|CHRISTIAN ATTITUDES TO ISRAEL: A BIRD's EYE-VIEW
by Professor Paul C. Merkley, [Arutz Sheva], March 14, 2004
|Jews who take the time to review the history of the quarter-century which led to the creation of the State in 1947-1948 will
learn that the sturdiest champions of the Restoration of the Jews to Israel were Evangelical Christians. The rest of the Western
Christian world (Roman Catholics and what is generally spoken of today as "Mainstream Protestantism") was mostly well-
disposed, but with many dissenting.
The Roman Catholic Church had powerful objections, but did not feel able, in the light of the general humanitarian advantage that
the Jewish cause briefly held in the immediate wake of the War, to compel nations with Roman Catholic populations to oppose.
The Zionists' opportunity to win the hearts of Catholics and mainstream Protestants was brief, created by extraordinary and
unrepeatable circumstances: the uncovering of the Holocaust; the intolerable situation of Europe's surviving "displaced" Jews;
and the realization that Jews not admitted to Palestine would have to be admitted in vast numbers to the Western democracies. For the moment, the word "Zionism" rang positively for most Christians.
Still, even in 1947-1948, when the desperate circumstances of the European Jews disposed most politicians and most Church
leaders to endorse the Zionist solution, there was formidable opposition. In the forefront were spokesmen of the Protestant
missionary societies that had worked with creditable success among the Arab populations of the Middle East for over a century.
In the United States, these were allied with anti-Zionist Jewish organizations, notably the American Council for Judaism. Then,
almost immediately after the initial decisions were taken, mainstream Protestant Churches, as well as the Roman Catholic
Church, began to shift into the ranks of those denouncing the new State - and eventually became overwhelmingly hostile. Had
the vote on the Partition of the Mandate of Palestine taken place five or ten years later, the Jewish State would not have come into existence.
When the United Nations agreed to let a Jewish State come into the world, in November, 1947, world opinion was in great part moved by conviction that justice was on the side of the Jews. It is precisely for this reason that we must stress that no conscientious friend of Zion has ever denied that the case for creation of a Jewish state, if expressed exclusively in terms of justice, was a relative one: it was a compelling case, maybe even an overwhelmingly compelling case, but still, like all other matters of justice, a relative one.
Similarly, the argument for Israel's continuing in possession of the territory she governs today is an argument that can be
defended in terms of justice; but no conscientious friend of Israel claims that nobody on the other side is suffering some degree
of injustice because of it. The history of the relations between the Churches and Israel has been shaped by the fact that along
the line since the war for Israel's independence in 1948-1949 most official spokesmen of most of the churches reworked the
moral arithmetic, and came to find more "justice" in the claims of the Palestinian Arabs and less "justice" in the cause of Israel than they saw in 1947-1948.
In contrast, most Christians who define themselves as theologically conservative have remained constant in their preference for
This is because, for Christian Zionists, the case for the Restoration of the Jews in the first place, even though it was manifestly defensible in terms of "justice", actually stood upon a firmer ground: namely, that it was ordained by Scripture. To have
resisted it would have been sin and, in any case, would be futile. To support it, brought blessing: "He who blesses thee, I will bless; he who curses thee, I will curse." (Genesis 12:3)
Among the most formidable mouthpieces for expression of anti-Israeli rhetoric in the world today is the World Council of Churches. The WCC tends to think of itself as one of the world's most venerable bodies, but in truth it is about two months
younger than the State of Israel, having been founded in August of 1948. During the weeks previous to the Six Day War of
June, 1967, when Nasser, the dictator of Egypt, was rallying the Arab world for a war of liquidation against Israel, the WCC remained silent. But immediately after Israel's victory, the WCC came awake and announced that it "cannot condone by silence territorial expansion by armed force."
From that day forward, the WCC and its constituent denominational organizations have generally portrayed Israel's behavior in
lockstep with Arab rhetoric: all subsequent wars have been fomented by Israel, for the purposes of further territorial gain and
for the opportunity to incorporate innocent and abject Arab populations. The WCC pressed constantly through the 1970's and
1980's for American official contact with the PLO and denounced Israel's punitive responses to terrorism and civil disruption.
