Christ at the Checkpoint, or CatC, is a conference sponsored by the Bethlehem Bible College and the Holy Land Trust. It was held in 2010 and 2012, and is now being held again, in Bethlehem (Judea, in the West Bank), in 2014. A great deal can be written about the anti-Israel affiliations of its sponsors and the participation of left-wing Western – and in particular, left-leaning evangelical – Christians; a sampling of the background can be found here, here, here, here, and here.
But a group called NGO Monitor has pointed out what I want to highlight, which is that the U.S. taxpayer is contributing to CatC, if perhaps indirectly, through grants from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). (See the full NGO Monitor report here.) The NED receives funding from Congress, and between 2006 and 2012, it made grants in excess of $230,000 to the Holy Land Trust.*
Yitzhak Santis points out that HLT explicitly favors the “BDS” – boycott, divestment, sanctions – action program against Israel, which is opposed by the U.S. government. NGO Monitor, in a 2013 report, documented HLT’s support for the Kairos Palestine document, which among other things calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state with “Al-Quds” (Jerusalem) as its capital.
A troubling manifesto
As one of the two sponsors of CatC, HLT endorses the CatC Manifesto. Unfortunately, the Manifesto is full of peculiar and prejudicial wording; to my eye (as an evangelical Christian), the Manifesto appears to be trying to insist on political and theological points that many Christians would find invalid or disputable, while not explicitly stating them. Some examples (in bold), indicated by their point numbers in the Manifesto:
1. The Kingdom of God has come. Evangelicals must reclaim the prophetic role in bringing peace, justice and reconciliation in Palestine and Israel.
Relating this statement to the Christian understanding of prophecy is problematic, to say the least. It is not clear what “evangelicals” are to do in the proposed prophetic role. But if it involves advocating for a Palestinian state, this assertion is certainly outside of the framework of Biblical “prophecy,” whether as foretelling or “forth-telling” (revelation or insight about God’s nature and our condition, as opposed to the prediction of events).
Does this debatable assertion about prophecy meet the “U.S. taxpayer should be paying for it” test?
3. Racial ethnicity alone does not guarantee the benefits of the Abrahamic Covenant.
This is a purely theological statement, and one that the great majority of American evangelicals would find weasel-worded and unacceptable.
If there is an Abrahamic Covenant (and evangelicals believe there is), what it consists of is described in Genesis 12:1-3. The Manifesto makes no attempt to prove anything against that statement of the Abrahamic Covenant; e.g., by quoting later passages of prophecy or other scripture. Instead, the Manifesto tries to subtly denature it by bringing in “racial ethnicity,” which in itself is not theologically meaningful to the benefits of the covenant that are at issue in Palestinian-statehood politics.
Of course, as many readers are aware, rhetorically undermining the Abrahamic Covenant is a traditional approach by people who believe in some version of “supersessionism” or “replacement theology.” This is the belief that with the coming of Jesus Christ, 2,000 years ago, the promises of the Old Testament were basically transferred from Jews to Christians, and that the Jewish people were thus decoupled from all the remaining promises about the land of Israel. Yitzhak Santis alludes to this, as do authors in some of the links in the first paragraph. American evangelicals overwhelmingly reject the “supersessionist” interpretation, believing it has no scriptural basis. It has been repudiated by the Catholic Church as well.
But, again, does this disputable area of theology meet the “U.S. taxpayer should be funding it” test?
5. Any exclusive claim to land of the Bible in the name of God is not in line with the teaching of Scripture.
See above. The CatC sponsors are certainly entitled to their opinion on this. It’s a question of theology and doctrine, on the specific implications of which not all Christians are in accord. But does asserting it as a basis for “Christian” civil action meet the “U.S. taxpayer” test?
9. For Palestinian Christians, the occupation is the core issue of the conflict.
This statement assumes an “occupation,” to begin with, which is itself a premise that is not endorsed in U.S. policy. But it is also a wholly political assertion, put forth as a manifesto point for a conference that purportedly seeks to “take a spiritual, not political, approach to the most politicized conflict of our time.”
