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Middle East Issues





Sojourners Attacks Israel, Again


Sojourners, a magazine that caters to liberal Evangelical Protestants in the United States, has a well-documented reputation for promoting anti-Israelism.

In June 2013, the magazine published an article that falsely portrayed Israel as being at the center of Christianity's collapse in the Middle East when in fact, the Jewish state is the one country in the region where the population of indigenous Christians has increased over the past several decades.

A few months later, the magazine published an article by Ryan Rodrick Beiler about the deaths of Palestinians during Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012. In the article, Beiler omitted a number of facts that demonstrated that Hamas played a significant role in causing the death of civilians in Gaza during this conflict. With this article, Beiler revealed that he is part of the propaganda war against the Jewish state. It's an odd thing for Ryan Rodrick Beiler, a photojournalist and writer who describes himself as “in pursuit of peace and justice.”

At it Again

Sojourners and Beiler are at it again. In a cover article published in the magazine's March 2015 issue, (titled “Pro-Israeli, Pro-Palestinian, Pro-Jesus: The new evangelical perspective on the Middle East”), the author promotes a propagandistic view of the Arab-Israeli conflict that ultimately legitimizes Palestinian violence. titled He does this in two ways.

First, he uses a number of rhetorical tricks to imply that people who have traditionally been pro-Israel have embraced a “one-sided” view of the conflict. He equates being pro-Israel with being against peace and justice, and equates being pro-peace with embracing the Palestinian view. Taken to its logical end, this means that in order to be pro-peace and justice, one must be anti-Israel.

Secondly, he showcases a number of Palestinian Christian leaders and groups and so-called peace groups in the West as if they are reliable sources of unbiased information about Israel. In fact, these sources are regular broadcasters of misinformation about Israel and worse, some of them even promote anti-Judaism in their narrative about the conflict. In the context of a conflict involving the Jewish state, the presence of anti-Judaic rhetoric in a so-called peacemaking message is simply inexcusable.

In sum, the narrative that Beiler promotes is dependent on rewritten history and false claims. As a result, it is anti-Israel and antithetical to Christianity, which like Judaism, abhors false witness.

The main thrust of Beiler's article is that Evangelicals are rethinking their support for Israel and gives seven reasons why this is happening. In reality, what Beiler is doing is making a case as to why Evangelicals “should” rethink their support for Israel.

In the article, Beiler writes that after traditionally supporting Israel “evangelicals are listening to Palestinian Christian voices.”

Promotes Purveyors of Anti-Judaism

Here, Beiler omits a big part of the story. When writing about the growing influence of Palestinian Christians on Evangelical Protestants, he fails to report that much of what they say about the Arab-Israeli conflict is not reliable and in some instances, outright hostile towards Israel and the Jewish people.

For example, Beiler promotes the work of Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem. He does this by reporting about one Evangelical student from Wheaton College who was able to convince her parents to abandon “their unquestioning support for Israel” after volunteering a year with Sabeel.

What the article leaves out is that Sabeel's founder Naim Ateek is well-known for his use of anti-Judaic imagery from the New Testament to demonize the Jewish state. By way of illustration, during the Second Intifada, Ateek spoke of an “Israeli crucifixion system” working in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Vanderbilt scholar Amy-Jill Levine describes this type of rhetoric as a “recycled anti-Judaism that depicts Israel as a country of Christ killers.” Why isSojourners promoting an organization whose founder talks like this about Israel?

This is not pro-peace.

In the article, Beiler also gives a positive mention to Impact Holy Land, a 2013 conference sponsored by Evangelicals for Social Action. This conference provided a platform for Aaron Aronson, a member of Jews for Jesus, to speak in anti-Judaic terms about Israel.

In the course of his talk, Aronson described Israel as a dissolute, Godless nation that has rejected Jesus. He said:

I don't want to burst anybody's bubble, but when it comes to the Israeli people, they are not predominantly a people that model holiness in general. They are not a particularly God-fearing culture.

Approximately point two percent of the Jewish population know their messiah. When you're talking Israeli, for the most part, you're talking about unbelievers who really have a very secular worldview. And the orthodox don't necessarily … they don't even always read the Bible. They're often reading the Talmud and other extra-biblical writings. Even though they are taught in school doesn't necessarily mean that there's a heart being shaped by the spirit of the Torah of God's word.

The use of language like this as a so-called peacemaking conference is outrageous because it promotes contempt for Israeli Jews. Sojourners has no business promoting an organization that broadcasts such an agenda.

Endorsement of Anti-Zionist Films

The author advances his one-sided pro-Palestinian narrative by endorsing two anti-Israel documentaries, Porter Speakman's“With God on Our Side”and Yasmine Perni's“The Stones Cry Out.”These documentaries misrepresent the underlying causes of the Arab-Israeli conflict by demonizing Israel and ignoring or denying the role Islamist ideology plays in the suffering of the Palestinian people.

The bias of Speakman's “With God On Our Side,” is so bad that World Vision, an Evangelical charity that previously endorsed the film has recently distanced itself from the movie, because of its one-sidedness, stating:

World Vision has been criticized in the past for supporting the film “With God on Our Side.” World Vision no longer endorses the film. While it does a good job of illustrating the plight of Palestinian children and families, the film should have done a better job in presenting the Israeli perspective. It is important that both sides of the conflict be understood and presented.

Why is Beiler (and Sojourners), endorsing a movie that one of its previous supporters now admits is one-sided?

