Christian Tourism to Israel: Buyer Beware

Ignorance in general, and ignorance of the Palestinian situation in particular, can be easily be exploited to the benefit of racism and oppression, writes Lawrence Davidson.

By Lawrence Davidson

In the Oct. 4  issue of Rolling Stone magazine it was reported that the 27-year-old “pop, pop-rock, and R&B” singer-actress Demi Lovato had made a trip to Israel in order to, among other things, be baptized in the Jordan River. Here is how she described it: “When I was offered an amazing opportunity to visit the places I’d read about in the Bible growing up, I said yes. … Spirituality is so important to me … to be baptized in the Jordan river—the same place Jesus was baptized—I’ve never felt more renewed in my life.”

The trip drew attention because it was financed by anonymous donors, reportedly in the amount of $150,000, and required her to allow posted reports of her experiences. Among those reports were these statements: “There is something absolutely magical about Israel” and “This trip has been so important for my well-being, my heart, and my soul. I’m grateful for the memories made and the opportunity to be able to fill the God-sized hole in my heart. Thank you for having me, Israel.”

Demi Lavato in 2011. (Ashton Noe, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons)

There quickly followed a backlash from those who saw her trip as an endorsement of the state of Israel despite its apartheid nature. The criticism upset Lovato, and so, on an Instagram post, she tried to set things straight: “No one told me there would be anything wrong with going or that I could possibly be offending anyone, with that being said, I’m sorry if I hurt or offended anyone, that was not my intention. … This was meant to be a spiritual experience for me NOT A POLITICAL STATEMENT and now I realize it hurt people and for that I’m sorry.” This Instagram apology was deleted soon after posting—perhaps because it offended the anonymous parties that paid for her trip. 

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If you look at the rather sparse coverage of this incident, both here in the U.S. and in Israel, you will notice that the main question being considered by the media is, Who sponsored Lovato’s trip? Was it the Israeli Ministry of Jerusalem Affairs, some Christian Zionist outfit, or a combination of both? Actually, I don’t think it matters much. We know that the Israeli government is trying to break the worldwide boycott (BDS) by luring celebrities to visit the country. It is no doubt assisted in this effort by all manner of Zionist organizations, including the Christian Zionists. Putting aside the question of who paid for the trip, there is a much more interesting aspect of this affair—Lovato’s striking ignorance.

Public Knowledge

The struggle between Zionists and Palestinians has been going on for over 100 years, counting from the Balfour Declaration of 1917. The Zionist ideology which underlay the drive for a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine inevitably drew resistance from the Arab population — both Muslim and Christian — that had been resident there for thousands of years. And that resistance was met by a typically violent response from the European Zionist invaders pouring into the area under the protection of the British imperium. That violent response was one that had been honed by centuries of European imperialism operating worldwide. It involved a deeply racist disdain for the “natives,” the use of military forces to suppress and oppress, and the strict separation of the European colonizers and the indigenous population. When the British finally left Palestine in 1948, the Israeli settler state maintained traditional imperialist practices. It has never stopped. That makes Israel a functioning colonial state founded and maintained in the spirit of 19th century imperialism.  

The World Press Photo of 2012, depicting a funeral procession in Palestine.

Today there are 7.2 million Palestinian refugees worldwide. Millions live in 59 refugee camps throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.” The Gaza Strip, which is 140 square miles (363 square kilometers), is crammed with 1.8 million mostly displaced Palestinians held hostage to an Israeli blockade. Gaza is often referred to as the world’s largest open-air prison. 

All of this, the history of Palestine and Israel, and the ongoing present situation, is public knowledge. For instance, here is a sample of stories to make recent headlines: In Israel racism is not just the right, it is the state (Haaretz, Sept. 26, 2019); Israeli doctors and torture (972 Magazine, Oct. 7, 2019); Israeli army raids Palestinian NGO in an attack on human rights (Amnesty International, Sept. 19, 2019); Is Israel an ‘apartheid’ state? This U.N. report says yes (Washington Post, March 16, 2017). And, let’s throw in this final piece just for its scientific shock value: Israeli teachers discouraged from teaching evolution (124 News, Aug. 30, 2019).

