Jesus a Palestinian?

December 24, 2015 by J-Wire News Service
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The Executive Council of Australian Jewry has exchanged letters with the Uniting Church in Australia following an online article in which Christ’s birthplace is described as being in Palestine.

The words of a well-known and oft-used Christmas carol: “Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel, Born is the King of Israel

The following email exchange between Peter Wertheim, Executive Director of the ECAJ, and Stuart McMillan, President of the Uniting Church in Australia, is published by J-Wire with the kind permission of both of them.

Dear Mr McMillan

Peter Wertheim

Peter Wertheim

I hope you don’t mind me getting in touch with you so close to Christmas.  We were given your email address by Rob McFarlane who I have had the great pleasure of getting to know at ECAJ-UCA interfaith dialogue sessions in recent years.

I write to you concerning an article entitled ‘The Rude Australian Delegation To Palestine That Pretended There Wasn’t An Elephant In The Room’, which appeared yesterday in New Matilda, authored by Samah Sabawi and Bassam Dally, two members of the Palestinian community and activists with the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network (APAN):

As you might be aware, there is a relationship between the UCA and APAN through an organisation known as the Palestine Israel Ecumenical Network (PIEN). I understand Gregor Henderson is actively involved in both APAN and PIEN.

I draw your attention in particular to the following statement in the opening paragraph of the article:

So this is Christmas, and what has Australia done? An official delegation representing our country in Israel has added fuel to the flames of extremism abroad by applauding proven human rights violators and insulting the living descendants of Christ in his home of birth in Palestine.

The article relates to a recent visit to Israel and the Palestinian Territories by a senior Australian delegation led by Christopher Pyne. You might have read that the delegation was criticised by some Palestinians for posing questions to the Education Minister of the Palestinian Authority (PA) about the PA’s practice of naming schools in honour of suicide bombers. The article is extreme in tone and content, and makes a series of unfounded and inflammatory accusations against the state of Israel. But it is the sentence quoted above that has prompted us to email you.

Whatever our views about the Arab-Israeli conflict and how the parties can be brought to a peaceful resolution, there can be no excuse for anyone to descend into false and hateful statements such as the one quoted above.

The proposition that Jesus was a Palestinian and that the Palestinian Arab population of today are his “living descendants” is so absurd and offensive that it deserves an immediate and substantive rebuttal. It is a manipulative and hateful proposition advanced from time to time by anti-Israel activists in order to erase the Jewishness of Jesus and the common origins of Christianity and Judaism, and to pretend that the Holy Land has no Jewish national or religious history.  Both the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures are replete with references that affirm that history, and it is also abundantly corroborated by other written and archaeological evidence.  The sentence quoted above is a cynical attempt to appropriate Christianity itself to the Palestinian nationalist cause, to render the Jewish people as historical ‘non-persons’, to declare Judaism as superseded and invalid and to reassert the ‘otherness’ which Christians in their darkest days have infamously attributed to the Jewish people.  It is difficult to conceive of an uglier attempt to propagate a lie in the service of wedge politics.

I am appealing to you as a man of faith and a leader of a significant church, especially during this season of goodwill,  not to remain silent in the face of this publication.

The sentiment conveyed by Sabawi and Dally is an insult to the sanctity of historical truth and our shared religious traditions. I believe we have a duty to speak in such instances and to condemn such distortions without equivocation. Given the relationship between APAN and the UCA through the PIEN, I believe there is a an even greater duty to condemn this statement publicly (as it was made publicly) and to make clear to members of your Church and the wider community that the views expressed in the article are not the views of PIEN and certainly not of the UCA.

It is entirely possible for people of good will to hold differing views on how to solve a problem, particularly one as complex and vexing as the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. But some things go beyond political feuds and must be held sacred. On this I hope we can agree. For these reasons, I respectfully ask that you issue a statement rejecting the views conveyed in the article and clarifying that they are an affront to Christian tradition and to historical truth.

I look forward to hearing from you and wish you and your members a joyous and peaceful Christmas.

Sincerely   Peter Wertheim  [executive director – The Executive Council of Australian Jewry]


Shalom Peter,

Stuart McMillan

Stuart McMillan

Thank you for your email and your kind wishes for our Church and myself. I live in Darwin, however for December and January I am working from the Assembly offices in Sydney.

