King's Evangelical Divinity School

4 June 2010

Israel right or wrong vs Israel is always wrong

The truth about the flotilla is slowly coming out. The Independent details how an Al-Jazeera reporter acknowledges an initial small group of Israeli soldiers lowered to the boat were overcome and beaten, while Haaretz reports fears of three unconscious soldiers being taken hostage (the Al-Jazeera reporter details four captured Israeli soldiers). Given Israel's sensitivity about its soldiers being taken hostage (Gilad Shalit was abducted by Hamas four years ago and remains a hostage, while Hizbollah's abductions of Israeli soldiers led to the 2006 Lebanon war), this undoubtedly contributed to a second wave of Israeli soldiers boarding the ship who were apparently far more brutal in putting down the riot. We now have confirmation several of those on board were provocateurs, with family members back in Turkey acknowledging they sought martyrdom. We've seen the slingshots, complete with Islamist slogans and ball bearings, as well as other weapons. We've seen the videos of soldiers being beaten, too, though apparently the journalists who filmed them have complained Israel released the footage without their permission. Elsewhere, the Guardian reports on how Hamas has refused the flotilla aid which their propaganda machine had maintained was essential for the survival of the people of Gaza. Indeed, on the BBC Radio 4's The World Tonight the other day an Arab member of the Israeli Knesset openly stated the flotilla was not about aid, but rather making a political statement. Meanwhile, another ship is making its way to Gaza, also on a publicity mission and adamant it will not stop. Its cargo? Cement. Lest anyone think I've fallen for the Israeli propaganda machine, the media sources cited above are generally on the left and tend to be the most critical of Israel.

It all comes too late, of course. It always does. Israel has already been tried and sentenced in the court of public opinion before some of the facts even had chance to emerge. Time again Israel responds to provocations no other country would tolerate (imagine, say, Syria's reaction to settlers on the Golan firing some eight thousand rockets over the border). The problem is, Israel sometimes acts stupidly, as it did earlier this week. After all, the Hamas propaganda strategy and manipulation of the media is pretty slick and it was clear the flotilla offered a chance for valuable media coverage, which is probably why Israel sent in troops with paintball guns. But as we know it all went dreadfully wrong with tragic consequences.

What is galling is the instant demonisation of Israel by an hysterical media lynch mob whenever she is involved in confrontation. Whether her actions are clearly justified or else Israel acts foolishly (and make no mistake, her gung-ho military doctrine is sometimes a cause for concern), there is an immediate assumption within the Arab world that Israel is out to engage in deliberate murder. Elsewhere, Israel is instantly judged in the court of public opinion, while there is a notable absence of scrutiny of the other side. By the time the facts come out demonstrating Israel is not the demon everyone jumps to assume, it's too late. The damage is done, and the evil Israeli monster narrative is reinforced (which is precisely what the likes of Hizbollah, Iran and Hamas all want, while us poor Western saps dance to their tune).

Earlier this week a blog reader responded to my flotilla post by asking what outrage must Israel commit before I scream, "no, enough". My answer, I think, is that for many Christians the instant demonisation of Israel before the full facts have come to light, the same old anti-Israel propaganda and hysteria, the blatant ignoring of the wickedness perpetrated by Israel's enemies, the West's hypocritical demonisation of the only democracy in the Middle East (however imperfect it is), siding with Islamists and countries such as Iran, and (dare I say it) in some cases blatant anti-Semitism, all make it somewhat difficult for some Christians to join in the instant universal chorus of condemnation of Israel which is so ideologically-based and in many cases hatred-driven.

I'm no ultra-Christian Zionist who takes an "Israel right or wrong" position, and I do try (perhaps not always successfully) to be objective, seeking to point out when Israel when does wrong. But like millions of Christians who eschew supercessionism on the basis of Romans 9-11, I strongly believe God retains a plan and purpose for the Jewish people. When, then, a nation four-fifths of which is Jewish is immediately pilloried and demonised by those unwilling even for a second to consider that there may be another side to the story, it makes it very difficult to join in that condemnation until the full facts are known. After all, while an "Israel right or wrong" position is untenable, an "Israel is always wrong" position is equally unChristian. 

Sadly, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu was right when he recently observed that the world is against Israel. As for me, despite the sin in the land, the need for the Jewish people too accept Yeshua HaMashiach, the Jewish Messiah, however unpopular it is and however much people criticise me for it, I would much prefer to be a friend of God's historical people and take the time to establish the truth rather than be on that side which instantly demonises them no matter what.


Andrew Sibley said...

