, and perhaps in concert. I would be glad to help with that effort.
· Jimmy Carter was US president from 1977-81. His book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid was published last month. This is an edited version of an article that first appeared in the Los Angeles Times
 John Hagee, The One Jerusalem Blog, 25 January 2007. http://www.onejerusalem.org/blog/archives/2007/01/audio_exclusive_12.asp <Accessed March 2007>
 “Christians for Israel” Editorial, The Jerusalem Post, 14 March 2007. http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1173879085796&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull <Accessed March 2007>