A Response To “Are Evangelicals Selling Their Souls For Israel?”

A Response To “Are Evangelicals Selling Their Souls For Israel?”

Now, as believers in Jesus Christ, none of us should ever want to see unnecessary suffering or the destruction of innocents. I certainly don’t. We grieve over the terrible loss of life in Gaza, but it’s important to note and repeat as many times as it is necessary that this is not a war against the Palestinian people but against the terror groups that still control Gaza. Whether most people want to believe it or not, Israel has tried very hard to keep civilian casualties as minimal as possible under the most difficult circumstances imaginable, but it gets no support in this from the world at large. 

While leftist Israel-haters and demonically-motivated protestors, as well as naïve ‘wokesters,’ march in our nation’s streets and campuses spewing hatred not only against Israel but also against the Jewish people themselves, the Gaza Health Ministry reports that 20,000 civilians have died in Gaza since the Israel-Gaza war began on October 7th. Even if the real figure is less than that, the staggering loss of innocent life is still gut-wrenching and horrific. What should the Christian position be on this war? Well, I don’t think it should be Jim Fitzgerald’s position, as previously published in The Aquila Report. Here is my response:

I was stunned, angered and deeply saddened to read Jim Fitzgerald’s November 24, 2023 op-ed, “Are Evangelicals Selling Their Souls for Israel?” The premise of that piece is specious theologically. Christians do not “sell” or “lose” their souls over political stands that they take. However, if Fitzgerald sought to stir up a hornet’s nest by employing such a title, he certainly succeeded. But I sincerely doubt that he swayed many readers with this tactic.

While the article shares some historical truths, these are one-sided and highly misleading in most instances. The author’s first premise is that, after the October 7 Hamas attack, “Israel had the right to defend itself,” but since then, he says, “it has become increasingly difficult to characterize Israel’s actions since October 7 as self-defense.” But we are not talking about self-defense. We are talking about war and the very definition of what is called ‘just war.’ Israel declared war on Hamas after the October 7th attack, and it will continue to prosecute this war until Hamas either surrenders or is destroyed.

Now, as believers in Jesus Christ, none of us should ever want to see unnecessary suffering or the destruction of innocents. I certainly don’t. We grieve over the terrible loss of life in Gaza, but it’s important to note and repeat as many times as it is necessary that this is not a war against the Palestinian people but against the terror groups that still control Gaza. Whether most people want to believe it or not, Israel has tried very hard to keep civilian casualties as minimal as possible under the most difficult circumstances imaginable, but it gets no support in this from the world at large.

This is why Fitzgerald’s and others’ misuse of the word “genocide” in describing Israel’s actions is so abhorrent. He, sadly, along with many others, claims that a genocide is “taking place right before our evangelical eyes.” The truth is precisely the opposite. It is Israel’s enemies who are attempting to conduct a genocide according to the actual definition of the word and exemplified most recently by the monstrous barbarity of October 7th.  For pro-Hamas protestors to hold up signs proclaiming, “By Any Means Necessary” and at the same time to accuse Israel of genocide is mind-numbing in its hypocrisy and perversity. When the United States dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima in August 1945, the civilian casualties were immense and horrible, but no one could arguably claim that the U.S. intended a “genocide” against the Japanese people. However, Hamas and Iran and their supporters do seek a real genocide against the Jewish people.

To fully refute and explicate most of Fitzgerald’s assertions would require a very lengthy article. Let me deal here with just four of them (in italics):

He states: “Evangelicals need to come to terms with the reality that the modern nation state of Israel is not biblical Israel. Zionist Israel is a secular political entity unrelated to biblical Judaism.” Well, this is both true and false. Modern-day Israel is certainly not the biblical Israel of the Old Testament, but neither is it merely “a secular political entity unrelated to biblical Judaism.” This would take many thousands of words to unpack and a seminary-level course on Jewish history and the various theologies of Judaism to explain in detail. But the bottom line is that the secular Jewish founders of the modern-day state of Israel put Orthodox Jews in charge of defining both Jewish marriage and who is a Jew, as well as burial rites and much of everyday life in Israel (such as closing most entities on Shabbat – the Jewish Sabbath), which has actually led to enormous tensions between secular Israelis and religious Israelis. The latter derive their authority from both Scripture and from the massive Orthodox Jewish commentaries on the Scripture known as the Mishnah and the Talmud. And the whole point of all of that, though terribly imperfect and often quite wrong-headed in their execution, has been to try to tie modern-day Israel’s present ethos to its religious Jewish past. So, yes, while modern-day Israel is not “biblical Israel” (and one could long debate the meaning of what ‘biblical Israel’ actually was), Israel today is not just “a secular political entity unrelated to biblical Judaism.” It is a hybrid between both worlds, the religious and the secular.

