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  • It’s not about “dead Jews” – a response to a friend on Israel and Gaza

Nov
24
It’s not about “dead Jews” – a response to a friend on Israel and Gaza

Yesterday, my good friend Dr. Michael Brown (whom I love and respect greatly!) wrote an article over at Townhall.com entitled “Not Enough Dead Jews” in which he lamented the overall media response to the war in Gaza and urged readers to side with Israel in defending themselves against radical hatred and mindless terrorist violence.

Please go read it before reading my response below.

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Okay, hopefully you read it and felt the weight of Dr. Brown’s arguments.

He seems to be suggesting that if there had been more deaths on the Israeli side of the conflict, people might not be as critical of Israel’s actions against Gaza.

He cites a number of disturbing quotes from Hamas, including their charter, which glorify death in the struggle against Israel. And it’s not just Hamas who speak so vehemently against the Israeli government (as I’ve noted here before, various Palestinian leaders are guilty of horrible, hateful rhetoric which should be openly condemned by anyone sympathetic to the Palestinian plight).

Dr. Brown would have us believe that radical Islam is so all-pervasive among Palestinians, that it is the sole driving force in all opposition to Israel. Even those of us who are not radical Muslims are ignorant of its dangers and are misguided in joining in Palestinian and international criticism of Israel’s heavy-handed responses (or as he puts it “defending” itself “forcefully”) because it enables and encourages the satanic anti-Semitism that is at the root of all opposition to Israel.

But is radical Islam really the driving force behind opposition to Israeli actions?

No. It is not. And this is where my friend Dr. Brown’s overall theological outlook has clouded out a number of important facts.

First and foremost is the fact that if radical Islam were the source of all meaningful opposition to Israel’s actions against the Palestinian people and Gaza in particular, there wouldn’t be such STRONG JEWISH AND ISRAELI opposition to these very things.

In fact, almost as if in prescient response to Dr. Brown’s article–though it was written two days prior–American-Israeli author Emily L. Hauser wrote a poignant piece entitled “Our Deaths Don’t Count For More” which specifically addresses the fact that when it comes to hate-speech and ethnocentric calls for genocide, Hamas and radical Muslims have no monopoly:

As to the terrible things that have been said about Jews and Israel, I could counter with the fact that Israeli Jews have been known, on pretty frequent occasion, to chant such things as “Death to the Arabs” (immediately following the singing of Israel’s national anthem) and “Slaughter the Arabs” (while marching en masse through the Jerusalem’s Muslim Quarter), not to mention calling for all of Gaza to be flattened and/or returned to the Middle Ages. (Such cases tend to be treated as the rantings of bad apples or outliers by most Israeli and Diaspora Jews, whereas the vile hatred spewed toward us is treated as an indelible part of a foreign culture. I might point out that, either way, unlike any Palestinians who might hate me, my country is actually in a position to flatten all of Gaza).

Here’s the thing: After a quarter of a century of living the conflict, studying the conflict, reporting on and writing about the conflict, it has been my impression that everyone on earth knows that Israel and the Israelis suffer from horrible violence, much of it in the form of war crimes (the suicide bombings on which I once reported, for instance, as well as the firing of rockets into Israeli residential areas).

What the world—including far, far too many Israeli and Diaspora Jews—manages to not consider is that allowing the deaths (by intent, indifference, or incompetence) of massive numbers of Palestinian civilians is no more acceptable than Israel’s own suffering, and that blaming “the Palestinians”—as if they were a monolith, each shop-keep, mother, and toddler as culpable as every member of Hamas manning a rocket launcher—is not only not helpful, it is a symptom of the problem that has allowed for decades of wholly illegal collective punishment.

I would recommend that Dr. Brown and others who believe Israel is completely and 100% justified in their actions against Gaza and Palestinians in general take time to read and listen to voices like Emily’s–among the MANY, MANY similar Israeli Jewish voices which are critical of their own government’s actions.

Other than a minority of radical voices, the vast majority of criticism toward Israel’s latest response in Gaza that I am aware of does not exonerate Hamas from guilt or wrongdoing. Dr. Brown’s piece makes the false dichotomy that any criticism of Israel must automatically entail siding with Hamas and violent terrorists. This is, once again, a major exercise in missing the point.

