The Committee for Accuracy and Middle East Reporting and Analysis sent the following open letter to InterVarsity Press in the United States and Inter-Varsity Press in the United Kingdom.
These publishing houses have published and promoted a number of texts over the past two decades that portray Jewish self-defense as a greater problem than attempts to deprive Jews of their lives and rights. CAMERA has produced a number of articles about these texts.
This open letter is an attempt to put the issue onto the agenda of editorial staffers (and other leaders) at the two publishing houses, which produce and distribute texts in tandem in both the United States and the United Kingdom.
The open letter, written by CAMERA staffer Dexter Van Zile, was sent via email on September 25, 2020.
An Open letter to Ed Gilbreath and Caleb Woodbridge – September 25, 2020
InterVarsity Press, USA
Inter-Varsity Press, UK
Dear Ed Gilbreath and Caleb Woodbridge:
I write to you from the offices of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis (CAMERA) in Massachusetts. We are a media-monitoring organization supported by 65,000 members in the United States. A member of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, CAMERA promotes fair and accurate coverage of the Middle East. CAMERA has done this work since its founding in 1982 because we believe that a well-informed public is a pre-requisite for enlightened public policy.
Our work has taken on a troubling urgency over the past few years. Recent events have demonstrated that dishonest and biased media coverage about Israel puts Jews in harm’s way. When media outlets and civil society institutions falsely portray the Jewish state as a murderous, marauding, and genocidal nation singularly responsible for the suffering in the Middle East, they implicitly portray Jews throughout the world as enemies of human rights and democracy. This occurs whether the misinformation is broadcast in the Middle East or outside of the region. Misinformation about Israel incites violence toward Israel’s Jewish citizens and diaspora Jews throughout the world.
In the course of my work at CAMERA, I have discovered a strange and troubling contradiction on the part of many people who write and opine about the Arab-Israeli conflict (and about Jews in general).
On one hand, writers and commentators will regularly lament the murder of defenseless Jews during the Holocaust and condemn the failure of Christians to stand up to the lies and violence directed at the Jewish people. But on the other hand, these same commentators will do everything in their authorial power to hinder the ability of Jews living in the Holy Land in the 21st century to defend themselves from the very same hostility directed at Jews in Europe during the 20th century. In the writings of these authors, it is Israel’s efforts to defend Jewish life — not efforts to deprive Jews of their lives and sovereignty — that is the problem.
Sadly, this strange and troubling contradiction clearly is exhibited by IVP publishing houses, as I have documented in an article titled “InterVarsity Press and the Jews: A Troubled History,” published in The Times of Israel on Aug. 24, 2020. (A copy of this article is enclosed in this mailing.)
As you can see from my article, I contend that on one hand, the IVP’s American wing recently published Defying the Holocaust: Ten Courageous Christians Who Supported Jews, which laments the failure of Christians to confront Jew-hatred in Europe. Yet, on the other hand, both IVP houses have produced and distributed books that fail to confront Jew-hatred in the Middle East and have worked to hinder the rights of the Jewish state to defend its citizens.
In the addendum following this letter, I summarize how books published by IVP in both the U.S. and the U.K. broadcast misinformation about the Jewish state that gives false legitimacy to the hostility of its enemies and unfairly problematizes Israel’s efforts to defend its citizens. In particular, Israel’s efforts to make peace with the Palestinians, such as accepting the peace offer at Camp David in 2000 and accepting the Clinton Parameters are largely ignored, as are the incitement broadcast by both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority on the television stations they control.
Restrictions on Palestinian life such as the security barrier and car searches are due to a long history of Palestinian violence against innocent civilians in Israel. IVP authors regularly condemn these restrictions with barely a nod about the ferocious attacks on Jewish civilians.
Please note, CAMERA is not condemning IVP authors for “criticizing” Israel, but for ignoring or downplaying the threats it faces and attempting to promote “peace” without acknowledging or detailing the obstacles to peace in Palestinian society. We are also condemning IVP authors for working to hinder the legitimate efforts of Israel to defend the lives of its citizens in the face of terrorism.
Not every IVP author is equally guilty of this sin, but it has been a persistent theme in IVP books produced and distributed on both sides of the Atlantic.
Here I must acknowledge that there are some differences between InterVarsity Press in the United States and Inter-Varsity Press in the United Kingdom, but there is a substantial overlap between the two publishing houses and as such there is reason to speak of the two houses as a single entity. Here is how I addressed the issue in a previous article about the two publishing houses, which combine to form a conglomeration:
As the similarity of the two names of these houses indicates, there is a substantial amount of overlap between the two institutions. These publishing houses are, on a staff level, organizationally separate, with each house publishing its own catalogue of books, but both houses sell books published by the other entity from across the pond.
People from the United States who visit the website Inter-Varsity Press in the United Kingdom are asked at the top of their screen if they want to visit the website of the publishing house’s counterpart in the U.S. (“Are you looking for IVP USA?” a teaser at the top of the website asks.)
On one webpage, InterVarsity (UK) states that the “titles published by the UK and USA publishers are somewhat different, though some are joint publications.”
In light of these facts, there is reason to speak of the two houses as a single entity, at least on a functional level, even if they are organizationally separate, have different staffs, and publish distinct catalogues of books. When it comes to marketing and sales, the two institutions work in an orchestrated manner.
In sum, what one house publishes, the other house promotes and distributes and vice versa. The overall messages issued in IVP books are:
- There is something wrong with collective expressions of Jewish identity.
- There is something wrong with collective Jewish attempts to protect Jewish life and territory.
- Christian efforts to assist Israel and Jews to achieve the goals of survival and physical safety are inherently wrong, evil, and contrary to the gospel.
