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Is Israel the New Evil Empire?

Introduction

When I picture an Evil Empire, Darth Vadar, Star War’s devious leader of the Dark Side, prowls across my mind.  Throw in a squadron of Imperial Stormtroopers clashing with Rebel Alliance combatants, and we have an accurate description of an Evil Empire.  

Photo by Brian McGowan on Unsplash



But the modern nation of Israel as the “new Evil Empire”?  No way!  Yet some Christian leaders are accusing the Jewish nation of playing the role of ambassadors for the Dark Side in the Middle East.

This article was originally written for The Messianic Times in 2007. Since the accusation of Israel as an apartheid nation continues in some evangelical circles, I thought it would benefit the readers of Scripture Solutions to take a look at the issue once again.

My major concern is not only with the politics involved in the incrimination of Israel but also with the fact this indictment stems from anti-Israel evangelicals.

I presume some evangelicals cited in this article have either changed or eschewed their position or doubled down on their viewpoint. It is not the purpose of this reprint to update the negative views held by these evangelicals towards Israel. This piece is a reflection of what was taking place 14 years ago among Christian leaders in their perspective on the modern state of Israel.

One further observation. Many of the links included in the first article are no longer operable. So I have deleted them from the text and retained the links that are still active.

What Christian leaders would possess the chutzpah to assign this sinister caricature to the Jewish state? 

An evangelical call to unmask the so-called Evil Empire

Rev. Donald Wagner, director for the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Chicago’s North Park University, addressed the National Middle Eastern Presbyterian Caucus (NMEPC) held in Birmingham, Alabama in June 2006.  Though Wagner offered his remarks on Father’s Day (June 18, 2006), his vilification of Israel could hardly have pleased the Heavenly Father, the Holy One of Israel. 

Wagner, the founder of Evangelicals for Middle East Understanding, referred to Israel as part of a “globalized empire” that employs such things as “weapons and the international media for its gain.”

Appealing to an evangelical audience, the Chicago professor challenged his listeners, “We have to unmask the face of the evil empire.”

Wagner, who had recently returned from a trip to the Holy Land declared,  “It is time that we start using the word apartheid. In fact, it is worse than apartheid.”

Other Christian leaders have unfortunately provided the fodder for Wagner’s biting words towards the Jewish nation.   

An evangelical labeling of Israel as an apartheid nation

In a 2000 letter to President Bill Clinton, Clifton Kirkpatrick, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, entreated the President to understand the aggravation of Palestinian Christians and Muslims who are compelled “to live under a clear form of apartheid, in which their land has been expropriated and turned into hostile illegal settlements, their workers denied access to their jobs, their homes destroyed and their basic human and civil rights denied.”

Another brazen evangelical advocate of shading Israel with the “apartheid” hue is Steven Sizer, Vicar of Christ Church in Surrey, England, and Chair of the International Bible Society.  

In an essay appearing on the Middle East Window website, Sizer asks whether Israel should be viewed “as a democracy or apartheid state?”  Sizer answers his own question by quoting Leviticus 18:28 which states, “If you defile the land, it will vomit you out as it vomited out the nations that were before you” (New International Version).  Sizer advocates, “on the basis of such a passage, the present brutal, repressive and apartheid policies of the State of Israel would suggest another exile on the horizon rather than a restoration.” 

If Sizer is not evangelical enough, one is jarred to learn the well-respected and evangelical theologian, author and lecturer John Stott, Rector Emeritus of All Soul’s Church recommends Sizer’s literary critique of Christian Zionism,  “I am glad to commend Stephen Sizer’s ground-breaking critique of Christian Zionism. . .  . I myself believe that Zionism, both political and Christian, is incompatible with biblical faith”

In Sizer’s article, he berates Christian Zionism advocating the movement “provides a theological endorsement for apartheid and ethnic cleansing . . . rather than the inclusive theology of justice, peace and reconciliation which lie at the heart of the New Covenant.”  

According to ekklesia.com, a self-proclaimed source for radical theological ideas, one learns the original title for Sizer’s work on Christian Zionism is Christian Zionism: Justifying Apartheid in the Name of God.

While I am not advocating the majority of evangelical spokespersons paint Israel with the apartheid brush, I am troubled that some Christian theologians, leaders and authors feel confident to identify Israel with this disparaging and misinformed terminology.  I am concerned if enough evangelical thinkers climb on the apartheid bandwagon, keep repeating this phrase in connection with the Jewish nation, write enough articles and books and perform enough name dropping on religious media outlets, the trickle-down effect could possibly seep into the thinking of everyday Christians.

An evangelical comparison of Israel with South Africa

It is one small step to link so-called “apartheid Israel” with apartheid South Africa.  This brings us to Gary M. Burge, professor of New Testament at Wheaton College and Graduate School, a well-known evangelical midwestern fortress. Author’s note: Gary Burge is presently a New Testament professor at Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids. Michigan. Burge is president of Sizer’s Evangelicals for Middle East Understanding.

