In my last post, I gave some reasons why my dispensationalist friends should not necessarily support the modern nation-state of Israel. Essentially, I argued against putting too many theological eggs in one fragile basket, and against a position that would erode moral basis for criticism of injustice.
In this post, I offer some reasons why my Reformed friends (and others!) should be sympathetic to Israel.
Previously, I mentioned the origins of the Israeli-Palestinian problem in the British mishandling of the UN Mandate following WWI. The British gov’t talked out of both sides of its mouth (how’s that for an image?): the Arabs were promised independence from the Ottomans in exchange for supporting the Allies; but the Balfour Declaration made a homeland for the Jews official British policy as well. Perhaps at the time these positions did not seem quite as incompatible as they do now. (Interestingly, one proposal was to offer Jews a state in Uganda–but Herzl’s Zionist Congress rejected this idea in 1905.) Rising anti-Semitism in Europe and Russia drove thousands of Jews to Palestine during the interbellum, fueling Arab suspicion of British promises.
But one can certainly sympathize with the Jews who fled persecution in Europe and Russia–no doubt thousands of them saved their own lives and the lives of their children by doing so. It was only after WWII that the full picture of the Shoah emerged with clarity–and, “there are no words.” Certainly the presence of a largely Jewish state is a hedge, for the time being, against anti-Semitism worldwide.
Whether or not one considers Israel’s birth as a nation-state to be entirely legitimate, Israel’s government has been secular and democratic from its inception–something none of its Arab neighbors can boast. In many Arab nations, non-Muslims and ethnic minorities are persecuted and/or killed. In Israel, the separation between religious and political institutions is more clearly defined, and members of religious and ethnic minorities are Israeli citizens with equal standing.
To say that Israel has subsequently been treated quite poorly by its neighbors and by the world community is a gross understatement. Israelis face daily the threat of terrorism fueled by lies and rewritten history. The media in the US is sometimes thought of as having a pro-Israeli slant, but most of the worldwide media are biased in the other direction, making it difficult for Israel to get a fair hearing in the world.
If my last post contained an implicit plea to consider the plight of the Palestinians, this post is a plea on behalf of the Israelis. I believe that the typical Jew and the average Arab in Jerusalem want very similar things: to live securely and peacefully, to work an honest job and provide for a family, to practice religious and social custom without interference from others. Believe it or not, this was largely the case in Jerusalem before World War I.
Partial histories and half-truths continue to dominate the public discourse. As Ricoeur would say, it can only be through a “just allotment of memory” that forgiveness can take place. Unfortunately, there are on both sides (and from the outside) too many vested interests in maintaining the current conflicted state of affairs.