Today marks Yom Yerushalayim – Jerusalem Day – in Israel, with thousands of Israel-supporters taking to the streets and celebrating.
A Israeli Messianic musician friend shared some photos of the event:
(Ah. Folks, stuff like this makes me long for the land. I’ll be visiting Israel in a few months, so at least that’s something.)
Support for Israel is all over the Messianic and Hebrew Roots Christian sections of the web today, with blog posts, tweets, Facebook status updates all celebrating Israel.
But it’s on the following Facebook status I encountered anti-Israel sentiment from a Christian fellow named Peter Sander:
I’ll bet many of you fine Kineti readers have encountered such people. We can generally characterize them like this:
- Politically left-of-center
- Atheist, liberal Christian, or liberal Jewish
- If Christian, supersessionist
- Morality guided by feelings
I’d like to dissect a few of Peter’s arguments, then tackle how we, as Yeshua’s disciples, ought to respond to inflammatory statements like Peter’s.
By the end of this post, we’ll have a good idea what it is that the other side believes, how to properly refute their arguments, articulate our own beliefs, and do so in a way that is upstanding for Yeshua’s disciples.
Appeal to emotion
This is a staple of politically left-of-center morality: the appeal to emotion. Feelings-based morality: if something feels bad, then it’s evil. Don’t we care about the helpless Palestinians?
Example: Israel built a wall. Walls symbolize division, hatred, differences, separation. The new morality is about unity, love, and tolerance. Therefore, the wall is morally wrong.
Emotional feelings trumps any sort of absolute morality. Since we can picture the injured Palestinian on the curb, bleeding and holding a young child, our emotions immediately reach out and take their side. We’re conditioned, in the west, to side with the underdog.
Peter suggests that a Jerusalem entirely under Israeli rule will result in terrible humanitarian consequences for Palestinians and other minorities in Israel.
The unspoken suggestion is a divided Jerusalem: Israel owns part, and one or more Palestinian factions own other parts.
(And among the most extreme Palestinian sympathizers, the unspoken suggestion is a unified Jerusalem under Palestinian rule.)
Here, Peter is implying that Israel will treat Palestinians badly if Israel owns Jerusalem. This is an opinion, rather than a fact, but does it hold any weight?
Not really. In a nutshell, non-Jews and minorities are generally treated well within Israel. For better or worse, Israel tolerates everything from gay pride parades to Islamic opposition political parties, while those things in Palestinian territories are non-existent, for fear of brutal retaliation from the elected Islamic factions in power, Hamas and Fatah.
Arabs and Palestinians have representation within the Israeli government. By contrast, the Palestinian factions are unilateral, Islamic governments whose charters are built not around governance of humans, but around destruction of the state of Israel. (The Hamas charter, for instance, cites the well-known racist book Protocols of the Elders of Zion, used today in many neo-Nazi groups.)
So the implication that an indivisible Jerusalem is bad for Palestinians is probably false.
But the deeper problem with Peter’s argument is its appeal to emotion.
Emotions are not a good indicator of morality. It is possible for something to feel bad, and be morally good. Take imprisonment, or capital punishment, for example. It is possible for something to feel good, and be morally bad. If this weren’t the case, prostitution would be morally acceptable.
Emotions do not clarify our judgments, but blur them. Emotions blur wisdom in our choices. A mind fully handed over to emotion, where emotions entirely drive moral choices, is not a mind worth trusting, nor its ideas worth pursuing.
Ignoring emotional pleas, for a moment, let’s ask: if Jerusalem was divided between Israel and Palestinians, would it result in more peace?
Unlikely. Historically, when Israel has transferred cities to Palestinian factions – for example, Bethlehem in 1995, or Gush Katif in 2005, the end result has not been more peace, but more violence.
Logically – again, thinking with brains rather than emotion – this outcome makes perfect sense. Hamas, one of the major Palestinian factions, cite Israel’s destruction as their raison d'être. Grant that group land and resources will result in utilization of those resources towards their ultimate goal of the destruction of Israel.
Spiritualizing-away concrete meaning from the Scriptures
While many anti-Zionists are secular or atheist, there’s been a recent minority movement among Christians to demonize Israel and side with Palestinians as the helpless victims of imperial aggression.
For such religious people who take the Bible seriously, how do you deal with Scriptures that speak of Israel as God’s land given to Israel? The first 5 books of the Jewish and Christian Bibles – the Torah – deal with this promise of a land – then called Canaan – given to a people called Israel. And everything in the Scriptures flows from that crux.