“…Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews were severely discriminated against by the supremacist European Ashkenazi Jews. Even to this day Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews are treated as second and third-class citizens in Israel. As a result, they are also more likely to identify and sympathize with the Palestinian people.” I’m not sure what the point of this is. Has there been some past discrimination against some Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews by some Ashkenazi Jews? Undoubtedly. But to use the word “supremacist” is to play right into the Left’s racial identity politics. Most of my own personal experience in Israel has been with Russian-speaking Jewish believers in Jesus who immigrated to Israel from the former Soviet Union. Some have experienced discrimination at one time or another while they were learning Hebrew or because they are Messianic believers or for whatever reason. But they are thoroughly dedicated to Israel; you will not find them complaining that Israel is a purported “apartheid” state or that they are not extremely proud and thankful to live in Israel, despite its shortcomings. Attitudes among Arab Israelis are mixed, but they currently make up more than 20% of the population of Israel itself, and they generally live in peace with their Jewish neighbors. Christian Arab Israelis are, per capita, one of the most highly educated groups in the country. Arab Christian schools in Israel educate some 25,000 students annually, including “40 percent from Muslim families,” according to a 2022 article in Christianity Today. Additionally, while I’m sure there must be some Bedouin Muslims (nomads who live in Israel) who are anti-Israel, I know for a fact that many are pro-Israel. The reality is that many of these moderate Muslims despise Hamas and fundamentalist Islam – they would much rather have their children educated in Christian schools, but, unfortunately, the Church abroad has not risen to the task of helping the Bedouins of Israel realize this goal.

“While not widely reported, Orthodox or Torah Jews still oppose Zionism and call for the peaceful dismantling of the state of Israel. So, it’s important to realize that Zionism, as originally conceived, and as currently practiced, is not primarily a religious project, but a secular nationalistic program.”  This is absurd. Many Orthodox Jews might originally have opposed the secular origins of the modern-day state of Israel, but that does not mean that they oppose the state of Israel today – quite the contrary! They view Israel as the Jewish homeland, and Orthodox Jews of all varieties suffuse Israeli society and government.

Among the ultra-Orthodox, known as the Haredim, views are split between groups such as the extremely pro-Israel Chabad Lubavitch sect on the one side and the Satmar sect on the other, with many groups in between. The Satmars do not believe that they should emigrate to Israel until the Messiah comes. Most in this sect today live in Brooklyn, New York. And while they may currently be ‘anti-Zionist’ in their orientation, they certainly believe that Israel is their ultimate homeland! An offshoot group, which has been condemned by the Satmars, is the Neturei karta, a very tiny bizarre group of ultra-Orthodox Jews who likewise believe that the current state of Israel is illegitimate because the Messiah has not yet come and that it should be dismantled by her enemies, such as Iran. Every nation has its crazies, and these are Israel’s. Their views do not represent the views of the overwhelming number of Orthodox Jews in Israel nor Orthodox Jews around the world.

It’s easy, if not lazy, to accept the official Israeli narrative which says that because Hamas has governed Gaza since 2005 then all Palestinians are responsible for the events on October 7. But upon further inspection, this line of reasoning simply doesn’t add up. It doesn’t add up because it is a false assertion. The “official Israeli narrative” is not that “all Palestinians are responsible for the events on October 7.” That is preposterous on its face and is a straw-man argument, even though a recent poll of Palestinians in the West Bank (if accurate) shows overwhelming Palestinian support for the October 7th attack by Hamas.

About two weeks prior to the October 7th attack, I and others were in Jerusalem and met with a leading evangelical Palestinian Christian leader. We listened with great joy to his hopes and dreams for reaching his people with the gospel. Those hopes and dreams are still there even during these very dark days of war, and that is also where we as believers should be setting our focus.

Our primary focus must always remain on the gospel and supporting the tens of thousands of Messianic Jewish and Arab Christian believers in Israel itself, the West Bank, and the tiny group of Christians of all faiths (probably less than 700) still in Gaza. I might add that, despite all of the concern for the people of Gaza as a whole (which I share), I have seen very little concern for the Christians of Gaza from the evangelical Church at large. One notable exception has been best-selling novelist Joel Rosenberg, a well-known American-Israeli Jewish believer in Jesus.

