‘Secular’ Grounds for Supporting Israel
July 7, 2012 15 Comments
From John Hagee to John Piper, Christians are weighing in on whether the promises of God in Genesis warrant special support for the state of Israel. While this is a fascinating discussion with powerful implications, one need not settle this issue before deciding to stand with Israel against its foes. For there is a “secular” argument for supporting this nation, a case grounded in Western Civilization and the broad biblical notions upon which it rests.
Israel’s safety is not a narrowly Christian or Jewish concern, any more than Western support of Japan over China in the Cold War was a narrowly Buddhist or Shinto concern. The overriding issue is preservation of democratic ideals, including religious liberty and the right to free expression, in an ideologically hostile region.
Space here permits only the leanest outline of this argument, which appears in the Kairos Journal booklet, Israel and Legitimacy: Modern Achievement vs Islamic Prejudice:
1. Islam predominates overwhelmingly in the region (including the West Bank). Her scripture denigrates Jews racially1 and prescribes their subjugation. This attitude is reflected, for example, in the constitutive documents of Hezbollah and Hamas2 and would seem to make conflict intractable.
2. Israel is the only genuine “parliamentary democracy” in the region,3 with its leaders accountable to the people through the many parties that represent them, and the military strictly accountable to these elected leaders.
3. As Franklin Roosevelt observed a century and a half after America’s founding, “Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy is education.”4 Because Israel is the educational leader in the region, she offers the best promise for enduring fraternity with the democratic nations of the earth.5
4. The Israeli populace, outnumbered 14 to 1 by its immediate neighbors, sustains the region’s only journalistic powerhouse. Here alone does the expression “free press” ring true. There are more than 40 print newspapers in Israel, with more than 20 of them appearing daily—and contentiously so.6
5. Israelis have distinguished themselves as stewards of the land. As John Kennedy put it, “I first saw Palestine in 1939. There the neglect and ruin left by centuries of Ottoman misrule were slowly being transformed by miracles of labor and sacrifice. But Palestine was still a land of promise in 1939, rather than a land of fulfillment. I returned in 1951 to see the grandeur of Israel.”7
6. Israel “has more scientists and engineers per capita than any other country,” and the fruit of their research and technology is a blessing to nations of every ethnicity and conviction.8
7. Israel relies upon the knowledge, resourcefulness, and initiative of its women to keep it strong and fruitful—in the marketplace, journalism, the military, the corporate boardroom, the university, and the halls of government—and educates them equally and fully to that end. This is unique in the region.9
8. Though its record is not spotless, the Israeli Defense Forces train their soldiers in the “Purity of Arms,” characteristic of the Western just war tradition: “The soldier shall not employ his weaponry and power in order to harm non-combatants or prisoners of war, and shall do all he can to avoid harming their lives, bodies, honor and property.”10 Terrorism is condemned and not condoned, celebrated, or even rewarded, as it is in the neighborhood.11
9. As England’s chief rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, has put it, “Today there are 82 Christian nations and 56 Muslim ones, but only one Jewish one: in a country . . . one quarter of one per cent of the land mass of the Arab world.”12 With the annihilation of one-third the Jews on earth in WWII, it is important that the Diaspora Jewish people have a place to stand, and a place to flee from persecution around the world. In this connection, over 200,000 Russians13 and around 100,000 Ethiopians14 have emigrated to Israel in recent decades, the latter through special operations named Moses, Sheba, Joseph, and Solomon.
10. Declarations of the Palestinian refugees’ “right of return” to Israel mask deeper realities — that, before the 1948 conflict, many “West Bank” Arabs (Muslim and Christian alike) opposed Jewish settlement on duly-purchased land (almost 800 square miles);15 that many of those who left did so voluntarily, trusting they could return once Israel was destroyed by the Muslim nations which invaded the day after her founding;16 that of the surrounding Arab nations, only Jordan has granted their brother Arabs a path to citizenship;17 that Jewish refugees from Arab lands have forfeited tens of billions of dollars worth of property, without receiving apologies or compensation;18 that repatriation of the Palestinians and their families would mean demographic suicide for Israel,19 whose Jews would then face the same difficulties they do in other Muslim-majority nations where they might abide.
From the beginning, Israel has lived under dire circumstances, and today is no different. So it is vital to recognize that there is a cultural and political kinship with the Israelis that calls us to stand against those who would cripple or destroy her. This does not mean endorsing all she does; it does mean rejecting the specious claims of moral equivalency employed to compromise or neutralize her sovereignty.
