(CNSNews.com) – Controversial Palestinian-American activist Linda Sarsour ignited a kerfuffle on Twitter over the weekend by tweeting that Jesus was “a Palestinian.”
After drawing strong reactions, she fell back to a position of saying there were “multiple truths” about Jesus – that he can be seen to have been both Jewish and a Palestinian. The “Jesus was a Palestinian” claim is one frequently made by supporters of the Palestinian cause, for political purposes.
Sarsour kicked off the row with a Friday night tweet, saying, “Jesus was Palestinian of Nazareth and is described in the Quran as being brown copper skinned with wooly hair.”
Reactions ranged generally from angry to incredulous to sarcastic, as multiple users pointed to historical and biblical references to Jesus as Jewish.
A number pointed out that the Romans changed the name of the province of Judea to Palestine (specifically, Syria Palaestina) to punish the Jews after a failed Jewish rebellion, more than 130 years after Jesus was born.
“Jesus was a Jew from Judea ... in fact, Jew means someone from Judea ...,” tweeted Democratic Majority for Israel, a pro-Israel Democratic group in the U.S. "There is an Israeli Palestinian conflict today, but colluding with the Roman imperialists to re-invent history doesn’t help solve it.”
“Are you that stupid?” Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s son, Yair, asked Sarsour on Twitter. “On the cross above Jesus’ head was the sign ‘INRI’ – ‘Iesvs Nazarenvs Rex Ivdaeorvm,’ which means in Latin – Jesus of Nazareth king of the Jews! The Bible say that Jesus was born and raised in Judea!”
The American Jewish Committee weighed in: “Mentions of Judea in the New Testament: 48 Mentions of Palestine in the New Testament: 0. Which makes sense, because the name ‘Palestine’ was only applied to the region by the Romans in 135 CE. Try cracking a history book, Linda. It’ll blow your mind.”
“And Jeremiah was a bullfrog,” offered the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. “Fiction. Fairytale. Lies.”
Sarsour hit back at critics – and in the process made a few political points about Israel and occupation of territory claimed by Palestinian Arabs.
“Jesus was born in Bethlehem which is in Palestine. Move on,” she tweeted.
“Bethlehem is in Palestine. It’s currently militarily occupied by Israel and home to a predominately beautiful Palestinian Christian community. Yes, the birthplace of Jesus is under military occupation.”
Sarsour then argued that a “Palestinian is someone born in Palestine or a descendant of Palestinians. Palestinian is a nationality. So when someone says Jesus was born in modern day Palestine that doesn’t negate that he was a Jew. The hate is real. It breeds ignorance.”
“Multiple truths can co-exist. Jesus was born in Bethlehem. This is modern day Palestine,” she said. “Jesus’ birthplace is under a brutal military occupation. (be mad about that).”
Sarsour, a co-leader of the Women’s March, is a vocal critic of Israel and has been criticized for her association with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, notorious for his views on Jews and Israel.
‘The first Palestinian and the first martyr’
Depicting Jesus as a Palestinian is not new. The late PLO leader Yasser Arafat went so far as to describe Jesus – whom Christians believe was and is God – as “the first Palestinian fedayeen,” using an Arabic term for a militant fighter.
In a typical Christmas Day message several years ago Mahmoud Abbas, Arafat’s successor, said, “In Bethlehem, more than 2,000 years ago, Jesus Christ was born; a Palestinian messenger who would become a guiding light for millions around the world. As we Palestinians strive for our freedom two millennia later, we do our best to follow his example.”
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the Associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said early Monday that repeated attempts to depict Jesus as a “Palestinian,” rather than “the Jew that he was,” serves a number of purposes.
Firstly, he said in an email, it serves “to create a new narrative that in one sentence suddenly bestows a Palestinian presence in the Holy Land 2,000 years. It simultaneously denies Jewish and Christian history.”
“As people like Sarsour see Palestinians as perpetual victims, coopting the imagery of Jesus’ suffering as somehow Palestinians’, serves to reinforce their narrative,” Cooper said.
“Abbas, Arafat, Sarsour serially deny the continuous Jewish presence in the Holy Land for 3,500 years,” he said. “To admit it would legitimize the presence of Jewish neighbors and a Jewish state.”
As recorded and translated by Palestinian Media Watch, a number of Palestinian Authority figures and official media outlets have used such terminology over recent years. A few examples:
--“We are proud of Jesus being Palestinian” – the district governor of a P.A.-run area near Ramallah, Laila Ghannam.
--“The Christians know that Jesus Christ was a Palestinian. He really was from Jerusalem, and his resurrection was from Jerusalem.” – a member of the central committee of Abbas’ Fatah faction of the PLO, Abbas Zaki.
--“Jesus is a Palestinian; the self-sacrificing Yasser Arafat is a Palestinian; Mahmoud Abbas, the messenger of peace on earth, is a Palestinian. How great is this nation of the holy Trinity!” – an op-ed in the official P.A. paper, Al-Hayat Al-Jadida.
--“The greatest Palestinian in history since Jesus is Yasser Arafat.” – Fatah central committee member Jibril Rajoub.
--“For Christmas, the birthday of Jesus the first Palestinian and the first Martyr …” – Fatah central committee member Tawfiq Tirawi.
--“We can be proud, oh son of Mary, that you are the first Palestinian who redeemed mankind.” – Christmas Day 2012 editorial in Al-Hayat Al-Jadida.
When the P.A. in 2012 applied to the U.N. cultural agency UNESCO for Bethlehem to be recognized as an endangered World Heritage site, its official application explained why Bethlehem was important to Muslims as well as to Christians.
“That Jesus was also Issa, a Muslim prophet, gives the place additional outstanding value, a particularly iconic one in the early 21st century,” it said.
(In the Qur’an, many biblical figures, from Adam to Jesus, are described as Muslim prophets or messengers.)
Although UNESCO’s application made no reference to Jewish heritage, Bethlehem’s importance to Jews long predates the birth of Jesus there. It is the burial place of Rachel – the wife of the biblical patriarch Jacob – as well as the city of Israel’s King David.
According to the New Testament, King David’s link to Bethlehem was the reason Jesus was born there in the first place. The Gospel of Luke says Joseph and Mary traveled there in line with an order by the Roman emperor that all citizens go to their place of lineage to be registered for a census. In the case of Joseph, a direct descendant of David, that meant Bethlehem.
Muslims revere Jesus as a “messenger” but do not recognize him as divine (Qur’an 9:30), and do not believe he was crucified (Qur’an 4:157).