Every two years, the ritual is repeated. The organizers of the Christ at the Checkpoint Conference, a so-called peacemaking conference held every even-numbered year at the Orient Palace Hotel in Beit Jala, invite a Messianic Jew to defend Israel before an audience of Evangelical Christians, some of whom have come to the West Bank to hear and relate stories of Jews behaving badly and then use these stories to feed an unwholesome bitterness toward Israel.
The invitation is given by conference organizers from the Bethlehem Bible College, an Evangelical college in Beit Jala, to demonstrate that they are willing to listen to people who disagree with them. It's not as if the organizers really want to hear or acknowledge what he has to say, but instead hope to deploy the Messianic Jew as a prop to lend credibility to their anti-Zionist narrative.
It's an obvious set-up, but the the Messianic Jew, who desperately wants to be taken seriously as a believer in Jesus and as a Jew who loves Israel, says yes. He knows full well other speakers at the conference will do everything they can to counteract his defense of Israel, but the invitee concludes that if he declines, no one will speak on Israel's behalf at the conference.
During his talk, the Jewish believer in Jesus acknowledges that the Palestinians are suffering, laments this suffering and then offers an apologia of Israel's efforts to defend itself, most notably the security barrier and the checkpoint. Everyone applauds his sincerity and for a few moments, expresses sympathy for the Israelis.
But by the time the conference is over, the Messianic Jew's presence at the Christ at the Checkpoint has been forgotten, or worse, used to remind Evangelicals in attendance that Israel is the sovereign state of the people who have rejected Jesus. The message implicit in the talk is that if only more Jews in Israel accepted Jesus as their messiah, like that guy on stage, the conflict between the Israel and the Palestinians would have ended years ago.
But that's not how it happened during this year's Christ at the Checkpoint. Not by a long shot.
Instead of defending Israel's efforts to defend itself and leaving it at that, Michael Brown, a conservative radio host and a Jewish believer in Jesus, went on the offensive. Brown, who spoke at the conference on May, 29,2018, began by describing his problems with the conference.
"I have already been grieved by things I heard from leaders in private, comparing Israel to Hamas, vilifying Palestinian Christians who have a different perspective, CATC encouraging tours of the blatantly propagandistic Walled Off Hotel, which distorts the past and the present and accuses Israel of ethnic cleansing," Brown said.
Brown didn't stop there. He challenged Palestinian Christians, especially the folks who organized the CATC conference, to “Openly express your disagreements with the Palestinian Authority and Fatah and Hamas. Otherwise, the feeling is that you’re in harmony with them.”
It was a legitimate challenge, because, as in years past, the first night of this year's conference (which continues until Friday) was dedicated to Palestinian Christians saying nice things about the Palestinian Authority leadership and allowing the PA to attack Israel. (And this year, one Christian from outside the region, Bishop Efraim Tendero, secretary-general of the World Evangelical alliance called Mahmoud Abbas, a man of peace in this land.” High praise for a man who complained about Jews desecrating the Temple Mount with their “filthy feet” a few years ago.)
Brown didn't just chide CATC organizers for their apparent submission to the PA. He called on conference organizers to condemn the tendency of Palestinian leaders to celebrate the murder of Israelis in terror attacks. He made this plea after recounting the details surrounding the murder of Fogel family in 2011: "Rabbi Yaakov Cohen, a neighbor who entered the house with their 12-year-old daughter (who returned from a youth event to find her slaughtered family), told the Ynet website that her two-year-old brother 'was lying next to his bleeding parents, shaking them with his hands and trying to get them to wake up, while crying ... The sight in the house was shocking.'" Brown said.
"Today, the families of the murderers, Amjad Awad and Hakim Awad, receive regular payments from the PA as part of their pension. In fact, it is reported that PA payments to families of terrorists and prisoners amount to roughly 10 percent of the PA budget," he added.
Then Brown made a direct plea: "Will you join me today in renouncing this?"
He also described how Israelis respond to the deaths of civilians at the hands of their government when in 2002, Israeli forces killed Salah Shehade who according to one source, “had direct involvement in attacks that killed 474 people and wounded 2,649 between July 2001 and July 2002.”
