Friday, October 1, 2010

Israel's Jewish Character-should Presbyterians be debating that?

Whoever puts the links up for the Israel Palestine Mission Network on Facebook has linked to a Huffington post, “Israel's Jewish Character Is Subject for Debate.” [1] The article is by Ahmed Moor a Palestinian freelance journalist. The sad part about this is not the Palestinian writer. He has his opinions. It is rather the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s IPMN’s comments to their link.

Is what this article says really that controversial?” they ask. So what does the author of the article say? He insists that the state of Israel should not be a Jewish state and he also insists that the problems should be solved by a one state solution. But for a PCUSA organization which is supposed to be representing all of us as a church to ask why it is controversial for an article to suggest that neither a Jewish State nor a two state solution is viable in that troubled land is absurd. Strangely, in their progressive stance the people involved in IPMN are leaning far to the extreme right.

Moor writes:

Zionism is the belief that Jewish people ought to be privileged in Palestine/Israel solely because of their race. Moreover, non-Jewish indigenous people -- the Palestinians -- must be forced off the land so that it can be settled by Jews. That's what happened in 1948 and that's what's happening today in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Many liberal Zionists don't like to acknowledge it, but the process that yielded the land west of the green line was just as wrong as anything the setters have done. Its scale was also several magnitudes larger.

First of all this is not a completely true statement, because it is not complete history. But secondly, and more importantly it is a statement that means Israel as a state, and yes a Jewish State, should never have happened. So the leaders of IPMN believe that statement is not controversial. That is why I state that they are leaning very far to the right as far as the Jewish people and the nation of Israel are concerned.

Moor goes on to write:

It's astonishing that this is a controversial view in the 21st century. It's surely a feat of Zionist historicizing that otherwise intelligent and moral people in the West continuously affirm the "right of Israel to exist as the Jewish state." The racism inherent in this statement -- Jewish privilege exists through ethnic cleansing and apartheid -- is appalling. Yet, people uncritically affirm that "right."

Let me correct Moor's statement before continuing on with what I wish to say about IPMN. It is not and was not ethnic cleansing. It was a battle between one state and the many others who attacked that state. There were atrocities on both sides. Some Palestinians were pushed out by Israel, some fled because they thought they could come back after the Arab nations who had attacked Israel destroyed her.

A Jewish Israel exists because wise and compassionate peoples believed that after 2000 years of persecution a state for the Jews was the answer to that problem. Israel is a haven that all Jews acknowledge. The ancient homeland of the Israelites was chosen for the very reason that it was the ancient homeland of the Jewish people. (Uganda & the United States were considered.) It was also chosen because Jewish people were already living in the land. The attribute ‘indigenousness’ belongs as much if not more to the Jews as it does to any other people living there.

There already exists, in the Middle East, as well as several other areas Islamic nations. If a one state solution were used in solving the problems between the Palestinians and Israelis there would soon no longer be a safe haven for the Jews in the Middle East. History has already shown that in the midst of a crisis within a nation the Jews are often the scapegoat. It would seem that the Palestinian writer does not want a two state solution because he does not want a Jewish State. Does the IPMN want a Jewish State?

I do not know if Ahmed Moor is a Muslim or a Christian, I do know that the members of IPMN are Presbyterian and hopefully Christian. Several Christian theologians have written and spoken about the place of the Jew within God’s keeping love. And they have seen the land of Israel as a sign that God keeps his promises.

For instance, I have quoted David Torrance and his list of ways that God is confronting the nations through the Jews. Of the State of Israel he writes:

Their presence in the promised land reminds us in the twentieth century that our destiny is not in our hands. The nations do not hold their destiny in their own hands. It is not in the hands of their governments. Our destiny is in the hand of God who personally intervenes in history challenging the nations to humble themselves and to obey him, even as he challenged Pharaoh.
Israel’s return to the land of promise, following as it does an attempt under Hitler to obliterate everything Jewish, reminds us not only that God is the Lord of history but also that events seem to be moving fairly fast toward the ultimate goal of history.

And Karl Barth reminds all of those who disparage the Jew that we do so because the Jew is a sign that we must all live by the grace of God. (The Christian is that too.) Barth writes:

Why do we so dislike to be told that the Jews are the chosen people? Why does Christendom continually search for fresh proof that this is no longer true? In a word, because we do not enjoy being told that the sun of free grace, by which alone we can live, shines not upon us, but upon the Jews, that it is the Jews who are elect and not the Germans, the French or the Swiss, [or the Arabs or Americans] and that in order to be chosen we must, for good or ill, either be Jews or else be heart and soul on the side of the Jews. ‘Salvation is of the Jews.” It is in their existence that we non-Jews come up against the rock of divine choice, which first passing over us is primarily made by Another, a choice which can concern us only in that it firsts concerns Him and cannot affect us except in Him and through Him.

Barth goes on to point out that we must not reject the One Jew, looking down from his cross. But his point is clear and Barth goes on explaining with the thought that to be chosen means we are guests in the house of the Jews. While we need sometimes to criticize the State of Israel we should not be suggesting that the place of safety provided for the Jewish people in the Holy Land should not exist. And I say ‘we’ here because the IPMN has pulled the whole Presbyterian Church in after them. They are we so we must keep apologizing for their/our actions.

We are in great danger of joining in history’s goosestep with the IPMN’s kind of thinking.

[1] It may be Noushin Framke, since she is the chair for the IPMN’s communications work group.
[2] picture by Christopher Juncker

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