Note: This report makes use of information about the Haj Amin al Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, that is published in other articles published on CAMERA’s website.
That year, activists from the Bethlehem Bible College organized the first Christ at the Checkpoint Conference. At this conference, which attracted approximately 250 people, speakers such as Naim Ateek and Mitri Raheb undermined Israel’s legitimacy by portraying its inhabitants as worshipping a violent and tribal god who justified Israeli acts of violence against Palestinians.
The year 2010 also witnessed the release of two anti-Israel movies (Little Town of Bethlehem and With God on Our Side), which were shown to college-aged Evangelicals in a number of venues such as Wheaton College in Illinois and Oral Roberts University in Oklahoma.
Anti-Zionism gathered steam in 2012 with the second Christ at the Checkpoint conference. Like the 2010 conference, the 2012 event portrayed Israelis as unable to make peace with their enemies and downplayed Muslim hostility toward Jews and Christians in the Middle East. This conference attracted 600 attendees. Another Christ at the Checkpoint Conference is scheduled to take place in Bethlehem in 2014.
One bastion of anti-Zionism in the Evangelical community is Willow Creek Community Church headquartered in South Barrington, Illinois. Willow Creek, which according to the Hartford Seminiary’s data base on megachurches, attracts more than 25,000 attendees to its Sunday services, has promoted awareness of Christianity’s Jewish roots by hosting this lecture about Passover in 2011.
It has also showcased the preaching of Gary Burge, a professor from Wheaton College with a history of trafficking in anti-Jewish polemic in both his writings and public appearances (including his presentation at the 2012 Christ at the Checkpoint Conference, which was written about here and here).
Lynne Hybels, wife of Willow Creek pastor Bill Hybels (and a prominent Evangelical author in her own right), also spoke at the 2012 Christ at the Checkpoint Conference. She did not exhibit the same anti-Jewish animus that Burge has exhibited in his writings and at the 2012 CATC conference, but she did engage in propagandizing in a manner that served to demonize Israel.
Willow Creek (and Hybel’s) involvement in promoting a distorted narrative about the Arab-Israeli conflict can also be seen in the pages of The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Tough Questions, Direct Answers (InterVarsity Press, 2013). This text was written by Dale Hanson Bourke, author of several books, a former syndicated columnist and onetime publisher of Religion News Service (RNS). Bourke, a member of the Presbyterian Church (USA), wrote the book after visiting the Middle East with Lynne Hybels. In the forward she wrote for the text (which can also be read here), Hybels wrote that she “came to dread the moment when” she would be asked for a “simple book—a primer” to help would be peacemakers to get started on their work because no such book existed. Hybels continues:
I could only think of one solution to this problem of the missing book: Dale Hanson Bourke. As soon as Dale agreed to travel with me to Israel and the West Bank, I started praying she’d be inspired to write the book you hold in your hands. I knew it would be the most difficult project she’d ever worked on, not because it’s a complex story but because it’s a painful trauma that taps into individual and communal traumas of two distinct people groups. To write this story in a way that would honor all the people in the Holy Land, and serve beginners on the peacemaking journey, would require equal measures of intellectual rigor and empathy, the mind of a dogged researcher and the heart of a passionate Christ-follower. Fortunately, that’s exactly who Dale is.
Bourke may in fact be a dogged researcher, but she didn’t prove it with this book, which indicates that she is more skilled at myth making than she is at gathering, sifting, and presenting the relevant historical facts that beginners need to know if they are to understand the tragedy of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Bourke’s book, which presents its information in question and answer format, omits crucial aspects of life in the Middle East that even neophytes would need and want to know if they were to begin a “peace making journey” to the region.
Ignores Muslim Antisemitism
One of the most egregious problems Bourke’s book is the manner in which it ignores the issue of Muslim antisemitism. Yes, the book does acknowledge that antisemitism exists, “especially in predominantly Christian countries” but largely ignores Muslim antisemitism and the role it has played in promoting hostility and violence against Israel and Jews in the Muslim majority countries throughout the world.
It’s a huge problem, reports Neil J. Kressel, author of “The Sons of Pigs and Apes”: Muslim Antisemitism and the Conspiracy of Silence (Potomac Books, 2012).
During the first decade of the twenty-first century, the Muslim world resurrected almost every diatribe produced in more than two millennia
of European hostility toward the Jews and introduced many home grown and novel modes of attack. Thus, the French human rights activists Morad El-Hattab El-Ibrahimi attests, “Never since the end of the Second World War has anti-Jewish ‘mythology’ re-emerged with such virulence and met with so little resistance in both political and intellectual circles.”
Bourke’s indifference to the issue of Muslim antisemitism is particularly evident in her treatment of Iran, which she introduces with the question “Why do Iran and Israel have such a bad relationship?” After recounting good relations between Israel and Iran under the Shah of Iran, Bourke reports that “Iran severed its diplomatic relationship with Israel after the Ayatollah Khomeini rose to power in 1979 and called for Israel to be wiped off the map.” And to underscore this hostility, Bourke, to her credit, reports that Iranian officials refuse to refer to Israel by name, and forbids its citizens from traveling to the country, which it refers to as “occupied Palestine.”
Again, this is only part of the story. The image of the demonic Jew was, as Kressel reports, “a central founding principle of the regime.”
As Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini warned, “We must protest and make people aware that the Jews and their foreign backers are opposed to the very foundations of Islam and wish to establish Jewish domination throughout the world. Since they are a cunning and resourceful group of people, I fear that—God forbid!—they may one day achieve their goal.” This sort of thinking does not leave much room for reconciliation and interfaith cooperation.
Equipping people to promote reconciliation and interfaith cooperation is the whole point of Bourke’s book and yet, for one reason or another, she fails to inform her readers of one of the most important obstacles they face in the pursuit of these goals – skyrocketing levels of antisemitism in Muslim countries, particularly in the Middle East. It’s akin to sending missionaries into an un-churched environment without teaching them the language, customs and religious background of the people they are called to evangelize.
It’s a recipe for disaster and disillusionment.
Omits Basic Facts of History
Bourke omits other aspects of Palestinian history that any would-be peacemaker in the Holy Land would have to know. For example, she provides no reference to Haj Amin Al Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, the founding father of the Palestinian national movement. Husseini incited anti-Jewish riots in 1929 and 1936 (which, by the way, also go unmentioned in the text).
Husseini sparked the 1929 riots with false accusations that Jews in Palestine were seeking to destroy the Al Aksa Mosque. Prior to the 1936 riots, Haj Amin Husseinistated“There is no place in Palestine for two races. The Jews left Palestine 2,000 years ago, let them go to other parts of the world, where there are wide vacant places.” British historian Martin Gilbert describes the Arab riots this way:
On 15 April 1936 the Arab [sic] began a General Strike followed by systematic attacks on Jewish lives, property and fields. On 7 May the Arab leaders met in Jerusalem, and demanded an end to all Jewish immigration, a halt to all Jewish land purchase, and an Arab majority Government… On 13 May the Mufti of Jerusalem declared at Haifa: ‘The Jews are trying to expel us from the country. They are murdering our sons and burning our houses.’ Within a month of the first Jewish death, 21 Jews had been killed, and many farms and orchards burned by Arab action. 6 Arabs had been killed by the police, none by Jews.From mid-July, Arab attacks on Jews increased. Many Jews were ambushed and killed while driving, unarmed, on the roads. Between 20 July and 22 September, 33 Jews were killed, and several hundred injured… In all 80 Jews had been killed. (Atlas of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, pp. 18, 21)
Husseini had close ties to the Nazi regime in Germany. He met with Hitler, was financially supported by the Nazis while he stayed in Germany during World War II and wrote letters to officials and heads of state throughout German occupied Europe to obstruct the escape of Jews to Palestine during the Holocaust. As a result of these letters, Jews, including many children were killed in German-run death camps in occupied Poland.
