World Vision’s anti-Israel bias
by Kirsty Walker
In August 2011 I attended a World Vision sponsored presentation in a local church of the documentary “With God on Our Side”. The film was introduced as providing a “missing narrative” of the Middle East conflict, and that it was a fair, if controversial, representation of the real situation “on the ground” in Gaza and the West Bank.
I was surprised at the content of “With God On Our Side”, and deeply disappointed that World Vision had chosen to support and promote this film among the Christian community. I wrote to World Vision to express my concerns, and this post is based on my initial correspondence with World Vision.
This documentary does not attempt to provide a balanced explanation of the conflict in the Middle East; rather, it simply condemns the Jewish state and Christians who support Israel. “With God On Our Side” contains serious errors and bias, gives a narrow, overly simplistic view of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and lays the blame for the suffering of the Palestinian people solely at the feet of Israel. It also attacks a section of the Christian church, namely Christian supporters of Israel, identified in the documentary as “Christian Zionists”. As a long-term supporter of World Vision, I was very concerned that this Christian aid agency would promote this film, both on its website and by presenting it around local churches.
Jonathan Freund’s excellent paper, A Response To ‘With God On Our Side’ outlines the most blatant errors made in the documentary. This document can be found here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/49980263/A-Response-to-the-film-With-God-on-Our-Side
In addition to the misrepresentations made in the “With God On Our Side”, what was left out of the film was also telling. Nothing was said in the documentary about Arab aggression, discrimination and terrorism employed against the Jewish population, either in pre-1948 Palestine or in modern Israel. The history and influence of Arab organizations such as the PLO, Fatah, Hamas, Hezbollah and the Muslim Brotherhood was completely omitted. The extreme anti-Semitism that is promoted in Palestinian Authority and Hamas controlled areas was ignored and the role of Palestinian leaders in perpetuating the cycle of poverty and violence among their own people was not mentioned. The most glaring omission was the well-documented intention of Palestinian political leaders to work for the destruction of the “Zionist entity”.
Supporters of Israel are not blind to injustices committed by Israeli government agencies, such as the police or IDF. However, it is unjust to blame Israel alone for the woes of the Palestinian population in Gaza and the disputed territories, or to condemn the actions of Israel without also considering the actions of their international neighbours.
Criticism of Christians who support Israel
In promoting “With God On Our Side”, World Vision singled out a section of the Christian community for condemnation. World Vision endorsed the film’s errors and generalizations and condoned the misrepresentation of Christians, some of whom have supported the work of World Vision for many years. This film implies and asserts that Christians who support Israel’s desire to live peaceably as a Jewish state are theologically dispensationalist, evangelical fundamentalists, with an unhealthy interest in apocalyptic scriptures, whose narrow-mindedness allows little compassion for the sufferings of Palestinian Muslims and Christians. This is simply not true, as Christian supporters of Israel and the Jewish people may be found in almost all Christian theological traditions, supporting a range of relief and aid agencies which minister to the Palestinian people. Compassion for Israelis does not preclude compassion for Palestinians.
One example of the false assertions the film makes about Christian (and Jewish) Zionists is the image of an Israeli flag moving across the Middle East with the title “Christian Zionist Borders”. This is a gross misrepresentation of the beliefs of Christian and Jewish Zionists. The Bible does refer to the land God promised to the Israelites extending “from the Euphrates River to the western sea”, but this does not mean that Christian or Jewish Zionists or modern Israelis consider such a literal, political expansionism should be achieved or even desired today. Implying that Christian Zionists support some fabricated Israeli ambition to take over the Middle East in order to force the fulfilment of a Biblical promise is a lie, based on anti-Semitic lies about Jews plotting to control the world. Such falsehoods have no place in a Christian presentation.
Is it right for a Christian Aid agency like World Vision to misrepresent Christians and Jews and seek to bring division between Christian believers by promoting this film?
