I have long been perturbed about the large number of Christians who uncritically support the state of Israel. This concern was strengthened recently when a copy of the latest edition of Israel and Christians Today found its way into my house.
This news magazine is published every two months by an organisation called Christians for Israel. The edition sitting in front of me now is titled Israel and Christians Today Australia and is distributed by the Australian branch of the organisation, but it contains no Australian content and is identical to the international edition of the magazine produced by the head office in the Netherlands.
Christians for Israel was founded in the Netherlands in 1979 and now operates in 15 different countries in Europe, North America, Australasia and Africa. As far as I can work out it is an independent organisation, funded by donations from supporters. Its aims include educating Christians about current issues in Israel and their view of the place of Israel in Biblical prophecy; supporting the state of Israel in public debate and in the politics of their various countries; and supporting practical works to aid Israelis including a large program assisting Jews to "return" to Israel.
The magazine basically contains two types of story. The first is commentary on current events in Israel, mostly by writers within Israel itself and mostly reprinted from other publications . The tone of this commentary is aggressively nationalistic. One article, by a long-term resident of Ramot in northern Jerusalem, bizarrely blames the Palestinians for the infamous dividing wall on the basis of a horrific murder of a Jewish youth by a young man from a neighbouring Palestinian community. Another proclaims "There is no such thing as moderate Islam". "Bulldozing Jewish history" by Giulio Meotti asserts Israel's claim to the Temple Mount, current site of the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
"Peace Through Victory", by an American-Israeli teacher of business administration named Steven Plaut, suggests that the only option available to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a full-scale military invasion and occupation of Gaza and the West Bank. Plaut says "there has never ever in history been a Palestinian state, and there is no such thing as a Palestinian people".
He goes on: "'Palestinian 'suffering'? If the Palestinians are unhappy with Israeli anti-terror policies...let them stop the terror and desist from murdering Israelis, or let them move to any of the 22 Arab states." Most stunning is this: "The same United States that has understood that there is only a military option for dealing with terror in Iraq and Afghanistan must back up such a return by Israel to pre-Oslo sanity."
There is much more where that came from - xenophobia and Islamophobia combined with a spirited defence of the most extreme forms of Israeli nationalism. By the end I felt physically ill at the unrelenting violence and hatred, coupled with the despair of any possibility of peace.
I get that there are extreme nationalists in Israel and even that they have a legitimate place in the domestic political process, but why are overseas Christians being urged to support them in such a one-sided way? Well, the second stream of articles is written by Christians, both in and outside Israel, and is about Biblical prophecy. These articles champion the view that the re-establishment of an Israeli state is identified in prophecy as a precursor to the Second Coming of Christ. Thus, by speeding and supporting the re-establishment of Israel, Christians are hastening the day of the Lord's return and ushering in the Kingdom of God.
This is not the place to debate those prophecies - suffice to say that the prophetic scheme represented here is highly speculative, and the passages cited are open to quite different interpretations. However, this is not the problem for me. The problem is that these Christians have substituted prophecy for morality. Because the Bible says that Israel will return, Israel is therefore good and its enemies are evil. It follows that they must excuse and whitewash anything Israel does, while vilifying Arabs, Palestinians and the Islamic faith. In the process the entire corpus of Jesus' and the apostles' ethical teaching can be set aside.
Now I don't want to go to the opposite extreme and whitewash Palestinian terrorism. It is real, and it is terrifying. Much as Steven Plaut wishes otherwise, the Palestinians are uncomfortably real, as is the ongoing process of their dispossession by Jewish immigrants, almost all of whom have arrived since 1948. Both sides are fighting a war, have been doing so for more than half a century, and are not likely to stop any time soon. Nor is it possible to hold out much hope for Plaut's "final solution" given that his models - the US invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan - have been spectacularly unsuccessful in stopping terrorist attacks and in Iraq's case sent them spiralling. I seem to remember that the "pre-Oslo sanity" was not especially sane. Hard and risky though it is for both sides, peaceful coexistence and fostering mutual respect between the two peoples is not merely the best solution. It is the only one
Sadly, "Christians for Israel" feeds the spiral of extremism, urging the Israelis and their American backers to more extreme military measures which can only bring out answering extremism from the Palestinians. They do so in the name of biblical prophecy, but it is hard to see how they could possibly be doing it in the name of Jesus.