A couple of days before Rosh Hashanah, I attended a Christian conference on the Middle East, which included some talks defending Israel’s right to the land, based on biblical prophecy. One speaker pointed out that the land promises to Abraham were passed on to Isaac, not to Ishmael “who was the son of unbelief.” Now, he was citing Rav Shaul’s midrash in Gal. 5:21–31 and I’d certainly heard of Ishmael described in that way before, but that day it struck me in a whole new—and negative—way. I’d spent a couple of hours that morning getting to know an Arab Christian pastor serving in Jerusalem and Bethlehem, who was also speaking at the conference, and we’d hit it off well. He had been introduced to me by a very close mutual friend as a good man and brother in Yeshua, and that’s how he struck me on our first meeting. I’d also run into another Arab Christian friend at the conference and it was great to see him as well. So, when this prominent theologian described their ancestor Ishmael as “the son of unbelief,” I don’t know how it hit them, but it was jolting to me.
Of course the theologian was citing Scripture, and there’s doubtless a contrast between Isaac and Ishmael. But is this the only way to portray Ishmael? The same passage he cited also says, “Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds toJerusalemwhich now is, and is in bondage with her children” (Gal 5:25); not a real pro-Jewish comment either. The point of Rav Shaul’s midrash stands, but you don’t want to apply his rhetoric here in Galatians across the board. And rhetoric is all-important when you're dealing with fellow human beings, especially where tensions prevail.
A couple of days after the conference, on the first day of Rosh Hashanah, we read the story of the casting out of Hagar and her son Ishmael (Gen. 21), which parallels in several ways the story we read on the second day of Rosh Hashanah, the binding of Isaac (Gen. 22). Genesis provides us with a much fuller portrayal of Ishmael, which can feed a more hopeful perspective on the conflict between Jews and Arabs.
When Ishmael is cast out with his mother, he’s already received his name meaning “God hears” from Hashem himself, (Gen. 16:11; cf. 21:17), along with a blessing: “Behold, I have blessed [Ishmael], and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly. He shall beget twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation” (Gen. 17:20). He’s not the uniquely chosen one, but he’s not a reject either. The story of Ishmael’s expulsion from the camp of Abraham has numerous parallels to the story of the binding of Isaac in the following chapter (you can re-read both to see how many you can find), implying that both sons are part of a larger purpose of blessing, even though both have different roles within that purpose. Genesis includes Ishmael in its listing of toledot or generations—a dominant theme of the whole book—which reveals that Ishmael, and like Isaac, is the ancestor of twelve great tribes.
So, what’s the point of all this? First, a clarification. I’m speaking of Ishmael as the father of the Arab nations, which doesn’t necessarily imply anything about Islam. Islam originated among the Arabs, and most Arabs to this day are Muslim—but not all. There’s an ancient Arab Christian community throughout the Middle East, including the land of Israel, and there’s a tiny and much more recent Arab Evangelical community in the same lands. But Christian or Muslim, very few of Ishmael’s descendants have a warm spot in their heart for Israel. And that leads to two points.
First, as followers of Messiah Yeshua, we need to bring hope and light into this world. There aren’t too many situations that appear more hopeless, especially today, than the Arab-Israeli conflict. But Scripture provides some light. Ishmael is not an evil reject, but a descendant of Abraham who is heir to blessing and greatness. He has a future, and we need to affirm that future and hope for a new day when we view the crisis in the Middle East.
Second, Isaac and Ishmael come back together to bury their father Abraham (Gen. 25:9). A spiritual connection prevails between the two brothers despite their distance and estrangement and this can be a model for hope in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Messiah Yeshua has even greater power to draw estranged people together. I realize that my Arab Christian brothers may never agree that God’s promises to Israel—including the land promise—remain intact, until Messiah returns and it all becomes self-evident. But we can find agreement and common ground in Messiah himself. Let’s see how far we can take it from there.
Rabbi Russ Resnik
Critics of Christian Zionism often portray it as a recent and rather strange development based on the doctrine of dispensationalism, which serious theologians, they claim (and among whom they of course include themselves), find ridiculous. These critics portray Christian Zionists as supporting the Jewish return to the Land of Israel because it lines up with their idiosyncratic understanding of the end times. Some Jewish critics of Christian Zionism agree with this charge. They might appreciate Christian support for Israel, but they suspect that it's driven by some sort of fundamentalist agenda, and that the Christian Zionists will eventually turn on Israel and the Jews if they hold out against accepting Jesus as Messiah.
Dan Juster labels such criticisms as "misconceptions," and to address them he wrote Passion for Israel: A Short History of the Evangelical Church's Commitment to the Jewish People and Israel (Clarksville, MD: Lederer Books, 2012). Juster traces the roots of the Christian Zionist vision back to the Puritans of the 16th and 17th centuries, and to a wide stream of Christian thinking that he terms "Evangelical Pietism," which has continued ever since those early days and has spread worldwide in recent decades.
Dispensationalism is often credited to, or blamed on, John Nelson Darby (1800-1882), an Anglo-Irish preacher and writer. But Juster says that Passion for Israel "has one big point. It is that [belief in] the restoration of the Jews and Israel is not from Darby but from the Puritans, and had wide support to the point of becoming British policy by 1840." Therefore the book provides a powerful resource in advocating for Israel among Christians--they don't have to line up with one particular, and arguably outdated, theological persuasion to support the biblical legitimacy of modern Israel. Instead, Christian supporters of Israel can cite a long and widespread tradition, and significant Christian adherents going back to Samuel Rutherford and the poet John Milton, American Puritan luminaries such as Increase Mather and Jonathan Edwards, the German pietist Count von Zinzendorf, and major British political leaders such as David Lloyd George and Arthur Balfour.
The book's main limitation is its brevity. It provides more of an outline of its subject matter than an in-depth treatment, and its 78-page format leaves one feeling frustrated. Juster cites Christian figures like those listed above, but rarely lets them speak for themselves. The reader learns about pro-Jewish Christian writings, but isn't given the opportunity to engage with them directly. A Messianic Jewish reader would also like to hear more about historic Jewish responses to early Christian Zionism, and what influence it might have had on Jewish perspectives on Christians and Yeshua.
Despite these limitations, Juster provides a long and broad-based pedigree for Christian support for Israel and the Jewish people, which will make it harder for Christian critics of Israel to dismiss this support. Passion for Israel is a valuable book for that reason and it's an inspiring book as well, as it portrays a living, prayerful, and impassioned tradition that has stood with the Jewish people for centuries.
Last month the United Methodist Church turned down a proposal to divest from Israel, but the same proposal will soon be before the Presbyterian Church. The Messianic Jewish groups that are fighting this movement, including UMJC, have expanded the battle to include the larger Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. This recent press release covers this issue, and has received wide viewership on the web:
Will Presbyterians Support a Divestment Policy of Injustice and Anti-Israelism?
The Presbyterian Church is considering divestment from companies doing business with Israel. Leaders of 4 major Messianic Jewish organizations issued this response to the proposal, which they claim is unjust, unbiblical, and biased against Israel.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 31, 2012 - The following is a joint statement by Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations (UMJC), Messianic Jewish Alliance of America (MJAA), International Messianic Jewish Alliance (IMJA) and the International Alliance of Messianic Congregations and Synagogues (IAMCS).
The Presbyterian Church (USA), despite its historic concern for justice, is considering a move that violates basic principles of justice—targeted divestment from specific companies doing business with Israel. Divestment is the practice of withdrawing investments from companies in order to create economic and political pressure against those companies, or governments with which they do business. In this case, by withdrawing investments from companies supplying materials to Israel’s defense and security programs, divestment proponents hope to force Israel into an immediate and unconditional withdrawal from Judea and Samaria.
The mainstream Messianic Jewish movement as represented by the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations, the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America, the International Messianic Jewish Alliance and the International Alliance of Messianic Congregations and Synagogues expresses its deep concern with this direction, which is contrary to the same Scriptures that the PC(USA) claims to believe. The language of the divestment proposal to be considered by the PC(USA) General Assembly in Pittsburgh, June 30 – July 7, 2012, may appear moderate, but it reflects a biased approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Divestment is inherently unjust for several reasons:
1. Divestment joins the larger, Palestinian-sponsored Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which uses the inaccurate, unfair, and inflammatory “apartheid” label against Israel to discredit and undermine the Jewish state (see http://www.bdsmovement.net/call#top).
Ironically, the BDS movement seeks to pressure Israel into unilateral concessions at a time when Israel has endured thousands of rocket attacks on civilian targets from the Gaza strip, from which Israel unilaterally withdrew in 2005. Framing Israel’s policy in Judea and Samaria as “apartheid” and pushing for unconditional Israeli withdrawal indicates either an ignorance of why Israel maintains a military presence there, or a reckless disregard of Israeli lives and security.
2. Divestment unjustly frames the Jewish state of Israel as a colonial incursion like the white European settlement in South Africa.
The BDS movement and potential participants like PC(USA) support other national movements, including that among the Palestinians, but not the national restoration movement of the Jewish people. The Biblical promises that grant the land west of the Jordan River to the Jewish people in perpetuity do not preclude territorial compromise for the sake of peace. But they do preclude accusing Israel of “occupying” land promised in Scripture and inhabited by Jewish people throughout the centuries. Israel may opt to withdraw from such territories for the sake of peace, but any withdrawal must be part of a wider and viable peace process—not a one-sided concession to international pressure.
3. Divestment unjustly ignores the historical context of Israel’s presence in the West Bank.
Failure to curtail terrorist violence undermines the credibility of the Palestinian Authority as a partner for peace. Furthermore, the Palestinian Authority has never renounced the call for the destruction of Israel contained in its founding documents. Hope for an end to this tragic conflict requires that Palestinian leadership unequivocally recognize Israel’s right to exist. To ignore this imperative, and the historical context of Israel’s presence in Judea and Samaria, as the BDS movement does, belies any call for justice.
4. Finally, divestment presumes that Israel is unfairly occupying an Arab homeland. Scripture reveals that God loves the Arab and Jewish people and promised both of them land as an inheritance. God expresses his love for Ishmael and promises to make of him a “great nation” (Gen. 21:18), later described as twelve tribes, alongside the nation of Israel (Gen. 25:12ff.). God indeed kept his promise to Ishmael, and the Arab nation today has multiplied to 22 Arab states with a combined population of 350 million, and extensive territories dwarfing the Land of Israel and its population of seven million. From a Biblical perspective, it is simply unjust for the Arabs, the sons of Ishmael, to claim not only what God promised them but also the one land God promised to Israel. From this perspective, Arabs living in Judea and Samaria are actually “occupying” land God gave to Israel “for all time” (Deut.4:40). Is it just to support sovereignty in this region only for Arab states?
Divestment is a highly partisan tactic that seeks to pressure Israel into making changes that threaten its security and integrity as the Jewish homeland. Israel’s claim to legitimacy as a Jewish state, however, rests not only on broadly accepted standards of international law, but also on the words of the Hebrew prophets. Jews have maintained a presence in the Land of Israel throughout history, and have constituted the majority population in Jerusalem since the mid-nineteenth century. The state of Israel was born in response to the homelessness and suffering of the Jewish people in exile, which reached its horrible climax during World War II.
As Jewish followers of Yeshua (Jesus), we appreciate the attempts of Christian denominations since the Holocaust to promote understanding and good will toward the Jewish people. Divestment from Israel, however, only damages the relationship between the Christian and the Jewish communities, diminishes the possibility of genuine negotiations for peace, and encourages violence and extremism. Most of all, the divestment initiative ignores the very words of Scripture, shared by Jews and Christians, which foretell a Jewish return to the land of Israel after centuries of exile: “For I will take you from among the nations, gather you out of all countries, and bring you into your own land” (Ezek. 36:24, etc.). This restoration is evident in our own times.
We call upon the Presbyterian Church (USA) to heed the words of the Hebrew prophets and the standards of justice established in Scripture, and to reject the use of divestment as a weapon against Israel.
Howard Silverman, President
Russell Resnik, Executive Director
Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations
John Fischer, President
Joel Liberman, Executive Director
International Messianic Jewish Alliance
Paul Liberman, President
Joel Chernoff, General Secretary
Messianic Jewish Alliance of America
Jeff Forman, Chairman
International Alliance of Messianic Congregations and Synagogues
Methodists, divestment, and Tutu
On May 2, delegates at the United Methodist Church general assembly voted against two proposals to withdraw church investments from companies doing business with Israel. These divestment proposals were intended as a way to pressure Israel to withdraw its military presence from all areas that most of the world considers to be Palestinian territory, which includes parts of Jerusalem itself, as well as most of ancient Judea and Samaria.
The UMJC had joined with three other international Messianic Jewish organizations to warn the Methodists against divestment (http://imja.org/address-to-umc/), so we’re thankful that the church made the right decision. But the battle is hardly over. The Presbyterian Church (USA) votes on virtually the same proposal in July, and other mainline Protestant denominations will keep on considering similar moves. In addition, the Methodists did pass “a strongly worded resolution denouncing the Israeli occupation and the settlements, and calling for ‘all nations to prohibit the import of products made by companies in Israeli settlements on Palestinian land.’” (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/03/us/methodists-vote-against-ending-investments-tied-to-israel.html?_r=2&;ref=us)
Now, ”prohibit[ing] the import of products” means a boycott, and that’s part of the anti-Israel strategy: to employ the same means–boycotts, divestment, and sanctions–that helped overturn the apartheid regime in South Africa. So anti-Israel advocates are determined to stick the apartheid label on Israel. Just before the Methodist vote, South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu made this strategy explicit in an op-ed piece in the Tampa Bay Times (the Methodists were meeting in Tampa), claiming “that Israel becoming an apartheid state or like South Africa in its denial of equal rights is not a future danger . . . but a present-day reality,” and speaking of the “colonization,” ”occupation and subjugation of Palestinians.” (http://www.tampabay.com/opinion/columns/justice-requires-action-to-stop-subjugation-of-palestinians/1227722.)
Now arguing that Israel is NOT an apartheid state is like responding to the question, “have you stopped beating your wife yet?” Furthermore, Israel’s critics systematically set two other rhetorical traps: 1) they describe Israeli policies in Judea and Samaria as expressions of Israeli racism rather than as conditions within a complex military-political deadlock; 2) they never deal with the history of the deadlock. In other words, why does Israel maintain a military presence in these Arab-majority population areas? Israel’s opponents think that simply by labeling this as “the occupation,” they’ve proven that it must be ended immediately, regardless of history and context–and regardless of the fact that it’s from the unilaterally unoccupied Gaza Strip that Israel endures an endless barrage of rocket fire aimed at its civilian population.
So, rather than argue against details of the “apartheid” and “occupation” accusations, I’ll simply suggest that Rev. Tutu is ignoring history. I can’t really engage his criticism because it begins with a false premise. The white presence in South Africa resulted from a colonial incursion; the Jewish presence in the Eretz Yisrael resulted from a return to an ancient homeland. The increasing waves of Jewish returnees in the late 19th-early 2oth centuries joined a Jewish remnant in the ancestral homeland that had been there all along, and that was growing steadily since the 1500s. Furthermore, these returnees didn’t seize land by conquest, but by purchase and legal settlement.
