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Violent protests are the true insult to Islam

The real challenge facing the Muslim world today is how to stop violent protesters from becoming the face of the religion. In order to do that, we need more Muslims to get rid of their indifference and speak against the misrepresentation of Islam. 

Research shows that the people behind “Innocence of Muslims,” the film which disrespects Islam and the Prophet Muhammad and set off riots across the Middle East after it was uploaded to YouTube, are nothing more than a few Islalmophobic individuals. They produced a very a low cost, low quality film which aims to mock the Prophet Muhammad, and present Islam as a violent and irrational religion.

The producers of the film were able to achieve more than what they desired or expected. It was not the film itself that had an impact on those watching, but rather the violent response of Muslims protesting the film in Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Sudan and other countries. These violent protests gave power to the producers. Without them, it is probably fair to guess that the film would not have gotten any attention or almost any views.

However, by now thousands of people watched the trailer due to the protestors. Since one of the goals of the film is to show Muslims as violent irrational people, the violent protestors confirmed the negative image of Muslims. Those who do not know much about Islam or Muslims are watching the protests on television; they see Muslims attacking embassies, and appearing angry and untrustworthy.

If we take a deeper look, I am convinced that the self-proclaimed Muslims attacking embassies and foreigners are the true enemies of Islam. It is they who are insulting the Prophet legacy more than any film or production. The real challenge facing Muslims today is how stop such people from becoming the face of Islam.

The film is disgusting and disrespectful, but should these protestors punish diplomats from foreign countries? Aren’t these diplomats guests that should be respected? One cannot fix a wrong with another wrong, and attacking Americans or foreigners to punish few individuals behind the film is a criminal act. Instead, a good Muslim would follow in the footsteps of Prophet Muhammad. The Prophet used to tell his followers not to respond to insults with insults, but rather to do good to those who insult. He said, “I have family that I do good to them, but they insult me,...

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Palestinian beaten by Jews in Jerusalem: Attacks against us happen here every day

In the past few weeks, there has been a rise in attacks against Palestinians in Jerusalem. A few weeks ago, a Palestinian was beaten, almost to death, on suspicion that he spoke with a Jewish girl. A few days, later another Palestinian was beaten up for giving a ride to a Jewish female.

Another attack took place last Friday, in a gas station, against a Palestinian worker. All of these attacks have one thing in common: groups of racist Jewish groups feeling safe enough to attack Palestinians without fear of being brought to justice. The Israel Police is yet to deal with this epidemic in the city, or work to protect Palestinians as it works to protect Jerusalem’s Jewish population.

To understand these attacks more, I spoke with Nassim Abu Ramuz, 21, from East Jerusalem and learned from him about his confrontation with three Jewish men at his work. Below is the interview.

Where do you work?

I work in a gas station in Katamon. I have been working there for three years.

Were you ever attacked or assaulted before while working there?

No, Things were okay until this event.

So, tell me what happened on that night you were attacked.

I was doing the night shift, there is not much work so I work on my laptop. A car pulled in with three men and a woman. The woman asked for the bathroom key and I gave it to her. Then one of the guys called me to fill gas with NIS 20. I asked him to turn the car around because the gas tank was on the other side. He said that he was tired and high, so I pulled the gas pipe toward the other side of the car.

Did you notice anything wrong with them?

They had beer with them, they might have had too much to drink.

What happened next?

They were cussing at each other in the car. One of the guys came out from the car. He said that he needed help because the car was overheating. I helped him and gave him water to add to the radiator.

It seems you got a long okay, how did the violence start?

The other guy in the car threw a bottle of beer in the water bucket that customers use to clean car windows. I asked him why he did that and told...

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Palestinians take to streets in call for Fayyad to step down

In the past few days, protesters have filled the Palestinian streets. This time, their protest is not against Israel, but rather against the Palestinian Authority and specifically Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. The Palestinians are coming out to protest the rising prices in the West Bank, which have increased at a time when the Palestinian Authority has been unable to pay its employees their full salaries on time.

