Christian Zionism and Israel: Eschatology Trumps Ethics
Bruce N. Fisk
September 18, 2006 

In last week’s Horizon, Cassie Joiner challenged readers to stay true to Israel, “God’s people” and declared it the height of “audacity” to “stand against the nation…God...has chosen.” I’m reminded of the broader movement known as “Christian Zionism,” according to which the emergence of the state of Israel in 1948 was a stunning fulfillment of Biblical prophecy and proof that the End is near. Today’s geopolitical turmoil, we are told, will soon be followed by the Rapture of the Church, the Tribulation (with Israel at its epicenter) and, finally, Christ’s return. To keep things on schedule, God must protect Israel from her enemies, which means that those who support Israel are doing God’s will.

How solid is the Biblical foundation of Christian Zionism? Notwithstanding the zeal of folks like Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, John Hagee and Tim LaHaye, I would argue that their elaborate timetable is not drawn from the Bible but is imposed on it. They are, in my view, reading Scripture against the grain. That, however, is a debate for another day.

Support for Israel, for whatever reason, should not mean blanket endorsement of all things Israeli. Israel’s policies in the West Bank are making life unbearable for millions of Palestinians. Walls, checkpoints, curfews, permits, land expropriations and illegal settlements have obliterated the Palestinian economy.

Remarkably similar behavior in ancient Israel provoked the prophets of old, from Moses to John the Baptist, to deliver a string of scathing moral indictments. “You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien,” Moses declares, “for you were aliens in the land of Egypt” (Ex 22:21). “Defend the fatherless, plead for the widow,” cries Isaiah (1:17). “Woe to those who . . . covet fields, and seize them; and houses, and take them away,” warns Micah (2:1-2). (See also Ex 22:21-24; Lev 19:33-34; Dt 23:15-16; Isa 1, 58; Jer 7:5-8; 22:1-6; Am 4:1-2; Mic 2:1-3; Zech 7:8-14; Lk 3:10-14). In that same Spirit, Jesus announced good news to the poor of his day, but sober warnings to the elites who held the reins of power (Isaiah 61:1-3; Lk 4:18; cf. Mt 25:35-36; Mk 3:5-6; Lk 7:39; 19:7).

Israel’s prophetic social conscience is alive and well today, thanks to men like Rabbi Arik Ascherman (www.rhr.israel.net/), academic Jeff Halper (www.icahd.org/eng/) and former Israeli soldier Yehuda Shaul (www.breakingthesilence.org.il). Venture through the checkpoints, they say, and notice who humiliates whom. Note how the Wall keeps Palestinians from reaching orchards, markets, health clinics. Listen as bulldozers demolish Palestinian homes. Watch Jewish settlers roam the streets of Hebron unchecked, destroying Palestinian property and injuring children. Count the Jewish settlements as they appear in direct violation of the 4th Geneva Convention. Smell the teargas as Israeli soldiers fire canisters and bullets at children whose only arsenal is the rubble at their feet.

The idea that the Palestinians would never agree to peaceful coexistence is a myth. If they saw clear signs that Israel’s government were committed to fair play; if they had reason to believe Israel weren’t waging a war of attrition; if, that is, they had cause for hope, popular support for violent resistance would dwindle. Hamas won the election last January not because Palestinians fancy suicide bombings but because Fatah was hopelessly corrupt and had accomplished little at the negotiating table, and because Hamas was widely know for its social programs and fiscal responsibility.

How, then, might followers of Jesus respond to this grinding conflict in the Land? Ms. Joiner points to Jesus’ crucifixion as proof that “no true peace comes about without bloodshed.” But doesn’t the cross show Jesus enduring, rather than inflicting, suffering? And doesn’t Jesus summon me to take up my own cross (Mt 16:24), not crucify somebody else? I affirm with the Zionists that Jews have the right to live safely in the land. But they do not have the right to engage in ethnic cleansing. All the more so if they truly are “God’s people.”