The heart of the Jewish people around the world (both inside and outside of Israel) yearns for true justice and peace far more than the anarchist and neo-Marxist fake social justice warriors, Muslim fanatics and Israel-haters who line our streets these days chanting, “From the River to the Sea, Palestine Will Be Free.” While some of these protestors are just naïve or ignorant, I would venture to say that most do not really care about Gaza – what they care about is their Revolution and overturning the current world order. The Gaza campaign is merely a vehicle toward their larger goal.

And what just a few months ago one might have seemed inconceivable here in the U.S. – that three Ivy League university presidents in congressional testimony could not bring themselves to say that calling for the genocide of Jews was not by itself grounds for disciplinary action at their institutions – says quite a bit about where we are right now as a culture. Today’s universities may punish the purported misuse of “pronouns” or denounce “microaggressions” on campus, but calling for the genocide of Jews depends on “context”??!!

A key December 2023 poll of more than 2,000 U.S. registered voters found that 67% of 18-24-year-olds agreed with the statement: “Jews as a class are oppressors and should be treated as oppressors.” Are we re-living the insanity of Germany in the 1930s??!!

The ideological rot at so many of our academic institutions is so deep that some despair of it ever being repaired in this generation. But make no mistake – those who today see the world only through a neo-Marxist lens of ‘oppressed-versus-oppressors’ and who brand the Jewish people as alleged “white” oppressors and “colonizers” are the enemy of all that is good and true. They may hate Israel, but they hate America also. Some of them refer to the U.S. as the world’s largest ‘settler state’ – one that they want to see dismantled as well.

The larger battle – symbolized by Hamas – is between civilization and barbarism.

Does this mean that I support everything Israel does? Of course not. Before October 7th, I have been a strong critic of some of Israel’s actions, such as the disgraceful policies of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s so-called “Minister of State Security,” Itamar Ben-Givr, who not only failed disastrously at his job in not preventing October 7th, but also seems full of hatred toward Palestinians, Messianic believers, and others who do not share his extremist views. But politicians come and go – none of that has anything to do with Israel’s right to exist! (and, by the way, sadly, nearly a third of those same U.S. 18-24-year-olds mentioned in the poll above agreed with the statement “Israel has no right to exist”). This should shock the Church to its core.

Regardless of one’s views on eschatology, Israel is the Jewish homeland and may soon become the only place in the world where Jews feel safe. Meanwhile, what is now referred to as Palestine might already have become an actual nation in our day (the ‘two-state solution’), but Palestinian leaders have steadfastly refused to declare any state that would include recognizing the existence of the state of Israel. Since Israel’s modern-day founding in 1948, that situation has remained mostly static: it has been pretty much ‘all or nothing’ from the Palestinian side. With billions of dollars of aid money pouring into Gaza since the Israelis ceded direct control of Gaza to the Palestinians in 2005, Gaza might have become a Mediterranean paradise. This was former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s great experiment – an experiment that has now ended in abject failure, but not because Israel didn’t try very hard for a while to make it succeed. Instead, most of that money has been diverted to financing weapons and terror against the people of Israel themselves, as well as going into the coffers of Hamas billionaire-leaders living it up in Qatar, far from the poverty and suffering in Gaza.

Jonathan Edwards once wrote that “Nothing is more certainly foretold than…[the] national conversion of the Jews in Romans 11.” This, I believe, is Israel’s future, even if it is not its present state. But for those readers who reject this eschatological view, I say this: focus on the gospel and reaching the Jewish people with the gospel (Romans 1:16), which remains a command of Scripture. Yes, stand up for justice for the Palestinian people and reaching them with the gospel, too, and criticize Israel – strongly if necessary – when it falls short, but take care not to align yourself with her enemies! God will judge the nation in His time and in His own way. But He will also severely judge the nations that come against the Jewish people.

Psalm 122:6 commands us to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem.” What does this mean? As Rev. Dr. Doug Kittredge has written in his book, Praying for the Peace of Jerusalem (which was updated just prior to war breaking out on October 7th): “Praying for the gospel to prosper in the hearts and minds of Palestinian Arabs and Jews is praying for the peace of Jerusalem” (p. 122).

Let us indeed “pray for the peace of Jerusalem,” that all war may end and that all whose hearts are open might “be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:4)

Jim Melnick is the chairman of the Jerusalem Gateway Partnership and Corporation, an independent, PCA-related ministry to Israeli and Palestinian pastors and leaders and their families in the Middle East. He is also the outgoing International Coordinator of the Lausanne Consultation on Jewish Evangelism (LCJE). He has been a tentmaker missionary with Life in Messiah International for more than thirty years and is the author of the book, Jewish Giftedness and World Redemption: The Calling of Israel. He also served as a Soviet/Russian affairs analyst at the Pentagon during the Cold War and is a retired U.S. Army colonel.

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