Prime Minister Fayyad found himself at the center of the anger and frustration of the Palestinians. In the first few years following his appointment, Fayyad received rave reviews by locals and internationals alike for his work in reviving the Palestinian economy and tackling corruption. However, he is now facing a financial crisis, considered the worst since the Palestinian Authority’s inception, due to a dip in donor funding and rising costs of living.

Despite an expected 5 percent growth in the Palestinian economy this year, this growth is a deceptive figure. The Palestinian economy is captive to the Israeli occupation and is regulated and handcuffed by the Paris Protocol, an agreement that preceded the Oslo Accords. In a recent post, Haggai Matar explained new modifications to the Paris Protocol, which reaffirm Israel’s control over the Palestinian economy. Haggai explains how in a time when Palestinians are shifting towards popular resistance, an economic agreement with Israel contributes to the irrelevance of their  government. While Palestinian activists have been calling on the Palestinian Authority to annul the Paris Protocol, Fayyad has defended the agreement, claiming the present problems are not related.

Based on the Paris Protocol, every new economic opportunity in the Palestinian territories is subject to Israeli approval. For example, it took the Wataniya telecommunications company years to get Israel’s approval to launch. Wataniya, like the Palestinian economy on the whole, was held hostage by the Israeli government as a bargaining chip.

The Palestinian economy is dependent on foreign support to the PA and NGOs, which are the biggest employers in the Palestinian territories. Even now, as Palestinians protest against Fayyad, some are calling him to solve the unemployment problem among youth by increasing government jobs. Many Palestinians have begun to see government and NGOs jobs as their only employment possibilities.

Yesterday, Fayyad responded to his critics in a series of posts on his Facebook page, which argued his case and why he shouldn’t resign from his position. He responded to those accusing him of...

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Bloggingheads: The U.S. election and the fate of Israel-Palestine

Mitt Romney sparked controversy during his visit to Jerusalem last week, thanks to a series of comments he made about Jews and Palestinians. Naturally, his comments about Palestinian culture being inferior to Jewish culture, and God’s unfavorable bias against Palestinians, angered many Palestinians, who are worried that Romney could win the election.

However, does that make Romney the preferred candidate for Jews or Israelis?  In this video produced by, Matt Duss from the Center for American Progress and I discussed Romney’s visit to Jerusalem and its consequences, the U.S administration’s policies in the region, and the viability of the two-state solution.

Related posts:
Romney visit: Hitting the ‘Palestinian punching bag’ again
Romney’s trip shows us his non-approach to the Israel-Palestine conflict
Jewish Democrats use rightist tactics to attack Romney on Israel

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Mubarak, a dictator for hire as next Israeli president

Yesterday was a historic day for the Egyptian people, as they turned the final page of the “court case of the century.” Ousted Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak was sentenced to life in prison, marking a precedent in the Middle East. Some Egyptians were hoping that Mubarak would receive a death sentence for his role in the murder of protesters; others believed he was too old to be put to death.

But in Israel, the country that sent its former president, Moshe Katsav, to prison for rape, there seemed to be some sadness. Some believe that the Egyptians are ungrateful to Mubarak and what he has done for Egypt in his 30 years of service. Israel, for its part, has been faithful to Mubarak through all his years as president. From the beginning of the revolution, Israel took an active stand in defending Mubarak and lobbying the West to curb its criticism of him. Israeli leaders saw Mubarak as a vital part of the Middle East and wished, regardless of how the Egyptian people felt about him, he would stay. After all, democracy isn’t for everyone.

Given the developments in Egypt, Israel should consider Hosni Mubarak, the dictator for hire, to be its next president. Current Israeli President Shimon Peres will soon finish his term. Mubarak is available and looking for a nation that could use his experience as a dictator and oppressor. Mubarak is also an Arab – this will help Israel’s image internationally as a multi-ethnic state.

In a radio interview, Israeli Knesset member and former defense minister Benjamin Ben Eliezer expressed deep sadness over the life sentence handed to Hosni Mubarak, describing him as the “king of the Middle East.”