Hi Calvin - I agree with you that some on the aid convoy weren't as peaceful as many claim. There were Turkish agenturs on the ship looking for martyrdom. The purpose was partly publicity for Hamas against the blockade of Gaza. But still Israel attacked with great force in international waters, and the blockade of Gaza is causing great hardship in the strip and the severity of it is uncessary to maintain security for Jews, in fact it is very damaging to Israeli security. Gaza needs cement to rebuild homes etc following the 2009 bombing. Israel is refusing to allow in the cement after promising to send all the aid in if it landed is Ashdod. Hamas is refusing to accept only part of it.

Arab nations are hypocritical. Egypt does not need to have closed borders with Gaza, the Muslim nations could treat Palestinians in exile with greater kindness giving permanent residency. Muslims have for too long seen the Middle East as their rightful property and often denied Christians human rights or treated them as second class citizens - as does the Jewish authorities at times.

The truth is there are agenturs on both sides pushing for war by stirring up trouble and refusing to pursue peace. I think deep down many Jews in Israel are very afraid and think the only way forward is to rely on force of arms, and many of the Palestinians are brutalised towards extremism and terrorism and see no other way than violence.

There is a need for much prayer, and work towards peace and reconciliation for both sides, but I fear we may see a very damaging war that may see the State of Israel overrun. The headlines from the UK press suggest Lebanon, Syria and Iran are amassing weapons, North Korea has even been supplying nuclear weapon technology to Iran.

While the UK press may put recent events into perspective I don't think that will happen in Muslim lands where history is remembered for a long time.

Philip said...

Since you answered my question, let me answer yours. I will condemn all violence perpetrated by those who purport to back Palestinians, whether it's rockets, suicide bombs, throwing rocks at soldiers and the like. On many occasions I understand to some extent why people are driven in desperation to these things. On other occasions I can't. But in both cases I think they are wrong.

Honestly, though, I think you would do yourself more credit if you were to say, 'I agree that this action by Israel was wrong, but I wish people would be more careful in their language and tone,
or something to that effect.

Please correct me if I'm wrong, but you say you eschew an 'Israel right or wrong' approach, but I can't remember an occasion on which you have criticised Israel on something like this.

Calvin L. Smith said...

Philip, this from 2006: (scroll down to question 9).

There are various other instances, including papers, while speaking at churches, etc.

I look forward to your retraction.

Chris said...

Dear Calvin, thank for trying to steer a balanced debate on a very complex issue, I for one appreciate your efforts, though I don't agree with every thing, on the whole I can see you are trying to be as fair as possible in a vast sea of complexities. I believe in Israel's right to defend itself, and there is a propaganda war going on to delegitimise Israel's very existence. We need all the weapons at our disposal to counter that attack, ( the weapons of our warfare are not carnal etc....) By a right understanding of Holy Scripture will we be on solid ground. best regards - Chris.

Philip said...

I don't want to be difficult, but the link you sent read more to me like an expression of regret over the death of a young Lebanese boy.

Or were you criticising the Israelis for bombing Qana.

Perhaps I'm being a bit slow, but I would only have described that as a criticism of an Israeli action in the most abstract of terms.

Calvin L. Smith said...

Chris, thanks for your comment.

Philip, it seems nothing short of a knee-jerk reaction demonising Israel will satisfy you. This is precisely why so many pro-Israel Christians polarise the other way. Disappointing yet again.

Philip said...

Well, there are two things here.

First, the flotilla attack. You may believe Israel did no wrong in this case, and that's your right. And I dare say it's sensible to wait until the full facts come out about it so that the inconsistencies can be ironed out. Though I would note that many of those inconsistencies come from the press office of the Israeli army. But still, leaving that to one side.

The second is about condemning Israeli actions in general when they deserve them. I suggested that I hadn't read you doing so. I fully acknowledge that I have not trawled through all your writings nor listened to all your talks, so I was quite prepared to be corrected. But please help me to understand what it was exactly that you were criticising in that link. It honestly didn't read to me like a criticism of any concrete event.

Andrew Sibley said...

I don't wish to escalate the above disagreement between Philip and Calvin, but from my own past experience of Christian Zionism there does seem to be a very strong emotional attachment to the State of Israel that makes Christians feel very protective towards it.

Now half way to the otherside, it is noticeble that critics of the State of Israel can also react emotionally instead of entirely rationally against the State of Israel. Anti-semitism has historically been very real and can easily be whipped up unintentionally so we do need to be careful in our conduct.

Furthermore, both pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian sides engage in political spin to engender support for or against Israel. It is very hard sorting truth from fiction sometimes, but we do need to take care to judge fairly and rightly so that we can work towards peace, justice and reconciliation. There is a lot of pressure to take sides strongly for or against in this question.

On the question of support for the State of Israel by Christian's on both sides it would be good to see a little more trust in God's sovereignty over future events, and allow room for God to judge and intervene. In that light there may be good reasons for God to have removed Palestinians, including Palestinian Christians from the land that we are unaware of; but equally God is perfectly able to defend the State of Israel if he so chooses without our support. As Paul said God chooses where men and women live according to his sovereign choice, for whatever purpose.

