Ed. Note: This essay was originally written for a class about world religion in 2010. I am posting it because I think it provides some good information. Since the class was about religion, the essay delves into some of the reasons conservative Christians are so interested in Israel. It also provides some thoughts from the Bible. However, this article is not an attempt to promote any religious thinking. It is intended to be philosophical in nature, but deals with various Christian beliefs.
The solution to the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict is simple: The United States should quit favoring Israel or stay out of Middle East politics altogether. For more than fifty years the United States has involved itself in the peace process between Israel and Palestine. The goal has been the creation of a two-state system. However this goal has failed due to a number of factors including the United States’ unwillingness to address Israel’s many United Nations violations, racism on the part of Israel, and the influence of evangelical Christians in the United States.
The Romans conquered the nation of Israel in 70 C.E.., burning down the temple in Jerusalem. The Jews became refugees in surrounding cities and provinces. As the centuries passed, they formed stable communities in Europe and North America. After World War I, Britain and France took control over most of the Middle East. The area was under colonial rule. The Balfour Declaration of 1917 allowed Jews to enter Palestine. However, much of the area was already inhabited by Muslims and Christians. By 1939, the British began to limit the number of Jews entering the area to 150,000 per year. Zionist groups like Irgun and the Stern Gang carried out violence against the British for placing these restrictions on Jewish immigration (Sadat 165).
The United Nations took control of the situation in 1947 and divided Palestine into two states: Jewish and Arab. The Zionists accepted this arrangement. However, Arabs felt they were being punished for Germany’s actions.
The next year saw conflicts between the two neighbors. Eventually Israel pushed its borders into Arab land, violating the United Nations partitions. 750,000 Arabs were displaced because of this illegal move by Israel.
Conflicts continued between the two groups. In 1967, Israel took control of the Suez Canal, Gaza, the West Bank, the Golan Heights, and the Old City of Jerusalem. They now had three times more land than they were originally granted in 1947 (Sadat 74).
Conflicts have continued and both sides have suffered casualties. The United States has demonstrated a consistent willingness to downplay Israel’s violence against Arabs, yet condemn Arabs even when they are trying to protect their homes. Frustrated by the situation, the Palestinian Liberation Army began taking sometimes extreme action against Israel.
While Israel is a democracy, its government is established on racism. The Jewish government established the Right of Return law, which gave automatic citizenship to Jews who want to live in Palestine. Two years later, a law of citizenship made it difficult for non-Jews to receive citizenship. Palestinian families, who have lived in the area for many generations, were denied citizenship. Special economic, political and social benefits were given to Israeli Jews that same year with the World Zionist Organization – Jewish Agency Law. This established, among other things, that only Jews could buy land. Arabs were not allowed to vote or serve in the military. From time to time, Israel banned Christians from the land. Many nations of the world look at this attitude and conclude that Palestine in under occupation by the Israelis (Neff).
Vice President of the United States Joseph R. Biden Jr. met with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in March 2010 and discussed the relationship between the two countries. Biden said the United States’ relationship with Israel was a “centerpiece of American policy” and the two countries were “bound by historic and cultural ties” (Biden). While Biden spoke of the need of both sides to make concessions, it was clear in his discussion that Israel was favored by the United States.
When United States senator Barack Obama was running for president in 2008, he said he would be willing to meet with Syria and Iran. This drew outrage from supporters of Israel. Obama quickly changed his wording to express his commitment to favoring Israel in the Middle East. As president, Obama has been consistently unwilling to condemn Israel’s actions against the Palestinians. As Israel continues to push further into Arab territory and even arrest Jews who object to this military action, the United States only issues mild statements of disapproval (Marshall).
Israel is unmotivated to change its ways because the government knows the United States will reprimand them and nothing more. The United States refuses to put sanctions on Israel. Quite the opposite situation exists. Rather than sanctions, the United States sends billions of dollars to Israel annually. If the United States were to issue sanctions, Israel would start listening (Marshall).
Much of this behavior on the part of Israel and the United States has contributed to the rise in terrorism in the Middle East. The Arabs in Palestine have lived for more than a half century in poor living conditions. Attempts to peacefully protest have been met by violent police actions. When the Arab nations endorsed a peace proposal in 2002, it was ignored by Israel. The attitude of Israel about the Palestinians has led some Palestinians to the conclusion that terrorism is the only solution.