In the discussion that followed the film screening, no reference was made to the causal link between sufferings of the Palestinian people and their own religious and political leadership. Although Hamas’ own charter makes it clear that Hamas and its supporters will never recognise any sovereign Jewish state in any form in the Middle East, the meeting was advised that Hamas would readily recognise Israel if it returned to the pre-1967 borders. This is untrue. As recently as 2009, a senior Hamas MP in Gaza, Fathi Hammad declared, “We will not rest until we destroy the Zionist entity.”
The claim was made that what Hamas “said in Syria” was not necessarily the political reality in Gaza. That may be the case, yet the political leadership of Hamas in Gaza refuse to recognise Israel as a sovereign Jewish state and have not permanently renounced acts of terror against Israelis. It was Hamas in Gaza who used Palestinian civilians as human shields in the 2009 Gaza War. Mr Hammad also claimed that, “For the Palestinian people, death has become an industry, at which women excel, and so do all the people living on this land. This is why they have formed human shields of the women, the children, the elderly and the mujahideen. It is as if they were saying to the Zionist enemy: ‘We desire death like you desire life’’.”
The Palestinian people live with the reality of political and religious leaders who use them as pawns in an ideologically driven conflict. However, this perspective was not presented in “With God On Our Side” or by World Vision.
World Vision in Israel
I asked if World Vision was helping vulnerable Jewish children in Israel. It was explained that although there was poverty in Israel, World Vision’s work was not needed there, because Israel is a wealthy country, likening Israel to Germany. I do not consider that this comparison is entirely reasonable, as Germany’s citizens are not subject to terrorist attacks on a regular basis, nor are they surrounded by increasingly politically unstable, hostile neighbouring states that threaten genocide. Israel has absorbed hundreds of thousands of refugees into a very small geographical area, with only limited assistance from international agencies. This, along with the need to spend a large proportion of their budget on defence, saps a lot of the wealth out of the Israeli economy. There is real and growing poverty in Israel, and not just in the West Bank and Gaza.
The fact that the Palestinian people have received billions of dollars of international aid monies over a period of decades was never mentioned in World Vision’s presentation. Israel does receive financial support from the United States – as do Egypt and other Arab nations that America seeks to maintain as political allies. Palestinians are also beneficiaries of American aid monies.
It appears that World Vision sees Palestinian children in the West Bank and Gaza as inherently more vulnerable and in need of compassion than Israeli Jewish and Arab children in Sderot and the slums of Tel Aviv. Such racism is unjust and out of step with World Vision’s mission to “serve all people regardless of religion, race, ethnicity, or gender.”
The conflict in the Middle East is complex, involving political, religious, geographical, racial, historical and cultural aspects. It cannot be reduced to a two dimensional, black and white conflict that would disappear if Israel simply withdrew to pre-1967 cease-fire lines and dismantled its checkpoints and security barrier. Israel is not without fault, but neither can they bear the full responsibility for the cycle of poverty and violence experienced by Palestinians. Christian support for Israel does not automatically exclude compassion and support for the Palestinian people, but it does exclude supporting political entities, such as Hamas, that spread a message of hate and perpetuate an ever-increasing cycle of violence.
The World Vision website levels criticism against Israeli government policies and actions, but no criticism is made against international Arab or Palestinian leadership, which have exploited the Palestinian people’s misery and used it for their own political and ideological ends.
I no longer understand whether World Vision is dedicated to serving “all people regardless of religion, race, ethnicity, or gender” or to acting as advocates for anti-Israeli political and religious organisations. It seems that Hamas and other Palestinian nationalist bodies are using World Vision to promote and bear witness to their own “gospel” among World Vision supporters.
By promoting the overtly partisan film With God On Our Side” and providing only the official Palestinian version of Palestinian suffering, World Vision in the Middle East has crossed from being a “Christian relief, development and advocacy organization” to being a political advocacy organisation. It is being used as a political tool against the Jewish state and against Christians who choose to support Israel’s right to exist.
 Deuteronomy 11:24