Given the above quotation, it would be a shame to let someone with Mubarak’s qualifications disappear from political life. Mubarak’s resume includes extensive expertise that would be useful for Israel. He promoted corruption and supported the privatization of the Egyptian public sector by selling it dirt cheap to his friends. He opposed so-called “social justice” and eliminated social programs. Most importantly, he knew the importance of security. He created underground prisons for those who disagreed with him and used torture and murder to silence his opposition. When it came to the Palestinians, Mubarak was known for his unwavering support of Israel and his dislike of the Palestinian people. Mubarak is also known for his iron fist, and he has...

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Palestinians asked to close their shops for Jerusalem Day

Jerusalem Day is not a celebration of a unified city, but rather a show of Israeli power, a reminder for the Palestinians that Jerusalem is an occupied city where non-Jewish residents don’t count.

Every year, Jerusalem Day brings a depressing shadow over East Jerusalem. While Israelis celebrate the “liberation” of the city, Palestinians mourn the beginning of a long journey of oppression and occupation. On Jerusalem Day, tens of thousands of Israelis right-wing activists are allowed to parade in the streets, Palestinians are told close their shops, remain in their homes and not bother the celebration.

An announcement distributed by the police in East Jerusalem requested that shop keepers (voluntarily) close down their shops by 5 pm on Sunday. The same document requires that all products viewed outside the shop be removed by 4 pm. The justification for these requests is justified by an attempt to “reduce potential tension” between the shop keepers and people “celebrating.” However as usual, the cost of reducing tension is paid for by the Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem.

Every year’s celebration of Jerusalem Day is full of provocation and attacks on the local Palestinian population. In the video below, you can see an example of what happens. First comes the famous slogan “Mavet Le’Aravim” (Death to Arabs), then physical attacks such as stone throwing. The police often tries to calm things down but Palestinians are often arrested even if beaten by the extremist marchers.

Imagine for a moment that Palestinians decide to celebrate their heritage in West Jerusalem and march through Jaffa and Ben Yehuda streets! Would they be given full police protection? Would the police dare to ask shops in West Jerusalem to close their doors to reduce tension?

I remember a few years ago I was in West Jerusalem when the “celebration” of Jerusalem Day started. Somehow, I forgot that I was supposed to return home early on that day to avoid harassment. Everyone knows you shouldn’t be on the streets on this day if you are a Palestinian, but I screwed up. The streets were closed to cars so I had to walk towards East Jerusalem only to be stopped by a policeman. After he checked my ID, frisked me, and asked a few questions he told me that I...

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For Palestinians, the Nakba is not history

The Nakba has a dual meaning today. On one hand, it is about the hundreds of villages that were razed in 1948 and the hundreds of thousands of refugees who lost their homes. On the other hand, Palestinians continue to suffer the Nakba daily – the separation of families, continuous confiscations of land and settlements choking every Palestinian village and town.

Palestinians today mark 64 years since the Nakba (catastrophe). They are not commemorating a historical event that has long passed, or a sad moment in their past. Many of the Palestinian people are living the reality of the Nakba today. The pain of the open wound has not healed.

Sixty-four years after the Nakba, Palestinians still have no state and no equality. Refugee camps still exist all over the world and a majority of Palestinians live in the diaspora. Against their will, the Nakba divided the Palestinian people between Palestine and diaspora, between Gaza and the West Bank, between those who hold a refugee identification card and who don’t.

The Nakba has a dual meaning today. On one hand, it is about the hundreds of villages that were razed in 1948 and the hundreds of thousands of refugees who lost their homes. I remember taking a group to Qubeibeh, a Palestinian village on the outskirts of Hebron. Qubeibeh was destroyed in 1948. On the trip, I asked two Palestinians who lived there before the war to join us. They walked around the destroyed village telling the stories of each house, each family, the gossip of the town, funny and sad anecdotes. The tears streaming down their faces were tears of longing and passion, about loss and love.

However, this is only one aspect of the Nakba. Palestinians today feel that the Nakba didn’t end in ’48. They suffer the Nakba daily – the separation of families, continuous confiscations of land and the settlements choking every Palestinian village and town.

