Christian Zionist Activist Brian Schrauger on “Christ at the Checkpoint”

artworks-000074661810-22ixss-t500x500Yishai Fleisher is Israel’s only English talk show host on AM/FM radio in Israel (Galey Yisrael 106.5 FM), in this show he talks about the ongoing “narrative war” within Israel and how it is extremely conflicted. To elaborate and present an alternative, Christian version, he is joined by Christian Zionist and Israel activist Brian Schrauger. They talk about a new narrative that is has become more prevalent in the Christian world that paints “Christ at the Checkpoint” and is designed to create anti-Israel sentiment within the evangelical Christian world. Be sure to listen in and get informed!

Listen to the show here.

How Evangelical is Christ at the Checkpoint?

catc massChrist at the Checkpoint claims to be the new guardians of Evangelical orthodoxy as it pontificates and declares Christian Zionism to be a heresy.

However, just how evangelical is Christ at the Checkpoint? Putting aside the one-size-fits-all caricature presentation of all Christian supporters of Israel as rubber-stampers of all Israel says and does along with the convenient claim that support of Israel also equates to having no compassion for Palestinians. What are evangelicals at CaTC doing taking Roman Catholic Mass? And why has CaTC edited the caption and taken out any mention of CaTC? Embarrassed maybe! Were there just so many Roman Catholics at CaTC that they needed to have a Mass in an Olive grove?

Many Evangelicals would regard taking Mass as something inconsistent with Evangelical convictions and indeed the Protestant end of the Evangelical spectrum would see that as beyond the boundaries of what can be considered Evangelical and become something else, called Ecumenical.

source

A Palestinian holds a board with song lyrics as International Christian activists attending the Christ at the Checkpoint conference join Palestinians for a Catholic mass in a West Bank olive grove as a form of nonviolent resistance against the Israeli separation barrier that threatens to further divide land belonging to the town of Beit Jala, March 14, 2014. The lyrics read, “Oh, God of peace, rain down peace on us. Oh God of peace, fill our hearts with peace.” (photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

A Palestinian holds a board with song lyrics as International Christian activists attending the Christ at the Checkpoint conference join Palestinians for a Catholic mass in a West Bank olive grove as a form of nonviolent resistance against the Israeli separation barrier that threatens to further divide land belonging to the town of Beit Jala, March 14, 2014. The lyrics read, “Oh, God of peace, rain down peace on us. Oh God of peace, fill our hearts with peace.” (photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

International Christian activists attending the Christ at the Checkpoint conference join Palestinians for a Catholic mass in a West Bank olive grove as a form of nonviolent resistance against the Israeli separation barrier that threatens to further divide land belonging to the town of Beit Jala, March 14, 2014. If built as planned, the wall would separate the Cremisan monastery and a valley of olive groves from the rest of Beit Jala. (photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

International Christian activists attending the Christ at the Checkpoint conference join Palestinians for a Catholic mass in a West Bank olive grove as a form of nonviolent resistance against the Israeli separation barrier that threatens to further divide land belonging to the town of Beit Jala, March 14, 2014. If built as planned, the wall would separate the Cremisan monastery and a valley of olive groves from the rest of Beit Jala. (photo: Ryan Rodrick Beiler/Activestills.org)

Who Funds Christ at the Checkpoint?

Look who is funding CaTC:

According to JNS news

The U.S., U.K., and Dutch governments are helping to fund an upcoming conference called “Christ at the Checkpoint,” which attempts to sway Evangelical Christian opinion against Israel and whose themes have anti-Semitic undertones, according to a new report issued by the Jerusalem-based watchdog group NGO Monitor.

The report titled “Christ at the Checkpoint: How the U.S., U.K. and Dutch Governments Enable Religious Strike and Foment in the Mideast Conflict,” first obtained by JNS.org, examines how the American and European governments are directly and indirectly funding the conference.

“Direct and indirect funding to the organizers of Christ at the Checkpoint is mystifying and deeply concerning to us,” said Yitzhak Santis, Chief Programs Officer and “BDS in the Pews” Project Director at NGO Monitor.

Read full article here

Messianics will win theological points at CATC, but at a cost

In 2012, Wayne Hilsden gave a very interesting presentation on God’s plans for the Jewish people, according to the Bible. His talk was warmly received and politely listen to. He engaged in a friendly discussion with Gary Burge, and was otherwise made to feel most welcome.

Hilsden went aware of the conference’s terror links, yet determined to override these concerns by winning hearts and minds through his Biblical theology. His thinking seemed reasonable enough. The logic goes something like this:

If someone can talk to anti-Israel Christians in the language of Scripture, and argue convincingly why God loves the Jewish people and keeps His covenant with them, then this would be a great opportunity. Then these Christians would be so impressed, they might just drop their associations with terror leaders and take a more reasonable position towards Jews – having met some Jews with whom they shared spiritual fellowship and belief in the New Testament.

