A Double Standard for Israel

by Russ Resnik

On my way home for Shabbat, I flip on the radio to catch up on the news, and what do I get? “Democracy Now!” Host Amy Goodman has three guests discussing Operation Cast Lead, the 2009 Israeli incursion into Gaza in response to endless Hamas rocket attacks. If you’re not familiar with Amy Goodman I can introduce her simply enough by telling you that her idea of a balanced panel was to choose Jeremy Ben-Ami, head of the left-wing advocacy group J Street as the voice on the right. Left of him were Palestinian human rights lawyer Noura Erakat, and Norman Finkelstein, the Israel-bashing academic who said, “We are all Hezbollah” during Israel’s 2006 war against the terrorist group, and was denied tenure at DePaul University in 2007.

But the panel’s imbalance isn’t my point. Rather, I’m amazed that Democracy Now is still obsessing on Operation Cast Lead two and a half years later and invoking the Goldstone Report weeks after Goldstone himself repudiated it. Why aren’t they talking about current events in Syria where the government has murdered nearly 1000 non-violent protestors? In fact, why haven’t the pundits been talking about Syria all along, with its human rights violations and incursions into Lebanon, including a virtual occupation for years, and an ongoing military supply of Hezbollah? Why aren’t they talking about the threat of an Islamist hijacking of the “Arab spring?” How come Israel’s transgressions, real and trumped-up, always dominate the news?

Why?

Because “Western critics of Israel . . . often hold the state to an ideal of human rights to which Palestinians are not held—or Americans, for that matter.” Because “an age-old pattern of holding Jews to exceptional standards is evident, for example in Western academic boycotts against Israel, when no such boycotts are mounted against China for its treatment of Tibet, or Russia for its oppression of Georgia—or Syria, for that matter, for its involvement in the murder of the prime minister of Lebanon,” to say nothing of its most recent murders of protestors. Now, this explanation doesn’t come from some Zionist, but from a new book that conveys at best mixed feelings about modern Israel, Jerusalem, Jerusalem, by James Carroll (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2011).

This is the sort of double standard that Natan Sharansky identifies as part of the “3D Test of Anti-Semitism: Demonization, Double Standards, Delegitimization” (http://www.jcpa.org/phas/phas-sharansky-f04.htm, accessed 5/17/2011). Sharansky helps us make the distinction between legitimate criticism of Israeli policy and the sort of criticism that is really thinly disguised anti-Semitism. This isn’t a theoretical question these days, with anti-Israel rhetoric growing more and more heated and likely to escalate as the Arab world keeps pushing for a unilateral Palestinian declaration of statehood later this year.

The double-standards test helps us differentiate between tough political opinion and hate speech. Let’s take a look at all three parts of Sharansky’s test:

The first “D” is the test of demonization. When the Jewish state is being demonized; when Israel’s actions are blown out of all sensible proportion; when comparisons are made between Israelis and Nazis and between Palestinian refugee camps and Auschwitz – this is anti-Semitism, not legitimate criticism of Israel.
The second “D” is the test of double standards. When criticism of Israel is applied selectively; when Israel is singled out by the United Nations for human rights abuses while the behavior of known and major abusers, such as China, Iran, Cuba, and Syria, is ignored; when Israel’s Magen David Adom, alone among the world’s ambulance services, is denied admission to the International Red Cross – this is anti-Semitism.
The third “D” is the test of delegitimization: when Israel’s fundamental right to exist is denied – alone among all peoples in the world – this too is anti-Semitism.

Demonization? Norman Finkelstein, mentioned above, is a prime practitioner, who “routinely compares Israelis with Nazis and told the Jeruslem Report that he ‘can’t imagine why Israel’s apologists would be offended by the comparison’ (Aug 28, 2000)” (http://www.camera.org/index.asp?x_context=8&x_nameinnews=169&x_article=985, accessed 5/23/11). As for delegitimization, how about this Syrian-Palestinian protester who infiltrated Israel’s border on May 15, during ‘Nakba’ disturbances?

Hissan Hijazi, 28, was interviewed by Channel 10 news, and then gave himself up . . . “This isn’t Israel, it’s Palestine. This country must not be Jewish,” Hijazi told Channel 10, before being arrested for illegal entry into Israel. (http://www.jpost.com/NationalNews/Article.aspx?id=220850, accessed 5/19/2011.)