Furthermore, if one is going to totally defend Israel’s actions and label Hamas as the cause of all the Palestinians’ woes…it’s at least worth asking how Hamas rose to power in Gaza to begin with, is it not? One could easily (and correctly) argue that decades of Israeli heavy-handedness and military occupation bear a large measure of responsibility for the Hamas rockets that fly across their borders thanks to the simple (yet often-ignored) concept of “blowback”:

Is it really the case that the world should stand shoulder-to-shoulder in solidarity with the government that has helped bring about so much suffering and injustice among a huge segment of the population without voicing honest and pointed criticism when that government’s actions help pave the way for such tragedy? (Note: I said “helped pave the way”…this needs to be pointed out because I can already hear the reactionary voices saying “Oh, so you’re blaming it all on Israel now?!?” Let’s be quite clear on this point–I am doing no such thing.)

Dr. Brown also emphasizes the IDF Code of Ethics that all Israeli soldiers carry. Given that every Jewish Israeli man and woman are required to serve in the military, the IDF undoubtedly contains some of the best, brightest, noblest and compassionate individuals in the country within its ranks…no question about it.

However, given human nature’s propensity toward sin and evil, it also contains many who do not live up to the ideals it purports to embody. To claim otherwise is naive at best. But comparing the printed code of ethics of the most powerful and well-funded military force in the Middle East to the tactics of terrorist groups within a population of 1.6 million starving, unemployed, blockaded people it surrounds once again misses the point and is almost meaningless–as no sane critic of Israel’s actions is holding up Hamas a a paragon of virtue or calling for them to fire more rockets or blow up more buses in Israel.

In fact, it’s worth noting that some of the strongest voices of criticism toward Israel’s ongoing military occupation of Palestinian territory come from former IDF soldiers who witnessed firsthand a number of incidents that most definitely did not follow any printed code of ethics.

Dr. Brown concludes by pointing out the apparent hypocrisy among groups opposing Israel’s actions:

Even before Israel began its attack on Hamas last week, the student senate at the University of California Irvine (UCI) passed a resolution by a vote of 16-0, accusing Israel of “human rights abuse and institutionalized structural violence against the Palestinian people.” But terrorist groups like Hamas are apparently guilty of no such thing.

If only their rockets and missiles were more accurate. If only more Israelis died. Then Israel wouldn’t be quite so evil in the eyes of the world.

Now aside from the fact that most vocal critics of Israel’s actions are also quite open in their denunciation of acts of violence and/or terrorism by Hamas and other opposition groups (here’s a long list of such–I can’t help but wonder if Dr. Brown is familiar with such groups or with the history of nonviolence-advocacy among Palestinians whenever I hear him discuss this subject), I believe Dr. Brown’s final argument once again misses the point entirely. I say this because I don’t believe most people are upset that there haven’t been as many Jews killed as Palestinians.

I believe most of us grieve at how many people have been killed, period.

As Todd Deatherage, co-founder of Telos Group, stated in a recent piece by Kirsten Powers:

“I strongly support the existence of Israel as a safe and secure homeland for the Jewish people; that is very important,” said Deatherage. “By the same token, I support Palestinian claims to their own state. I support the right of both peoples.”

Yes, Israel has every right to want to keep its citizens safe. Hamas sending rockets into Israeli neighborhoods, and as it did Tuesday, blowing up a bus in Tel Aviv, is intolerable. Israel has a right to a state. It has a right to defend itself. It has a right and reason to fear that people are trying to annihilate it, and the U.S. should stand with Israel against those who seek to destroy it. (Yes, I’m talking about you, Iran.) But evangelicals already know that. They just don’t acknowledge that the Palestinians also have rights.

“What a lot of Christians don’t understand is the importance of realizing both people have legitimate connections to the land,” said Deatherage. “You don’t have to reconcile them; you have to appreciate that both peoples have legitimate desires to live in dignity and peace. A lot of people on both sides want to do that. Both sides have rejectionists who don’t want that. Both sides have read the story to be that the only thing that works is violence; the only thing the other side understands is violence. But there is no military solution to this conflict. This has to be solved through negotiations.”

