One of the leaders of the young Evangelical movement has decided to weigh in on the “situation in Israel.” It’s been nearly a week since the current conflict between Israel and the Islamists of Gaza flared up and newspapers began running pictures of dead Palestinian babies. In his recent blog, Donald Miller, who spent time in Israel and the Palestinian Territories last September, seeks to offer a way forward out of the seeming endless fight over a few hundred square miles of land. Sadly, his argument follows a well-worn path: Israel has done bad things, the Palestinians have done bad things, but they really want peace. The US gives money to Israel to buy weapons, but we need to use that money to force those unyielding Israelis to compromise. Then there’s those pesky Christian Zionists who are distorting the Bible. Oh, and did I mention the Palestinians are really nice and hospitable?
As a masterful storyteller, Donald Miller does an excellent job of weaving into his narrative numerous talking points the Palestinians use to make their case. One of the most common points is that Gaza, and effectively the whole Palestinian Territory is essentially an open air prison. Here is how Donald describes Gaza,
“In September a group of journalists and I visited Israel and stood on a hill overlooking the wall separating Israel from Gaza. From our viewpoint we could see the controversial territory where 1.6 million Palestinians have been walled in and secluded from the outside world. They are, essentially, imprisoned.”
There was a time when there was no separation barrier between Gaza and Israel, but following the first intifada in 2000 Israel was virtually forced to build a wall to protect itself against suicide bombers. Even following the unilateral removal of settlers from Gaza in 2005, rather than being thankful for the new-found self-determination, the Islamist of Gaza were emboldened by Israel’s concessions and turned Gaza into a missile base. To his credit, Miller acknowledges that the reason for the separation barrier is to prevent suicide bombers and terrorist organizations from acquiring weapons. Even with the separation barrier and restrictions on imports, the Islamist organizations have launched 877 rockets into Israel in the last week.
Going further, Donald paints a rather brutish picture of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. Israel seemingly, shoots old ladies and young children without reason, intentionally separates families, taunts thirsty Palestinians by allowing personal swimming pools, and rationing food imports into Gaza. All of these examples lack context, but encourage a tenacious stereotype of the Jews as mean, in comparison to nice and hospitable Palestinians. For example, Donald writes,
“We had dinner with a woman whose mother was killed by Israeli guards after placing a rose on a tank. She was gunned down while sitting with her husband on their front porch later that week. We met with the assistant to the mayor of Bethlehem, a Christian man whose twelve-year-old daughter was killed sitting in the backseat of the family car while driving through an Israeli checkpoint.”
When Miller offers his analysis of US military aid to Israel he describes his transformation from, “the United States [should] stay out of the conflict” to, “They are nearly begging us to intervene.” It is unclear who is begging us, but it is clearly not the “hardline” Benjamin Netanyahu who, according to Miller, doesn’t like President Obama and is really good friends with Mitt Romney. Supposedly the group getting in the way of US policy is those “evangelicals still believe when the new testament refers to Israel it’s referring to the new-found country rather than a spiritual nation formed in the collective hearts of all believers.” Yes, those knuckle-dragging backward Evangelicals believing all that strange theology that God has a plan and purpose for the Jewish people and that he has not forgotten his covenant with them. How dare they still believe such nonsense? Right? No, not right! The teaching that the Church replaces Israel is not the teaching of the New Testament.
But Christian support for Israel need not simply be relegated to theology. Christian support for Israel can be political and economic too. For example, Israel is a nation governed by the rule of law not simply the whims of the powerful. Top political leaders have been tried and convicted for abusing their power, something unique in a region filled with autocrats.
The real issue here is that Evangelical support for Israel is under attack. As one looks at the fading support for Israel in Europe, the hatred for Israel that has ensnared transnational political bodies like the United Nations it becomes clear that Israel’s greatest support lies in the Evangelical Christian community. For many young and dissatisfied evangelicals the support for Israel is associated with the much maligned Religious Right. Also many young evangelicals are particularly concerned about the tone of the rhetoric coming from many older Evangelicals leaders. Emerging leaders like Donald Miller, who appeals to these young evangelicals, become targets for anti-Israel activists to win over with kind words and stories of injustice. Considering the distrust of anything old evangelical it doesn’t take much persuasion as evidenced by his blog.
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