Husseini also broadcast numerous speeches over the short-wave into the Middle East as part of Voice of Free Arabism (VFA) in which he portrayed Jews as the eternal enemy of Arabs and Muslims, called on Arabs to kill Jews and made use of passages of the Koran to make his case. In his book, Nazi Propaganda for the Arab World (Yale University Press, 2009), Jeffrey Herf offers extensive detail about short-wave radio broadcasts into the Middle East in which Nazi propagandists called on Arabs to murder Jews, relying extensively on passages in the Koran to make their plea. For example, in July 1942, a VFA broadcast titled “Kill the Jews before They Kill You” made the following exhortation:
You must kill the Jews, before they open fire on you. Kill the Jews, who have appropriated your wealth and who are plotting against your security. Arabs of Syria, Iraq and Palestine, what are you waiting for? The Jews are planning to violate your women, to kill your children and to destroy you. According to the Moslem religion, the defense of your life is a duty which can only be fulfilled by annihilating the Jews. This is your best opportunity to get rid of this dirty race, which has usurped your rights and brought misfortune and destruction your countries. Kill the Jews, burn their property, destroy their stores, annihilate these base supporters of British imperialism. Your sold hope of salvation lies in annihilating the Jews before they annihilate you. (Herf, page 126)
Later in December 1942, Germany broadcast the text of a Husseini speech that Herf reports became a “canonical statement of the connection between National Socialism and Islam during the war. In a paragraph quoted by Herf, alleged Jewish hostility toward Islam “dates back to the dawn of Islam.”
Every Moslem knows how they opposed and hurt the Prophet as well as creating endless difficulties for him….So that the Koran says: “You shall find that the most hostile people are the Jews.” The Jews are the same whether during the era of the prophets or in succeeding eras. They never waver from their policy of intrigue and evil doing. (Herf, page 153)
In another paragraph quoted by Herf (also on page 153), Husseini reports that “The Koran says that they [the Jews] heat the cauldron of war and bring corruption on the earth and God does not like those who are corrupt. Such are their ways.”
Later, Herf reports that thi
s speech is “a key document in the history of modern anti-Semitism and its diffusion to the Arab and Islamic exiles in Berlin and to the listening audience in the Middle East and North Africa. [Husseini] left no doubt that his hatred of Jews was ineradicably bound to his Muslim faith and to his reading of the Koran.” Herf continues:
With public statements such as this, the Mufti played a central role in the cultural fusion of European with Islamic traditions of Jew-hatred. He was one of the few who had mastered the ideological themes and nuances of fascism and Nazism, as well as the anti-Jewish elements within the Koran and its subsequent commentaries. In this sense, his ideological accomplishment bears some comparison to Hitler’s. Neither were original thinkers, but both were able to synthesize and radicalize already existing currents within their respective traditions. The attitude toward Jews in Islam was different than it had been in Christianity, but the Mufti had no difficulty finding textual support in the Koran for his hatred of the Jews. (Herf, page 154)
After the war, Husseini escaped prosecution for his crimes by fleeing France to the Middle East where he goaded his fellow Palestinians to attack Jews in the months after the UN Partition vote in 1947. As a German official testified before the judges at the Nuremberg trial, “The Mufti was an accomplished foe of the Jews and did not conceal that he would love to see all of them liquidated…”(See Jennie Lebel’s The Mufti of Jerusalem: Haj-Amin el-Husseini and National Socialism, page 255.)
Husseini is revered by current Palestinian leaders such as PA President Mahmoud Abbas, who Bourke describes as one of the Palestinian leaders who has “condemned violence.” (Yes, in some instances, Abbas has condemned violence, but in other instances he has lauded as martyrs people who have perpetrated terrible acts of violence against Israeli civilians. This is a contradiction that would-be peacemakers cannot ignore.)
There is simply no excuse for leaving Husseini out of the story. He is a towering figure in Palestinian history, casting a long shadow on the prospects for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
The author also passes over the Jewish connection to the land of Israel. In addressing the question “What is the ‘Promised Land’?” Bourke writes that “[I]n the Bible it was the land promised by God to Abraham’s descendents, identified in that time as the land of Canaan. According to scholars, Canaan is equivalent to modern-day Israel, the Palestinian territories, Lebanon, and parts of Jordan and Syria.”
With this sentence, Bourke skips over the entire history of ancient Israel, during which the Jewish people were sovereign in the land. The land Bourke is writing about was called Israel at least 10 centuries before the birth of Jesus. It served as a sovereign Jewish homeland for hundreds of years after Israel’s founding and remained a center of Jewish population up until the Romans Rome and expelled Jews from Jerusalem after the Bar Khochba Rebellion, which took place in the 2nd century, CE.