To pull off theological opposition to Israel is to explain away the crux upon which the rest of the Scriptures are built: Israel was given the land, and from that, the prophets and the kings and the writings, and these make up the whole of the Jewish bible. And the Christian bible does not negate these, but amplifies them: confirming Jewish prophecies of a time when a Davidic King – the Messiah – will rule over Israel and institute real peace in the kingdom of God.
Christianity has generally accepted Israel as a Scripturally-mandated Jewish homeland: Protestant Christianity have been perhaps the biggest supporters of Zionism outside of Jewish Zionism itself, both before and after Israeli independence in 1948. And today, Protestant and Evangelical Christianity remain the most ardent supporters of Israel.
Catholic Christianity initially opposed Zionism and the idea of a Jewish nation, stating in 1897:
According to the Sacred Scriptures, the Jewish people must always live dispersed and vagabondo among the other nations, so that they may render witness to Christ not only by the Scriptures ... but by their very existence
However, Catholicism has since repented of that sentiment, saying it was not only erroneous from a Scriptural point of view, but also led to Christian anti-Semitism and persecution of Jews. Pope John Paul II made this reversal official in 1997, when he said:
The wrong and unjust interpretations of the New Testament relating to the Jewish people and their supposed guilt [in Christ's death] circulated for too long, engendering sentiments of hostility toward this people.
With the Christian world standing for Israel and the Jewish people, how does a Christian person like Peter oppose Israel and Zionism? By reinterpreting the Bible to abstract away God’s promises to Israel, and to shift the focus away from the promises and towards other airy, subjective issues that put modern Israel in a negative light.
God promised the land to Israel? Folks like Peter will say those things are fulfilled in Christ (an airy statement without concrete meaning or clear Scriptural support), and that a bigger issue in the Scriptures is justice, thus implying that modern Israel is not interested in justice. It takes our focus off concrete promises and moves it to subjective theological issues.
In Peter’s world, moral principles like justice are used as a means to abstract away real meaning from the Scriptures. Just take the moral principle, and remove everything else, and you’re left with a view like Peter’s. It’s a poor way of reading the Bible.
Justice is indeed important, but I’m not convinced of Peter’s sincerity in focusing on justice; we never hear folks like Peter speaking up for justice when civilians are killed by Palestinian suicide bombers, or stumping for justice when Hamas launches rockets at Israeli towns, or even when Palestinian factions open fire on one another.
They don’t cry for justice then, they cry for justice only when Israel can be made the villain.
It may very well be that Peter’s motivation is not justice. It may well be that Peter is using justice as an argumentative tool, a means to his goal of demonizing Israel.
When religious folks use justice merely as an argumentative tool, it makes their cries of injustice ring hollow, discredits their integrity. It further drowns out real injustices like the ones going on in the Arab world today.
Supersessionism and replacement theology
By “tribal vindication”, Peter means to say Israel is not unlike any the millions of petty tribes formed through humanity’s history. God’s promised, long-awaited and well-deserved justice for Israel is reduced to merely human vindication and vengeance.
This is a crux of supersessionism, also called Replacement Theology, which states that Israel was at one time special to God, but after Christ, Israel is nothing special, Jewish people are just another ethnicity, Judaism just another non-Christian religion. God replaced Israel with the Church.
In Peter’s worldview of a nothing-special-Israel, the gospel is hardly good news for Jewish people. In such a view, the gospel actually becomes bad news for Jewish people: “Hey, Jewish people, God once considered you special and chosen, but now Messiah has come, and you’re reduced to nobodies. Isn’t that good news?”
This view is hard to reconcile with the Jewish bible, obviously. But even the Christian Scriptures, aside from including the whole of the Jewish bible, also speak of Israel’s special place and chosen status:
Did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew.
Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, and in this way all Israel will be saved.
...as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.
-Paul, Romans 11
Hard to remove Israel’s specialness seeing the New Testament saying this phenomenon of all these gentiles attracted to Jesus is part of a bigger plan where Israel and the nations are set right before the God of Israel. Whew!
Not to mention the thrust of the New Testament ends with Jerusalem coming out of heaven, suggesting that Jerusalem is more than just a city, but a city with a heavenly parallel, and Israel not just a fiefdom, but a nation called into holiness, and the Jewish people not just some insignificant semitic tribe, but a special people chosen by God, around whom the whole of the Scriptures revolve.