The Nakba is the present as much as it is the past. To my parents who built their house in Bethany, which is five kilometers outside Jerusalem, the Nakba is as real today as it was 64 years ago. But my parents aren’t allowed to live in their house if they want to keep their Jerusalem ID. They must rent an apartment in Jerusalem. Yet the Ma’aleh Adumim settlement is walking distance from my parent’s home in Bethany. It is...

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Who actually suffers from a boycott of Jerusalem?

Last week, the Grand Mufti of Egypt, Ali Gomaa, made an unprecedented visit to Jerusalem, where he worshiped at the famous Al Aqsa Mosque. His visit drew condemnation from Muslim leaders in Egypt, and even from some Palestinians. Muslim leaders across the Middle East have long followed a policy of boycotting travel to Jerusalem, until Israel ends its occupation of the city and Palestinian land. Some have labeled those who visit Jerusalem as “normalizers” of the occupation, and sometimes even traitors.

This high-profile visit to Jerusalem was thus seen as a violation of this boycott policy, and has stirred much debate. Even the late Coptic pope, Shenouda III, forbade Christian Egyptians from traveling to Jerusalem.

The mufti’s visit comes only a few weeks after Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president and chairman of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, called upon Muslims at the recent Al-Quds Conference in Doha to visit Jerusalem. He argued that such a visit would reinforce the city’s importance to Muslims and Arabs all over the world, and show support for its residents. In his speech, Abbas argued that visiting Jerusalem is not normalization, asking, “Would visiting a prisoner constitute normalization with the prison guard?”

However, 45 years after Israel first occupied East Jerusalem, I am still unable to understand how boycotting the Palestinians in East Jerusalem is beneficial to the Palestinian people. Muslims around the world expect Palestinians in East Jerusalem to stand firm, but they leave them alone in the larger Arab context. They are expected to survive and remain steadfast, to hold onto their residency in the city, while socially and economically they consistently face increasing challenges.

The argument for boycotting Jerusalem is one of the weakest I’ve ever heard. Prophet Muhammad led Muslims after the Hudaiba reconciliation to perform the first “Umrah” – a Muslim ritual in Mecca – while under non-Muslim rule. The Ka’ba, which is the holiest Muslim site, was surrounded by idols, and yet Muslims were permitted by the prophet to worship there. So how do Muslim leaders justify boycotting Jerusalem because of the occupation? I doubt they can back their decision with a religious or historical precedent. The well-known Muslim hadith about spiritual travel says, “One should travel only for visiting three Masajid (Mosques): Masjid-ul-Haram (Mecca), Masjid-ul-Aqsa (Jerusalem), and this (my) Mosque (at Medina).”

There is also a practical consequence for the Muslim and Christian Arab boycott of Jerusalem. When western...

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Fayyad and Abbas: A showdown or minor disagreement?

Last week, news surfaced in the Palestinian media about a conflict between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. According to Alquds Al-Arabi, Abbas has not been answering Fayyad’s phone calls after his refusal to deliver a letter about the need for Israel to halt settlement construction to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Ma’an News suggested that Fayyad didn’t want to meet with Netanyahu on the same day that 1,000 Palestinian prisoners launched a hunger strike. However Alquds Alarabi reported that the real reason behind the refusal to take the letter is that Fayyad was not consulted on the content of the letter.

The conflict between Abbas and Fayyad is seen as part of a larger disagreement between Palestinian leaders over what the strategy regarding Israel should  be. Alquds Al-Arabi reported that Yasser Abed Rabbo, the secretary general of the PLO, supported Fayyad in his refusal to deliver the letter. Abed Rabbo was also dissatisfied that Fatah leaders formed the letter content only.

Abbas and Fayyad had major disagreements in the past. For example, Fayyad was one of few Palestinian leaders who opposed the PLO decision to seek UN recognition of a Palestinian state last September. In general, since Fayyad’s appointment as prime minister, he has worked on building Palestinian institutions and focused on internal governing responsibilities while other issues such as negotiations with Israel and negotiations with Hamas were headed by President Abbas.

