When it comes to Israel, World Vision needs an eye exam

Steve Haas's misrepresentation of Israel is coupled with an all-out assault on Christian Zionists

By ROBERT STEARNS
February 4, 2015 22:09
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THOUSANDS OF Palestinians and foreign visitors await the arrival of the Latin Patriarch at Manger Square in Bethlehem on Christmas eve.. (photo credit: SETH J. FRANTZMAN)

 
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The toxic mix of lies, ignorance, and half-truths that drive the global movement to delegitimize Israel have washed up at one of the most widely known international Christian aid organizations.

Last week, an Evangelical publication excerpted a speech delivered by Steve Haas, the vice president of World Vision, to students at the Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Haas – drawing on his authority as a leader of a Christian relief agency that operates in nearly 100 countries with a $1 billion annual budget – called for a radical course correction within the Evangelical Movement, away from supporting Israel.

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The theological rationale that Haas presents is far from revolutionary. It’s basic Christian Gospel 101. Be salt and light.

Care for widows and orphans. Follow the example of the Good Samaritan. Haas argues that evangelicalism has become too focused on Heaven at the expense of advancing social justice in God’s Kingdom on earth, urging his audience of aspiring pastors and theologians to go out to correct evil in the world through love.

So, in our troubled world, which evils and injustices rose to the very top of Haas’ list? Famine and poverty in Africa? Genocide in Syria and Iraq? Boko Haram? Gay men being thrown off of rooftops in the Muslim world? Charlie Hebdo commentators being gunned down in Paris by radical Islamists? Beheadings on YouTube? No – through World Vision’s clouded lens there are only three injustices – past and present – that merit mention: the genocide in Rwanda, AIDS, and ending Palestinian suffering at the hands of the Israeli government.

Judging from the strange caricature that Haas draws of Israel – and the Christians who support it – World Vision has even less sense than it has sight.

Haas levels the familiar and intellectually bankrupt apartheid charge against Israel, failing to mention that the only truly free Arab population in the Middle East lives in the Jewish state, where they vote, sit in the Knesset and the Supreme Court, and hold significant places in Israeli popular culture – in venues from Miss Israel to Top Chef – and generally enjoy a higher standard of living than Arabs anywhere else in the region.

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Haas laments the rapid decline in numbers of the Palestinian Christian community from 20 percent of the population to less than 1% over the past 65 years, attributing this to Israeli occupation. It’s an interesting assertion, considering that two-thirds of Palestinian Christians left the West Bank and Gaza before 1967 when Israel took control of the territories. Meanwhile, Israel today has the Middle East’s only growing Christian population. In contrast, Hamas is forcibly converting, subjugating and murdering the Christians of Gaza, while the Palestinian Authority has imposed laws inspired by Sharia and discriminatory practices that have left Christians feeling increasingly uneasy and fearful.

He goes on, writing, “It should challenge people when they hear the average income for an Israeli is $26,000, but for a Palestinian it is around $2,100.” Perhaps Haas should have challenged himself to examine the many causes of Palestinian impoverishment.

It might have something to do with the Palestinian leaders – from Yasser Arafat to Khaled Mashal – who became billionaires drinking from the planet’s largest trough of international aid at the expense of their people.

The surge in the Palestinian standard of living that came from economic integration with Israel and the efforts of reformers like former PA prime minister Salam Fayyad have been consistently turned back by Palestinian leaders, who have chosen terror against the Jewish state and repression of their own population over economic development and peace. Look at Gaza. The Palestinian leadership had ample international support to turn the area into a Singapore of the Middle East – but instead transformed it into one giant launching pad for Iranian missiles.

One wonders why Haas is completely silent on these incontrovertible facts. Ignorance? Or deliberate deception? His misrepresentation of Israel is coupled with an all-out assault on Christian Zionists – who he claims are wedded to a narrow theological interpretation that blinds one to Palestinian suffering, the importance of social justice, and ultimately, the authentic path of faith.

The truth is that I and countless other Christians are pro-Israel precisely because of our drive for social justice for all peoples in this world, here and now. Evangelicals – particularly in the Millennial generation – have never been more engaged, organized and firm in their commitment to justice for Israel and the Jewish people, as well as the Palestinians.

I have crossed through checkpoints dozens of times to visit my Christian brothers and sisters, and my Muslim friends in the Palestinian territories. I have brought Palestinian teenagers to live with our church family over their summer breaks. Our ministry has devoted significant financial resources to support Palestinian Christian churches.

It’s specifically because of this experience that I’m pro-Israel. Time after time, Palestinian Christians have shared with me the hardships of their lives – and the vast majority of what I hear has to do with the increasing persecution they face at the hands of Hamas, the PA and broader Arab world. It’s a stark contrast to life in Israel, where minorities are protected, debate is accepted and democracy is enshrined.

Of course, like any other country, Israel is not perfect. There are profoundly complex problems that must be solved between Israelis and Palestinians, including the status of the disputed territories.

There is deep pain on both sides of this conflict. That’s why those of us in positions of Christian leadership have a sacred responsibility to advance real education, real dialogue and real facts. In a situation that calls for depth and thoughtfulness, Steve Haas’ narrow and dangerously one-sided presentation is quite far from what one would expect from a “Christian peacemaker.”

World Vision’s reminder to love the neighbor different from us is a good one.

Yet, Christianity teaches us that love without truth is no love at all. The way that we love our neighbor is not to validate his falsehoods, or nurture his illusions, but rather to deal in the truth that can eventually make him free. Those of us who care about Israelis and Palestinians have an obligation to speak out and say: World Vision needs an eye exam.

The writer is the founder and executive director of Eagles’ Wings, a global network of churches, ministries and leaders.

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