Anti-Semitism and Criticism of the State of Israel
By Baruch Maoz

Christian Anti-Semitism Increasing
There is a growing evidence of a new form of anti-Semitism that is spreading in evangelical churches. This attitude masquerades as fair criticism of some of Israel's actions but, in fact, serves as a wholesale denial of Zionism as a legitimate national platform on which to establish Jewish national hopes.

Of course, Zionists are merely human and as such are inherently sinful. But why compare Israeli response to terrorism with the defacing of the image of God in man implied by the sending of young men and women, carrying explosives, to immolate themselves and murder others in coffee houses, at Passover celebrations and while traveling on buses to work, school, play or religious ceremony?

The Bethlehem Siege
The outrageous invasion of the Church of the Nativity in April 2002 by several hundred Palestinian gunmen and wanted terrorists was a desecration of mankind's collective sense of the sacred. But it was almost completely ignored by Christian well-wishers who castigated Israel for surrounding the building and insisting on the surrender of those terrorists. With increasing frequency it is Israel, rather than Yasser Arafat's regime, that Christians choose to blame for all the ills and sorrows of the Middle East, as if Israel never offered a peaceful solution and the Palestinians are innocent victims of one-sided aggression.

Using one of the holiest Christian sites as a shield from Israeli counter-terrorism--and holding priests hostage while shooting at Israeli soldiers from within the church--is typical of Arafat's tactics. For 18 months, his militiamen took over homes in the Christian village of Beit Jala near Bethlehem, shooting into Israeli homes in the adjacent Israeli neighbourhood in the hope of provoking Israeli retaliation. The adoption of a fake cease-fire during which scores of shooting incidents occurred on a weekly basis, when repeated efforts to carry out bombings were foiled by the Israeli security forces, when terrorists were secreted into Israel in preparation for the next round of fighting, and when a new round of bombers were trained and prepared is but another example of Arafat's duplicity.

Rather than condemning the Palestinian Authority for using Beit Jala as a cover from which to terrorize Israeli civilians, mainline churches have cynically blamed Israel for trying to defend its citizens. By so doing, Christians have encouraged Palestinian Machiavellianism: the hope of evoking Christian outrage against Israel is one reason why the shooters chose Beit Jala in the first place, and why, in 2003, they undertook a cease fire they never intended to keep…

It Is Time to Reconsider
It is high time for churches to reconsider their anti-Semitic bias and work more consciously for a fairer view of the facts on the ground. An anti-Israel stance among liberal Christian churches is understandable although wholly unacceptable. It is neither understandable nor acceptable in evangelical churches, who believe that God requires of mankind truth in the inward parts. Israel is not above criticism, nor have all its policies and their implementation always been worthy of praise. When Israel errs - or sins - it should be roundly criticized. But the reflex reaction now evident in a growing number of churches against Israel is disconcerting and contrary to the spirit of the Gospel, as it would be if one were to automatically oppose all Palestinian claims and aspirations.

The Palestinians' stated goal is for a state in the West Bank and Gaza--which was Arafat's for the asking if he was willing to sign an agreement with Barak a few years ago. Instead, he has chosen to wage a war against the very existence of a Jewish state within any borders. After appointing Machmud Abbas to serve as Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority, he systematically undermined Abbas' authority in order to obviate the likelihood that Abbas would succeed in negotiating an agreement with Israel. One of the means Arafat used was the promotion of a vicious terror campaign, so far culminating in the murder of a further 21 Israeli civilians and the wounding of 109.

Still, a growing number of churches continue to offer simplistic judgments. There was a uproar when Israeli soldiers fired upon Palestinian ambulances that refused to stop at checkpoints. Church leaders accused Israel of crimes against humanity, ignoring the fact that Palestinian ambulances are often used to transport terrorists and weapons. On March 27 2003, Israeli soldiers stopped an ambulance on its way to Jerusalem. They found 10 kilos of explosives hidden under a child lying on a stretcher. What did Christian critics say then? Nothing. Nothing at all.

Like any country, Israel should never be immune from criticism. In many cases it deserves firm criticism from its friends. The present conflict is brutalising both sides. But reflex criticism of Israel is stirring old and familiar anti-Semitic instincts that Christianity has strenuously sought to uproot in modern times. One stark example is the painting unveiled in a church in Scotland, which displays a crucified Jesus flanked by Roman and Israeli soldiers. Such an image deliberately plays to historical Christian accusations against Jews, paralleling the Palestinians with Jesus and Israel with the crucifiers of the saviour.

Twenty six Jews were massacred during a Passover meal in 2002, yet there was not a single public Christian response. Why? Is Jewish blood cheaper than that of Palestinians? Arafat-later announced to Al Jazeera TV that he hopes to die a martyr, as did the suicide bomber at the Passover massacre, yet not even a whimper was heard from Christian circles. Arafat presents himself as defender of the Holy Land's Christians while he presides over the premeditated erosion of the Christian presence in the West Bank. Palestinian police routinely ignore extremist Muslim attacks on Christians. No Christian body has publicly taken him or the Palestinian Authority to task for this.

Rumour has it that there is freedom of religion in the areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority. But Palestinian police have both jailed and tortured more than two dozen Palestinian Pentecostals for distributing New Testaments in West Bank villages. Their fate was completely ignored by world church leaders. Christian outrage is reserved for Israel alone.

Eschatological expectations
Eschatological expectations should not be interjected into the discussion of relations between Israelis and Palestinians, or in the church's view of the Middle East conflict. On the other hand, a God fearing morality has everything in the world to do with the issues at hand. The replacement of anti-Semitism with a one-sided criticism of Israel is merely a mask (however unintended) for the fundamentally anti-Semitic prejudices lurking in the subterranean parts of the human heart. Christians are not immune to such prejudices. But they should oppose them with the fortitude of those who love God more than they love themselves.

As much could and should be said of knee-jerk support of Israel which is void of moral considerations, indifferent to the hurts and hopes of the Palestinians. As Christians, we should carefully avoid both extremes, of anti-Semitism on the one hand and of an anti-Arab attitude on the other. It is worth remembering that sinners are engaging in the conflict on both sides of this horrific struggle.

Baruch Maoz, pastor of the Grace and Truth Congregation in Rishon Letzion, Israel, has written a thought-provoking article about anti-Semitism and criticism of the State of Israel in his newsletter. The article is printed with permission.