Fayyad’s prior disagreements with Abbas over strategy, negotiations and the UN move didn’t seem to prevent the two from continuing their partnership. It is unlikely that Abbas will fire Fayyad at this moment especially in face of the reconciliation with Hamas being stalled.  However, Since Fayyad’s rise to power, many Fatah leaders have seen him unfavorably and might use this incident to lobby for his dismissal and replacement with a Fatah official.


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WATCH: Why does a Palestinian speak at a J Street conference?

A few weeks ago, I was asked to speak at J Street’s Making History conference. The first panel they wanted me to join was about the Palestinian perspective. I was also asked to moderate a session on Palestinian citizens of Israel. I had no hesitation when I accepted both requests. I was happy that a large Jewish crowd was interested to learn about the Palestinian perspective and to pay attention to the Palestinians citizens of Israel.

American Jews hear much about Palestinians but many have not had the chance to meet them directly and ask about their views, beliefs and passions. These panels are important if we are to correct stereotypes about the Palestinian community. Even lefty Jews must not just speak about us or “learn” about us, but speak directly with us and learn about our lives from us.

Therefore, it is essential for more Palestinians to come to these kinds of events. I know that some Palestinians criticized us for speaking at J Street. However, shifting public opinion and spreading awareness about the Palestinian cause will not happen without engaging Jewish and Christian communities.

I have attended the J Street conferences for the past 3 years and have met many Jewish, Arab and international activists who work tirelessly to end the occupation. I am not always in agreement with J Street. I spoke at the panel of my disappointment at J Street’s decision not to support the September 2011 Palestinian statehood bid at the UN. Last year, I wrote about feeling that J Street wasn’t open to hearing other voices, and too focused on the two-state solution. However, I was encouraged to see some changes this year.  J Street was willing to invite speakers who do not support the two-state solution or didn’t fit neatly within their political views. For an organization that supports an open conversation within the Jewish community, it is vital that they don’t silence those who disagree with them.

J Street’s efforts are remarkable, but it is organization swimming against the current. The two-state solution is losing momentum on every side. Many Israelis see no harm in the current status quo. Palestinians are shifting toward the one-state solution and America has not been leading the peace process for over a decade. The challenges before J Street and two-state solution supporters are monumental.

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Can Muslims and Christians get along in Egypt?

Stories of Arab Christian-Muslim tensions are increasingly appearing in the news. The bottom line in many of these reports is that Christians are not welcome in Muslim or Arab countries, and they feel that they have no place there. Egypt has been at the forefront of these stories, with reports of burned churches and the persecution of Christians. These reports do touch on some elements of Christian-Muslim relations, but most are exaggerated and seek to focus on any negative aspect they can.

The Arab West Report has focused on misleading publications about Muslim-Christian relations. It’s cheif editor, Dr. Cornelis Hulsman, spoke two weeks ago to a group of students in Cairo from the Center for World Religions, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution of George Mason University, where I work. He lamented current journalistic practices in Egypt, which do not investigate accusations of hate crimes. His organization tracks media reports on Muslim-Christian incidents, and sends investigators to verify accuracy and biases. They found that many conflicts that do not originate as faith-based get branded as religious conflicts without thorough investigation.

But perhaps what gives the impression that Christians and Muslims are in a constant struggle is the lack of positive news about Muslim-Christian relations. After the death of the Coptic Pope, Shenouda III,  The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) reported on Wagdy Ghoneim, a radical Imam preaching against Christians and the pope. The Arab West Report pointed out that numerous Muslim Imams spoke positively about the pope and of Marshall Tantawi’s decision to give Christian government employees three days off to mourn Pope Shenouda III.

The picture above  was posted on the Egyptian revolutionary  “Kolena Khalid Sa’id” Facebook page. The picture shows a Muslim woman with a hijab lowering a bucket of water to Christians mourning the death of Pope Shenouda III. According to the page, she did this for several hours. This woman presents hope and the potential future of Christian-Muslim relations. Publicizing this woman’s action will rob the extremists of their legitimacy and strengthen coexistence efforts in Egypt.

George Mason University students had many other meetings with Christians and Muslims, and both sides spoke positively about  Christian-Muslim relations. The group met also with Salafi and Muslim Brotherhood leaders. Mohammad, a Salafi, surprised the class by claiming that Christians and Salafis were equally persecuted under Mubarak’s regime. He accused the former government of limiting the freedom of worship...

