WASHINGTON – A well-known, outspoken group of Christian Zionists is being criticized by an ecumenical organization of churches for its “uncritical” support of Israel, as it kicked-off the first day of its annual gathering in the nation’s capital on Monday.Far be it from me to take any stand on the theological differences between CUFI and NCC. But to claim that it is Israeli policies that have forced Christians to flee the Palestinian territories is nothing but blindness.
The National Council of Churches USA (NCC), a coalition of 35 denominations representing 45 million members, says many Christians have a different opinion of Israel than Pastor John Hagee’s Christians United for Israel (CUFI).
Among the points of contention is CUFI’s “uncritical” support for the State of Israel based on a literal reading of biblical apocalyptic texts, argues NCC.
“John Hagee’s message differs greatly with what theologians have taught for centuries,” said Dr. Antonios Kireopoulos, NCC’s associated general secretary for International Affairs and Peace, in a statement.
And “CUFI stands apart from the historic Churches still present in the Holy Land,” he added. “All of these Churches serve Palestinian Christians, who are adversely affected by the policies supported by Hagee and CUFI. As a result of these policies, Christian communities in the Holy Land are diminishing and are threatened with extinction."
The numbers will tell the story:
There were144,000 Christians living in Israel in 2003, up from 101,000 in 1987.
In the territories, however:
After World War II, Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, was 80% Christian and Nazareth 60%. Now those percentages are 20% and 30% respectively, and are shrinking. Jerusalem Christians were a plurality in the 1920s; today, they number under 2 percent of the city's population.And that is not even counting the many more recent attacks of Muslims on Christians in the PA-administered areas.
Serious violations of religious freedom are reported from within the Palestinian Authority, especially the persecution of Muslims who have converted to Christianity. In the Christian town of Bet Jella, a human rights lawyer reported brutal interrogation methods and arbitrary arrests based on fabricated criminal charges against Muslims who have converted to Christianity and their families. His report includes testimony about torture from victims who were terrified to criticize the Palestinian Authority and their secret police.
In Nazareth, the Christian population has decreased dramatically due to the rise and spread of militant Islam. The Islamic Movement (a radical Muslim group) has demanded the construction of a mosque near the Church of the Annunciation, a mosque even some moderate Muslims oppose. On Easter, 1999, the Muslim group burned Christian stores and targeted Christians over the issue; attempts to intervene were frustrated because Christians are terrified to speak out.
Hundreds of Christian families have left Palestinian towns like Bet Jella and Bethlehem during the al-Aqsa intifada, caught literally in the crossfire between Palestinians and Israelis. On the West Bank, a nearly-permanent Muslim boycott of Christian businesses is achieving its objective: driving the Christians to emigrate.
In October 2000, Christians were attacked in Gaza after a Palestinian Muslim leader called for a "jihad" against both Jews and Christians.
In February 2002 a Muslim mob, including Palestinian Authority Special Forces, burned Christian businesses and attempted to destroy the Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches in Ramallah. The attack occurred after a Christian man killed a Muslim while being pursued by a Muslim gang because he refused to pay protection money for safe passage to his home.
If the NCC wants to criticize CUFI, that's fine, but at least base the criticisms on real facts and not on absurd whitewashing of continuous Muslim crimes against Christians.