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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Conversing With CUFI In D.C.

From July 15 to July 17, I spent my time handing out Christian articles on Israel to those attending the Christians United For Israel (CUFI) conference at the Convention Center in Washington, D.C. The articles I distributed consisted of An Open Letter To Evangelicals And Other Interested Parties: The People of God, the Land of Israel, and the Impartiality of the Gospel (Open Letter), Are All Wars Gang Wars (All Wars which can also be found on this blog here), Are Palestinians The Victims Of Anti-Semitism? (Are Palestinians), and Redeeming The Promised Land (Redeeming). The first 3 articles were written by Christians, two of them by myself, while the last article was written by a good friend who is Jewish. In addition, you can read a review of the last article here. I met my goal in terms of how many handouts I gave out as well as I engaged in several very educating discussions.

For those not familiar with CUFI, it is a Christian organization run by televangelist and megachurch minister, John Hagee, that promotes a Christian Zionist point of view. Christian Zionists are Christians who support Israel as being a Jewish state. Generally speaking, those in CUFI give blanket support to Israeli policies towards the Palestinians.  There are exceptions, however. One person I spoke to objected to Israel giving back the settlement portion of Gaza.

My experience in both distributing the handouts and participating in conversations confirmed that, like most other groups, CUFI is not a monolith. There were people who were genuinely interested in the articles and what I was saying, there were those who took handouts to prove to themselves that they were openminded and would read "anything," there were those who were not interested in taking handouts or in discussing the subject, and there were those who showed hostility by calling me names or, as one lady proudly did, took a handout in order to rip it up in front of me.

Except for a young woman, who reminded me of my daughter because she appeared to enjoy rational discussion, the discussions were troubling. Why? It was because most would so self-assuredly give me false information that served as the grounds for their beliefs. Beliefs such as there were no Palestinians until the Jews arrived, the Jewish National Fund (JNF) bought the land from the Ottoman Empire, and that every time that the Bible mentions Israel, it means both the people and the land together. In addition, some said that the land belonged to the Jews because the Jews had simply lent the land or had it taken away from them. To be precise, the Jews were taken away from the land by the Romans and so the question becomes why make the Palestinians pay such a heavy price for what the Romans did. In addition, the Jews were not the first inhabitants of Palestine.

To answer a couple of the above statements, one only needs to go to Jewish sources. In fact, because of anti-Arab prejudice, Jewish sources are the only ones that are acceptable to some. The population of Palestine at the beginning of Modern Zionism was approximately 475,000 with 400,000 being Muslim and there were over 40,000 Christians. There were Jewish residents some of whom were citizens of the Ottoman Empire. This is all according to conservative Israeli historian, Benny Morris. As for the purchase of the land, much of it was bought from Arab farmers, some of whom were absentee landlords, according to Tom Segev's One Palestine Complete. Some of that land was lived on by tenant farmers who were then evicted, sometimes violently. And the fact that purchases made by the JNF took place long after the beginning of the British Mandate prove that the seller was not the Ottoman Empire. We should also note that the JNF sold the land it purchased to Jews only. Some take that for granted, and so it means nothing. I cannot react the same way since I grew up in a Philadelphia suburb where it was illegal to sell one's hous to a non-caucasion.

Finally, one only needs to read Romans 9-11 as well as Galations 3-5 to understand that what is bound with the people of Israel in the New Testament is ancestry, not the land. We will deal with those scriptures later. In fact, the only time that any of the epistles make such an association is when they refer to the past. Most of those instances are in the Gospels but even they do not always associate the people of Israel with the land.

But a more disturbing part of the discussions was the varying degrees of racism against Arabs and Muslims which was expressed. Not all prejudicial statements were made by hateful people. In fact, most people who made mildly racist statements did so because of their favoritism toward Jews rather than out of animosity against Arabs. Some commented that the Jews deserved the land more than the Palestinians because they were far more productive. Almost all stated that the Jews deserved the land because God gave it to them. However, there was one person who regarded the Palestinians as animals and who was in favor of the IDF shooting Palestinian women and children. Please note that this person's view was an extreme exception.

Of the people I talked to, a few stated that the Jews had a superior character to the Palestinians. The reason? Palestinians, and other Arabs, resort to terrorism while, like America, Jews do not--an assertion not supported by history. Here, group loyalty blinded these people from the faults of their chosen idols. So the fact that some early Zionists wanted to ethnically cleanse the land of Arabs or that the IDF shoots at Palestinian women and children could easily be explained away. What these people were not aware of was that Jewish terrorists attacked both the British and Arab Palestinians. Of course, Israel was not their only hero. As I was explaining how the 9-11 atrocities were preceded by our government imposed sanctions on Iraq that killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children, the person responded by saying sanctions are diplomatic attempts and that the deaths of the children were due to Saddam Hussein's non-cooperation rather than the sanctions. Even past officials from the Clinton Administration do not believe that. So what I was dealing with here was the failed attempts by people to resolve the dissonance caused by sins committed by their idols.

Again, when I spoke to people about the desire of some, not all, early Zionists to ethnically cleanse the land of Palestinians, many became apologists. They defended this aspiration with two reasons. First, they cited the persecution that the Jews had received in Europe. Second, they claimed that Arabs hated Jews and so removing Arabs was a necessity. History does not support their reasoning with regards to Arab hatred being to the extent that they must be removed. The old settlement Jews (Yeshuiv) were preyed upon by Bedhouin raiders, who were equal opportunity robbers, but they were not a reflection of all Arabs in the region. Yes, there was some Moslem animosity against Jews as Jews were treated as second class citizens. But that problem was being addressed by the Ottoman Empire. Here, the culprit seemed to be widespread tribalism  and, according to Morris, xenophobia, traits that were universal then almost as much as they are now.

