Sadly, there was an 11% increase in anti-Semitic incidents in the UK in the first half of 2016 compared with 2015. 557 ‘malicious acts’ against Jewish people was the second highest ever recorded for a January-June period, most of them verbal abuse but 41 of them violent. The worst time was in April – June when anti-Semitism in the Labour party was highlighted in the media.

Brexit, the UK’s decision to leave the EU has not helped because it has destabilised the EU and brought right wing views and xenophobia to the fore. Pinchas Goldschmidt, President of the Conference of European Rabbis, told the European Parliament that Jewish people felt they were standing on a dangerous train track with “trains coming at each other with ever increasing speed … One train is the train of radical Islam and Islamic terrorism… The other train is the anti-Semitism of old Europe, the extreme right.” He went on to say that 22% of Jewish people in nine European countries avoided Jewish events or sites because they feared for their safety. 40% of Jewish people in France and 36% in Belgium said they avoided wearing symbols that identified them as Jews for fear of attack. Tens of thousands of Jewish people have emigrated from France and Belgium.

Baroness Jenny Tonge spoke in a House of Lords debate on the living conditions of Palestinian children. She accused Israel of “creating a generation of terrorists who will have a justified grudge against Israel and the countries who support her.” Jonathan Sacerdoti, of the Campaign Against Antisemitism, responded: “By suggesting there would be Palestinian terrorists ‘with a justified grudge’ against Israel, she is effectively justifying the terrorism that is aimed at Jewish people in Israel and around the world by Hamas and other terrorist organisations.” Baroness Tong has a history of making anti-Israel comments and was forced to resign from the Liberal Democrat party in 2012.

Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the UK Labour Party, claims to be against racism but in 2013 he attended an event organised by Paul Eisen who is a Holocaust denier. Corbyn also praised Sheik Raed Salah an Islamist who believes in the old ‘blood libel’ (that Jewish people have murdered Christian children and used their blood in rituals).

Ken Livingstone, a well-known former Labour MP defended Labour MP Naz Shah who suggested Israeli Jews should be transported to the US. He also claimed that Hitler was a Zionist. He said on the Arabic TV station Al Ghad Al Arabi : “The creation of the state of Israel was fundamentally wrong, because there had been a Palestinian community there for 2,000 years …  We should have absorbed the post-Second World War Jewish refugees in Britain and America. They could all have been resettled.” Livingstone was suspended from the Labour Party for these comments.

In March Tom Harris, a former Labour MP, wrote in the Daily Telegraph: “Labour does indeed have a problem with Jews. It can acknowledge that problem’s existence, confront it and deal with it. Or it can shrug, mutter something about UN Security Council resolutions and continue to court the support of those on the far Left who are the source of the problem.”

The co-chair of the Labour club at Oxford University resigned saying the club had “some kind of problem with Jews”. He said that one club member had organised a group to shout “filthy Zionist” at a Jewish student whenever they saw her. Some National Union of Students delegates applauded speeches opposing the commemoration of the Holocaust.

In March 2016 Lord Jonathan Sacks, former UK Chief Rabbi, wrote an article entitled “Anti-Zionism Is the New Anti-Semitism” in Newsweek. He said:

“Criticism of the Israeli government is not anti-Semitic. …. It is, though, a front for the new anti-Semitism, an unholy alliance of radical Islamism and the political left.

“What then is anti-Semitism? It is not a coherent set of beliefs but a set of contradictions. Before the Holocaust, Jews were hated because they were poor and because they were rich; because they were communists and because they were capitalists; because they kept to themselves and because they infiltrated everywhere; because they clung tenaciously to ancient religious beliefs and because they were rootless cosmopolitans who believed nothing.

“Throughout history, when people have sought to justify anti-Semitism, they have done so by recourse to the highest source of authority available within the culture. In the Middle Ages, it was religion. In post-Enlightenment Europe it was science. Today it is human rights.”

Jonathan Sacks shows the irrational nature of the evil of anti-Semitism. It makes little sense. I have concluded that the only explanation for it is that it is demonic. God has not finished with the Jewish people and the New Testament predicts a massive turning to Jesus as Messiah by the Jewish people. Satan would love to destroy them to prevent this being fulfilled.

 

Some British Christians who believe God still has a purpose for the Jewish people, oppose remaining in the European Union because they believe the EU is much less favourable towards Israel than Britain is.

