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Israel calls Christian peace conference in Bethlehem 'shameful'

Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has strongly condemned a weeklong peace and justice conference for Christian evangelicals that launched on Monday in Bethlehem, and admitted to orchestrating an intimidation campaign against the conference participants. This comes at a time when Israel is increasingly losing its Christian support base in the US.

Israel’s Haaretz newspaper reported on Tuesday that, “Support for Israel is weakening among evangelical Christians, prompting a new struggle for the hearts and minds of younger members of America’s largest pro-Israel demographic group.” The newspaper adds that the “leading evangelical pro-Israel organisation, Christians United for Israel (CUFI), has set off alarm bells in articles and interviews decrying the inroads made by pro-Palestinian activists into the evangelical community. CUFI’s leaders are calling for a new strategy to block them.”

The Israeli authorities have thus voiced strenuous opposition to this year’s CATC, specifically calling out the conference’s religious framework. The ministry issued a statement on Sunday claiming that: “The attempt to use religious motifs in order to mobilise political propaganda and agitate the feelings of the faithful through the manipulation of religion and politics is an unacceptable and shameful act. Using religion for the purpose of incitement in the service of political interests stains the person who does it with a stain of indelible infamy.”

Furthermore, the authorities admitted to launching an intimidation campaign against the conference participants. The ministry told Israel Today newspaper that: “We have already actively targeted specific participants in the conference, as well as leaders of the groups who will attend the event, in a coordinated effort to expose them to our side of the story.”

The first CATC was organised in 2010 by the Bethlehem Bible College and the second held in 2012. This year, the theme for the CATC is “Your Kingdom Come” and asks participants to think about how Jesus Christ would approach the Israeli-Palestinian conflict today.

Hundreds of Christian activists, along with others who support peace and justice in Palestine, are expected to attend the conference, which culminates on Friday.

According to the CATC press statement, the “topics covered will include the Palestinian Church, religious radicalism, Christian Zionism, Jesus’ teachings amid conflict, the Kingdom of God, peace making and reconciliation.” In addition, the conference is organising optional visits to the Bethlehem checkpoint every morning, as well as field trips around Bethlehem, Hebron and East Jerusalem. A livestream will run for the duration of the conference.

The CATC statement adds that: “As conflict and bloodshed spread hatred and animosity in the Holy Land, Christ’s call for Christians to be peacemakers who stand lovingly against injustice is needed more than ever.”

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