Asking questions, bringing balance, confronting predjudice

“Kairos” Chaos in the church

Kairos Britainbds_100This year’s August Bank Holiday Greenbelt Christian festival saw the launch of “Kairos Britain”, a new and avowedly pro-Palestinian Christian organisation. Drawing its inspiration from a 2009 document produced by the Sabeel ecumenical movement of Palestinian churches, Kairos Britain joins a number of prominent Christian groups that have in recent years bought into the international boycott movement (Boycotts, Divestment & Sanctions, or “BDS”) calling for action against Israel.

Where some Christian groups working in the Middle East have added political activism to their existing projects and policies in the region, Kairos Britain has its very foundation in a pseudo-religious political movement (Sabeel) that is more anti-Israel than pro-Palestinian.

In 2005, Palestinian activists put out a call internationally for a campaign of boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel. The stated aim is to force Israel to withdraw both soldiers and settlers from the area known as the West Bank (biblical Judea and Samaria). The inspiration for this campaign was the success of similar international sanctions against South Africa, which led to the ending of apartheid. Of course, in order to join up the dots, the BDS movement seeks to paint Israel as an “apartheid state” – something only a little objective research shows to be manifestly untrue.

The BDS campaign has proved to be a complete failure in terms of economic pressure on Israel. Trying to stop shoppers buying a few items of produce from Israeli settlements hardly measures against the billions of dollars of trade carried on with Israel by the international community in Israel’s high-tech, medical and agricultural developments! What the BDS movement is good at, however, is affecting attitudes negatively towards Israel.  Regrettably, BDS output is marked by bias, distortion of history and deceptive assertions that have no foundation in truth or reality.

In their desire to fight for justice for the oppressed, some Christian organisations working in the Middle East have absorbed the language, attitudes and tactics of the secular BDS groups. This dangerously compromises Christian standards and witness. The Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC), for example, is one of the most prominent of the British BDS groups. Stand For Peace, an inter-religious (not Christian) anti-extremist website, has produced a detailed analysis of the PSC and says,

the PSC is an extremist, racist organisation, which tolerates homophobia and other forms of illiberalism. Well-meaning organizations that collaborate with the PSC on the basis of a presumed mutual belief in human rights, democracy and peace, should be informed of the PSC’s true nature; all political and human rights organisations that wish to demonstrate probity should take steps to distance themselves from the PSC’s anti-peace and counter-cohesive message.

Why would any “well-meaning” Christian organisation want to be identified with such a group? Yet several are and Christians can often be seen at PSC rallies and supporting them in different ways. Rev Stephen Sizer is a prominent pro-Palestinian evangelical minister and has been a speaker at a number of PSC events. It is a dilution of the Church’s witness to be identified with such an extremist, secular group.

Christian groups that have allied themselves with the secular BDS movement also show a disturbing degree of imbalance in the way they approach issues concerning the Palestinians and Israel. Commonly much is made of alleged Israeli mistreatment of Palestinians, to the extent that Israel is accused of “ethnically cleansing” whole areas Palestinians (with no convincing evidence). No mention is made, however, of the suffering inflicted on Palestinians by their own leaders; of the massive corruption, misuse of international aid, torturing of prisoners or the incitement of a whole generation to hatred against the one nation the Palestinians are supposed to be making peace with! Nor is mention made of the thousands of rockets that have been launched against Israel from the Palestinian enclave of Gaza.

Much is made of the evil of Israeli “illegal settlements” on alleged Palestinian territory with no mention of the 96,000 Palestinians earning good wages working in Israel (including 20,000 working in West Bank settlements). Demands are made for the cessation of settlement activity by Israel with no thought to the employment vacuum and suffering that would be left by their removal. Ignored also are inconvenient counter-arguments by top legal minds that Israeli occupation of the West Bank is completely legitimate.

In November 2012, Christian Aid held a conference in Gateshead on “Peace And Justice In The Holy Land”. A non-Christian commentator (Denis McEoin) who is an expert on Middle East affairs, wrote a detailed account of the proceedings. In his opening paragraphs he says,

The conference was, from beginning to end, a total travesty of those ideals [of peace and justice]; it was in all respects one-sided, often dangerously so. One after another, the speakers all presented the pro-Palestinian narrative and arguments derived from Palestinian political theory. Not once was an Israeli or Jewish narrative even mentioned, where such a narrative would differ in substantial terms from the Palestinian one, yet Israel was on several occasions ridiculed and condemned.