It denounced the Camp David Accords of 1978 for allegedly ignoring the national ambitions of the "Palestinians." Its
consistent line is that "Israel's repeated defiance of international law, its continuing occupation and the impunity it has so long enjoyed are the fundamental causes of the present violence and threaten peace and security of both peoples."
Just a few day before the al-Qaeda attack upon the United States, WCC representatives attending the UN Conference on Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance at Durban, South Africa, led in demanding an official denunciation of
Israel for "systematic perpetration of racist crimes including war crimes, acts of genocide and ethnic cleansing." (WCC Press Releases July 1997, October 4, 1997, November 1997; March 1998; September 21, 2001).
The most recent WCC statements on "Israel/Palestine," together with history of the role that WCC has played in NGO actions
and statements, can be found at wcc-coe.org. Just a little attention to the actual wording of recent World Council Statements
0n the "Palestinian struggle for liberation" and on what they imply is the well-known congenital behavior of Jews and of their
political allies everywhere will bring to mind the anti-Semitic propaganda that Hitler sowed throughout the world in the 1930's -
not excluding the English-speaking world. It is language imposed by an imagined Christian duty not to be found in disagreement
with the world-view of Islam.
Much has changed in the world since both Israel and the WCC entered it in 1948. The first Report issued by the WCC is
called "The Church and the Disorder of Society: A Report from the Amsterdam Assembly of the World Council of Churches,
1948." Here we read that the present disordered world has to be transformed into "the responsible society" by accepting
"G-d's design." Amen to that! After a few years had gone by, however, the hearts and minds of Protestant churchmen began
to turn more to recognition of the inhibiting effects of "order": WCC position papers tended now to see "order" and
"disorder" in creative mix. By 1968, the Theology of Order was out, and the Theology of Liberation was in. A more
"nuanced" view of such matters of civilization and civility now reigns.
Among many other factors at work in this evolution, there was the desire to appear more relevant in academic and intellectual
circles. The universities of the West were then undergoing siege by radical student movements, stemming ostensibly from the anti-Vietnam movement, but ultimately from a crisis of self-esteem that took place in the traditional civilization of the West.
Courses in Western Civilization were driven to the periphery of the curriculum. A defining moment in this story came at the Uppsala Assembly of the WCC in 1968. Here, the "Program to Combat Racism" was adopted: It called for educational efforts,
political and social action, economic sanctions against "racist" regimes, and moral and material support for groups "fighting racism." This new program caused much offense in conservative ranks because of its explicit adoption of "Third World"
rhetoric and Marxist-Leninist insights on imperialism.
Since it first met to consider Man's Disorder and G-d's Design, the WCC has not lost its ambition to be the conscience of the
world. Rather, recognizing the low estate to which the church has fallen in the counsels of politicians and leaders of opinion in
the Western world, the WCC has deliberately appointed itself the moral conscience of the world majority. Now, the WCC takes
its rhetoric from the majority in the UN. It has no patience for history and therefore no patience for legitimacy. All that matters
is "Justice", "justice now" - "justice" understood as leveling everything out, so that all claims are equal. No wonder that it is
tone-deaf to Israel.
Jews understand that there will be fluctuations from time to time in the relative justice of the case that Israel can present before
world opinion -- as, for example, with regard to what the State perceives to be her security needs vis-a-vis internal and external
foes. But Jews cannot understand how Christians, who parade their sensitivity to the situation of the oppresssed, can even
for a moment toy with the thought that Israel has a doubtful right to exist within the borders that have resulted from her
original acceptance of the partition of 1947, improved by result of her enemies' recurring appeal to the god of war.
