It's Not a Matter of "Criticizing" Israel
Thursday, October 09, 2008
At the center of the mainline Protestant narrative about the Arab-Israeli conflict is a very simple assertion: Israel is in control of and responsible for the hostility directed at it by its adversaries in the Middle East. The story is told in various ways, but ultimately Israel is portrayed as having the ability and the obligation to bring a unilateral end to the Arab-Israeli conflict through a magical combination of concessions, withdrawals and peace offers that will mollify nations, groups and individuals that worked to prevent Israel’s creation in 1948 and have sought its destruction since then.
This narrative, while comforting, denies the fundamental nature of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Israel cannot control the enmity directed at it and the conflict will come to an end when religious and political leaders that govern the nations in the Middle East choose peace and stop supporting groups like Hamas and Hezbollah as they attack Israel. The fact that these leaders have not chosen peace challenges deeply held mainline beliefs about the perfectibility of human nature and the ability of mainline churches to influence events in the Middle East. But the fact remains peace will come to the region when Arab and Muslim leaders in the region choose peace and not a moment before.
To affirm their brittle and distorted peacemaking narrative, activists, leaders and staffers from these churches and their allies in the Middle East have produced materials related to the conflict that downplay Muslim and Arab hostility toward Israel and Jews in the Middle East and have portrayed the Israeli people and their government as psychologically and spiritually unable to make peace with their neighbors. To buttress their portrayal of Jews as a people who cannot be trusted with self-determination, mainline activists, leaders and commentators enlist the help of Israeli and American Jews whose unreasonable denunciations of Israel have gotten very little traction in Israel, but who enjoy substantial support from audiences in Europe and the United States who exhibit a persistent and unnatural appetite for stories of Jews behaving badly. Mainline activists, leaders, and staffers also invoke Christian Zionist support for Israel in a manner that short-circuits honest discussion about the underlying causes and impacts of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
At times, these activists, leaders, commentators and their allies in the Middle East resort to scripture to portray Jewish sovereignty as a violation of the boundaries set for the Jewish people by the New Testament and Israeli use of force as a cosmological affront to the Christian nomos and Israelis as enemies of God.
Mainline materials about the Arab-Israeli distort history, judge Israeli behavior against a utopian standard of conduct while at the same time denying Israel’s adversaries of moral agency. The overall impact of this narrative is to render Arab and Muslim violence as unremarkable and Israeli use of force as the root of the conflict.
The worst part about this narrative is that it is a beast that needs to be fed with stories of Jews behaving badly. And sadly enough, there are all too many people who are willing to feed this beast.
The Gospel is a living-giving narrative. It strengthens us. We feed on it. It does not feed on us. The story we tell about the Arab-Israeli conflict is a lethal and ravenous narrative. It feeds on us. It demonizes Israel, infantilizes the Palestinians and diminishes our ability to confess to the reality of the living God.
"Hear and understand: not what goes into the mouth defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a person." -- Mark 15:10-11