1 For example, Qur’an 5:60. 2 For instance, the Hamas Covenant blames WWI and WWII on the Jews, and credits them with founding such nefarious “secret societies” as Rotary and Lions (Article 22); it also rejects all “peaceful initiatives and conferences” concerning the status of the Palestinians, who have unquestioned right to all the land in question (Articles 11 and 13). 3 For instance, the CIA World Factbook designates Jordan, to the east, a “constitutional monarchy” and Syria, to the northeast, a “republic under an authoritarian regime.” Though Egypt is designated a “republic,” it seems, in the wake of the “Arab Spring,” that the army has the upper hand when it pleases. 4 Franklin Roosevelt, “Message for American Education Week,” The American Presidency Project Website, September 27, 1938, http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=15545#axzz1yvUvQJvd (accessed June 26, 2012). 5 In unfortunate contrast, as a writer for the Economist has observed, “The Middle East has a bad reputation when it comes to books; nowhere else do so few people read them.” See “Revolution between Hard Covers,” The Economist Website, January 28, 2012, http://www.economist.com/node/21543588 (accessed May 16, 2012). 6 Half again as many as one finds in metropolitan Chicago, whose population is roughly the same as Israel’s. 7 “Speech by Senator John F. Kennedy, Zionists of America Convention, Statler Hilton Hotel, New York, NY,” August 26, 1960, The American Presidency Project Website,http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=74217#axzz1jLMDZqNh (accessed May 4, 2012). 8 For instance, the Weizmann Institute of Science conducts cutting-edge medical research on the causes of Batten disease, “a rare but fatal neurodegenerative disorder that begins in childhood.” 9 Muslim women, whose literacy rate is well below that of their husbands (e.g., in Egypt, 59% versus 83%), are better known in literature for their writings of protest and lament (e.g., Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali; Cruel and Usual Punishment by Nonie Darwish; A God Who Hates by Wafa Sultan; The Trouble with Islam Today by Irshad Manji). And these Muslim women have been joined in their cause by such European writers as Italy’s Oriana Fallaci (The Rage and the Pride) and Norway’s Asne Seierstad (The Bookseller of Kabul). 10 From orientation packet for the Machtzavim-IDF Educational Leadership School in Jerusalem. See also “The Spirit of the IDF: The Ethical Code of the Israel Defense Forces,” Jewish Virtual Library, http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Society_&_Culture/IDF_ethics.html (accessed May 4, 2012). 11 Christopher Schult, Britta Sandberg, and Ansgar Mertin, “Life Insurance for Palestinian Suicide Bombers: Arab Bank Pays Out Blood Money,” Spiegel Website, February 9, 2007, http://www.spiegel.de/international/spiegel/0,1518,465438,00.html (accessed May 4, 2012). 12 Jonathan Sacks, “Israel Rightfully Belongs to the Jews,” in Israel: Opposing Viewpoints, ed. Myra Immell (Detroit: Greenhaven, 2011) 53-54. 13 Ofira Seliktar, “The Changing Political Economy of Israel: From Agricultural Pioneers to the ‘Silicon Valley’ of the Middle East,” in Israel’s First Fifty Years, ed. Robert O Freedman (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2000), 211. 14 Dan Cohn-Sherbok and Dawoud El-Alami, The Palestine-Israeli Conflict, rev. ed. (Oxford: One World, 2003), 73. 15 [A]fter 1908 . . . a consistent activity against Jewish settlement started . . . which was undertaken mainly by two Arab newspapers: al-Filastin and al-Karmil. They were both owned by Palestinian Christians . See Anthony O’Mahony, “Palestinian Christians: Religion, Politics and Society, c. 1800-1948,” in Palestinian Christians: Religion, Politics and Society in the Holy Land, ed. Anthony O’Mahony (London: Melisende, 1999), 46. 16 Syria’s prime minister Khaled al-Azm, reflected on the situation: “Since 1948 we have been demanding the return of the refugees to their homes. But we ourselves are the ones who encouraged them to leave. Only a few months separated our call to them to leave and our appeal to the United Nations to resolve on their return.” See James Ciment, Palestine/Israel: The Long Conflict (New York: Facts on File, 1997), 35. 17 Ciment, 38-39. 18 Richard L. Cravatts, “There Is No Right of Return,” in Israel: Opposing Viewpoints, ed. Myra Immell (Detroit: Greenhaven, 2011), 83. 19 Rashid Khalidi, “Truth, Justice and Reconciliation: Elements of a Solution to the Palestinian Refugee Issue,” in The Palestinian Exodus: 1948-1998 (Reading: Ithaca, 1999), 229.