A Israeli view

Ironically, Israel hoped that the UK would remain in the EU.  Anshel Pfeffer, an Israeli journalist, wrote in the “Jewish Chronicle on-line” in March 2016: “Israel does not want to lose Britain – one of its more dependable allies – as a strong voice arguing its case in Europe. Whatever the diplomatic differences between London and Jerusalem, Israel has usually been able to rely on whoever is occupying Downing Street, as well as other senior cabinet ministers, to fight its corner. Post-Brexit, Israel would have less backing in Europe. Notwithstanding occasional disagreements, David Cameron was uniformly seen as one of the most pro-Israel British prime ministers, and had a very good relationship with Mr Netanyahu. The Israeli government would not like to see his downfall following a referendum vote.”[1]

Similarly, an article in the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz in April 2016 stated: “A Britain outside the EU means Israel will lose an important insider voice and critical traction in the shifting and sometimes hostile EU debates about what policies to adopt toward Israel.”[2]

Ilene Prusher, another journalist at Ha’aretz, referred to the UK as “one of the world’s friendliest countries to Israel.”[3]

A 2014 BBC World Service Poll discovered that 50% of Israelis have a friendly attitude towards the UK.[4]

Is the UK more positive to Israel?

It is certainly true that the current UK government is particularly positive towards Israel which is why some Israelis regard the UK as more positive than the rest of the EU and one of its strongest allies. In March 2016 the UK abstained on two UN resolutions on Palestinian rights. It applied pressure to the Palestinians to remove reference in the bill to constructing a list of firms which trade with Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory and warned that retaining it could affect aid to the Palestinian Authority. When the Palestinians refused the UK also abstained on another resolution about accountability and international law in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. In October 2015, the Conservative Party said that the government would introduce “new rules to stop politically-motivated boycott and divestment campaigns by town halls against UK defence companies and against Israel”.

The EU, however, tends to be less positive towards Israel. For example, in October 2015 France presented a Security Council resolution on behalf of the Palestinians calling for international observers to be deployed in Jerusalem. Israel and the US opposed it.

On the other hand, there is a great deal of negative opinion about Israel in the UK. Recent polls have discovered that:

  • 66% of the British surveyed have a “generally negative” view of Israel.[5] This was the highest “generally negative” view in Europe. Only Spain equalled the UK figure.
  • A year later a similar service found 69% of British people have a negative view of Israel.[6]
  • Israel, along with North Korea, ranks third behind only Iran and Pakistan for “negative influence” in the world.[7]
  • 4% of British people polled agreed with the statement that “Israel is conducting a war of extermination against the Palestinians….”[8]
  • 9% of British people agreed with the statement that “considering Israel’s policy I can understand why people do not like Jews…..”[9]
  • Israel was top of the list of 24 countries where people would “least like to live”.[10]
  • It was also the country considered by those questioned to be the “least deserving of international respect”, and also thought to be among the world’s “least democratic countries”[11]
  • two thirds of British people think that ordinary Israelis reject the idea of a Palestinian state.[12]
  • two thirds of British people think that Israel has never offered to give up land for peace.[13]

A 2014 YouGov poll asked people which side they sympathised with in the Israel-Palestinian conflict. 27% of Britons said the Palestinians compared with 18% of French. 12% of Britons and 11% of French said Israel.

In 2001 Conrad Black, a member of the House of Lords, strongly criticised the attitude of some British papers towards Israel: “The BBC, Independent, Guardian, Evening Standard and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office are rabidly anti-Israel.” He also wrote that “wittingly or not, are stoking the inferno of anti-Semitism.”

Britain’s attitude towards Israel is clearly mixed. Public opinion is often negative but Israelis deem the British government to be more positive towards Israel than the EU.

The 2014 BBC World Service Poll found that:

  • 64% of the population of France
  • 61% of the population of Spain
  • 67% of the population of Germany
  • 72% of the population of Britain

were “mainly negative” to Israel’s influence.[14]

What is the EU attitude towards Israel?

Israel has had a special economic relationship with Europe since the 1960s and signed an economic agreement with the European Economic Community in 1975. In 1996 Israel and the EU signed a trade and cooperation agreement. Also in 1995 Israel was accepted as the first non-European member of EU’S Fourth Framework Research and Development programme. Europe is Israel’s largest trading partner.

However, one factor is that the EU practises realpolitik – an approach based on practical rather than moral considerations. So it seeks to maintain a good relationship with Arab countries despite the lack of democracy, civil liberties, oppression of women etc., in these countries. This approach can, of course, strengthen an anti-Israel approach.

The UN Human Rights Council has virtually passed more resolutions condemning Israel than it has on the rest of the world combined!  In July 2005 Dore Gold, former Israeli ambassador to the UN, commented: “Europe’s voting record at the United Nations shows a longstanding anti-Israeli bias. Every year the UN General Assembly passes between 18 and 22 anti-Israeli resolutions. …. The Europeans abstain in some cases, but mainly support these resolutions …” He added: “The European collective is frequently neutral on issues at the UN. Then often in meetings of the EU diplomats the French ambassador tries to break the consensus and move the entire group in an anti-Israeli direction. Rather than pressure France, the Europeans tend to be dragged along with its position. Therefore, France plays a particularly negative role in the formation of an anti-Israeli European position at the UN.”[15]

Allison Kaplan Sommer, an Israeli journalist writes:When asked by Israel for an explanation of their votes, the Europeans say they feel a responsibility to balance the pro-Israel stand of the United States and to defend what they believe is a distinction between armed struggle and terrorism.”[16]

Conclusion

Influenced by the media, a high percentage of the British population holds negative views towards Israel, sometimes in excess of the percentage in other EU countries. However, because the current UK government is quite positive towards Israel it is viewed by Israelis as one of the more friendly countries and they hope it will stay in the EU to counteract the anti-Israel views held by members, particularly France.

 

[1] Anshel Pfeffer, “Why Israel wants Britain to stay firmly inside the EU,” Jewish Chronicle on-line, March 3rd 2016

[2] Jacques Lafitte and Denis MacShane, “Why a British Exit From the EU Should Worry Israel” Ha’aretz 04.04.16

[3] http://time.com/3506269/israeli-palestinian-conflict-british-vote/

[4] BBC World Service Poll 3rd June 2014. See http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/mediacentre/country-rating-poll.pdf

[5] BBC World Service public opinion survey, 2011

[6] BBC World Service Survey May 2012

[7] Ibid.

[8] Friedrich Ebert Stiftung survey results, April 2012

[9] Ibid.

[10] January 2005 Daily Telegraph YouGov Poll.

[11] Ibid

[12] Populus poll – May 2011

[13] Ibid.

[14] BBC World Service Poll 3rd June 2014. See http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/mediacentre/country-rating-poll.pdf

[15] http://jcpa.org/article/europes-consistent-anti-israeli-bias-at-the-united-nations/

[16] http://bama.ua.edu/~afi/monthly_article.htm

 

When I was working in Jerusalem I became very concerned about the need, pain and fears of both Israelis and Palestinians. My concern for Israelis had predated our move to Israel but I learnt a great deal about the Palestinians whilst we were there. I was CEO of a ministry to Jewish people and became convinced that fostering reconciliation between Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians was a major spiritual responsibility. Hence I started circulating an email newsletter which seeks to encourage Christians to pray in an informed and unbiased way. During my time as Rector of Christ Church, in the Old City of Jerusalem prayers for reconciliation, justice and peace became very prominent. This did not endear me to some of my more right wing Zionist colleagues and others.

I disapprove of some manifestations of Christian Zionism. But equally I disapprove of some manifestations on the pro-Palestinian side. It is from this background that I write to make strong criticism of the recent statement by the World Council of Churches and the Middle East Council of Churches entitled “Christian Presence and Witness in the Middle East.” It was circulated at the end of May 2013 after a meeting at the Notre-Dame du Mont Monastery in Lebanon.

This statement shows extensive support for the Palestinians in their needs, which is good. However:

It shows great insensitivity against the background of the  history of Christian anti-Semitism

It includes the statement: “We believe that the Gospel calls us always to love God and love our neighbours and all people, as did Jesus Christ, the revelation of divine love. In Him, the whole of humanity is reconciled and united in the bond of God’s plan of salvation.” But it does not show such an attitude towards Jewish Israelis. It mentions that “Christians, Muslims and Jews all experience the destructive effects of [current negative] trends.” It also recommends “engagement with Jewish partners also working for peace and justice.” But these 22 words are the only positive references to Jewish people in the whole 2,600 word document.  There is, however, strong condemnation of Israel. Is the WCC not aware of centuries of Christian anti-Semitism which undermines the credibility of the church with respect to the Jewish people? Is it not aware of Jewish sensitivities? Does it not understand that such a biased statement will cause damage to Christian-Jewish relations?

