Category Archives: Israel

We Know Better, Part 6: Israel as a Gift to the World

This year, on May 14, the Nation of Israel celebrated her 74th birthday. In the shadow of the Shoah, and against all military and political odds, this small country has survived multiple invasions, continual terrorist attacks, and generations of global leaders seeking her destruction or delegitimization. Although the United Nations approved Israel’s creation in 1947, she has uniformly persecuted this democracy since the 1950s. For a century (from the 1920s to the present) key State Department leaders in the USA have been anti-Semitic and opposed any policies supporting Israel. During WWII, such sentiments kept millions of Jews from emigrating to the USA and other Western nations.

Today’s university students in the USA and Europe are subject to a barrage of agitation propaganda that accused Israel of “apartheid” policies, “war crimes” and being a European or White, “settler-colony” displacing native Palestinians. Some even question significant historic Jewish presence in the region. The BDS campaigns to cripple Israel economically and the well-funded Arab/Middle East Study centers on hundreds of universities means that most students are getting a very one-sided narrative.

Islamist and other radical politicians are proposing that the US congress declare the creation of Israel a “disaster” or “tragedy” and they encourage eliminating any aid to Israel until she relinquishes all the “occupied territories” from her 1967 Six-Day War victories. 

Let’s set the facts straight and get a balanced view of historical and contemporary reality.

The Jewish people have a continual presence in the Holy Land for over 3000 years. This is verified not only in the Bible, but by numerous archeological finds.

“Palestinian” is a created national identity in the wake of pan-Arab failure to destroy Israel in the 1950s and 1960s. Arabs displaced by the war suddenly have an identity as refugees and victims, with no Arab states welcoming them as citizens. I am not minimizing their suffering, but with all the wealth available from Arab states, there should be no one in poverty.

Israel has agreed to numerous plans (1949, 1956, 1967, 1976, 1999-2000, 2010, 2015) for peace and offered 92-96% of the territory gained in 1967 in exchange for recognition, diplomatic exchange, and an end to state-sponsored terrorism. Israel is not the aggressor and her measured responses to continual terrorist attacks are models of restraint.

Israel has more than two million Arab citizens integrated into all facets of society. Contrast this with current Palestinian leaders calling for a “Jew-free” (echoes of the Shoah in Germany) state next door.

Israel is the only democracy in the region, with freedom of conscience and religion, and numerous political parties and social activists. The joke in Israel is, “Five Israelis, six political parties.” The only place in the entire Middle East where LGBTQ+ people have any liberties is in Israel.

Israel is dubbed, “start-up nation” and leads the world in many areas of agriculture, water reclamation, energy technology, medical advances, and information sciences. In fact, Israel’s sworn enemies quietly go to Jewish doctors for critical medical procedures, and Israel is exporting oil and natural gas to her neighbors.

Israel is not perfect and her own citizens are the most critical. There are Left and Right parties, and much discontent. She is working on economic and security alliances with her neighbors and remains open to peacemaking, if Arab leaders and Western elites will face the realities that she is here to stay and a good partner for freedom.

Israel is a gift to our world and we should celebrate her surviving and thriving under such adverse pressures.

Real Questions, Thoughtful Answers, Part 5: The Jews and Israel as Gifts to our World

Several friends and colleagues have asked me to comment on the upsurge of anti-Israel protests throughout the USA and the West, especially the work of the BDS (Boycott-Divest-Sanction) and SJS (Students for Justice in Palestine), and continual United Nations condemnations. Anti-Israel groups claim they are not anti-Jewish – they are just against the injustices perpetrated by the modern State of Israel. They see Israel as an “apartheid state” that denies basic rights to Palestinian Arabs in the “occupied territories.” Some reveal their agenda and question the legitimacy of the nation of Israel, calling it “colonialism” or “a colonial-settler project” or a “Western imposition born of Holocaust guilt.” And these are the mild critiques. Jihadist Islamic groups and leaders call for overt elimination of Israel and the extermination of the Jews as a religious obligation. In the past decade, diverse voices have expressed the wish that Hitler has “finished the job.” How do we respond to these comments?

History helps here.

“Palestine” is a term coined by the Roman Empire in the wake of the Jewish revolts of 66-70 AD and 132-135 AD. Jewish inhabitants of Jerusalem and Judea were exiled and the entire region was renamed, “Palestine” as an insult to the Jews. The term Palestine arises from Philistine, a group from Crete who settled in Gaza and constantly opposed the people of Israel (See the early chapters of I Samuel for more here, including David’s defeat of the Philistine giant Goliath). Jewish presence in Jerusalem and surrounding regions has been continual for over 3000 years.