But in killing Shehade, Brown reported, they also “killed his wife, his daughter, his assistant, plus ten other civilians, including seven children, the youngest less than one year old. One hundred fifty people were wounded. Israeli intelligence relied on bad information, as a result of which so many others were killed or wounded, since he alone was targeted.” Brown continued: "When word of this got out, there were national protests in Israel, including the rebellion of air force pilots who had been involved in previous bombing missions. The nation rose up to protest the shedding of innocent Palestinian blood – even in the process of killing a mass murderer."
Brown then asked the Palestinian Christians to follow the example set by the Israelis and hold their leaders accountable. "The least you could do as followers of Jesus is stand with me in denouncing your government’s celebration of terrorism," he said."I understand you have challenges as a Christian minority in a Muslim society, but somehow, your voices of dissent must be heard."
It was a powerful speech. In addition challenging CATC organizers to confront Palestinian violence, Brown asked them to condemn replacement theology and to “put Jesus at the center of the conflict” and to demonstrate this action, by expressing “love for the Israeli people.” This is a tough challenge, because as Brown declared, “CATC is far better known for standing against Israel than standing against Hamas and for the Gazan Christians.”
Conference spokesperson Rev. Dr. Munther Isaac knew the challenge was coming (he even had a copy of Brown's speech before it was given) and should have been able to provide an irenic and substantive response.
Instead, he reacted with shocking disdain for the issues Brown raised, saying he and his colleagues were “tired” of having to deal with the issues and questions Brown raised in his talk, because “they seem to place all the blame on us, the oppressed.”
Isaac went on to say that he too could talk about the suffering endured by his community and could show pictures of the victims of Israeli violence but that he didn't want to get into a competition about who suffered more. He also declared that radical Jewish groups and politicians celebrate when Palestinians are killed, as if there were an equivalence between the incitement in Palestinian and Israeli society when there isn't. Hamas- and PA-run television stations regularly demonize Jews and the Palestinian Authority (and the Jordanian government) regularly allows for call of incitement on the Temple Mount. Demonization of the other permeates Palestinian society in ways that it simply does not in Israel.
Instead of confronting the problem of incitement and the celebration of murder by both the PA and Hamas who use antisemitism as a unifying political agenda, Isaac tried to change the subject.
“The real question we should be asking asking as followers of Christ,” Isaac said, “is 'What drives people to do these violent things?' This is the real question you should be asking. The question you should be asking is how do we together work to address the systems and structures of injustice and oppression that create these violent actions of some Palestinians. How do we as followers as Christ come together in humbleness and deal with the causes and ideologies that exclude and demonize?”
Isaac also complained about a double-standard used to judge Palestinian violence. “Why is every Israeli violence self-defense? Why is every Palestinian violence terrorism?”
“How ironic that Evangelical Christians that supported the war in Iraq and support a war in Iran condemn and criticize the Palestinian people for violent acts of certain groups among us.” He also said that the Christ at the Checkpoint has previously condemned all forms of violence but that it's just that people are not listening. Isaac, who like many other CATC speakers, has repeatedly and regularly condemned Christian Zionism at conferences over the past decade, simply couldn't be bothered to repeat these previous condemnations of Palestinian violence.
In his response, Isaac missed an opportunity to send a message to Israelis and Jews throughout the world that yes, he and his fellow Palestinian Christians understand how frightening it is for them to see Palestinian leaders laud and reward the killers of Israeli women and children.
Instead of acknowledging the obligation of his fellow Christians to speak truth to power in Palestinian society – and not just condemn Israel – Isaac spoke in vague terms about “systems” and “structures” that cause people to engage in acts of terror, as if the concept of sin – which CATC speakers use so often to condemn Israel – should not be used to assess Palestinian behavior.
Apparently, in Isaac's world, it's theological condemnation for Israel, sociological explanations for the Palestinians.
Brown's direct challenge to Palestinian Christians highlighted this troubling double-standard.
In sum, Michael Brown did Christians throughout the world a great service by highlighting the inability of Palestinian Christians to speak truth to power in Palestinian society. Hopefully, conference organizers will take Brown's message to heart in the days ahead.
Dexter Van Zile is Christian Media Analyst for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA). His opinions are his own.
This article was originally published by CAMERA at http://blog.camera.org/archives/2018/05/michael_brown_exposes_doublest.html