Finally, notice how Peter characterizes Scripture’s recorded vindication of Israel as “petty and sick.” This is an inflammatory statement intended again to provoke. More on that below.
Jesus as Palestinian refugee, and other offensive anachronisms
An inflammatory, emotional statement intended to provoke. It’s utterly subjective, designed to evoke an emotional response: Jesus’ face is that of a Palestinian’s: hurt, crying, looking to help the poverty-stricken, the helpless.
This rings true for some Christians, because we associate Jesus’ teachings with love, helping the helpless, aiding the poor. But it’s a non-sequitur: Jesus taught helping the poor, therefore, we should side with the Palestinians. It’s as if we ought to remove all context and look merely at financial situation. It doesn’t follow. There are poor among the Israelis, especially among immigrants from the former Soviet Union. Does that mean we should help the Israelis?
The conclusion is that we cannot use financial status alone as a means for who we support, nor as a moral guide. People can be poor, and still commit evil.
Worse part of this argument? This is again the faulty appeal to emotion that characterizes the politically left-of-center. But it’s laced with an inflammatory statement – that Jesus’ face is that of a Palestinians – designed to provoke an angry response.
It’s difficult to remain calm in the face of offensive, inflammatory statements like these! It’s at points like these where the conversation can turn ugly, devolve and be a poor witness of our behavior as Yeshua’s disciples. The key is to remain focused on the issues and not be sidetracked into an unwinnable, emotional argument about Jesus’ face and which people group it most resembles.
Disconnecting modern Israel from the Scriptures
This argument is one both Christian and Jewish opponents of Israel take. Many such people will inevitably recognize the Scriptures are unmistakably about Israel, and thus, to oppose modern Israel, they must disconnect in their minds the people of Israel and the nation of Israel from their ancient equivalents.
This view is fantasy at best, and leads to anti-Semitism (hatred of Jews) at worst.
Peter wishes to say the modern secular, nuclear power that is the modern State of Israel is in no way connected to Israel of the Scriptures.
Peter’s more extreme allies often will go further and make implications that Jewish people aren’t even Jewish! They’ll argue, as some did at recent Christian religious conference in Israel, that Jews aren’t really Jewish, and in fact are descendants of European Khazars. This has become something of a relgious conspiracy theory common among neo-Nazi racists in the west, and utilized by anyone wishing to discredit Jewish claims to Israel.
Thankfully, Peter didn’t go so far, but only implied the lesser charge that modern Israel is disconnected from the Israel of the Bible.
To make such a claim requires both imagination and ignorance: imagination, to believe that the world’s Jewish population gathering in the same place they were given 3000 years ago, upon which the whole of the Bible is based, are entirely unrelated. Ignorance, to deliberately overlook the thrust of the Jewish and Christians Scriptures which places Israel at the center of God’s plans for humanity, culminating with God reigning as King from Jerusalem (Zech 14, Rev 22).
Acting as an upright disciple of Yeshua in internet arguments
Many internet arguments cannot be won. It’s helpful to acknowledge this when entering internet debates.
Often times we’re drawn into the mudslinging and we act the poor example of who disciples of Jesus ought to be. People peek in and see us fighting and saying nasty things about each other, and they get discouraged, and they think we’re bad people, and what they must think of Yeshua, then, is worse.
Is it possible to engage in an internet argument and remain an upstanding disciple? I think so, but I don’t recommend it for a beginner. It’s very easy to be drawn in and let the conversation devolve. Here’s my whole conversation with Peter today, you be the judge:
Notice how Peter’s inflammatory statements – accusing the poster of being a terrorist, calling support for Israel mere ‘tribal vindication’, saying Jesus has the face of a Palestinian refugee, calling Israel occupier, it’s actions illegal – these were areas where the conversation naturally would devolve.
It takes conscious effort to remain focused on the issue at hand – celebrating Israel – and avoiding taking the flamebait and devolving the conversation into mudslinging and subjective, emotional arguments.
And while not required, it helps to keep things positive. When Peter saw I wouldn’t bite his flamebait, when I wouldn’t respond in anger, he ended the conversation with an insult. I refused to take offense, and let my arguments stand.
I believe I spoke in a way that didn’t shame Yeshua’s name. I spoke in a way that was upstanding for a disciple of Yeshua. I think this approach is a way not to “win” an argument, but rather, take a stand for righteousness without spewing all the venom so common to internet arguments.
What do you think, fine Kineti readers? How do you deal with inflammatory people on the internet like Peter? Do you engage? Or is it futile?