Nearly six years ago, US Senator Ted Cruz found himself booed off stage by a majority Arab Christian audience during a gala event for persecuted Christians in the Middle East. The organizers of the Washington event had for some reason thought it wise to choose Cruz, an Evangelical Republican from Texas, to give the keynote. Unsurprisingly, the senator proved to be rather “limited” in his understanding of the Middle East, and soon found his oration cut short when he said the following:
ISIS, al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas, and their state sponsors like Syria and Iran, are all engaged in a vicious genocidal campaign to destroy religious minorities in the Middle East. […] In 1948 Jews throughout the Middle East faced murder and extermination and fled to the nation of Israel. And today Christians have no better ally than the Jewish state.
This statement received a chorus of boos. While Cruz tried to recover by claiming that anyone who opposed Israel also hated America, followed by the statement that those in the room booing were not willing to stand up against the terrorists who murder Jews and Christians, it was clear that his night was over.
This event from 2014 is as relevant today in illustrating the ignorance of Christian Zionists, like Cruz, as it was back then. What the senator said that night was not something unique, but something that many Evangelicals who subscribe to Zionism repeat constantly, namely that Israel is an “ally” of Christians in the Middle East, and an “enemy” of Islamic terrorism. In fact, this is the rhetoric that we hear all the time in the West, whether it be from Evangelical preachers, conservative pundits, or from the White House itself. Moreover, Evangelical lobbyists in the US consistently pressure their government to back Israel in every way possible, since Israel’s success is seen as being willed by God himself. Yet, while many Evangelicals claim that Israel is an ally of Christians, most Middle Eastern Christians do not see it the same way.
The reason for this discrepancy is quite clear: Christian Zionists base their understanding of Israel’s role in the Middle East on a mixture of fantasy and propaganda. It is based on fantasy because they believe that the modern ethnostate of Israel, which is overwhelmingly secular in composition, is linked to the biblical concept of “Israel,” along with its role in human salvation. In fact, many Evangelicals portray God as playing favouritism based on ethnicity, since he is seen as requiring the Jews to occupy Jerusalem and the rest of the Holy Land before the second coming of Jesus can take place. Of course, the falseness of such a belief should be apparent to people who claim to believe in the same New Testament which teaches that “There is neither Greek nor Jew” (Gal 3:28). Further, their understanding of the subject is based on propaganda because contemporary Christian support for Israel stems heavily from the US’s imperialist connection to the nation. Israel is essentially an outpost of America, and has long been financially and militarily supported by it. Thus, support for Israel has for decades been promoted by the US government and the media with the false claim that the ethnostate is some sort of “beacon of freedom” in the Middle East.
It should also be said that while many Evangelicals like to claim that any and all opposition to Israel stems from “anti-Semitism”—despite the fact, of course, that many Jews also reject Zionism, and are among the harshest critics of Israeli apartheid—they ignore the fact that Christian Zionism itself requires both xenophobia and racism in order to exist. The reality is that many Evangelicals readily align themselves with Zionism because they hold a deep fear and hatred of Muslims. In fact, such people would probably have been virulent anti-Semites, if they had not found a new “other” that they objected to even more. This is perhaps because Muslims are perceived by them to be “oriental,” “foreign,” and “sinister,” as opposed to Israeli Jews, who are seen as connected to the Old Testament, and many of whom have their family roots in Europe. Thus, Israel is seen as a sort of extension of European “whiteness” in an otherwise “backward” and “barbaric” Arab Middle East.
However, it is no surprise that such thinking runs contrary to both the moral principles and lived experiences of most Middle Eastern Christians. In fact, instead of being the enemy of terrorism in the region, and a supporter of Christians, Israel has been a key force behind the persecution and eradication of Christians in the Middle East. A prime example of Israel’s persecution of Christians can be seen in its ongoing occupation of Palestine. The occupation of the historical homeland of the Palestinian people by a government that believes that the land belongs to the Jewish people based on their genes—something which Christian Zionists happily embrace—has meant that Christians, in the very birthplace of their religion, are, along with all Palestinians, forced to fight for the right to exist.