Today’s Palestinians have coalesced into a community and they deserve a better government that the current groups that are actually oppressing them, namely the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. This sense of national identity is a creation of the KGB-PLO in the 1960s, uniting disparate Arab groups under a mission to destroy Israel.

Jews have been subject to horrific persecution for most of their history after being exiled from their land. Antisemitism comes in three basic forms: political, religious, and racial. Politically, a variety of empires and nations have distrusted the separateness of the Jews, even if they pose no military or political threat. Religious antisemitism is found in Church history (though NOT in the Christian Scriptures), with far too many leaders of every tradition forgetting the Jewish roots of the faith and misinterpreting the paid mob’s shouts of, “Crucify him!” and “His (Jesus’) blood be on us and our children” as theological license to marginalize and oppress. Both the Qur’an and the Hadith (accepted Islamic interpretations and teachings) often declare the Jews the enemies of Islam and call for their oppression and sometimes death.

All of this terrible history metastasized in the late 19th and early 20th century into biological or racial anti-Semitism, rooted in facile Social Darwinism (Darwin would have utterly rejected these ideas). Historical alienation, exile, pogroms, second-class status, and persecution were minor compared to the eliminationist ideology gradually developed by ethnocentric nationalists and industrialized by the Nazis. The Holocaust was an unspeakable and unprecedented evil that far too many people chose to ignore and still try to either minimalize of normalize.

Concomitant with the rise of this mutation of antisemitism were a variety of Zionist movements calling for a restored Jewish homeland. From the 1860s to the 1930s, thousands made their way to their ancient land, much to the chagrin of some Arab leaders and later the British colonial rulers. Here are some facts about this period, for the current revisionist propaganda wants the world to think that Jews returning to their homeland was some kind of imperialist plot to destroy or displace the local Arab populations:

  • With few exceptions, all lands occupied by Jewish families and settlements were legally purchased from the local Arab populations under the Ottoman Empire. Much of it was desert and swampland, requiring huge amounts of work for it to flourish. Cities like Haifa and Tel Aviv were transformed as international culture flourished.
  • The British Government approved a Jewish homeland in principle with its Balfour Declaration of 1917. A crumbling Ottoman Empire in 1918 left a vacuum filled by European “mandates” and renewed Arab nationalism, including radical jihadist movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood.
  • The League if Nations approved a homeland for the Jewish people during meetings in 1919-1920. In 1922, a plan was approved for a Jewish homeland within the Kingdom of Transjordan, but radicals undermined this.
  • In the 1920s and 1930s, multiple plans for modest Jewish settlements were offered and always rejected – often with violence – by radical Arab leaders, especially the Mufti of Jerusalem (the mentor of Yasser Arafat, supporter of Hitler, with plans to bring the Auschwitz gas chambers to the Middle East).
  • After 1939 the British halted any Jewish emigration, and even at the height of the Holocaust in 1942-1944, they refused to ease their restrictions.
  • In 1947, the United Nations approved a new Jewish state in a tiny section of the Palestinian territories – the boundaries were drawn to limit displacements. May 1948: The Jewish State is formally declared…and immediately Arab armies from six nations mobilize to destroy Israel. This call for destruction is the origin of today’s phrase, “From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be free.” In other words, death to Israel and exile or death to the Jews therein.

Since her birth, Israel has offered peace on generous terms, but these offers are always rejected. Several Arab states have normalized relations and received the economic and security benefits of an alliance with the only democracy in the region. A few more facts about Israel will help us see through the anger and hatred spewed by anti-Semites:

  • Israel is not perfect, but she is the only pluralistic democracy in the Middle East, with rights of conscience, active political parties, almost two million Arab citizens, and equal rights for women and minorities.
  • Israel is a global leader in humanitarian compassion, medical research, technology, ecological innovation, business development, and cultural creativity.
  • Israel is not an apartheid state, mistreating Arab populations in various territories. She has the challenging task of providing security for her citizens, and finding ways to cooperate with Palestinian leaders desiring her destruction.

Today’s hatreds are really a mishmash of old antisemitic themes joined with agitation propaganda for consumers who are ignorant of history. It is time for thoughtful people to reject the eliminationist slogans and recognize the gift Israel is to our world. Years ago, Israel handed Gaza over to the Palestinian Authority, removing the Jewish settlements and leaving 800 thriving businesses intact to help the new regime. The results? Destruction of businesses and the establishment of a terrorist state under Hamas that constantly proliferates violence against Israel. A few resorts exist and about a thousand jihadist leaders are millionaires while the populace lives in squalor. Meanwhile Israel is blamed for every problem that is the result of a refusal to make peace.

