Photo Credit:
At podium, Sami Awad, executive director of the Holy Land Trust; to his right, "Rabbi" Arik Ascherman from Rabbis for Human Rights

{Originally posted to Snapshots, A Camera blog}

The Christ at the Checkpoint Conference concluded today, March 10, 2016. The stated goal of the conference was to give Christians the information they needed to address religious extremism as it relates to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.


The conference, which is organized by Bethlehem Bible College, a non-denominational Christian institution of higher learning in the West Bank, got off to a rough start.

Invitees said some things that they shouldn’t have during the opening night of the conference, Monday, March 7, 2016.

For example, the Christian mayor of Beit Jala, where the conference was held, compared Israel to ISIS. That’s not a good way to establish the credibility of Palestinian Christian leaders in the West Bank.

Also, an official from the Palestinian Authority (who spoke in Arabic) used conference director Rev. Dr. Munther Isaac as a puppet to tell the audience that the Palestinians have embraced the principle of coexistence, a tough thing to believe in the midst of a five-month stabbing spree that has cost dozens of Israelis their lives.

That’s not all. A prominent Palestinian Evangelical leader said explicitly what many people believed all along: Palestinian Evangelical churches are dedicated to the cause of anti-Zionism.

Yes, that’s what he said.

With politicians and security officials from the Palestinian Authority sitting in the front row, 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.

“Palestinian Evangelical churches are working on the intellectual and ideological rejection of Zionism and racism against our people,” he said, echoing the language of the Zionism is racism resolution passed by the UN General Assembly in 1975.

It does not get any clearer than that. Anti-Zionism is part of the Evangelical agenda in the Holy Land.

It’s not a hidden agenda.

It’s a stated agenda.

The conference’s main business began on Tuesday, when speakers addressed the problem of religious extremism in Islam. On Wednesday, they addressed the issue of extremism in Christianity (with Christian Zionism portrayed as an expression of this extremism). Today, the topic was Jewish extremism.

As stated on an article on CAMERA’s main page, the Muslim speaker who addressed religious extremism in Islam was Mustafa Abu Sway, an Imam who serves on the Waqf Council which overseas the management of the Al Aqsa Mosque, which is a center of ugly anti-Semitic incitement in Palestinian society.

Abu Sway, who has stated that the narrative that comes out of Al Aqsa Mosque is a “decent, moderate narrative” despite mountains of evidence to the contrary, downplayed the impact Muslim extremism on the Arab-Israeli conflict. Palestinian violence, he stated, was rooted in anger at Israeli policies.

To further his point, Abu Sway falsely reported in a video interview with conference organizer Rev. Dr. Munther Isaac that Palestinians never taught their children to hate. Of course they have. Isaac should have pressed him on this issue in the interview, but he didn’t.

One speaker who addressed Christian Zionism as an example of religious extremism was Hank Hanegraff, AKA the Bible Answer Man. Another speaker was the previously mentioned Munther Isaac.

Isaac argued that Christian Zionism has a negative impact on Palestinian Christians because as a theology it promotes prejudice and superiority and leaves no place for the Palestinians in Israel. He also lamented Christian Zionists “control the narrative” about the conflict in the Evangelical community.

Hanegraff’s critique was based on the superssessionist notion that God’s promises to the Jews are not relevant in the modern era because they have already been fulfilled in their entirety and that there is only one chosen people, the followers of Jesus Christ.

The demonstration of this reality, Hanegraff asserted, was revealed with the destruction of Jerusalem foretold by Jesus Christ in the New Testament. (German theologian Manfred Kohl has made this point previously at the Christ at the Checkpoint.)

It is ironic that Hanegraff would promote the notion that God’s promises to the Jews are a dead letter at a conference dedicated to combating religious extremism, because such arguments have been used by both Christians and Muslims to justify the oppression and murder of Jews throughout history.

Hanegraff also argued that while “cultural Zionists” portray ethnic cleansing as a “defensible cruelty,” Christian Zionists portrayed it as a “divine command.”

At points during Hannegraff’s talk, audience members said “Amen,” and when he was through, he got a powerful round of applause. Apparently, they liked Hanegraff’s brand of Christian triumphalism.

Rabbi Arik Ascherman from Rabbis for Human Rights, an Israeli organization that advocates for Palestinians in the West Bank spoke on the Jewish extremism. Unlike Mustafa Abu Sway, the Muslim dialogue partner at the conference, Ascherman addressed the impact of extremism in his faith tradition head-on.

His talk opened with a video of a masked man pushing Ascherman to the ground and placing a knife at his throat. (Subsequent discussion revealed that the man with the knife was an Israeli Jew who lived in the West Bank who felt apparently felt threatened by Ascherman’s activism on behalf of the Palestinians.)

After the video Ascherman lamented that religious Jews are more likely to harbor hostility toward Arabs than secular Jews and that while Jews are a scarred people as the result of the Holocaust, they still have a special obligation to remember that their fellow human beings are made the in the name of God.

Ascherman took a risk. He bared his soul in a compelling manner and lamented the bad acts of his fellow Israeli Jews to an audience that the day before had been told that God’s promises to the Jews were a dead letter.

