The first thing we need to recognize is that Israel in the Bible is not the same as the state of Israel today. Yes, there is continuity between both in the sense that the Jews as an ethnic group today are direct descendants of the Israelites (or at least the Judaic Kingdom, since the 10 tribe Kingdom of Israel was exiled in 722 BC and never been heard of again).
But this continuity does not mean that we can therefore say that the state of Israel has the same rights as the Kingdom of the Davidic kings, or that the claim on the land of the state Israel is a restoration of the glory days of the past, or that the state of Israel can lay claim to the promises of God to his people.
2. Being Critical of Israel in Love
It also doesn’t mean, however, that we totally cut of the state of Israel from the biblical idea of Israel as God’s people. Recognizing this link allows us to love Israel while at the same time being critical. This posture is exactly the same as that of Israel’s own prophets and even of Jesus. The prophet calls his own people, the people of God, to account for its sins and its injustice, he calls the people back to God, he tells them to repent and strive for righteousness.
Take Jesus’ words for instance. He says “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate.” You can hear the love as well as the criticism.
In the same way, we love Israel... but critically. There are so many reasons why Israel must be loved. Because of the past, the suffering, God’s election, our deep connection with Israel as Christians, etc. etc. But we also criticize, because justice is a divine demand. The oppressed need to be liberated. Once the Jews were the oppressed, but now the state of Israel is also the oppressor. We need to face this reality and name it or else our love for Israel will become a facilitator of marginalization and injustice.
3. Understanding the Context of the Jewish People
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Another thing we should not forget is that Israel is hated by much of the Muslim world. This is often downplayed by Western political leaders. But the hatred is enormous. This is partly so because the Islamic world sees Palestine as Islamic territory. Jerusalem is very important in Islam since it is the place from where it is believed Mohammed ascended to heaven. For Muslims, Palestine is part of the “Umma,” the house of Islam.
4. Calling It What It Is: Palestinians Are Oppressed Minority
But the problem is at the same time that the state of Israel is in some ways the continuation of the European colonial era and American imperialism. Add to this that Israel is not exactly friendly toward the non-Jews in Palestine even when they already lived in Palestine before the Jews started entering it in large numbers.
Let’s call it what it is: the Palestinians are heavily oppressed by Israel. Of course, you can point to suicide attacks or missile attacks with crude inaccurate rockets from Gaza or the call of Hamas to eradicate the state of Israel—and, surely, this is quite threatening—but et’s face it, the Jews started this. They have simply stolen Palestine from the Palestinians. This is pure oppression.
5. Don’t Let Your Interpretation of the Bible Determine Politics
And why is it that many people don’t see this? Why is it that we simply can’t call what is happening to the Palestinians what it is: oppression and apartheid. It is because we let our interpretation of the Bible determine politics. We apply biblical prophecies literally to current affairs in the world. That is a very dangerous thing to do.
Why is this dangerous? Because while we think we apply God’s Word in God’s way, we are basically applying our own fallible human interpretation. But, because we don’t realize that we are basically ideological in doing so and not necessarily executing the will of God, we can (and do) inflict great harm to many people (like for instance the Palestinians).
6. Christians Are Deeply Connected to Israel
Yet, we Christians are deeply connected to Israel. If we know ourselves to be God’s people, chosen in Christ as an instrument to bless the world, so is Israel. Both of us have an understanding of being called by God to fulfill a role in this world.
But there is more. Jesus Christ, who is the Savior and Lord of humanity, was born a Jew, was born under the Mosaic law. He lived a life as a Jew in 1st century Palestine. In that sense, understanding Jesus’ Jewishness helps us understand our own faith. We can’t know Jesus properly without understanding his Jewish background. And without it, we can not properly understand our own identity in Christ, for that matter.
What is more, there is no Christianity without Israel. Christians and Israel belong together. One is not better than the other but one can call the other to living out what it means to be the people of God. It is out of this deep connection that we Christians need to call out in love to the state of Israel to live up to its calling. We do so humbly, as we know all too well, how we have failed in the past to do this ourselves, not in the least where the relationship with Israel is concerned.