- Overall, collective efforts on the part of Jews to ensure their continued sovereignty and survival in the Holy Land are more problematic than efforts to deprive Jews of their lives and sovereignty in the Holy Land.
The discriminatory impulse evident in these messages was readily apparent in the writings of Rev. Dr. Stephen Sizer, whose books were published by Inter-Varsity Press in the United Kingdom and distributed by IVP in the United States. By publishing and promoting his books (which have been subsequently translated into Arabic and Farsi), IVP in both the U.S. and the U.K. helped Rev. Dr. Sizer establish a platform that he used to broadcast virulent hostility toward Israel under the guise of Christian piety and charity.
We are gratified that both IVP houses decided to stop publication of these books in 2016. We are also gratified to see the 2016 publication of The New Christian Zionism edited by Rev. Dr. Gerald McDermott.
We are worried, however, that IVP has continued to promote the writings of other authors who address the conflict in the Holy Land in a distorted manner. These authors include Dale Hanson Bourke, Garth Hewitt, Mae Elise Cannon, and Munther Isaac (Please see the addendum following this letter that highlights our concerns with IVP books by these writers.)
In light of our concerns, CAMERA asks that IVP in both the U.S. and U.K. do a better job of fact-checking when publishing books about Israel, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and the Holy Land. Books that IVP in the U.S. and the U.K. have published about the Holy Land have been marred by errors, omissions, and historical distortions that invariably portray Israel in an unfairly harsh light. Problems in Palestinian society that hinder the prospects of peace in the Holy Land are, for the most part, taboo subjects in IVP books.
From where we sit, it appears that scholarly and journalistic rigor sometimes takes a back seat to ideological purity when IVP publishes books related to Israel. We hope that this assessment is proven wrong by books published by IVP in the future.
Dexter Van Zile
Shillman Research Fellow
Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis
Addendum: Problems With IVP Texts Regarding Israel
The following is a summary of the problems with IVP books about the Arab-Israeli conflict. The section on Rev. Dr. Stephen Sizer provides details about his career as an anti-Zionist, which was advanced in large part by the publication of his texts by Inter-Varsity Press in the United Kingdom.
The other entries deal primarily with the texts in question. (Most of the information below has been adapted from CAMERA articles available on our website, camera.org, or from articles that can be found with an internet search.)
Rev. Dr. Stephen Sizer
Sizer is an Anglican priest who over the years has proven himself to be an inveterate anti-Israel propagandist (even as he claims to affirm Israel’s right to exist). Sizer has gone so far as to attend and speak at two anti-Israel conferences in Indonesia and Iran, which polling data indicate are two of the most antisemitic countries in the world. At these conferences, Sizer condemned Christian Zionists and portrayed their support for Israel as an evil thing, as if audiences in these countries hadn’t already been exposed to anti-Israel messaging from their own leaders. He has also spoken in defense of President Bashar Al-Assad, who has used chemical weapons to kill thousands of Syrian civilians, as a defender of the Christian community in that country.
In one notorious appearance on PressTV, Iranian state television, Sizer affirmed the notion that Jews risk being expelled from the Holy Land for their sins. Rhetoric like this, combined with the trope that Israel is somehow responsible for Al Qaeda’s attack on the United States in 2001, portrays Israel as a legitimate target for violence and hostility by both inhabitants of the Holy Land and U.S. citizens.
Sizer’s message about Israel is evident in Christian Zionism: Road-map to Armageddon? published by Inter-Varsity Press in the U.K. This text has a number of errors and omissions that portray Israel and its Christian supporters in an unfair light.
In Road-map, Sizer portrays Christian Zionists (and Israel) as guilty of everything that has gone wrong in the Holy Land without acknowledging, even in passing, the failures of the Palestinians to negotiate in good faith with the Israelis or the role Arab and Muslim hostility toward Jews played in obstructing peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Nowhere does Sizer meaningfully address Yassir Arafat’s refusal of a peace offer from Ehud Barak at Camp David in 2000, nor does he even mention the Clinton Parameters a few months later.
Both of these offers would have given the Palestinians a state in all of the Gaza Strip and most of the West Bank, which Sizer condemns Israeli Jews for living in. In addition to failing to acknowledge Palestinian intransigency, Sizer portrays Christian assistance to Jews living in the Holy Land as an evil act. For example, on page 224 Sizer writes the following:
Over the last ten years, based on their apocalyptic eschatology and somewhat dubious hermeneutic, Christian Zionists have facilitated one of the largest mass migrations of people since 1948. Raising tens of millions of dollars they have assisted many of the 700,000 Jewish émigrés from the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe to make aliyah.
By using 1948 as his starting point, Sizer omits the expulsion of almost 15 million ethnic Germans from Eastern and Central Europe into Germany in the aftermath of World War II, which ended in 1945. It also allows Sizer to omit the 1947 partition of India, which resulted in the displacement of 15 million people. (It is interesting to note that while Rev. Dr. Sizer emphasizes the displacement of 700,000 Palestinians since 1948, he makes no mention of the 850,000 to 1 million Jews who were displaced from Arab countries during the same time frame.) With these convenient omissions, it’s clear that Rev. Dr. Sizer is intent on doing everything he can to portray the creation of a Jewish state as a catastrophe for the Arabs and humanity in general and any measure of Christian support for this state as a sin.
And then there is his indifference to the suffering endured by Jews in the Soviet Union. Isn’t bringing Jews out of oppressive environments a good thing, or should they be abandoned and left to suffer as an oppressed minority in the former Soviet Union?
Along these lines, Sizer also portrays Christians who support Israel as betraying Jesus Christ himself, arguing that by supporting Israel, they are undermining Christ’s fulfillment of God’s promises to the Jews in the Old Testament and the extension of these promises to all of humanity.