No honest description of the “Promised Land” can pass over these facts of history, and yet Bourke’s does. Her truncated chronology of the Land of Israel goes from Canaan to modern-day Israel and the Palestinian territories and then, a few paragraphs later to a mention of the Ottoman Empire.
The text’s only mention of “ancient Israel” appears in a description of the Christian faith, in which she writes that, “For Christians, Abraham’s descendants are traced through ancient Israel’s King David to Jesus.”
With her omissions, Bourke has gone a long way towards writing the Jews out of the geography of the Middle East, obliquely lending credence to the notion that they really don’t belong in the region.
Bourke’s “People of the Book” Debacle
Bourke also fails to accurately address the impact Islamic doctrine has on the rights of non-Muslims in the Middle East. She does not ignore it altogether, for at one point in the book, she describes Muslim attitudes toward Jews and Christians – under the question “Who are ‘People of the book?’”
She writes that while Muslims believe that Jews and Christians “have not embraced the true faith of Islam” they are “still held in higher regard than pagans.” Bourke reports that, “in some Islamic countries Christians and Jews are tolerated or protected over other religions,” but in others, they “have to pay special taxes or accept certain restrictions.” She continues:
In Iran, for example, despite the government’s open hostility toward the state of Israel, Jews worship openly and are legally protected because they are considered “People of the Book.” Some religious rights organizations report, however, that intolerance of Christians and Jews has risen in Muslim countries in recent years, and that radical Muslim clerics no longer include Christians or Jews under this protection.
If this is the “dogged” research that Lynne Hybels was talking about, it’s a pretty poor showing. More than 1 million Christians have been driven from their homes by Muslim extremists in Iraq since the ouster of Saddam Hussein in 2003. Clergy and lay Christians, including children have been kidnapped, held for ransom and murdered.
At least 100,000 Christians (and probably more than that) have been driven from their homes since the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, where Christians have seen their churches and homes bombed and set on fire and where their clergy and family members have been kidnapped, raped, murdered and forcibly converted to Islam.
More recently, Christians in Syria have also been murdered and driven from their homes. Human rights expert, Nina Shea has stated that Christians in Syria (who number approximately two million) face an “existential threat.”
To be fair, many of the attacks against Christians in Syria took place after the publication of Bourke’s text, but people who relied on her text would not be prepared for these attacks, which should not be a surprise to anyone. The religious rights groups that Bourke invokes did not just say “intolerance of Christians and Jews has risen in Muslim countries in recent years.” They have been warning of an impending catastrophe. For example, Christian Solidarity International warned of an impending genocide.
Bourke reports that sometimes Christians and Jews have had “to pay special taxes or accept certain restrictions” in Muslim countries, she not telling even half the story.
The special tax that non-Muslims have been required to pay to Muslim rulers for the privilege of keeping their faith is called the jizya. In his book The Third Choice: Islam, Dhimmitude and Freedom (Deror Books, 2010) Anglican scholar Mark Durie reports humiliating rituals have historically been associated with the collection of the jizya.
These rituals varied from one region to another but had one essential feature – “a blow to the neck of the dhimmi [the non-Muslim paying the jizya], at the very point when he makes his payment,” Durie reports. The goal of this ritual beheading is to remind their non-Muslim subjects that they were paying for the privilege of keeping their heads on their shoulders. “The jizya payment was thus a ritualized decapitation, symbolizing the very penalty which the payment was designed to avoid,” he writes.
And with her use of the phrase “in recent years” in the passage quoted above, Bourke communicates to the reader that Muslim violence and hostility toward Christians is a new phenomenon. It isn’t. It has been a problem for centuries, as documented by Raymond Ibrahim in his book Crucified Again: Exposing Islam’s New War on Christians (Regnery, 2013).
The fact is, Islamic supremacism has been a persistent aspect of the Muslim faith since its founding in the 7th Century. The Koran and the Hadiths, and the life of the Prophet Mohammed himself – who Muslims regard as humanity’s exemplar – enjoin his followers to subjugate and humiliate their non-Muslim neighbors who are either expected to accept this mistreatment as a fact of life or to convert to Islam.