Just before this conference was held, a coalition of 22 cross-Europe NGOs released the report “Trading Away Peace: How Europe Helps Sustain Illegal Israeli Settlements “. The report was basically an encouragement for Europe to increase boycotts and other sanctions against Israel until she lifts her “illegal occupation” of the West Bank. NGO Monitor condemned the coalition in a strongly-worded response to the 35 page paper entitled “How Biased Political NGOs Fuel Conflict”. This from a well-respected international organisation, going on to say,

“…this political advocacy NGO network, which receives massive funding from European governments, markets a selective and one-sided narrative in order to demonize Israel. This is part of the “Durban strategy” of using highly distorted versions of the conflict and allegations of “war crimes” in order to isolate Israel – a strategy that these NGOs and their allies have employed for more than a decade.

We should be very concerned at this because the 22-strong coalition of “Biased Political NGOs” includes Christian Aid, The Quakers and the Methodist church. This again reveals Christian groups identifying with un-biblical values and attitudes and is damaging to our Christian witness to the world. Christian NGOs should surely not allow themselves to be in a position where they are the objects of such severe censure from a secular organisation!

The launch of Kairos Britain at the weekend was accompanied by an “occupation game” for children invented by Embrace The Middle East (used to be The Bible Lands Society), a Christian charity that does some amazing educational work among the Middle East’s poor. Using a simulated board game to take children through “checkpoints” and other barriers to their movement, the game presented by CEO Jeremy Moodey abuses a very serious subject and only serves to trivialise the experiences of ordinary people while demonising Israel once again. No mention here of Muslim persecution of Christians in Bethlehem or of the consistent suppression of free speech by the Palestinian leaders; just “nasty old Israel” at it again. Children should be allowed to grow up at least, before people try to indoctrinate them!

The same imbalance in treatment of the two protagonists in this conflict can be seen in the output of the World Council of Churches’ “Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme to Palestine and Israel” (EAPPI). While claiming not to take sides, their practice of hovering around Israeli security checkpoints in tasteful coloured vests is solely with the aim of capturing examples of brutality by Israeli soldiers. Why not stand outside the Palestinian prison in Jericho and complain about the torture of prisoners there, or show support for Baptist Pastor Naim Khoury in Bethlehem whose church has been fire-bombed by fellow Palestinians?

Kairos Britain sadly follows in well-trodden paths; distorting history, making emotive claims without supporting evidence and, on a theological level, supporting a Palestinian interpretation of “Liberation Theology” that only sees itself as a victim. (What happened to “more than conquerors”, Romans 8)? For example, their website page on the history of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict includes the statement,

“In 1967, during a war with the neighbouring Arab states, Israel conquered the West Bank and Gaza Strip…”

This is an unbelievably skewed interpretation of known historical facts. Presented with a number of unequivocal actions showing that an attack was imminent from Egypt and Syria, Israel carried out pre-emptive attacks on both in June 1967. Frantic diplomatic pleading with Jordan not to join the conflict failed and Jerusalem was attacked by Jordanian forces from the (illegally occupied) West Bank. Fighting back defensively on three fronts and massively out-numbered, Israel succeeded in securing strategically defensible borders against her three attackers. After the dust settled, she held the Golan Heights, the West Bank and the whole of the Sinai peninsula.

Besides this, the Kairos Britain website inevitably excludes Israel’s immediate offer to return all the territory she had taken in the war in return for peace. It also excludes the vital fact that this offer was categorically refused by the whole Arab League with the statement, “no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it.” Please tell me, then, who is responsible for Israel’s continued hold on the West Bank and the Golan Heights; who is refusing to make peace with whom

Kairos Britain, Amos trust, Christian Aid and the other “pro-Palestinian” Christian organisations draw their inspiration (and most of their catch-phrases) from the “Kairos Palestine Document: A Moment of Truth”, published in 2009 by the Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem. This groups speaks for the traditional Christian denominations, but includes no representation from the newer Palestinian Evangelical churches. It is an expression of a Palestinian version of Catholic Liberation Theology, which politicises the plight of the poor and oppressed and almost sanctifies their victimhood.

The Kairos Document is more political than spiritual in its tenor and places the whole blame for the difficulties of Palestinian Christians on Israel. Never once in the document is the Palestinian Authority censured for its human rights abuses, its incitement to hatred of Israel and Jews or its provocation of security restrictions by sending terrorists to attack Israelis and rockets from Gaza. These are high on the list of causes for the problems faced by both Christian and Muslim Palestinians. For a comprehensive breakdown of discrepancies in the Kairos Document, see this Christian blog post, published as the Document was fresh off the press.

If there is a “Kairos moment” for the Church in this arena it is to commit to presenting a more balanced face; engaging compassionately and genuinely with both sides in this seemingly endless conflict that has brought so much pain and death to both Palestinians and Israelis and acknowledging that both sides have a story to tell.

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