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Is It Anti-Arab to be Pro-Israel?

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Tue, 09/20/2016 (All day)
Is It Anti-Arab to be Pro-Israel?

A growing tendency of some Evangelical leaders in America, particularly Millennial leaders, is to back away from support of Israel for fear that it will be perceived as anti-Arab.  And while it is a very good and noble aspiration to not alienate anyone, but to rather reach out in love and respect to everyone, this approach demonstrates a lack of understanding of the biblical significance of Israel and of God’s plan for the world. Worse yet, it allows cunning anti-Israel activists, who want nothing more than to lead Evangelicals away from support of Israel, to take advantage of these leaders and their movement. 

The truth of the matter is that Christians should indeed love and care for all peoples, for truly God loves them, so much so that He sent His only Son to die for them according to John 3:16.
However, it is because of God’s love for the world that He brought into existence the nation of Israel through whom He would bring about His plan to redeem that world. His intention was not to bless the Jewish people to the exclusion of the rest of the world, but that through them He would “bless all the families of the earth” (Genesis 12:3). The bequeathing of the land of Canaan as an everlasting possession to Abraham’s descendants through Jacob was a critical component of His plan.

To its credit, the American Evangelical Church is trying to come to terms with all of this.  And while the pendulum may swing a bit too far one way, solid biblical exegesis, knowledge of historical fact, and accurate analysis can help them find the balance that they aspire to achieve.
 

The Church’s Relationship with the Jewish People

For most of Church history ordinary Christians did not have access to the Bible to even know what it taught.  Only those who read Hebrew, Greek or Latin could study it.  As a result there were teachings about the Jewish people that simply were not grounded in scripture and produced centuries of anti-Semitism in the heart of Christian Europe.  Replacement Theology was the fertile ground for anti-Semitism and the teaching of contempt for the Jewish people that led to their persecution, expulsion, and murder.    

However, as soon as the Bible was translated into common languages some 500 years ago, which allowed Christians to read the scriptures for themselves, they discovered the error of their ways attested to by the many promises of God to one day regather the Jewish people back to their ancient homeland.  Preachers began to teach about that return, and they prayed for and supported it as an act of justice for a people who had suffered persecution for centuries.

Some of the greatest and most respected Evangelicals in history were what we would call Christian Zionists today: John and Charles Wesley, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Bishop Ryle of Liverpool, Professor Jacob Janeway of the Scottish National Church and many others.  The only difference between them and today’s Christian Zionists is that they supported a future event, while today’s Christian Zionists have witnessed the return of the Jews to their homeland and actively support a current event.

While Replacement Theology does still exist, and is usually the dividing line in the Christian world regarding those who support Israel and those who do not, the Church as a whole has come a very long way in its relations with the Jewish people.
 

 

The Church’s Relationship with the Arab World

 

In its relations with the Arab world, however, the Church was not the errant persecutor, but the persecuted.  Therefore, the heart change needed to repair this relationship will need to come from Muslim leaders admitting their wrong theology and desire to make amends.  In the meantime, the American Evangelical Church has serious problems of its own in its approaches to the Arab world that need to be addressed. First, a word of clarification about terminology is needed.

The term “Arab” is often used broadly, as in this article, but we must recognize that whereas there are roughly 100 million Arabic speaking people in the broader Middle Eastern region, many of them are not ethnically Arab.  And whereas the vast majority are Muslims, there has been a significant indigenous Christian population. They are often referred to as “Arab Christians,” but most Middle East Christians are not ethnically Arab, only Arabic speaking.

A thousand years ago there were more Christians in the Middle East than in Europe. Even a century ago, more than 20% of the region’s population was Christian. Today, estimates put the Christian population of the region at 5% and likely to become extinct if Islamist forces continue to gain power.  The second largest Christian community in the Middle East, after the Copts of Egypt, is the Syrian Christians.  They are now dispersed, many are homeless refugees, and will never regain their community’s size and strength. The Chaldean Christians of Iraq and the surrounding region are facing extinction if ISIS retains control of their lands.

The Evangelical Christian world’s concern for these indigenous Middle Eastern Christians has been abysmal.  Even today the Church in America is largely silent as millions of Christians in the Middle East face extinction.  This is a sin that needs immediate rectification, or surely God will judge this self-centered apathy, and rightly so.

Another fallacy in the Evangelical Church is often a flawed theology towards the Arabic people: they are often discounted as evil and unredeemable.  Many a sermon has attempted to blame Ishmael for all the troubles of the Middle East. Because he was a product of Abraham’s “mistake,” it is implied that He and his descendants are rejected by God and doomed to the violence their society exhibits. 