In fact, CounterPunch ran an excellent article on this subject last October entitled, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestinian Christians that Nobody is Talking About. In it, the author writes of the dwindling community of Christians in Palestine, who often have little choice but to leave their country because of the Israeli occupation. For instance, 70 years ago, Christians accounted for 86 percent of the population of Bethlehem—the sacred city of Jesus’s birth. However, with Israel’s occupation of the West Bank in 1967, and the building of the apartheid wall, Christians in Bethlehem found themselves cut off from their land and livelihoods, forcing many of them to seek refuge elsewhere. Of course, this all took place while Israeli settlements continued to cover more and more of the country. As a result of all of this, the once majority Christian city of Bethlehem now has a population in which Christians make up a mere 12 percent. Moreover, the number of Christians have shrunk not only in Bethlehem, but in Palestine as a whole.
The reality is that Palestinian Christians, like Palestinian Muslims, are living in what is essentially an open-air prison. Few Palestinian Christians are even allowed to worship at their own historical holy sites. For example, only 200 Christians from Gaza were granted permits by the Israeli authorities to worship in Bethlehem and Jerusalem this past Easter. This is a tragic state of affairs for Christians, since in Jerusalem stands the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which is built upon the spot many Christians believe to be the place of Jesus’s crucifixion, burial, and resurrection. Moreover, even when approval from the Israeli authorities to attend services is granted, Christians are not necessarily safe in their places of worship.
For instance, just last December Archbishop Atallah Hanna, a hierarch of the Greek Orthodox Church, and an indefatigable defender of his fellow Palestinians’ rights, was hospitalized after an Israeli military gas cannister was thrown at the church that he was attending. Archbishop Atallah, who had been targeted by Israel in a number of other ways before, believes that the gas attack was likely orchestrated by the Israeli authorities. The archbishop said, “What happened could be an assassination attempt, or an attempt to keep me sick throughout my life […] The repercussions of the toxic substance are dangerous, especially on the nervous system.” It seems that Archbishop Atallah’s analysis of the situation is likely correct, since Israel is infamous for its willingness to use brutal force against those who speak out against it.
Nevertheless, as we have seen for decades, Evangelical supporters of Israel have continually turned a blind eye to its crimes against humanity. Thus, even with Israel’s persecution of Christians in Palestine, Christian Zionists still claim that it is somehow a “friend” of Christianity. However, while many Evangelicals refuse to come to terms with reality when it relates to Israel, they will acknowledge, at least in theory, the persecution of Middle Eastern Christians when it is done by Muslim terrorist groups, such as ISIS or al-Qaeda. However, Christian Zionists are still unwilling to accept Israel’s role, as well as the US’s, in the Muslim, specifically Salafi/Wahhabi, persecution of Middle Eastern Christians. With this in mind, let us turn to the example of Syria.
Over the last decade, Syria has become one of the main targets of the West and its allies. But why? Syria has long been a safe haven for religious minorities. President Bashar al-Assad, himself a member of the small Alawite sect of believers, has always valued religious freedom, and is well-known for the extreme popularity he enjoys among Syria’s Christian population. However, Assad has long been hated and demonized by the Israeli and US governments. It appears that their disdain for the Syrian president is overwhelmingly due to his opposition to Zionism. Assad has consistently attempted to prevent Israel from further expanding its borders into Syria, and has continually stood firm in his support of the Palestinians’ right to exist.
Nevertheless, the West’s opposition to Assad turned shockingly tragic in 2011, when the US and its allies—including Israel and the fountainhead of Islamic terrorism itself, Saudi Arabia—began to support what was essentially, with some exceptions, a Salafi/Wahhabi jihad against the Syrian government. In practical terms, this meant that the US and its allies funded terrorists from around the world to infiltrate Syria in order to cause chaos and mass destruction, with the hope that Assad’s government would fall. Due to this, groups such as ISIS and al-Qaeda were able to take control of large portions of Syria, subjecting local populations, particularly religious minorities, to horrors almost beyond imagination.
