by Dale Hildebrand
The make-up of Stephen Harper’s 250-strong entourage that accompanied him to the Middle East was a closely guarded secret until just days before the delegation touched down in Israel. Now we know why: the list of eager travellers, many who went at the taxpayer’s expense, includes right-wing Christian extremists whose beliefs are blatantly at odds not only with official government policy, but with the sensibilities of most Canadians.
Evangelical Christians make up about 10% of the Canadian population and around 18% of the 22 million Canadians who still identify with the Christian faith, according to the latest Statistics Canada data. But of the dozen or so church representatives invited on the delegation, only one was not an evangelical—and that was National Post columnist Fr. Raymond de Souza, a Catholic priest known for his pro-Israel views, and a board member of the Center for Israel and Jewish Affairs.
Clearly there was one criterion for being a member of the Christian portion of the delegation: unmitigated fervour for the state of Israel. There was not a single representative who could speak with any integrity about the plight and aspirations of Palestinian Christians. Anglicans, Catholics, United Church, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Mennonites, Quakers and others who have long historical relationships with the Christian community in Palestine were shunned in favour of the Christian and Missionary Alliance of Canada, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, the Fellowship of Evangelical Baptist Churches in Canada, Trinity Bible Church, Crossroads Christian Communications, International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, and the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada. (See list of the PM's party.)
One of the groups that accompanied Mr. Harper is the Canada branch of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem. The name of the organization is politically provocative: when Israel proclaimed Jerusalem to be the undivided capital of Israel in 1980, 13 remaining countries joined others in moving their embassies out of Jerusalem to Tel Aviv. In stepped the International Christian Embassy to proclaim Jerusalem as a city for the Jewish people in support of the Israeli government. If other countries would not support Israel’s claim to Jerusalem, a nation of Christians would.
But the ICEJ beliefs go beyond Jerusalem. Their website position statement states that “Christian Zionism is the belief that the land of Canaan, for the purposes of world redemption, is the everlasting possession of the Jewish people.” For those not schooled in biblical geography, “Canaan” includes modern day Israel, the Palestinian Territories, parts of Lebanon, western Jordan and the south-western part of Syria.
The ICEJ Aid and Development is a registered Canadian charity that in 2012 raised $332,401 in tax-receiptable donations, the majority of which appears to have been transferred to ICEJ in Jerusalem, whose headquarters are in the former home of distinguished American-Palestinian intellectual, Edward Said. His home, like the property of hundreds of thousands of non-Jewish Palestinians, was confiscated without compensation to create the new state of Israel in 1948. On Revenue Canada’s website, the charity’s listed aims include “to teach truth” and “provide practical comfort to Israel.” Activities for which the charity collects funds include the provision of “much needed bomb proof shelters for schools, community centres and bus stops to protect against terrorist missiles especially into southern Israel.” One would think that might be more within the purview of the Israeli government Ministry of Defence.
With regard to Israeli settlements in the West Bank, the ICEJ is of the belief that all of the West Bank (and territory beyond such as the Golan Heights in Syria) belongs to Israel. The first meeting of the International Christian Zionist Congress, organized under the auspices of the ICEJ, declared that “Judea and Samaria (inaccurately termed ‘the West Bank’) are and. by biblical right as well as international law and practice, ought to be a part of Israel.” As such, the ICEJ is opposed to a Palestinian state and opposes peace negotiations that might lead to it.
Naturally, the Israeli government has welcomed organizations such as the ICEJ to Jerusalem with open arms. Prime Minister Netanyahu once told the ICEJ, "I came here to thank you for your support in our great endeavour. It has been consistent. It has been unreserved...it has been very, very effective. The State of Israel is stronger because of your support." Ironically, in many variations of Christian Zionism, the Jewish people are merely a stepping stone to an apocalyptic end to the world when Christ will come and save only those Jews who have converted to Christianity (that minor belief detail doesn’t seem to bother Jews who appreciate Christian Zionists’ support for the time being).
The ICEJ’s own beliefs are somewhat ambiguous on the fate of Jews, believing that when Jesus Christ returns, Jews will recognize him as the true Messiah. In the meantime, “as a nation, Israel remains in rebellion against Jesus of Nazareth and this factor has more to do with her present struggle than we are prepared to admit!” says their website.
So exactly why are organizations like the ICEJ a part of a Canadian government delegation to the Middle East? Christian Zionists are generally to be found in the conservative evangelical stream of churches. These churches make up an important support constituency for Stephen Harper. Inviting the spiritual leaders of this community along for the ride will have ripple effects back into the pews as a Canadian federal election approaches next year. In other words, it’s part of Harper’s shrewd political calculus to cobble together enough constituencies to have his party re-elected.
Precisely what Mr. Harper’s own Christian beliefs are remain somewhat of a mystery since he refuses to speak about them publicly. However he has long been a member of the Christian and Missionary Alliance Church, one of the churches invited along to Israel. Furthermore, his choice of Christian representatives on his delegation speaks volumes about where his own beliefs lie. When asked about some of these delegates, a spokesperson for the PMO’s office said “members of the accompanying delegation do not speak for the government of Canada.” Perhaps not officially, but they do represent the impression the government wishes to leave on the region. Prime Minister Harper is Canada’s highest representative to the world. The people he chooses to accompany him become representatives of Canada as well.
The bottom line is, Stephen Harper chose many representatives on the Canadian delegation whose beliefs directly contradict not only official Canadian Middle East policy, but even those of the feeble words of support Harper offered for Palestinian statehood while on his visit. If actions speak louder than words, then we now know where the Harper government stands: on the shaky and delusional theological foundation of the likes of the ICEJ, where Israel is the shining beacon of hope and Palestinians are expendable pawns in the endgame of Israeli domination.
Dale Hildebrand is the staff coordinator of the United Network for Justice and Peace in Palestine and Israel (UNJPPI), a network of United Church of Canada members and supporters.