This sounds vaguely similar to the Church’s teachings about the Jews for centuries: cursed by God, rejected, and doomed to the wanderings and persecutions they endured. These types of racial theories are absolutely anathema to the message of John 3:16 that God loves the whole world irrespective of race. No human being is unredeemable.

Rejection of Arabs in general, and ignoring the plight of Arab Christians in particular, is wrong and unbiblical.  But, equally as wrong is allowing the pendulum to swing all the way to the other side and tolerate, if not adopt, the anti-Semitic and anti-Israel ideology of the Muslim world in order to gain their “friendship.” 

The danger of the “pro-Palestine” movement within Evangelical circles is that the Palestinian Authority is a Muslim-dominated government which is corrupt, discriminates against Christians, jails and tortures Muslim converts to Christianity, does not allow freedom of speech, and fosters incitement in the public square based on lies about Israel. Is this really what the pro-Palestine Evangelicals are supporting?

To be pro-Israel is to support the existence and security of a fully democratic nation that shares the same Judeo-Christian values as America, such as freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and basic human rights.  In fact, it is to support the only government in the Middle East under which the Christian community is growing and thriving.  Israel is not perfect, neither is the United States, and Christian supporters are free to criticize aspects of Israeli actions or society.  But, to support a Palestinian movement that calls for the destruction of Israel is unacceptable.
 

 

Who are Really God’s People in the Middle East

 

While there are political, moral, and practical reasons for Christians to support Israel, the biblical foundation known as Biblical, or Christian, Zionism, is the belief that God bequeathed the land of Canaan to the Jewish people as an everlasting possession for the purposes of world redemption.  The pro-Palestinian sympathizers in the Christian world portray Christian Zionism as heresy, claiming that it politicizes the scriptures.

One of the more vocal Christian theologians leading a campaign against Christian Zionism is Dr. Gary Burge, Professor of New Testament at Wheaton College. His book, “Who are God’s people in the Middle East?” laid out a form of Replacement Theology, which claimed that the Church had replaced the Jewish people as the people of God. He concluded that the Palestinian Christians are the real people of God in the Israeli-Arab conflict, arguing that Christians should support them, instead of the Jewish people.

We should indeed love and support our fellow Christians in the Palestinian territories. Yet, this does not require that we discard Israel and invalidate or discredit God’s covenant with her. Instead, it requires an honest assessment of the situation facing Palestinian Christians and who is really to blame for it. Burge and others who share his view prefer to simply blame Israel, because it validates their Replacement Theology.

Anyone concerned for the Christians of the Middle East, including Palestinian Christians, should be applauding Israel, the one country in the region where the Christian community is thriving and growing. Israel is the only safe haven in a region where the rights of Christians are secure, as opposed to the Palestinian territories where their numbers are dwindling rapidly.  This decline is indicative of the much larger problem of Islamic radicalism facing Christians throughout the Middle East.

Our Christian compassion should not stop with Israel or Middle East Christians. It should include concern for all the peoples of the Middle East. Jesus died for the whole world, including Arab and Muslim peoples, who He loves just as much as anyone else. In fact, the many accounts of Jesus appearing to Muslims today in dreams and visions illustrate just how much God loves them and is revealing Himself to those who have a heart to receive Him.
 

  

Being Honest About the Suffering of Palestinians  

 

A true Christian perspective must not only be based on love, and sound biblical exegesis, but also on historical fact. This is challenging because of a prevalent Palestinian narrative that has little regard for historical fact.  While the constraints of space in this article do not allow us to discuss all of the political issues associated with the Arab-Israeli conflict, it is important to briefly examine the issues of justice and claims of oppression of the Palestinian people.

In 1999, Israel turned over control of the major areas populated by Palestinians to the Palestinian Authority (PA), in accordance with the Oslo Peace Accords, so that 99% of Palestinians are ruled by their own government. Israel does maintain border control and check-points within the West Bank, and we recognize that these security measures produce difficulties for the Palestinian people.

However, the real cause for their suffering is not Israel’s security measures, but the culture of terrorism and the corruption of the Palestinian leadership who are benefiting from the continuing conflict. As a result, these leaders refuse to sit down at the negotiating table with Israel to secure a better future for their people.

The Palestinian people have suffered grave injustices, but primarily at the hands of their own leaders. While there are Palestinians who lost their lives and homes in the 1948 War of Independence, the continuing oppression of the Palestinian people by their own Arab leaders is a travesty.

