An Israeli Solution to the US Racial Crisis?

Lieberman Race Protests

With America gripped by conflicting rhetoric over the nature of race relations and police performance, has anyone yet suggested this solution: Just get the African-Americans to go back to Africa?

If so, surely it would be from the political fringe. If anyone knows of a more mainstream source among right-of-center bulwarks like Fox News or Rush Limbaugh-type radio programs, please comment below.

But essentially, this is a talking point on racial issues in Israel. And it is not a marginal viewpoint, but from the center of current government.

A little over a week ago, according to Reuters:

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman proposed on Friday that Arab citizens of Israel be offered financial incentives to leave the country and relocate to a future Palestinian state.

“Those (Israeli Arabs) who decide that their identity is Palestinian will be able to forfeit their Israeli citizenship and move and become citizens of the future Palestinian state,” he wrote in the manifesto, entitled Swimming Against the Stream, published on his Facebook page and his party’s website.

“Israel should even encourage them to do so with a system of economic incentives,” he said.

Lieberman’s party, Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel, Our Home), captured 11 of 120 parliament seats in the most recent elections, as part of the winning coalition with Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud.

Encouraging Arabs to leave is not official government policy, but apparently leading Israeli politicians believe it is good rhetoric to rally their base, at the least.

America did have a moment in history when such views were put forward. Certainly the context in Israel today is different than America, both then and now.

But America, despite its faults and residual, often unconscious biases, has forged a society establishing full racial equality in law and in the mindset of most its citizens. The protests today are demanding improvement of an already present good.

The sometime (perhaps often?) poor administration of this good speaks to the widespread triumph of the ideal. Comparing it to other contexts reminds about how fleeting an ideal can be, and how easily it can be threatened.

Israel seeks to navigate two principles not easily combined given its demographic makeup. It wishes to be both a Jewish and a democratic state. As I wrote in an earlier post summarizing the critique of Stephen Sizer, especially as concerns the Occupied Territories, one of these principles seemingly must slide.

Perhaps not. But fortunately America can sidestep the question. It is not a nation for whites, blacks, Jews, Arabs, or anyone in particular. It is a nation for citizens.

Cultural questions still seek definition by many, or perhaps, there should be no definition, for many others. This debate is warranted, within the scope of the Bill of Rights.

But Lieberman’s debate is not. Certainly not in America; morally not, I and many Jews would argue, in Israel.

Or should those who disagree be sent to exile instead?



Orient and Occident: Winter Edition

Orient and Occident

From my latest article on Orient and Occident:

‘The church in Egypt is better resourced to participate in society than in other countries of the Arab world, whereas in Palestine/Israel it constitutes only 1% of the population,’ says Stephen Sizer, a renowned critic of Christian Zionism, who presented a series of lectures in Cairo, including at the Anglican Cathedral.

Sizer is an Anglican minister from the UK and directs most of his energy combating US evangelical Christians who find Biblical warrant for supporting the Zionist policies of Israel. Instead, Biblical theology should direct the Christian to support the oppressed and stand for justice, on both sides of the separation wall.

Yet local expressions of theology have failed Palestinian Christians as well. In an interview with Orient and Occident Sizer suspects a similar deficiency among many Egyptian Copts.

‘Theology that says, “Stay out of politics and worship quietly; don’t get in the way or cause problems” will lead only to a victim mentality,’ maintains Sizer. ‘We have to get out of our ghetto and show the rule of law applies to everyone.’

Please click here to continue reading the article on Orient and Occident.

Orient and Occident is the bilingual online magazine of the Egyptian Anglican Church, of which I am privileged to be the editor. We seek to highlight voices who are able to articulate how the values of faith – Christian in particular, shared widely with Islam – can be lived practically in society, and in particular the Arab world. We welcome contributions from Christians and Muslims alike.

Please click here to view the Winter edition homepage in English, and here in Arabic. This season’s edition also features the following articles:

While on this blog Julie and I always appreciate your sharing of our thoughts about Egypt, we would like to invite you particularly to share any of these articles you find enjoyable or challenging. We hope Orient and Occident will be a service to the Arab world – both by inspiring its readers inside and by sharing a vision with the world outside. Thanks for any small steps you can take to help it be better known.

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Palestinian Children Languish under Israeli Occupation

Baghdad Declaration

Moves by the Arab League in concert with British activists, are putting pressure on Israeli authorities to observe international legal commitments on children detained, imprisoned and tortured in Israeli jails.

The Baghdad Declaration on the Palestinian and Arab Prisoners in the Israeli Occupation Prisons, issued on 12 December, 2012, includes a devastating critique of Israeli treatment of prisoners including children, and calls for legal sanctions against Israelis involved in their detention.