This guy states delegitimization with unusual frankness and clarity, but it’s a dominant anti-Israel strategy today. Denying Israel’s fundamental right to exist underlies much of the opposition to Israel in the Arab world, and makes meaningful negotiations impossible. President Obama said the same thing—although he came short of identifying it as the main obstacle to Israeli-Palestinian peace—in his major policy speech on May 19. “How can one negotiate with a party that shows itself unwilling to recognize your right to exist? Palestinians have to provide a credible answer to that question” (JTA 5/19/11).

But it’s the double-standard test that I want to address here. I’ll cite James Carroll again—by no stretch of the imagination a Biblical Zionist—for one telling example of how the double standard works. “Palestinians are reduced to the mere victimhood that is regarded as proper to ‘Orientals,’ as if their agency counts for nothing—both in allowing violent nihilists to speak for them and in creating conditions that prevent reconciliation among themselves, much less with Israelis.” And then he adds the sentence I quoted above: “Meanwhile, Western critics of Israel . . . often hold the state to an ideal of human rights to which Palestinians are not held—or Americans, for that matter.” In the Middle East debate the double standard is a tool of anti-Semitism, and it’s also a residue of colonialism that overlooks oppression of women and suppression of dissent in the Arab world (at least until it became impossible to do so this spring). Those giving the Arabs a pass are often the most avid supporters of women’s rights and vigorous dissent in their own lands, but seem to think that the primitive Arabs aren’t ready for such things yet. So the double standard is bad for Israel and ultimately bad for the rest of the world too, especially the world in Israel’s vicinity. Any honest observer must admit that it’s being applied to Israel continually, but there’s more to the discussion.

From one perspective it actually is legitimate to judge Israel by a unique standard. After all, don’t we repeatedly claim that Israel as a people is uniquely chosen by God? Israel is distinct from the nations, as even Balaam the Gentile seer recognized: “Here is a people living alone, and not reckoning itself among the nations! Who can count the dust of Jacob, or number the dust-cloud of Israel? Let me die the death of the upright, and let my end be like his!” (Num. 23:9–10 NRSV).

You could say that this chosenness doesn’t apply to the modern state of Israel, I suppose, unless you believe that the modern state of Israel is a fulfillment (or a fulfillment-in-process) of biblical prophecy, the beneficiary of ancient promises made by the one true God himself. If we claim a linkage between biblical prophecy and the modern state of Israel, then we have to accept a linkage to Israel’s special standing—and to a sort of double standard that results. Realpolitik, the way nation-states maneuver in this world, might be the norm among the Gentile powers, but can it be so for Israel? We rightly contrast the kingdoms of this world, with their oppression, greed, and lust for power, with the Kingdom of God. On which side of that divide should Israel fall, especially if we see Israel itself as a harbinger of God’s Kingdom?

We who support Israel on biblical grounds, then, whom I’ll call Biblical Zionists, have our own sort of reverse double standard. We cite biblical references to Israel’s uniqueness, and then complain when the world seems to expect more of Israel than other nations. But is such an expectation without basis?

What am I implying here? Not that Israel must be perfect or else it’s illegitimate. That’s the language of anti-Zionism, and it will always find evidence that Israel is far from perfect, even though Israel demonstrates qualities of compassion and justice that are exceptional in today’s world. But even if Israel were to behave far better than it does, imperfection will be evident to those looking for it. Nor am I implying that the state of Israel must forego self-defense or shrewd diplomacy. Rather, one legitimate implication is that we’re right to expect that Israel will be a true democracy, practicing justice in its affairs, and seeking genuine peace with its neighbors. Failures in justice and peace cannot be excused with “that’s just the way it is in the world of statecraft,” but should be matters of deep concern and involvement. Lovers of Israel, within and without the country itself, should invoke biblical standards of justice in evaluating, and sometimes criticizing Israeli policies.

