Christian Aid adopts the Palestinian narrative and Replacement Theology
Cranmer has been asked by the Anglican Friends of Israel to bring this matter to the attention of his readers and communicants, and he is delighted to do so. There is perhaps no more subtle manifestation of anti-Semitism than Replacement Theology, and for a Christian charity to propagate it, whilst no surprise, constitutes the perpetuation of a religio-political deception which goes back almost 2000 years. The Church, both Roman Catholic and Protestant strands, has historically maintained that due to the fact the Jews rejected Jesus as their Messiah, God saw fit to pour out his wrath upon them in AD70, destroying their temple and extinguishing their nation, leaving them to exile and oblivion. St Augustine was so persuaded, as was Origen, Tertullian, Eusebius, Ignatius of Antioch, Jerome, John Chrysostom - the Council of Nicea in 325AD purposely changed the celebration of the Resurrection from the Jewish Feast of First Fruits to Easter in an attempt to disassociate it from Jewish feasts. The Council stated: 'For it is unbecoming beyond measure that on this holiest of festivals we should follow the customs of the Jews. Henceforth let us have nothing in common with this odious people...'
Replacement Theology is therefore seen to have an enduring heritage. But it is insidiously anti-Semitic. And it is concerning that the otherwise laudable charitable efforts of Christian Aid should be tarnished with the belief that, because of their rebellion against God in their rejection of Jesus, God has replaced Israel with the Church, and so the Church now inherits all of the blessings promised to Israel. The Anglican Friends of Israel respond:
The poor have much cause to be very grateful for Christian Aid.
It has transformed the lives of millions of needy people in desperate situations by helping them to help themselves. It is renowned for partnering with organisations in the developing world and for its campaigns which raise awareness of injustice and oppression.
This year, over Lent, Christian Aid drew attention to Palestinian suffering much as it has during past Christian festivals. Many people support the work of Christian Aid, but this campaign was explicitly aimed at Christians, taking the form of a ‘virtual pilgrimage’ through the Holy Land and unfolding daily throughout Lent.
Each daily reflection upon a location or subject concluded with Christian prayers and several Christian clergy contributed, including Tom Wright, Bishop of Durham and Canon Naim Ateek of Sabeel. It was expedited expertly, and professionally.
But many of the messages conveyed during the journey were jarringly at odds with Christian notions of justice and with the Scriptures upon which they were ostensibly based.
‘Pilgrims’ met Palestinians both Muslim and Christian as well as Israelis both Jewish and Arab. As Christian Aid told their story it gradually materialised into the version of events that has become known as the ‘Palestinian Narrative’.
In this version of the conflict, the Israelis, far from wanting to live in peace with their Arab neighbours, are hungry only for Palestinian land: Palestinians are miserable victims of sufferings caused solely by Israel; heroic Palestinian ‘Davids’ resist the Israeli ‘Goliath’ armed with video cameras and ‘accompaniers’, only resorting in extremis to weapons and suicide bombings; and Christian Palestinians emigrate solely because of Israeli (rather than Islamist) oppression.
Such a narrative requires selective reporting to justify it, and, sadly, Christian Aid obliged. For example the ‘pilgrims’ were shown Palestinian homes destroyed by Israel, but told little about the destruction produced by the suicide bombers who had lived in them, and nothing at all about the thousands of dollars paid by Iran’s agents Hamas and Hezbollah to the bombers’ families in compensation for having a ‘shaheed’ (martyr) in the family.
Christian Aid showcased marvellous work being done for children traumatised by violence in Gaza. But Israeli actions alone were cited as the source of violence.
Why did Christian Aid not condemn Hamas’ reign of terror? And why was the indoctrination of Palestinian School children to hate and murder Jews not cited as a traumatic factor in the children’s mental development?
Heaping blame only upon Israel as the source of Palestinian suffering scarcely reflects the justice which Christian Aid champions so effectively. And can it really be right – especially given the dark history of Christianity in relation to Jews – to invite Christians worldwide to place the blame solely upon the world’s only Jewish state for a conflict in which there are many players?
Christian Aid’s skewed presentation of Israel’s security measures also made uncomfortable reading. Wrenched from the context of Arab terrorism, Israel’s actions were presented as malicious attempts to humiliate Palestinians. For example, Christian Aid criticised the inconvenience caused to Palestinians at checkpoints without mentioning that terrorist-bound weapons and explosives are regularly intercepted there.
The legitimate land disputes created by Israel’s security fence were highlighted, but the huge reduction in terror attacks against Israeli civilians since its construction was ignored. Apparently, Palestinian inconvenience and humiliation concern Christian Aid’s contributors more than threats to Israeli lives.
Even more troubling is Christian Aid’s account of recent Middle East history. Israel’s acceptance of the UN resolution 181 – which robbed her of half the land promised the Jews by the League of Nations mandate – is ignored, as is the Arab rejection of it and their subsequent attack on Israel in 1948 whilst the world looked on. Instead, Israel’s foundation is presented solely in terms of Palestinian dispossession.
We hear much from Palestinians who lost their homes when Israel became a nation, but not about the tragedy of many Palestinians who – duped by leaders who assured them that they could return after the Jews had been ethnically cleansed – abandoned homes in Israel only to find that they had lost everything when Israel won the war.
There was such a profound imbalance that only a few posts looked at the suffering of Israelis. A father mourning his child, killed in a suicide bombing, and the battered town of Sderot and its beleaguered inhabitants, merited just one entry. No mention of the tyranny of falling rockets that Israelis endure daily.
Christian Aid lets pilgrims down in this respect. Such omissions and imbalances subtly undermine Israel’s legitimacy, feeding the anti-Semitic discourse found in the Arab press, left-wing newspapers and chattering-class drawing rooms. Pilgrims were led into the mists of obfuscation. They deserve better than that.
Of course, Israel does not get everything right in respect of its Arab citizens or citizens of the Palestinian Territories. Christian Aid quite reasonably highlights some injustices and deplorable incidents. But in focusing solely upon Israel’s actions whilst resolutely ignoring key causes of Palestinian misery – for example, the systematic corruption of Palestinian leaders, the chaotic government, the billions of squandered aid dollars and Arab dedication to Israel’s destruction – Christian Aid betrays their Christian pilgrims – not to mention those Palestinians who need every friend they can get to speak honestly into their situation.
Crucially, in the short address which forms the climax to Christian Aid’s virtual pilgrimage, the Bishop of Durham tells ‘pilgrims’ that Jesus’ life, death and resurrection have nullified the covenant God made with Abraham and his descendants over the land we now call Israel – the Replacement Theology thinly cloaked throughout the pilgrimage now surfaces.
In Replacement Theology, the restoration of Israel becomes not a fulfilment of an overarching Scriptural discourse, but an irrelevance at best, and, at worst, a terrible mistake: the return of the Jews to their ancient land is not a sign of God keeping his promises but an illegal assault of colonial interlopers.
In the context of Christian Aid’s rejection of the scriptural discourse of the Covenant between Abraham and God, the reasons for their embrace of the Palestinian narrative become clear: it is the only one which fits their theology. But the distortions and imbalance necessary to sustain this narrative, together with the abandonment of a key scriptural theme – the faithfulness of God’s promises – demonstrate the shortcomings of Replacement Theology.
It is disappointing to see Christian Aid leading its Christian supporters down such a destructive and deceptive path. Indeed it makes the organisation part of the problem rather than the solution.