You will hear riffs on this version throughout the pro-CATC Messianics, who seem genuinely convinced they are doing God’s will, and ignore an obvious issue about CATC’s problematic terror connexions that even the Palestinian press is aware of.

The CATC Messianics instead see the CATC terror issue as just background noise.

The CATC Messianics are convinced that Israeli Jews (including many Messianics) pointing out the CATC terror connections are misguided people who don’t understand the real theological issues at play.

At 2014, the CATC Messianics will be listened to and applauded – just as they were in 2012. They will be allowed to make seemingly bold statements like “God’s love for Israel is everlasting”, “God has brought the Jewish people back into the land”, and “all Israel will be saved,” and will see themselves as brave for saying so.

But truthfully, theology about Jews is not a particularly huge issue for CATC. It is instead a red herring.

Continue reading

Christ at the Checkpoint in Awad’s Own Words

In the following video Alex Awad tells us that the founding idea behind Christ at the Checkpoint had nothing to do with reconciliation between Palestinian Christians and Messianic Jews, rather finding a justification from the Bible for Palestinians to live in the “Holy Land”. He present an extreme scenario that the only option from Christian Zionists was for Palestinian Christians to leave the land and let Jews get on with it. I can’t think of anyone stupid enough to say that let alone believe it!

The myth of CaTC being a reconciliation ministry has been revealed. Awad talks about oppression and injustice and the separation wall. Sadly, he totally ignores the reason for it, which is the reign of suicide bombings that indiscriminately took the lives of Israeli men, women and children in cafés, buses, streets and other public spaces. Since the Wall, which is undoubtedly an ugly and disruptive imposition, terror attacks have plummeted by 90%. The primary responsibility of any government is the protection of its own citizens, and that is what Israel had to do with the Wall. If the Palestinians denounced and rejected terror, I am sure the wall would come down very quickly.

Awad therefore talks about these unnamed extreme Christians who told him the land belongs to the Jews, which he interprets to mean he must leave the land. Rather than do that he helps establish CaTC to find a Biblical justification to live in the Land, not to reconcile with Messianic Jews. Israel always had a mixed multitude and laws to accommodate strangers and aliens living amongst them, so it really is not that hard to find a Bible justification for them living in the land, no need for a conference to find that!

Awad seeks to give some mystical sense to reading the Bible in the shadow of The Wall, as if some new revelatory insight will come your way. In fact what they want for CaTC is to have American Evangelicals to come and experience Palestinian daily life and get emotionally affected so much by it that it will change how they read the Bible, to the extent that they no longer see any place for Jews in the Land or indeed in the definition of Israel.

So there you have it, this is not about reconciliation, not with Messianic Jews (2:27mins) or even Christian Zionists, Awad had his chance to say it, but didn’t because the agenda of Christ at the Checkpoint is not reconciliation but propaganda in the shadow of the checkpoint, emotional blackmail in the shadow of the checkpoint, political anti-Israeli activism thinly veiled as theology in the shadow of the checkpoint.

Messianic Jews invited to CaTC are being allowed to come and talk about Replacement Theology and reconciliation, but CaTC is more about politics than it is about theology. Unless those Messianic Jews who speak this year challenge the politics of hate towards Israel they will have missed the point of them going to CaTC.

The challenge for Palestinian Christians, in the shadow of the checkpoint, (and I do not diminish the genuine difficulties or pain in their lives), is to maintain a testimony that is untainted by the anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic extremism of their surrounding society, not to theologize it.

How does CATC2012 respond to PA treatment of Palestinian Christians?

Dexter Van Zile reported this week, that a week after PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad addressed CATC, the PA informed Palestinian church leader Stephen Khoury that his church “lacked the authority to function”, as a religious institution in the PA.

The church can still gather to pray, for now, but the PA’s decision conveyed on Saturday will have a real impact on the members of First Baptist, which endured numerous bomb attacks during the First Intifada.

“They said that our legitimacy as a church from a governmental point of view is not approved,” said Khoury’s son, Steven, who serves as an assistant pastor at First Baptist. “They said they will not recognize any legal paper work from our church. That includes birth certificates, wedding certificates and death certificates. Children are not even considered to be legitimate if they don’t have recognized paperwork.”

The irony, Steven said, is that the PA’s announcement comes right after the Christ at the Checkpoint Conference.

Many people have picked up on this irony, as the PA’s Prime Minister Salam Fayyad himself addressed CATC, just days before this decision came to light. Bear in mind, CATC was organised by Bethlehem Bible College, which is an evangelical Bible college. Indeed, last month Eastern Orthodox Christians on a web forum belittled CATC for being evangelical and not Orthodox, and therefore not truly representing Palestinian Christianity.