Ibrahim reports that historically, there have been times when Muslims have lacked the power to follow these teachings to the letter. These rules were relaxed and there was an improvement of the status of Christians after Napoleon conquered Egypt in 1798. The ascendancy of the European powers over the Muslim countries in the Middle East in the 1800s prompted elites in the Middle East to question the legitimacy of Islam and embrace Western views of tolerance and equality.
Western powers were also able to intervene on behalf of Christians in the Middle East, extracting a number of concessions or capitulations from the Ottoman Empire on behalf of these communities. Despite these concessions, religiously-inspired contempt for Christians remained a potent force in the Middle East and became resurgent in the late 1800s when Christians in the Anatolian Peninsula – most notably Greeks, Assyrians and Armenians started advocating for equal rights in the waning days of the Ottoman Empire. It didn’t go over well. They were massacred by the thousands in the 1890s.
The Armenian Genocide, which lasted from 1915 to 1922, and which cost 1.5 million Armenians their lives was a jihad. Yes, the Young Turks who perpetrated this genocide were intent on creating a modern-secular state in the Anatolian Peninsula, but the creation of this state – and its hostility toward its Christian populations – was informed in large part by notions of Islamic supremacism.
The ideology the Committee for Unity and Progress (AKA the Young Turks) that declared the presence of Armenians an insuperable obstacle to the creation of a modern Turkish state had its roots in Islam, as did the techniques used to destroy the Armenians. Young Armenian women were forcibly converted to Islam, with the property owned by their families going to the families that took them in. Armenian men and boys were slaughtered.
This is what life has looked like for “People of the Book” in Muslim countries for centuries. Bourke’s treatment of this issue is marred by omissions that can only be explained by dishonesty, incompetence, or both.
No Mention of Jewish Refugees
Bourke makes no mention of Jews fleeing from Arab countries (and Iran) even as she describes the plight of Palestinian refugees in great detail. She writes that in addition to Jews from Europe living in Israel, “There are also a large number of Israeli Jews who had been living in Arab and other nearby countries, such as Iran.” She omits the pogroms, threats and massacres (such as the Farhud in Iraq in 1941) that made life simply intolerable for Jews in Arab countries in the Middle East.
Suppose a would-be peacemaker from a megachurch in the United States who relied on Bourke’s text tried to speak a word of peace to one of these Jews during a visit to the Holy Land? How would they respond to someone who did not know that they or their parents had been driven from countries that their families had been living in for hundreds of years? With justifiable shock and contempt.
The twentieth century witnessed scores of well-documented incidents of mass displacement no less sizeable than the 600,000-strong Palestinian Arab exodus: for instance, the 18 to 20 million Germans forced out of their homes in Poland and Czechoslovakia after World War II; the millions of Muslims and Hindus fleeing the newly established states of India and Pakistan during the partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1948; the millions of Armenians, Greeks, Turks, Finns, and Bulgarians, among others, driven from their lands. All these refugees were resettled elsewhere and incorporated into their new societies as full and equal citizens. By contrast, the Palestinian refugees were kept in squalid, harshly supervised camps across the Arab world as a means of tarnishing the image of Israel in the West and laying the groundwork for its ultimate subversion. “The Palestinians are useful to the Arab states as they are, [Egyptian] President [Gabdel] Nasser, widely considered the champion of the Palestinian cause, candidly responding to an inquiring Western reporter at a time when Egypt controlled the fate of Gaza. Can you imagine yet another nation on the shores of the Eastern Mediterranean?” (Palestine Betrayed, pages 249-250).
Bourke also soft-pedals the hostility expressed toward Is
rael by the United Nations. In her text she asks “Why does Israel claim the U.N. is biased against it?” Here is part of her answer:
One of the earliest acts of the U.N. was the 1947 resolution of the General Assembly recommending the adoption and implementation of a plan to partition Palestine. The action essentially paved the way for the creation of the state of Israel, although it also called for the creation of a Palestinian State (then called an Arab State).