The Uniting Church highly values our dialogues with the Jewish community and your leadership in the various Synods/states, and particularly nationally. These relationships which have grown over many years are most important to us. They make it possible for us to discuss matters we may disagree on in a spirit of friendship and respect, recognising that together we hold the desire for a just peace for Israel and Palestine.

It is not our practise to publically counter what others may write unless they specifically have written something untrue about the Uniting Church. For this reason we will not be issuing a statement about the article you refer to in the New Matilda. However I would like to assure you and the Jewish community that the Uniting Church does not accept the view that Jesus was Palestinian. We affirm that Jesus and most of his early followers were Jewish. We note that Jesus was born neither in Israel nor in Palestine, but in the Roman occupied province of Judea, and that it is entirely inappropriate for anybody to attempt to claim political capital from the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem to bolster claims of either ‘side’ of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.

It is my hope that our assurance to you of this understanding together with our commitment to the relationship between your community and ours, will enable our continuing dialogue and that together will shall seek peace and understanding here in Australia and for the Holy Lands. Peter I would like to call you in the New Year if you will be in Sydney?

Mägayamirri Rom, Stuart

Stuart McMillan  – President

 Mägayamirri Rom means in the Yolŋu languages of North East Arnhem Land:

“the way of peace and tranquility, harmony with the whole of creation


22 Responses to “Jesus a Palestinian?”
  1. Sylvia Haworth says:

    Speaking as an historically-aware and informed practising Christian, I have to say that it really grates on me when any of my fellow Christians talk about Jesus (Yehoshua/ Joshua) being born in or living in ‘Palestine”, because it is such a crashing anachronism. In his own lifetime and for some 100 years afterward it was not known by that name at all! Not to anybody! He himself is described by the evangelists as having been born “in Bethlehem in Judea” and as spending much of his life and ministry in “Galilee”. It is worth noting that not one of the New Testament writers – neither the four Gospel writers, nor Paul/ Shaul in his letters, nor Peter/ Kepha in his letters, nor James (Yaakov) – *ever* uses the term “Palestine” to describe the land of Israel. For them, the term “Palestine” simply does not exist – the only possible explanations are 1/ that they are writing at and about a time when the hostile Roman renaming of the Land had not taken place, or else 2/ (if they were writing after AD 135) that they disagreed with and did not endorse the name imposed by the Romans (for them, Jerusalem is Jerusalem, period; it is NOT ‘Aelia Capitolina’); furthermore it appears that those who copied and recopied the Christian texts, *after* AD 135 when the Land was renamed by the Romans, have *not* corrected/ edited those texts to *insert” an equivalent of “Palestine” *anywhere*. The New Testament texts therefore reflect/ preserve a mapping of the land in which the foreign term “Palestine” simply does not exist. For people nowadays to ‘project’ the term ‘Palestine’ back into the lifetime of Jesus is to go against the practice of the New Testament authors, and their transmitters, themselves. Calling Jesus “Palestinian” is as teeth-grittingly irritating to the historically-aware as calling Boadicea an “Englishwoman”.

  2. Henry Herzog says:

    Seriously, this McMillan bloke has the DNA of the Christian crusaders who murdered many thousands of Jews on their way to the Holy land, and slaughtered many more when they got there. He also is an ignoramus and should keep his nose out of politics. Haven’t these Christians done enough.
    I bet he still believes we killed his Jesus.

  3. pam hopf says:

    The concept that Jesus was Palestinian (and by implication a Muslim) is so ridiculous that anyone with a modicum of commonsense would just laugh it off. However, it has gained traction among the many anti-Semites out there, whose bigotry and blind hatred of Jews override any commonsense they may once have had.

    • Paul Winter says:

      You are right in calling the notion of Jesus a “Palestinian (and by implication a Muslim” ridiculous, but it fits in with mohammedan politics and ideology. The politics you obviously know about. You may not be aware that Islam regards itself as the true Abrahamic faith from which Jews and Christians have wickedly departed. Thus they state that any Jew or Christian adopting Islam is not converting, but rather REVERTING to the true and original faith revealed to Mohammed by Allah.

