Over the past couple of months I’ve gotten drawn into the battle a lot of advocacy for Israel and the Jewish people. I helped draft and disseminate a statement on the crazy Ralph Messer-Eddie Long Torah ceremony that went viral on You Tube back in January, and a couple of statements concerning the “Christ at the Checkpoint” conference in March, with its underlying agenda of replacement theology. Now we’ve just issued a statement warning the United Methodist Church of the ramifications of their potential decision to divest from some companies doing business with Israel. You can read the background and download the statement here: http://umjc.org/home-mainmenu-1/advocacy/765-introducing-the-advocacy-blog.
The Israeli security fence and checkpoints are often invoked as symbols of the “occupation” and Israel’s oppressive policies. But is this a fair portrayal? How should we assess this structure from the perspective of justice?
I’ve seen the security fence and it is indeed a wall, monstrous, ugly and heartbreaking. I’ve stood at its base outside Bethlehem and felt its hulk towering over me. I’ve seen it at a distance from the lovely balcony of a friend’s home in Mevaseret Zion, and even further off from a car window on the highway headed north from Tel Aviv. It’s a scar upon the landscape of Eretz Yisrael. The suffering and indignities the wall imposes on Palestinians are heartbreaking too. I’ve heard people say, “What are they complaining about? I have to go through a TSA security check every time I get on a plane.” But, of course, that’s an unfair comparison. The Israeli checkpoints can hold you up for hours, not minutes, and you’re not going to be greeted with a nod or “have a nice day” as you go through. Not that you’ll necessarily get that from the TSA either, but for Palestinians, the IDF soldiers manning the wall represent the “occupation” and a steady reminder of the broken and humiliating condition of their daily lives.
As I’ve been speaking and writing lately against the new wave of replacement theology (the idea that the church replaces or supersedes Israel in God’s purposes), a few people have asked me why I think this old doctrine seems to be making a comeback today. I’ve referred to this comeback in passing in several of my recent blogs, and you can do your own research to verify that it’s really happening. But why is it happening? I can identify three major reasons.
Since my last blog, the UMJC joined with other international Messianic Jewish organizations to issue another statement on the controversial “Christ at the Checkpoint” conference. You can read it, and an article on the same topic by an Israeli colleague, under “Community News” at umjc.org.
For now I’ll just respond to one complaint raised by the conference sponsors when they received a copy of our first statement. Both statements are pretty critical, and the local coordinating committee of Christ at the Checkpoint took us to task for not going to them privately in accord with Matthew 18:15-20 “in order to resolve differences rather than send a public letter to appeal for dialogue through the internet.” I’ve heard this sort of appeal to Matthew 18 a few times in this sort of context, and it’s worthy of a response.
OK, that title got you reading, so what I really mean is “Stop (with the) Apartheid (rhetoric already)!”. This morning I counter-demonstrated against a group protesting against Israel, and they had “Apartheid” boldly on display. Now, I admit I can be a stickler for words (I am, after all, an author and blogger), maybe even a little OC about them at times. But my thing with “apartheid” is not nitpicking. This is strategic rhetoric designed to invalidate Israel as a Jewish state.
This morning’s demonstration was triggered by a meeting here between some New Mexico and Israeli business and high-tech people to discuss cooperation in water and energy conservation. One of the protesters had a bright orange sign that said “Don’t do business with Israeli Apartheid!” so I asked him what “Apartheid” meant. He said he didn’t know; he was just holding up the sign. I said that “Israeli Apartheid” was a lie and asked why he was holding up a sign with a lie. He said, “That’s the sign they gave me.”
Another demonstrator said that Israeli was guilty of apartheid because they did targeted assassinations (against Hamas military leaders in Gaza). I tried to explain that Hamas had declared and demonstrated itself to be at war with Israel, and this was a military strategy, which doesn’t have anything to do with apartheid.
Now, to be fair, I did speak with another young guy who was a bit more knowledgeable. His bottom line revealed the ugly truth about the apartheid rhetoric: Israel is apartheid simply because it’s a Jewish state. Simply because it claims to be the national homeland of the Jewish people, it’s racist, apartheid and all the rest. Every state on the planet, this guy was implying, should be a pluralistic, secular, church-and-state separated set-up like the USA. I did ask him why it’s OK for President Obama (along with most others) to refer to “the Islamic Republic of Iran,” but it’s not fair for there to be a Jewish state of Israel, but I didn’t get much response.
“Apartheid” casts the Jewish people in the land of Israel as colonialists, as a powerful, European-backed minority oppressing a native population. Never mind that there have always been Jews in the land of Israel (as even the protesters admitted this morning), or that Jews have been the majority population in the whole city of Jerusalem since the 1860s, long before there was any thought of West Jerusalem and East Jerusalem, or that the Arab population west of the Jordan mushroomed after the Jewish population started to grow.
The apartheid rhetoric invalidates any kind of Jewish state as wrong because it’s Jewish. From this perspective, Israel could solve all its problems and atone for all its shortcomings, and that wouldn’t solve a thing.
For me that’s a good reason to stand up, even out on the streets, in support of Israel as Israel – the national homeland of the Jewish people.