So what I am suggesting is that we might do well to disengage from the strong emotional attachment to one side or the other and trust in God to act rightly; and to work within our Christian calling to be peacemakers and so make disciples of all nations.

Calvin L. Smith said...

Philip, the comment critical of the way Israel waged a war that severely affected civilians. Can't you see that? Or is your dislike of Israel such it wasn't worded strongly enough? Or perhaps you object to me juxtaposing Israel's failures in this regard with Hizbollah and Hama using civilians as shields?

Andrew, you make several useful points but others which I want to respond to properly. I'm away but will respond in a day or two.

Philip said...

Whether it's strongly worded or not isn't really my concern. My reading the comment was that it criticised being casual with civilian lives in abstract terms. But I couldn't identify which particular events, if any, you were saying fell into this category. Was it the whole war? Was it Israel's way of waging war in general? Or was it the Qana incident specifically? Or was it just a point of principle that Israel has not actually breached in practice? (To check that I'm not going mad, I also asked a friend to take a look at it, and he came to the same conclusion.)

Something like: 'Avoiding civilian casualties in war is a moral imperative, and unfortunately in incident x, Israel crossed this line,' would be much clearer.

It's true that the way you put that whole article together, and the extensive use of caveats, does make it harder to pick out the criticisms, but this is not an issue of principle for me.

As to whether I 'dislike' Israel, let's keep the discussion in the realms of the sensible.

Calvin L. Smith said...

Philip, it was a criticism of how Israel waged war in Lebanon and harmed civilians, epitomised by the Qana incident. But this is becoming rather tiresome. If you wish to believe I'm uncritical of Israel (unless worded according to the formula you provide), that's fine.

Unsure what you meant in your last sentence. What is not sensible?

Calvin L. Smith said...

Andrew, at the risk of sounding condescending (most assuredly not my intention) I think your comment above is one of your most constructive. I especially appreciated paragraphs 4 and 5. God is in control and it matters little what political lobbying we do (whether pro-Israel or not). I have maintained this for some time.

I also agree the need to be less emotional about all this, though I think we must take care not to be unrealistic about expecting people to ditch sincere theological conclusions they have reached carefully over many years (I am referring to serious theological reflection, not knee-jerk or polemical reactions). I can no more ditch my view God retains a future plan and calling for Israel (ie the Jewish people) as you can that Israel sometimes acts unjustly and Palestinian Christians have suffered terribly (both of which, by the way, I agree with fully).

So how do we proceed? I think as long as people genuinely love God, seek to uphold biblical truth and can be honest with each other without resorting to polemics and point-scoring, this is an important staring point for moving this debate forward constructively. We’ve discussed several times meeting to chat through some of the issues. Perhaps now it’s time to explore this more seriously.

djd said...

As far as it being a good starting point; determining common ground is essential. Genuinely loving God and seeking to uphold biblical truth is all very well but ultimately, what I think is being 'debated' is God's character. What do we know of Him? What are our experiences of Him? What does the Word say of Him? What does the Son say about His Father? Surely if we share in the common ground of knowing God, we will share in the understanding He has of the situation. With our combined knowledge of God we should be able to know and describe His perspective. At the moment it appears that there is a conflict over the knowledge of who God is. Sharing in a relationship with the same God should result in sharing an identical image of who He is and sharing in His perspective. Rather than determine the moral implications to every action of others (who are not under our control and who do not always share in a relationship with the same God as ourselves), let us determine to submit ourselves to His character. We love to debate whether actions are right or wrong even when the actions are only theoretical. Recently I've been questioning my future responses toward the tribulation (I belong to a small fragile consensus of 'No Rapture' currently). These queries came about after watching the movie Defiance. Theoretically when the time comes am I going to; 1. Roll over without resistance to the villainous henchmen of the Antichrist and be murdered. 2. Run away and hide. 3. Run away and hide with a gun while shooting people. Quite a conundrum. Thankfully after watching Defiance I read a book called Son of Hamas by Mosab Hassan Yousef and it appears that during my chubby swagger through a pampered journey, I had momentarily forgotten that God not only exists, but also has a loving interest in us. Listen to this powerful statement from his book "As long as we continue to search for enemies anywhere but inside ourselves, there will always be a Middle East problem." Amen to that!

At times it's like we are standing on the sideline squabbling and shouting at the players of a game or even at the referee "He's off side! He punched him! Are you blind?!".

We all know that the ref is Yeshua, so why don't we trust in His character and authority?

If we did, we may appreciate His wisdom and share in His understanding.

Calvin, I do agree however that there is no need to go to a resort with each other and enter a point-scoring pole-dancing competition.