  4. Mike Perloff says:

    Sadly today, as Jews in the Jewish heartland of Judea, Jesus, Joseph and Mary risk of being killed by Palestinean Arabs simply because the three of them were Jews. Ironically, there are Christians today who would say it was their fault because they were Jews who dared to be in JUdea.

  5. Gedeon Herschberg says:

    The term “Palestine” was coined by the Romans who expelled the Jews and atampted to change the name of their country to punish them and remove them from history’s lime light.
    The has never been such a country.

  6. Paul Winter says:

    McMillan’s response to Wertheim’s complaint is a contemptible cop-out.

    In his first paragraph he lets the Jewish community know that UCA disagrees with the Jewish community and they couldn’t care less if we object to their position or if Jews choose to break it off because of their position.

    He falsely asserts that the both Jews and Uniting Church members have an interest in a just peace for Israel and Palestine. He therefore reveals his position, asserting that a Palestinian polity exists. He also equates Jews who have a link to the people of Israel with the UCA’s identifying with the local Arabs who are overwhelmingly mohammedan; the UCA has no interest in that fight especially when it ignores the plight of Christians generally in the ME and particularly of Christians under PA and Hamas tyrannies.

    McMillan then states that the UCA does not publicly counter lies except when it is about itself. Gregor Henderson seems to be associated with the UCA and if he is linked to the lies of the Sabawi/Dally article then the UCA should dissociate itself from the article and Henderson. That it chooses not to do so implies that the UCA endorses the falsehoods in article. But more to the point, any church which takes Judeo-Christian principles seriously would denounce untruths.

    The UCA’s hypocrisy is demonstrated by the fact that it is prepared to speak out on issues that do not involve it – the Jewish/Arab dispute – but is not prepared to speak out on a falsehood with which it is associated.

    Were it up to me, I would sponsor an ad denouncing the UCA, New Matilda and the authors of the article and announcing that the ECAJ was suspending contacts with the UCA until it returns to the principles and values of Australian society.

    • Rachel Merhav says:

      Paul Winter, you’ve made excellent points, which I think really worth passing on to Peter Wertheim to act upon, particularly your suggestion of issuing an ad, Media Release or perhaps an Open Letter exposing McMilllan’s contemptuous response.

  7. Fiona Sweet Formiatti says:

    Jesus was born in Judah (called Judea by the Romans) which, together with Israel, was occupied and called Palestina by the Romans.

    So Stuart McMillan is trying to be too clever by half in his misleading claim that Jesus was Jewish born in Palestina. Jews in Judah knew the proper name of their land, and the name forced on them by the Romans.

    I’ve heard this canard before – from a member of the Anglican church 10 years ago. That person was adamant that Jesus was Palestinian, and not even Jewish! Many Arab Christians cannot tolerate the idea that Jesus was a Jew and are trying to re-write history.

    I’d like to see people like Stuart McMillian and ‘Palestinians’ admit that the British took over 80 per cent of the former Ottoman province, Palestine, and created the ‘Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan’.

    • Ron Jontof-Hutter says:

      In the lead up to Christmas, people of Europe flock to performances of. Bach’s Christmas Oratorio.
      Near the opening, the text makes reference to ” He came from Judea, the land of the Jews.”
      Does the Uniting Church think Bach got it wrong?

  8. Ron Jontof-Hutter says:

    It’s time for the church to formally repudiate Augustine’s dictum of Jews being “eternal witness”, casting Jews to pariah status. This status included the belief that Jews should be homeless, which makes Israel a contradiction. Hence the cold attitude by the churches, the EU and the WCC. McMillan’s response is another non committal response, just as the church never condemns violence against Jews in Paris or Israel. When pressed, it merely does ” not condone” or talks of the “cycle of violence” .
    Get the church to condemn the basics, not the symptoms.

  9. Lynne Newington says:

    Ask the Rabbi……

  10. Rabbi Chaim Ingram says:

    Something blindingly obvious is being overlooked here. The Arab community does not hold a monopoly over the word Palestinian.

    My machateiniste is a Palestinian by birth. She was born in British Mandate Palestine in 1947. I would have thought that rather than focus on the reference to Jesus being “a Palestinian” the ECAJ executive director ought to have categorically refused to buy into the notion that “Palestinian” equals “person of Arab descent”.

