Christians yearning for another dose of anti-Israel invective have only a few months to wait. Bethlehem Bible College, a leading purveyor of anti-Israel propaganda in the West Bank, is preparing for the next Christ at the Checkpoint Conference. It is scheduled to take place in late May and early June of 2018.
Speakers at this conference, which has been held every even-numbered year since 2010, typically promote an anti-Zionist narrative that in some instances veer into outright antisemitism. For example, at the inaugural conference in 2010, Lutheran Pastor Mitri Raheb from Bethlehem invoked the discredited “Khazar” theory that states modern-day Jews who live in Israel are not really Jews, but are in fact descendents of a European tribe of people who converted to Judaism in the Middle Ages. It’s a false historical theory that is used on a regular basis to delegitimize the Jewish state.
“Neo-Nazi and Holocaust denial organizations and websites are particularly fond of the Khazar myth,” Steven Plautt wrote in 2007.
More recently, another speaker, Munir Kakish, president of the Council of Evangelical Churches in the Holy Land, boldly declared that his organization was at the service of anti-Zionism.
With politicians and security officials from the Palestinian Authority sitting in the front row at the 2016 CATC conference, Kakish declared that “Palestinian Evangelical churches are working on the intellectual and ideological rejection of Zionism and racism against our people.” With this rhetoric, Kakish echoed the language of the Zionism is racism resolution passed by the UN General Assembly in 1975.
Statements like these belie the conference claim that it is dedicated to promoting peace and reconciliation in the Holy Land.
In an effort to inoculate themselves from the charge that the conference is organized to demonize the Jewish state, organizers invite Messianic Jews to offer an Israeli view of the conflict. Sometimes these speakers do a decent job explaining the dilemmas faced by Israelis who are expected to negotiate with leaders who promote terrorism and antisemitism. One of these, Oded Shoshani, a Jewish-born Israeli who serves as a pastor at a Messianic Jewish congregation (King of Kings in Jerusalem), provided a direct and vocal response to the ongoing efforts to demonize Israel and its security barrier at the 2014 conference.
“What if the Palestinian people would have not sent dozens of suicide bombers between the years 2000 and 2005, killing almost 1,200 Israelis?” Shoshani asked of attendees.
Still, the testimony of leaders in the Messianic community can cut against the legitimacy of the Jewish state by introducing into the discussion the antisemitic trope of Jews as a fallen, reprobate people who refuse to accept Jesus Christ as their savior.
This message was implicit in Wayne Hilsden’s testimony at the 2012 conference when he declared that Israel’s creation was part of God’s plan to bring the Jewish people to belief in Jesus Christ and to bring an end to the “serial unfaithfulness” of the Jewish people.
“Some sinful, less-than-ideal entity has to be in the land for this [plan] to be fulfilled. There has to be a loathing of themselves in the land, so if it's not this state, there's another terrible state and I would hate to think of a worse one.”
By declaring that it is God’s will for the Jewish people to “loathe” themselves in the land, Hilsden implicitly sanctioned others to do the same, for if the Jewish people are to hate themselves in their homeland, then why shouldn’t their neighbors, especially in light of Hilsden’s portrayal of Israel as a sinful cauldron of suffering?
Despite the risk, Michael Brown, a Messianic Jew from the United States will be speaking at the 2018 CATC conference. After he came under fire for his decision to speak, Brown declared that he is doing so because the invitation came from his fellow Christians who declared they want to hear what he has to say.
“I take these brothers at their word,” Brown said in an opinion piece published in World Net Daily in October, 2017.
“They have asked me to speak because of our deeply held differences, and they have asked me to hear their side as well. I will do this with joy, praying that God would help me communicate the truth in the clearest possible terms as well hear whatever truth they are communicating.”
Brown hopes that his presentation will be “redemptive” and not “combative” and promises to remind people that God’s promises to the Jewish people are eternal.
Brown’s motives are good, but his hope that the audience at CATC will be moved by his testimony is misplaced because it ignores the context in which the conference takes place. The vast majority of people who attend CATC conferences are Christians from Europe and North America who have already embraced anti-Zionism as an organizing and motivating principle of their so-called peace and justice activism.
CATC attendees from Europe and North America are spending good money to have their anti-Zionist worldview affirmed. They are not looking to be educated. CATC attendees want to be told that Christian suffering in the Middle East is the fault of Israel (and Christian Zionists), that Muslim-Christian relations are just peachy and that people who dare say otherwise are Islamophobes or shills for Israel.
They want to be lied to by Palestinian Christians.
Why? Because embracing the narrative offered at Christ at the Checkpoint gives frightened intellectuals the cover they need to ignore the threats their home countries face as a result of the rising tide of Islamic supremacism and jihadism. Rather than manning up, if you will, in the face of the threats presented by jihad, CATC attendees can return to their homes in Europe and North America and allow the societies that have given them great privilege and opportunity to be undermined and hollowed out by jihadists and their post-modernist fellow travelers in the West.
In sum, most of the folks who attend Christ at the Checkpoint conferences are looking for a way to cloak their resentful, anti-Western nihilism in the garb of Christian peace and justice activism and reconciliation.
Then there is the question of the Christians who live in Bethlehem and organize the conference. The West Bank is a Muslim-majority environment, where hostility against Christians is always present. Sometimes churches are firebombed, anti-Christian invective can be heard from mosques in Bethlehem, and Christian shopkeepers are forced to bribe their Muslim neighbors with either cash or make-work jobs to protect their businesses from violence.
This hostility helps explain why Christians living in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip are so quick to broadcast anti-Zionist and antisemitic rhetoric to their co-religionists in the West.
Brown’s presence will not redeem or contradict CATC’s messaging, but legitimize it.
Organizers will be able to say to their critics: “Look, we allow people we disagree with to speak at out conference!” (This message is typically given by Jonathan Kuttab, a well-known anti-Israel activist—and prominent West Bank dhimmi—at the conference.)
The fact is, however, that Christians who live in the West Bank (and the Gaza Strip) are not free to speak the truth about what is happening in Palestinian society the same way Michael Brown is free to speak. Michael Brown can retreat to the safety of the United States after he is through talking at the conference. Such is not the case with Palestinian Christians in Bethlehem, Ramallah or the Gaza Strip.
The goal of the organizers of this conference—who are hardened and skilled propagandists—is to teach their Christian brethren in the West to sing the tune of submission to Muslim supremacism and jihadism. Brown might think he is introducing a discordant note to into this choir of capitulation, but once the conference comes to a close, his presence will actually serve it.
The notes of submission will remain.
Dexter Van Zile is Christian Media Analyst for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA). His opinions are his own.