The report states: “Christians must reject Islamophobia, which mischaracterizes Islam as an undifferentiated whole, and undermines decades of cultivation of co-operation with Muslims, and must refuse the temptation to amalgamation, generalization, and sensationalization of our Muslim brothers and sisters.” I agree with that statement. But where is the equivalent statement about anti-Semitism, which is very much alive and well in the world today?

It shows insensitivity to Israeli insecurity

The report speaks of : “The persistence, after sixty-five years, of continuing dispossession of Palestinian people—Christian and Muslim alike—from their land by Israeli occupation, continuing settlement of land inside the 1967 borders by a nation empowered by overwhelming military strength and external alliances and influence….”  This is an important statement. The current Israeli government is not acting properly with respect to the Peace Process.

But where is the statement about the threat which Israel feels because of anti-Semitism, persecution over the centuries, the Holocaust and threats from some of its neighbours, especially Iran and groups like Hezbollah and Hamas which are dedicated to its destruction?

It makes Israel a scape-goat for the problems of the Middle East

The report states: “Palestine continues to be the central issue in the region.  Resolving the conflict between Israel and Palestine in accordance with the UN resolutions and international law, will greatly help resolving the other conflicts in the region.”   “Jerusalem today is an occupied city with a government which has adopted discriminatory policies against Christians and Muslims alike.”

It is quite incredible that the report doesn’t make a more balanced statement including the Arab “Spring” with all the ensuing problems, the Syrian civil war, extreme Islamists, Iraq with its serious problems and Iran with its nuclear intentions. Instead it just says: “This is a time of crisis with special intensity here in the Middle East … an intensification of religious tribalism, increasing fundamentalism in many of the world’s religions, dispersion of the influence of radicalized Islamist groups.”

It is also totally insensitive and biased to say the whole of Jerusalem is an occupied city. The report actually states: “Jerusalem today is an occupied city.”.

It makes an uninformed and insensitive blanket condemnation of Christian Zionism

I attended a week’s conference in Jerusalem on “Christian Zionism” organised by the Sabeel Palestinian Liberation Theology Movement (which takes a theological approach to political liberation for the Palestinians). I listened carefully to the speakers but could not recognise the “Christian Zionism” they were describing. It certainly didn’t describe my views which would be regarded as moderate Christian Zionist. I began to realise that they were describing extreme Christian Zionism in the United States, with which I would have serious disagreements.

The report says: “Christians who promote “Christian Zionism” distort the interpretation of the Word of God and the historic connection of Palestinians—Christians and Muslims—to the Holy Land, enable the manipulation of public opinion by Zionist lobbies, and damage intra-Christian relations.” I totally deny all those accusations as would many Christian Zionists.  The WCC which is supposed to be knowledgeable about and tolerant of all the different Christian traditions has shown its lack of research and dialogue, its ignorance and its prejudice about Christian Zionism.

The report calls on the WCC to “Convene the spiritual and academic resources of the WCC and ecumenical partners in consultations to address Christian Zionism, disclosing its sources, its use as a political weapon against the Palestinian people, and its effects on intra-Christian relations.” I suggest they discuss with moderate Christian Zionists who are very careful in their interpretation of Scripture and very concerned for the strong biblical emphasis on justice, including for the Palestinians.

Ignores the Messianic Believing (Jewish Christian) community

The report speaks of Christians in the Middle East but it totally ignores the significant and growing Messianic Movement in Israel. (These are Jewish believers in Jesus). Yes, sometimes believers in Jesus can be oppressed in Israel. But this omission is typical of this report which only pays token respect to the Jewish people.

The New Testament teaches that God still has a purpose for the Jewish people and that this will involve them in a massive turning to their Messiah and ours, Jesus Christ, in the End Times. This will have a major impact on the world but will lead to persecution (for both Jewish and Gentile believers in Christ). The church should therefore avoid anything which will hinder Jewish people coming to Christ. Fair criticism is acceptable but the insensitivity and bias of this report is not.