In response, CATC organisers Porter Speakman and Munther Isaac have written an article to the concerns raised about CATC and the timing of the decision about Khoury’s church.

Speakman and Isaac write:

Unlike traditional churches like the Greek Orthodox and Catholics, Evangelical churches in the Palestinian Territories are not officially recognized and therefore things like marriage documents are not considered legitimate by government authorities. They have the freedom to worship, but are not “official.”

They continue:

For the last few years, there have been many discussions between Evangelical church leaders, including those who organized and spoke at the Christ at the Checkpoint, and officials from the PA.

If the PA and CATC leadership have been in discussion, it has not born any fruit. The PA does not consider Palestinian evangelical Christians to be legitimate at all.

However, it appears that both parties consciously decided to oppose pro-Zionist theology in public.

This would explain why Salam Fayyad was not publicly challenged at all by anyone at CATC, as he gave his address to the conference.

This is Munther Isaac’s introduction to Fayyad:

“Palestinian Christians have always enjoyed the support of the Palestinian leaders. We worship with freedom and exercise our rights like all Palestinians. To emphasise this, we are deeply honoured to have the support of prime minsiter of the Palestinian Authority, Dr Salam Fayyad. Since 2007, Dr Salam has worked so hard to prepare Palestine for statehood, and his efforts in building the Palestinian economy and institutions have been described as ‘absolutely first-class, professional, courageous and intelligent’. Above all, Dr Fayyad is a man of vision, and his vision is one of prosperity and peace for the Palestinian people. And it is only fitting that his name in Arabic literally means ‘among them peace’. It is my privilege and honour to invite to us here, to the stage to speak to us, Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority, Dr Salam Fayyad.

So Munther Isaac does not mention the PA discrimination against evangelical Christians, despite being a Palestinian evangelical at a Palestinian evangelical conference.

Consequentially, the attitude of the CATC towards Fayyad was deferential:

Speakman and Isaac further write in their article, about Palestinian churches:

The recognition does not depend entirely on the PA, and the input of the churches already recognized is as equally important. In addition, the congregational nature of the Evangelical churches and the absence of a recognized hierarchy complicate things.

This seems odd. If the recognition does not depend entirely on the PA, then who else does it depend on? Surely it does depend on the PA. It appears as if Speakman and Isaac are trying to play down the responsibilty of the PA, in the issue of church recognition. Here is their rationalisation, for inviting Salam Fayyad to CATC:

This is why efforts by Christ at the Checkpoint to highlight the Evangelical Palestinian church are so important. Having Palestinian Prime Minister Dr. Salam Fayyad come for the second time in as many conferences to speak and to see first hand what the Bethlehem Bible College and local churches are doing helps, not hinders, the churches efforts for recognition. In addition, the issue of seeking recognition for Evangelical churches in Palestine and in Israel was openly discussed during the conference.

It ought to say something, though, that Salam Fayyad has already been invited to CATC back in 2010, he then met with CATC organisers and Palestinian evangelicals, and nothing changed regarding recognition of evangelical churches. Two years later, Fayyad again is invited, and no progress has been made on the issue.

One of the stated CATC conference goals in English was to “[e]mpower and encourage the Palestinian church”. In order to do so, CATC will need to speak up for the rights of Palestinian Christians.

If they can link this to criticism of the Israeli government, then they will do so. However, if speaking up for the rights of Palestinian evangelical believers requires open criticism of the PA and of Salam Fayyad’s leadership, then will CATC provide this criticism?

Criticising the PA would be awkward for CATC’s image. Doing so may mean that others will accuse them of being Zionists. Sooner or later, CATC will have to decide which is more important – their anti-Zionist theology and image, or their care for the plight of the Palestinian church.

One day after CATC2012, pro-Israel church deemed “no longer legitimate” by PA

Christ at the Checkpoint 2012 ended 9th March 2011. The conference programmer was Stephen Sizer, who wishes to use police resources to silence critics of his views.

It invited the Palestinian Authority prime minister Salim Fayyad, and the PFLP-supporting mayor of Bethlehem Victor Batarseh. Batarseh was blacklisted by the USA for funding the PFLP. Camera notes:

The PFLP, one of the largest factions in the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) after Fatah, staged 122 attacks, murdering 18 Israelis, in 1991 alone. In 2006, the PFLP criticized Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for condemning a terrorist attack in Tel Aviv, claimed responsibility for attacking Israeli border guards after a failed attempt to kidnap a soldier, and reportedly joined with Palestinian Islamic Jihad in terrorist attempts.

Only last month, Batarseh attended a PFLP-led commemoration of the life of its founder George Habash, whom Time Magazine has called “Terrorism’s Christian Godfather.”