While terrorism is terrible, the United States, especially under president George Bush, has said the reason for terrorism in the Middle East is because terrorists are “evil” or “hate democracy.” Rather than examining the reasons for these violent acts, American leadership has been content to simply demonize them. This straw man approach has shut down any honest discussion about why terrorism exists in the world.
Jehan Sadat has witnessed the violence in the Middle East first hand. Her husband, Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, was assassinated by Muslim extremists who objected to Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel. Madam Sadat has devoted her life to bringing peace and better conditions to the Middle East. She has also worked diligently to educate Americans about the complexities of the issues in Palestine. According to her, the United States “has seemed to vacillate in its Middle East policy,” resulting in more instability and growing anger (Sadat 104). Since the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center, the United States has pushed a “shoot first, ask questions later” policy toward the Middle East. Iraq has been an example of democracy by force. However, this policy of putting a gun to a country’s figurative head and telling them they are going to be democratic whether they like it or not is going to create resentment not freedom. Most Middle East countries have a history and culture spanning centuries, if not millennia, of tribal leadership. The concept of democracy is indeed foreign. However, democracy by example is a much better solution than democracy by force.
Sadat acknowledges that terrorists have committed atrocities. She never justifies their actions. However, she is clear that the conditions in the Middle East have nurtured violence. According to her, “fanaticism cannot be beaten by military means alone. To attack the roots of terrorism in the developing world, we must work to alleviate poverty and illiteracy, the hopelessness, frustration, and lack of opportunity that give militant fundamentalism its terrible allure” (Sadat 21). The United States paternal attitude toward the Middle East, military policies, and favoritism toward Israel has helped fuel these feelings in the Middle East.
Those who favor the United States’ current policy regarding Israel comment that Israel is America’s closest friend in the Middle East. As previously mentioned, much of Israel’s policies are contrary to the principles of the United States. They have frequently violated agreements about borders and have taken the viewpoint that all Arabs in Palestine should be removed (Ben-Ami 300). If this view is taken, then that would make the United States accomplices in Israel’s lack of regard for United Nations agreements and violence against Palestinians. It would also imply that Osama Bin Laden’s attacks on the United States are justified since he claims that the United States’ relationship is the main reason Americans are being targeted for violence.
Another comment frequently brought up by the political right in the United States is that any criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic. This ad hominem attack is used on anyone who objects to the actions of Israel as a nation. However, anti-Semitism is the hatred or prejudice against Jews as a people, not the political entity of Israel. To use this claim would suggest that Israel is incapable of wrong behavior.
The final reason for support of Israel in the United States comes from evangelical Christians. Dispensationalism is a view promoted by Anglican priest John Nelson Darby in the early nineteenth century. It has had a dominating influence on the United States’ policy in the Middle East. Dispensationalists believe that, in order for Christ to return and for the rapture to begin, all non-Jews must leave Palestine.
According to Anthony Campolo, professor emeritus at Eastern University, this view has become “synonymous with American Christianity”. Dispensationalist views are currently promoted by evangelical preacher Pat Robertson and are at the core of the popular Left Behind novels. Former United States president George Bush met with fundamentalist evangelical Christians in order to appease their concerns that the United States was losing its resolve to support Israel.
One American preacher, while being interviewed on radio with Campolo, said that Israel must be cleared of Arabs. If they will not leave willingly, he said, Israel must use violence. When Campolo confronted the minister by saying that sounds like ethnic cleansing, the minister responded that, not only was it ethnic cleansing, it was God’s will.
Pat Robertson claimed that Ariel Sharon, then prime minister of Israel, was being punished by God when he had a stroke and could no longer serve his country. According to Robertson, God punished Sharon because “tried to clear out Jewish settlements in Gaza Strip” (Campolo).
Many Jewish Zionists have accepted the support of these evangelicals. However, many are concerned. Robertson and other evangelicals have supported a charity called Jews of the Diaspora to Return to the Holy Land. It reflects the ultimate goal of dispensationalists: the mass conversion of Jews to Christianity. Only then can their end-times scenario be fulfilled.