Most spokesmen of the mainstream Protestant and Roman Catholic churches seem not to appreciate the place that allegiance
to Israel has at the center of Jewish self-understanding: In an official statement of 1990, the United Church of Christ of the
U.S.A. we read: "We do not see consensus in the United Church of Christ... on the covenantal significance of the State of
Israel." This same United Church document refers throughout to "The State of Israel-Palestine." When Jews look for an
affirmative commitment to the survival of Israel, they find instead expressions of commitment to the other side: "We stand
in solidarity with Palestinians as they cry for justice as the dispossessed," says a recent official Presbyterian statement. With
increasing frequency, Jews hear leading voices of the official churches announcing that the decision to permit Israel to come to
birth in the first place was "unjust" and should be reconsidered.
Christian churchmen imagine that statements like these reflect a creditable spirit of even-handedness, but to most Jews the
tone is one of menace towards Israel. Is it not obvious, many say, that, beneath all the rhetoric of secular complaint against
Israel - its alleged territorial aggressions, its allegedly cruel behavior towards its "Palestinian" population, and the whole
catalogue of its alleged sins against its neighbors and against the world community - there is a far deeper cause of complaint,
which draws from the same theological source as did the medieval libels against the Jews of Europe?
Jews are right to ask: If it is true that Protestants and Catholics cannot yet accept that the Jewish state is a state having at
least the same "legitimacy" as the homelands of the Italians, the Greeks and the Turks. Is this because Protestants and
Catholics cannot accept that Jews have the same right to call themselves a people? And if so, from what does this refusal
follow? Is this neo-anti-Zionism not a genteel reincarnation of the old anti-Semitism?
There is, however, another side to our story.
When it became evident that organized Protestant bodies were turning towards anti-Zionism (during the 1960's and 1970's),
voices of protest were heard inside every denomination. Sometimes groups of the like-minded were formed -- lobby groups,
within the denominations and within the delegations to the subsequent Assemblies of the World Council of Churches. Nothing
was accomplished on this level; the anti-Israel forces were too deeply entrenched at the top. Not daunted, Christian Zionists
moved their efforts on behalf of Israel into the great and boundless world of para-church, and volunteer organizations appeared,
dedicated to expressing Christian concern and organizing political support for the security and welfare of Israel: Bridges for
Peace, International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, Christian Friends of Israel, and many more.
Christian Zionists can make a case for the justice of Israel's regime; in doing so, they are helped by pointing to certain powerful
1. That Israel has always had to contend with the very denial of her right to exist - a minimum condition of peace among neighbors.
2. That Israel remains beset by hostile neighbors -- all of them formally at war with her until very recently, and most of them
still so -- all of them still condoning and most still sponsoring terrorist activities against her and against her citizens throughout
3. That all of Israel's enemies outside and inside the terroritories she governs could have had peace with Israel -- a much smaller
Israel -- in 1948, had they had been willing to abide by the world's decision, embodied in the UN Resolutions of 1947.
Going beyond this calculation of the relative justice of her claim, Christian Zionists argue that Israel has much to commend her
stewardship of the land since 1948:
1. She has created and sustained the only democratic system in the region, while being surrounded by hostile despotic regimes.
2. She has achieved a remarkably high standard of living (eduation, health, economic opportunity, etc.) for all of her citizens,
including the Arab citizens, while providing for those in the disputed territories (not citizens) standards of living higher than are
enjoyed by the Arab citizens of any of the neighboring Arab states.
3. She has carried out honorably her responsibilities with respect to access to and respect for Christian and Muslim Holy Places.
4. She can demonstrate the highest levels of cultural and scholarly accomplishments, including conscientious attention to the
archeology of the Holy Land, and has maintained the basic freedoms of speech, assembly, religion, and so on.
Yet, for the Christian Zionist, none of this is really the heart of the matter. The Christian Zionist is not knocked off his perch
when Israel is denounced for rough treatment of the Palestinians, or when a politician is found to have his hand in the till, or
when the Mossad carries off a dirty trick, or when instances of brutality occur in her prisons, etc. The Christian Zionist does
not have to rework the ethical arithmetic when bad news appears, in order to reckon whose side he is on. To the Christian
Zionist, it is a requirement of faith to prefer the blessing of Israel above all passing things. Doing this, he believes, cannot, by
definition, ever be incompatible with the will of G-d.
[With special thanks to Israpundit, for bringing Prof. Merkley's articles to our attention.]
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