(September 7, 2015 / JNS)
During the weekend between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, a Methodist church in Lexington, Mass., will host a gathering of well-known anti-Israel commentators including Ilan Pappé, Noam Chomsky, and Stephen Walt. The event is organized by an Arlington, Mass.-based group called the Society for Biblical Studies. The organization was founded in the late 1990s and has been bringing activists to Israel and the disputed territories under the leadership of Rev. Dr. Peter Miano for nearly two decades.
The theme of the conference, which will be held at the Lexington United Methodist Church on Sept. 17-19, is “Christians and the Holy Land: What Does the Lord Require?”
The Society for Biblical Studies cynically declares that it has invited speakers “representing a range of perspectives” to present at its conference. In fact, the invited speakers all have a history of promoting a hostile interpretation of the Arab-Israeli conflict that portrays Israel in a singularly harsh light. For example, Mark Braverman is a Jew who specializes in speaking to Christian audiences about the evils of the Jewish state. “Israel is in the grip of a rogue criminal government,” he said at a Christian festival in England in 2014. Another speaker, Sara Roy from Harvard University, has drawn parallels between Israeli soldiers and Nazis who murdered Jews during Germany’s Third Reich. There’s also a representative from “Breaking the Silence,” a group of former IDF soldiers who level unsubstantiated allegations at their erstwhile comrades.
Oddly enough, the Society for Biblical Studies is using misinformation to promote the conference. The group’s website speaks of a “dwindling Christian community in Israel in the West Bank,” which it reports as numbering about “110,000 people.”
No source is provided for this assertion, but it is clearly false. The population of indigenous Christians in Israel by itself is well over 110,000 people and has grown since the establishment of the Jewish state in 1948.
The Statistical Abstract of Israel for 1950 reports that there were approximately 34,000 Christians living in Israel soon after Israel’s establishment. This figure was not broken down by ethnicity, but the vast majority of these people were Arab Christians. The same abstract for 2014 indicates that the total number of Christians in Israel is 160,000 and of this number, approximately 127,000 are Arab Christians.
And when we look at the numbers of Palestinian Christians in the disputed territories of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, we learn that between 1967 when Israel took control of these areas and 2007, the Palestinian Christian population increased from 42,000 people to just under 52,000.
Interestingly enough, the population of Palestinian Christians in the West Bank, Gaza, and eastern Jerusalem totaled about 60,000 in 1945. By 1967, after 19 years of Muslim control, the population of Christians in these areas had dwindled to 42,000. The upshot is the Palestinian Christian population increased in absolute terms in the years after the Six-Day War. And yet Palestinian propagandists keep blaming “the decrease” in this population on Israel.
In sum, Israel is the one country in the Middle East where the indigenous population of Christians has increased, and its presence in the West Bank has actually been a contributing factor in the continued presence of Christians in that area. Interestingly enough, Christians in the Gaza Strip, from which Israel withdrew in 2005 have reportedly been subjected to forced conversions, at least one religiously motivated murder, and calls for them to pay the jizya tax.
The way the Society for Biblical studies portrays what’s going on in the Holy Land, it seems that they would have us believe that Israel is a problem for Christians when in fact it isn’t. It is the model they hope for according to Father Gabriel Naddaf, an Orthodox Christian who works in the Galilee.
“We feel secure in the state of Israel and we see ourselves as citizens of the state with all the attendant rights as well as obligations,” Naddaf said in 2013.
You will not hear Christians in Muslim-majority countries in the Middle East talk like that because they are cowering in fear. And yet the Society for Bible Studies is focusing its attention on Israel. Go figure.
What does the Lord require? Telling the truth about what’s really happening to religious minorities in the Middle East.
Unfortunately, there is little chance of that happening at the upcoming conference in Lexington.
Dexter Van Zile is the Christian media analyst for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America.