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.