Feast of Tabernacles Conference: The Christian Zionists Lobby Has ReturnedSep 23 2013 / 9:02 pm
By Tristan Sturm
Jerusalemites have no doubt witnessed an increased Christian Zionist presence on the streets in the last few days. Indeed, more than 6,000 Christian Zionists have returned to Israel for their annul “Feast of Tabernacles Conference.” This is the largest non-Jewish and non-Islamic conference in Jerusalem, and is organized by the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem (ICEJ).
These ICEJ Christian Zionists have descended upon Jerusalem from over 60 international states. They follow a foundationally American version of Pentecostalism and Evangelicalism, sects whose missionaries have penetrated the four corners of the Earth to become the fastest growing religious movement in the world.
Many Palestinians are familiar with the Christian Zionists’ central prophecies: (1) an imminent return of Christ; (2) the war to end all wars at Tel Megiddo; and (3) the millennial reign of Christ from the Third Temple.
However, these prophecies will only materialize if Israel’s borders expand to the biblical metes and bounds interpreted from Exodus 23:31—essentially engulfing Palestine and parts of Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Jordan, and Egypt. This cartographic violence runs roughly south to the river Nile and north-east to the Euphrates. Further, this prophetic expansion requires a population that is both ethnically and religiously Jewish.
Such territorial, ethic, and religious requirements explain why Christian Zionists eagerly support the illegal settlement movement, the Jewish migration to Israel and Palestine, wars with Israel’s neighboring states, and the dispossession of Palestinian territory and in some cases genocide of Palestinians.
Such Christian Fundamentalism, writes Slavoj Zizek—one of the world’s most famous popular philosophers today—is one of the two “principle dangers today,” the other being capitalism. And clearly these pilgrims are influential. Clearly these Christian Zionists are influential in Palestine and Israel both discursively and materially.
This time last year the Jerusalem Post published my article on the ICEJ. However, they removed it from their website within two hours. The reason: a Christian Zionist lobby filled the editors’ email boxes with “complaints that it was offensive” and requested its removal. This is censorship by a supposedly “leading English daily newspaper” that claims to represent Israeli interests, albeit conservative and Zionist interests. The piece was later republished by the anti-Zionist and progressive website, CounterPunch.
My previous article explained that Christian Zionist pilgrims are supporting some of Israel’s most risky foreign policy decisions with respect to its Arab neighbors. Their discursive geopolitical representations can be summed as viewing of an “evil” Arab world trying to push a “good,” Godly,” and “innocent” Israel into the Mediterranean sea. Such discourse has apparently penetrated Israeli culture through various media that masquerades as representing conservative Israeli interests.
Christian Zionist support of Israeli foreign policy is also material, however. Through interviews with both Christian Zionist pastors and IDF top brass, I was told of Christian Zionist philanthropists buying certain Israeli battalions new rifle scopes, clothes, and jeeps; while others volunteered their labour to prepare army food; or even volunteered their engineering skills for such things as radio repair. All of this is done in an effort to continue a war effort in large part to take Palestine away from Palestinians.
The Feast of Tabernacles Conference has always made symbolic and material gestures toward its support of the IDF. The most popular fieldtrip in past years I have attended the conference is a “Tour of the Israel Air Force Museum” in Beersheva. Pilgrims this year will be given a “special briefing… on how Israel is prepared to meet the Iranian threat” by Dr. Mordechai Kedar, described as an IDF intelligence officer and lecturer with the BESA Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University. Other military themed ICEJ fieldtrips include the Armored Corps Museum at Laturn.
Representative of their support for Israel’s territorial expansion, each year pilgrims are taken to settlements like “the strategic Gilo Ridge… to hear about the siege of Jerusalem in 1948 through the eyes of an Israeli soldier who fought in the battle.” Settlements are of primary concern to Christian Zionists because they represent the occupation by Jews of Palestinian lands. Millions of dollars are funnelled into Jewish settlement activities through illegal auspices—which include everything from settlement security to the “John Hagee Sports Arena” in Ariel (named after a prominent American Christian Zionist who donated the money for the facility)—precisely because settlement activities, in their eyes, are the most promising movement to achieve the prophetic territory of “Eretz Yisrael.”
Perhaps the most interesting trip I attended was the “Tour of Sderot Region” in 2008 where conference attendees could “find out how Christians can help support and defend them through Operation Lifeshield,” the bus shelter cum bomb shelter project in and around the Negev region. We were told the frontlines in the battle between good and evil was along Gaza’s borders. And that it was here pilgrims were not only witnessing future prophecy taking place, they were helping make it happen by donating money to the bomb shelter program to help win the war against the “evil” Palestinians. It was all very reassuring that the end of the world was nigh, and Christ was coming very soon.
At the end of the trip, the Christian Zionist pilgrims on the fieldtrip were taken to the edge of Sderot to a landscape lookout near the Parash Hill. It was here the tour leader told us with resounding approval from the pilgrims that “Muslims are a people of death, and Jews and Christians are peoples of life.” Prior to this, the Mayor of Sderot met the group of some 50 Christian Zionists and exclaimed, quoting Defense Minister Ehud Barak, “the IDF is the most moral army.” The irony of such a statement would sadly come to fruition a few months later when Operation Cast Lead killed over 1,400 people and wounded more than 5,000, many of whom were innocent bystanders or children.
This movement should concern not only Palestine, but also the world over, especially those developing states where they have recently had the most success in converting tens of millions of people who also believe in these fatalistic ideas of an imminent end of the world and Palestine’s place in it as center stage. Such logic naturalizes the geopolitical representation that if any violence happens to Palestine it is simply all part of God’s greater plan: showdown Armageddon.
– Tristan Sturm is assistant professor at York University in Toronto, Canada. He has lived, worked, studied, and traveled with Christian Zionists in and around Palestine for almost a decade. His writing on this topic has appeared in Haaretz, The Toronto Star, and CounterPunch. He is also co-editor (with Jason Dittmer) of the book, Mapping the End Times: American Evangelical Geopolitics and Apocalyptic Visions (Ashgate, 2010). He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.
Sturm, T. (2012) “Christian Zionists Support Israel’s Risky Policy Decisions.” CounterPunch. 8 Oct. 2012.
Zizek, Slavoj (2010) Living in the End Times. London: Verso. Quote from p. 131.