I pray for justice for the Palestinians and security for Israel. I encourage prayer for both sides of this conflict, because God loves both people groups and wants the best for them.

However I suggest that the best destination for this report is the shredding machine.

There are many wrong attitudes throughout the world towards Israel:

  • Anti-Semitism (anti-Jewish prejudice) – the only explanation for this huge phenomena is that it is demonic.
  • Lack of compassion for the Jewish people (not understanding the effect of centuries of persecution, much of it from the church).
  • Uncritical support (the idea that Israel is always wonderful and can do nothing wrong).
  • False eschatological views (the idea that God will deal with Jewish people totally separately from Gentiles, and on the basis of the Law, not faith in Jesus).

I have given the subject much thought and prayer over many years

  • I was General Director of the Churches Ministry among Jewish People for 7 years and on its Council for 20 years.).
  • Over the years I have met and discussed with many Jewish people, sharing in their needs, pains and fears.
  • I have also met and discussed with Israeli Arabs and Palestinians, sharing in their needs, pains and fears.
  • I have met and discussed with many Christian Zionists, some of whom had extreme views.

God has not simply replaced the Jewish people with the church, his calling of them is irrevocable.

  • See Romans 11:1-2, 28-29 “I ask then: did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew … As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies for your sake; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.

God still has a purpose for the Jewish people in Jesus.

  • “All Israel will be saved” (through Jesus) when “the full number of Gentiles has come in (Romans 11:25-27).

The return of the Jewish people to Israel is prophetically significant.

  • However controversial it is and however much Israel fails the Lord, the Old Testament foretells a worldwide return in the Last Days (see Isa 11:11-12; 60:4, 9, 21-22; 61:4-5; Jer. 3:12-18; 23:7-8; Ezek. 38:8, 16; 39:25-29; Joel 3:1-2, 17-20; Amos 9:14-15; Zech 12:2-3, 10-11; 14).

The regaining of Jerusalem is an End Times sign

  • The NT assumes knowledge of the OT which does speak of a worldwide return of the Jewish people to the land so there are not many references to it in the NT, but here are two.
  • Jesus says the end of Gentile rule over Jerusalem is a sign in Luke 21:24 “They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.”
  • Jesus does not disagree with the disciples when they speak of the kingdom being restored to Israel (Acts 1:6-7) “Then they gathered round him and asked him, ‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them: ‘It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority.”

We must oppose anti-Semitism and be compassionate towards the need, pain and fears of Jewish people.

  • Memories of persecution and especially of the Holocaust are very strong. Israelis fear the loss of the land because of all that, whatever their military strength.

However, God loves the Palestinian people as much as anyone.

  • He wants the best for them
  • He wants them to be treated with dignity and justice, which is all too often not the way they are treated by the Israeli government.

The Torah (Law) commands Israel to love the Palestinians.

  • This teaching is about foreigners (non-Jews) in the land and applies to the territories under Israel’s control. It is particularly relevant to Zionists who believe the Palestinian areas should be and remain Israel proper.
  • The Lord loves and defends the foreigner (Deut 10:18-19; Psa 146:9).
  • The Lord forbids Israel to ill treat, oppress or deprive the foreigner (Ex 22:21; 23:9; Deut 24:14, 17; Jer 7:6-7; 22:3; Ezk 22:7, 29; Zech 7:10).
  • Anyone who withholds justice from the foreigner is strongly condemned (Deut 27:19; Mal 3:5).
  • The people of Israel must love foreigners as they love themselves (Lev 19:33-34).
  • Israel must provide for needy foreigners (Lev 23:22; Deut 24:19-21; 26:12; Ezk 47:21-23).

The Palestinians are responsible to act justly with respect to Israel, which is all too often not the case.

There are two attitudes we need to avoid:

  • An excessive appreciation of Israel:
    • I know what it is to have a deep love and a profound concern for Israel. It first happened to me in 1983 and I believe it is God-given. But the danger is that it leads to an uncritical and very biased support for Israel – ‘Israel can do no wrong.’

     

    • A unconsciously anti-Semitic carping criticism of Israel:
      • This can be deemed to be a proper concern for justice for the Palestinians. There is such a thing as righteous anger over injustice but this isn’t it. Katrina Lantos Swett wrote recently: “While no country is beyond reproach, when criticism includes language intended to delegitimize Israel, demonize its people, and apply to it standards to which no other state is held, we must call it antisemitism” (see http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/mar/31/disturbing-persistence-antisemitism-europe).