Since the Bible is open to interpretation, other educated Christians have objected to this view of Israel. Theologian Wayne Grudem points out that the apostle Paul said “a person is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is true circumcision something external and physical” (New Rev. Stand. Ver., Rom 2:28, 29). Paul indicates that, in God’s view, it is the person who is spiritually a Jew, not physically, that God approves (Grudem 861). Peter elaborates; stating that the church was now God’s chosen race, royal priesthood, and holy nation (New Rev. Stand. Ver., 1 Pet 2:2-10). The letter of James refers to Christians as “the twelve tribes of the Dispersion” (New Rev. Stand. Ver., Jas 1:1), further making it clear that early church writers believed that the Christian church had taken the place of the nation of Israel as God’s chosen people.
Many dispensationalists believe that Jerusalem will be re-established on earth. They use a prophecy in the book of Revelation to support this concept. There it says that the writer of Revelaton saw “the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven” (New Rev. Stand. Ver., Rev 21:10). However, Paul indicated that, for Christians, Jerusalem was a heavenly place (New Rev. Stand. Ver., Gal 4:26). Revelation is a book written in symbolic language and a literal interpretation of what it says about Jerusalem would be unlikely. The writer of Hebrews was clear that Christians were already standing before a “heavenly Jerusalem” in the first century (New Rev. Stand. Ver., Heb 12:22). Dispensationalism was not a teaching of the early church.
Unfortunately, evangelicals and the Jewish lobby hold a tremendous amount of power in American government. Since many media organizations and political leaders are unwilling to openly challenge the nation’s position on the Middle East, very few members of the public are able to consider all of the facts and opinions that exist. The United States’ support of Israel amounts to religious favoritism.
Peace is never absolute, but the human race has experienced times of relative peace. To have the United States simply leave the Middle East after more than fifty years of interferences could lead to instability. In time, however, the Middle East would most likely stabilize and be able to self-govern itself. More practical is a change in the United States’ attitude toward Israel and its surrounding nations. When Israel violates the rules, the United States needs to be tough by enforcing sanctions and withholding funds. Only then will Israel listen. If the nation does that, Arab leaders may respond positively to talks about peace with Israel. Still, the lessons learned since 1948 are clear, the United States should be careful about interfering with other nations. Rather than serve as the world’s sheriff, the United States should be an example of democracy and diplomacy.
Copyright © 2012 Paul George
Campolo, Tony. “What Christians Think About the Jews and the Holy Land.” Tikkun 23.6 (2008): 56.
MasterFILE Premier. EBSCO. Web. 20 Mar. 2010. (Anthony Campolo, Ph.D., professor emeritus at Eastern University, founded the Evangelical Association for the Promotion of Education. His most recent books are The God of Intimacy and Action and Red Letter Christians.)
Ben-Ami, Shlomo. Scars of War Wounds of Peace: The Israeli-Arab Tragedy. Oxford University Press, inc.2006. (Ben-Ami served as Israel’s Foreign Minister and Security Minister until 2001.)
Biden, Jr., Joseph R. “VICE PRESIDENT JOSEPH R. BIDEN JR. AND PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU DELIVER REMARKS IN A JOINT STATEMENT TO THE PRESS.” FDCH PoliticalTranscripts (n.d.): MasterFILE Premier. EBSCO. Web. 20 Mar. 2010.
Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994. (Grudem is research professor of Bible and theology at Phoenix Seminary in Phoenix, Arizona.)
Marshall, Rachelle. “As Obama Retreats, Palestinians Renew Their Struggle.” Washington Report on Middle East Affairs 29.3 (2010): 7. MasterFILE Premier. EBSCO. Web. 20 Mar. 2010. (Marshall is a member of the Jewish Voice for Peace and writes frequently about Middle East issues.)
Neff, Donald. “Zionism Is Racism.” Current Controversies: Racism. Ed. Mary E. Williams. San Diego:Greenhaven Press, 2004. Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center. Gale. Truckee Meadows
Community College. 20 Mar. 2010 <http://find.galegroup.com>. (Neff has been a professional journalists for more than 40 years, serving 16 years as a writer for Time Magazine. He was the Time Magazine Bureau Chief in Israel.)
New Revised Standard Version . Grand Rapids : Zondervan, 1989.
Sadat, Jehan. My Hope for Peace. New York: Free Press, 2009. (Sadat is widow to Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, who pushed for democracy in Egypt and signed a peace treaty with Israel. She continues to educate the world about the issues facing the Middle East.)