Are Christians siding against Israel?
"With increasing frequency it is Israel, rather than Yasser Arafat's regime, that Christians choose to blame," claims Yossi Klein Halevi in a Los Angeles Times op-ed piece.
But Halevi, a Jerusalem Post writer and author of At the Entrance to the Garden of Eden: A Jew's Search for God With Christians and Muslims in the Holy Land and Memoirs of a Jewish Extremist, is careful to explain that he's talking about mainline Christians, not evangelicals. "On the face of it, an anti-Israel stance among liberal Christian churches is understandable," he says. "The natural tendency of Jesus' followers, after all, is to side with the underdog. And in this conflict, the underdog seems to be the Palestinians. We Israelis, though, are convinced that we're the underdog. That's because Israel doesn't only confront relatively powerless Palestinians but 22 Arab dictatorships, some armed with unconventional weapons."
Unconditional support for the Palestinians not only "undermines the credibility of Jewish proponents of dialogue and jeopardizes our historic reconciliation," it risks "inadvertently reawakening old anti-Semitic instincts that, since the Holocaust, much of Christianity has tried to uproot."
What's more, Halevi says, automatic criticism of Israel puts Mideast Christians in danger. "Rather than condemning the Palestinian Authority for using Beit Jala as a cover from which to terrorize Israeli civilians, mainline churches have blamed Israel for trying to defend its citizens. In so doing, the churches only encourage the Tanzim: Evoking Christian outrage against Israel is one reason why they chose Beit Jala in the first place."
But Rod Dreher of National Review Online paints a different picture. "Tens of millions of Protestant Christians … tend to back Israel with an uncritical fervor that exceeds that of even some American Jews." More specifically, he says, these supporters are dispensationalist evangelicals, "many of whom fervently believe God has granted the Jewish people a divine right to rule over historic Palestine." The article covers most of the same territory of Christianity Today's Oct. 5, 1998, cover story, "How Evangelicals Became Israel's Best Friend." Dreher, who laments the popularity of the Left Behind novels among his fellow Roman Catholics, says Palestinian Christians feel abandoned by their American evangelical brethren.
Meanwhile, reports the Associated Press, Catholic officials' calls for the withdrawal of Israeli troops "appeared to be straining delicate relations between Israel and the Vatican." Catholics (and other Christians) are particularly upset with damage to the Church of the Nativity and other Bethlehem churches. Fire broke out at the traditional site of Jesus' birth as Palestinians and Israelis fought a brief battle. Stories of how the blaze started differ radically, and the media blackout and propaganda war mean you shouldn't believe everything you read. Nevertheless, everyone agrees that a Palestinian policeman is dead, two Israeli soldiers are wounded, and part of the church compound is damaged. Franciscan priest David Jaeger, a convert from Judaism who is part of the Vatican's team of holy site custodians, said the attack violates "every canon of human decency. It shreds the credibility of the people who launched it."
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