Anti-Semitism and criticism of Israel

“Antisemitism (also spelled anti-Semitism or anti-semitism) is hostility to, prejudice, or discrimination against Jews A person who holds such positions is called an antisemite. Antisemitism is generally considered to be a form of racism.”[1]

Anti-Semitism revisited

I’ve written about the problem with anti-Semitism recently and I want to revisit this in the light of yesterday’s tragic scenes as 58 Palestinians were shot dead by the IDF whilst protesting the moving of the US embassy to Jerusalem.

We are faced with two extremes. On the one hand, there are those for whom Israel can do no right.  They regard the modern- day state of Israel as nothing less than a hostile, occupying force for evil.  It is this perception of Israel that when linked to an age-old conspiracy theory that sees Jews around the world as moneyed power-brokers, the primary beneficiaries of capitalism and Jews generally are viewed through the prism of one’s view on Israel that this starts to express itself as anti-Semitism.

I want to add in a further complication which is that prejudice can always find “The right sort of people.”  This is a classic way of muddying the waters.  Just like the far right have been able to find immigrants who support repatriation so, it is possible to be anti-Semitic whist supporting Jewish groups that have seen the light.

Christian Zionism and Israel “Right or wrong”

On the other hand, and particularly in some Christian circles, there is a view that sees Israel as unable to do no wrong. Just as anti-Semitism has been bolstered at times by faulty theology about covenants, people and replacement, so too, this “Israel right or wrong” approach has its roots in faulty theology and bad exegesis.

This leads to a form of Christian Zionism, the belief that God’s promises must be fulfilled specifically through the physical state of Israel.  I was once told by an attendee at Bearwood Chapel that I did not pay enough attention to the central point of the Bible in my preaching. I asked them what they thought that was. They replied “Israel.” I responded “I think you’ll find that it’s the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” I don’t think they’ve been back to a service since.

The belief is that the foundation of the modern state of Israel is a fulfilment of the biblical prophecies about a return to the land, Jerusalem as the centre of God’s promises and the prediction of a new temple.  To criticise the Israeli Government is then seen as criticism of Israel and the Jews and therefore an attack on God’s people.

The problem here is this. Anti-Semitism based on replacement theology fails to properly recognise the roots of the Gospel in the Jewish people and their ongoing place in God’s purpose. A people have not been replaced, rather we have been ingrafted. However “Israel right or wrong thinking or Christian Zionism misses the following

–          Whilst the people are not replaced, there is a new covenant.

–          God’s purposes and promises for his people were always about spiritual Israel -the people of promise not about physical decent.

–          God’s promises about a land, a city and a temple are met not in a limited geographical space but in the promise of a new creation (we inherit the whole earth), the New Jerusalem which is the church, the bride of Christ and Jesus himself as the Temple -the place where wrath and mercy meet and man is reconciled to God.

Implications for today

The implication of this is simple. We are not prevented from challenging the Israeli government, a secular government of a secular state when they do things wrong. To criticise the State of Israel is not the same as anti-Semitism, no more than criticising Theresa May is a rejection of the British people.

Furthermore, we can look at Israel’s situation with understanding.  There are some things that it is right to say including

–          It is a good thing for the Jews to have their homeland back. This should be a place where they can live in peace and security.

–          There are many things that means Israel stands out in terms of democracy and pluralism. She is a lone beacon for those values in the Middle East.

–          Israel finds itself in a difficult and vulnerable situation.  She is surrounded by powers that want to wipe her off the map. The current questionable borders are the result of previous military attacks where Israel had to defend herself.

–          Where terrorism is mixed with incitement to civil unrest, that is a toxic mix, impossible to police and likely to lead to tragedy.

However, we can understand all of that and still say that Israel has done wrong things. We can recognise that the IDF found themselves in a seemingly impossible situation on Monday but still insist as Stephen Pollard on twitter has done that firing live ammunition at civilians was still always the wrong response.[2]