One problem with saying that one group deserved to rule the area over the other is that both Palestinian Arabs and Zionist Jews mirrored each other to a significant extent. Both looked at Palestine, particularly Jerusalem, as a holy place in which to live and to defend. Both had been oppressed for centuries and were looking to nationalism as their relief. And if supporters of Zionist Jews say that it is understandable for Jews to ethnically cleanse the land of Arabs to feel secure, then why should we be surprised that perceptive Arabs would feel and act defensively when their homeland is being invaded by Europeans?

The traits that caused friction between the two groups were shared and not just by them but by most of the world. European empires subjugated people from Asia and Africa in order to exploit them for profit. In America, the land was being ethnically cleansed of its indigenous population and its Black population was sorely oppressed as well as Black labor was being exploited through the prison system. America also began to acquire colonies, such as the Philippines, because the American government did not think that people of color were capable of governing themselves and there was profit to be found.

But what needs to be said concerning Jews and Arabs is just because an action is understandable does not imply it is justifiable. Many, but not all, Jews and Arabs have treated each other horribly throughout the period of Modern Zionism. Fear or opportunism justified initial attacks by both groups while vengeance, whose alias was self-defense, justified retaliation. In reality, animosity fueled attacks can never be vindicated except in the eye of the actor. Israel was granted nationhood with questionable borders because of the population distribution and then there was ethnic cleansing by Israel and rebellion by Palestinians who see no reason why Europeans should be given their land. After that there is the attempted five nation Arab invasion and then one war and attempted domination follows another. Since that initial attempted invasion, Israel has initiated violence the majority of times and they did so because they could but there was a context. And there were times when the Arabs attacked first as well. So Christians must ask themselves why they must take sides when some in each group want to dominate the other while there are many Jews and Arabs who embrace tolerance and abhor what is being done in their respective names.

This brings us to the promises of God to Israel regarding the land. Those who share CUFI's theology regarding Israel do so because of their understanding of eschatology (study of the end times). They adhere to the Dispensational School of eschatology. They pride themselves on not compromising God's Word by interpreting the Bible as literally as possible. Thus, when God promises that the land will be given to Abraham and his descendants forever, they believe that it is their duty to help Israel reclaim it and sometimes they believe this regardless of the moral price Israel must pay in their treatment of the Palestinians.

The problem for Dispensationalists is that they have failed to recognize that they cannot literally interpret the New Testament in the same way as they interpret the Old Testament and keep their particular eschatological beliefs when it pertains to the promises made to Abraham. The promise to Abraham was that his descendants would forever inherit the land that was specified in the Old Testament provided they were circumcised. But to Paul, the true Jew is one who has received an inner circumcision of the heart rather than an outer circumcision of the flesh (Romans 2:28-29). Likewise, the true descendants of Abraham who are of the true Israel are the children of the promise rather than the children of the flesh (Romans 9:6-8). A parallel to this reasoning is Paul's distinction between the true descendants of Abraham who believe in the Gospel vs. those who rely on works (Galations 3:6-10, 19).

Dispensationalists, like those from CUFI, would call the above "Replacement Theology," but such is a misnomer. This is because when Paul talks about the role of the Church, he is not talking about the Church replacing Israel. Rather, he is talking about the Church being the union of believing Gentiles and believing Jews (Israel) who, together, as one body, become the heirs to the promises made to Abraham (Romans 11:11-24; Galations 3:-26-29). And if we, both believing Jews and Gentiles, will inherit the promises made to Abraham, then those promises made to Abraham will come to us sooner or later and we will receive them through faith rather than by force.

Dispensationalists, like those from CUFI, would protest quoting Paul as saying that God has not given up on Israel (Romans 11:1-4). But there, Paul proves that God has not given up on Israel by showing that a remnant of Israel has maintained faith--for Paul, it was faith in Christ, during Elijah's time, it was not bowing the knee to Baal. It is a remnant that proves Paul's point here, not the whole nation. Again, Dispensationalists, like those from CUFI, will then quote Paul saying that the "gifts and promises of God are irrevocable" (Romans 11:26). But Paul says nothing about the land here. Rather, the Jews are loved because of the fathers, that is those who were the Children of the Promise. And they are, according to Paul, brought back to God's mercy by believing in Christ rather than retaking the land.

As stated before, one cannot consistently apply the same degree of literal interpretation to the New Testament as Dispensationalists do to the Old Testament and be consistent. That is because both the promises made to Abraham are now interpreted by the work of Christ and God's calling is no longer limited to the physical descendants of Abraham only. And we might also add that the Promised Land is a land that has expanded to include the new Earth that comes with the new Heaven (Revelation 21:1-2).

But something else must be said about CUFI and other Christian "supporters" of Israel. What CUFI wants Christians and Jews to do is to further the world's pandemic of tribalism--what can be called a gang mentality in America. Tribalism does not recognize absolute values. Rather, what is right and wrong here is determined by who does what to whom. CUFI, and other Dispensational Christians encourage Israel to go beyond self-defense to blatant immoral violence and theft. Rather than sacrificing liberty for security, CUFI and others tell Israel that it must sacrifice morality for security. The end result is a forever king of the hill battle in a world where proliferation is inevitable. This gang war allows for past wrongs to sow the present seeds of hatred leading to a future harvest of atrocities. Such will only cause Israel's demise as it has the brought the demise of all others who have played this game. If CUFI really wants to help Israel, then it will challenge Israel to balance self-defense with morals. And we must also apply the same warning to those who attack Israel as well as to ourselves for our polices.

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