“I will curse those who curse you…” (Gen 12:3)
I anticipated some negative reactions to the most recent blog entry and have gotten them. Generally, objections center around Israel’s status as God’s chosen people and seem to reflect the idea derived from God’s promise of protection to Abraham that Israel enjoys almost untouchable status in God’s eyes. To be “on Israel’s side” is to be on God’s side; to oppose Israel, for whatever reason, is to oppose God. Besides, the Palestinians, my critics have reminded me, do not want peace either, at least not if it means accommodating a Jewish state. I want to reiterate, therefore, a few assertions and expand upon them with a few additional observations – “mostly from the Bible.”
First, the term “anti-Semitism” has become an imprecise term when used in relation to the modern nation-state of Israel. Indeed, its roots are somewhat imprecise, since an “Anti-Arab” stance (Arabs are Semites) would also, technically, be anti-Semitism. In any case, classically, the term refers to a historical Christian attititude toward Jews, related to Christian supercessionism (the idea that the Christian Church “supercedes” Israel as the “New Israel” or the “True Israel” and that, therefore, God’s covenant with Israel is null and void; contra Jeremiah 34; Isaiah 40; and Romans 1) and involving the incorrect depiction of Jews as “Christ-killers.” To be critical of Israelite policies and practices is not anti-Semitic, since even someone who loves Judaism and Jews can be critical of specific behaviors. I am not “anti-son” when I correct my child’s behavior. In fact, wishing for someone, even some nation, to be better than it is is a higher form of loyalty that accepting – even endorsing – misbehavior.
Second, the modern secular state of Israel hardly equates with the people of Israel. The majority of Jews in Israel are non-observant. Some citizens of Israel are Arab. Incidently, neither does “Arab” equate with Muslim. A significant proportion of Israeli and Palestinian Arabs are Christian. In its current form, the modern state of Israel hardly represents a reconstitution of Israel as God’s chosen people.
Most importantly, and this is the locus of all my criticisms of the modern state of Israel and its current policies and practices, contemporary Israel does behave like God calls the people of God to behave. Specifically, God called Abraham and his descendants to bring blessing to all the families of the earth (including Arabs; Gen 12:3), to be a light to the nations (including Arabs; Isa 42:6). Through the prophet Jeremiah, God even promised that, “after I have plucked them (Israel’s neighbors) up, I will have mercy on them again and I will bring them to their inheritance again, and to their land, everyone of them. And then, if they will indeed learn the ways of my people…then they shall be built up in the midst of my people” (12:15-16, all translations mine). In a manner highly relevant to Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in the occupied territories and even of its Arab citizens, God frequently expresses the commission for Israel to bring blessing to the nations in terms commandments governing its treatment of the marginalized in their midst, especially the “sojourners,” “resident aliens.” I will list only a few of these commandments along with the question, “Is this how the modern state of Israel treats the disenfranchised?” Incidentally, the argument that the Palestinians might be better treated if they would only accept their diminished circumstances is tantamount to blaming the victim. In fact, these commandments also often include the reminder that Israel should be eager to protect “sojourners” since it knew the life of the oppressed sojourner in Egypt. Moreover, just as God liberated Israel from this oppression, God frequently calls upon Israel to play the role of liberator, too.
“There shall be one law for the native and for the sojourner/resident alien who sojourns among you” (Exod 12:49).
“…you will do no work [on the Sabbath day], neither you…nor the sojourner living within your gates” (Exod 20:10; Deut 5:15 adds a reminder that Israel was once enslaved; cf. Lev 16:29 and passim).
“And you will not afflict or oppress a sojourner/resident alien because you were sojourners/resident aliens in Egypt” (Exod 22:20; cf. Lev 19:33 and passim).
“…you shall leave them [the last gleanings] for the poor and the sojourner” (Lev 19:10).
“The sojourner sojourning with you will be like a native, and you will love him as yourself, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. I am YHWH your God” (Lev 19:34).
I am not anti-Semitic. On the other hand, I am unwilling to “choose sides” in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. If anything, I bemoan the circumstances created by the European powers in the period from the end of WWI to the UN Declaration giving birth to Israel. Giving a homeland to persecuted Jews was a worthy endeavor. Taking a homeland from the Palestinians was unjust and cruel. The deed is done now, however. Now, choosing between the Palestinians and the Israelis can only perpetuate the consequences of poor policy. Now, I for one, ask that both sides seek a means to coexist. With regard to Israel, this would mean recognizing the imbalance of power and acknowledging the real human costs of that imbalance.
To assume that God takes sides in this conflict is to betray a fundamental misunderstanding of the Gospel (cf. Acts 10:34). I know that bringing peace to the Middle East will be complicated, but I cannot decide for either party. As an American Christian, however, I must acknowledge that the process is unlikely to make any real progress as long as a power such as the United States, driven largely by evangelical Christian misunderstandings of the Bible, effectively taking sides, treats Israel as though it were untouchable.