While Israel claimed to take a “non-interventionist” position in the war on the Syrian government, the evidence says otherwise. Dan Kovalik reported a few years ago that according to a US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) document, the US and Israel had hoped to establish a Salafi Muslim caliphate in eastern Syria. Moreover, as far back as 2015, The Jerusalem Post reported that Israel had been treating wounded al-Qaeda fighters in Syria. While in rare instances, Israeli officials themselves have even been somewhat open about their support of terrorists. For instance, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon stated in 2016 that he would rather ISIS than Iran be in Syria. In other words, Israel was okay with keeping the Syrian people, Christians included, in the living hell created by ISIS, so long as it served the interests of Zionism. In light of this, it should be no surprise that when ISIS mistakenly fired upon Israeli forces the following year, the terror group, according to Ya’alon, apologized to Israel for the incident.
Interestingly, just last month, Gadi Eisenkot, who at the time was the IDF Chief of Staff, admitted that Israel had been arming anti-Assad “rebels” in the Golan Heights. Of course, by “rebels,” Eisenkot means al-Nusra: an al-Qaeda affiliate that had fought in the region against the Syrian army and its allies. Thus, the soldiers that Israel was providing with both weapons and medical care were the same soldiers who were subjecting Syrian Christians, and other minority civilians, to torture, rape, slavery, and beheadings throughout the nation, with the goal of establishing an Islamic state in Syria. In fact, to this day, Israel continues to lob missiles into Syria, not with the intention of harming ISIS or al-Qaeda, but to provide these terrorists with air support by targeting their enemies, i.e. the Syrian army, Iranian forces, and Hezbollah.
This, of course, brings us to another issue: the Christian Zionist portrayal of Iran and Hezbollah as Islamic “terrorists” that hate Christians. Such a portrayal is based on propaganda from Israel and the West. In reality, Iran, a Shia Muslim nation, and Hezbollah, a Shia Muslim political party and militia based in Lebanon, have consistently been the protectors of Christians within Syria, and elsewhere, since the very beginning of the war on Assad. Yet, Christian Zionists continue to misrepresent the Shia struggle against Salafi/Wahhabi terror in favour of Israel and the US’s imperialist interests.
This can be seen quite clearly from the many American Evangelicals, including US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Vice President Mike Pence, rejoicing over the assassination of top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani. Yet, many Christians in places such as Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Palestine profoundly mourned the loss of Soleimani. This is because while Israel and the West are backing terrorists in the Middle East, the Iranian military has been on the ground fighting Salafi/Wahhabi terror groups, not only for the sake of Shia Muslims, but for Sunni Muslims, Christians, Yazidis, and others. In fact, Soleimani was well-known for his unmatched ability to defeat ISIS in Syria and Iraq, liberating those from under its reign of terror—something that, of course, displeased Israel and the US.
Joining Iran in its assault on ISIS and al-Qaeda has been Hezbollah, another group hated by Israel and its supporters. Famous for their defeat of the Israeli military during the 2006 Lebanon War, Hezbollah forces have been key in eradicating jihadists from Syria. In fact, Hezbollah is so far from the extremist Salafi/Wahhabi Muslim terrorists backed by Israel and the West, that instead of seeking a genocide of minorities, Hezbollah has non-Muslims, Christians included, within its very ranks.
This is not to say that Syria, Iran, or Hezbollah are perfect entities. Of course, they are flawed. Yet, nevertheless, the Christian Zionist portrayal of them as “enemies” of Christians in the Middle East could not be further from the truth. In actuality, while Israel was arming an al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria or providing ISIS with air support, the Syrian army, Iran, and Hezbollah were fighting those very same terrorists.
The reality is that Christian Zionists are no friends of the suffering Christians of the Middle East. Instead, they are essentially “useful idiots” for the Israeli government’s racist ideology, as well as the US’s imperialist foreign policy. Moreover, while Christian Zionists often claim that they are standing against terrorism, the facts, such as Israel’s persecution of Palestinians or its backing of jihadists in Syria, testify otherwise. Thus, it is time for Evangelicals in the West to start waking up to the realities of the Middle East, and realize that their unwavering support for Israel is also unwavering support for the persecution of Christians.