With this argumentation, which is evident in chapter two of the text, Sizer suggests that the Jews are not entitled to a sovereign state in the modern world and that if they want to solve the problems they face as a religious and ethnic identity, they should become Christians and, in so doing, become recipients of the promises transferred away from the Jews by the arrival of Jesus Christ. While making this case, Sizer relies on the writings of Rev. Dale Crowley, a well-known antisemite who, before his death, gave the invocation at a Holocaust denial conference organized by the Barnes Review. On page 21 of his text, Sizer described Crowley as a “religious broadcaster,” omitting any reference to his antisemitism. (Note: This problem was uncovered by a researcher at “Harry’s Place,” a blog published in the United Kingdom.)
Sizer turns Jewish suffering into an affirmation of the Christian faith and implicitly portrays embracing Christianity as a way of avoiding suffering in this world (an anti-gospel message if there ever was one). Clearly this is not the type of book a Christian publishing house should be promoting.
Then there is his profound distortion of what life is like for Arabs living in Israel. Relying on a 1987 book published by Uri Davis, Israel, An Apartheid State, Sizer reports in the present tense that “On Israeli birth certificates for Jewish children citizenship is given as ‘Israeli’” and that “In the case of Arabs this category is left blank. Arab children are thus stateless at birth, and must earn Israeli citizenship, whereas the Jewish child is born with it.”
The problems with these statements and their sourcing are manifold. First, they were reliant on a 1987 text by Uri Davis, an Israeli member of Fatah, a charter organization of the PLO. Moreover, Davis was basing his assertions on birth certificates produced in the 1950s.
But things had changed since the 1987 publication of the book upon which Sizer was relying. Davis acknowledged this in his 2003 text, Apartheid Israel: Possibilities for the Struggle Within (published a year before Sizer’s text). In this text, Davis states explicitly that, “Today, Israeli identity cards no longer register nationality and birth certificates no longer register citizenship.”
Arabs born in Israel had been regarded as citizens at birth under Israeli law since decades before IVP in the UK published Sizer’s book in 2004. And yet, Sizer presented this information as established fact in the present tense. This is inexcusable given Sizer’s putative status as a scholar and IVP’s status as a credible publishing house.
And on page 148, Sizer reports that in 1948 the U.S. government was opposed to the founding of Israel, omitting that U.S. President Harry Truman acknowledged Israel’s Declaration of Independence within a few minutes of its issuance.
It gets worse. Researchers at the previously mentioned UK-based blog “Harry’s Place” uncovered a number of other huge problems with this text. For example, in a notorious footnote on page 251, Rev. Dr. Sizer promotes the conspiracy theory that Israelis were somehow complicit in Al Qaeda’s attack on the U.S. on September 11, 2001. This is outrageous and should never have gotten past the editors at Inter-Varsity Press in the United Kingdom.
Zion’s Christian Soldiers
Sadly, the problems did not end with his 2004 book, but continued with IVP’s 2007 publication of Zion’s Christian Soldiers: The Bible, Israel and the Church. This text exhibits many of the same problems as Sizer’s first book, but here are a couple of obvious distortions and omissions worth mentioning.
On page 10 he writes:
Why, after forty years, does Israel continue to occupy territory in Lebanon (the Sheba Farms), Syria (the Golan Heights) and Palestine (the West Bank), while Syria has been pressured to withdraw from Lebanon?
Here, Rev. Sizer is mouthing the party line of Hezbollah regarding Sheba Farms, an eight-square-mile piece of land at the juncture of Syria, Lebanon, and Israel that is currently held by Israel.
What he fails to report is that Israel took the territory from Syria – not Lebanon – during the Six Day War and that there is ongoing disagreement over the territory between Lebanon and Syria. If Israel returns the land to Lebanon, as Rev. Sizer suggests it should, then what guarantee is there that this will not provoke the ire of Syria, whose leaders have raised concerns about the status of Syrian-populated villages in the territory?
Also on page 10, Rev. Sizer posits a false equivalence when he asks, “Why is Israel allowed to retain nuclear weapons, while Iran is threatened with a pre-emptive attack for aspiring to obtain nuclear technology?”
Here, Sizer ignores a basic fact: Iranian leaders have openly spoken about their desire to achieve Israel’s destruction even if it costs millions of Iranians their lives; Israeli leaders have done no such thing. Rev. Sizer’s point becomes clear in the following passage:
And how have Britain and America become the focus of so much hate in the Arab world and the target for Islamic terrorism, despite our commitment to the rule of international law, democracy and human rights?
The answers to these questions remain inexplicable unless we factor in what is probably the most influential and controversial movement amongst Christians today—Christian Zionism.
Here, Sizer is trying to designate Christian Zionist support for Israel as the singular factor encouraging jihadist hostility against the U.S. and U.K. The problem is that jihadists had been killing people for many decades before and after Israel’s creation in 1948, and many of these attacks have taken place in countries where support for Israel has, over the years, been much less fervent than in the United States.
Numerous attacks have taken place in France, for example, a country not known for its unreserved support for Zionism, Christian or otherwise. Why has France become such a locus of jihadist terrorism? Why has Sweden? Why has Nigeria? And why have countries in the Middle East been the target of so many jihadist attacks? Can this violence be blamed on Israel?
What Sizer has done is portray Christian support for the Jewish state as the cause of jihadism (when in fact there are many causes endogenous to the Middle East), and then portray Christian support for Israel as a greater sin than jihadist violence.
In an analysis of this text, Faydra Shapiro, Ph.D. writes, “Sizer’s suggestion in the introduction that Christian Zionism explains everything from the West’s concern about Iran’s development of nuclear capability to Arab terrorism in Britain and America (“despite our commitment to the rule of international law, democracy and human rights” […]) is simply hyperbolic.” She is right.