We previously noted how CATC 2010 welcomed Bethlehem governor Abdul Fattah Hamayel, a former Fatah member who recently put a man on trial for criticising PA medical services. We wondered why Christ at the Checkpoint was associating itself with these authoritarian, pro-violence figures.

This week we have discovered some appalling news from the Palestinian Authority which is overseen by the likes of Fayyad, Batarseh and Hamayel. Algeimer now reports:

A week after Prime Minister Salam Fayyad told an audience of Evangelical Protestants from across the world that his government respected the rights of its Christian minorities, officials from the Palestinian Authority have informed Bethlehem pastor Rev. Naim Khoury that his church lacked the authority to function as a religious institution under the PA.

The church can still gather to pray, for now, but the PA’s decision conveyed on Saturday will have a real impact on the members of First Baptist, which endured numerous bomb attacks during the First Intifada.

“They said that our legitimacy as a church from a governmental point of view is not approved,” said Khoury’s son, Steven, who serves as an assistant pastor at First Baptist. “They said they will not recognize any legal paper work from our church. That includes birth certificates, wedding certificates and death certificates. Children are not even considered to be legitimate if they don’t have recognized paperwork.”

The irony, Steven said, is that the PA’s announcement comes right after the Christ at the Checkpoint Conference. This conference, which took place from March 5 through March 9, 2012 was a gathering of approximately 600 Evangelical Protestants from across the globe (mostly from the United States) to discuss the theology of Christian Zionism, which some Evangelicals believe increases the prospect of violence in the Middle East and gives support to Israeli policies that they do not like.

During the opening night of the conference, Palestinian Prime Minister Fayyad told the assembly that his government respected the rights of Christians. Palestinians celebrate religious holidays together, PA officials attend Christmas celebrations and even attend Midnight Mass for Christmas, Fayyad said.

Russ Resnik writes:

After a further conversation with Pastor Steven Khoury, I realize that the church was told that the Palestinian Authority no longer considers them legitimate and will no longer accept any paper work from them, such as baptismal or wedding certificates.

Our question is this: why does the PA no longer consider Khoury’s church to be legitimate?

Christ at the Checkpoint’s dubious “blessing”

Above: Victor Batarseh

Christ at the Checkpoint 2012 is up-and-running. How did the opening night go? Let’s turn to Ryan Rodrick Beiler, a photographer for the left-liberal US Christian publication, Sojourners. He is a conference attendee and he has written up his account of the first night. He begins:

First, the mayor of Bethlehem, Victor Batarseh talked about the walls that divide people. There are walls that are seen, like the Israeli separation wall, and there are walls that are unseen, like hate and prejudice between ethnic and religious groups. “We want to put down these walls,” he said, “with your help.” And he made explicitly clear that he was challenging Christians, Muslims, and Jews when he asks for “your help”.

A professing Christian, Victor Batarseh is a well-known supporter of the Marxist terrorist group, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). The organisation was founded by George Habash, in 1967. Since then, the PFLP has been responsible for these attacks:

  • November 1, 2004: 16 year-old suicide bomber in Tel-Aviv: 3 dead, 38 wounded.
  • October 17, 2001: Assassinated Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Ze’evi.
  • June 17, 1976: Collaborated with Baader-Meinhof Gang (a West German terrorist group) to hijack an Air France passenger plane and land it in Entebbe, Uganda. Israeli commandos stormed the plane, killing the terrorists and freeing the hostages: 1 commando killed.
  • May 30, 1972: PFLP and Japanese Red Army members opened fire and threw grenades in the passenger terminal at Lod (now Ben-Gurion) International Airport: 26 killed, 78 wounded.

Earlier this year, Victor Batarseh attended a memorial for George Habash hosted by the PFLP. In other words, Batarseh appears to lend support to the anti-Jewish terror organisation, the PFLP.

Above: Jonathan Kuttab

However, Batarseh and his fellow antizionist conference attendees, were assured that they would be blessed, by CATC host Jonathan Kuttab. We learn from Beiler’s blog, subsequently:

“[M]y favorite quote came from Jonathan Kuttab, president of the board of Bethlehem Bible College. He acknowledged that many of those attending were taking a significant risk to their reputations, ministries, perhaps even their jobs, by attending such a conference. He made this promise: “There is a big blessing for you here.” He then quoted the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.” (Matthew 5:11) “If you are accused of anti-Semitism falsely, there is a great blessing for you,” Kuttab declared. “But if you are truly anti-Semitic, no blessing. Sorry.””

Clearly, Kuttab assumes that all attending CATC are not antisemitic, or even that their attendance at CATC means that participants cannot be antisemitic.

Given the hard evidence of antisemitism (including antisemitic quotes, antisemitic boycotts, and expressed support for antisemitic terrorists who persecute Jews) emanating  from the lips and pens of CATC organisers and participants, Jonathan Kuttab’s equation looks very dubious.