Christian Zionism III: Is It Unethical?
Many evangelicals deny a one-to-one correspondence between the modern State of Israel and the prophetic promised return of Jews to the land—because the return is to be accompanied by widespread spiritual renewal and is not necessarily connected to expansive land claims made by some Zionists—while at the same time affirming a close connection between the two. Many Israelis would insist spiritual renewal is indeed taking place, rejoining moderns in the land to the God of Israel in ways not always visible to outsiders.
For this and other reasons, Christian Zionists generally think we need more humility when criticizing Israelis for how they treat Palestinians—particularly when the much-criticized fence (more popularly known as "the wall") has nearly eliminated the suicide bombings that were once a weekly occurrence. They wonder how we would respond if we experienced a succession of 9/11-like attacks, regularly over several years, in a country the size of New Jersey or one-seventeenth the size of Germany, where nearly everyone knows someone who has been killed or maimed. More and more they see the hypocrisy of critics of Israel, who routinely excoriate Israel for alleged human rights abuses but typically ignore Iran, Syria, China, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, and other countries deemed "not free" in annual Freedom House assessments. They ask why the UN is routinely upset about the so-called occupation of the West Bank, but are silent about the illegal annexation of northern Cyprus by Turkey for the last four decades, the occupation of Kashmir by India and Tibet by China, the 100,000 dead in the Syrian civil war, and the looming war across the Middle East between Shiites and Sunnis. They also notice that critics of Israel regularly ignore human rights abuses against Palestinian Christians perpetrated by Palestinian Muslims and disregarded by the Palestinian Authority.
Some of us would argue that completely apart from questions of theology, all good-willed persons should support the current state of Israel because it is not only the only true liberal democracy in the Middle East—which therefore offers the best environment for human flourishing—but also because it is good for Palestinians. It is the only country in the Middle East that provides freedoms of speech and press, free trade unions, and religious freedom—for women, ethnic and religious minorities, and homosexuals. While Palestinian Arabs are free to take advantage of all these privileges, not all do. But overall the 1.3 million Israeli Arabs are the best-educated, healthiest, and best-fed Palestinians in the Middle East. The vast majority of this prosperity has come from citizenship or other participation in the Israeli state.
Palestinians who live under the PA have not been so fortunate. Despite having received, according to a World Bank official writing in 2004, the highest per capita aid transfer in the history of foreign aid anywhere in the world—enough to have paid every Palestinian on the West Bank $2000 per year, which is more than the average Egyptian earns annually—Arab Palestine has not prospered. More than half of all that foreign aid is unaccounted for.
Despite all this, Jimmy Carter and others speak of Israeli apartheid. This accusation is not only inflammatory but egregiously unfair. South African apartheid was based on race. "Blacks" and "coloreds" could not vote and had no representation in the South African parliament. But Israeli citizens of all races—Arabs and Jews alike—can vote, be represented in the Knesset, and have recourse to the courts.
Apartheid was also a legal system that restricted participation to a minority that had control over a majority. In Israel the majority give equal legal rights and protection to Arab citizens, who make up 20 percent of the population of Israel.
Irshad Manji, a Muslim, has written, "At only 20 percent of the population, would Arabs even be eligible for election if they squirmed under the thumb of apartheid? Would an apartheid state extend voting rights to women and the poor in local elections, which Israel did for the first time in the history of Palestinian Arabs?"
No matter how Israel responds to the current political crisis, Christian Zionists will continue to believe that the land of Israel remains theologically important and that the Jews continue to have an important role in the history of redemption. This is the contribution which Christian Zionists have made to the Christian debates about Israel: since the Enlightenment they have insisted that the Christian church has not replaced the Jews without remainder, that the old and new covenants were integrally connected in the time of Jesus and remain so today, and that if the covenant with Israel is eternal then the promise of land is also still significant.
To read the complete article with the footnotes included, click here.
Gerald McDermott is Jordan-Trexler Professor of Religion at Roanoke College, Distinguished Senior Fellow at Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion at Baylor University, and Research Associate, Jonathan Edwards Centre Africa, University of the Free State, South Africa. He coauthored The Theology of Jonathan Edwards (Oxford University Press, 2012), which won Christianity Today's top prize for Theology and Ethics in 2013.