The 11-point Declaration issued on the second day of the 70-nation conference in the Iraqi capital includes the setting up of an Arab fund to support Palestinian and Arab prisoners and their families.

Hosted by the Arab League under the auspices of the Iraqi Government, it was addressed by both Iraqi President Galal Eltalibany, and Iraqi Prime Minister Nori Al Maliky as well as Palestinian Prime Minister Sallam Fayyad and Secretary General of the League of Arab States, Dr Nabil Elaraby.  British jurists, parliamentarians, and representatives of civil society organizations also attended.

The Declaration calls on the United Nations and the international community to hold Israel accountable for its treatment of Palestinian prisoners, especially children, using all available legal mechanisms.

Between 500 and 700 Palestinian children are arrested by Israeli soldiers every year, according to NGOs.

Rev. Stephen Sizer
Rev. Stephen Sizer

‘I chose to speak on child prisoners because it is there that I believe we see most blatantly human rights abuses,’ said the Revd. Stephen Sizer, vicar of Virginia Water in Surrey, England, a presenter at the conference, who helped assemble the sizeable British contingent.

A widely-published critic of ‘Christian Zionism’, he is currently under church investigation following a complaint – which he opposes – of anti-Semitism issued by the Board of Deputies of British Jews.

‘Israel breaches international law by transferring minors from Palestine to Israeli jails,’ said Mr Sizer to Lapido Media, referring to the Fourth Geneva Convention. ‘They should be returned to Palestine if they have committed offences.’

Stone throwing

Sizer’s report to the conference sponsored by the United Nations and Arab League says that most of the offences committed by children are throwing stones at soldiers or settlers in illegal Jewish settlements in the Occupied Territories.

‘Armed resistance of an illegal military occupation is legitimate in international law,’ said Mr Sizer.

Gerard Horton of Defense for Children International (DCI) who also attended the conference, does not deny children offend, but says that they have legal rights like anyone else.

‘Regardless of what they’re accused of, they shouldn’t be arrested in the middle of the night in terrifying raids, they should not be painfully tied up and blindfolded sometimes for hours on end, they should be informed of the right to silence and they should be entitled to have a parent present during questioning.’

A DCI-Palestine report found that among 311 sworn affidavits taken from children between January 2008 and January 2012, 90 percent were blindfolded and 75 percent suffered physical violence. A further 33 percent reported being strip searched, while 12 percent endured solitary confinement.

Mark Negev, spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said in the past hat rock-throwing, throwing Molotov cocktails, and other forms of violence are ‘unacceptable’ – but stopping it should not be achieved illegally.

Israeli security agency Shin Bet denies the use of unlawful methods:  ‘No one questioned, including minors, is kept alone in a cell as a punitive measure or in order to obtain a confession,’ it says.

But one 16-year old Mohamed Shabrawi (16) of Tulkarem in the West Bank, cited by DCI, tells of soldiers seizing him in his home at 2:30am. He claimed he spent the first seventeen days of his detention in solitary confinement, and was told his family would be arrested if he did not cooperate.

After twenty days he first saw a lawyer. After twenty-five days he was formally charged. Finally, he confessed to being a member in a banned organization and was sentenced to forty-five days in prison.

Horton believes the abuse of children is meant as a deterrent, as many interviewed minors state they never wish to see another soldier or go near a checkpoint.

‘Human rights abuses occur on all sides,’ said Mr Sizer. ‘We are most concerned about the use of detention by the Israelis for political purposes.’

This article was first published on Lapido Media on January 2, 2012.

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US Congressman Advocates ‘Limited Voting Power’

Does the phrase used in the title of this post suggest images of dictatorships restricting the rights of its people? Perhaps instead the decline of representative democracy in the face of big business and multinational corporations?

On the contrary, it is the positive suggestion issued by a US congressman, though fortunately, concerning no one in his own constituency.

Joe Walsh is a Republican congressman from the 8th district of Illinois. On May 3 he penned an op-ed for the Washington Times, reprinted in the Jerusalem Post, advocating a one-state solution in Israel.

The one-state solution is not a bad idea; I have cautiously advocated for it here. The basic premise is that Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza would be incorporated into one state. This would drop the contentious negotiating and intractable issues of the two-state solution, and the difficulties of creating an independent Palestine.

The issue with Walsh is that he argues for an Israel for Israelis. It would go too far to say ‘only’, but his preference is obvious. He writes,

Those Palestinians who wish to may leave their Fatah- and Hamas-created slums and move to the original Palestinian state: Jordan.

Unfortunately, the will of sovereign Jordan does not enter into his analysis.