There is no moral equivalence of Israel and the Palestinian Authority government. The former desires peace and democracy, the latter jihad and oppression. Israel is ready for peace, and the PA is led by a Holocaust denier and one of the financiers of the murder of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympic Games of 1972. Yes, there are many narratives of Arabs displaced by war and suffering because of these conflicts. All that can end if moderate voices are heard and peacemaking wins over violence. Let’s pray for the peace of Jerusalem and refuse to listen to shrill voices.

The Way Forward, Part Seven: The Gift of the Jews…and Israel

The recent Hamas-initiated violence against Israel has brought antisemitic voices to the public square once again. Thousands of rockets were aimed indiscriminately against a peaceful, tolerant nation. And for inexplicable, but predictable reasons, Israel was blamed for this latest “cycle of violence.” Though Israel is far from a perfect nation, she is the only multicultural democracy in the entire region and has offered generous peace terms for decades to leaders dedicated to her complete destruction. Calling Israel an “apartheid state” (she has nearly two million Arab citizens) and “Nazi-like” is inverted and perverted thinking of the highest order, especially when Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic jihad, and Fatah (The PA military wing) all scream for her utter destruction and praise the policies of Hitler.

Before offering some ideas for peace, it is right that we remind ourselves of the positive contributions of Judaism to our world, even as Jews have faced racial and religious persecutions, pogroms, and the unutterable horror of the Holocaust.

Our Jewish neighbors bring three millennia of monotheism and morality, quests for justice and wisdom, and the foundations of individual dignity and socioeconomic fairness to our world. Christianity is built on these foundations and when it is not linked with coercive power, her adherents have shared with the Jews the values of compassion, love, and liberty. Tragically, Christian persecution of the Jews has been (and sometimes still is) an inexcusable part of her history and theology and was a foundation for the mutation of racist antisemitism that emerged in the 19th and 20th century and turned into industrialized murder by the Nazis.

Our Jewish neighbors have lived in the Middle East for over 3000 years. In spite of enforced emigrations, they never left Jerusalem and the surrounding areas completely. “Palestine” was a manufactured term by a vindictive Roman Empire in the 130s AD as they banished the Jews for their resistance and renamed Israel after their historic enemies the Philistines. The land that is now Israel was under Roman, Byzantine, Islamic/Ottoman, and from 1917 to 1947 British rule. There was never a cohesive Palestinian state or national identity – until Jews began to return to the land of their ancestors in the 19th and 20th centuries.

This return – led by a variety of Zionist movements – was not a military conquest. Land was purchased legally from the locals and with approval of the Ottoman Empire. Often the parcels purchased were of little value – desert and swampland, overpriced urban real estate, etc. With the help of global friends and much hard work, flourishing villages emerged and Jewish culture was revitalized. The end of World War I brought a surge of Jewish immigration, with the initial approval of the British and even the welcome of King Abdullah of Transjordan. With both League of Nations and local approval, a variety of plans were made for a homeland. Several Zionist groups agreed to an autonomous Jewish zone within Abdullah’s kingdom in 1922. Alas, the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood and the leadership of the Mufti of Jerusalem shattered such peaceful plans with their calls for violent jihad. From the 1920s to the present, all attempts at peace (including offering a co-capital in Jerusalem and 96% of territories gained by Israel in her victory of 1967) have been rejected. Yet Israel is blamed for her “occupation” and “oppression.”

Peace in the Middle East will only come when Arab leaders acknowledge the right of Israel to exist as the national homeland of the Jewish people and stop questioning her legitimacy and calling for her destruction. It is chic for some Western progressives to demonize Israel and see Palestinians as the oppressed, even to the point of calling Israel (and by extension all Jews) “White” colonizers! Such ignorance of anthropology, ancient and modern history, and the facts on the ground is appalling. The surge in global anti-Jewish violence is a direct result of such deceptive ideologies and narratives.

The enormous contributions of Jewish tradition and the current State of Israel are gifts to our world. Israeli global compassion, leadership in medicine, science, and technology, flourishing cultural expressions and willingness to cooperate with others are signs of goodness that no agitation propaganda can completely erase. Sometimes there are not two equal sides to every issue. In the case of Israel against the world, our Jewish friends have the high ground. Should Israel be criticized for some of her actions? Yes – and there is no livelier public square than Israeli politics! But turning our ears and eyes away from the real issues will not foster lasting peace.

Remembering Well: The Holocaust: Humility and Hope

This week we remember the unfathomable and unimaginable evil of the Holocaust. Six million Jews and millions of others perished at the hands of Nazi Germany’s systems of enslavement, mass shootings, and industrial murder. This moment of demonic horror is not the first or last genocidal episode in history; however, it is the most morally reprehensible, because a civilized world looked on and did almost nothing to stop it. The few thousands who helped their Jewish neighbors deserve great praise, and Yad Vashem honors them as The Righteous Among the Nations. The harrowing reality of passivity in the light of such evil is a cause for deep reflection, repentance, and a renewal of resolve that declares, “Never Again!”