Another implication is that Biblical Zionists are mistaken in relying on Israel’s military power to solve the Israel-Palestinian problem. Some Biblical Zionists advocate a replay of Joshua’s conquest of Canaan, driving out or killing all the non-Israelites west of the Jordan. But they ignore warnings in the Torah and beyond that as long as Israel transgresses God’s ways, it will never have peace. Israel may have to take military action at times, and to employ politics and diplomacy on the world stage, but we should never imagine that these will lead to ultimate resolution. Rather, Moses tells the Israelites that they will find peace in the end only “when you obey the LORD your God by observing his commandments and decrees that are written in this book of the Torah, because you turn to the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deut. 30:10, NRSV). Return to the Land, return to God, and return to Torah are all intertwined, and ultimately dependent on the return of Messiah. In the meantime, the land of Israel is a restoration-in-process.

The main implication, then, if we advocate Israel’s unique chosenness, is that the state of Israel today is preparatory; that Israel, people and state, will only live up to its chosenness when Messiah returns to enable it to do so. In the meantime, although we stand with Israel, people and state, we don’t idealize the status quo or ignore the need for interim pragmatic solutions to Israel’s pressing problems.

But all this doesn’t let Israel’s anti-Semitic critics off the hook. The double standard remains a prime part of their strategy, and Sharansky’s test stands. Yes, there is a sort of double standard that’s appropriate for Israel, as I’ve argued. To apply it legitimately, however, you have to do two things: a) admit that you’re doing it, and b) provide a rationale for doing so.

So, let’s conclude by imagining how this use of the double standard might look. Fancy that the next time you tune into Anderson Cooper or Fox News, they pan in on a Hamas fanatic, and he says something like this: “Israel attacked Gaza the way any self-respecting power would attack its proven enemy . . . but that’s not right, because the Jews are supposed to be a holy nation and a royal priesthood! They should bear up under our ceaseless rocket provocations as the model of a peace-loving people, for they are God’s chosen, and should be an example to us all!” That’s the true double standard in action.

Russ Resnik is a veteran teacher, counselor, and writer who serves as executive director of the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations (UMJC), providing administrative oversight, and serving as spokesman to the wider Christian and Jewish communities and as a rabbi to rabbis within the Messianic Jewish world. Russ is ordained as a Rabbi through the UMJC and also maintains credentials as a clinical mental health counselor. He contributes regularly to Messianic publications and websites and is the author of Gateways to Torah, Creation to Completion: A Guide to Life’s Journey from the Five Books of Moses, and Divine Reversal: The Transforming Ethics of Jesus. Russ and his wife Jane live in Albuquerque and have four children and seven grandchildren.

Posted in Anti-Israel Propaganda, anti-Semitism, Anti-Zionism, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Land for Peace, Middle Eastern Conflict, Politics, Zionism | 3 Comments

Jews for Jesus and the Gospel Blimp

Why the Jewish community is right to reject Jews for Jesus.

by Walter Lieber

The Gospel Blimp is a story from a book and movie by Joseph Bayly in the 1960’s that relates the desire of a group of Christians to evangelize their neighbors. How to reach their town for Jesus is the concern of the group. Then one day the Christian group sees a blimp floating above and believes they have found the answer. One thing leads to another and soon they have formed a non profit, bought a blimp, hired a pilot and begun operations.

Their blimp drags banners with Christian messages through the sky. They bombard their neighbors with gospel tracts from above. They use loud speakers to make sure everyone hears the gospel message. Then they begin to wonder why so many of the townspeople are upset with them. After prayer and discussion they conclude that the message is being rejected, not their tactics. Therefore they decide to increase their efforts.

However, they try to sweeten the message. Instead of just dumping gospel tracts from above, they enclose candy with them, thinking a sweet gift will make the message more digestible. Of course, the candy falls in pools, bonks people on the head and gums up the lawnmowers of the poor homeowners trying to maintain their property.

The movie was a funny, satirical look at poor methodology run amok, though offensive methodology wasn’t the movie’s only point. The movie’s conclusion was also finally centered on the real, relational values that should underlie sharing the good news with one’s neighbors.

This essay also touches on deeper values that go beyond methodology. Yet, it should not be overlooked that method matters. The way we as Jews present claims that Yeshua is our Messiah is important. Since people tend to think that they will take on the behavior of those from whom they hear the good news, the act of handing out gospel tracts on street corners, a typical Jews for Jesus (JFJ) activity, is about as winsome as firing up the old blimp and cruising the skies for Jesus.

Boldness can be a desirable quality but falls short of justifying every bold action promoting the gospel. I say this as one who has, in the past, donned a Jews for Jesus t-shirt and eagerly handed out gospel broadsides on street corners. Maybe there was a time for that in the 1960’s and 1970’s, but as a way to relate and be relevant to Jewish people today, the clash could hardly be more glaring.

Going beyond methodology, it should be apparent that actions and activities that seem alien to the Jewish community are not necessarily so only because of differences in theology. There are different streams of Judaism and many ideologies among the Jewish people that manage to coexist with reasonable harmony, while still recognizing one another as Jews.

However, when JFJ says in their own literature that they are an arm of the Christian church to reach Jewish people, they declare in their own words that they embrace alien status in relationship to the Jewish community. They self identify as agents of one community attempting to pick off members of another. It should go without saying that you can’t complain of an alien status, or rejection on that basis, if you have adopted such a status by your own free will.

Since most JFJ converts end up in Christian churches, this is not simply a theoretical issue. Their slogan, “Be more Jewish, believe in Jesus” is so naively simplistic as to require a massive dose of credulity to embrace it. The fact that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah does not necessarily make one “more” Jewish simply through believing in him. Just ask converts of previous generations where their Jewish grandchildren are. The few exceptions that escape assimilation fail to counter the overwhelming evidence that embracing Yeshua as Messiah in a church context greases the skids to Jewish assimilation and the obliteration of Jewish identity in succeeding generations. The sad reality is that most JFJ converts will end up less Jewish in any meaningful way. Personally I prefer the philosophy of the famous “Rabbi” Gump, “Jewish is as Jewish does.”

One might say at this point that at least JFJ wins some converts and some are better than none. A couple of points could be made here. First, give me one or two hundred million dollars and a few converts should be expected. Second, even if we leave aside the ongoing life of their Jewish converts, shouldn’t the overall net effect be considered? Let me explain.

To go back to the blimp analogy, how many Christians in that example who had spent countless hours sharing their lives with their unchurched neighbors were negating their own effectiveness through their insensitive, dissonant gospel campaign. I’ve traveled fairly widely, in the U. S., Israel, South America, Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union. The almost universal story I hear is of people who have spent many hours lovingly cultivating relationships with Jewish friends only to have JFJ come into their city with a noisy campaign, leaving behind burnt ground in terms of those who remain behind being able to speak about Yeshua with Jewish friends.

Many, if not most believers in Messianic Jewish congregations worldwide, at least those I have come into contact with, wish JFJ would just go away over such concerns. A few good conversion stories make great fund raising lines for newsletters but at what overall cost? If the net effect is negative, why continue? The effect is so deleterious that the number one obstacle to overcome when sharing Yeshua with Jewish people today is explaining that “No, we are not Jews for Jesus.”

Another crucial question is how one can say that God continues his covenantal relationship with the Jewish people while ignoring the practical implications of living out that relationship. Ignorance, laziness, willfulness, hypocrisy, or all of the above could be some answers. Of course, one might also hold a theology that teaches ongoing Jewish obligations don’t matter. Some hold that philosophy in a good conscience. We might then have to ask about the origin of such a theology. Most current scholarship understands that such posturing comes from early church leaders who rejected, not only the unique calling of the Jews, but also the continuing validity of a Jewish lifestyle of obedience.

Think of it in another way. Presumably JFJ people speak of the necessity of repentance to Jewish people. What is it that we are to repent for? The Torah and the prophets clearly teach that we are to repent of our violation of the Torah. Even the New Testament agrees with this when it speaks of sin as the transgression of the law in I John 3:4. The teaching of Yeshua agrees with this point also. So JFJ tells a Jewish person that they need to repent from their failure to obey God’s Torah and accept Jesus as their personal savior. Then, once they have done that, they tell them that they can now remain unconcerned with Jewish obedience to Torah. Does anyone besides me see a problem there?