The Stones Cry Out is even more biased than Speakman's movie. An analysis of this film conducted by CAMERA in 2014 reveals the movie is marred by false statements and material omissions. For example, the movie speaks of a decline in the Palestinian Christian population, when in fact, the population has increased since the Six Day War. And it blames this non-existent decline on Israeli policies, and makes no mention of Islamist hostility toward Christians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Affirmation of Bethlehem Bible College

Beiler affirms Bethlehem Bible College as a reliable source of information about the Arab-Israeli conflict. This is irresponsible.

In a video posted on Youtube on August 8, 2014, Bethlehem Bible College revealed a palpable anti-Israel stance through the statements of individuals whoaddressed the recent Hamas-Israeli conflict. The comments were notable for their lack of historical or political context, factual error, and demonization of Israel.

Israel was falsely accused of targeting civilians, of occupying Gaza and the West Bank for 65 years, and of committing genocide in Gaza. Bethlehem Bible College should not be broadcasting deliberately misleading information to its supporters in Europe and North America.

Why is Sojourners promoting this institution to its readers in the U.S.? Does it want young Evangelicals to be indoctrinated with Bethlehem Bible College's dishonest, anti-Israel narrative?

Citation of the Unreliable Alex Awad

The author quotes Rev. Alex Awad, who asserts, “Many evangelicals are moving from the Israeli side into what I think is the peace and justice side.” Evangelicals who do change their opinion of Israel might be doing so as a result of being influenced by the propaganda Palestinian Christian leaders such as Awad purvey about the Arab-Israeli conflict and the Jewish state.

Awad has long presented a distorted view of the conflict to audiences in the West Bank and in the US. For example, in a video titled “A Palestinian Perspective on the Arab-Israeli Conflict,” he describes the first Intifada, which lasted from 1987 to 1993, as non-violent. He neglects to mention important facts such as the number of Israeli civilians killed documented by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
 
Likewise, he fails to mention the way in which these civilians were killed, such as with firebombs and attacks on buses.

That's not all. Awad has also falsely attributed a hateful quote to Israel's first Prime Minister David Ben Gurion. In a DVD sold at Bethlehem Bible College, he reports that Ben Gurion said the following: “We must use terror, assassination, intimidation, land confiscation, and the cutting of all social services to rid the Galilee of its Arab population.” But the source Awad cites for this quote does not include the quote in question.

Why is Sojourners promoting a commentator like Awad, who simply cannot be trusted to provide a factual description of the subject he addresses?

Support for the Kairos Palestine Document

Beiler also invokes the Kairos Palestine Document, which calls for “boycott and disinvestment as tools of nonviolence for justice, peace and security for all.”

The Kairos Document was created by the Palestine Israel Ecumenical Forum in Bethlehem in December 2009. Among other things, it asserts that Jewish sovereignty or self-determination is contrary to God's plan for humanity, while at the same time, affirming the push for Palestinian sovereignty and self-determination.

The document is so egregious that a resolution adopted by the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) has declared it to be supersessionist and anti-Semitic.

Why is Sojourners promoting such a discriminatory document, reliant as it is, on the anti-Judaic trope of the stateless Jew?

Promotes Purveyors of Misinformation

The author quotes approvingly three American Christian advocates of the pro-Palestinian message: Lynne Hybels of Willow Creek Church, Todd Deatherage of the Telos Group, and Dale Hanson Bourke, author of The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Tough Questions, Direct Answers(InterVarsity Press, 2013).

All three of these commentators offer a distorted view of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Here is a brief summary of their careers.

Lynne Hybelsis a co-founder of Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago, Illinois. She is well known in the Evangelical world and was a featured speaker at the Christ at the Checkpoint Conference in Bethlehem in 2012.

She brings a compassionate and motherly dimension to the narrative as she speaks about her meetings with Israeli and Palestinian mothers who have lost children in the conflict and certain hardships faced by Palestinians. However, the over-riding motivation behind her empathetic approach appears to be her intent to neutralize Evangelical support of Israel by demonizing Israel through sad but incomplete stories. (For more information about Hybels read this CAMERA article.)

Todd Deatherageis the co-founder of the Telos Group, which operates under the guise of being “genuinely pro-Israeli, pro-Palestinian, pro-American, and pro- peace, all at the same time.” However participants in Telos-sponsored conferences and tours are exposed to a predominantly one-sided narrative that portrays Palestinians as victims and Israelis as oppressors.

Palestinian speakers offer emotionally laden, distorted accounts of the Arab-Israeli conflict that leave out history and context. As a result, there is little chance that uninformed listeners will come away with anything but a conviction that to be truly Christian, one must support the Palestinians and oppose Israel. (For more information about the Telos Group, read this article.)

And lastly, Beiler's article promotes the work of Dale Hanson Bourke, the author of The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Tough Questions, Direct Answers. This book, which was thoroughly analyzed by CAMERA in 2013, advances the Palestinian narrative by avoiding essential issues and historical context. In particular, Bourke's text ignores the issue of Muslim antisemitism, downplays the U.N.'s hostility toward Israel and omits basic facts of history, such as the role Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem played in the Holocaust. The book also downplays the mistreatment of Christians and Jews in Muslim-majority environments and makes no mention of Jewish refugees having to flee Arab countries in the aftermath of the 1948 War.

What Beiler and Sojourners have done with this article cannot be described as honest journalism.

It is rank propagandizing.


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