    The reference to the Noel carol is a red herring. Jesus was not, of course, the “king of Israel” and the reference to israel in the carol is not to the land but to the people

    The most reprehensible aspect of the article is the risible reference to Jesus’s ״descendants” as of course he sired no offspring according to any historical or other record.

    It is in my opinion unnecessary for this exchange to have been brought into the public arena. Again I say I believe the focus was slightly skewed.

    • Mike Perloff says:

      If Rabbi Ingram and I moved to Texas, people would label us Texans, a term that described where we lived. We’d be called Palestinians if we moved to the Palestine region before Israel’s resurrection and Virginians if we moved to Virginia. None of these terms would identify us as part of a unique and historically distinct people.

    • pam hopf says:

      British Mandate Palestine was designated as the historic homeland for the Jews. Sadly the Brits bowed to Arab aggression and gave 78% to the Arabs, and this became known as TransJordan. During the Mandate period, the newspaper now known as the Jerusalem Post was the Palestine Post, and it was not run by Muslims! Similarly the Palestine Symphony Orchestra. Just because Muslims make ridiculous claims, we don’t have to buy into them in an effort to appease their aggression.

  11. Lahat Khereb says:

    with such bastardy as this, by the Philistine, Palestinian wannabes,
    in its own way, It brings the Jews, at an impasse, think that’s the word in thinking of, to reclaim the Jewishness & Israelite called Jesus Christ,
    In its own way, it would bring the nations to envy the Jews for accepting Jesus Christ, as a King of Israel, even in a Historical Context.

    Though opinions are divided on Jesus in the Jewish Community, it may be, a saving grace for the Jews not only in Israel, but also over the world.
    nowhere in the New Testament, does it call Jesus a Palestinian, as that is a lie perpetrated not only by Muslims, but also by Anti-Zionists.

  12. Gil Solomon says:

    Forget diplomatic niceties and political correctness.
    Below is what I would have written to Mr McMillan,

    Dear Sir,
    Thank you for your comment that: “I would like to assure you and the Jewish community that the Uniting Church does not accept the view that Jesus was Palestinian”. That truly makes me sleep easy.

    For a dose of reality, please read and absorb the following.
    In reference to the “Palestinians” and their incessant claims, the facts are that in biblical times, all of what is now Israel and the “west bank” (Judea and Samaria) was Jewish. When the Romans conquered the territory they named the entire area “Philistina” in order to rub salt into the wounds of the defeated Jews by calling the place in honour of their ancient and mortal enemies the Philistines. By doing so, the Romans acknowledged that the owners of the territory were Jews. Down the centuries the name Philistina was anglicised to Palestine.

    At the beginning of the 20th Century, if one were referred to as a Palestinian, it was automatically implied that he or she was Jewish. Decades later Arabs cleverly commandeered the term “Palestinian” and fools the world over, including Jewish fools, have bought the propaganda that “Palestinians” have never forgiven the division of their “country” by the UN. If there was such a country, who were its rulers, what was its currency, was it a democratic country or one ruled by Sharia law? The questions are endless but no one poses these types of questions to the Palestinian Authority.

    The facts are that there was no country called Palestine.
    Simply put, Palestine was a land mass administered finally by the British until the 1947 Partition Plan when only a part was allocated back to its century’s old rightful owners, the Jewish people.

    I find it disgraceful that the notion that “Jesus was a Palestinian” is taken seriously by anyone except the so called “Palestinians” of today who have their own fictitious narrative to peddle day in day out.

  13. Henry Herzog says:

    Nothing much has changed. There’s no point arguing with them when they tell such blatant lies, and re-writing history to suit their age old hatred of us Jews.

  14. David Adler says:

    Perhaps it is worth pointing out to Mr McMillan that the province of Judea, whether occupied or not, was named after the Jewish tribe of Judea, which in turn was named after, literally, one of the Children of Israel (Yaakov/Jacob).

  15. Michael Jaku says:

    And who were the native occupants of “the Roman occupied province of Judea”?

  16. Dian (Dina) Grossman Kjaergaard says:

    Just wondering …. why did Stuart McMillan not comment the contradiction between the article and his true assertion about Jesus being born in Roman-occupied Judea?

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