It was a profound and moving display of Jewish self-criticism before an audience that the day before roundly applauded a Christian supersessionist who stated, in effect, that the destruction of Jerusalem was God’s last word on the Jewish people.

But Ascherman’s risk-taking was not enough, for after he was through talking, Sami Awad, executive director of the Holy Land Trust and a prominent conference organizer, stepped up to the podium and asked the activist three questions. (Photo above.)

The first question was what was it in the Jewish tradition that made the man who attacked Ascherman see the activist as an enemy.

In response, Ascherman said he didn’t know, but that the attacker was a friend of the Fogel family that was brutally murdered in their sleep in Itamar in 2011.

The second question was what God’s will is for Awad, a Palestinian Christian, in light of the land promise to Jews. Ascherman said that while there are some Jews who believe that non-Jews have no rights in the land of Israel, the vast majority of them believe that stealing from non-Jews is theft.

The third question Awad asked is how Jews deal with the concept of chosenness. Ascherman answered that chosenness does not elevate Jews over non-Jews or make them better than non-Jews but places greater responsibility on them.

Note: Rabbi Ascherman has contacted CAMERA with a response which is posted at the end of this entry.

These are all reasonable topics of discussion, but the question is, why were these questions singularly directed at Ascherman? Why were the representatives and Islam and Christianity not challenged to address the issue of chosenness in their faiths? It’s not as if chosenness is unique to Judaism, a point made later in the day by Father David Neuhaus, a Jewish convert to Catholicism and a Jesuit scholar, who reminded the audience that the concept of chosenness is also present in Islam and Christianity as well.

And why was Hanegraff not challenged on his triumphalism? Why wasn’t Abu Sway called out on his evasions? Why was Ascherman the only one subjected to questioning after his talk?

Virtually every other speaker in physical attendance at the conference was allowed to leave the stage to applause without challenge.

But not the Jew. The different treatment was remarkable.

Ascherman and Awad are friends, but the singling out of Ascherman for further questioning still highlights the manner in which Christ at the Checkpoint and other Palestinian Christians subject Judaism, Zionism and Israel to intense scrutiny while giving Islam, Islamism and Palestinian leaders a pass.

With this behavior they have enlisted in the propaganda war against Israel, just as Evangelical pastor Munir Kakish said on the first night of the conference.

Nevertheless, there was one aspect of the conference that was noteworthy and praiseworthy. On Wednesday, during the day’s discussion about Christian Zionism, Sami Awad showed a short video that included testimony from two of his friends in Hamas.

As the Hamas leaders spoke on camera, they made it perfectly clear they hate Israel and want to see it destroyed.

One Hamas member stated that there was no religious evidence of Jews living in the land and that Europe threw its problems onto the Middle East when it supported the creation of the Jewish state.

Another called Israel “a void state on land that belongs to the Palestinian people.”

On one hand critics can assert that Awad had no business giving Hamas leaders a chance to air their views at the conference, but this misses an important point: No conference attendee who saw the video can deny that the Hamas members who appeared on screen hate Israel with a steely resolve. The Hamas leaders didn’t shout, but expressed their contempt in quiet, even tones.

After the two leaders from Hamas spoke, Israeli Rabbi Hanan Schlesinger (another friend of Sami Awad’s) explained why he was not all that bothered by Christian Zionism and was in fact glad for the movement’s support.

Israel has enemies who want to destroy it and needs all the friends it can get, Schlesinger said. Moreover, Christian Zionism, Schlesinger said, was a nice change from the curses Christians have directed at Jews for the past 2,000 years.

By giving two Hamas leaders a chance to express their contempt for Israel, Awad demonstrated that Rabbi Schlesinger’s statement about Israel having enemies who want to destroy it was not Zionist hyperbole, but grounded in reality.

Does this mean that Christ at the Checkpoint is going to turn over a new leaf? Don’t hold your breath.

CATC organizers stated at the end of the conference that there will be another CATC conference in two years and that it will be devoted to confronting Christian Zionism, just like the previous events.

Maybe, in 2018, they will do a better job vetting the welcoming remarks of the people who speak the first night of the conference.
Note: Rabbi Ascherman has responded to this post via Facebook. Here is what he has written:

My comments didn’t only contain self criticism. I challenged everybody not to use their faith traditions to justify oppressing others, spoke about Christian triumphalism, made it clear that I am a Zionist, spoke about Palestinian terror, etc. I didn’t say that the vast majority of Jews oppose theft of land from Palestinians (although I do believe that many do oppose theft), but rather pointed out that the vast majority of Jewish authorities throughout the ages (not all) acknowledged the property rights of non-Jews in the Biblical Land of Israel, and said that theft of such lands is theft. I acknowledged that those who advocate the dispossession of Palestinians and violence have sources in the Jewish tradition to base themselves on, but also quoted sources in our tradition leading to a different approach. I also received many rounds of applause, and was requested to spend some more time with students in attendance. Many came up to me afterwards appreciating that I was able to avoid extremism in one direction or another: laying out the Judaism I believe in and its sources, without glossing over our tradition’s complexities; confronting Israeli oppression of Palestinians while not delegitimizing Israel or ignoring Palestinian violence.



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