It seems this Jews for Jesus approach stems from a catastrophic failure to understand the ongoing covenantal relationship and thus specific obligations that God requires of the Jewish people. It is easy to say that the New Testament affirms the ongoing Jewishness of Jewish believers, as JFJ affirms. It is altogether another thing to see how clearly the New Testament affirms ongoing Jewishness as a Torah oriented lifestyle that of necessity is lived out as a Jew with other Jews. I’m sure that there are some Jews involved in Christian churches that are able to maintain a Jewish lifestyle of obedience and involvement with the Jewish community. Yet, if the church does not expect it of their Jewish believers the future will most likely be like the past: the nullification of Jewish life, and the obliteration of Jewish identity and community.

Please don’t think I am against the Christian church. I just don’t think the church recognizes the necessity of ongoing covenantal obligations for Jews that require them to embrace a different, Torah oriented lifestyle, and to be, to the extent possible, loyal members of their Jewish community. And if the church doesn’t see the necessity, it certainly won’t teach its Jewish members to affirm it. And the Jews in their midst will not likely find it on their own.

To continue, if we were to examine the JFJ mission statement that their goal is to make the Messiahship of Jesus an unavoidable issue to our Jewish people worldwide, wouldn’t a better platform for that be for them to live as real Jews, grappling with Jewish issues? Contrast that with making Jesus an issue as an arm of the Christian church. The Jewish community rightly points out that JFJ acts on behalf of and is essentially paid for by the Christian church. Since the Jewish people highly value community loyalty, doesn’t that disconnect with Jewish life and community modeled and supported by JFJ virtually guarantee that the Messiahship of Jesus won’t be the ultimate issue?

In light of these considerations, even the term Jews for Jesus could be considered suspect. Yes, we could say that according to Jewish legal understanding, a Jew remains a Jew regardless of his faith. But that only says that any Jew remains a Jew no matter what he does, even if he were to commit the most heinous crime. But if your organization’s goals are to make Christians out of Jews and then, for the most part, to see that they become members of Christian churches, what is Jewish about the organization, except for the bare fact that its workers were born Jews? So even the term Jews for Jesus could be considered correct only in the most attenuated way.

I write these brief thoughts from the perspective of being involved in the Messianic Jewish congregational movement for over 30 years. We certainly know that we haven’t found all the right answers. We know that the level of maturity isn’t where it should be. And exactly how to apply Torah in the Messianic Age isn’t unanimously agreed upon either. However, we also know that we are not thus excused from wrestling with the issues that are literally life and death for Jewish souls and the survival of the Jewish people.

I once heard a highly placed JFJ leader glibly state at a conference that since we can’t all agree on what exactly we should do in relationship to Jewish living, let’s just not be too concerned about it. It was a clever way of avoiding the issue, but it seemed to me to be the equivalent of saying, “Let’s not be too concerned about being Jews.” How does a Jew live out his ongoing covenant obligations with God’s Torah among like-minded Jews in an authentically Jewish way, in light of Yeshua being our Messiah? That is what we Jewish followers of Yeshua ought to be pursuing. And isn’t an authentic Jewish life lived in light of our covenant responsibility before God as Jews something all Jews are always called to pursue? Faith in Yeshua impacts the pursuit but doesn’t remove the obligation.

Are the only options limited to pursuing Jewish life in faithfulness to God or going on being the gospel blimp? Perhaps this is too stark a contrast? And, maybe JFJ won’t even be able to contemplate the idea that their net effect worldwide may be negative for the gospel. But maybe it would be a healthy contemplation. Maybe they can’t even conceive of a world without JFJ and they will never willingly fade away or change. But is it too much to ask that they consider becoming a real Jewish organization?

—Walter Lieber has been married to Linda for almost 44 years. They have four grown children and six grandchildren. They became believers in Yeshua as the Messiah in 1970. In his early days as a believer he happily donned a Jews for Jesus tee shirt and went broadsiding. He was the congregational leader of Tikvat Yisrael Messianic Congregation in Cleveland for 20+ years and now resides in Miami, FL where he is president of a charitable foundation. He has traveled internationally extensively to teach and preach, with 15 trips to the Former Soviet Union.

Posted in Jewish Missions, Jews for Jesus, Mission Agencies to Jewish People | 25 Comments