This listing is but a proverbial drop in the bucket. In any given week there are tens of similar pieces appearing all over the world. Notice that most of the above sources are Israeli (Haaretz, 124 News, 972 magazine). Thus, even if all your information, left to right, comes from Israeli sources, you can’t help knowing that, to paraphrase a line from Hamlet, “something is rotten in the state of Israel.” Yet, apparently, Demi Lovato did not know. “No one told me there would be anything wrong with going or that I could possibly be offending anyone.” If we believe her, and I am inclined to do so, how can we explain such ignorance? It turns out that explaining it is not that hard. 

A Natural Attention Zone

Most people pay attention to what immediately concerns them, both as relates to place and time. It is a logical and age-old orientation that no doubt evolved because it can provide immediate survival value. I call this phenomenon a natural attention zone, or, if you will, natural localism. In terms of territory, it translates into a familiarity with about 30 square miles around the place you live, work, study, and so forth. In the modern era, one can also virtually import points of particular personal interest into this attention zone from further away. For instance, American Zionists do this virtual import when it comes to Palestine/Israel. So do Palestinian Americans. However, if you have no reason to pay attention to a place, or you only pay attention to it in a highly selective way, you will not bother with seemingly superfluous information. You will just ignore it. 

Given her spirituality, Demi Lovato seems to have imported Bible stories into her attention zone — or at least did so as a child — and this helped shape her consciousness. But it never seems to have gone beyond Sunday school piety, and even this was overtaken as she aged by the demands of a successful singing and acting career. Then came a seductive offer. When given the chance to travel to “the places I’d read about in the Bible” Lovato apparently became aware of that “God-sized hole in my heart” and, so to speak, hopped on the airplane no questions asked. She was no doubt too excited to recognize that her spiritual adventure warranted further investigation — that, in fact, someone was using her yearning for renewed spirituality for their own political/ideological purposes. She is not alone in this regard. 

Pope Francis praying at a separation wall in Palestine on May 25, 2014. (Pope Francis’s Facebook page.).

Millions of people go to Israel as tourists every year, and over half are religious Christians looking for the same “spiritual renewal” as Demi Lovato. They do so single-mindedly in a fashion that blinds most of them to the racist tragedy unfolding around them. Engrossed as they are in their Bible-centered attention zone, they never realize that their “renewing” pilgrimage legitimizes, and financially subsidizes, an apartheid state. 

You might ask, with millions of devout Christians going yearly to Israel, why the seductive offer to Demi Lovato? One can only assume that her celebrity status was seen as a useful vehicle to push back the international boycott of Israel movement—and a further lure to her large fan base to follow her example.

Early in my tenure-track residency at West Chester University, my office computer was hacked by some anonymous Zionist source waging cyberwar against the free speech of those supporting the Palestinians. The way they did this was by rerouting several of my opinion pieces to literally thousands of random e-mail addresses. I called in the university IT folks and got the problem fixed within a few days.

In the interim, it was a pretty interesting experience. On the one hand, it was potentially free advertising for my point of view — the hackers seemed not to have grasped this potential. On the other, it taught me the probability was high that the random recipients would see this as an annoying intrusion into their attention zone, where the Palestinian-Israeli struggle was seen as irrelevant. A common reply was, “Please stop sending me these e-mails. I don’t know anything about this and I don’t care.” 

And there we have it. Ignorance beyond one’s figurative 30 square miles is the default position. That opens most of us to all kinds of manipulation. Throw in an obsession with Bible stories and, as regards to Palestine/Israel, one’s vulnerability goes up. The alleged ancient “holiness” of the place neutralizes all of present Israel’s ongoing sins. Thus, ignorance in general, and ignorance of the Palestinian situation in particular, can be exploited to the benefit of racism and oppression. Demi Lovato is a recent example of this fact. When it comes to Christian Tourism,” let the buyer beware.

Lawrence Davidson is professor of history emeritus at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He has been publishing his analyses of topics in U.S. domestic and foreign policy, international and humanitarian law and Israel/Zionist practices and policies since 2010.

This article is from his site,

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14 comments for “Christian Tourism to Israel: Buyer Beware

  1. Hawaii guy
    November 6, 2019 at 22:13

    As Alex over at The Duran put eloquently today, the mainstream media are gatekeepers of news, so no surprise Demi is ignorant on this, as are 99percent it seems with factual news. You really have to dig for truth in journalism today.

  2. GMCasey
    November 5, 2019 at 19:50

    An excellent book Re: the history of this area: “The Seventh Million,” by Tom Segev

  3. John Neal Spangler
    November 5, 2019 at 16:53

    A trip to Israel will find fanatical Pharisees (Fundamentalist Rabbis), Zealots (Right-Wing Nationalists), and the soldiers of the Evil king (IDF soldiers following Netanyahoo). If Ms. Lavato isn’t up on the latest political disputes she should not be blamed. Whether it is the Turks, the British or the Israelis, tourists can not be blamed for the current government of the area. She was excited to be baptized in the River Jordan, not about the current Israeli Administration.

  4. torture this
    November 5, 2019 at 11:26

    I bet whoever said that travel broadens your understanding didn’t go on a lot of tours.

    • Guy
      November 5, 2019 at 20:27

      Travel does broaden one’s horizons but it depends on where one goes and as always one’s frame of mind. Israel would not be on my bucket list .Palestine might be though.

  5. Fred Mrozek
    November 5, 2019 at 11:15

    Excellent article. It could be the introduction to a book on the subject of the Zionist brainwashing and weaponization of Christendom. Such a book should be written and it should be required reading in high school.

    • Minnesota Mary
      November 6, 2019 at 15:48

      I highly recommend two books by Stephen Sizer, “Christian Zionism, Roadmap to Armageddon” and “Zion’s Christian Soldiers.” These are the books that you wish to be written.

  6. Skip Scott
    November 5, 2019 at 08:55

    This is just one example of the difference between critical thinking and passive consumption of propaganda, be it history schoolbook texts written by the “winner”, or daily consumption of MSM propaganda sold as news. Until children are taught to think critically for themselves, our society will continue to be controlled by propagandists. I was raised Catholic and spent my first 5 years of school in a Catholic grammar school that taught the “Baltimore Catechism”. It is pure rote recitation that is meant to embed itself in the minds of the children exposed to it. I was lucky enough to be exposed to some free-thinkers later in life that undid that evil indoctrination.

    • Minnesota Mary
      November 6, 2019 at 15:50

      Not “evil indoctrination” but Truth.

    • Skip Scott
      November 7, 2019 at 16:37

      Sure thing Mary. The pedophile priests and sadistic nuns did some truthful indoctrinating too.

    • Patrick Constantine
      November 8, 2019 at 17:01

      It’s silly and unfortunate that you let that negative experience serve as an excuse for you to abandon the Christian faith. Maybe you just had a bad teacher? Maybe you just don’t like authority figures? Or maybe your personality is attracted to heresy who knows….

  7. AnneR
    November 5, 2019 at 07:55

    Thank you, Mr Davidson, for this piece. To be frank I’d never heard of this young woman until I saw something in Mondoweiss about her mindless trip.

    From my perspective, she, like the vast majority of the populations of the western nations, likely gets her news (if she bothers with it at all) from your typical MSM sources wherein the ONLY time zionist Occupied Palestine (known since 1948 as Israel and ever expanding since) and the Palestinians are ever mentioned is when either Hamas fires a few of its firework sized rockets out of Gaza into “Israel” (with rarely any casualties among the colonial-settler population) or the occasional Palestinian in the West Bank, unable to take any more of the atrocities visited upon them by the zionists, injures or kills an “Israeli.”

    Meanwhile, there are frequent pieces (if the BBC World Service and NPR are any guide) that dredge up the Holocaust – specifically and only as experienced by the European Jewish population, not ever as Slav, Roma, handicapped populations, mind. Every time this happens (and it seems to be happening more often of recent) my immediate thought is: What is “Israel” doing to the Palestinians now? Why this need to constantly justify, explain, excuse why the complete takeover (massive, brutal theft of Palestine from its indigenous population) for the beleaguered European Jewish survivors and other populations? Why the distractions, deflections?

    To return to Lovato – in what way is she different to the vast bulk of the US et al population? MSM indoctrinated, propagandized along with the shrug the shoulders “well, it’s all happening over there, doesn’t affect us” attitude? Of course, it does – affect us, the hoi polloi. Billions in taxpayers’ monies spent on destroying the MENA countries and propping up Occupied Palestine, monies that would, if spent on the really existing taxpayer needs in this country, benefit the working and lower middle classes immensely.

    And education – including through graduate level – doesn’t seem to alter many people’s ability/willingness to open their minds to what is really going on beyond these shores and what our government, no matter what the “color” of its politics (neo-liberal/neo-con are all but on the very same page).

    Obviously, some people are concerned about the Palestinians, about what is happening to them, being done to them and has been since at least 1948, as there are people whose interests in what their government is doing overseas, in their name and with their monies are angered, enraged by the corporate-capitalist-imperialist never-ending warmongering, profiteering. Perhaps many of such people have lived in other countries, other cultures, experienced to some extent what this colonial-imperialism is doing to other peoples?

    At a personal level I have experienced the – what else to call it – nonchalance of highly educated people (my age and younger) who are deeply preoccupied with TDS, with which Dem candidate to waste their breath voting for, who are for MFA etc – yet don’t give a fig about what we are doing in the MENA countries (or Latin America, or Africa) and even less ruffle their synapses about Palestinians. They are mindful about what is happening in other states within the union (so perhaps the 30 mile zone is a little too small), but not overseas. Being a tourist does not open your eyes to realities in the places you are visiting because you rarely see (or are blind to) what is being done to specific groups, populations, how they live, have to live. Even living and working in other countries/cultures does not always ensure that you learn much, especially if your circle of acquaintance is (as so often it is) middle to upper classes, the very comfortably off. You have to make the effort. And therein lies the rub…

  8. Zhu
    November 5, 2019 at 00:55

    Many US Protestant Christians equate Palestinians with Biblical Canasnites and Philistines and think they SHOULD “disappear.” Israelis sometimes equate Palestinians with American Indians and say “why can’t we eliminate the natives and prosper too?” More than a few Americans agree.
    It’s true that nany Palestians are Christians, but mostly Catholics and Orthodox, despised by US Protestants as worse than heathens, and often looked down upon by secular Americans, too. Finally, there are the Dispensationalists, who want a Jewish state to bring Jesus back, any day now. Even “anti-zionists” don’t really want to bother with Palestinians, just whine conspiracy fictions.

  9. November 4, 2019 at 17:40

    A good article but something in particular caught my eye.

    “When the British finally left Palestine in 1948, the Israeli settler state maintained traditional imperialist practices. It has never stopped.”

    If you go back to the 1930’s and the Arab revolt against the growing presence of Jews under the auspices of the Balfour Declaration, you have an opportunity to observe the methods used by the British to put down the rebellion. Collective punishment, torture, murder, barbed wire enclosures and barbed wire at the borders, you do see, as the author notes, the copycat behavior of the IDF since independence. Fighting side by side with the British, they learned how it is done.

    One of the great teachers was an army officer, whose name escapes me, who led Jewish volunteers against the rebels. He has a street named after him in Tel Aviv, I think. Imagining himself an ancient Hebrew warrior, he thought of himself as Gideon named after one of them.

    As to the rest of the article, if you have ever visited the Holy Land, you likely will be struck by the numbers of Israeli flags flying over just about anything. It is as if by constantly reminding us, they are reminding themselves that everything, holy sites included, belongs to the Israeli state.

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