By Jessica Morrison
My Facebook feed this morning is full of Christian people declaring emphatically why they are planning to put the so called “Christian” parties last on their ballot this Saturday. While this might be reflective of my generation’s desire to overshare on Facebook, this strenuous rallying against parties that suggest they speak for Christians is striking.
The political parties that emphasise Christianity in their platform are all minor far-right parties – Rise up Australia Party, Family First, Australian Liberty Alliance, and Fred Nile’s rebranded Christian Democratic Party, only one of which has a seat in our Federal parliament. However given that polling is showing increased support for minor parties, this might change in the Federal election.
So why are so many Christians so perturbed about parties that carry their name? One clue might be found in these parties’ positions concerning the Holy Land.
This weekend’s Sydney gathering of the National Council of Churches – which counts among its member organisations a total of 19 different Australian Christian denominations – affirmed its commitment to the Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) program. EAPPI is a program of the World Council of Churches, set up in response to a call from Palestinian Christians, which focuses on nonviolent accompaniment, with a vision of both Israelis and Palestinians living in a just peace, and the urgent need to rectify injustices against the Palestinians. The National Council of Churches gathering also passed a motion committing to further engagement with Palestinian Christians and noting the Uniting Church’s 2015 decision to engage in an awareness raising campaign about injustices experienced by Palestinians. This concern for the injustices and abuses meted out to the Palestinian women, men and children draws on well-established international consensus. Indeed official legal advice from the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Israel’s own chief legal advisor during Israel’s seizure of the Palestinian West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and Gaza in 1967, the International Court of Justice, and leading human rights organisations all agree that Israel’s settlements and occupation are illegal because they produce grave breaches of basic human rights and humanitarian law.
When we turn to the policy of the “Christian” parties standing in this election however – in contrast to the National Council of Churches’ position and international consensus on the illegality of Israel’s occupation – there is no mention of occupation and injustice, only a focus on theology and the proclaimed virtues of Israel.
Christian Democratic Party candidates in NSW have said the following in emails to constituents that their fervent support for Israel is justified on the basis that “not supporting Israel is to deny the Bible’s clear teaching that those who bless Israel will be blessed themselves”; “Isaac is the blessed line, not Ishmael”; and “our stand with Israel is based on God’s inerrant and prophetic Word concerning His ancient, chosen people and the right to the land which was given to them in an everlasting Covenant”.
The Australian Liberty Alliance has a very short foreign affairs section, but a whole quarter is dedicated to Israel and includes a policy that looks like it was written by ideological Israeli settlers – referring to the West Bank using the label favoured by extremist anti-Palestinian settlers: “Judea and Samaria” and undermining the international consensus regarding the military Occupation of East Jerusalem by stating Jerusalem should be Israel’s “undivided capital”. In response to a constituent email, the President of Australian Liberty Alliance boldly proclaimed that “Palestinians’ do not suffer under any hand other than their own leaders”, which is not only callous but a ridiculous claim to make about people living under an illegal military occupation.
Senator Bob Day, the only current Family First member of the Federal Parliament has boldly proclaimed that “I am a strong supporter of Israel.”
A fourth party proclaiming a Christian inspiration is the Rise Up Australia Party. Their leader Daniel Nalliah was asked to leave Family First for his extremist views, and suggested that the disastrous 2011 Queensland floods were a result of then Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd “speaking against Israel” (that is, asking Israel to join Australia in signing the global Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty).
When we contrast the mainstream Christian view about the Holy Land with the political parties bearing their name, it is not surprising that many Christians in Australia are outraged with the positions of the “Christian” parties. Given the growing concern for the basic human rights of Palestinians among both Christians and people more broadly in Australia, if these supposedly Christian parties do indeed aim to represent and promote Christian values in the public sphere, a serious re-examination of their own policies regarding Israel’s violent occupation of Palestine and abuse of basic human rights might be a good place to start.