The Palestinian Church’s Anti-Semitism Problem

April 2, 2024 | Giles Fraser
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Perhaps bad journalism informed the Oregon senator Jeff Merkley, who decided on Sunday to declare, “On this Easter, let’s ponder Netanyahu’s indiscriminate bombing of Gaza, which has killed more than 20,000 women and children, and his restriction of humanitarian aid, which has pushed Palestinians to the brink of famine.” Merkley, knowingly or not, here followed in the centuries-old tradition of using this major Christian holiday to accuse Jews, falsely, of murdering children. Happily, such messages have become rare in Western Christian preaching, and many churches actively reject them.

Yet religiously sanctioned anti-Semitism is alive and well, across denominations, in Arab churches in Israel. Giles Fraser, an Anglican vicar who has lived in Israel for several years, explains why he chooses to pray at a Pentecostal church in south Tel Aviv rather than one that matches his liturgical preferences more closely:

The rector of St. Andrew’s Ramallah and St. Peter’s Birzeit, Father Fadi Diab, preached in Southwark Cathedral, my cathedral [in England], earlier this month. He spoke very movingly of the great suffering of the people of Gaza, linking it to the sufferings of Jesus on the cross. I totally understand that. But nevertheless, he didn’t take the opportunity to condemn Hamas.

There are bad eggs in every Church. But there is no doubt that there is a radical anti-Israeli side to Palestinian Christianity, to such an extent that parts of the Church have developed something of a distaste for the Jewish underpinnings of Christianity, including even the very presence of the Hebrew scriptures within the Christian Bible. The Palestinian Anglican priest Father Naim Ateek has written: “Since the creation of the state [of Israel], some Jewish and Christian interpreters have read the Old Testament largely as a Zionist text to such an extent that it has become almost repugnant to Palestinian Christians.”

In the 2nd century, the Christian teacher Marcion argued that the Old Testament taught of a violent malevolent God, as opposed to the good God of the New Testament. He was rightly condemned by the early Church as a heretic. Elements of Marcionism continue in the Palestinian Church today.

Fraser goes on to recount meeting a Jewish Israeli who had been baptized into the Church of England and ordained as a priest. Of course, the convert said, the Jerusalem Dioceses wouldn’t ordain him, since in their eyes he remained a Jew.

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