There are two attitudes we need to have:

  • A true friend will be a critical friend and will share constructive criticism
    • I want to be a true friend of Israel (and also of the Palestinian people).
  • We must always listen to both sides of the story
    • Anyone with any experience knows one must listen to both sides of a story, however convincing one side is. This is true in the realm of personal relationships. It is true in the relationship between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Both sides use propaganda. Both sides can make overwhelmingly convincing cases.

Why have I stressed attitudes to Israel and the Palestinians?

  • Because, although the re-establishment of Israel is an End Times sign, I cannot talk about it without compassion for both people groups, not only for reconciliation, justice and security but also for them to come to know Jesus. It may surprise you to know that many Jewish people think Christian Zionists are only interested in them eschatologically because they will be killed in the Battle of Armageddon. We need to show that is not our position

 

When we lived and ministered in Jerusalem we met many wonderful Christians of many different denominations both living in the land and from many other nations. There is a rich Christian kaleidoscope in the Old City of Jerusalem, where we lived, and in places like Bethlehem and Nazareth. It was a wonderful experience to go round to a different church every evening for two weeks for united prayers for peace, mainly with Palestinian and other Arab Christians.  It was moving to meet with the same people for a Unity Week service on the site of the Upper Room.

But there are real problems facing Middle East Christians. Almost half of Iraqi Christians have fled the country since the first Gulf War, most of them since the invasion in 2004. It is almost unbelievable that the Bush-Blair coalition was ignorant of the crucial role of religion in Iraq. Now, partly because of the highly publicised threats to burn the Koran on the part of the foolish American pastor, there is even more persecution of Christians.  Half of Lebanese Christians have left the country. Coptic Christians in Egypt now form less than 10% of the population. Jordan has a record of protecting Christians but they are only 6% of the population. Then, of course, Christianity is banned in Saudi Arabia.

In Israel many of the local Christians are Palestinian and so experience the pain and fears of the Palestinian people.  One piece of good news is the remarkable growth of Jewish Christians in Israel, who normally call themselves Messianic Believers.

Although there are many supporters of both Israeli and Palestinian Christians in the Holy Land – I am one of them – there are those who have polarised. Some, fired up by a legitimate concern for justice, fall into the injustice of being pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel. Such people need to be careful of unconscious anti-Semitism. They harm the Christian cause in Israel.

Others are Christian Zionists, people who believe God hasn’t finished with the Jewish people and has brought them back to a safe homeland after the centuries of anti-Semitism and the horrors of the Holocaust. I accept a moderate form of Christian Zionism myself, alongside a passionate concern for justice for the Palestinians and peace in the Holy Land.  However, some Christian Zionists are a pain. We ourselves suffered from some of them – expatriates – who made trouble because they wanted us to soft-pedal evangelism lest it upset the Israelis. Mind you, some of them were more concerned that they didn’t lose their visas than they were that Israelis should be won for Christ. I was well aware we were walking on egg shells, but there didn’t seem to me to be much point in being there if we weren’t doing sensitive evangelism, especially as I was General Director of a 200 year old evangelistic ministry in Israel.  There was also trouble because we stressed reconciliation (which, of course, is at the heart of Christianity). These folk – again expatriates – were afraid we’d become anti-Israeli and pro-Palestinian.

Perhaps, therefore, you can understand my negative reaction to a recent news story. Christian pilgrims from the US, Canada and Finland joined with right wing Israeli settlers to celebrate the resumption of settlement building on the West Bank (which threatens the peace process).  They rattled tambourines and released thousands of blue and white balloons, the colours of Israel’s flag, into the sky. They also waved banners reading: “We love Israel.” One young Canadian Christian said in an interview: “We knew this was happening today, and we wanted to stand in support for all of Israel and God’s land. We love the Israelites, we love God’s way.”  When asked if she supported a land for the Palestinians, she admitted she was “not familiar” with the politics.

This sort of misplaced Christian fervour confirms the idea widespread in the Middle East that Christianity is a western religion, when, of course, it originated in the Middle East. It adds to the burden of our Christian brothers and sisters there.