This esteemed Wheaton Bible professor has authored a book. entitled, Whose Land? Whose Promise.  Burge’s work includes a section, “An Apartheid State?” He reports on a gathering of progressive/liberal Israeli leaders who met in 2001 to discuss their concerns that their country is sliding into an apartheid framework. Burge professes his own consternation that “the course of the present peace process may be leading to a separation of Israeli and Palestinian people that will mimic those results once found in South Africa.” (Burge, 264).

Here we have an evangelical thinker from the academic think tank of Christianity willing to lump Israel with South African apartheid.

Contemporary evangelicals are not the first Christian figures to aim similar charges against Israel.  In Michael Neuman’s book, The Case Against Israel, he refers to Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s 2001 address entitled, “Apartheid in the Holy Land.”  The Nobel laureate visited Jerusalem in 1989 and declared at that time, “I am a black South African, and if I were to change the names, a description of what is happening in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank could describe events in South Africa” (Burge, Gary M. Whose Land? Whose Promise? pg. 137). 

Image by falco from Pixabay

In 1999 Nelson Mandela, South African civil rights leader, made a visit to Gaza to pledge his solidarity with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.  In his address to a special session of the Palestinian Assembly, Mandela compared the painful histories of the Palestinians with South African blacks.  He endeared himself to the Palestinian representatives by stating, “. . . I intensely feel myself at home amongst my compatriots” (Neuman, pg. 149). 

The obvious question is whether these advocates who link apartheid policies with Israel are using the term correctly?  The African Encyclopedia defines apartheid as “the social and political policy of racial segregation and discrimination enforced by white minority governments in South Africa from 1948 to 1994”.

The question remains whether Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians fits this definition. Is it justified to compare the modern state of Israel to the racist policies of South Africa?   If not, are these evangelicals insulting those black Africans who lived under the brutal regime of apartheid?  In addition, are they slandering the Jewish nation falsely calling the Israeli government a racist, oppressive regime? 

According to author and attorney Alan Dershowitz, in his book, The Case for Peace, the international community is eager to slap “apartheid” on the procedures Israel takes to protect itself.  For example, Israel’s critics call the security barrier being constructed in Israel an “apartheid wall”.  The Law of Return is claimed to be another tool Israel uses to create a “racist apartheid state.”  

Strangely enough, approximately four thousand non-governmental countries that practice genuine apartheid signed a 2002 declaration calling for the “complete and total isolation of Israel as an apartheid state.” (Dershowitz 106).  

Paradoxically, those nations whose laws truly discriminate based on race, ethnicity and religion are rarely ever called to account for their actions nor are they placed under the apartheid microscope. 

What is the bottom line of this effort to smear Israel as an apartheid state?  Simple––to have Israel perceived as an illegitimate entity and challenge its right to exist as a nation. 

Louis Lapides

A messianic Jewish reply to the indictment of Israel as an apartheid nation

The nation of Jordan, America’s moderate Arab ally, does not permit Jews to become citizens. Saudi Arabia does not tolerate the practice of other faiths within their borders other than Islam.  During the Gulf War U.S. troops stationed in Saudi Arabia to shield the Saudis from Iraq’s Saddam Hussein’s SCUD attacks, discovered this separatistic practice during Christmas when they were prohibited from celebrating the birth of Christ by the Saudi government.

Other Islamic nations such as Afghanistan and Indonesia are guilty of persecuting faithful Christians and denying them the freedom to share their faith or to allow non-Christians to convert to Christianity upon the threat of death. 

Let’s not ignore the purge of 800,000 Jewish citizens from Arab states that took place in modern history.

What are the comparisons between these Islamic regimes and South Africa?

The apartheid label some evangelicals have attempted to plaster on Israel loses its adhesive when we observe how Arabs living in the Jewish state fare under Israeli law.  According to Dershowitz, Israeli Arabs “have full citizenship and the same rights to political participation as Jews enjoy, including representation in the Knesset and the Supreme Court.”  (The Case for Peace 137).  Were apartheid-era blacks participating in the political process of South Africa? 

Under apartheid rule in South Africa, blacks could not vote and were prevented from becoming citizens of a country in which they formed the majority.  African law dictated where blacks could work, live or travel.  In contrast, Israel allows freedom of movement, assembly and speech.  The only time these rights are restricted for Arabs is in the name of security and in light of terrorist threats and recent attacks. 

Due to violent insurrections in Palestinian territories, Israel has been forced to impose restrictions on Arab residents in the West Bank and Gaza. The security of Israel is a top priority and those who seek Israel’s destruction will suffer.  

