Obama, ’67, and the non-negotiable

Back when I was a local rabbi, we had two families leave the congregation within days of each other. One family said the congregation wasn’t Jewish enough, and the other said it was too Jewish. If you’re in Messianic Jewish leadership of any sort, you could probably tell a similar story. And you might have responded like I did. I figured that since we were getting criticized from both sides on the Jewishness question, we must be pretty balanced.

But later, after some reflection, I decided that wasn’t really the best explanation.

Rather, both sides were unhappy because we were focusing on the wrong thing. Don’t get me wrong, questions of Jewish identity and practice are really important, and they’re worth discussion and even controversy. But we’re a Messianic Jewish congregation, and the focus should always be on Messiah first, on Messiah as the central, compelling, driving reality around which everything else gets organized. I came to see that we were losing families because we were insufficiently intent on the one thing that mattered above all others—Messiah in us, the hope of glory (Col. 1:27). Get him right, put first things first, and then you can tackle the other tough and important questions far more effectively.

I’ve been trying to process yesterday’s big Middle East policy speech by President Obama, with its headline-grabbing call for Israel to accept its 1967 border as a starting-point for negotiations. I know, Obama covered a lot more than that and added some nuance to that position itself. But in the world of global politics and diplomacy you have to worry about how your words are going to be paraphrased and digested, not just about getting the nuances right. So, sure enough, when I went out to the driveway early this morning to pick up the paper, the main front-page headline was “Obama Calls For Israeli Pullback.” Netanyahu immediately rejected this call, of course, and made a few things clear himself, but it would seem like the damage is done. One Republican congressman, Allen West of Florida, called Obama’s endorsement of the Pre-1967 Borders “the beginning of the end” for the Jewish state (newsmax.com). That’s undoubtedly extreme, but West’s sense of outrage seems pretty reasonable. The Palestinians are drumming up support for a unilateral declaration of statehood in a few months; the Palestinian Authority has made peace with the murderous, rejectionist Hamas and is bringing them into a unity government; post-Mubarak Egypt is abandoning its peace treaty with Israel; and Obama decides it’s time to pressure Israel into making massive unilateral concessions.

But wait a minute! After that, I read a lefty sort of article at Haaretz.com entitled “Obama demolished Palestinian chances for statehood.” Yeah, Obama is trying to push Israel back inside its pre-67 borders, but he didn’t say anything about what he’d do if Israel didn’t comply. And he completely opposed the unilateral Palestinian declaration of independence planned for September, and wants to postpone discussions on the Palestinian “right of return,” and so on.

At first I thought that the administration might have found a really balanced policy formulation that makes both sides squirm equally. But, as with our “balanced” position on Jewish identity years ago, I’m beginning to think that both sides are unhappy because the policy speech missed the main point—which is the non-negotiable legitimacy of the Jewish state in the land of Israel. Obama alluded to it, but that should be the starting-point of the whole discussion. The President can let everyone know that he’s going to put pressure on Israel to negotiate wholeheartedly once the Palestinians and their allies unequivocally affirm the legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish state. Without that, negotiations are pointless, nothing will be settled, and in the end no one will be happy.

Since it’s just before Shabbat, I’ll leave it there and thank God that there’s a day to cease from all such worries and just appreciate what He has already accomplished—including the work-in-progress that is the Jewish state of Israel.

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6 thoughts on “Obama, ’67, and the non-negotiable”

  1. Even though it is Shabbat, I want to take a moment and thank you for this comment on the Obama speech. I am also disturbed by the extreme rhetoric, especially from Messianics. It is good to hear the voice of wisdom cutting through the confusion and shedding some sane and godly insight on the situation. Shabbat Shalom.

  2. Thanks David. Coming from Israel, your comment is especially encouraging. I’d just like to underscore my main point. Obama only mentions in passing what is the main obstacle to peace: Arab refusal to recognize the legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish state. He rightly says, “How can one negotiate with a party that shows itself unwilling to recognize your right to exist? Palestinians have to provide a credible answer to that question” Well put, but then he proposes all kinds of ideas for negotiation rather than waiting for a Palestinian answer.

