'Christ at the Checkpoint' Conference in Bethlehem Will Only Breed More Theological Extremism

Most Messianic Jews are hugely disappointed that the Checkpoint conference will take place with the blessing of the wider church. We feel let down by many institutions within Christianity, and we are sure they can do more to eliminate antisemitism in Christian theology.

Theologians based in Bethlehem and in Britain are organising a conference for Christian leaders and theologians, entitled Christ at the Checkpoint. The conference aim is to:

"provide an opportunity for evangelical Christians who take the Bible seriously to prayerfully seek a proper awareness of issues of peace, justice, and reconciliation."

The third affirmation of the Checkpoint 2012 conference states:

"We commit ourselves to be peacemakers and to this ministry of reconciliation. As such we stand resolutely against all forms of violence and racism, regardless of the perpetrators"

Christians from various denominations will speak at the event. Samuel Rodriguez, the President of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, is speaking. Also attending are popular US preacher (and former "spiritual adviser" to Bill Clinton) Tony Campolo, and President of the World Evangelical Alliance, Sang-Bok David Kim.

The impressive range of Christian theologians adds a scholarly gravitas to Checkpoint 2012. Are they aware of whom and what they are backing?

The Checkpoint conference claims to oppose "all forms of violence and racism". Yet many of the Checkpoint speakers have given us reason to question this.

Two of the conference organisers, Stephen Sizer and Sami Awad, appear to defend unequivocally the Gaza flotilla, sent in May 2010 by the Turkish Islamists IHH. Stephen Sizer has told Malaysian TV:

Getting behind the flotilla is a fantastic way [that] people here in Malaysia can help. Getting relief supplies into Gaza, breaking the siege. It embarrasses America and it embarrasses Israel. The ordinary human beings are willing to risk their lives to sail supplies into Gaza.

Here is what Sami Awad - another Christ at the Checkpoint 2012 speaker - had to say about the flotilla, in the week after the event:

"The world woke up Monday morning to a shocking and tragic scene, as Israeli commandos launched an unprovoked raid on a flotilla carrying nonviolent activists attempting to deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza."

It is true that the flotilla was carrying "ordinary human beings" and "nonviolent activists". However, the flotilla also carried violent and racist activists linked to a jihadist group. This was surely worthy of a mention, from people who claim to oppose violence and racism in all forms, and are organising a conference about finding solutions to violence and racism.

IHH is one of the world's biggest and keenest supporters of Hamas. Many people still think that the IHH are simply "Turkish aid workers". They are not. They are funders and lovers of jihad. IHH flotilla participants carried weapons on the flotilla ship Mavi Marmara. Flotilla participants also chanted songs, calling for the murder of Jews.

Whilst not all participants joined in with the violence and the incitements against Jews, there was enough reason for people who are concerned with non-violence and anti-racism to be concerned about the flotilla.

One participant in the IHH flotilla was the Islamist hate preacher Raed Salah. Salah thinks Jews did not turn up for work on 9/11, and Jews baked matzah bread with the blood of Christian children, during the Middle Ages. Following his detention in the UK, an immigration tribunal in the UK said of Salah that,

"We are satisfied that the appellant's words and actions tend to be inflammatory, divisive, insulting and likely to foment tension and radicalism"

Checkpoint speakers Stephen Sizer and Ben White have backed Salah in a project to "save Jerusalem". The effect of this, may well be to allow antisemitism to creep back into religious discourse about the Jews and Israel.

Checkpoint organiser Sami Awad has joined hands with disgraced Greek Orthodox priest Atallah Hanna, in a joint project. Hanna has expressed support for suicide bombings against Israelis.

Ben White has written that,

"I do not consider myself an anti-Semite, yet I can also understand why some are."

White has shared a political platform with Azzam Tamimi, who has previously endorsed suicide bombings. As the Evening Standard reported about Tamimi,

Asked if he would become a suicide bomber, he replied:

"I am prepared, of course. If I have the opportunity I would do it. "If I can go to Palestine and sacrifice myself I would do it. Why not?"

Writing in the Al Aqsa Journal, White appears praise Palestinian Christians who engage in violent "resistance" against Israel. Bizarrely, White has argued that arresting anti-Semites plotting to blow up synagogues is a "fully blown threat to our freedoms."

Stephen Sizer has quoted from Holocaust denier Dale Crowley in his book and on Iranian TV, and has previously linked to antisemitic websites. In response to Helen Thomas' call for Jews to "get the hell out of Palestine", Sizer enthused "bring it on". Sizer appears to have joined hands with the Iranian regime to denounce Israel. In 2006, Ayatollah Khomeini's daughter invited Sizer to Iran, promising to translate his writings into Farsi.

Alex Awad is a lecturer at the Bethlehem Bible College, which is hosting Checkpoint 2012. Alex Awad likes to use the Bible as a weapon against Israel, arguing that the evil Pharaoh of the Bible is welcomed by Israel as their messiah. Alex's brother Bishara is the President of the college.

At the previous Checkpoint conference in 2010, one speaker argued that Jews like Benjamin Netanyahu actually have no Jewish blood. Another speaker - quite shamelessly - argued that,

"It must seem to Palestinian Muslims as if Jews of the modern period were simply repeating the hostile behaviour of Jews many centuries earlier towards the Prophet."

Despite all this extreme theology, there are many evangelical Christian institutions supporting Checkpoint 2012. All this will have a very negative impact on moderate and sensible pro-Israel and pro-Palestine Christians - especially those currently living in the Middle East.

Many Jews who make a personal decision to believe in Christ, also known as Messianic Jews, now feel very vulnerable because of this conference. Indeed, most Messianic Jews are hugely disappointed that the Checkpoint conference will take place with the blessing of the wider church. We feel let down by many institutions within Christianity, and we are sure they can do more to eliminate antisemitism in Christian theology.

Unfortunately, three leaders from the Messianic movement - Richard Harvey, Evan Thomas and Wayne Hilsden - are booked as speakers at Christ at the Checkpoint 2012. Their alliance with the Checkpoint conference, only weakens our position further.

Christ at the Checkpoint 2012 conference will not help bring about peace in the Middle East. You cannot fight fire with fire. By providing a platform for theological extremism, Checkpoint 2012 risks perpetuating tensions, rather than solving them.


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