On page 12 of his 2007 text, Sizer writes:
[Are Christian Zionists a] powerful lobby movement? You bet. Christian Zionism is undoubtedly a dominant force in shaping U.S. policy in the Middle East. Why else will you not find a single serving U.S. politician openly critical of Israel?
The notion that readers will “not find a single serving U.S. politician openly critical of Israel” is laughable. Politicians in the U.S. have criticized Israel ever since it was founded. Does Sizer even know what he is talking about? Did no one at Inter-Varsity Press see the problems with this untrue statement?
And if the Christian Zionist community is the dominant force in American foreign policy in the Middle East, as Rev. Sizer asserts, then how does he account for the pressure the Obama Administration placed on Israel to impose a settlement freeze and its decision to pursue a nuclear deal with Iran?
To be fair, these events took place after the book was published. Still, a number of events that took place before 2007 undermine Sizer’s assertion that Christian Zionism is a “dominant force” in shaping U.S. policy in the Middle East. For example, the Clinton Administration prevailed upon the Israelis to negotiate with the Palestinians — over the objections of many Christian Zionists — at Camp David in 2000.
This reality is highlighted by, of all people, Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer in their text The Israel Lobby (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007). Walt and Mearsheimer warn that the “influence of Christian Zionists should not be overstated.” They continue:
Their strong commitment to a “greater Israel” and resulting opposition to a two-state solution did not prevent the Clinton Administration from pursuing the latter at Camp David in 2000, did not halt the 1998 Wye Agreement mandating an Israeli redeployment from parts of the West Bank, and perhaps most revealingly, did not stop President George W. Bush, who has close ties to the Christian Right, from declaring his own support for a Palestinian state in 2001. (Page 138)
The overall thrust of Rev. Sizer’s argument is that through their influence over American foreign policy (which he exaggerates) Christian Zionists somehow play a “spoiler” role in efforts to bring the Arab-Israeli conflict to an end by reducing American pressure on Israel to make peace with its adversaries. This does not square with reality. Israelis have repeatedly negotiated with Palestinians, made peace offers, and withdrawn from territory even in the face of opposition from Christian Zionists in the United States.
In light of these errors, omissions, and egregious distortions, it is a good thing that both IVP publishing houses stopped carrying Sizer’s books in their inventories since 2016.
Dale Hanson Bourke
Sadly, there are problems with other books published by IVP which offer up a softer and more palatable but similarly distorted view of the Arab-Israeli conflict as the one Sizer presented in his texts. For example, in 2013, InterVarsity Press published The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Tough Questions, Direct Answers by Dale Hanson Bourke.
There are many problems with this text.
The text 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 Muslim-majority countries throughout the world. This is a particularly egregious omission in light of the ongoing incitement broadcast by the Palestinian Authority, Hamas, and preachers on the Temple Mount. Moreover, given the role genocidal antisemitism plays in Iranian government’s ongoing hostility toward Israel and the Jewish people, this is a crucial issue that should not be ignored by anyone who would claim to be a peacemaker.
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, 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.”
Along these lines, Bourke 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). No true peacemaker can omit this from their narrative about the conflict.
The author also downplays the Jewish connection to the land of Israel. In an answer to the questions “What is the promised Land?” and “What exactly and where is Palestine?” the author offers a truncated chronology of the land of Israel that goes from Canaan to modern-day Israel and the Palestinian territories and then, a few paragraphs later, to a mention of the Ottoman Empire. Moreover, 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 goes a long way toward writing the Jews out of the geographic history of the Middle East, obliquely lending credence to the notion that they really don’t belong in the region.
The text also downplays the role Islamic doctrine plays in the oppression of religious and ethnic minorities in the Middle East, which has been a hugely important factor in the murder and expulsion of Christians from numerous countries in the Middle East and has been a driver of the Arab-Israeli conflict for the past several decades.
Moreover, the text makes no mention of Jews fleeing from Arab countries (and Iran) even as it describes the plight of Palestinian refugees in great detail. The author 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. This is an irresponsible omission.
Additionally, the text obscures Hamas’s hostility toward the Jewish state.
While the author reports that the organization’s 1988 charter calls for Israel’s destruction, she writes elsewhere that Hamas has accepted the “1967 border” as a “temporary line” and in a third place declares that Hamas “wants an independent Palestinian state” with a dominant role for Islam.
Despite these obfuscations, Hamas has made it clear that its goal is not the creation of a Palestinian state, but the destruction of Israel, with its leader Ismail Haniyeh declaring in 2006, several years before the book was published, “I tell you with all honesty, we will not recognize Israel, we will not recognize Israel, we will not recognize Israel.” In 2010, another Hamas leader, Mahmoud Al-Zahhar declared, “Our plan for this stage is to liberate any inch of Palestinian land, and to establish a state on it. Our ultimate plan is [to have] Palestine in its entirety. I say this loud and clear so that nobody will accuse me of employing political tactics. We will not recognize the Israeli enemy.”
The evidence is overwhelming that Hamas’s recognition of the 1967 borders as a “temporary line” is not a recognition of the Jewish right to self-determination.
And sadly enough, the text obscures the misdeeds of Palestinian elites from both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas against the Palestinian people.
The word “corruption” does not appear once in the entire text even though the theft and embezzlement of foreign aid by Yassir Arafat and the current leadership of the PA has been well documented. The author stated that the Palestinian Authority was considered “an emerging democracy” despite its failure to host scheduled elections. The notion that the PA was considered an emerging democracy wasn’t true when the book was published, and it’s clearly not true now.
To make matters worse, Bourke soft-pedals the hostility expressed toward Israel by the United Nations.
In the answer to the question “Why does Israel claim the UN is biased against it?” the author quotes Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin’s Netanyahu’s complaints about this problem but fails to report that two former Secretaries of the UN agreed with that assessment.
In August 2013 UN General Secretary Ban Ki Moon stated: “Unfortunately, because of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Israel has been weighed down by criticism and suffered from bias and sometimes even discrimination.” 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.”
The author lists several resolutions regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict but fails to acknowledge the huge number of resolutions targeting Israel passed by UN Commission on Human Rights, which was shut down because of its politicization and hostility toward Israel. 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.
All this indicates that the text was not measured against standards of scholarship, but against a standard of ideological conformity to the cause of anti-Israel activism. (To be fair, this is not a problem unique to this text, but exists with all the books in this addendum.)
In 2014, IVP-USA published Occupied Territories: The Revolution of Love from Bethlehem to the Ends of the Earth by Garth Hewitt, an Anglican priest and folk singer.
Hewitt’s book, which is also available in the UK, uses the modern state of Israel as a negative backdrop to highlight his putatively Christian message of peace and justice, which he calls “Bethlehem Theology.”
This should come as no surprise. Hewitt’s sources, who are mentioned in the acknowledgements at the front of the book, read like a who’s who of Palestinian Christian anti-Zionism: Naim Ateek, Sami Awad, Mitri Raheb, Zoughbi Zoughbi, and Mazin Qumsiyeh.
The centerpiece of Hewitt’s anti-Judaic gambit is the false assertion, repeated multiple times in his book, that Bethlehem is completely surrounded by a wall or security barrier.
On page 11 Hewitt writes, “Bethlehem is surrounded by a wall that reaches twenty-five feet high. And yet once behind that wall you find that God is already present there—already present everywhere there are the oppressed or forgotten.”
Then on page 43 Hewitt describes himself “standing by the separation wall, which surrounds most of Bethlehem…”
Later, on page 48, Hewitt quotes Sami Awad who says, “At the moment Bethlehem is surrounded by a wall…”
In the context of Hewitt’s book, the repetition of this falsehood serves an ugly theological purpose – portraying the Jewish state as an obstacle to Jesus’s birth and to the revolution it embodies.
The text, which also talks about the Hindu mistreatment of the Dalits, many of whom have embraced Christianity, says nothing at all about the impact of radical Islam on Christians, Jews, moderate Muslims, or women in the Middle East. Israel is invoked as a symbol of oppression, not just in the Middle East, but throughout the world. Israel’s genocidal adversaries are given a pass.
No context is provided as to why Israel built the security barrier, and no mention is made of Hamas suicide bombers or to the antisemitic incitement that runs rampant in Palestinian society.
Hewitt’s refusal to address sources of injustice and suffering in Palestinian society is particularly evident in the fourth chapter of his book. This chapter, titled “Time for Action,” describes Operation Cast Lead as a “terrible attack on Gaza.” He continues:
It was a brutal massacre: 1,385 Palestinians killed and 5,300 injured, compared to 9 Israelis killed (plus 4 by friendly fire) and around 100 soldiers injured. The injustice was such that I felt we could no longer stand on the sidelines, trying to be evenhanded.
Here, Hewitt focuses his attention exclusively on the consequences of the fighting suffered by the Palestinians. He ignores the cause of the fighting altogether. In Hewitt’s view, the side with more casualties is more innocent of sin than the side with fewer casualties.
Such a juvenile formula gives Hewitt’s readers license to ignore altogether the role Hamas played in provoking the conflict. In the six-month ceasefire prior to Operation Cast Lead, several dozen rockets were fired into Israel from the Gaza Strip.
And during this ceasefire, Hamas was digging at least one tunnel (probably more) into Israel, a clear violation of the spirit if not the letter of a truce. It should also be noted that after Israel destroyed the tunnel and killed a Hamas gunman in the process, Hamas spent the next several weeks launching rockets into Israel on a daily basis, terrorizing hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens, whose fear and suffering Hewitt largely ignores.
To make matters worse, Hewitt promoted the “Kairos Document” released by Palestinian Christians in 2009. The Kairos Document has been denounced by the Central Conference of American Rabbis as supersessionist and antisemitic, but that does not stop Hewitt from promoting the text, which depicts Palestinian terrorism as “legal resistance,” as a legitimate peacemaking document.
Mae Elise Cannon
Earlier this year, IVP in the U.S. published Beyond Hashtag Activism: Comprehensive Justice in a Complicated Age by Mae Elise Cannon, which has a number of problems.
For example, it promotes two Muslim organizations, one of which has ties to Palestinian terrorism and another of which has ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist organization that has promoted Islamic extremism and anti-Israel bias throughout the world including the United States.
The text also obscures the supersessionist hostility of Naim Ateek, one of the founding fathers of Palestinian Christian Liberation Theology (PCLT).
Cannon’s effort to obscure Ateek’s replacement theology is found on page 229, where she instructs her readers about concerns people have raised about PCLT.
To establish her bona fides on the threat of replacement theology, Cannon cites The Misunderstood Jew: The Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus (Harper San Francisco, 2006) by scholar Amy-Jill Levine.
In her book, Levine expresses concerns about the writings of Rev. Dr. Naim Ateek, an Anglican Priest in Jerusalem who has, on repeated occasions, used anti-Judaic passages from the New Testament to portray Israel as a cosmological affront to God’s purposes in the Middle East.
In her discussion regarding Ateek’s writing, Levine states that “he erases Jesus’s Judaism” by declaring that Jesus effected a “paradigm shift” by promoting (in Ateek’s words) “a commitment to the poor, a commitment to the ministry of healing, a commitment to justice and liberation of the oppressed, a commitment to jubilee which involves economic justice for all.”