    I continue to do some work as a mental health counselor (in my spare time), and this reminds me of counseling a couple in which one partner is physically abusive, or unfaithful, or an addict. Sure, there are other problems in the relationship, but you can’t really get anywhere until that main problem is thoroughly admitted, acknowledged, and dealt with. Sometimes I have to remind couples every session that this is the main obstacle, the first problem that must be dealt with. The other problems won’t just go away because it’s dealt with, but until it is , they can’t be addressed at all.

  3. So you are saying that Israel should agree to some border concessions if and when the Palestinians agree to recognize Israel’s borders and sovereignty? It seems to me that many, if not most Messianics and sympathetic Christians do not agree to any form of Palestinian state. They feel that any state would be a threat to Israel. Or is there a silent majority out there who feel differently?

    Obama also said that a Palestinian state must be a non-military entity. I can’t see the Pals accepting that, but thought it was a clear statement of sound US policy.

    It troubles me that so many believers are in such vocal opposition to Obama. It almost feels that by making any positive comments about Obama or the US position on the ME I am in danger of heresy.

  4. Yes, I could see territorial concessions if there was a genuine affirmation by the Palestinians of the legitimacy of Israel as the Jewish state (which is unlikely at this point). To put it another way, I don’t believe that a two-state solution is inherently unbiblical, IF we understand it as a temporary situation. If it were part of a genuine peace, it might last until Messiah returns. At any rate, the promise of the whole land of Israel is a) fulfilled in the “restoration of all things” at Messiah’s coming; b) in the meantime contingent on Israel’s obedience to Hashem. Biblically, we might cite Abraham, who received the original land grant, which is still in effect, and yet lived as a sojourner in the land, as did Isaac and Jacob, his heirs.

    The orthodox Jewish scholar Michael Wyschogrod said an amazing thing along these lines: “I preach . . . a love of the land combined with a high degree of non-violence, a largely non-violent Zionism, a messianic Judaism that keeps alive the living expectation of the Messiah but also the messianic repudiation of violence, a love of all human beings whether Jewish or non-Jewish, a willingness to wait and even temporarily yield territory if this will save us from bloodshed.”

  5. Thanks for honest remarks Russ. I find much that we are in agreement about.

    I’ve been contemplating your comments about dealing with the weightier issues before tackling the secondary consequences. I believe that Yeshua was referring to this common mistake in Mt. 23:23 “neglecting the weightier matters.” It is often easier to try and deal with the matters that scratch us on the surface without looking to the deeper issues that cause the trouble. Funny that Yeshua concludes that they “swallowed a camel” while trying to avoid a gnat. These “blind guides” wanted to do what was right, but because they were focusing on the peripherals they ended up making matters even worse. They swallowed an entire unclean camel! It seems to me that much of the unclean rhetoric bantering around the politics of the Mideast is actually contributing to the problem making it impossible to find the “justice, mercy and faith” that are needed. That is why I am grateful for your sensible, clear and bold remarks on the situation. It is refreshing to hear Messianic leaders speaking with this kind of broad, biblical and godly perspective. Thanks.

  6. I was so upset about Obama’s calling for Israel to commit to the pre-1967 borders as conditions for starting up peace negotiations that I didn’t hear what he didn’t say… (does that make sense?) Obama didn’t say that Israel had to prove it has a right to exist, didn’t say that Israel had no right to the land, didn’t say that Israel had no right to protect itself. The 1967 borders are, as Netanyahu said, “are indefensible”. We spent a year in Israel in 1977-1978, and still I remember traveling the corridor from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem, and even then, ten years after the 6 day war, seeing the bullet riddled DIY “armored” cars and trucks used to run the gauntlet to resupply Jerusalem. Yes, as a pre-condition for the Palestinians, or any other party to take part in peace talks with Israel, they must unequivocally agree to Israel’s right to exist, and Israel’s right to protect it’s own borders, something else I didn’t hear Obama say.

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