Mansour Abbas, the leader of the United Arab List, casting his vote. Photograph: Mahmoud Illean/AP

Mitchell G. Bard in his online article Myth and Fact:  Avoiding Apartheid in Israel claims, “Some of the government’s harshest critics are Israeli Arabs who are members of the Knesset.” {author’s note: Israeli Arabs have been members of the Knesset ever since 1949. Presently, there are 14 Arab members in the Israeli Knesset].

I suggest evangelicals who are quick to stain Israel with an apartheid tattoo, try serving on the governing boards of Islamic nations such as Iran, Egypt, Saudi Arabia or Sudan?

Let’s be honest.  The minority Arab population of Israel enjoys more democratic rights than anywhere in the Arab world, especially Muslim women.

Israel’s critics fail to distinguish between Israeli Arabs living in Israel and Palestinians living in the territories.  The Palestinians in these areas persistently dispute Israel’s right to exist. Blacks in South Africa never questioned the right of South Africa to exist; they only protested its apartheid practices   

The present elected, governing party in Palestine, Hamas, has one goal in mind-to destroy the Jewish state. 

Dershowitz rightly asks, “How many times have the Palestinians taken the initiative to stop their terrorist attacks on Israel as compared to Israel’s repeated offer to end the occupation in exchange for peace, recognition and secure boundaries”? (Dershowitz, 138).

Israel is more than willing to grant Palestinians increasing authority over its own affairs within the territories. Mitchell Bard argues, “The principle impediment to Palestinian independence is not Israeli policy, it is the unwillingness of the Palestinian leadership to give up terrorism and agree to live in peace beside the State of Israel.” 

What about the Law of Return? Is it a racist policy? After all, this law grants every member of the Jewish people [and Gentile converts to Judaism] from anywhere in the world the right to immigrate to Israel and become a citizen.  According to Dr. Daud Abdullah, of the Palestinian Return Center, he complains this right is not extended to Palestinians and Christians who were born in Palestine and expelled during one or more of the various wars (The Case for Israel, 155).

However, every other state in the area, including the Palestinian Authority has a state-sponsored religion––Islam. These states discriminate in their laws and policies against non-Muslims. Israel is not perfect in its treatment of religious groups especially their willingness to turn a blind eye towards present-day persecution of messianic Jews by the Orthodox Jewish sect Haredim. Regardless, Israel is in practice a secular state that is pluralistic regarding religion and racial makeup.

Sgt. Yossef Saluta David Copeland / NBC News

Laws of return are found in Jordan as well as the Palestinian Authority.  Yet only Israel is condemned for its Law of Return.  Lest we forget, Israel’s Law of Return was forged out of a long history of persecution and slaughter because no other state (including Arab nations) would accept Jewish refugees. 

In contrast to Israel’s Arab neighbors, non-Jews are welcome as citizens in Israel with all rights accorded to Jewish citizens. (Dershowitz, The Case for Israel, 156). Yes, there has been some discrimination against Arab citizens of Israel.  For instance, Israeli Arabs cannot serve in the Israeli army. But would these Arab citizens want to fight against their Arab brothers?  Author’s note: Presently, besides Muslim Bedouins and Christian Arabs serving in the Israeli Army, there are dozens of Arab Israelis signing up for military service. To read more, click here.  In 2002 the Israel Supreme Court passed a law stating the government may not allocate land based on religion and ethnicity and may not prevent Arab citizens from living where they choose” (Dershowitz, 157). 

Though anti-Arab discrimination has been part of Israel’s past as a reaction to the Arab world’s refusal to accept a Jewish state, much legal progress has been made to eliminate the remnants of anti-Arab discrimination (Dershowitz, 157).  It is fair to say that in comparison to any other Arab or Islamic nation, there is far less discrimination in Israel.

Conclusion

If certain evangelicals are going to cry “apartheid” concerning Israel, they better do the same for Islamic countries and with greater intensity. 

Numerous evangelicals stand in need of a deeper understanding of Israel’s treatment of Arabs living within the Jewish state.  In addition, Christian leaders especially cannot disregard the stated objective of Palestinian policy to wipe Israel off the map. Credit must be given to Israel by her evangelical critics to acknowledge the democratic measures that have been extended to its Arab citizens.

A heavy dose of reality is prescribed for evangelicals who condemn Israel as an “apartheid nation.”  These thinkers fail to take into account Israel’s need to protect itself against Palestinian terrorism and create a secure environment for both Israeli and Arab citizens. 

Think for a moment what the reaction would be if an Islamic terrorist group planted itself in Deerfield, Ill., and repeatedly launched Katyusha rockets from 35.5 miles away into the evangelical stronghold of Wheaton? What would the reaction be if these terrorists commissioned homicide bombers onto the Wheaton campus to target Christian students? I wonder how long it would take my spiritual brethren to erect a security barrier and take harsh measures — in the name of Jesus, of course. 

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