But the rub of his Israeli preference bears ill fruit just a few words later, when he discusses those Palestinians who do not leave.

Those Palestinians who remain behind in Israel will maintain limited voting power but will be awarded all the economic and civil rights of Israeli citizens.

Let us admit that these economic and civil rights are substantial. Yet how is it possible that a proud inheritor of ‘all men are created equal’ and ‘out of many, one’ might limit the fundamental political rights of a whole class of people?

As long as Israel maintains the Palestinians in their occupied territories, they have no claim to political rights in the Israeli system. Yet Walsh advocates the annexation of these territories, making Palestinians, at the very least, residents of Israel.

For Walsh, this does not make them citizens.

Rev. Stephen Sizer has described the dilemma of the Israeli situation. There are three choices:

1)      Allow an independent Palestinian state and maintain a Jewish and democratic Israel.

2)      Create one democratic state of all the territories, giving up a mandated Jewish nature.

3)      Maintain the occupied territories and forfeit the democratic nature of a still Jewish state.

Walsh has amended the third choice: Create one nation but limit democratic rights.

Within the op-ed Walsh does not elaborate on his proposal. What sort of ‘limited voting power’ does he intend? Readers are invited to share if they have heard Walsh out and can demonstrate consistency with cherished American values.

On current reading, however, Walsh appears to hold to the values of Manifest Destiny and the 3/5th Compromise. At one time, these were American indeed.

May the people of the 8th district in Illinois judge if they remain so.


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Christian Zionism: A Lecture in Cairo

Rev. Stephen Sizer

Rev. Stephen Sizer, a renowned expert on Christian Zionism delivered a series of lectures in Egypt at Cairo University, the Anglican Cathedral, and other venues. This article is a summary of his presentation delivered on February 15, 2012.

According to Sizer, Christian Zionism is the view that the modern state of Israel is the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy and thus deserving of our moral and political support.

Sizer opened with a brief history of Zionism, tracing its first political sponsor to Napoleon, who wished to wrest Jewish banking favor away from the British Empire in their struggle for supremacy. Britain eventually emerged triumphant, and then engaged Germany in the lead up to World War I, as both sides solicited Jewish favor in exchange for their support for a return of Jews to Palestine. The Belfour Declaration in 1917 was the pinnacle of Britain’s promise, set in the context of many geopolitical maneuvers with both Jews and Arabs.

The Christian element of Zionism received a great boost with the election of President Jimmy Carter in 1976, who believed the state of Israel represented the fulfillment of prophecy. During this time Rev. Jerry Falwell emerged as the leading advocate of Christian Zionism, and promised 70 million evangelical Christian votes for supporters of the cause.

After his death in 2007, Rev. John Hagee received his mantle, promising 50 million evangelical Christians would stand side-by-side with the 5 million Jews of Israel. Today, Sizer estimates 25% of US Christians identify with Christian Zionism, though this contrasts with only 5% of Christians worldwide.

Sizer identified five primary theological underpinnings of Christian Zionism, including:

  • Jews are to be restored to Greater Israel
  • Jerusalem is the eternal Jewish capital
  • The Jewish Temple is to be rebuilt
  • Antipathy towards Arabs and Islam
  • There will be a war of Armageddon

Theology, he noted, drives behavior. Sizer then illustrated how Zionist Christians:

  • Contribute money to support settlements and help Jews emigrate to Israel from Russia and elsewhere
  • Lobby the US government to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem
  • Support the Orthodox in their effort to rebuild the Temple
  • Oppose the peace process as it compromises ownership of the land
  • View politics through the lens of a coming war between Russia, China, Arabs, and Europe against Israel

The consequence of Christian Zionism, Sizer noted, was the destruction of the church in the Middle East. Historic Arab Christian communities are being squeezed by the competing powers of Zionism and Islamism, finding no place for themselves. Many are immigrating.

Former Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey warned that the holy sites of the Middle East could be transformed into a Christian theme park, in which the only Christian witness is carried by tourists and pilgrims.

Sizer closed his remarks by quoting from the 2006 Jerusalem Declaration on Christian Zionism, signed by the heads of the Latin, Syrian Orthodox, Anglican, and Evangelical Lutheran churches in Jerusalem. Highlights include:

We categorically reject Christian Zionist doctrines as false teaching that corrupts the biblical message of love, justice and reconciliation.

We reject the teachings of Christian Zionism that facilitate and support these policies as they advance racial exclusivity and perpetual war rather than the gospel of universal love, redemption, and reconciliation taught by Jesus Christ. Rather than condemn the world to the doom of Armageddon we call upon everyone to liberate themselves from the ideologies of militarism and occupation. Instead, let them pursue the healing of the nations!