We need not deconstruct the entire CatC Manifesto to see that it is full of points that (a) many American Christians would find disputable and even objectionable; and (b) most Americans of any faith or none would agree are inappropriate to endorse with public funds.
A visit to Bethlehem
Interestingly, a representative of the U.S. State Department visited with Bishara Awad, president of CatC’s other sponsor, the Bethlehem Bible College, in late February. Dr. Shaun Casey is the Special Advisor to the U.S. Secretary of State for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives – a position created in August 2013 by President Obama and Secretary John Kerry. According to the Bethlehem Bible College:
[Bible college leaders] met Dr. Casey and his officers and together they discussed issues of importance to Palestinian Christians, and in particular, the role of the Palestinian church in politics and in the peace process. They also talked at length about the up-coming Christ at the Checkpoint Conference and the impact that such an international event can have in promoting peace.
Blogger Yisrael Medad noted at Jerusalem Post that reporter Matt Hill tried to question State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki about this visit on 27 February, and was basically shut down by her refusal to discuss his point that the Bethlehem Bible College is considered by many Americans to be anti-Israel. Elder of Ziyon pointed out that Casey also made an unprecedented visit to Muslim leaders on the Temple Mount, during his swing through the West Bank (see here for an English-language report confirming the information Elder links in Arabic). Casey was photographed meeting with several Christian organizations in the West Bank and Lebanon in February, but no photos of his meeting with the Muslim leaders has been published.
Casey himself has an interesting history; alert readers will remember that in 2008, when he was appointed as candidate Obama’s “religious affairs advisor,” he became briefly famous for having said that Jesus was an “illegal alien” who had had to flee Israel as a child, and had become thereby a “displaced person.” The unspoken implication of displacement through Israeli persecution was perhaps solidified by Casey’s connection with Ron Sider, the anti-Zionist evangelical whom we met in the links in the first paragraph. As the NewsBusters article observes, Casey was a visiting fellow at the Soros-funded Center for American Progress before joining the Obama campaign.
Glimpses of the CatC vibe
The tendency of the 2014 conference can be discerned through various kinds of evidence. For example, Rami Hamdallah, prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, was originally scheduled to speak at CatC. In 2001, as a university president, Hamdallah honchoed a presentation called “Splendors of Terror,” described here:
As part of the Hamas-sponsored “Splendors of Terror” exhibition put on at An-Najah University in September 2001, students reconstructed and reenacted the gory suicide bombing of the Sbarro pizzeria in downtown Jerusalem six weeks prior.
Fifteen civilians, including seven children and a pregnant woman, were killed and another 130 were wounded in that attack, which under Hamdallah’s tutelage was commemorated as a heroic act of “Palestinian resistance.”
Hamdallah pulled out of the conference at the last minute. Bishara Awad, meanwhile, who entertained the visit from Shaun Casey of the U.S. State Department in February, reportedly opened CatC on Monday, 10 March with this encouragement to the attendees:
As evangelicals we pledge our allegiance to Palestinian President Abbas and the Prime Minister [that is, Rami Hamdallah].
Awad’s brother, Alex Awad, recorded a video in February 2014 to explain why the CatC conferences are held. See it below. (Mr. Awad represented the Bethlehem Bible College at a University of Jakarta conference in 2008, held on the 60th anniversary of what Palestinians call the “Nakba,” or “catastrophe,” otherwise known as the founding of the modern nation of Israel. The 2008 conference featured speakers from Hamas and Hezbollah, as well as Australian Holocaust-denier Fredrick Toben, with whom Awad was photographed.)
In the February 2014 video, Mr. Awad suggests there is a need to reconsider the meaning of scripture in light of the modern-day experience of Palestinian Arabs. Christians, again, are likely to find this proposition questionable. American taxpayers are likely to wonder why they’re funding an organization that puts this conference together.
* The Holy Land Trust is not to be confused with the Holy Land Foundation, whose members were unindicted co-conspirators with Hamas in terrorist activities in the United States and abroad. That said, readers will not be surprised that HLT’s Independent Media program receives funding from George Soros’s Open Society Institute.