The source of my vexation is a discussion started yesterday on a major Christian blog. As happens from time to time, the left-leaning side of Christianity has to show its moral legitimation by speaking ill of the state of Israel. It is a qualification for true leftness to show maturity by disapproving of every action of the state of Israel and chalking the violence of Hamas up to the understandable pent-up frustration of being an “occupied” nation struggling against oppression.
Before I go on to talk about the way I think Christians should think of the state of Israel (don’t assume you know what I will say), let me tell you that Israelis have a lot more sanity about the situation than the comfortable theorists in America who sit back and judge over their morning coffee untroubled by the prospect of war, of Iranian nukes, or of the rising anti-semitism in Europe. Israelis and, in rare cases where they are allowed to speak freely and without fear of repercussions from their Hamas overlords, Palestinians, believe they can get along. Of course, I am generalizing and you can say my generalization is wrong, if you’d like, but try talking to some Israelis and some Palestinians who have freedom from their oppressive, terrorist government.
But Americans and others in the west continually interfere and fan the flames of hatred. Can anyone suggest to me that American interference has helped the problem? I suppose some people will tell me that if America left Israel unchecked the state would, allegedly, take a heavier hand with the Palestinians. I doubt that and argue against it. Israel has a conscience as big or bigger than America.
America gets a pass, compared to Israel, on the way we treat our enemy combatants. America kills civilians.
Anyway, it felt good to say those things.
The Unhelpful Christian Zionist Approach
On this blog a well-meaning-but-in-way-over-his-head Christian spoke up for Israel. His argument is all too familiar, but needs evaluation:
1. Genesis 12:3 says those who bless Israel will be blessed.
2. The land has been given to Israel by God in the Torah.
3. Therefore, America should seek God’s blessing by supporting the state of Israel in its every decision and action.
Well, I agree with point #1. I think point #2 is true in a sense, but this is the ultimate plan, in God’s time, and is not true of every generation and does not overrule the divine imperative of justice and faithfulness to the Torah covenant.
Let me suggest a Jewish view, a biblical view of the situation:
1. Israel is the people elected freely and irrevocably by God, whose destiny and purpose serve as the forefront of God’s plan of world redemption.
2. Israel’s relationship with God is one of unconditional love and favor, but its temporal fortunes are tied to the covenant relationship through Torah.
3. The state of Israel is a secular government with little regard for Torah, which is obligated to follow the divine commandments and is not, and which is not guaranteed peace or success in any generation until there is renewal.
I believe Christian Zionists are great friends to the Jewish people. I believe there are plenty of mature, biblically thoughtful Christian Zionists. But there are also plenty who have not thought deeply. Their love for Israel is well-meaning but needs to be balanced with the prophetic call for Israel to be the covenant people.
This commenter on the Christian blog did not help the cause with his unbalanced call for unequivocal support for a secular Jewish state.
Of Freedom of Speech in Israel and in Muslim Lands
Dershowitz, in his excellent book, The Case for Israel, documents the right and regular use of free speech by Israelis to criticize their own government.
The disastrous handling of the Gaza flotilla incident, which is the reason people are talking so much about Israel right now, has been roundly criticized by many Israelis. Most Israelis are frustrated with the way their government handled this. It is a black eye for Netanyahu, regardless of how much he personally did or did not become involved in its planning (I am unaware of his involvement or lack of involvement).
Israelis have free speech and can utilize it without fear of reprisal. Israel has been far more conciliatory toward Palestinians as a result. Israelis want peace and have been willing to sacrifice a great deal for it.
Meanwhile, in Palestinian territories and in Muslim lands, there is no such free speech or access to world opinion and news. Palestinian kids are educated with statist propaganda, outright lies, making Israelis out to be de facto Nazis. Citizens of Muslim lands, as a general rule, are not able to say that the Jews have a homeland in the Middle East which is here to stay (I am excepting Israel’s allies: Jordan, Turkey, and Egypt).
Jews are self-criticizing. Muslims must watch their mouths continually. A generalization, sure, but one that is truer than some will admit.
What Should a Christian Think?
One of the other commenters on this Christian blog took the anti-Israel approach to the max. They said Genesis 17 gives the land to Abraham’s descendants, Jew and Arab.
They reject the biblical teaching that the covenant passed through Isaac and not Ishmael, through Jacob and not Esau. Their unbalanced view is no better than the Israel-gets-the-land-no-matter-what Christian Zionist commenter (in fact, their view is worse).
But given the theological parameters I discussed above, here are some bullet points that I think should clarify a valid Christian Zionist position:
1. The state of Israel is in need of reform from the Torah (I believe Messiah will come after a return to Torah).
2. The state of Israel has no guarantee of success in the land as long as it is unfaithful to the covenant.
3. Blessing Israel a la Genesis 12 is about praying for a return to God, to Torah, to covenant love, not approving of each and every policy of the state.
4. Speaking against the state of Israel from time to time as a friend is a sign of a mature relationship.
5. Israel has a right as a sovereign nation to defend itself (I know the arguments for passive resistance as the only legitimate form of response and I reject them as heinous, not valuing human life enough to fight for it).
6. Supposed peace activists who bring combatants and arms into Gaza bring on themselves whatever happens (any boats bringing people chanting about the destruction of America with religious zeal would be seized and the people locked up).
7. The state of Israel must be held to Torah standards of justice, respect for human life, and so on. It is perfectly legitimate for Christians to be angry about torture and other abuses.
8. The Palestinians and Muslim anti-Israel activists have much more to answer for than Israel: for violent bloodshed, for a lack of respect for human life that makes Israel’s abuses pale, for oppressing their own people in ways that should embarrass every left-leaning supporter of the Islamic cause, for insisting that the Jews all leave Israel, for ignoring the historical reality that Israel has always been the home of the Jewish people, for denying God and Torah to a greater degree that the Israeli state, and the list of charges against Muslim cruelty and oppression could go on and on.
The Bottom Line
Christians should be pro-Israel as the elect people of God, holding the state of Israel to God’s standards, and praying for renewal in Israel. Christians can differ as to theories about solutions. Christians, like Jews and Israelis, should hold the government of Israel’s feet to the fire. Christians should recognize that the land will be restored by God to the people of Israel in his time and in his way. Christians should bless Israel by praying for and encouraging Jews to discover Torah and live by it. Christians should speak out against Muslim acts of violence, inherent disregard for life in the Muslim jihad, and the Muslim counter-narrative which arrogates God’s election of the Jewish people to itself.