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An Open Letter to America's Christian Zionists

On September 19, 2011 Dr. David P. Gushee and Dr. Glen H. Stassen released An Open Letter to America’s Christian Zionists.1 In this letter the authors laid out a largely flawed case claiming that Christian Zionists are not only sinful but produce sin and will be the cause of any upcoming war against Israel including a nuclear attack by Iran.

May this Response by the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem begin to provide some of the needed correction. The ICEJ writes from the vantage point of being located “on the ground” in Jerusalem from where we have been engaged in the issues raised in the Letter, as well as with the various people groups involved in those issues, Jewish and Arab, for 31 years.

 

 

The Underlying Attitude of the Document

The underlying attitude of the document is shocking and should be of a great concern to the respected Fuller Theological Seminary. To suggest that Israel deserves a devastating war and nuclear annihilation and that Christian Zionists are “aiding and abetting” Israel’s sin thereby causing any future war and possible nuclear wipe-out is a position that Fuller Seminary urgently needs to distance itself from.

This attitude directly justifies the nuclear build up in Iran and an Islamic agenda to annihilate Israel as God’s way to “sort out the Jewish people of the modern state of Israel.” It is with this attitude that the authors begin laying out a questionable theology and a narrow political position that ignores much of the historical context of the current Arab Israeli conflict.

 

 

The Analysis of the Arab-Israeli Conflict

The first thing that becomes evident in the authors’opening recap of the present day situation is their over simplification of complex issues that have long histories. The authors do not seem to take this history into consideration which makes the reader wonder if they even knowit.

Their claim that the Palestinian leadership had to declare statehood at the UN now “before the territory for such a state completely disappears” [due to settlement growth] is so inaccurate it is shocking. No new settlements have been built for several years, a number have been dismantled and all settlement growth is natural growth and must be inside current settlement borders. In addition, the current settlement block takes up less than 4% of the West Bank. That is a far cry from eating up all of the Palestinian territory!

Settlements have never been an impediment to peace between Israel and her neighbors. In 1982 she uprooted 18 settlements in the Sinai when it was returned to Egypt. In 2005, even though the Palestinians would not negotiate a deal, Israel uprooted all 21 settlements in Gaza and unilaterally withdrew. But since the bulk of the West Bank settlements are near Jerusalem and have become urban areas with over 200,000 Israeli citizens living there Israel wants to keep that bloc when they negotiate an agreement with the Palestinians. In return, they have offered a land swap from inside the green line to compensate for the 4% they want to keep.

The authors refer to the Settlements as “creating facts on the ground” but failed to mention the Palestinian request to the UN to declare statehood based on the “1967 borders” (1949 armistice lines) as a ploy to create facts on theground.

They also said that the Palestinian leaders “support negotiations” but the “current” Israeli government is said to be renouncing the path of negotiations. This completely ignores the facts. Netanyahu has consistently invited the Palestinians to the negotiating table without preconditions and they refuse to go. He did this many times but notably in 2010 at his Bar Ilan speech and in his Knesset speech, as well as in 2011 before the US Congress in May and before the UN in September when he invited Abbas to begin negotiations that very day.

Nevertheless, the authors blame the lack of negotiations on the ideology of the Netanyahu government: Zionism. What is missing is any reference to the refusal of the Palestinians to recognize Israel’s right to exist and their decades long use of violence aimed at her eradication.

A review of the history suggests that the real reason peace negotiations have failed is because the Palestinians don’t want to live side-by-side in peace with Israel. Instead, they want to get rid of Israel altogether. Because of Zionism? No, because of the Islamist ideology that refuses to accept Jewish sovereignty on any land that was at one time under the domain of Islam.

There is no other explanation for the refusal of the Palestinians to negotiate peace with Israel. In fact, Hamas’ Charter is clear that this is the reason they will not negotiate with Israel and Hamas is now a part of the Palestinian government.

This may explain why both Arafat and Abbas turned down previous offers of statehood and why Abbas refuses to begin negotiations now. Abbas does not want to go down in history as the Arab leader who recognized Israel as a Jewish State on what was once Islamic land. So he has cleverly devised a plan to get statehood without recognizing Israel.

Christian Zionism

Ignoring this history, the authors blame it on Zionism and then segue to their focus on Christian Zionism which they refer to as “American evangelical-fundamentalist Christian Zionism.” This narrow designation negates the millions of Christians from countries other than America who support Israel and it disregards the long history of Christian Zionism which predates and reaches far beyond “evangelical-fundamentalism” of today.

The International Christian Embassy Jerusalem has branches in over 60 nations and organizes the annual Christian solidarity event known as the Feast of Tabernacles in Israel each fall.

Christian pilgrims come from over 80 countries to show their love for Israel and the Jewish people. This event itself demonstrates that wherever the Bible is read, there are Christians who understand the significance of the Jewish people and want to bless them and stand with them.

While all branches of Christianity have been represented, including Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox, the vast majority of the participants are from the mainstream evangelical world.  Notably, some of the greatest and most well respected evangelicals of history were what we call Christian Zionists today like; the Wesley brothers, Charles Spurgeon, Bishop Ryleof  Liverpool, William Wilberforce, Robert Murray McCheyne and many more. Christian Zionism is clearly not an “American evangelical-fundamentalist”phenomenon.

Moreover, a recent poll taken in America revealed that over 50% of Americans support Israel while only 5% support the Palestinians.2 Does that mean that over 50% of Americans are “evangelical- fundamentalist Christian Zionists?” Not likely. Yet, they are the real reason that the US government is committed to Israel and her security. It is a mainstream American value to support democracy and allies who share our fundamental Judeo-Christian ethos.

The authors blame Christian Zionists for “US policy that violates our commitment to universal human rights” and conclude this is the reason “America stands alone in the world in her support of Israel.” We have already established that it is a majority of America’s citizens driving its Middle East policy, and events at the United Nations in September 2011, and the international boycott of the anti-Semitic Durban III conference, have demonstrated that many other nations do in fact stand with Israel.

The authors then conclude that Christian Zionism “underwrites theft of Palestinian land,” “oppression of Palestinian people,” “violates biblical demands for justice” and “creates conditions for violence.” Therefore, it is “sinful and produces sin.”

This type of delegitimization and demonizing of Christian Zionism goes hand in hand with the delegitimization and demonizing of Israel that we see infiltrating many of the universities in the US and around the world. These authors have swallowed the party line that Israel is unjust and evil, therefore her supporters are too. These grave accusations are intended to prepare the reader to examine the theological basis for Christian Zionism and to give place to the inconsistent and questionable theology of the authors.

The Theological Basis

a. The possession and domicile of theland

The authors commend the Christian Zionists’ love of the Bible and appreciate that their foundations are found both in the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament but challenge them to look more closely at their theology. They then demonstrate both that their own theology is flawed, and that they do not know Christian Zionist theology. So, while a fuller treatment of our theology is available in booklet form, let us take a minute to summarize it.3

Christian Zionism can be defined as the belief that God bequeathed to the Jewish people the land of Canaan as an everlasting possession for the purposes of world redemption. The call of Abraham in Genesis 12 clearly described a birthing role for the nation in that through him all the families of the earth would be blessed. Truly the Jewish people have been faithful to this call and brought to the world redemptive products such as the covenants, the law, the worship, the glory, the Word of God and the Messiah (Romans 3:1; 9:4-5).

The authors rightly note the “dynamic tension” between the “conditional and unconditional” relationship to the land. However, the bequeathment of the land was unconditional and everlasting - no conditions were placed upon Israel’s possession of the land (Gen. 17:8). But conditions were later placed upon their right of domicile on the land and if they did not live righteously and in obedience to God they would suffer judgment which included war and exile. Twice in history the Jewish people were warned of pending judgment and then suffered exile (Babylonian exile and Roman exile), but they were always promised a final return and that their end would be a glorious one when the knowledge of the Lord will fill the earth (Isaiah 2, 11).

Isaiah 11:11 indicates that there would only be two returns. The first occurred under Cyrus of Persia. We have been privileged in our day to see the second return after the dissolution of the Ottoman Turkish Empire, the League of Nations vote of 1922 in favor of the British Mandate over Palestine which included the establishment of a Jewish homeland and finally, the 1949 UN Partition Plan. These historic events paved the way legally and morally for the establishment of the modern State of Israel.

