Coupling a great figure to some popular cause may give it a universal appeal. And nothing could be simpler. All it takes is for the great figure to be dead, because you don't want it protesting the liberty taken with its name. Hardly was Nelson Mandela cold in the grave when script writers hitched the great man onto the BDS bandwagon.
Before Mandela there was Jesus. What bandwagon or vendetta has not taken liberties with Jesus? Today the 'Son of God' cuts a contemporary Western figure quite divorced from the kosher 'Yid' of Galilee and Judaea. Like Mandela, Jesus has been refashioned into a grievance leader no less.
Now you don't spare your trump card for any grievance that happens along; you keep it for a cause celebre. You hold the Mandela name in reserve for grand posturing. You bring it out to attack a nation that offends the world by existing at all. Israel's enemies feel free to cut and paste the icon's words into propaganda material.
But compared to the Son of God what is the Mandela brand! Nor do you have to be a liberal or even Christian, to couple Jesus to your vendetta. The Palestine Liberation Organization is no liberal or Christian body, yet we'll see that the PLO likes to borrow Jesus ad-lib.
Some bible-thumping Christians allow themselves greater liberties with Jesus. They borrow their Messiah not to beat swords into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks; they bring him on for more mundane acts. They want their Savior to walk through a military checkpoint in the West Bank. "How would Jesus deal with the same feelings of anger and bitterness daily experienced by Palestinian people," asked Munther Isaac of Bethlehem Bible College. Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu does not pose questions about Jesus; Tutu goes one further and puts words in the 'Son of God's' mouth. "Jesus was angry that they (the Jews) could shut out other human beings." Just how elastic is the figure of Jesus? How far can it be stretched and remain credible? Believe it -- even a little Jesus goes a long way, far enough to be a reborn Palestinian. People claim that, in all seriousness. "Jesus was a Palestinian." Yasser Arafat's PR woman Hannan Ashrawi disclosed the astounding fact to the Washington Jewish Week on February 22, 2001, and it did not even make headlines. Ashrawi was not the first or the last to bring Jesus into the Palestinian fold.
"Every Christmas, Palestine celebrates the birth of one of its own, Jesus Christ," proclaimed the PLO's statement for Christmas 2013. I don't know if anyone has made Jesus into a Muslim, but the PLO seems to leave that possibility wide open.
This molding the hero of the New Testament into a Palestinian helps two objectives. First, it makes that people's record quite a bit longer than it really is. From 20th century origin (1968 seems to be the year the Palestinian people were unwrapped) the new Jesus figure takes Palestinians way back to the 1st century. Second, millions who love and worship Jesus will reflexively hate Israelis. One might wager that not too many of those millions will stop to ponder the theological absurdity of a Palestinian Christ.
For one thing, how to hook up this remade figure to the gospel narrative of the Jewish couple, Joseph and his pregnant wife Mary? Secondly, how to explain Jesus celebrating the Passover festival -- his Last Supper? Lastly there's the awkward fact that nowhere in the Gospels do we come upon the name 'Palestine'. On the other hand there are Gospel references to 'Judaea', meaning the land of the Jews.
Jesus-converters dig themselves into a deeper hole when they follow the star to Bethlehem, to the Palestinian victim in its cradle. Branding Jews as colonial occupiers and stealers of Arab land can be a double-edged sword. You can't have your cake and eat it too. If the New Testament writes Jews and their Temple into the plot, then both must have been in Jerusalem at the time of Jesus. He was infuriated by them, for heaven sake! "It seems to many of us that Jesus is on the cross again with thousands of crucified Palestinians around him. ... The Israeli government's crucifixion system is operating daily." In his biblical speak Naim Ateek, a Palestinian cleric, can't help but acknowledge that the Jews have been domiciled in his 'Palestine' since time immemorial.
Died-in-the-wool Israel-haters, aware of the hole they've dug for themselves, try a different tack. Mitri Raheb, a pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church in Bethlehem, concedes that the Jews were there in the time of Jesus. But Raheb maintains that the Bible Jews of yesteryear and today's Israeli Jews are quite different people. "I'm sure if we were to do a DNA test between David, Jesus and I Mitri, born just across the street from where Jesus was born...the DNA will show that there is a trace. While, if you put King David, Jesus and Netanyahu together you will get nothing, because Netanyahu comes from an East European tribe who converted to Judaism in the Middle Ages."
To demolish Raheb's pulpit is no trouble. If Palestinians adopt the Christian Jesus as one of their own, then how come the Palestinian Authority chose Sharia law for its constitution? And why did Yasser Arafat defy tradition by appointing a Muslim governor of Bethlehem? Why did Arafat also engineer a Muslim takeover of Bethlehem's City Council? Finally, why did he convert the Greek Orthodox monastery next to the Church of Nativity into the PA leaders' Bethlehem residence?
Considering it all, one fact stands out: the Middle East has turned into a Christian graveyard...all except for a barely visible slick of land. Jesus' own people are alive and well there today -- in Israel.
First published in thecommentator.com December 2013
Steve Apfel is director of the School of Management Accounting, Johannesburg. He is the author of the book,'Hadrian's Echo: The whys and wherefores of Israel's critics' (2012) and a contributor to, "War by other means." (Israel Affairs, July 2012). His new work: 'Bilaam's Curse'' is due out this year. Steve blogs on the Jerusalem Post and his articles regularly appear in foreign journals. His most recent published articles are: