Contra Cruz or, I Support Israel’s Right to Exist, but I Support My Christian Family More

ChristtraThis is going to be a very long read, so let me go ahead and get the main point out of the way here: Ted Cruz was absolutely, 100% wrong for what he said. In telling persecuted Christians, “If you don’t stand with Israel, I don’t stand with you,” in his capacity as a senator for the United States of America, he effectively told these Christians that unless they give support to Israel, he will do all he can to avoid giving any aid to persecuted Christians.

Could you imagine what would have happened if President Obama said the same thing? He would be (rightfully) attacked by both the Left and the Right. In fact, Cruz has been attacked by both the Left and the Right. When traditionally conservative websites condemn what Cruz said, perhaps it’s best for Cruz to sit back and realize he’s in the wrong.

See, Cruz is a self-proclaimed believer, meaning he was telling his brothers and sisters in Christ that if they don’t support him on a political issue, he doesn’t support them. Now, there are times for Christians to turn against other Christians and those times typically involve some type of heresy. Churches have split over heresies, such as the Divinity of Christ or the Trinity. These divisions are expected and, while harmful, work to preserve the faith. Likewise, there are times to actively work against other self-proclaimed Christians, such as when a majority of German Lutherans supported the Nazis in their pursuit and eradication of the Jewish people (and other people). In these instances, it’s okay to take a stand against another Christian. But on the issue of Israel? None of these Christians are calling for genocide against the Jews and last time I checked one’s stance on the secular state of Israel isn’t a litmus test for pure doctrine, so what is Cruz thinking? 

I’m Not Anti-Israel

Please understand that I am not anti-Israel. I very much support the right for the Jewish people to have a state of their own. Right or wrong, that land ended up being in the Middle East. What’s done is done and now they’re there. History has shown that the Jews need a land of their own, as other lands they’ve occupied have, from time to time, decided to up and kill them when the government needed a scapegoat. The United States and India, to date, are the only two nations that have consistently aided the Jews (and the USA is quite nefarious in that distinction in that it turned away a multitude of Jews during WWII). Thus, I believe that Israel has every right to exist as a Jewish nation.

I often do my best to avoid discussions on Israel because anti-Israeli sentiments often serve to mask anti-Jewish sentiments. I’m not saying that to be anti-Zionism or anti-Israel automatically makes one anti-Jew, but a lot of people substitute “Israel” for the word “Jew” when making some pretty outlandish arguments. For instance, it’s in vogue among many educated people to try and say that Israel controls the US government. How is that different than the mediaeval stories of Jews trying to control the world, to the 19th/20th century German argument that Jews controlled the banks and governments? I’ve seen arguments saying that the Israelis target Palestinian children on purpose because it’s how the Israelis are raised, which to me sounds no different than saying that Jews sacrifice babies because “that’s just how they are.” The stereotypes and rumors that plagued Jewish people in Europe throughout the past 1,800 years are often refurbished and placed under the banner of being “anti-Israel, not anti-Jew,” when there’s little to no difference.

There are those who like to point out how absolutely wrong Israel is for its overhanded approach to Hamas rocket attacks, while giving a free pass to the United States for invading TWO countries after just one terrorist attack. Talk about overhanded and a disproportionate response. The US has condemned Israel for killing civilians or targeting areas that have a heavy civilian population while at the same time being responsible for well over 100,000 civilian deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan the past 13 years. And we’re not the only people who are guilty; people ignore how Turkey and Iraq treat the Kurds worse than Israel treats the Palestinians. People ignore how Saudi Arabia treats its own citizens worse than Israel treats the Palestinians.

All of that to say – I get it. I get that many of the criticisms aimed towards Israel are unjust, unfair, or inconsistent. I get that much of the criticism against Israel doesn’t stem from an actual concern for the Palestinian people so much as it originates out of a hatred for the Jews. I even understand that some of my fellow Christians, especially in the Middle East, hate (or strongly dislike) Israel and the Jewish people. I get it.

But I support Israel’s right to exist based solely off the history of the Jewish people in the world. I don’t have any theological reasons for supporting Israel (and even if I did, it would be irrelevant to how they treat Christians). I support all oppressed peoples; the same reasons I support the existence of Israel are the same reasons I support the existence of a Kurdish state, or a free Tibet, or stronger Native American nations independent of the US Government. I support Israel’s right to exist because I am a Christian humanist.

The Plight of Christian Palestinians

But at the same time, in recognizing all of the above, I can still safely say that while I support Israel’s right to exist, I don’t support their actions against Palestinians, particularly Christian Palestinians. When Ted Cruz said there was no greater ally to Christianity than the modern secular state of Israel, it was obvious he was pandering and scoring political points. But to the Christians in the room, to the Christians who have suffered under Israeli discrimination, it stung, it was a slap in the face.

See, while Israel isn’t as bad as ISIL or Iran or Saudi Arabia or even Turkey in terms of how it treats Christians, it’s still pretty bad and worse than its neighbors (such as Egypt, Lebnon, or Syria). The Israeli Interior Minister actively limits the number of Christians engaged in work within Israel and even requires Christian priests to renew their visas at a rate higher than others, giving the government any excuse to deport the Christian ministers. Ultra-Orthodox Jews consistently spit on priests, defecate and urinate on churches, and from time to time burn churches, all with the police looking away and deporting any priests who take action against it. Palestinian Christians were forbidden from going to Jerusalem during Pascha/Easter, the Israeli foreign minister is seeking ways to relocate Arab Christians in Israel to the Palestinian territories (in other words, kick them out), and are treated as second class citizens, even those who have served in the Israeli Defense Force.

A member of the Israeli government, Michael Ben Ari, tore up a copy of the New Testament on the Knesset while another member called for copies to be banned. Nothing was done to these members, causing the Vatican to even call out against such actions. The Israeli actions towards Palestinians in general has radicalized quite a few Muslims, which in turn only causes further problems for Christians in the region (which is why the calling to deport Christians from Israel to Palestinian controlled areas is even more worrisome and despicable). Christians are regularly denied bank loans, jobs, and even homes simply because they aren’t Jewish. The Israeli police have actively prevented priests from entering monasteries and churches, going so far as to even beat them. And this treatment isn’t happening just to Catholic and Orthodox Christians – the same Christians who have their faith doubted because they’re not Protestant – but is even occurring to evangelical Christians in the area. In all of it, Israel attempts to blame the plight of the Christians on Palestinian Muslims, but the Christians don’t see it that way because it isn’t that way. Of course, the attempt to blame the Muslims is part of Israel’s new “divide and conquer” strategy of attempting to pit Christians against Muslims, which of course will have dire consequences for Christians.

Furthermore, one must ask, if Israel is so pro-Christian as their diplomat claims, why aren’t they taking in Christian refugees from Syria and Iraq, whereas Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan are? Israel hasn’t taken a single refugee, leaving the greatest people at threat – Christians – to suffer. Even refugees from east Africa, as well as Syria, are often detained and imprisoned, treated as infiltrators. How completely ironic that a nation founded after one of the greatest genocides in Western history, as a result of over a thousand years of persecution and being refused at borders and imprisoned for simply trying to live, would turn around and return the favor within a generation.

All of this, of course, reflects the treatment of just Christian Palestinians. Muslim Palestinians have suffered as well, often from discrimination. History tells us that whenever a people are discriminated and oppressed, after time they rise up and become more and more radical. In a way, while Hamas is horrible and a threat both to Israel and Palestinians, it only gained power because of Israel’s refusal to treat Palestinians as human beings.

Chosen Doesn’t Justify Abuse

The Palestinians are human beings. We wouldn’t like getting treated as they’ve been treated and, in fact, led a Revolution against Great Britain for being treated as second class citizens. We wouldn’t like being treated that way, so why do we expect Palestinians to roll over and take it, just because it’s Israel? Regardless of one’s absurd view of the secular state of Israel being the fulfillment of some prophecy, it doesn’t give Israel the right to treat people however they please.

Even if Israel were the fulfillment of prophecy and the Jews occupied the land as “God’s chosen people,” it still wouldn’t justify Israel’s actions. The entirety of the Old Testament serves as an example of God constantly punishing and criticizing theocratic, God-chosen Israel. They were consistently punished by God for three things:

1) Their abandonment of God and turn toward paganism

2) Their treatment of foreigners and the poor

3) Failure to live God’s laws

Modern Israel is proudly secular, with most Jews being nominal Jews (though, like anyone else, there are radical sects). It’s also a fairly immoral place. Of course, none of this matters, as modern Judaism is nothing like ancient Judaism (how do you have Judaism without a temple, tabernacle, or an ark?). Ancient Judaism is, like it or not, Christianity. Ancient Judaism was a precursor, a placeholder for the Messiah. Well, the Messiah (Jesus Christ) came and completed Judaism. The modern adherents to the faith of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are not practitioners of Judaism, but Christians. Anyone who has ever stepped into a traditional Orthodox Christian service will attest to how foreign, and Jewish, it feels. The early Christians continued the Jewish practices in worship (and even met in synagogues early in the faith, and the Romans even considered Christians a Jewish sect), but placed emphasis on different parts of the worship due to Christ’s completion of the Jewish faith. Acts 3:1 shows the Apostles praying at specified times, which was a Jewish custom. The Mass is entirely based on Jewish practices at the time, because that’s all Christians knew when it came to worship.

Even though modern Judaism is nothing like ancient Judaism and is not its successor, it still holds onto some roots, and these ancient roots are all found in a traditional Divine Liturgical service within the Orthodox Church. Why? Because the Church is the completion of the faith of the Old Testament saints.

What all the above means is that even if Israel were a fulfillment of God’s plan, even if the Jews were chosen for that fulfillment, we would be right in saying that they are in rebellion to God in that they are not following in their ancestor’s footsteps in embracing the already come Messiah. They are in open rebellion to God in both their beliefs and lifestyles. Now, the traditional Christian view would be that all nonbelievers fall into this category, but somehow Israeli Jews have escaped this scrutiny. They shouldn’t. Chosen or not, prophesied or not, it’s irrelevant to the discussion; modern Israel is in rebellion to God and therefore completely open to criticism, especially in its human rights violations. If we can’t handle criticisms of Israel’s human rights violations then we should protest the Old Testament, because all it basically does is criticize actual Israel’s treatments of God and their fellow man.

The debate over whether Israel is chosen and a fulfillment of prophecy, or whether the Church supplanted (or became) Israel is solely a theological discussion. It has nothing to do with the modern state of Israel, especially concerning its treatment of Palestinians.

One Body, One Church

From a policy perspective, what’s going on in the Middle East concerning Israel is a complicated mess. If they gave full citizenship to the Arabs within their borders, within a few generations the Jews (and Christians) would be the minorities once again, defeating the entire purpose of a Jewish state. It would open up the doors for the Jews to face persecution once more. At the same time, by not giving full citizenship to its Arab population, Israel only increases its oppression of people and perpetuates the radical views coming from Gaza. It is an issue without a foreseeable solution, a complex puzzle that can’t be solved overnight.

At the same time, one thing is very clear; Christ’s blood transcends national borders, racial politics, and political ideology. Underneath this very complex mess, I still have more in common with the Palestinian Christian than I do with the non-believing Israeli. For me, on a personal level, this rings even truer as I am Orthodox, meaning I am in communion with many of these persecuted Christians. I am linked to them spiritually and physically through the taking of the Divine Mystery at Liturgy. Yet, even for the non-Orthodox Christians in the area, I am linked to them by a common love for and belief in Christ. While I support Israel’s right to exist, I must support the rights of my brothers and sisters even more.

These Palestinian Christians, regardless of our differences of views concerning Israel or other political matters, are family. They are part of the body of Christ, and while it’s okay to disagree with family members, it’s not okay to cease supporting them because of a difference of opinions on a non-essential political issue. Ultimately, the best solution to the crisis in the Middle East would be a strong and vibrant Christian community, but Israel (as shown) has done all it can to prevent one from existing.

I can see why some Christians in the room booed Ted Cruz’ requirement that they show fidelity to Israel before he gives them any support. Many of them have faced persecution. It would be like requiring the residents of the Jim Crow South to say they support the local governments, the same governments that had segregated against them. It’s going to bring up some bitter feelings and painful memories. And while I know I would disagree with some of my brothers and sisters in Christ on our views concerning Israel, I do know that they would still have my support in preventing their persecution no matter what. That Ted Cruz, or other evangelicals, would put a condition on supporting persecuted brothers in Christ is about the sickest thing any Christian could ever do. It’s okay to support Israel, but it’s not okay to support Israel’s treatment of Christians, and it’s certainly not okay to ostracize persecuted Christians based on their views of Israel.

These are my brothers and sisters in Christ and so long as they are persecuted, I will stand with them and I will support them.