A question: Does “pro-Israel” equal “anti-Palestinian”? Must we always bow before the blustering Benjamin Netanyahu, bent as he is on “creating facts” by building more Israeli settlements? It seems the answer for one presidential candidate, Rick Perry, is an unequivocal yes: “As a Christian, I have a clear directive to support Israel. So from my perspective, it’s pretty easy. Both as an American, and as a Christian, I am going to stand with Israel.” Israel is always right; the Palestinians are always wrong. It goes without saying that the United States should veto any Palestinian application for statehood in the UN. Perry is echoing the theology of Christian Zionist John Hagee, the head of Christians United for Israel, who alluded to Exodus 17:11 in an e-mail call for supporting the premier before his UN appearance. The premier is a veritable Moses: “Prime Minister Netanyahu is going to the UN to ‘tell the truth.’ We want him to know that as he takes this lonely stand for the truth, he will not in fact be alone. We want him to stand proudly knowing that millions of Christians stand with him. We want him to feel our hands holding up his arms. We want him to know that, ultimately, the truth will prevail.”
How intriguing. One survey suggests that Perry and Hagee are more “Zionist” than most Israelis, 70 percent of whom believe their nation should accept the decision if the UN recognizes a Palestinian state. Perhaps they remember that modern Zionism began as a secular movement and that the United Nations foresaw both Palestinian and Jewish nations in the 1940’s. Perhaps they see the impracticality and immorality of oppressing legitimate Palestinian rights. Perhaps they remember that their own forefather, Abraham, was once a “stranger” in the Promised Land.
I wonder: Would many Israelis agree with the compelling message of David Gushee and Glen H. Stassen, both professors of Christian Ethics, in their An Open Letter to America’s Christian Zionists (read it at the web site for the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good here). They spoke directly to Hagee and people like him: “Not to put too fine a point on it, we wish to claim here that the prevailing version of American Christian Zionism – that is, your belief system – underwrites theft of Palestinian land and oppression of Palestinian people, helps create the conditions for an explosion of violence, and pushes US policy in a destructive direction that violates our commitment to universal human rights. In all of these, American Christian Zionism as it currently stands is sinful and produces sin. We write as evangelical Christians committed lifelong to Israel’s security, and we are seriously worried about your support for policies that violate biblical warnings about injustice and may lead to the outcome you most fear – serious harm or even destruction of Israel.”
The Pentecostals & Charismatics for Peace & Justice have made similar arguments. Discover more here.
Few reasonable people argue that the Palestinians are always right; fewer still hail their leaders as paragons; many nod at the misquote of the late Israeli diplomat Abba Eban, who supposedly said the “Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity” (Eban actually said that of the Arab states after fruitless negotiations in which Israel tried to swap land for peace). What’s more, past Palestinian leaders made bone-chilling anti-Jewish statements during Britain’s pre-1947 Palestinian “mandate” and aligned themselves with the worst of rogues. Sample Aref Pasha Dajani, who told the American King-Crane Commission in 1919: “It is impossible for us to make an understanding with them [Jews] or even to live them together… Their history and all their past proves that it is impossible to live with them. In all the countries where they are at present they are not wanted and undesirables, because they always arrive to suck the blood of everybody, and to become economically and financially victorious.” He threatened a “river of blood” if Palestine became a Jewish homeland. And he was by no means alone among Arabs. King Saud told the British he could not fathom “the strange attitude of your … government, and the still more strange hypnotic influence which the Jews, a race accursed by God according to His Holy Book, and destined to final destruction and eternal damnation hereafter, appear to wield over them and the English people generally.” Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem from 1921-1948, slipped away from the British during the Arab Revolt in the 1930’s and eventually made his way to Germany, where he helped recruit Muslims for the Waffen-SS.
All relics of a regrettable past? If only. Many Arabs – including Palestinians – believe the scurrilous Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion and nod their heads at Holocaust denial: Indeed, one Hamas leader recently said the Holocaust was “a lie that has crumbled” and suggested Israel has inflicted “countless Holocausts” on Palestinians. And then there’s the preamble to the Hamas Charter: “Our struggle against the Jews is very great and very serious. It needs all sincere efforts. It is a step that inevitably should be followed by other steps. The Movement is but one squadron that should be supported by more and more squadrons from this vast Arab and Islamic world, until the enemy is vanquished and Allah’s victory is realized.”
Yet Steve Coll points out that the West Bank Palestinian Authority launched a building and reform program to improve governance, and a World Bank committee reported that the Authority was “well-positioned for the establishment of a state at any point in the near future.” And, like it or not, pouring more concrete for more West Bank settlements feeds the Hamas beast. Self-interest blends with altruism: the Israeli government must find ways to becoming Palestine’s best friend – and we would be a better friend if we followed President Eisenhower’s path: He denounced the Israeli invasion of the Sinai Peninsula in 1956.
Many worry that Netanyahu, in all his patriotic bristling, is guiding his nation down a precarious path in the name of protecting it — and the Christian Zionists are doing Israel no favors when they parrot the Likud party line.
See also Carlo Strenger’s “open letter” to Mahmoud Abbas here.