Musalaha project manager claims “voices try to change our identity to Arameans”

Last month, Musalaha put on a conference where its main speaker accused Aramean Christians of being “collaborators.” Michel Sabbah argued that Aramean Christians were wrong to identify as such, and told Arameans to “be loyal to yourself“. Sabbah was clearly using his platform from Musalaha, to try to put pressure on Arameans, who are tiny compared to Israel’s Arab population.

This was plainly ridiculous: the Aramean community is far smaller than the Arab community in Israel.

This week, Yediot columnist Ben Dror Yemini highlighted the politically-driven attacks against the Arameans from the United Arab list leaders, noting that Ayman Odeh’s party have branded Arabs doing national service as “lepers”, and have incited against a community leader of the Arameans, Father Gabriel Naddaf. Father Naddaf has faced numerous death threats.

Yet rather than stand up to the propaganda campaign against Arameans, Musalaha has fanned flames.Now an article appears on the Palestinian website Come And See, by Musalaha’s campaign manager Shadia Qubti, claiming there is pressure on Arabs to become Arameans, rather than the other way round. She writes:

As Christians, there are voices that try to change our identity to Arameans as a way to separate us from our Arab identity, and particularly our Palestinian heritage in the hope that it would produce a better relationship with the state. They have associated themselves with Netanyahu’s party and other right-wing parties. Arameans, however, might face the same discrimination as non-Jews.

Who are these voices? The Aramean commmunity is self-confident, and is proud of its own historical roots; just as the Arab community is happy in its own identity.

The historical authenticity of Aramean identity is something that Michel Sabbah inadvertently admitted himself at the Musalaha event, when he said:

“There are voices among Christians encouraged by the authorities, who have begun to say “We are not Arabs, we are Arameans” Where does this imaginative discourse come from? Perhaps it has its roots in the past. It is true that some of us Christians, we spoke Aramaic millenia ago, like the Jews. However history has been ongoing, and has transformed situations and peoples. Today, we are what we are: Palestinians, Arabs and Christians.

So Sabbah admitted the historic Aramean identity, and his argument against contemporary Aramean identity was that “histoy has transformed us” – a dubious point at best.

Qubti’s article had its good points – especially that Israeli Arabs should go out and vote, and participate in Israel’s healthy democratic system. She is right to insist that social change can be affected at the ballot box, rather than by trying to undermine democracy.

However, it is a shame that Musalaha’s leader wouldn’t want to highlight that the party she recommends voting for, is lying and inciting against fellow Holy Land Christians she voices concern about – the Arameans.

Musalaha is an organisation that promotes reconciliation between Israeli and Palestinian believers in Christ, yet here is their leader essentially discarding the Arameans as a right-wing pressure group, rather than a community with dignity every bit as much as Palestinian Christians and Israeli Messianics have.

Musalaha argues that those involved in reconciliation should show special care towards the disenfranchised, weaker communities who are not power-brokers. In which case, their leaders should be taking up the cause of the misunderstood and persecuted Arameans, rather than indulging in lies about them.

To claim special pleading for the most popular political narratives of the Israeli Arab minority, but then to dismiss the views of the even-tinier Aramean minority, appears slightly disingenuous from Musalaha’s leadership.

It is also strange to see a Musalaha leader dismiss Israeli Messianic Jews as basically associated with “Zionist right-wing parties”. Some Messianics vote Likud, Jewish Home or Yisrael Beitenu; other Israeli Messianics will vote for the centre’s Yesh Atid or the centre-left Zionist Union, and there have also been Messianics associated with left-wing Meretz.

This Musalaha-flavoured dismissal of Israeli Messianic Jews voting intentions comes days after Yad L’Achim published a dishonest piece attacking Jews For Jesus’ flyers about “voting” for Yeshua, as somehow deceptive.

Again, Musalaha ought to be taking up the cause of the misunderstood Messianic Jews, who are a minority within wider Israeli Jewish society, rather than peddling further misunderstandings.

Qubti seems to reject Zionism itself as a political ideology, yet the definition of Zionism is the belief in a Jewish homeland of Israel, which was established in 1948 and is not going anywhere, ever. If Qubti rejects Zionism then she is essentially denying the authenticity of Israel as a Jewish state.

From the outside, it seems strange that Qubti has not internalised this point, after years of discussion with Messianic Jews within Musalaha.