Tutu and his ilk claim that Israel has blocked a two-state agreement with the Palestinians and must be pressured back to the negotiating table through boycotts, divestment, and sanctions. Again, this view ignores history. After WWII, the world community recognized that the Jewish settlement in pre-state Israel had as much claim to the land as its Arab inhabitants (which had significantly increased since the expansion of the Jewish population). That’s why the UN voted to partition the land into a Jewish-majority area and an Arab-majority area, with Jerusalem (and its Jewish-majority population) left as an international zone. The Jews reluctantly accepted this two-state solution and the Arabs rejected it, attacking Israel and losing a chunk of territory in the process. Likewise, after the 1967 war, when Israel took control of areas of Judea and Samaria formerly held by Egypt and Jordan, the Arab nations declared regarding Israel, “no negotiations, no peace, no recognition,” effectively rejecting a two-state solution again. Finally, at what should have been the culmination of the 1993 Oslo process, Yassir Arafat walked away from an once-in-a-lifetime offer for Palestinian statehood by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak.
I, for one, see the status quo between Israel and the Palestinians as a tragic deadlock, unsustainable, and bad for both Israelis and Palestinians. But there’s no silver bullet to fix it, and I suspect those who are promoting the silver bullet of boycotts, divestment, and sanctions have an unspoken agenda that does not include recognition of Israel as the legitimate homeland of the Jewish people.
Rabbi Russ Resnik
INDEPENDENCE DAY 5772
Jewish life consists of many joyous celebrations, coupled with times of deep mourning. On Shabbat, Sukkot, Shavuot, Passover, and Purim, we celebrate. We recall what God has done for us, and we recall the history of these days and their deep meanings for both ourselves and the world around us. On Holocaust Remembrance Day, and on the 9th of Av, plus a number of minor fast days, we recall the times of suffering our people have endured, including the murder of 1.5 million Jewish children, just a little over a generation ago. That is Jewish life ... joy and suffering woven together. Today, life in Israel is, logically, much the same way. I cannot describe the "nachas" that living in Israel constantly brings to me. On the other hand, the international political prejudice against this nation, replete with national death threats and growing worldwide anti-Semitism, weighs upon me.
Israel's Independence Day celebrations are always preceded by a day of mourning. Today, one day before Independence Day, is Yom HaZikaron—Memorial Day. We recall the loss of some 22,000 soldiers who have given their lives to insure the survival of the Jewish nation. On this day, I always find myself glued to the television set, often fighting tears, watching portions of the Memorial Day programming. I look at the program's showing of photos of killed soldiers: starting with the young men and women from 1947-1948. They gave the ultimate sacrifice, and never knew if their efforts were even successful. Their deaths are the backbone on which our precious state was built. And my mind will annually go back to memories of Yehudah Traub, of blessed memory. We were both young fathers serving in the IDF; he and I prayed Shaharit together in our unit's synagogue in Gaza in 1988. Hours later, he was killed in an ambush. Most people I know here have similar stories: either a family member, classmate, army buddy or friend has been lost in the struggle for survival. The atmosphere of this day is always somber; our nation's hearts go out to the bereaved parents, spouses and children. This days begs the question: "Will all of this pain and suffering cease for us and our children?" All Israelis asks themselves that very question on this day. Of course, no one can answer it.
Deep sorrow followed immediately by great joy ... this is the reality of Israel's modern history. It is so well illustrated by the actions of Israel's first Prime Minister, David ben Gurion.
Sixty-four years ago, on the day that ben Gurion declared our Declaration of Independence in Tel Aviv, that city broke out in dancing, singing and great joy—the Jewish State had been born out of the inferno of the Holocaust. And it was also kabbalat Shabbat: another reason for happiness. But ben Gurion did not dance in the streets with his people. He retired to his study, teary-eyed, knowing that war would quickly break out, and the singing and joy would turn into bloodshed once more, entailing more mourning and great difficulty. That was the only available road to independence and survival. For that, I am grateful to those who have defended this nation, and those who are doing so today. May God protect each one, and may they see the redemption of our people, in our Land, and experience peace.
UMJC rabbi, Givat Zeev, Israel