The Joint Advocacy Initiative (JAI), a collaboration of the East Jerusalem YMCA and YWCA of Palestine, has released its special “Christmas Message.” And this year’s holiday season is apparently all about bashing Israel. “The birthplace of Jesus Christ has become an open-air prison,” they complained with Christmas cheer.
JAI is chiefly about disseminating anti-Israel advocacy through Christian and relief groups worldwide to “influence decision-makers and prompt actions that contribute to end Israeli occupation and all its violations of International Law.” JAI was founded in 1982 after the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, in response to terror attacks from there by Palestinian groups. As a Christian group, JAI might laudably advocate spiritual reconciliation. But its chief ministry seems to be demonizing Israel without acknowledging ongoing terror by groups like Hamas and Hezbollah.
This year’s “Christmas Message” from JAI amply illustrates its political and spiritual emphases. There is no mention of opposing terror or working for peace, just opposing Israel. Recalling the Nativity of Christ, JAI grimly notes that the fields where Shepherds first heard of Baby Jesus are now witness to “harassment, imprisonment, and land confiscation,” making hope difficult.
JAI denounces Israel’s “campaign of aggression towards our people in Gaza” without mentioning years of rockets launched by many of “our people” in Gaza at the behest of Hamas. The holiday message complains of “extremists,” but only when describing Israeli settlements around Bethlehem. “Not dissimilar to Herod’s campaign to find and kill the baby Jesus, Israeli policy in the West Bank and Gaza is a campaign to kill the hope and livelihood of steadfast Palestinians who desire to be free in their homeland,” JAI carefully explains, unavoidably comparing Israel to King Herod, infamous for infanticide.
In their concluding fundraising appeal, JAI implores supporters to “act against all the injustices we live under so we may be liberated from oppression and live in peace with justice.” But how or why would Palestinians be free from “oppression” or live in “peace” if Hamas or kindred spirits are rulers is unexplained. Evidently “oppression” only applies to Israeli policies in a region that is full of pervasive oppression by Arab regimes.
This spirit of chiefly blaming Israel of course is not confined to Palestinian groups. The impact of the October letter to the U.S. Congress from mostly old-line Protestant church officials urging reconsideration of U.S. military aid to Israel continues to ricochet. Seven prominent Jewish groups cancelled a long-scheduled interfaith dialogue with these denominations in response, fed up with years of anti-Israel scapegoating. After about a month, the denominational officials finally have replied to the Jewish groups, ignoring the substance of their distress, while offering to meet for a special summit to discuss their concerns. The Jewish groups, likely exasperated, have not yet responded. Since the exchange began, U.S. military aid to Israel has proved vital to facilitating Israel’s “Iron Dome” anti-missile protection against attacking Hamas rockets. Seemingly the United Methodist, Presbyterian Church (USA), United Church of Christ, and Evangelical Lutheran Church in America officials who endorsed the original appeal, if they actually mean what they say, would be fine with Israel unable to defend its cities from terror attacks.
Meanwhile, in early November, B’nai B’rith International helped convene a summit outside Jerusalem of pro-Israel Protestant activists from the U.S., Canada, and Europe to combat the unrelenting anti-Israel bias within old-line Protestantism. “The humanitarian concern is the veil that covers, or is the rationalization for ultimately what I believe to be anti-Semitic ideas and anti-Semitic policies,” said one United Church of Canada minister, as quoted in The Times of Israel. A British pastor added: “That Goliath cannot be felled with a stone and a sling as in the days of King David, because the problem isn’t political, the problem isn’t sociological; the problem isn’t about lack of education or lack of dialogue.” He concluded: “The problem is a spiritual one. The problem is that there is an adversary of God, of Israel, of Christians.”
The summit in Jerusalem was not only about complaints. The Protestant activists are releasing their own manifesto that’s a lot more cheerful than the JAI’s ostensible “Christmas Message.” Not yet finalized, it will affirm “love for Israel” and commend Israel’s pluralistic democracy that is so unique in the region. It also affirms love for Palestinians and hopes for peaceful co-existence. These Protestants chide churches who insist that helping Palestinians requires undermining Israel. And they declare that encouraging forces who want to destroy Israel does not exemplify Christian love. Unlike most church critics of Israel, they connect hostility to Israel to oppression of Christians and other religious minorities throughout the region.
God bless these Protestant activists who resist the bureaucracies of their own declining denominations by asserting mostly simple self-evident truths about the Middle East. JAE’s exploitation of Christmas to delegitimize the nation that produced Baby Jesus surely is a gross spiritual contradiction. The Canadian pastor at the Jerusalem consultation emphasized that church bureaucrats don’t speak for most church goers. He could have added that especially at this time of year, even as Hamas rockets still target Israel, most Christians in America and many globally still deeply sympathize with an embattled friend.
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