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Florida's House joins Republicans in support of One-State solution

On February 29th 2012 Florida’s House of Representatives surprisingly passed a bill supporting the one-state solution. The bill quotes the Bible to prove the Jewish right of the whole land spanning Israel and Palestine, ignores the Palestinians’ historical connection to the land and omits their existence. However, the bill comes as surprise in the sense that it calls for one law for all people who live on the land.

The bill’s bottom line is not that different from what many Palestinian activists have been calling for: one law for all people in the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. But what is ironic about this resolution is the absence of Pro-Israel groups’ rage against it. When Palestinians advocate for a one-state solution, they are quickly accused of plotting to destroy the state of Israel.  Florida’s House and Senate are using Bible references, denying the occupation, and proclaiming Israel’s right over the “unified land to endorse a one-state solution and there’s  no backlash.

Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti Defamation league (ADL) said in a recent op-ed condemning Palestinian activists advocating a one-state solution:  “Let’s be frank. The term “one-state solution” is a euphemism for the destruction of the Jewish state of Israel.” However, the ADL and Foxman didn’t give attention or condemn the Florida house resolution.

Perhaps Foxman and other supporters of Israel realized the stakes in clashing with those in support of the bill. After all many Evangelical Christians support for Israel is based on “Biblical interpretations” that sees Jewish control of the whole land as a must and compromising that belief that would be heresy. Also, this wave of support for a one-state solution is not limited to Florida. Last January the Republican National Committee passed a resolution similar to Florida’s bill.

J Street, a Jewish American lobby group advocating for the two-state solution realized that this is a major shift in America and tweeted that the resolution “confirms the decades-long bipartisan consensus on a two-state solution is shattered.”

However the wind of change regarding the one-state solution is also storming Israel itself. There are a growing number of Israelis talking about alternatives to the two-state solution. Some settlers, nationalists and even politicians are now openly talking about the one-state solution. Israeli Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin, a leading member of the Likud told my colleague Noam Shezif that he...

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Price tag attack on J'lem church provokes religious condemnation

By: Marc Gopin and Aziz Abu Sarah

Yesterday, Pastor Chuck Kopp of the Baptist Church in West Jerusalem woke up to find his church vandalized. The Jerusalem Post reported that police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld suspects that Jewish extremists are responsible for the act. According to the Post, Rosenfeld said, “Officers are investigating a strong possibility of a (Jewish) nationalist motive, but no one has been apprehended yet.”

Cars that were parked outside the church were also vandalized, and their tires slashed.  Graffiti left on the church walls included the famous term “price tag,” which has been used by settler extremists in attacks on mosques in the last few years. Other graffiti in Hebrew reads, “Death to Christianity,” “Jesus son of Mary, the whore.”

The church actually shares a parking lot with a synagogue, and ironically, one of the cars that had its tires slashed and was spray painted with graffiti belongs to a congregant of the synagogue.

The Baptist Church includes a number of Messianic believers, and the leadership has historically had connections to top Israeli political officials.

The “price tag” radicals are well known to police as products of the most extremist settlements. The irony in this case is that right-wing Christian support for settlers is a major source of income for even the most radical settlements, constituting a thorn in the side of both the American government and the Israeli military for years now:

So now we have Christian funds from the United States that have effectively supported the misguided second and third generation settler youth who are actively attacking churches and referring to Jesus as a son of a whore. If this is what Pastor John Hagee and other radical Christians intended, then it suggests a rather bizarre theology of interfaith love and care. It seems in reality that these funds are intended to foment conflict, to promote a confrontational, apocalyptic and messianic end to the State of Israel.

Is this a pro-Israel Christian position? Are these the allies that Jews and Israelis really want? Would it not be better to stand in solidarity with a church that was attacked, which exists side by side with a synagogue in Jerusalem in respect and mutual toleration? Even better, would it not be wise to embrace and support interfaith peace and tolerance?

This is the choice that is facing Christians who love Israel, and Jews who welcome...

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