“In making this claim,” Levine writes, Ateek, “erases Jesus’s Judaism,” adding that “If concern for the poor originates with Jesus, then the church might […] jettison the entire ‘Old Testament.’”
In the same text, Levine writes, “Any writing that separates Jesus and his first followers from Jewish identity, associates these proto-Christians with the Palestinian population, and reserves the label ‘Jew’ for those who crucified Jesus and persecuted the church is not only historically untenable but theologically abhorrent.”
Levine’s concerns do not prevent Cannon from promoting Ateek’s work, however. Cannon tells her readers that it is “important to understand his perspective as a leading Palestinian Christian voice calling for liberation.”
She then quotes a passage from Ateek’s 2017 book A Palestinian Christian Theology of Liberation: The Bible, Justice, and the Palestine-Israel Conflict (Orbis) as follows: “Jesus Christ was a Palestinian [Jew], as we are. He lived in the same land we live in.”
Note the brackets around the word “Jew.” That indicates it’s an insertion on Cannon’s part, which an investigation of Ateek’s text reveals it to be. Ateek actually wrote: “Jesus Christ was a Palestinian as we are.”
By taking the liberty of inserting the word “Jew” into the quote, Cannon attempted to obscure Ateek’s effort to strip Jesus of his Jewishness, which is one of Amy-Jill Levine’s primary complaints about Ateek’s writings.
This is a profoundly deceptive act on Cannon’s part.
The text also promotes the work of Al-Haq, a Palestinian lawfare organization headquartered in Ramallah. Citing Al-Haq’s website, Cannon describes Al-Haq’s work as including “the documentation of human rights abuses, research, and studies on ‘interventions on breaches of international human rights and humanitarian law’ in East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza.”
What Cannon does not report is that Al-Haq, like a lot of other Palestinian “civil society” organizations, deploys legal challenges not to achieve rights for Palestinians, but to hinder the rights of Israeli Jews to exercise self-determination, denying them the right to life through lawless acts of terror.
The use of democratic institutions to undermine democracies has been a well-worn strategy of anti-Zionist (and anti-American) groups for a long time.
Al-Haq’s leader, Shawan Jabarin, was described by the Israeli Supreme Court in 2007 as “a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” whose time was divided between leading “a human rights organization” and “as an operative in an organization [PFLP] which has no qualms regarding murder and attempted murder.”
In 2008, the Israeli Supreme Court reaffirmed its assessment of Jabarin, declaring that he was “among the senior activists of the Popular Front terrorist organization.”
Al-Haq’s ties to terrorist organizations were so serious and demonstrable that American Express, Mastercard, and Visa stopped allowing their credit cards to be used to donate money to it.
In 2017, Al-Haq’s leader, Jabarin, defended the Palestinian Authority’s “pay-to-slay” program, which rewards Palestinian terrorists who murder Israeli civilians with regular salaries depending on the seriousness of the crimes committed (the more serious the crime, the more people killed or injured, the longer the sentence – the higher the payments). If this pay-to-slay program were interrupted, Jabarin warned, “we are heading for a real crisis in Palestinian society and in due course toward an explosion.”
In other words, Jabarin threatened further violence to protect financial payments (underwritten by Western democracies) to terrorists.
Al-Haq is not the type of organization that should be promoted in a book published by InterVarsity Press, the book publishing division of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA.
Al-Haq is not the only organization promoted in Cannon’s book. She also encourages readers to “explore the work” of Islamic Relief USA, which she describes as “one of the major development agencies” responding to the “realities” of interracial and interethnic violence “in the Arab world.”
What Cannon does not tell her readers is that Islamic Relief USA’s parent organization, which is headquartered in London, has been designated as a terror-financing organization by the United Arab Emirates and Israel. Moreover, international banks including UBS and HSBC closed down Islamic Relief’s accounts and stopped processing donations to the organization.
According to the Middle East Forum (MEF), “Islamic Relief funds organizations closely linked to the terrorist organization, Hamas.” One key partner for Islamic Relief branches in Gaza is the Gaza Zakat Committee, also known as the Islamic Zakat Society (IZS). IZS works closely with the Hamas government.
Islamic Relief also maintains financial links with several terrorism-linked groups in the Middle East outside of Gaza, including the Charitable Society for Social Welfare, which was founded by Al-Qaeda terrorist and “Bin Laden loyalist” Abdul Majeed Al-Zindani. The organization has been investigated in England for hosting speakers who have engaged in hate speech.
Islamic Relief USA has also promoted hate speech in the U.S. According to MEF, “In 2009, IR-USA ran an event with Abdullah Hakim Quick, an extremist preacher who has claimed that AIDS is caused by the ‘filthy practices’ of homosexuals and that the Islamic position on homosexuality is ‘death.’ Quick has also spoken of the ‘filth of the Yahud [Jews].’”
To make matters worse, Khaled Lamada, the former chairman of Islamic Relief USA’s board of directors, has been named in a prominent Egyptian newspaper as an operative of the Muslim Brotherhood. Lamada, who is no longer chairman of the IR-USA’s board of directors but still a member, has, according to MEF, posted messages in Arabic “praising the ‘jihad’ of the ‘Mujahidin of Egypt’ for ‘causing the Jews many defeats.’ He has republished claims on Facebook that praise Hamas for inflicting a ‘huge defeat’ against the ‘Zionist entity.’”
As readers can tell from the MEF report about Islamic Relief, this is just a small sample of the problems associated with Islamic Relief USA and its parent organization. The upshot is that IVP has published a book that encourages readers to “explore” the work of Islamic Relief USA without informing them of the organization’s ties to extremism and terror-financing.
The text also obscures crucial facts regarding Gaza and Hamas. On page 221 of her text, Cannon laments the suffering of the Palestinians living in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. She reports that while Israel removed soldiers and settlers from this area in 2005, “it still retains complete control over all air, sea, and land access to Gaza.” She then writes, “This blockade which Israel maintains with cooperation with Egypt, has severely restricted the movement of people and goods into and out of Gaza since 2007.”
So which is it? Does Israel maintain “complete control over … access to Gaza” or does Egypt also play a role in restricting the flow of goods into the area?
The way Cannon writes simply doesn’t make any sense. By using this dishonest rhetoric, Cannon is trying to obscure an unpleasant reality — that Egypt, like Israel, has been dealing with terror attacks from the Gaza Strip and has played a role in limiting the passage of goods into the area that can be used to launch attacks. And Egypt, like Israel, has worked to eliminate tunnels being dug from Gaza into its territory.
Cannon also downplays Hamas’s hostility toward Israel. She describes the organization as “an Islamic Palestinian militant group and political organization deemed by the United States organization as a terrorist group.” Egypt and the European Union have also designated Hamas as terrorist organization. Nowhere does she mention Hamas’s explicit desire for Israel’s destruction, which is clearly relevant given her stated desire for a peaceful settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Rev. Dr. Munther Isaac
Also in 2020, IVP in the U.S. published The Other Side of the Wall: A Palestinian Christian Narrative of Lament and Hope.
Like other texts highlighted in this addendum, this text downplays the issue of antisemitism in Palestinian society. In his text, Isaac reports that Palestinians “can’t be” antisemitic “because we are semitic.”
He also declares that “anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism.”
He also claims that Western Christians are trying to atone for the Holocaust by forcing Christians in the Middle East to accept the theology of Christian Zionism, “a theology designed to solve a Western problem (anti-Semitism) with the purpose of dealing with the inner guilt.”
To buttress his case, Isaac quotes an Orthodox priest, Fr. Paul Tarazi, who works in the Holy Land and who accuses Western Christians of “repenting on our ground every deed which happened on theirs.” Isaac then writes that “it is ironic that the West, which has a long history of anti-Semitism, wants to educate Palestinians on this issue—even rebuke and correct us now, and teach us the right way.”
The notion that Isaac and his fellow Arabs cannot be “anti-Semitic” because they themselves are semites is absurd. Wilhelm Marr, who coined the phrase “anti-Semitism,” founded the League of Anti-Semites to harass and persecute Jews in Germany in the late 1800s. Jews have been be harassed and persecuted in the Holy Land by Arabs like Haj Amin Al-Husseini the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and in the Middle East in general by the Nazi-backed government in Iraq in 1941, for example. To argue, as Isaac has done, that Arabs cannot be antisemitic is simply an irresponsible diversion for which he and his publishing house should be ashamed.
The notion that anti-Zionism is not antisemitism is another absurdity. Anti-Zionism is not just “criticizing” Israel, but denying the legitimacy of the Jewish right to self-determination and sovereignty. For Isaac to provide cover for this agenda while at the same time affirming the Palestinian right to statehood, which has been offered numerous times to the Palestinians, is a bigoted act of hypocrisy.
Isaac’s invocation of Western guilt over the Holocaust to hinder discussion about antisemitism in Palestinian society is particularly outrageous. Christians who are truly intent on peacemaking in the Holy Land — whether they live in the West or in the Holy Land — must address the obstacles to peace between Arabs and Jews. One of the biggest obstacles is the use of antisemitism as a unifying political agenda by both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. Hostility toward Jews is promoted in Palestinian textbooks, despite Isaac’s effort to downplay the issue (described below).
The fact is, Jew-hatred is a prominent part of discourse in Palestinian society. What Rev. Dr. Isaac cannot grasp is that Western Christians cannot ignore the antisemitism that has taken root in Palestinian society and remain faithful to the demands of peacemaking. This brings us to the next problem with Isaac’s book.
Isaac attempts to posit a false equivalence between unnamed Christian extremists and jihadists in the Middle East.
On page 147, Isaac writes:
As Christians, before confronting extremism in the other, we must recognize the existence of some extremists, though not always violent, in the Christian family today. There are some Christians who view Muslims with a condescending gaze. Let us be frank and face such extremism in our midst. There are Christians who dream of a Middle East (or an America) free of Muslims. That is extremism.
Who are these Christians that speak of an America “free of Muslims?” Exactly how numerous are they? Where are they? What institutions do they control? What attacks have they perpetrated? The fact is, Jews are the most likely target of hate crimes in the United States and some of this violence is caused by anti-Israel propaganda similar to what is issued by the Palestinian Authority’s allies in the U.S.
There is simply no equivalence between the problem of jihadist violence and Christian and Jewish animus toward Muslims.
Rev. Dr. Isaac knows well that there are many Christian organizations such as the World Council of Churches, the World Evangelical Alliance, and in the United States, the National Council of Churches that regularly condemn anti-Muslim hostility and work to engage in dialogue with Muslim leaders who sometimes promote bigotry to their audiences when Westerners aren’t looking. Even the Christ at the Checkpoint Conference itself, which Isaac organizes, has featured Mustafa Abu Sway, who in 1991 declared that he wished Israel would just “disappear.”
And moreover, there isn’t any mainstream Christian publication in the United States that promotes the “condescending gaze” that Isaac accuses Christians of having toward Muslims. You won’t find expressions of contempt in publications such as Christianity Today, Christian Century, or Sojourners.