She then goes onto recount that the United Nations has proposed resolutions critical of Israel which the United States has vetoed and that “Israel believes there is a pervasive anti-Israel bias in the U.N. bordering on anti-Semitism. She quotes Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu who in 2011 called the U.N. “’the theater of the absurd’ and once again made charges of bias against Israel.”
Here, Bourke omits some crucial facts. First, she omits that the Jews accepted partition, the Arabs did not and engaged in terrible acts of violence as soon as UN Resolution 181 was approved. She also fails to report any of the specifics that lend credence to Israel’s assessment that the United Nations is biased against the Jewish state. For example, she fails to mention that the United Nations Human Rights Commission – the precursor to UN Human Rights Council was disbanded because of its failure to address human rights issues in an honest manner. This report from the Congressional Research Service (CRS) provides issued in April 2013 some background:
The Council was established by the U.N. General Assembly in 2006 to replace the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, which was criticized for its lack of attention to human rights abuses and for the number of widely perceived human rights abusers that served as its members. Since then, many governments and policymakers—including the United States—have expressed serious concern with the Council’s apparent focus on Israel and lack of attention to other pressing human rights situations. Six of the Council’s 19 special sessions have focused on Israel, and in mid-2007, Council members agreed to make the “human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories” a permanent part of the Council’s agenda. No other country-specific human rights situation is part of the permanent agenda. In March 2011, U.N. member states conducted a five-year review of the Council’s work and functioning. Many governments and human rights organizations were disappointed with the review’s outcome because in their view it did not sufficiently address the Council’s continued focus on Israel and its perceived inability to ensure credible membership.
The membership of the UN Commission on Human Rights was a veritable rogues gallery of dictatorial regimes (such as Cuba, Libya and Sudan) who promoted hatred of Israel by invoking the principles of human rights that they themselves trample. The presence of these and other nations on the now-defunct Commission undermined the very work of the body according to Kenneth Roth from Human Rights Watch, who in 2005 stated “Today, roughly half of the state members of the commission are there not to promote human rights but to undermine the work of the commission, to try to defend themselves and others of their ilk.”
Things got so bad at the UN Human Rights Commission that then Secretary General Kofi Annan called for the UN to “remake its human rights machinery” declaring “”We have reached a point at which the commission’s declining credibility has cast a shadow on the reputation of the United Nations system.”
Sadly, things have not improved much with the creation of the UN Human Rights Council in 2006. The organization shares the demonizing focus on Israel that its predecessor organization exhibited. Since it’s creation the Council has passed 50 resolutions regarding Israel. As of this writing (Oct. 28, 2013), these 50 resolutions comprise more than 34 percent of the total passed by the Council. By way of comparison, the Council has passed only 12 resolutions regarding Syria, where more than 100,000 people have been killed during the past two years.
This obsession with Israel has prompted the Obama Administration to weigh in. In March 2013, Eileen Chamberlain Donahue commented on a standing agenda item regarding Israel: “The United States continues to be deeply troubled by this Council’s biased and disproportionate focus on Israel, as exemplified by this standing agenda item,” she said.
Bourke also fails to report that other world leaders agree that there is a problem of anti-Israel bias at the United Nations, including Ban Ki Moon, UN General Secretary. In August 2013 Moon stated: “Unfortunately, because of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Israel has been weighed down by criticism and suffered from bias and sometimes even discrimination.” While some reports indicate that he backed away from this statement, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East peace process Robert Serry subsequently stated that Moon stood by his initial statement. The Jewish Press quoted Serry as follows:
“[Ban] has said, unfortunately, because of the conflict, Israel has been weighed down by criticism, and suffered from lies and sometimes even discrimination,” Serry added. “This is what I know he has been saying here, and I know this is what he stands for.”
Ban Ki Moon’s predecessor, Kofi Annan, also admitted in 2006 that Israel was held to a higher standard than its adversaries, stating that “supporters of Israel feel it is harshly judged, by standards that are not applied to its enemies – and too often this is true, particularly in some UN bodies.”
It is not just Israel that asserts the UN has been biased against it, as Bourke reports. The current and past General Secretaries of the UN agree with that assessment.
People looking for a useful primer to help them become the peacemakers need to look elsewhere.
Note: The author would like to thank an anonymous correspondent for invaluable assistance in preparing this report.