Tag Archives: Israel

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.

Why Hannukah Matters in 2020

The Books of I and II Maccabees record the story of Jewish spiritual and military courage from 167-164 BC as they resisted the forced Hellenization and oppression of Emperor Antiochus Epiphanes IV. This evil leader desecrated the Second Temple by building an altar to Zeus and sacrificing a pig in what was the Holy of Holies to the Jews. In addition to this demonic symbolism, Antiochus prohibited Jewish observances and promoted the vilest pagan practices. Under Judas Maccabeus, the Jewish revolt brought liberation to Judea and the reconsecration of the Temple in 164 BC.

During the reconsecration, the Menorah remained alight in spite of the shortage of oil. The victory over oppression and the miracle is the basis of the Feast of Hannukah that is celebrated every December by Jews around the world. It is a time of gift-giving, feasting, and remembrance. Christians recognized this important moment, honoring God’s intervention and seeing the light of Hannukah as emblematic of the Light of Messiah Jesus (see the Gospel of John, chapters 8 to 10).

Why does Hannukah matter today? The courage of the oppressed Jews is inspiring. But the Hanukkah story is more than a memory or a holiday moment. In the 21st century, we are living in a moment of great anti-Semitism, with vile slanders and actual violence against Jews increasing exponentially. The number of anti-Jewish incidents far exceeds any “Islamophobia” pushed by the elites in the media. The movements in the West to Boycott, Divest, and Sanction (BDS) the State of Israel for her purported oppressions of the Palestinians is simple anti-Semitism disguised as political correctness. Advocates of BDS seek the complete delegitimizing of Israel and hypocritically declare they are only anti-Zionist, not anti-Jewish. But examination of the leadership and money behind these groups reveals an agenda that wants the Middle East “Jew Free” and the elimination of the only democracy in the region! When one hears, “From the River to Sea, Palestine will be free” it is a call for elimination, exile, and extermination disguised as advocacy for the oppressed.

From the destruction of the First Temple in 586 BC to the founding of Israel in 1948, The Jewish people had no land to call their own. Out of the ashes of the Shoah came a new state that is a gift to the world, a beacon of toleration and innovation, freedom and opportunity. Hanukkah celebrates this new reality as well as the victory over Antiochus over two millennia ago. The nation of Israel is a world leader in compassion around the world, medical advances, technology innovation, and entrepreneurial start-ups. She also demonstrates that contentious domestic politics and national cohesion can coexist.

Lovers of liberty of all faiths (or none) should applaud Israel’s existence and condemn anti-Jewish expressions wherever they occur with the same passion as those that defend Islam, Christianity, or any other expression of religion and conscience. When we see the light of a Menorah, may we rededicate ourselves to liberty for all.

Inconvenient Insights for a Polarized World

This week after Groundhog’s Day and in remembrance of the Bill Murray comedy of reliving the same day over and over again, it is right to reflect on some enduring challenges:

We have miles to go in our pursuit of justice for women and men of all classes and cultures.
We can celebrate Christian contributions to social progress, and we must deeply lament historic ecclesial complicity with oppression.

We can criticize Israeli policies, but most of the responsibility for lasting peace rests with Arab leaders acknowledging Israel’s right to exist as the national home of the Jewish people. Israel is not a western colonial imposition, but the historic home of an ancient people. The new plan presented by President Trump (and quietly endorsed by some Sunni Arab states in the region) is an opportunity that the current Palestinian Leadership is willfully ignoring.

Billions have been lifted out of poverty in my lifetime due to global trade, with access to new markets. We still have too many food, banking, and job deserts in our own American cities.

Our national debt and deficit spending reveal cowardice and a lack of concern for generations yet unborn. Both parties are guilty, and it will take both parties cooperation to find solutions.

UN officials admit that their proposals for climate change amelioration are of little practical use, except for the transfer of trillions in wealth. Unless China, India, and Russia sign on, little progress can be made. Every proponent of free trade and/or climate change skeptic must also care more deeply for the ecological life of our planet. Good environmental stewardship means a good economy for our grandchildren.

Let’s find a new way to fund education of all kinds without a lifetime of debt on graduates and ever-increasing tuition prices.

A rebirth of civility begins with an affirmation of the dignity and worth of each person we meet. We must end caricature, insults, and stereotyping of those different from us.