We need a new paradigm. It is possible to be at once pro-Israel, pro-Palestinian, pro-American, and pro-peace. No matter what people may claim, the game doesn’t have to be zero-sum. Christians are inclined to see everything as a battle between good and evil. This is a familiar place, an easier paradigm to navigate. But even where evil exists—and it does—basic Christian theology says there is no space in this world that can’t be redeemed by God.

I believe my friend Dr. Brown is among those who, in their staunch defense of Israel’s “right to defend itself,” end up refusing to view the facts on the ground through any lens other than a simplistic “good guys vs. bad guys” one.

From the decades under British rule pre-’48, to the occupation of land seized in the aftermath of ’67, to the illegal settlements, endless debilitating checkpoints, and separation wall which doesn’t even follow the “Green Line” of agreed upon borders between Israeli and Palestinian lands, to heavy-handed retaliation resulting in horrendous civilian casualties in Lebanon and Gaza in recent years, apologists for the secular state of Israel like my friend Dr. Brown continue to ignore or downplay any substantial, historic, and tangible guilt on the part of the Israeli government when it comes to Palestinian treatment.

The response is always something along the lines of “Yes, but look at how evil radical Islamic terrorism is! That’s the real issue! If you’d only recognize this as the main cause of all the problems involving the nation of Israel you’d then be on the side of truth–on God’s side!

Such a response does indeed have strong emotional appeal among most evangelicals and pro-Zionists, and is a great way to fire up flag-waving supporters of modern Israel who see Arabs and Palestinians as inherently prone to violence and unable to be reasoned with.

But it’s wrong.

And it does not reflect the Gospel of Jesus, which always puts people above politics.

Always.

Furthermore, it does not reflect the vision of the entire Bible–both Testaments–in which God’s prophets, Messiah, and His Apostles all looked forward to a time when…”The LORD Almighty will bless them, saying, “Blessed be Egypt my people, Assyria my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance.“” (Isa 19:25)  Such radical inclusion by God Himself of hated pagan nations who were once bent on the destruction of Covenant-based Israel, should give us pause if ever we find ourselves advocating military force and retaliatory violence against those who oppose the modern, secular, non-Covenant-based state of Israel.

And lastly, it does not reflect the facts of history or continuing realities on the ground when it comes to things like:

These historical, numerical, and statistical realities seem to get lost or ignored by most staunch defenders of Israel such as my friend Dr. Brown. To them, of such facts are dismissed by an appeal to the horrors of the Holocaust and the historical suffering of the Jewish people.

And to be clear, such horrors CANNOT be ignored.

Nor should they ever be forgotten.

But it is precisely because of such horrors, and the gruesome similarities that the situation in Gaza brings to mind, that even Holocaust survivors (whose voice should carry the most weight among all of us who love the Jewish people!) speak out against the actions of their government toward Palestinians as a whole


The fear of “another Shoah” is used relentlessly by pro-Zionist apologists to discourage any real reflection upon Israel’s destructive and unjust policies–policies which most people would otherwise consider unacceptable were any other nation to engage in. In fact, exploitation of such a collective “trauma mentality” regarding the Palestinian/Israeli history of conflict has been noted in detail by Israeli Jewish author and speaker Avigail Abarbanel, including during the last Gaza incident in 2009.

If we cannot bring ourselves to admit that Israel bears a large measure of guilt over the past 60+ years in how the Palestinians have gotten to the place where they are today, then we will forever perpetuate a cycle of hatred and injustice leading to endless amounts of terrorist blowback. This problem cannot be solved with bombs and bullets.

It’s also is crucial that we try to put ourselves in “the enemy’s shoes” for a stroll down history’s memory lane. And when I was discussing Dr. Brown’s article with a friend of mine he made the following analogy (similar to one I made during the events surrounding Operation Cast Lead a few years ago) to which we would all do well to give serious, prayerful consideration:

“The paradigm Brown and others like him operate from is based on the assumption that there is a national equivalency between Gaza and Israel, instead of what there actually is – the Gazans are wholly dependent on Israel who closes their borders at will (which they control absolutely apart from a few tunnels into Egypt). . . .The sheer humiliation of the situation is something none of us can even begin to understand, although sometimes it helps to try. I imagine that the UN determined that NW Iowa actually belongs to Canadians whose ancestors held the land sacred 2,000 years ago. They and all the other powers in the world force the farmers to relinquish their land to the Canadians, who proceed to take more land. My “folk” are now living in refugee camps in South Dakota where their every movement in monitored to make sure they don’t engage in acts of violence against those who have taken their land. I try to imagine this has been the case for sixty years now, which means that a whole generation of children have grown up knowing that they are considered “terrorist” even though they are the ones who have been wronged. The few times they’ve been able to raise up in revolt, they have been beat back – hundreds killed, homes destroyed, the little infrastructure they were able to build up systematically devastated. This isn’t actually too far off the mark. So now Mr. Brown comes along and wants us to join the chorus of those who are blaming victims . . .”

To claim that one must unequivocally stand with Israel as helpless victims surrounded by bloodthirsty radical Islamic Arab nations who hate them for nothing more than the fact that they are Jewish is to twist actual history beyond all recognition.

Likewise, to claim that Palestinian terrorist groups like Hamas should be vindicated in their stupid, evil, and violent tactics because their people have suffered under Israeli occupation and injustice for decades is equally unacceptable. Call them “freedom fighters” all you want, but anyone who kills innocent men, women and children (whether through suicide bombs, low-tech unguided rockets, or billion dollar fighter jets) is siding with evil. Period.

Finally, in addition to understanding the perspective of those “on the other side of the wall”, we must stop baptizing nationalistic, political, military actions with Biblical language. The rhetoric of one modern, secular state being “on God’s side” must end.

JESUS, THE MESSIAH OF ISRAEL, WAVES NO FLAG.

As Munther Isaac of Bethlehem Bible College put it:

By claiming God on our side, we demonize the other. “God is for us” means that “God is against them”. This is reflected in the many nasty and often racist comments that we see in the social media. The comments by some Palestinians and Israelis (and some Christians) on the news are terrifying! In some comments, Jews are called “pigs and monkeys” and in others there are calls to utterly destroy Gaza and kill the “Arabs”.
In addition, by giving the war a religious narrative, it no longer is a conflict over land. Justice is no longer the real issue. Occupation is no longer the problem. The removal of the unjust siege on Gaza is no longer the goal. Instead, people are driven by hate and a religious, and often exclusive, cause.
So does God take sides? I believe he does. I believe that God is weeping over the death of innocent people on both sides. He is with the oppressed and needy. He is against the violence of both sides.
He blesses the peacemakers, and will give the land to the meek – regardless of their ethnicity or nationality.

I could not agree more.

In fact, this is brought home powerfully to me whenever I teach on the book of Revelation. Near the beginning of John’s vision, Jesus is described as “the Lion of Judah”–a strong, mighty, military figure (Rev. 5:5). But when John actually turns to look at this “lion”, he sees instead “one like a slaughtered Lamb” (Rev. 5:6)!

And for the rest of the book, Jesus is never again referred to as a Lion…only as a Lamb! (In case you’re curious, the count is: Lion – once; Lamb – 30 times.)

To me this speaks volumes about God’s view of human military might and power. In our zeal to stand with a particular nation or people group, do we seek to roar like a lion…

…or face evil in a way that reflects the Lamb?

May we reject one-sided calls to perpetuate violence and bloodshed.

May we refuse to stereotype and demonize those we see as enemies.

May we reject overly-simplistic and historically inaccurate narratives which put all the blame on one people group over another.

And may we work tirelessly and diligently to bring about earthly peace, even while we realize that true, lasting, eternal peace will only come about when our Lord returns to set things right once and for all.

Blessings from the Dojo,

JM
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PS: Dr. Brown and I have been discussing this issue for over a year now and while we continue to disagree over it, we stand together as brothers and followers of the Messiah. As I’ve stated in my latest book, our views held in common FAR outweigh our differences on this particular issue and this response to his article is offered as a constructive and dialogue-building critique of a friend whose work I deeply respect. Dr. Brown has extended an invitation for me to appear with him on his radio program “The Line of Fire” to debate this issue candidly and cordially (but without either of us feeling the need to pull punches!), and I am looking forward to doing so.
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  1. […] After the most recent conflict in Gaza, Dr. Brown wrote an article which I responded to here in the Dojo. […]

    Pingback by Disciple Dojo – JMSmith.org » Debating a world famous scholar on Israel on January 9, 2013 at 8:33 pm

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