Perhaps the biggest irony is this:

Musalaha is all about bringing people together and viewing each other as humans, not as separate ethnicities. Yet here is their project manager encouraging Israelis to vote according to ethnic blocs.

It is one thing to voice your reasons for supporting a particular party, which we all should do. But encouraging bloc community voting is the exact opposite of real reconciliation – civil society cannot be built along these lines.

Musalaha needs to explain why their leadership is publicly misrepresenting Israeli Aramean Christians and Israeli Messianic Jews, if indeed it is genuinely interested in mutual understanding and reconciliation.

JIJ: Palestinian Muslim converts to Christianity face harassment in the PA

The Jerusalem Institute of Justice (JIJ) has a new report out, which is well-worth your time, on Freedom of Religion under the Palestinian Authority.

Read it all – but this section on Palestinian Muslim converts to Christianity is especially interesting (p.17):

The situation for converts from Islam to Christianity is considerably harder than for the average Christian in both the West Bank and Gaza due to Shari’a law’s prohibition of apostasy. Conversions also have legal consequences regarding personal status, as mentioned above in section 5.4.3.

According to a pastor from Bethlehem, there is more persecution of converts in Nablus and Hebron. He claims that the situation in Bethlehem is less severe with heckling constituting the main form of harassment. Because both the PA and Palestinian society forbids conversion, it has to be carried out in secret since it is dangerous to do so. According to an interview with a resident of East Jerusalem, converts must have dual identities, acting as Muslims in dangerous situations. Many converts live secret lives, pretending to be Muslims and even going to the mosque. A resident of Bethlehem related that, on finding out about the conversion, the family often try to kill the convert, and therefore many converts seek shelter abroad. The families of the convert will often take action and report the conversion to the PA. A Pastor whose congregation is in Bethlehem, explained that if the authorities do not respond, there is likely to be a public uprising of Muslims against Christians.

Since converts cannot change their IDs, they continue to be perceived as Muslims. Most converts are careful to be discreet about their conversion, although some are baptized and join a church. A leader of an educational institution in the West Bank explained that allowing for changes to be made to religious affiliation on IDs would lead to an uproar.

In his opinion, the PA or Palestinian society in general are not yet ready to take this step, also out of concern for demographics and the general fear of losing people to other religions.

A Pastor with congregants in Gaza claimed that any convert trying to register as a Christian with the PA is sent home and subsequently receives visits from individuals trying to convince them to return to Islam. Converts, he explained, are watched and followed and in some cases are called to a PA office for a conversation. If they refuse to return to Islam, the military wing of the PA becomes involved. However, according to this Pastor, it is impossible to prove the PA’s involvement in court.

Churches are often hesitant to accept Muslims or former Muslims into their communities for fear of attack. A pastor from Bethlehem related cases of churches receiving email and phone threats from people who have seen their neighbors or friends converting and want to hold someone responsible.

If a person is murdered for being a convert, according to a Christian from Bethlehem, the PA does not get involved. The PA has been known to arrest a person for being a convert. Lecturer Alex Miller told of a man in the West Bank who converted and was then arrested by the PA and made to sign a blank confession.85 A resident from East Jerusalem claimed, however, that this is not always the case.

According to a leader of an educational institution in the West Bank, living openly as a convert leads to imprisonment or threats. He stated that the PA takes measures to punish the convert in order to appease the Muslim majority. It seems it is easier to live openly as an atheist, since, unlike converts, atheists are not persecuted. This, he claimed, is due to the traditional view that a person is born into a religion and dies in the same religion regardless of their beliefs.

We plan to feature more of this report in the coming days.

The Dubious Logic of Yad L’Achim

yl-vote2yl-vote1Yad L’Achim claim of: Missionaries Taking Advantage of Israeli Election Campaign to Convert Jews.

Haifa Deputy Mayor Rabbi Aryeh Blitental complained to Yad L’Achim about this Jews for Jesus leaflet claiming “they act with cunning and deceit”. Really!?

There is a huge name of Yeshua and even Yeshu on the front of the leaflet (which even Blitental notices). Yad L’Achim referred to Blitental as “One alert citizen” but just how much of a dullard must he be, or think others are, to think that a leaflet with a massive Yeshua/Yeshu (Both Hebrew for Jesus, the latter being the derogatory one) was being deceitful.

