Israel: The Good News And The Bad

Oct 30th, 2021 | By | Category: Featured Issues, Politics & Current Events

The mission of Issues in Perspective is to provide thoughtful, historical and biblically-centered perspectives on current ethical and cultural issues.

My wife and I have found that the daily news is a ceaseless burden. The supreme optimist, Steven Pinker, observes that if you were “to read the news every day for a few decades it would be easy to miss the progress that had been made over that span.” Part of the explanation for this is the time period in question: good things usually happen incrementally, bad things (like natural disasters or murders) happen in shorter chunks of time.  The “bad things” oddly, get more coverage.  John Prideaux, US editor of The Economist, writes, “Bad news is also just more satisfying. For conservative pessimists, the ghastly thing happening now confirms a deeply held view that things used to be better. For liberal pessimists, depressing stories confirm a deeply held view that injustice is everywhere. Reporters, many of whom do try really hard to keep their bias in check, see the revealing of cynical behavior, corruption and lying as a big part of their role in society.”  These observations often apply to matters we really care about as Christians.  Consider the topic of Israel.

  • A beguiling development surfaced recently over the House of Representatives consideration of legislation to provide $1 billion in funding for Iron Dome, the Israeli-American missile defense system.  The legislation passed 420-9.  But a group of House “Progressives,” led by Representative Rashida Tlaib of Minnesota, among others, indicates that the historic support by the Democratic Party for Israel is no longer certain.  This small group of Democrats is forcing a simmering debate within the Party over Israel.  This group is also willing to embarrass their own president—Joe Biden.  While President Biden was addressing the UN in which he affirmed that “the commitment of the United States to Israel’s security is without question,” these “Progressives,” by resisting funding the Iron Dome, indicated they were fully prepared to humiliate the president, hold hostage funding for the entire federal government and demonstrate unequivocally their hatred of Israeli.  The Iron Dome is an incredible defensive system which identifies rockets that are likely to hit vulnerable targets, most of them civilian, and, with astonishing high success rate, “take the rockets out.  The system also very likely saves Palestinian lives by vastly reducing the political pressure on Israeli leaders to rapidly eliminate Hamas’s vast rocket arsenal by ordering a ground invasion.”  So, it makes no sense to reject funding for the Iron Dome.  As columnist Bret Stephens observes, “There is no conceivable argument that denying funding puts pressure on Israel to show greater military restraint (quite the opposite) or helps advance the cause of a two-state solution.  It is not about giving peace a chance.  The only coherent rationale is to give Hamas a better chance—to kill Israelis in the next war.  That is what the anti-Iron Domers in the House progressive caucus now stand for.  It would be nice if they were more honest about the effects of their desired policies and more transparent about their motives for holding them.” For these progressives, Iron Dome is not the issue; the existence of the state of Israel is the issue!
  • Several fascinating developments are in process concerning Temple Mount is Jerusalem.  Since the 1967 War, Jews are prohibited from praying on Temple Mount.  Only prayers at the Western Wall are acceptable.  Under the arrangement after 1967, the Jordanian government retains administrative oversight of Temple Mount.  Israel provides overall security and maintains a small police station on the Mount.  But in recent years, dozens of Jews now openly pray each day in a secluded part of the eastern flank of the Mount, with the apparent support of the Israeli police.  For some Jews, praying as close as possible to the site of the two Temples (the First and Second Temples) is sacred and righteous.  In addition, some Jewish rabbis (e.g., Rabbi Yehudah Glick) seek to build a third Jewish temple on Temple Mount.  As Patrick Kingsley and Adam Rasgon report, “Some Jewish activists have even prepared a stone altar nearby, ready for installation on the mount as soon as it becomes politically feasible to move there.  Their group, the Temple Institute, has also worked with architects to design the floor plan of a new temple there.”  Rabbi Israel Ariele, president of the Institute’s board, argues that there is “growing public discourse” about rebuilding the Temple.  The prophetic implications of all this are quite profound.
  • Some further decent news:  Through behind-the-scenes meetings with kings, princes, and presidents, the Jewish evangelical and New York Times bestselling author, Joel C. Rosenberg, had an “inside scoop” on the Abraham Accords.  [Named after the biblical patriarch, the accords were Israel’s first peace deal (this one with the United Arab Emirates) in 20 years. In the five months that followed, similar agreements were signed with BahrainSudan, Kosovo, and Morocco.]  He has recorded his important contribution in a new book entitled, Enemies and Allies: An Unforgettable Journey Inside the Fast-Moving and Immensely Turbulent Modern Middle East.  Enemies and Allies provides never-before-published accounts of Rosenberg’s interactions with Middle Eastern leaders (e.g., the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed bin Zayed (MBZ), in addition to Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Jordan’s King Abdullah).  Christianity Today recently interviewed Rosenberg on his new book.  I quote from or allude to the substance of that interview in this Perspective.
  1. “You describe your relationships, especially with the UAE’s MBZ, as ones of ‘trust.’ How did you nurture that? Did you sense it was different than their official diplomatic connections?  I’m not sure I have a good answer for that. Why would Arab Muslim leaders trust a Jewish evangelical US-Israeli citizen?  In the case of King Abdullah, he had read my novel and decided to invite me to his palace rather than ban me from his kingdom forever. The book was about ISIS trying to kill him and blow up his palace. In our first meeting, we spent five days together, and it was not on the record. We were building trust.  I think it has much more to do with being a follower of Jesus Christ. They didn’t know me, but they seemed to trust that followers of Christ who call themselves evangelicals would be trustworthy. That we are genuinely interested in peace, in security in the region, and in a US alliance with the Arab world. And in terms of the expansion of religious freedom, all of them wanted to talk about these things . . .  They were making a bet that the evangelical community in the United States, while being deeply—though not uniformly—pro-Israel, still has a deep interest in peace and assessing their countries and their reforms fairly. It was the sincerity of our faith that led to trust.”
  2. “You speak of opportunities to pray with different Muslim leaders and even how your delegation explained the gospel to MBS of Saudi Arabia. How do you measure the spiritual impact your efforts had in their lives and nations?  I don’t think it is possible to assess this. We were there to be witnesses for Christ.  In the case of the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, if you were accused of proselytizing the future king, it might be a capital offense. But in asking him if the term evangelical is used much in the kingdom, he laughed. We told him we had an ordained pastor in our delegation and asked if we could take a moment to explain what we believe. This was having a respectful conversation, not proselytizing. But it was beautiful . . . He told us he would do it, and we didn’t leak that. He took a big risk. Why? I think he was trying to build trust with us.  But trust goes both ways. By not leaking it, it created a sense of safety. He could judge that these people are sitting on a massive headline but they have self-restraint to care more about the relationship.”
  3. “Your goal was to build ‘long-term friendships.’ Since the election of President Joe Biden, have Arab leaders continued to reach out to you even as evangelicals are no longer central to the administration?  Yes. Bahrain’s king has invited me to bring a delegation early next year. We will probably also go to the UAE on this trip. I am keeping very close relations with these leaders and their inner circles.”
  4. “You make a sympathetic case for why we should support these regional leaders, but you also deal with criticisms of their human rights records. How do you keep the balance or decide what to speak about privately as opposed to reporting about on your websites?  The baseline for religious freedom in most of these countries is miserable. I think Jordan is the best; Bahrain is probably second best. The UAE is actually pretty good. If you go back 1,400 years, it’s bad for Christians, and in the last 100 years, it’s been very challenging. But there has been a lot of positive movement. In the UAE, there are 700 freely operating churches, compared to none in Saudi Arabia.”
  5. “What about peace with Iran? Several evangelicals took hope in the nuclear deal, but in your book you are critical and clear about the threat. You also mention frequently the challenges posed by Turkey’s President Erdogan. Would you make yourself available to these leaders also to bring an evangelical delegation?  I picture a ticket to Tehran as one-way. I see no scenario where I can picture me personally sitting down with the supreme leader of Iran. If there are other Christian leaders who get an invitation and get to go and be a witness for Christ and talk about these issues, I would strongly support it. But as an Israeli Jewish evangelical, there are certain roles in the body of Christ that I can play and certain ones I can’t.  In terms of Erdogan, I probably would go and meet with him, and I am encouraged that leaders in the Jewish community have met with him. But you’re right; I am very critical and am very concerned. I love the nation of Turkey, and I think he is leading it to the dark side. When I look at Andrew Brunson, basically I see Erdogan as someone who took a hostage. It took two years of the president of the United States imposing sanctions to get him out. This is telling us something diabolical about Erdogan.”
  6. “Your conclusion states, ‘I cannot fully explain why doors to such intriguing leaders have opened for me.’ From your first invitation by King Abdullah through the signing of the Abraham Accords, how do you interpret the role God has given you in the Middle East?  Psalm 119:46 says that we will be God’s witness to kings. Most of Christianity is about day-to-day life, ministering to ordinary people in their struggles. And so much of the Scriptures is about showing particular concern for the poor, vulnerable, and powerless. But sometimes we forget that kings and governors also have to have a friend who knows Jesus and speaks of him with love and respect. Paul was given a mission to speak Justice [Louis] Brandeis used to say that sunlight is the best disinfectant. This book will allow people to look at what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, and maybe some people will have constructive criticism. And maybe God will raise up someone to learn from it and speak with the supreme leader of Iran. Or Turkey. Or China. There are a lot of countries that are not going in the right direction . . . [But] I find in some Christian circles a resistance, sometimes even a revulsion, to spend time with high officials out of a feeling that it is courting power and ingratiating yourself for your own ambition or vanity. That we should avoid such contact and remain devoutly nonpolitical. But this runs the risk of missing the mission: Everybody in the world needs a friend who loves Jesus. And God changes the hearts of leaders.”

See Jayson Casper, “How a Jewish Evangelical Won Trust with Arab Muslim Leaders” in (1 October 2021); John Prideaux, “Checks and Balance, (8 October 2021); Bret Stephens in the New York Times (25 September 2021); Robert Wexler in the Wall Street Journal (30 September 2021); and Patrick Kingsley and Adam Rasgon in the New York Times (24 August 2021).

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