By Ignoring History, Christians—Like Many Others—Get the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Wrong

Aug. 15 2017

Enthusiastic and well-meaning Christians who naively hope to foster peace between Israelis and Palestinians, Robert Nicholson writes, tend to turn a blind eye to the facts:

Who has not encountered these zealous “ambassadors of reconciliation” who leap from issue to issue, injustice to injustice, driven by a Christ-like concern for the downtrodden but afflicted by a raging case of presentism? These peacemakers have little interest in how a given injustice came to be because the task of acquiring such knowledge would be so arduous as to impair their ability to parachute in and out of conflict zones with one-size-fits-all solutions. What matters is today: what I see, what I feel, what God is telling me. History is supplanted by sentiment, or—to hear them tell it—the urging of the Holy Spirit.

This approach was affirmed in a recent Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking seminar held at a popular U.S. megachurch in Chicago. Teaching a rapt audience how to facilitate reconciliation between Jews and Arabs, the speaker said, “Both sides have their own experiences of the same events. At some point it really doesn’t matter who started it if we want to play the role of the peacemaker.”

That Christians would approach the world this way is bizarre. Many writers over the centuries have pointed out that Christians, like their Jewish forebears, are perhaps the most historically-minded of all people. . . . For the Christian, transcendent meaning can only be found in an appreciation of history. “In contrast to ahistorical cultures,” Reinhold Niebuhr wrote in his book Faith and History, “biblical faith affirms the potential meaning of life in history. It is in history, and not in a flight from history, that the divine power which bears and completes history is revealed.” . . .

By way of example, Nicholson cites an article from the Economist on the 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War, which betrays the same sort of indifference to history:

To read [this article] is to encounter Jews resolving ex nihilo to bomb other people’s planes and take other people’s cities for no other reason than to pray in Jerusalem. That the Six-Day War was a response to an abiding and active Arab plan to destroy the young Jewish state goes entirely unstated. . .

“Fifty years after 1967,” [the essay concludes], “it has become too easy for Israel to forget that, just a short drive away, the grinding occupation of Palestinians has become all but permanent.” Here [the Economist’s author] touches on one of the most vexing issues of the conflict, subtly implying that Israel is to blame for the situation and therefore bears the burden for fixing it.

Following the logic of his article, that seems right. Following the logic of history, that seems wrong. Following the logic of the peacemaking seminar, it doesn’t really matter: whoever seems to be suffering the most right now deserves compensation from the other. Pursuing justice is noble, but this kind of indiscriminate pursuit may indeed lay the world to waste.

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More about: Christianity, Israel & Zionism, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Jewish-Christian relations, Reinhold Niebuhr, Six-Day War

How Israel Can Best Benefit from Its Newfound Friendship with Brazil

Jan. 21 2019

Earlier this month, Benjamin Netanyahu was in Brazil—the first Israeli prime minister to visit the country—for the inauguration of its controversial new president Jair Bolsonaro. Bolsonaro has made clear his eagerness to break with his predecessors’ hostility toward the Jewish state, and Netanyahu has responded positively. To Emanuele Ottolenghi, the improved relations offer an opportunity for joint cooperation against Hizballah, which gets much of its revenue through cooperation with Brazilian drug cartels. In this cooperative effort, Ottolenghi cautions against repeating mistakes made in an earlier outreach to Paraguay:

Hizballah relies heavily on the proceeds of transnational crime networks, especially in the Tri-Border Area [where] Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay [meet], but until recently, Brazilian officials were loath to acknowledge its presence in their country or its involvement in organized crime. [But] Bolsonaro’s top priority is fighting organized crime. Combating Hizballah’s terror finance is a vital Israeli interest. Making the case that Israel’s and Brazil’s interests dovetail perfectly should be easy. . . .

But Israel should be careful not to prioritize symbols over substance, a mistake already made once in Latin America. During 2013-2018, Netanyahu invested heavily in his relationship with Horacio Cartes, then president of Paraguay. Cartes, . . . too, had a genuine warmth for Israel, which culminated in his decision in May 2018 to move Paraguay’s embassy to Jerusalem. Most importantly, from Israel’s point of view, Paraguay began voting with Israel against the Arab bloc at the UN.

However, the Paraguayan side of the Tri-Border Area remained ground zero for Hizballah’s money laundering in Latin America. The Cartes administration hardly lifted a finger to act against the terror funding networks. . . . Worse—when critics raised Hizballah’s [local] terror-financing activities, Paraguayan ministers confronted their Israeli counterparts, threatening to change Paraguay’s friendly international posture toward Israel. [And] as soon as Cartes left office, his successor, Mario Abdo Benítez, moved Paraguay’s embassy back to Tel Aviv. . . . Israel’s five-year investment ultimately yielded no embassy move and no progress on combating Hizballah’s terror network. . . .

Israel should make the battle against Hizballah’s terror-finance networks in Latin America its top regional priority.

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More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Brazil, Hizballah, Israel & Zionism, Israel diplomacy, Latin America