Some prominent survivor voices can help us reflect:

“For the dead and the living, we must bear witness.” (Elie Weisel)

“For evil to flourish, it only requires good men to do nothing.” (Simon Wiesenthal)

“The Holocaust manifested the veneer of civilization so thin and fragile that repetition is possible.” (Sam Kaltman)

“Thou shalt not be a victim, thou shalt not be a perpetrator, but, above all, thou shalt not be a bystander.”

As we humble ourselves and remember this moment, how can we cultivate hope and build a more peaceable future? Here are some insights arising the ashes of the Shoah:

  • We must resist anti-Semitism wherever it is found, especially since it is often disguised in protests against the State of Israel. The BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanction) movements that question Israel’s right to exist and shout, “From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be free!” are actually calling for the end of Israel and the destruction of millions of people.
  • We must call on Palestinian leaders to stop denying or minimizing the Holocaust and denying the rights of Jews to live in their ancient homeland. We must oppose all false revisions of history that only serve a political narrative and sanction racism. Leaders advocating for a new Palestinian state are declaring it shall be “Jew-free” (a phrase from Nazi Germany) while demanding that Israel absorb hugely inflated numbers of refugee descendants of the 1947-49 conflict.
  • Going broader and deeper, we must purge intolerance and racism from our hearts and our speech. I am not muzzling free expression in the public square, but calling for love and wisdom in how we think, feel, act, and speak.
  • Positively, we can celebrate the lasting contributions of Jewish traditions to our world, including Monotheism, the moral compass of the Ten Commandments and the Hebrew Scriptures, and the foundations for private and public ethics, human rights, and restorative justice.
  • Christians in particular must recover the Jewish roots of our faith and stop misreading biblical texts that turn the shouts of a mob into blood libel and religious violence against the very people from whom our Messiah comes. 
  • Finally, we must resist all forms of Holocaust denial and revisionism that try to lessen the evil or minimize the impact of this moment. Instead, we must accept the challenge of Richard Rubenstein, who declared, “Before the Holocaust, one could profess Christian identity and we accepted it. After the Holocaust, you must prove it.”

May we pause and ponder, reflect and repent, and renew our resolve to “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.”

2021: Hopeful Realism for the Year Ahead

It is my delight and honor to work for Made to Flourish, A Pastors Network for the Common Good (www.madetoflourish.org). Our mission is to help pastors and their churches integrate faith, work and economic wisdom for the flourishing of their communities. We have the honor of presenting ideas, fostering relationships, and sharing practices that will help local churches thrive. We do this with a set of values that guide our efforts. One of these values is “hopeful realism.” We believe that the Risen Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit and willing agency of God’s people, offers substantive hope that we can see redemptive progress in the world. This hope is tempered by the realism of a sinful, broken world.

In this spirit of hopeful realism, I offer the following observations about the coming year in proverbial form and look forward to many discussions with readers in the months ahead.

Hope: America voted toward the middle and the extremisms of white nationalism and woke socialism do not guide the values and visions of most people.

Realism: Even with a majority of Americans in the middle, it is the loudest voices of influence that often wield power and alertness is called for in this moment.

Hope: The Middle East is realigning as Israel and several Sunni Arab nations recognize that Iran is a threat to all, and economic and military alliances are in their best interests.

Realism: The enemies of the Jewish state are many. They include progressives within Israel and in the West. If a new Administration opens the door to unqualified Palestinian influences, the gains of the past four years could be lost.

Hope: Churches and charities has risen to the COVID moment and will continue to be a source of generosity and innovation in the year ahead.

Realism: Many organizations will need to change or find themselves closing their doors. This includes churches and charities that do not adapt to the economics and sociology of this moment.

Hope: The creativity and innovation afforded by the crises of our time are bringing new relationships, new opportunities, and humbling many who we enslaved by complacency and pride. People are reaching out across cultural, ecclesial and racial divides and finding common cause in helping all have access, equity, and opportunity.

Realism: Agitation propagandists and groups designed to “organize” do not want peaceable debate and principled compromise. They will continue to call for radical changes unwanted by most but demanded by shrill voices who make the exception the rule and continually create new victims.

I remain hopeful because I believe in the goodness and power of God and in the potential of every person who will submit their lives to Christ. I remain a realist because we are in a broken, sinful world and people operate out of their lower, sinful nature far too often. My final hope can be expressed this way: May God grant an awakening that revives the church and reforms society, overflowing to justice for all. As I express this, realism kicks in and I know that great good is often the product of much suffering. We have tumultuous days ahead, and we can be at peace if we will trust our Sovereign God.