Biblically, their right of domicile on the land is still conditional and dependant on their righteousness and right relationship with their God. But we believe they will not be exiled again because Isaiah is clear that there are only two returns and there are many promises of a glorious future that their return will usher in to the world. While we understand the authors’ question of a possible third exile, we instead are waiting for the second phase of their final return. The Hebrew Scriptures often describe this return to Zion as a return to the Lord Himself. But that does not mean it all happens in a day. Ezek. 36:24-28 is very clear that their return is just the beginning: first there is a physical return and then there is a spiritual restoration.

b. The seed of Abraham

We recognize that Abraham was the father of many nations and that we as Christians are grafted in and become the spiritual heirs of Abraham. But the bequeathment of the land was clearly reaffirmed to specific successive generations thus defining the line from Abraham, to Isaac, to Jacob and to the 12 tribes of Israel (Genesis 50:24; Numbers 34:2). We as spiritual heirs have no inheritance in the land nor do the other descendants of Abraham or Isaac.

The main passage that the authors encourage the reader to study further, clearly disagrees with the very theology they suggest. In Genesis 17:18 Abraham makes the same suggestion as the authors: “May Ishmael live!” – meaning establish the covenant with him. God’s answer is crystal clear; He promises to bless Ishmael but confirms His covenant is with the descendants of Isaac. The same is true in the case of Esau, where the Word of God teaches that the line of the covenantal blessing continued through Jacob and not through Esau (Gen 25, 27). God’s choice of one descendant over the other is affirmed even in the New Testament in Paul’s Epistle to the Romans 9:6-15. Paul is aware that such truth is uncomfortable for the liberal human mindset and so he admonishes the church not to question God’s sovereignty: “Who are you Ohman?”

Nowhere in the Bible do we find any covenantal right to the land of Israel except for the Jewish people. The authors do rightly state that at all times non-Jews lived in the land with Israel. It was gentiles who made up the private security guards of King David. The prophets foresaw that Philistines and other gentiles would live with equal rights in a restored Israel (Amos 9:12; Zech9:7). Their assumed presence is exactly the reason the Lord required that they betreated fairly (Zech. 7:10). But nowhere in the Bible is a covenantal relationship established with these aliens that included possession of the land of Canaan.

This situation even continues today where 15-20% of the population of Israel is not Jewish yet they enjoy the same rights as Jewish citizens. Compare that to President Mahmud Abbas who only recently stated Jews will not be allowed to live in the future State of Palestine. Is it indeed such a “judenrein” Palestine which the authors pursue in their “just peacemaking?”

c. Borders

As to the actual borders of the land, that is something entirely up to God, as the Apostle Paul affirmed in Acts 17:26. Israel’s borders changed many times in history and it is true that during times of judgment there was a loss of land. It is not up to us to determine her borders but to support her right to exist in security and peace.

d. Spiritual opposition

But the scriptures also describe a spiritual reality that the authors never mention. That is; throughout Israel’s history there has been a relentless, evil attempt to destroy her (Psalm 83). The book of Esther is a compelling example of this. Even in modern history there has been a relentless pursuit of the Jewish people and many examples throughout Christian history and culminating in the Holocaust testify to this. Today, President Ahmadinejad has carried on the paranoid and delusional world view of Adolf Hitler and is committed to the same evil plan to destroy the Jewish people.

For the authors to place blame for this on Christian Zionists is not only insulting it is absurd. Instead of standing with the Jewish people in light of this very serious threat, the authors blame Christians who are speaking out on their behalf.

The Concept of Justice

The authors emphasize the biblical requirement that Israel practice justice or else she will be judged for her treatment of the aliens in the land, the poor, widows, and orphans.4 They said that they toured the “tortured Holy Land”… in the shadow of the “Separation Wall” ….under “military occupation” … “which makes one tremble at these biblical words of warning.”

So let’s look at Israel’s treatment of aliens starting with the treatment of the Arabs within Israel itself. They have citizenship, can vote (including women), have freedom of speech, have their own political parties, serve in the Knesset, serve on the Supreme Court and can even be “Miss Israel.” Israel is the only country in the whole Middle East in which the Christian Arab population is growing. Why aren’t the Christian Arabs fleeing Israel like they are the Muslim world? Obviously, they have found more justice in Israel than in any of the Arab countries.

That seems like pretty convincing proof that Israel is not an unjust or repressive country. Their minorities have minority struggles like all minorities but let’s just be honest; they have basic human rights, freedom of speech and many opportunities to achieve and better their situation.

The authors are obviously not concerned about Israeli Arabs - just the Palestinians. So let’s look at the Palestinians. A recent Palestinian poll found that over 40% of the Arabs in East Jerusalem have said that they would prefer to live under Israeli sovereignty than a Palestinian State and would move to a different neighborhood to stay under Israeli jurisdiction if a Palestinian State was formed.5 If Israel is so repressive and unjust would 40% of the Palestinians in Jerusalem want to live under Israeli rather than Palestinian rule?

A brief review of some statistics will also shed light on the issue. When Israel first captured the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967 the conditions were quite dire. In spite of 20 years of Jordanian occupation, life expectancy was low, malnutrition, infectious diseases and child mortality were rife; the level of education was very poor, and fewer than 60% of all male adults were employed. By 1986 over 100,000 Palestinians worked in Israel, and many more worked in the 2000 industrial plants that had been built in the territories.

During the 1970s, under Israeli rule, the West Bank and Gaza constituted the fourth fastest- growing economy in the world. Mortality rates fell by more than two-thirds, life expectancy rose from 48 years in 1967 to 72 in 2000 (average of 68 years for all countries in the Middle East), and childhood diseases like polio, whooping cough, tetanus and measles wereeradicated.

By 1986, 92.8% of the population had electricity around the clock as compared to 20.5% in 1967; 85% had running water as compared to 16% in 1967; 83.5% had electric or gas ranges for cooking as compared to 4% in 1967; and so on for refrigerators, televisions, and cars. Most dramatic was the progress in higher education. In 1967, not one single university existed in the territories. By the early 1990s, there were seven such institutions boasting 16,500 students. Illiteracy rates dropped to 14% of adults compared to 61% in Egypt and 44% in Syria.6

Is this the unjust and repressive Israel that is deserving of another exile? She developed the West Bank and Gaza yet never annexed them.  Instead, after the breakout of the First Intifada in 1987, Israel began a quest for a peace agreement with the Palestinians to establish a state. Sadat had invited the Palestinians to be a part of the Camp David Accords to negotiate their own arrangements but they refused. Israel made peace with Egypt, hoped to have peace with Jordan soon and wanted to broker peace with the Palestinians. So they developed a peace plan that was then presented to the Madrid Peace Conference in 1991 and out of that the Oslo Peace Process was born. They also brought Yasser Arafat back from exile in Tunisia and set him up as the leader of the Palestinian people so they had someone to negotiatewith.

Israel did this even though they can claim legal ownership of the West Bank according to the San Remo Conference and the League of Nations Vote in 1922.7 While the 1949 UN Partition Plan later proposed that the West Bank be for an Arab state, the Arabs rejected the proposal so they are at most “disputed territories” that Israel has agreed to give up for a Palestinian State.

So why is the peace process now stagnate and Israel has such a tight grip on the Palestinian people that she is accused of being brutal and unjust? Let’s review the last decade. She unilaterally withdrew from Lebanon, turned it over to the UN and got a terrorist organization on her northern border armed with over 50,000 missiles. She unilaterally withdrew from Gaza, turned it over to the Palestinian Authority and got a terrorist organization on her western border that has fired 10,000 missiles at her. After withdrawing from most of the West Bank, in accordance with the Oslo Peace Accords, and offering a Palestinian State to Arafat she got the 2nd Intifada with a wave of Palestinian suicide bombers wreaking havoc and destruction. And just this year the Abbas government signed a unity pack with the terrorist organization, Hamas.

This is the history that the authors seem oblivious to. The “Separation Wall,” is actually a “Security Fence” built in response to the wave of suicide bombers that killed 1,100 Israelis and 5,000 Palestinians in the 2nd Intifada. It completely stopped suicide bombings and saved untold numbers of Israeli and Palestinian lives. We are sure the authors would agree that saving lives is more important than the inconvenience of the wall with its checkpoints. Moreover, the wall can be dismantled at any moment if the Palestinians will just negotiate peace with Israel.

Ninety-nine% of the Palestinian population has lived under the Palestinian Authority since 1999 when Israel turned over control of the major population areas in accordance with the Oslo Peace Agreement. While Israel does maintain border control and check points within the West Bank, the Palestinians are ruled by their own government. Is this “military occupation?”

Israel has very real security concerns and must control the movement of people with checkpoints until they have a Palestinian State with which they have made certain agreements to take over this level of security. If the Palestinians want the checkpoints removed all they need to do is to negotiate peace with Israel.

Israel’s primary responsibility, as it is for all governments, is to protect her citizens from “evil doers” and the New Testament allows governments to use “the sword” to carry out this responsibility (Romans 13:1-7; I Peter 2:13-14). Israel would not have erected the Security Fence or the checkpoints if they were not necessary to protect her citizens.

Having now established the larger historical and theological context missing in the Open Letter, we recognize that the Palestinian people do live in difficult circumstances and do not have the freedom of movement necessary to develop businesses, find jobs or even get to a hospital sometimes. The checkpoints have a stranglehold on their economy, are demoralizing and humiliating.

Where we disagree with the authors is that they place blame on Israel for having tough security without ever mentioning why it is needed. The real culprits here are the threat of terrorism, and the corrupt Palestinian leaders who have not only filled their own bank accounts instead of bettering the people’s lives, but have refused to sit down at the negotiating table and hammer out a better life for their people. And this is all because of their Islamic ideology – not Zionism.

Conclusion

The situation is far more complex than the Open Letter allows. Our support for Israel does not mean that we think Israel is perfect, or that we blindly support all of her policies. She has many good policies and some bad – like all states do. We tremble not over God’s promise to judge Israel and correct her when necessary (Jer. 30:11), but His ultimate judgment of the nations for their treatment of Israel and the Jewish people (Isa. 60:12; Joel 3:2; Matt. 25:31-40).

We pray for the peace of Jerusalem knowing that the answer to that prayer will mean great blessing for both Arabs and Jews – in fact, all the world. We encourage Christians to love all the peoples of the Middle East and to pray for them and particularly for our Christian Arab brothers and sisters.8 But if we want to help bring justice to the Palestinian people then we need to be honest and admit that their problem is not Israel but their own corrupt and cowardly leaders and we need to call for those leaders to lay down their goal of eradicating Israel, recognize her right to exist as a Jewish state and broker an agreement for the sake of the Palestinian people.

 

Signed by:

Susan M. Michael - ICEJ US Director
Dr. Jurgen Buhler - ICEJ President
Rev. Malcolm Hedding - ICEJ Executive Director Emeritas



Read the original letter here: https://us.icej.org/files/en/pdf/icej_cz_open_letter_response_oct2011_0.pdf

Fotenotes:

  1.  http://justpeacemaking.blogspot.com/2011/09/open-letter-to-americas-christian.html(Accessed Sept 30, 2011).
  2. Bipartisan Poll by Public Opinion Strategies and Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research on behalf of The Israel Project, Nov. 2, 2010; see also Poll by McLaughlin & Associates on behalf of the Emergency Committee for Israel, Oct. 3 & 5, 2010; US Voters poll by Public Opinion Strategies on behalf of The Israel Project, April 5-7, 2010.
  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 http://us.icej.org/store/basis-christian-support-israel-booklet. Also see “Christian Zionism in Balance” by Rev. Hedding found at http://us.icej.org/christian-zionism-balance.
  4. For a fuller analysis of biblical justice see “The Question of Justice” by David Parsons, ICEJ Media Director at http://us.icej.org/media/question-justiceand “Swords into Ploughshares: Christian Zionism and the Battle of Armageddon” also by David Parsons, available for download at: http://us.icej.org/swords-ploughshares.
  5. Poll by Palestinian pollster Dr. Nabil Kukali of the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion in partnership with Princeton-based Pechter Middle East Polls, Sept. 4-10, 2011.
  6. What Occupation?” by Professor Efraim Karsh, Commentary, July – August, 2002.
  7. International Lawyer, Dr. Jaques Gauthier, reviews the legal ownership of the land of Israel at the ICEJ Feast of Tabernacles Celebration in Jerusalem on Sept 28, 2010. His full presentation is available at: http://us.icej.org/content/sovereignty-over-jerusalem-and-its-old-city
  8. For a sample of ICEJ articles voicing concern for the Arab Christian minorities in the Palestinian territories read ‘Our Battered Brethren’ by ICEJ Media Director, David Parsons: http://us.icej.org/christian-zionism-101/our-battered-brethrenor ‘Bethlehem on the Rebound’ by Justus Reid Weiner, commission and published by the ICEJ in conjunction with The Jerusalem Post in February 2011: http://us.icej.org/bethlehem-rebound. The ICEJ has also drawn attention to the plight of Arab Christian minorities throughout the Middle East; See David Parsons: ‘Under Siege: The brutal targeting of Middle East Christians’ also published in conjunction with The Jerusalem Post in February 2011: http://us.icej.org/under-siege.In addition the ICEJ has regularly included Palestinian Christians on our platform at the annual Feast of Tabernacles celebration in Jerusalem to educate the Christian Zionist community about the unique political, social and religious challenges they face.

A Sound Strategy for Moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem

With the inauguration of Donald J. Trump as President of the United States, the time has come to finally right an historic injustice by granting de jure recognition to Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving the American Embassy there. For those who care about the openness and true calling of Jerusalem, the ascent of President Trump to high office is a time for great hope and optimism. His promise to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem may be stirring anger and threats in some quarters, but 2017 is the right time to make this long overdue move, as Israel marks two important Jubilees for the city this year – the liberation of Jerusalem by British General Edmund Allenby one hundred years ago, and the liberation of the Old City of Jerusalem by Israeli forces fifty years ago. As senior leaders of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, the largest pro-Israel Christian organization worldwide, we can assure you that there are tens of millions of Christians both in America and around the globe who wholly support and endorse such a move. Still, this initiative requires a certain caution and sound strategy that will effectively counter any potential negative responses.


An unjust anomaly
In 1950, the newly-reborn nation of Israel declared Jerusalem to be its capital and placed all of its primary institutions of national government in the city, including its parliament (the Knesset), the Offices of the President and Prime Minister, other cabinet-level ministry offices, and the Supreme Court. This despite the fact that Jewish western Jerusalem was precariously surrounded at the time by hostile Arab forces. The lone exception was the Defense Ministry, which was placed in Tel Aviv for security reasons. This decision to establish Jerusalem as the capital of the revived Jewish state reflected the deep spiritual, historic and cultural significance which the Jewish people attach to the city.

Over the ensuing seven decades, the international community has generally extended de facto recognition to Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, in that nearly all visiting heads-of-state, and other foreign officials and envoys, have all come up to Jerusalem to conduct the affairs of state with their Israeli counterparts. This includes at least five U.S. presidents and scores of other American officials who have come to conduct business in Jerusalem over the past 69 years. This also includes even Arab leaders, such as Anwar Sadat, who made his historic peace mission to Jerusalem, not Tel Aviv. Palestinian leaders Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas also have conducted peace talks and other official meetings with Israeli leaders in Jerusalem, and even attended the state funerals of Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres on the city’s revered Mt. Herzl.
However, the United States – as with other members of the international community – has refused to extend de jure recognition to Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and thus has placed our nation’s embassy instead in the coastal city of Tel Aviv. This is a gross anomaly in that Israel is the only democratic ally of the United States where we do not have our embassy in the capital city as determined by the host country. This diplomatic slight goes even deeper, as the U.S. has never even recognized any part of Jerusalem, even the area of western Jerusalem held by Israel since 1949, as part of the Jewish state.

The origins of this unjust policy can be found in the United Nations Partition Plan of 1947, which recommended a division of Mandatory Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state, but with Jerusalem and its environs set aside as a corpus separatum under international supervision. Though accepted by Israel, this UN decision to “internationalize” the city reflected a certain colonialist attitude, as the leading powers did not think the new Jewish state could yet be trusted with the holy city. This arose, in part, from religiously biased motivations in that many Christian and Muslim nations worldwide were reticent to see the holy sites of Jerusalem and Bethlehem placed under Jewish control. Even so, it is often overlooked that the UN Partition Plan expressly provided for a city-wide referendum within ten years which would have enabled the local residents to decide the fate of the city. So this “internationalization” of Jerusalem was merely intended as a temporary measure, and the Jewish majority in the city would have soon ensured that it became a part of Israel. Nonetheless, President Harry Truman embraced the concept, setting a course for U.S. policy on Jerusalem over coming decades that has since drifted into folly. Meanwhile, many in the European Union still push for internationalizing Jerusalem, even though it is a defunct idea rejected by all the core parties to the dispute over the city.

After Israel reunified the city during the June 1967 conflict, there has been a continuing effort to deny Israel and the Jewish people their rightful place in Jerusalem under other pretexts. In more recent decades, the United States has joined the international community in espousing the need to be “even-handed” when it comes to Jerusalem, so as not to prejudge the outcome of negotiations over the city between Israel and the Palestinians. But this is a disingenuous argument, as a cluster of nations have located their senior envoys to the Palestinians, some at the ambassadorial level, in Jerusalem, where they reside and conduct business from their offices in the city. If these nations were truly worried about prejudging the issue of Jerusalem, they would not place their senior representatives to the Palestinians in the city even while their Israeli equivalents sit in Tel Aviv. The fact that the United States itself has followed this imbalanced approach demonstrates the vacuous nature of its pronounced policy of neutrality towards Jerusalem.

Further, the United Nations Security Council recently adopted, with the acquiescence of the Obama administration, a resolution which thoroughly contradicts this even-handed approach. UNSC resolution 2334, passed on December 23, 2016, declared East Jerusalem to be “occupied Palestinian territory,” and determined that Israeli actions there were “settlement activities” which constitute “a flagrant violation of international law.” This amounts to the UN’s highest body deliberately prejudging the question of the future status of Jerusalem, and in the process severely undermining the bedrock of all previous international peacemaking efforts, UNSC resolution 242. There is an urgent need on the part of the new American administration to remedy this major diplomatic blunder.

This leaves only one remaining excuse for the United States continuing to refuse to move its Embassy to Jerusalem, and that is fear of the potentially violent Arab and Islamic response. This attitude of weakness is reflected in the way that recent U.S. Administrations have all exercised the presidential waiver authority added at the last minute to the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995, delaying the Embassy move every six months on the grounds that it is in our “national security interests.” This is not a policy based on principle, fairness or historical right, but solely on timidity over the possible Arab/Islamic reaction. This apprehensiveness has effectively granted the Palestinians a veto over U.S. decision-making, while the prospects of peace have become a hostage of their intransigence.

The time has come to finally right this wrong, and at the same time to infuse new life into the Middle East peace process. By officially recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving our Embassy there, the United States will remove this diplomatic blot while also signaling the Palestinians that the time for compromise has come. This show of strength and resolve by the Trump administration, in standing in solidarity with Israel and the Jewish people concerning their holiest city, also will send a message to the entire world that America stands by its allies and that peace and progress for the region will no longer be a captive of irrational actors and brazen intimidation.

Surely, there will be no harm to the outcome of peace talks if the U.S. Embassy is relocated to western Jerusalem. All serious parties know this sector of the city will remain a part of Israel in any final status agreement. Nor is anyone seriously looking for a return to that dismal era from 1948 to 1967 when the city was forcibly divided. And Israel would still be able to work out an arrangement for sharing the city in peace talks with the Palestinians.

Certainly, Jerusalem must be kept open and shared by all those with faith in God. But the Jewish people are the true and proper custodians of the city. Christians and Muslims can trust the Jewish people in this regard, because their own Hebrew scriptures demand that they maintain the city as a “house of prayer for all peoples” (Isaiah 56:7), where all can come to worship and pray to the Lord God. Israel also has committed to religious freedom and tolerance, first guaranteed in its Declaration of Independence, as well as to maintaining the status quo with regards to the city’s holy sites. In fact, of all the sovereign rulers over Jerusalem down through the centuries, Israel has compiled the best track record in ensuring freedom of worship in the city and allowing access to its holy places. The International Christian Embassy Jerusalem can readily attest to this, as for the past 37 years we have hosted the largest annual tourist event in Israel, the Christian celebration of the biblical Feast of Tabernacles, and have always been free to worship as we see fit.

The Jewish claim and connection to Jerusalem dates back 4,000 years to the time when the Hebrew Patriarch Abraham first came to Mt. Moriah to offer up his son Isaac, as recounted in the Bible in Genesis chapter 22. Some 3,000 years ago, King David made Jerusalem the capital of his unified Israelite kingdom, and instructed his son Solomon to build a Temple there. The city has been the center of Jewish religious, political and cultural life ever since. Even during the time of the long Jewish exile, their hopes, prayers and pilgrimages were all directed towards Jerusalem. The deep Jewish attachment to the city predates the rise of Christianity and Islam by centuries if not millennia. No other people or nation has ever made it their capital, save for a short-lived Crusader kingdom.

 

In comparison, while some Muslims consider Jerusalem the third holiest city in Islam, after Mecca and Medina, this is not true for all Muslims. Many Shi’a Muslims actually revere the cities of Qom, Najaf and Karbala ahead of Jerusalem. Meanwhile, many Sunni Muslims, especially those in the Wahhabi movement, reject Muslim veneration of Jerusalem as a later hadith (tradition) and not one of the original traditions of the faith established by Muhammad and his closest companions. As a result, very few Arab rulers and Muslim religious leaders have ever visited the Dome of the Rock shrine or al-Aqsa mosque on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem in modern times, even during the 19 years of Jordanian control over East Jerusalem. It just seems that the city only takes on any real significance for many Arabs and Muslims when it is in Jewish hands.

Still, Jerusalem remains a sensitive issue and moving the U.S. Embassy to the city requires a judicious and guarded strategy for dealing with the potential fallout from such a decision.


A sound strategy
We advise that the Trump administration should take the next several months to quietly engage with other members of the international community before formally announcing the move of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. These discreet contacts should be held quickly and intensely along three simultaneous tracks:

1)  First, consult closely with the Israeli government to discuss various aspects of such a move and to coordinate the necessary steps, as well as bilateral responses to any potential security challenges;
2)  Second, confer with officials in key Arab and Muslim nations to address their concerns and elicit their cooperation; and

3)  Third, identify and confer with countries friendly to the U.S. and Israel which might be open to moving their embassies to Jerusalem as well.

The discussions with Arab and Muslim countries should focus on conveying the determination of the United States to repair a diplomatic offense by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, along with our desire to maintain regional stability and minimize the negative consequences which might ensue. It needs to be made clear that this move will not prejudice the final status talks over Jerusalem nor impede access to holy sites in the city, and that there will be no tolerance for misrepresenting these facts and engaging in baseless rhetoric that only enflames the situation, such as false claims that the al-Aqsa mosque is endangered. While one can expect some venting by extremist elements in the Middle East and beyond, all the recent warnings of pending chaos and destruction should not be taken at face value. It would be demeaning to view all Arab and Muslim leaders as irresponsible actors who will abandon their senses and wantonly incite the masses into an anti-Israel, anti-American frenzy. Further, there also are incentives that could be offered to these nations to ensure their acceptance of this decision, such as firm commitments to counter the Iranian threat to the region, to work for the destruction of ISIS and other radical Islamic militias, and to seek a quick and mutually acceptable end to the carnage in Syria.

The engagement with other nations friendly to Israel and the U.S. would focus on discerning which countries are willing to join the U.S. in moving their embassies to Jerusalem. By leading a group of nations up to Jerusalem, the Trump administration will demonstrate the rightness of this move at this time and also signal that any violence and resistance is futile. If well planned and executed, we believe that such a strategy for a multilateral return of many freedom-loving, democratic nations to Jerusalem would go far in defusing tensions in the region. Through our international network of contacts with leaders and influential persons in many nations worldwide, the ICEJ believes there are a number of countries ready to move their embassies back to Jerusalem. Some of these nations once had their national embassies in Jerusalem but left because of threats of violence and oil embargoes. Today, a violent response to this peaceful, principled return to Jerusalem could never be justified, while the power of Arab oil embargoes has been largely diminished by the discovery of massive gas and oil deposits elsewhere. Thus, we are convinced there are many nations ready to relocate to Jerusalem under the lead of an American umbrella. The ICEJ stands ready and willing to assist the Trump administration in any way we can towards that end.

The United States should then announce its firm decision to officially recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and to move our Embassy there in the weeks before Israel marks the fiftieth anniversary of a reunited Jerusalem in early June of 2017. We anticipate that other nations would be prepared to take similar actions within that same time frame.

In practical terms, President Trump could designate a business suite or other property in Jerusalem to serve as the temporary official home of the U.S. ambassador, or set up the ambassador's office within an existing U.S. government facility in Jerusalem, until an actual Embassy building is constructed. We understand other pragmatic considerations will take time as well, such as finding housing and schools in the Jerusalem area for the families of American diplomatic personnel who must relocate from greater Tel Aviv. Yet the impact of an astute, timely, and robust American diplomatic effort to finally do right by Jerusalem will hold many potential benefits for the United States, as well as for Israel, the region and the world.
 


written by: -by Dr. Jürgen Bühler, David R. Parsons and Susan M. Michael
International Christian Embassy Jerusalem


Dr. Jürgen Bühler is President of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem and a member of its Board of Trustees.
David R. Parsons is a vice president and senior spokesman for the ICEJ. He authored the initial draft of the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 for Sen. Jon Kyl.
Susan M. Michael is national director for ICEJ-USA and also a member of the ICEJ’s international Board of Trustees.

The International Christian Embassy Jerusalem was founded in 1980 as a permanent expression of Christian solidarity with Israel and particularly its capital of Jerusalem, in recognition of the ancient Jewish attachment to this city. Today, the ICEJ has branch offices in over 85 nations and supporters from more than 160 countries worldwide.

 

 

Across the Israel Divide

Israel is one of the most complex issues today. It divides countries, governments, and academic institutions, along with theological communities. The issues at play are historical, theological, and political. They are also personal and, often, emotional for those directly affected. Therefore, a thoughtful Christian perspective must be one based on concern and care for all the peoples involved, and most importantly, on an honest assessment of the facts.

A striking biblical analogy highlighting the sensitivity of this issue is the reference to the Jewish people as the apple of God’s eye, a very vulnerable part of the body (Deuteronomy 32:10; Zechariah 2:8). When handling this subject we are touching upon something that is not just sensitive to Jews, Christians, and Muslims, but to God Himself.

It is made abundantly clear in scripture that God will bless or judge people based on how they treat His people Israel (Genesis 12:3, Isaiah 60:12, Zechariah 2:8-9, Joel 3:1-3). Jesus seems to confirm this in Matthew 25:31-46 where He explains that upon His return He will divide the nations for blessing or judgment based on their treatment of “His brethren.” 

Another metaphor used in scripture is likening Israel to a pregnant woman (Revelation 12:1-6) because of her role in birthing the “male Child who would rule all nations.” This unusual image helps to explain the special treatment and care she requires. It does not mean that she is loved more than any other of God’s children, but that she has a unique role, given only to her, to birth God’s plan to redeem fallen mankind. That role means that she will be vulnerable and in need of assistance.

The God of Israel takes the treatment of His people very seriously. Therefore, we should proceed in this discussion with great caution and care.
 

 

God’s Banner to the Nations

 

The divisiveness of the Israel issue should be our first indication that something far greater is at stake here. This tiny state of 8 million people, the size of New Jersey, is at the center of the world’s attention. Isaiah 11:11-12 says that in “that day” when the Lord gathers His people back to the land “a second time,” that He will raise a banner  to the nations. Indeed, the attention of all nations has been turned to Israel today.

After some 2,000 years of exile, the Jewish people have returned to their land a second time.  This is a historic phenomenon with no parallel. It is nothing less than a miracle that this small people group survived two exiles, maintained themselves as a nation, and have now re-established Jewish sovereignty in their ancient homeland. Isaiah says that in this second regathering God is raising a banner, or message, to the world. I believe the message of this banner is twofold based on which side of the divide one stands.

The first message is exciting and jubilant: God is faithful to keep His covenants. He never forgot His ancient people; He remembers the covenant that He made with Abraham and his descendants, and is fulfilling His promises to them. The appointed time to favor Zion has come (Psalm 102:13), and whereas, He may have dealt with them in judgment; despite their imperfections and failures it is now a new season, a season of favor and restoration. We Christians can rejoice: we serve a merciful and covenant-keeping God!

The second message is a warning of impending judgment to those on the other side of the divide. The flip side of the faithfulness of God to His Word is that He also promises a day of reckoning. As mentioned earlier, scripture is very clear that God will judge the nations based on their treatment of Israel (Zephaniah 3:19-20). Israel is the fault line, and which side of that line one stands is critical.
 

Understanding the Challenge Israel Presents to the World

 

Some theologians disregard the biblical principal of judgment because it does not fit into their concept of a “God of love.” However, if He really loves His children, He will protect them and deal with those who seek their destruction. There are consequences for opposing this loving God, His choice of people, and His plan.

God has lovingly given us free will, and we have the freedom to choose on which side of this divide we wish to stand. While He knows us better than we know ourselves, He allows us to encounter certain decision points whereby our decisions determine where we stand. One of those tests is Israel. God uses Israel to test the hearts of the nations, thereby exposing either their goodness, which leads to blessing, or their hatred and evil intent, which leads to judgment. In other words, Israel exposes what is in the heart of people.

George Gilder, a venture-capitalist businessman, proposes in his book The Israel Test that Israel presents a moral and ethical challenge to the world and therefore has become the ultimate fault line. At the root of the Israel Test for the world today is the knowledge that Israel is contributing more to humanity through its scientific, technological and economic achievements than nearly any other country in the world.

According to Gilder, Israel presents the following test to the world: What is your attitude towards people who surpass you in creating wealth or in other accomplishments? Do you aspire to their excellence, or do you seethe at it? Do you admire and celebrate exceptional achievement, or do you impugn it and seek to tear it down? God is using Israel to test the hearts of the nations. Their future will be determined by how they respond.
 

 

Understanding the Challenge Israel Presents to the Church

 

 

The same test is being presented to the Church. In Romans 11, the Apostle Paul addresses the attitude of the Roman church towards the Jewish people. He warns believers to make sure that their attitude is humble and honors the Jewish people. He even cautions them about possible judgment by God if their attitude is not right: “…Do not be haughty, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either” (Romans 11:20-21).

This is the test that Israel presents to the Church: Are we arrogant towards the Jews? Do we seek to replace them in advancing God’s will? Or do we rejoice in the faithfulness of God to them and that He is fulfilling the promises He made to their fathers? Do we despise their return to their homeland because it does not fit into our Replacement Theology? Or do we break into praise of God’s mighty ways as did the Apostle Paul when he completed his teaching about God’s enduring plans for Israel in Romans 9-11?

A church that honors its Hebraic roots, as wild branches that are grafted into the natural olive tree (Romans 11:17), receives great strength and nourishment. Separating ourselves from the very root that supports our Christian faith brings spiritual decline and even death. Christianity has no meaning when separated from its Jewish context. This may explain the decline in certain denominations that belittle the biblical and Hebraic foundation of our faith.
 

The Heart of the Divide: Replacement Theology

 

The heart of the divide in the Christian world towards Israel is therefore, Supersessionism or Replacement Theology. It may masquerade as a concern for the Palestinian people, or purport to be about political issues, but often the real issue lies in one’s view of the Jewish people’s calling and destiny.

Supersessionism is a centuries-old teaching that the Jewish people have been cursed and rejected by God because of their rejection of Jesus’ messianic credentials. As a result, they have been replaced by the Church; the Church is therefore the new Israel of God. While God’s curses may be upon the Jews, His blessings all reside on the Church!

This theology provided fertile ground for centuries of anti-Semitic teachings in the Church and sowed the seeds for the persecution of the Jewish people throughout Europe. Many scholars agree that the Holocaust could have never happened had it not been for the centuries of Christian anti-Semitism that was rooted in this theology.

Replacement Theology, in all of its variations, seems to imply that God’s Plan A failed, so He went to Plan B with a new people, the Christian Church. However, Ephesians 1:4-5 says that Plan A existed before the foundations of the world were laid, and always included the death of Christ Jesus, because that is how we are adopted as sons (vs.5). Could it be then, that God’s covenant with the Jewish people is indeed an everlasting covenant that was not abolished nor reconstructed to apply to some other people? In fact, speaking of Israel, Paul in Romans 11 affirms that God’s call over them as a nation is irrevocable (Romans 11:29). Plan A did not fail and was not annulled.

Genesis 17:8 confirms that Israel’s covenant is an everlasting covenant, therefore, the land of Canaan is their everlasting possession. The land is a necessary requirement for the formation of the nation which God sought to create out of Abraham’s descendants, and later for the great acts of God in the redemption of the world: the birth and death of Jesus, and the future establishment of the Messianic reign on earth.

While it was an everlasting covenant, and everlasting possession, their right to live on the land was also clearly made conditional. Deut. 28:63 says that if they did not obey the Lord their God they would be removed from the land. This principal explains the two exiles the Jewish people have suffered, but even exile came with the promise of return (Deuteronomy 30:1-3). The people of Israel are not exempt from judgment, but are promised it, because of God’s corrective love at work in His covenant with them.

The Abrahamic covenant also makes clear that the people of Israel will bless all the families of the earth by bringing to a fallen world the redemptive gifts through which man can be saved. The Apostle Paul listed those redemptive gifts in Romans 3:2 and Romans 9:4-5: the Word of God, the covenants, the law, the service of God, the promises and Christ Jesus. Their work is not yet complete, and God has brought them back to the land for what may now be the final chapter of history, which is a glorious one, when the knowledge of the Lord will fill the earth and nations will learn war no more (Isaiah 2, 11).
 

Israel’s Calling is for the Blessing of the World

 

With acknowledgement that there is a special calling placed on the Jewish people, comes a belief that our conduct towards them should be based on appreciation, blessing, and honor. However, this does not mean that God loves them above all the other peoples of the world. John 3:16 declares God’s love for the world: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

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 of redemption. Their role in His plan would afford them a place of preservation and promised blessing. Unfortunately, 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 Himself.

Psalm 83:1-4 explains that 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.
 

Christian Zionism

 

While there are political, moral and practical reasons why Christians support Israel, the biblical foundation of 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.  Israel’s detractors in the Christian world portray Christian Zionism as heresy, claiming that it politicizes the scriptures. However, as soon as the Bible was translated into vernacular languages some 500 years ago, which allowed Christians to read the scriptures for themselves, preachers began to teach that the Jews would one day return to their ancient homeland. They prayed for and supported this return to the land 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.
 

Who are Really God’s People in the Middle East

 

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 Christian brothers and sisters 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, especially when 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 future of Christianity is questionable, including in the Palestinian territories where the numbers are dwindling rapidly.   This decline is indicative of a much larger problem addressed in the next section.

Our Christian compassion should not stop with Middle East Christians. It should include love and 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.

The International Christian Embassy Jerusalem has a specific calling to connect the global church to Israel, demonstrating Christian love for the people of Israel. However, we make sure that a corresponding percentage of our humanitarian aid in Israel goes to its Arab minorities, both Muslims and Christians. We regularly take up the cause of the persecuted church in the Middle East in our publications, provide donations to support their care, and encourage our members to pray for them, along with the wider Muslim world, during our monthly Isaiah 62 global prayer initiative.
 

An Honest Assessment: Israel’s “Unjust” Treatment of the Palestinians

 

A true Christian perspective must not only be based on love, but also grounded in truth. 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’s important to examine the issues of justice and claims

How does Israel treat the 1.8 million Arabs within its country? They enjoy citizenship, voting rights, freedom of speech, worship, and the press. Women enjoy the same freedoms as men. Arabs have their own political parties, serve in the Knesset, serve on the Supreme Court and have even been crowned “Miss Israel.” It’s clear that Israeli Arabs have found more justice in Israel than in any other Middle Eastern country.

Israel’s detractors therefore ignore this fact and focus on the supposed injustices facing the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank instead. So let’s look at the Palestinians. A recent Palestinian poll found that more than 40% of Arabs in East Jerusalem would prefer to live under Israeli sovereignty than in a future Palestinian State. They would move to a different neighborhood to stay under Israeli jurisdiction if a Palestinian State was formed. If Israel is so repressive and unjust, why would these Palestinians prefer to live under Israeli rather than Palestinian rule?

A brief review of some other statistics also shed light on the issue. When Israel first captured the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967 the conditions were quite dire. After 20 years of Jordanian rule, life expectancy was low; malnutrition, infectious diseases and child mortality were rife; levels of educational attainment very low; and fewer than 60% of all male adults were employed.

During the 1970s, under Israeli rule, the West Bank and Gaza constituted the fourth fastest-growing economy in the world. Mortality rates fell by more than two-thirds; life expectancy rose from 48 years in 1967 to 72 in 2000, compared with an average of 68 years for all countries in the Middle East; and childhood diseases like polio, whooping cough, tetanus, and measles were eradicated.

By 1986, more than 100,000 Palestinians worked in Israel, and many more worked in the 2,000 industrial plants that had been built in the territories; 92.8% of the population had electricity
around the clock as compared to 20.5% in 1967; 85% had running water as compared to 16% in
1967; 83.5% had electric or gas ranges for cooking as compared to 4% in 1967. Most dramatic was the progress in higher education. In 1967, not a single university existed in the territories. By the early 1990s, there were seven institutions of higher education boasting 16,500 students. Illiteracy rates dropped to 14% of adults compared to 61% in Egypt and 44% in Syria.

Is this the unjust and repressive Israel that the Palestinians decry?

Israel developed the West Bank and Gaza, but never annexed them. In the late 1970s, Anwar Sadat invited the Palestinians to be a part of the Camp David Accords to negotiate their own arrangements, but they refused. Israel made peace with Egypt and Jordan. It sought to broker peace with the Palestinians through a plan that was presented to the Madrid Peace Conference in 1991, which laid the groundwork for the Oslo Peace Process.

Israel sought a two-state solution with the Palestinians even though they can claim legal ownership of the West Bank according to the San Remo Conference and the League of Nations vote in 1922. The UN validated these previous conferences in the 1947 Partition Plan but proposed that the West Bank be for an Arab state. However, the Arabs rejected the plan. Thus, the West Bank is not “occupied territory” but at most “disputed territory” under international law, and Israel has repeatedly been willing to concede this area for a Palestinian State in exchange for a durable peace.

Many ask why this peace process is now stagnant. Let’s review the last decade. Israel withdrew from Lebanon, Gaza and most of the West Bank, and in return found the Hezbollah terrorist organization on its northern border, armed with more than 100,000 missiles; the Hamas terrorist organization on its southern border, which has fired more 5,000 missiles at Israeli civilians; and the Palestinian Authority on its eastern border, which continues to foster incitement in schools and media, glorifying suicide bombers and knife-wielding youth.

Like all governments, Israel’s primary responsibility is to protect its citizens from these threats, which is why it built the security fence and has checkpoints in the West Bank. The New Testament explicitly allows governments to use “the sword” to carry out this responsibility (Romans 13:1-7; I Peter 2:13-14). It is interesting to note that Israeli security is also credited with maintaining the Palestinian Authority government by keeping Hamas  out of the West Bank.

In 1999, Israel turned over control of the major areas populated by Palestinians to the PA in accordance with the Oslo Peace Accords so that 99% 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, who do not have the freedom of movement necessary to develop businesses, find jobs, and, in some cases, access hospitals in a timely manner.

However, the real cause for this suffering is not Israel’s security measures, but the culture of terrorism, and the corruption of the Palestinian leadership, many of whom benefit 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 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.
 

Guarding Against the New Anti-Semitism: Anti-Zionism

 

For centuries, anti-Semitism was based on Christian religious theories. Under the Nazis, it was based on racial theories. Neither of these belief systems are politically correct in today’s discourse. However, a new form of anti-Semitism has become acceptable: the demonization of the Jewish State.

The truth is, one cannot demonize Israel without demonizing the Israeli people, who are an integral part of the Jewish community at large. This is made clear when a Jewish person is attacked in the streets of France because Israel has taken military action in Gaza.

The crescendo of this hate-speech against Israel is building in the Muslim world, on university campuses and amongst the social elites of the West. It is trying to infiltrate the Christian world.  We need to do whatever we can to make sure that this modern form of anti-Semitism does not seep into our seminaries and churches. A true Christian perspective on the Holy Land – built on a genuine love for all the peoples caught in this conflict and based on an honest assessment of the facts – will do just that.
 


Footnotes:

[1] This scripture is often said to be about helping needy Christians, or all needy people, but we cannot ignore its original meaning. The Hebrew scriptures formed the context for all of Jesus’ teachings, and He was being consistent with many passages of scripture when He spoke here of judgment of the nations over their treatment of the Jewish people. He went further to say that He took their treatment very personal, “as you did it to the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.” Jesus was Jewish and an attack on His people was an attack on Him.

[2]See also Isaiah 22:22.

[3]The first exile was completed at the hands of the Babylonian Empire, the first return under the Persians, and the second exile was in 70AD at the hands of the Romans.

[4] 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

[5]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

[6] 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

[7] 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.

[8]Treatment of issues such as settlements, Jerusalem, borders, and etc. can be found at www.israelanswers.com

[9] Hamas is designated a terrorist organization by the international community that would like to rule the West Bank just as they have ruled the Gaza Strip since 2006.

[10]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.

[11]Rev. Steven Sizer, Anglican vicar and one of the foremost Christian critics of Israel and Christian Zionism, was banned by the Anglican Church in 2015 from speaking, writing or teaching on the Middle East due to his dissemination of anti-Semitic and racist materials.


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

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

Anti-Semitism in Christianity Today

Many Christians involved in support of Israel fail to recognize the amazing moment in history that we are privileged to be a part of today. Only those who know a little about the sad history of Jewish-Christian relations can appreciate the miraculous turnaround that has occurred, and understand the importance of recognizing and eradicating all forms of modern anti-Semitism seeking to divide us again.

Persecution and animosity toward the Jews began early in their history, long before Christianity. Pharaoh, Haman, and Antiochus Epiphanes are only a few examples of evil men who tried to destroy God’s chosen people. But, while the Jews have had many enemies throughout history, we who are Christians should be concerned about the part some of our forbearers played in this disturbing drama. That persecution of the Jews arose from within our ranks is a tragedy and a shame with which our community must deal.

Jews and Christians had a very rocky relationship in the first one hundred years after the life and death of Jesus. At first it was an internal squabble between Jews who believed in His Messiahship and Jews who did not. But beliefs in the Roman Empire had political ramifications. The Jewish religion was legal, as was Christianity when it was seen as a sect of Judaism. But, Christianity brought troubles on the Jewish community due to its allegiance to a King other than Caesar so it was shunned and sometimes persecuted.

During the Roman siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD, the Jews who believed in Jesus had already fled the city and escaped it all, because Jesus had warned them to do so, as recorded in Matthew 24. When they later returned to Jerusalem, they were resented and accused of being traitors.

Then in 132 AD, when the mainstream Jewish community looked for someone to lead a rebellion against the Romans, many joined with Simon Bar Kokba thinking he was the Messiah. But the Jews who believed in Jesus refused to join this rebellion, saying they already were following the Messiah. As a result, some were slaughtered as traitors during the fighting. This schism tore the two communities apart and marks the moment when the official split occurred between the Church and the Synagogue.

At the same time, the Church was becoming predominantly Gentile and made up of pagans who had converted to Christianity with no knowledge of, nor appreciation for, the Jewish roots of the faith, nor of the Jewish people themselves. A number of Gentile Church fathers began to distinguish Christianity by preaching against Judaism and warning their followers away from it.

This is how the teaching of Supersessionism, or Replacement Theology, took root. Replacement Theology taught that the Jews had been cursed by God for their rejection of Jesus’ Messianic credentials and had been therefore replaced by the Church in the plans and purposes of God. This theology lead to a teaching of contempt for the Jews as “Christ Killers” and gave sanction to their maltreatment.

Once Christianity became the state religion of the Roman Empire, the Church became a tool of the monarch and lost its spiritual integrity. Anti-Jewish theology then paved the way for anti-Jewish legislation by the ruling powers. This included discrimination, persecution, forced conversions, ghettos and expulsions.

Centuries of this type of religiously motivated and state empowered anti-Semitism prepared the way for the Nazi Holocaust. To paraphrase Raul Hillberg in The Destruction of the European Jews, the early church declared: “You have no right to live amongst us as Jews.” The secular rulers who followed that era expelled Jews from their lands or confined them to ghettos as though to say: “You have no right to live amongst us.” Then Hitler later decreed “You have no right to live.”

This is the deadly progression of anti-Semitism down through the ages. The fact that the Christian church had a central role to play in this tragedy is a shame and something we all must come to terms with as Christians.

 

The Shift

 

Today we are privileged to be part of a tectonic shift among Christians away from that anti-Semitic past. The roots of this great turnaround lie in something that happened some five hundred years ago: the translation of the Bible into the common languages and its widespread availability thanks to the printing press. For most of Church history, ordinary Christians did not have access to the Bible to even know what it taught. Only those who knew Hebrew, Greek or Latin were able to read 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 and the teaching of contempt for the Jewish people were the fertile ground for anti-Semitism which led to their persecution, expulsion, and murder.

However, as soon as Christians were able to read the scriptures for themselves, many discovered the error of their ways. They realized that Jesus was Jewish and that Christianity had been born out of Judaism. They also read 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 looked forward in hope to a future event, while today’s Christian Zionists have witnessed the return of the Jews to their homeland and actively support a current reality.

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.

In addition to the wide availability of the Scriptures, the Christian world also has been profoundly affected by two events over the last century which have brought about a major change in their relations with the Jewish people. The first was the Holocaust, which shook the historic churches predominant in Europe. The Catholic and Lutheran churches in particular re-evaluated their theology and liturgy. In fact, some of the most beautiful words of Christian repentance towards the Jewish people ever written are by the Catholic Bishops of Europe.

But, a second event that has had an even greater impact on the Evangelical world was the birth of the State of Israel. Over the last forty years, millions of Christians have visited Israel to “walk where Jesus walked” and for the first time met a Jewish person. It is no coincidence that over the past four decades as Christian tourism to Israel has mushroomed so has Jewish-Christian relations.

But, more importantly, Evangelicals are reading the Bible with a new worldview. The Jewish people have been gathered from the north, south, east, and west, returning to their homeland in fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham. Christians are no longer looking down on the Jewish people and heaping condemnation on them. Instead, they are loving, comforting, and blessing them.

Churches are honoring and exploring the Jewish roots of Christianity to learn more about our own faith. The fact that God is faithful and is fulfilling His promises to the Jewish people is an encouragement to Christians that we serve a faithful God who is true to His Word. Now, as a result, the fastest growing segment of Christianity, which is Bible-based and Evangelical, is largely pro-Israel.
 

 

The ICEJ Making History

 

With this history in mind one can understand why the birth of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (ICEJ) in 1980 was such an historic, ground-breaking moment. It was the first time in history that Christians had voiced support for Israel on such an international scale and from the heart of the newborn State of Israel. It is also understandable that some segments of the Jewish community were, and still are, skeptical.

We cannot change two thousand years of history overnight. But, the ICEJ has had the privilege of confronting this history and establishing a new relationship with the Jewish people for thirty-six years now. Proof of this new relationship can be found in the ICEJ’s partnership with Yad Vashem. The Christian Friends of Yad Vashem is taking Holocaust awareness to Christian churches around the world, teaching them about anti-Semitism in our day and how to stand against it.
 

 

The Challenges

 

The majority of Christians today would never condone the religious anti-Semitism which fueled centuries of discrimination, persecution, ghettos, and exiles in the heart of Christian Europe, nor the racial anti-Semitism embraced by Hitler which led to the horrific genocide campaign known as the Holocaust. There is no turning back.

However, there is a reason why historian Robert Wistrich calls anti-Semitism "the longest hatred." This evil pursuit of the Jewish people has continued for millennia, and every time it seems to be dying out it reinvents itself with a different look and a different name. The goal, however, is always the same: to rid the world of the Jewish people.

The new form of anti-Semitism challenging our world today is political anti-Semitism. Since a Jewish nation-state is antithetical to the ruling philosophies of our day, globalism and secularism, this modern form of political anti-Semitism is finding large-scale acceptance today. It is directed not at individual Jews but against the Jewish state and is called anti-Zionism.

There is still religious anti-Semitism, but this time it is found throughout the Muslim world and is responsible for the genocidal rhetoric emanating from jihadist groups and the clerical regime in Iran. Muslim anti-Semitism, however, is not condemned but tolerated by anti-Zionist Western leaders who blame its spread on Israeli policies.

Not all criticism of Israel can be considered anti-Semitic. However, criticism of Israel becomes anti-Semitic when it delegitimizes the state and questions its right to exist; when it uses anti-Jewish rhetoric and stereotypes; when it judges Israel by a different standard than for any other nation; and when it becomes an excuse to attack local Jewish individuals and institutions.

This new anti-Semitism, while rife in the Middle East and Europe, is trying to infiltrate America, including the Christian churches. The challenge is for the various denominations which have denounced classical anti-Semitism, and sought a right relationship with the Jewish people, to recognize that the anti-Zionist campaign demonizing Israel is also anti-Semitic. One cannot demonize a nation without that being a demonization of the people, and the Israeli people are a subset of the Jewish world. This is why a Jew can be attacked on the streets of Paris because Israel took defensive actions in Gaza.

Some of the mainline denominations in America deny this is anti-Semitic and have passed anti-Israel resolutions in line with this delegitimization campaign. Within the Evangelical ranks, we even have a new movement to be: “Pro-Israel, Pro-Palestine, Pro-Peace and Pro-Justice.” This movement seeks to “correct” the pro-Israel movement within Evangelical Christianity by entertaining an anti-Israel narrative under the banner of “love and peace” for all!

Exactly what does it mean for an Evangelical to be pro-Palestine? The Palestinian Authority is a corrupt government which discriminates against Christians, jails and tortures Muslim converts to Christianity, honors terrorists, 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?

In 2011, two ethics professors from leading Christian universities issued a scathing “Open Letter to America’s Christian Zionists” in which they accused Christian Zionists of being sinful for supporting Israel and encouraging Israel’s sinful policies. They went so far as to say that should “some nation” become “inflamed with resentment” at Israel and “make their land desolate,” noting that sounded like a “nuclear attack,” that Christian Zionists would bear part of the responsibility.

The ICEJ issued a strong response, but because of the growing influence of these voices, we went on to build an educational website to defend both Israel, and Christian support of Israel. The purpose of the IsraelAnswers.com website is to equip Christians to better articulate a defense of Israel, as well as of Christian Zionism.

But more than respond, we need to close the door to anti-Semitism altogether. There are two open doors in the Christian Church in America to this deadly influence.
 

 

Replacement Theology  

 

Replacement Theology is gaining traction in Christian circles today under various names and guises, one of which is Fulfillment Theology. Jesus said He did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it. However, Fulfillment Theology maintains that Jesus did abolish the law, and with it God’s covenantal relationship with Israel. It also teaches that all of the Old Testament promises to Israel are fulfilled in Jesus and the birth of the Church, and thus they are no longer valid with regards to modern Israel. Although this view may lack the same degree of animus towards the Jews, Fulfillment theology still winds up in the same place as Replacement theology – namely that God is finished with Israel.

It is important to clarify here that just because someone holds a form of Replacement or Fulfillment Theology does not mean that they are anti-Semitic. Some theologians simply interpret the New Testament in this way. Many pastors hold Replacement views as a theological assumption based on the lack of teaching on Israel and the Jewish people in seminary. Therefore, they begin ministry with the assumption that Israel and the Jewish people are irrelevant; it is all about the Church today.

While this thinking may be a vestige of Replacement Theology, it is not the anti-Semitic version of the past which went on to call for the persecution and demonization of the Jews. Nevertheless, it is the same theological foundation from which historical Christian anti-Semitism sprouted. Many scholars agree that the Holocaust could never have happened had it not been for the centuries of Christian anti-Semitism rooted in this theology. Therefore, we need to be very concerned about its growth and learn to refute it.

Replacement Theology assumes four things:


1.     That God does not know what He is doing because Plan A failed. The people in Plan A (Israel) failed him, and He had to come up with a new plan with a new people. Yet, Ephesians 1:4-6 says that God’s plan, laid before the foundations of the world, was always that we would be adopted into the family of the redeemed through Jesus. Redemption through His death was always plan A.

2.    That God is unfaithful: He does not keep His Covenants, nor His promises. Yet, Psalm 89:34 says: “My Covenant I will not break nor alter the word that has gone out of My mouth.” Jeremiah 33:37 says that only if God breaks His covenant with night and day, and with the moon and the sun, would He be able to break His covenant with the Jewish people.

3.    That the Abrahamic Covenant has been abolished or spiritualized either in part or in whole. Yet, the New Testament confirms the Abrahamic covenant and its promises (which always included the Land), and assumes a future time of restoration in the Land as promised by the prophets. In Acts 1:6-7 Jesus did not deny his disciple’s hope in a future restoration of the kingdom to Israel and instead addressed the timing of that event as something only the Father knew. He had earlier declared that Jerusalem would one day be under Jewish sovereignty again in Luke 21:24.

4.    That if people fail God He rejects them forever. Yet, the Apostle Paul in Romans 11 affirms that God’s call over the Jewish people as a nation is irrevocable. Psalm 89:33-34 is clear that even though God should punish the people of Israel for their sins that His lovingkindness would never be taken from them, nor His faithfulness, and He would never break His covenant with them.
 

 

Growing Biblical Illiteracy in America

 

Another door leaving the Church vulnerable to anti-Semitic teachings is the loss of biblical literacy in America. Some of the mainline denominations denied the authority of the Bible long ago. They use it more as a devotional resource with wisdom for everyday life and not as absolute truth. These denominations are in rapid decline because they practice a religion that is not faithful to its founding truths.

One of the core tenants of Evangelicalism is its belief in “scripture alone” as the infallible source of doctrinal truth. While evangelical Christianity, and its inherent support for Israel, is mushrooming in Asia, Africa and Latin America, it has plateaued in the United States (and Europe) and is losing its momentum. This is evident in the growing biblical illiteracy in society, not to mention prominent Evangelical voices challenging core biblical tenets – including the definition of marriage, the nature of human sexuality, and the sanctity of life.

Across America, pastors and ministers are confronted by a widening chasm of biblical illiteracy that in turn is contributing to the societal and moral breakdown which is engulfing the families in their churches. They struggle to know how to instill a conviction of the Bible’s truth and power to a biblically illiterate generation.

However, what we have found is that understanding God’s dealings with the Jewish people throughout the ages puts the whole Bible into perspective, and underscores its relevance and immediacy to all of us today. It is, in many ways, the ‘answer key’ that helps the rest of Scripture make sense in its proper context.

Israel, in our view, is the greatest single antidote to biblical illiteracy. Once a Christian understands the biblical significance of Israel and the Jewish people, they ‘get’ the entire Bible. Thus, the ministry of the ICEJ exists not just to bless Israel, but to help the worldwide Body of Christ come to a greater understanding of this unique land and people, and through them, the very Scriptures themselves.
 

 

The Effect of Anti-Semitism on the Church

 

You and I are part of an historic shift in Christianity. The largest segment of the Christian world, the Catholic Church, has embraced the Jewish people. The Evangelical world, which is the second largest segment of Christianity and is projected to one day be the largest based on current growth rates, has not only embraced the Jewish people but the State of Israel as well. I am hopeful that the bulk of Christianity will never go back to its anti-Semitic past.

However, we must learn to recognize and stand against the anti-Semitism of our day. The current political form called anti-Zionism seeks to rid the world of the influence of the Jewish people by challenging their right to be a nation. At its worst, this new brand of anti-Semitism condones the mass annihilation of Jews in their restored homeland.

Anti-Semitism’s goal in the modern Christian world is to rob Christians of the very root that sustains our faith and to separate us from a people who demonstrate the truth of the Bible and the faithfulness of God to always keep His word. As the Apostle Paul said, it is the Jewish faith that is the very root which supports us. To be separated from that root means spiritual death.

Therefore, the battle against this evil ideology is our battle. It behooves us to do everything we can to help churches recognize it for what it is and to stand against it.
 


Footnotes:

[1]For further study see: The Anguish of the Jews by Father Edward Flannery, a classic history of anti-Semitism written by a Catholic Priest in 1964. Or Our Hands are Stained with Blood written for laity by Dr. Michael Brown

[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


Susan M. Michael is US Director of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.
 

 

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