By way of comparison, jihadists have, in recent years, massacred thousands of Christians in Iraq, Syria, and Nigeria. The mistreatment of Christians, Jews, and other religious and ethnic minorities in the Middle East is a source of misery in the region. Isaac’s deceptive effort to “twin” Christian attitudes toward Muslims with actual jihadist violence and hostility toward Christians, Jews, and other Muslims is a non-starter for anyone paying any attention to what has actually happened on the world stage over the past two decades.
Clearly this is a sensitive subject for Isaac. On page 33, Isaac complains of “always [being] criticized because we only blame Israel and mention Israel’s wrongdoing without calling out Islamic terrorism (which is not a true accusation by the way.)” He continues:
But let us read between the lines here. The message for us is that only after we speak and address all the wrong doings in the world, only then we are qualified to speak about our own suffering. To me, this is insulting. This logic essentially communicates to me that my perspective is invalid and that my suffering is not real but invented or imagined.
No one is saying that the suffering of Palestinians is invented or imagined, nor is anyone saying that he must speak about “all the wrong doings in the world” before he is qualified to speak about the suffering endured by the Palestinians. The problem is that Isaac reserves most of his criticism for Israeli and American leaders, without acknowledging the failures of the Palestinian Authority.
Isaac accuses people who criticize the Palestinians and their leaders of “demonizing” them to deflect attention away from real obstacles to peace in Palestinian society.
On page 56, Isaac writes that “Palestinians are often dehumanized in the public discourse of American politics.” He continues:
This was brought to public attention in 2012, when New Gingrich, repeated again and again that we Palestinians are in fact an “invented people,” an invention of the late 1970s. (The late 1970s! And he claims to be a historian.) He has also stated that Palestinians are all terrorists and that our school textbooks teach things like “If there are thirteen Jews and nine are killed, then how many Jews are left?” This of course is factually wrong.
Gingrich was roundly condemned for his statement that the Palestinians are an invented people, but the fact is, there has been substantial Arab commentary about the origins of the Palestinians as a people that gives some credence to Gingrich’s remark.
As documented in a previous CAMERA article, “the lack of a distinctive Palestinian national identity apart from the wider Arab identity has been argued by many Arabs themselves.” These Arabs include the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin Al Husseini, Arab-American historian and Princeton University Professor Philip Hitti, and more recently, Azmi Bishara, former Israeli Arab Knesset Member who declared in a televised interview in 2009 that the “Palestinian nation” is a “colonialist invention.” (A pretty revealing comment from an Israeli Arab who was forced to leave Israel after he was accused of passing information to Hezbollah!)
Then there’s the issue of Gingrich’s hyperbolic and inflammatory statement about Palestinian textbooks. In a previous article, CAMERA stated that “It’s highly unlikely that a Palestinian textbook would include a math problem about the number of Jews left after a terror attack.” But the fact is, a Palestinian textbook did ask the following question:
One of the settlers [Israelis] shoots at [Palestinian] cars that pass on one of the roads. If the probability of his hitting a car in one shot is 0.7, and the settler shot at 10 cars, what will you expect to be the number of cars that were hit?
There’s no doubt that Palestinian textbooks incite against Israel. Any true peacemaker would acknowledge that. They would confront the Palestinian Authority about this issue and not use Gingrich’s comments to stymie discussion.
Isaac promotes Al-Haq, a Palestinian “lawfare” organization whose leader has been declared a terrorist by the Israeli Supreme Court, to promote a distorted narrative about water consumption in Israel and areas under the control of the PA.
On page 11, Isaac writes declares that “according to an extensive study by Al-Haq, a prominent human rights organization, Israeli per capita consumption of water for domestic use is four to five times higher than that of the Palestinian population of the occupied territory.”
What Isaac fails to acknowledge is that per capita water consumption in the West Bank has increased substantially since Israel took control of the territory in 1967. This report produced by Alex Safian, Ph.D. provides some detail:
In the period from 1967 to 1995 West Bank Palestinians increased their domestic water use by 640%, from 5.4 MCM to 40 MCM (Judea-Samaria and the Gaza District – A 16 Year Survey 1967 – 1983, Israel, Ministry of Defense, 1983; Arnon Soffer, The Israeli Palestinian Conflict over Water Resources, Palestine-Israel Journal, Volume 5, No. 1, 1998). By way of comparison, in the same 28 year period Israeli domestic usage increased by just 142% (Statistical Abstract of Israel 1996, V47).
This huge jump in Palestinian consumption was possible only because Israel drilled or permitted the drilling of over 50 new wells for the Palestinian population, laid hundreds of kilometers of new water mains and connected hundreds of Palestinian villages and towns to the newly built water system (Background: Water, Israel and the Middle East, Israel Foreign Ministry 1991; Marcia Drezon-Tepler, Contested Waters and the Prospects for Arab-Israeli Peace, Middle Eastern Studies, Vol 30, No. 2, April 1994)
And a report produced by the Begin-Sadat center in 2014 details the failure of the Palestinian Authority to take steps to reduce water shortages. All this indicates that Isaac is more interested in vilifying Israel than actually solving problems faced by the Palestinians.
There’s another issue, however. Why is Isaac relying on Al-Haq for information regarding water issues in the first place?
As recounted in our analysis of Rev. Dr. Mae Cannon’s book, Al-Haq’s leader Shawan Jabarin was described by the Israeli Supreme Court in 2007 as “a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” whose time was divided between leading “a human rights organization” and “as an operative in an organization [PFLP] which has no qualms regarding murder and attempted murder.” (Please see the entry on Rev. Dr. Cannon’s book for more information about Jabarin and the organization he leads.)
The fact that Al Haq was highlighted in two IVP books leaves us with a difficult question: Why has IVP published two books that promote an organization whose leader is a member of a terrorist organization?
Is this responsible scholarship?