If Palestinian leaders had partnered with Israel, they would have established an independent state that could be the most prosperous, free, and advanced Arab country in the region. However, under the Palestinian Authority, there is no freedom of speech or freedom of the press, children are taught to hate and murder Jews beginning in kindergarten, the unemployment rate remains exceedingly high, and impoverished Palestinian refugees still live in camps. Year after year, billions of dollars in international aid earmarked for the Palestinian people are siphoned off by corrupt leaders.

This is the injustice inflicted upon the Palestinian people that Israel’s detractors will not acknowledge. Ascribing all blame to Israel and ignoring blatant injustices perpetrated by the Arab leaders, is not only dishonest – it is indicative of underlying anti-Semitic sentiment.
 

 

God’s Love for all the World

 

God’s love for the world is why He brought into existence the nation of Israel through whom He would bring about His great plan to redeem that world. Their role in His plan would afford them a place of preservation and promised blessing. Their calling would also place them directly in the line of fire, and consequently, there would be much suffering throughout the centuries because of it. The story of the Jewish people is filled with exiles, persecutions, pogroms, expulsions and attempts at annihilation. There is no explanation for this history other than the biblical role bequeathed to them by God.

Psalm 83:1-4 explains that, as a consequence, they are in the line of fire in a war against God Himself. “O God… those who hate you…have said ‘Come, and let us cut them off from being a nation, That the name of Israel may be remembered no more.’” God knew that the people of Israel would pay a price and their history would be full of suffering. This could explain why He promised blessings on any who would bless and help them.

The story of Israel is not a story about a people more loved or blessed than others, but the story of God’s love for the world, and His initiative to use the lineage of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to redeem and adopt that world into His family. God did not exclude Ishmael or anyone else from His blessings. But He did set them aside while He established the lineage of His people and carried out His plan to “bless all the families of the earth” with redemption.

After Muslim leaders have used the story of Ishmael to instill rejection, jealously, and resentment in billions of Muslims, God Himself is reaching out to their followers letting them know that they have not been rejected and can be part of His family as well.  Thousands of Muslims are having dreams and visions of Jesus and accepting Him as Savior.  Immediately, their hearts are filled with love.  This author knows a number of Muslim background converts and every one of them has a love for the Jewish people, because they recognize they have been adopted into the family as siblings.
 

 

Conclusion

 

The Arab-Israeli conflict is one of the most complex issues today made up of intertwining factors that are theological, historical, and political. They are also personal and, often, emotional for those directly affected. Therefore, a Christian approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict must be one not only grounded in love for all the people involved, but one that is biblically founded, and discerns between what is historical fact and politically motivated mistruths. One will then understand that the greatest blessing for the Arab people is found in God’s covenant with the people of Israel.  Therefore, it is absolutely pro-Arab to be pro-Israel.

 


Footnotes:

[1]Replacement Theology is the teaching that the Church has replaced the Jewish people in the plans and purposes of God due to their rejection of Jesus’ Messianic credentials.

[2]For a history of Christian Zionism and quotes from some 50 Christian leaders over the last 500 years who supported the re-establishment of Israel based on their reading of scripture see: www.israelanswers.com/christian_zionism/a_history_of_christian_zionism

[3]For a full treatment of the theology of Christian Zionism see the ICEJ’s Biblical Zionism booklet series by Rev. Malcolm Hedding for sale at www.icejusa.org/basis-chrisitian-support-Israel-booklet. Also see “Christian Zionism in Balance “ by Rev. Hedding found at www.icejusa.org/christian-zionism-balanceor visit www.israelanswers.com

[4]See Father Gabriel Naddaf’s statement to the UN Human Rights Council: http://www.cnsnews.com/news/article/lauretta-brown/priest-un-israel-only-safe-place-christians-middle-east.

[5]Palestinian leaders perpetrate such lies as: the Holocaust never happened, the first and second temples never existed in Jerusalem, Al-Aksa Mosque is in danger of collapse due to Israel, and that Jesus was a Palestinian. Such blatant lies are found throughout their speeches as well as school textbooks and government supported media.

[6] See The Arabs’ Historic Mistakes in Their Interactions with Israelby Canadian-Lebanese writer Fred Maroun at http://www.gatestoneinstitute.org/8388/arabs-israel-historic-mistakes

[7]For statistics and photographs contrasting the Palestinian elite’s opulence with the abject poverty of refugees they refuse to absorb please see: http://jcpa.org/article/luxury-alongside-poverty-in-the-palestinian-authority/. For similar treatment of the Gaza Strip please see: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/gaza-middle-class-discovers-spin-classes-fine-dining-private-beaches/2015/08/23/7e23843c-45d5-11e5-9f53-d1e3ddfd0cda_story.html.


Susan M. Michael is US Director for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.  Her writings can be found at www.icejusa.org/susans-blog

 

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