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Sabeel’s impact on Christian charity

This is a guest post by Seismic Shock

Over the last few weeks, it has become readily apparent that charities are increasingly flexing their political muscles when it comes to Israel-Palestine. Oxfam, Christian Aid, War on Want and various other NGOs have issued factually inaccurate statements concerning Operation Cast Lead. Amos Trust, meanwhile, encouraged its supporters to watch the Go To Gaza, Drink The Seaplay. For whatever reason, it appears that radical anti-Zionism is becoming increasingly more popular among NGOs.

Interpal, for example, has worrying links to Hamas, whilst its leader Ibrahim Hewitt is an extremist. Interpal is a member of the Interfaith Group for Morally Responsible Investment (IMRI), a coalition group which puts pressure on the Church of England’s Ethical Investment Advisory Group to withdraw its funds from certain companies which work alongside Israel in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

The IMRI coalitian also includes Friends of Sabeel UK, whose patrons have variously endorsed the Taliban, Hamas and Hezbollah whilst calling for a boycott of Israeli goods. Friends of Sabeel UK finds its origins in the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem run by Naim Ateek, who once claimed:

In this season of Lent, it seems to many of us that Jesus is on the cross again with thousands of crucified Palestinians around him. It only takes people of insight to see the hundreds of thousands of crosses throughout the land, Palestinian men, women, and children being crucified. Palestine has become one huge golgotha. The Israeli government crucifixion system is operating daily. Palestine has become the place of the skull.

Ateek in turn has praised Hamas as a ‘liberation theology movement.’ Given the widespread support for Sabeel by many Christian organisations, it is worth pointing out that anti-Zionism and antisemitism is prevalent within large parts of political Christianity as well as political Islam.

The effects of Sabeel’s actions, rhetoric and theology have been seen in Sweden, and perhaps provide us with a glimpse of the future for the UK should IMRI be successful.

The leading Swedish Christian aid organisation is Diakonia, which was created by and is supported by the Swedish Alliance Mission, the Baptist Union of SwedenInterAct, the Methodist Church of Sweden and the Mission Covenant Church of Sweden.

Yet bizarrely, Diakonia’s Policy Officer Joakim Wohlfeil has openly admitted that Diakionia is is more a lobby group with a clear political agenda for the Middle East than a Christian aid organisation. Wohlfeil also claims:

It is unreasonable to provide information about the Holocaust, in which Hitler murdered six million civilian Jews in a meticulously planned industrialised process, without at the same time providing information about “al Naqba”.

Diakonia’s regional manager in Jerusalem Cristoffer Sjöholm recently addresseda Sabeel conference, boasting of his organisation’s work of convincing a Swedish company to close a factory built in the West Bank.

Diakonia has previously funded a Sabeel survey, met with the Sabeel to discuss‘present and future partnerships’, and openly lists Sabeel as a partner in the Middle East. Naim Ateek himself has praised Diakonia’s work alongside Sabeel.

Diakonia also actively encourages a boycott of the train company Veolia, which has already been successful in Sweden. Now the Interfaith Group for Morally Responsible Investment in the UK is planning a similar move to boycott Veolia.

What is striking and disconcerting about the case of Diakonia in Sweden is that mainstream Christian institutions and the leading Swedish Christian charity have essentially allowed politically-driven anti-Zionist liberation theology to trump both Christianity’s call to ‘love thy neighbour’ and the core values of the Diakonia charity itself.

Yet at the same time, the status of Diakonia and of these church organisations in Sweden allows them to have a ‘halo effect’, as many will instinctively trust Diakonia due to its status and reputation.

Christian charity and reconciliation for both Palestinians and Israelis is clearly possible, as Andrew White’s Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East has shown. Yet if the Church of England and other UK-based Christian denominations allow themselves to be bullied in the coming months by what appears to be a pro-Hamas liberation theology agenda, they will be helping neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians.