Response

07.18.12

Christian Zionism: An Extended Reality Check

In my piece Christian Zionism: An Overdue Reality Check, I addressed the two most prevalent myths which surround the issue of Christian support for Israel.  The first myth is that Christians support Israel to speed the second coming of Jesus and Armageddon.  The second is that Christian friends of Israel focus on an extreme agenda–building settlements and opposing peace talks–as opposed to Jewish friends who tend to support Israel’s democratically elected governments.  

In his response to my piece, Matt Duss references these myths, but doesn’t seek to revive them.  Thus I take some satisfaction in his apparent agreement that these unfair stereotypes should be avoided.  But then Duss proceeds to raise additional myths about Christian support for Israel that I was unable to address in my first effort.  It’s a nice try.  But these stereotypes are no more true than their more popular cousins.

The caricature at the heart of Duss’ argument is that Christian supporters of Israel have their noses so deep in their Bibles that they cannot see current realities – namely the existence and suffering of the Palestinians.  He notes that my op-ed was typical of Christian discourse on the Arab-Israeli conflict in that, “the Palestinians went unmentioned.  They were invisible.” 

Duss is correct.  I didn’t address the Palestinians in my op-ed.  But this isn’t because I don’t see them or sympathize with them.  The reason is far more mundane.  I didn’t mention the Palestinians because I was asked to keep my piece close to 750 words.  The Palestinians simply don’t feature in the two most prevalent anti-Christian fantasies I set out to debunk. 

In his response, Duss doesn’t address the plight of the Jews from Arab lands or Israeli victims of terror.  Does his failure to mention these victims mean that Duss turns a blind eye to Jewish suffering?  I would never make such a sweeping assertion on the basis of so small a sampling of his opinion.   

Duss clearly believes that when it comes to the Arab-Israeli conflict, the only moral position is to blame Israel for the absence of peace.  Thus, to him, those of us who don’t blame Israel first must be blinded by God or the Bible or hate.  His oversimplification of the conflict demands that he delegitimize the views of those who dissent from his simplistic narrative.  The reality, of course, is far more complex. 

Since Duss seeks to caricature my approach to the conflict, it’s worth addressing what my views actually are.  The fact is that I, like most Israelis at the time, was a strong believer in aggressively pursuing a two-state solution.  When Ehud Barak pursued an agreement with Arafat, I applauded.  But when Arafat responded to this unprecedented offer–and yes, it was unprecedented–by competing with Hamas to see who could kill more Israeli civilians, I along with most Israelis learned a lesson. 

When the 2005 Gaza withdrawal resulted not in a more peaceful border but in more Hamas rockets being fired into Israel, I along with most Israelis learned a lesson.  When Mahmoud Abbas rejected Ehud Olmert’s even more generous peace offer in 2008–Abbas’ recent attempts to rewrite history notwithstanding–I and most Israelis learned a lesson. 

If Duss wants to criticize me and most Israelis for demanding that Israeli security be safeguarded in any peace deal, then he can and should make his argument on the merits.  But can we please get past the ugly stereotypes? 

Next, Duss mentions what he seems to believe is an expert authority–60 Minutes–for the dubious proposition that Palestinian Christian suffering is primarily Israel’s fault.  Well, I agree with Duss on the effect–Palestinian Christians are suffering.  So are Palestinian Muslims, by the way.  But I must disagree with him when it comes to the cause of their suffering.

The fact is that the most of the Middle East’s ancient Christian communities–from the Copts in Egypt to the Chaldeans in Iraq to Christians of Syria and the West Bank–are collapsing.  There is a common source for all of this Christian suffering, and it’s not Israel.  The real threat–the only one present in all of these places–is militant Islam.  The people who are bombing churches and shooting at Christians on their way to prayer don’t wear Israeli uniforms.  

It’s certainly true that the steps Israel has been forced to take to protect her citizens–Arabs and Jews alike–from Palestinian suicide bombers have caused difficulties and inconvenience for innocent Israelis and Palestinians alike.  But to blame Israel for having to take these steps is absurd.  The fact is that all of these innocents are the indirect victims of militant Islam.  The diameter of the suicide bomb is wide indeed. 

Peace will come to the Middle East when all sides seek to listen to–rather than blow up–those with whom they disagree.  The path to this tolerance comes from abandoning stereotypes–not spreading them.  The day we stop speaking in absolutes about “all” Christians, Muslims or Jews and start speaking more accurately in terms of “some” Christians, Muslims or Jews will be the day we take a small step forward.