Last Saturday, the Jerusalem Post reported that, “Tens of millions of Evangelical Christians are expected to pray for Israel in their churches on Sunday.” Fair enough, but I doubt they also prayed for the people of Gaza, who have little protection against Israel’s bombardment, no iron dome, and already live in appalling conditions.
Better, surely, for Christians to pray for justice, peace, a fair and balanced solution, and the dignity of all people in the region, whatever their faith or politics. I say this as an ordained Anglican cleric with three Jewish grandparents, one of them from a Holocaust family. I’ve also spent a great deal of time in Israel, and reported on the 2006 Lebanon War. In other words, I have connection as well as experience.
And it breaks my heart when churches turn this tragic situation into some sort of political and theological fetish, taking sides without context, and choosing friends without understanding. I’ve also discovered at great cost that whatever one says about the conflict, someone will be offended and condemn you in ugly terms. No matter.
The inescapable truth is that if Christians had acted in the genuine spirit of Jesus there would have been no expulsions of Jews, no mass slaughters, no pogroms, and no Holocaust. Anti-Semitism was an open wound in Europe for almost 2,000 years, and still screams its horrors. My first experience of it was when I was ordered out of a boy’s house by his father because I was a “f-—cking Jew.” I was seven.
If Jewish people had been treated properly, it is unlikely Israel would have come into being in 1948. The Jews cried out for a homeland where they could have dignity and safety. The birth defect of that event, however, was the expulsion and oppression of the Palestinian people. It has lasted for 73 years and the latest horrors are merely a symptom of the original injustice.
Christians are divided. Most evangelical churches have taken a pronounced pro-Israel line, but there’s a major difference between a post-Shoah theology that beautifully emphasizes the long-expunged Jewishness of Jesus, and an extremist eschatology that ignores the plight of the Palestinians and empowers the most extreme in Jewish circles. The morbid desire to fight an end-times war — to the last Jew and the last Palestinian — in some bizarre belief that this will lead to the second coming is not only barbaric but a grim misreading of scripture.
Then, of course, there are those more liberal Christians who stand with the Palestinians, but give far too little time to the Jewish experience. Spend time in the West Bank by all means, but if only such solidarity had been shown to the Jews of Russia and Ukraine in the 1890s (my ancestors) or Berlin, Paris, Warsaw or pretty much anywhere else in 1940.
There’s a litany of realities that are often overlooked. The Palestinians have been and are treated terribly. The Arab states have been hypocritical and unethical, often suppressing their own people as badly and sometimes worse. Some in the Muslim world boast fraternity with Palestine but govern as despots.
Anti-Semitism is filthy, and even Jewish people indifferent to the Middle East have been its victims recently. The United States, and formerly the Soviet Union, use the region for proxy war, testing out their weapons vicariously, more concerned with power politics than humanity and morality.
I honestly don’t see any short-term solution to the quagmire, but I do know that on my many travels to Israel and Palestine what astounds me is not the extremism but the decency of people on all sides. It won’t be solved by hard left platitudes or hard right blindness, but by something far more complex and revolutionary. Taking absolute positions is easy and comfortable, but ultimately pointless.
A miracle? Well, there are precedents, and they’ve often happened in the neighbourhood.
But in the short-term, work to criminalize the arms trade, oblige all governments to abide by international agreements and human rights codes, make religion irrelevant for citizenship qualification, invest enormously into regional infrastructure, and reward those who genuinely pursue peace rather than war.
And yes, pray. But for all who face danger, not just some.
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Rev. Michael Coren is a Toronto-based writer and contributing columnist to the Star’s Opinion section and iPolitics. Follow him on Twitter: is a Toronto-based writer and contributing columnist to the Star’s Opinion section and iPolitics. Follow him on Twitter: @michaelcoren
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