Over the course of time I’ve noticed a troubling trend: it’s *almost* impossible to have a reasonable discussion with fellow Christians who believe we are called to give unwavering support to the modern secular nation-state of Israel.
This, of course, has led me to try to figure out why this is the case. Why do so many Christians reject basic facts about Israel? Why do so many of us have an aversion to believing truth on this issue?
As your list-maker-in-chief, I have a few ideas as to why this seems to occur. So, here are my five reasons so many of us irrationally support Israel — in spite of truth or biblical ethics:
1. Bad theology regarding Israel has led us to become victims of our own confirmation bias.
Confirmation bias is simply the logical fallacy where we only accept information that confirms what we believed at the onset. Essentially, confirmation bias is an unwillingness to consider what’s true. I’ve rarely seen such a strong unwillingness to learn as I do when talking to people about the nation of Israel.
For those of us who grew up in pro-Zionist versions of Christianity, we begin with a strong bent toward confirmation bias. We’re taught a message of, “Israel is God’s chosen nation, and the whole world is trying to wipe them out,” and then flavor that up a bit with a threat that God will curse anyone who doesn’t stand with them. As a result, we have a strong tendency to consume, accept or interpret information, only in ways that further a narrative where Israel is the good guy.
Unfortunately, the world isn’t so neat and clean as to fit within these narratives — and using them causes us to overlook the reality that the nation of Israel is engaged in some horrible, unjust and oppressive behaviors. In fact, some of those evil behaviors are even in defiance of international law — and yet we continually find ways to irrationally justify it.
2. We don’t listen to Palestinian voices — not even our Christian brothers and sisters in Palestine.
I’ll be honest — I’ve never met a radically pro-Israel individual who has ever spent much time listening to the voices of average Palestinians. And, why would one need to? To achieve our confirmation bias, we have no need to listen to the other side. In fact, many are unaware that there are Christian Palestinians — let alone taken the time to actually listen to them talk about their own lives and their experiences living in occupied Palestine.
If one did, the stories they’d hear would challenge the Americanized version of the narrative we grew up with. Stories of Israeli soldiers demolishing their crops at harvest season, stories of being denied access to basic water while Israelis across the street have enough to water their lawns, stories of being spat upon because they’re Christians, churches being set ablaze by Israelis, or their children being tear gassed on the way to school or terrorized in the night by Israeli soldiers. These are the stories you’ll hear from Palestinian Christians.
Why do so many American Christians dismiss these realities as bogus “propaganda?” It’s because they’ve never taken the time to listen to the Christian voices from Palestine. (But if you’d like to listen to a Christian voice from Palestine, I have an hour-long interview you can listen to, here.)
3. Criticism of Israel is criticism of America.
In addition to overt reasons we blindly stand with Israel, I think there are subconscious reasons as well. Mainly, I believe that it’s impossible to condemn the behavior of Israel without condemning the behavior of America.
Think about it: an entire people group show up and take a land that already has people living there? The indigenous people are then displaced from their lands and homes, their resources are taken from them, and then are terrorized by a foreign army?
Sound remotely familiar? The story of Israel is the story of America. Perhaps that’s why so many love it, while so many find it inherently unjust. One cannot condemn the behavior of Israel without condemning our own — and that, I fear, is too often an unpardonable sin in America.
4. We’re afraid that critiquing the actions of a nation state makes us guilty of being “anti-semitic.”
There’s good reason to fear this one — Christian Zionists will be quick to paint you out as being anti-semitic for expressing even the slightest critique of Israel. But let me be clear: condemning the actions of a nation or culture is not anti-semitic.
Condemning illegal Israeli settlements is no more anti-Jew than criticizing American drone warfare is anti-Christian. This is about the behavior of a government and culture, not about ethnicity or religion.
If it is, the entire Old Testament was written by a bunch of anti-semites. You know all those prophets? Yeah — one of their main jobs was to rebuke Israel for evil and oppressive behavior. In fact, it’s one of the reasons so many of them (including Jesus) ended up dead.
Israel has a long history of twists and turns, sometimes behaving in alignment with God’s ways, and sometimes actively kicking against them. During seasons of the latter, God would raise up prophets to call them to repent — and I believe God is doing the same thing today. Thus, calling on Israel to repent of evil is not anti-semitic — it’s actually the epitome of “biblical.”
5. Standing in solidarity with Muslims would be a big no-no in American Christian culture.
(At this time, your honor, I would direct the court to Exhibit A: Wheaton College.)
While there are Christian Palestinians, it’s certainly true that the bulk of Palestinians happen to be Muslims — and that, I believe, creates a major problem for many American Christians. I mean, after all, they are quite often seen as somehow being the “enemy.”
Standing up for these Muslims? Acknowledging they are being oppressed and mistreated? And worse, acknowledging they are being oppressed and mistreated by the country that is supposedly God’s favorite?
Yeah, that’s just too much for most people to deal with. Far easier to stick with the good-guy-bad-guy cowboy narrative, where Muslims are always wearing black hats, than to contend with what may actually be true.
The issue of Israel and Palestine is no small issue — in many respects, the peace of an entire region could depend on whether or not Western influence takes a stand for justice and righteousness.
However, I see little hope of that happening until we become willing to recognize that we have blindly given one side our total loyalty — even in spite of facts, or biblical ethics.
Benjamin L. Corey, an Anabaptist author, speaker and blogger from Auburn, Maine, is the author of Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus. This first appeared on his blog, Formerly Fundie, where he discusses the intersection of faith and culture from a progressive/emergent/neo-Anabaptist vantage point.