As I have argued previously, in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict the sane choice, if we are forced to pick sides, is Israel, because Israel is a legitimate state, the political expression of an established, civilized, society, genuinely interested in the wellbeing of that society, whereas her enemies, organizations like Hamas, are terrorists who exploit the suffering of their own people, hiding behind them as human shields and hurling them against their foes like human projectiles. Out of this fundamental distinction two other differences arise. First, Israel is highly efficient in protecting her own people from harm and wreaking destruction upon her enemies. As a result her casualty and injury lists are insignificant compared to theirs. Her detractors have tried to use this against her but, as again I have argued previously, their reasoning does not stand up to scrutiny because the possession of strength cannot reasonably invalidate its use. The second difference is that while both sides have committed great crimes against the other in their struggle over the land they both claim as their own, Israel will on occasion take responsibility for crimes committed in her name, and punish the offenders. The only responsibility her enemies have ever been willing to take for their actions has been in the form of praise, credit, and glory amongst themselves.
Many of Israel’s defenders and supporters deny that great crimes have been committed by both sides. According to them Israel is a squeaky clean paragon of justice and virtue who never does anything wrong whatsoever. Max Boot, for example, in a very recent article for the website of Commentary Magazine, wrote:
Needless to say, the Israel Defense Forces do not deliberately target children–any more than do the armed forces of the United States or other civilized powers.
Boot does, of course, later have a point – a very good one, as a matter of fact – when he observes that it is difficult for Israel to avoid civilian casualties when striking Hamas because the terrorist organization deliberately places its rocket launchers in the middle of civilian neighbourhoods to maximize the harm to their own civilian population from Israeli strikes. True as this is, however, it is not the whole story.
The rest of the story is that over the last three and a half decades Israel has increasingly come under control of a radicalized, nationalist faction, with a vision of a “Greater Israel” in which Israel’s territory would be greatly expanded, perhaps to the Scriptural limits of the Promised Land (the Nile and the Euphrates). This faction, known as the Likud, was founded by the men who had led the Zionist terrorist organizations the Irgun and the Stern Gang in the 1940s which during the 1948 war attacked Palestinian Arab towns and villages, driving out those they didn’t massacre, with the end result being Israel’s annexation and absorption of 80% of the territory apportioned to the Palestinian Arabs by the United Nations. In power, the Likud has interfered with American attempts to establish a Palestinian Arab state, sabotaged peace negotiations with its settlement program in occupied Palestinian territory, and basically made clear by its actions its intentions to pursue the end of “Greater Israel” by the same means of violence and expulsion with which Israel seized most of the Palestinian territory in 1948. That this plays a significant part in the events currently unfolding can be seen in the Netanyahu government’s deceptive decision to withhold the information that they knew the kidnapped teenagers had been murdered and that the men who did it were not acting on official Hamas orders.
More disturbingly, in recent years even more extreme voices have arisen within the Likud faction, equating the Palestinian Arabs with the original inhabitants of Canaan (many Palestinian Arabs have, very foolishly, claimed to be the descendants of such in order to establish a claim to the land that predates that of the Jews) and calling for Israel to treat them the way the Israelites were commanded to treat the original Canaanites.
This horrendous suggestion, which thankfully, Netanyahu and the governing Likud of Israel are almost certainly far too pragmatic to seriously attempt to put into practice, is bad theology as well as bad politics. God’s instructions to mercilessly exterminate the seven tribes of Canaan was a special, one-time divine authorization of what was otherwise contrary to God’s commandment to live at peace with whoever was willing to accept a treaty with them (Deuteronomy 20), for which God, Who ordinarily does not give account of His decisions to man, gives a specific justification in the exceeding wickedness of the tribes as described in Leviticus 18. When the Israelites failed to follow through on these instructions in the initial conquest of Canaan, they were forbidden to renege on the treaties which they, contrary to their instructions, had made with the inhabitants of the land.
We find just as bad theology, although not always with such horrible implications, among religious Zionists, some Jewish but mostly Christian, in Western countries like Canada and the United States. Religious Zionists base their support for Israel, not upon the reasons I outlined in my first paragraph, but upon the belief that the modern Zionist movement and the establishment of the modern state of Israel fulfil the Old Testament prophecies of the Restoration of Israel. Religious Zionists offer Israel far greater, and much less-qualified support than she otherwise finds among her defenders. Some of them have been known to rank the well-being of Israel over that of their own country, an attitude that is sometimes called “Israel First”. Most of them take an attitude towards criticism of the actions of the government of modern Israel that would ironically, condemn the very prophets whose writings they look to for support of their position as those prophets were blistering in their condemnation of injustices and idolatry of the Israeli leaders of the time. Many of them are in strong sympathy with the positions of the Likud.
Yet the basic premise of religious Zionism is heresy by the standards of the traditional orthodoxy of both Judaism and Christianity. The Jewish Tanakh which is the Christian Old Testament does indeed prophesy a restoration of Israel. In Genesis, God promises Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that He will make a great nation out of their descendants and give them the land of Canaan forever, in Exodus He delivers the Israelites from bondage in Egypt and makes a Covenant with them, the terms of which are spelled out in Exodus and Leviticus and reiterated in Deuteronomy when they finally arrive at the border of the Promised Land. They enter and conquer the Promised Land in Joshua then in Judges, the cycle of idolatry and rebellion, followed by judgement and dispersion, followed by repentance and restoration, begins which continues through the history of the united kingdom of Israel, and the divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah, until the latter two are swept away in the Assyrian and Babylonian Captivities the first two of three events that brought about the Diaspora, the scattering of the Jews through the nations. It is the prophets who warned of and saw these Captivities that prophesied a final restoration of Israel in connection with the coming of the Messiah and the New Covenant in which God would write His laws upon their hearts rather than on tablets of stone. In the final Restoration, like the mini-restorations throughout the entire aforementioned cycle, spiritual restoration would precede physical restoration.
This is why Zionism is heresy. The orthodox doctrines of both Judaism and Christianity require a spiritual restoration to precede the physical restoration. This was not the case with the establishment of modern Israel, ergo modern Israel cannot be the fulfilment of the prophecies. Judaism rejects the truth that Jesus Christ was the promised Messiah and that He established the New Covenant in His blood two thousand years ago. Therefore, by orthodox Jewish doctrine, Israel cannot be the fulfilment of the Restoration.
Christianity is built upon faith that Jesus of Nazareth was indeed the Christ, the promised Saviour. Yet although Christianity recognizes that Messiah has come, Israel still cannot be the fulfilment of the prophecy because apart from those who founded the Church, the nation rejected Christ which led to the third of the events that brought about the Diaspora, when the armies of Rome put down the Jewish rebels and sacked Jerusalem in 70 A.D. In orthodox Christian theology, the spiritual restoration of Israel which must precede her physical restoration, is her recognition of Him Whom they rejected, as their Lord and Messiah. Obviously, that has not happened.
Heresy always bears bad fruit. If we equate present day Israel with the renewed and righteous restored Israel of Scriptural prophecy we are unable to provide the present state with precisely what she needs the most – qualified support, tempered by strong criticism and indeed condemnation of her actions when such condemnation is called for.
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