Blitental wrote about “dubious activities include placing Hebrew flyers in residents’ mail boxes.” What is dubious about posting flyers in mailbox, is the postal service now dubious, are political parties and advertising companies dubious for posting flyers!

How did Yad L’Achim respond? By distributing and posting flyers, dubious no!?

Far Right arson & graffiti attack – “Jesus is a son of a whore” scrawled on Greek Orthodox seminary

Here is a sickening act of arson that merits our contempt and condemnation.

Read this CNN report in full:

A day after flames scorched a West Bank mosque, a Jerusalem seminary belonging to the Greek Orthodox Church was torched and defaced Thursday — an act police suspect is the work of radical right-wing Israelis.

Both buildings were defaced with anti-Christian and anti-Arab slurs.

The word “revenge” was written in Hebrew on the mosque.

That was also the language scrawled on the Christian seminary, including graffiti maligning Jesus and the words “redemption of Zion,” according to police spokeswoman Luba Samri.

Hopefully there will be arrests soon once the suspects are identified.

We have highlighted use of the term “redemption” before to justify radical settler crimes, noting Leah Ortiz’s remarks:

The public is being reminded that the investigation is continuing to root out terrorist sleeper cells that are hiding and camouflaging themselves among the local residents. The newspapers report, and journalists have told us, about an Orthodox group who hold to the doctrine of what is called “Redemption” which claims that the reason the coming of the Messiah has been delayed is because of the tolerance of the State of Israel for Christians, left wingers and Homosexuals. All of these groups are classified as false prophets that have to be dealt with.

Finding the perpetrators is one thing, but Israel also needs to create a conversation in which these type of ideologies are challenged in wider society. Frankly, it is not acceptable for people to go around forming vigilante groups and attacking defenceless Christians, and thinking God is somehow pleased with this.

Such despicable acts are deeply disturbing for the health of Israeli society, for why should any minority have to live in terror? These crimes ought to remind all of the need to combat radical ideology through education, as well as through a public discussion of the extent of the problem.

Rightly, President Rivlin condemned the arson attack, expressing “sadness and shock.” He stated that the perpetrators:

“not only threaten to set fire to places of worship holy to all of us, but ignite the regional powder keg upon which we all sit.”

At a time when Greek Orthodox priest Gabriel Naddaf is courageously leading his community to demonstrate that the Aramean Christian community is deeply loyal to Israel, Christians themselves must be shown they are valued by the Jewish state, which has a responsibility towards them.

Fellowship of Israel-Related Ministries (FIRM) asks: “Why Israel?”

This page is very cool from FIRM, a new group spearheaded by Wayne Hilsden, asking “Why Israel?“.

It is a positive affirmation of Biblical affection towards Israel, as well as being a direct challenge to un-Biblical replacement theology – the latter being more prevalent than the former, sadly, in many churches.

We pray Wayne will have great wisdom as he navigates the challenges of a new project like this one, and we hope he will discern snares in his ministry for what they are, learning from previous experiences as he seeks to guide FIRM towards a spiritual and fruitful role within the wider body of Messiah.

Specifically, we hope Hilsden can stand firm against the anti-Zionist theology of Bethlehem Bible College and Musalaha, and the varying sympathies of their teachers’ political views regarding the PFLP and Hamas.

This is crucial at a time when anti-Zionist theologians are making very strategic inroads in the Messianic community, convincing Messianic Jews that their connection to Israel is really just reflective of their “narrative” – arguing that a “pro-Israel narrative” can be compared to a terrorist-sympathising, anti-Jewish theological narrative which is equally valid.

I would suggest it will take great boldness from Hilsden to make a stand for objective truth and to carry people along with him, at a time when postmodern Messianic relativism about “narratives” seems to be the current fad.

Such a confidence in truth over narratives will have a positive effect on the Palestinian church too, and will encourage them as they come under huge pressure from their Islamist society to oppose the Jewish state; a pressure which Israeli Messanic Jews cannot begin to imagine.

Such boldness is necessary in making FIRM credible and consistent among believers.

So there is a real opportunity for FIRM to fulfil a leading role in the body of Messiah. The content of FIRM so far looks promising.

Here is a video of highlights from FIRM’s “Summit” conference: