I want to build on the thoughtful and timely post by Jonathan Tobin, in which he called attention to the catastrophe that is happening to Christians in the Middle East; why the outcome of the struggle over the region cannot be ignored; and why, in his words, “Christians should never think they could better the lives of their co-religionists by aiding efforts to destroy the other religious minority in the region: the Jews.” Jonathan made a compelling case speaking as a person of the Jewish faith; I’d like to speak as a person of the Christian faith.
For Christians to become identified with the struggle against Zionism – and I’ve encountered individuals who have, to that point that it was the key factor in leaving a church I and my family were members of — is a profound moral error.
Set aside the fact that despite some obvious theological differences, Christians and Jews share a common history and affinity, from the Hebrew Bible to heroes of the faith like Abraham, Joseph, Joshua and Moses. And many Christians believe, for theological reasons (God’s covenantal relationship with Israel), that they cannot be indifferent to the fate of Israel. But as I mentioned, bracket all that. In judging Israel and its enemies, let’s use the standard of justice, which is the one liberal Christians who are highly critical of the Jewish state often invoke.
For one thing, even a cursory understanding of the history of the past 65-plus years makes it clear that the impediments to peace lie not with Israel but with its adversaries. And when it comes to the prolonged conflict with the Palestinians, it is they, not the Israelis, who are responsible for it.
(For those who blame the so-called “Israeli occupation” for Palestinian hostilities, I will point out, as I have before, that the PLO, which was committed to the destruction of Israel, was founded in 1964, three years before Israel controlled the West Bank or Gaza. In addition, the 1948 and 1967 wars against Israel happened before the “occupied territories” and settlements ever became an issue. And in Gaza in 2005, Israel did what no other nation, including no Arab nation, has ever done before: provide the Palestinians with the opportunity for self-rule. In response, Israel was shelled by thousands of rockets and mortar attacks and eventually drawn into a war with Hamas.)
The Palestinian people are suffering – but the reasons they suffer are fundamentally a creation not of Israel but of failed Palestinian leadership, which from beginning to end has been characterized by staggering corruption, brutality, oppression and anti-Semitism. Since the creation of Israel in the first half of the last century, not a single Palestinian leader has been willing or able to alter a culture that stokes hatred of Jews and advocates the eradication of Israel. Until that changes, there is no possibility for peace or justice. Palestinians must do what they have, until now, refused to do: make their own inner peace with the existence of a Jewish state. That they have not done so, despite the terrible human costs to them, tells you quite a lot.
Beyond that, it is a delusion for Christians to believe that life in the Middle East would be better if the enemies of Israel were to prevail. The movement that is targeting Christians for death isn’t Zionism; it’s Islamism. The historian Philip Jenkins wrote in Christianity Today last month “For Christians in the Middle East, 2014 has been a catastrophe.” That catastrophe hasn’t been caused by Israel, where Israel’s Christian citizens enjoy the full blessings of freedom and democracy.
Ask yourself a simple question: If you were a Christian, would you rather live in Jerusalem – or Tehran, Mosul, Damascus, or Riyadh? Would you rather live under the government of Benjamin Netanyahu or the rule of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi? Would you rather be photographed with a typical Jewish storeowner in Israel – or with a typical British national who has joined ISIS? The idea that Christians would prosper in the Middle East if Israel was weak and the mortal threats to Israel were strong is quite absurd.
But beyond even that, Israel is worthy of the support, admiration and even the affection of Christians because of the type of nation Israel is: democratic, pluralistic, self-critical, respectful of human rights, minority rights and other faiths, a bulwark against militant Islam, bone weary of war and willing to make extraordinary sacrifices for peace, unmatched by any other nation on earth. Blessed are the peacemakers, said a famous Jew many years ago, for they shall be called the children of God.
Israel is imperfect, like all nations in this fallen world; but it ranks among the most impressive and venerable nations that this fallen world has ever produced. Christians who care about their co-religionists in the Middle East, who care about justice and who hate injustice, must keep faith with the Jewish state. To break with it would be to break with their history and some of the key moral commitments of Christianity. And that is very much worth recalling as Christians the world over have, during the last several days, once again focused their attention on the Holy Land.