We call upon Christians in churches on every continent to pray for the Palestinian and Israeli people, both of whom are suffering as victims of occupation and militarism.

We affirm that Israelis and Palestinians are capable of living together within peace, justice and security.

We are committed to non-violent resistance as the most effective means to end the illegal occupation in order to attain a just and lasting peace.

With urgency we warn that Christian Zionism and its alliances are justifying colonization, apartheid and empire-building.

During a question and answer session afterwards, Sizer explained how Israel would like to have three separate achievements, but can only have two. These include:

  • Democracy
  • A Jewish State
  • The Occupied Territories

Israel can succeed in being a democratic Jewish state if it gives up the territories to an independent Palestine.

Greater Israel can succeed in being a democracy should it incorporate the inhabitants of Palestine as full citizens with equal rights, if it gives up its Jewish nature.

Or, Israel can succeed (?) in being a Jewish colonial state, but only at the expense of giving up its democratic nature.

Sizer’s presentation was warmly received by the majority of attendees, many of whom were less than familiar with this largely American religious phenomenon. The only issue taken with Sizer was his acceptance of the term, Christian Zionism. Some angrily rejected the coupling as an oxymoron – Zionism is not Christian at all.

Rev. Sizer and Bishop Mouneer, who provided translation into Arabic.

Personal Reflection

I wince when issues of the world are reduced to banking and Jewish conspiracies. Sizer does not take this bait and run with it, but much of anti-Zionist discourse does. Still, ‘follow the money’ is a truth worth reflecting upon, but surely historic world capital has been available via other than the Jewish ‘cabal’, no matter how disproportionate Jewish influence might be relative to their population.

Yet from my superficial studies of world Judaism, I believe that for most of modern history the majority of Jews have been anti-Zionist themselves. Before the creation of Israel they waited for the advent of the Messiah to restore their fortunes to Jerusalem. Furthermore, many deemed Zionist efforts to be counter-productive to the social necessity of proving themselves loyal citizens to the nations in which they lived. Why then would Jewish bankers wish to swing worldwide sentiment to creation of a Jewish state? Far more research than I have done is necessary to determine the validity of the question, but however it is sliced, Zionism is a peculiar entity.

As per Christian Zionism, I wish to recognize first that few evangelicals I am familiar with would use this phrase as a self-appellation. It is not a movement, however much it is a sizeable theological-political sentiment. Moreover, its sympathizers are good Christians, contra the disbelief of some who commented at the close of the lecture. Money given to support poor Jews in Russia may be manipulated politically, but it comes from a generous heart to help ‘the least of these’, as Jesus commanded.

One omission from this particular lecture of Sizer was an evaluation of the Biblical sources. Why is Christian Zionism faulty interpretation? Its proponents certainly name chapter and verse to demonstrate the grand plan of God.

Sizer’s website contains resources to address this question, as do the writings of Colin Chapman. I do not wish to enter into this discussion here, but it will suffice to say I recognize many of the principles of Christian Zionism, or of dispensationalism, its theological underpinning, as worthy Biblical options for interpretation. Christians disagree over interpretation all the time – what is important is that a common reference point judge between disputants. Both sides appeal to scripture, and therefore must not be excluded as the enemy, even if in error.

For me, the definition of Christian Zionism as given by Sizer contains the key to its essential error. Modern political Israel may or may not be the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy. Yet even if it is, this should not translate into the necessity of moral and political support.

Rather, it is the principles outlined in the Jerusalem Declaration that must guide Christian evaluation of Israel, as of all nations, including their own. Do the policies of a state nurture or hinder the flowering of love, justice, and reconciliation? Careful reading of the news is necessary, but in many cases the government of Israel violates these values. When it does, Christians must object.

The Bible maintains that it was God’s anointed hand and the fulfillment of prophesy which smashed the Jewish state via the scepter of wicked Babylon in 586 BC, and then again by the Roman Empire in 70 AD. That this was God’s design did not call on the people to approve, only not to stand in the way. On the contrary, in the case of Babylon God promises he will judge its rulers for their injustice and oppression.

Is God moving history toward a final confrontation between the world and Israel during which Jesus will return and inaugurate his kingdom? Perhaps. Those who scoff would do well to view events through this particular interpretive lens and gauge the odd correspondence. Why else would such an unimportant piece of land command attention of the whole world?

Yet even if this vision is true, God will hold Israel’s leaders to account for their conduct – not based on political exigency, but on divine righteousness.

He will hold Christian Zionists to account all the same. He will, in fact, judge the world.

As Coptic Orthodox repeat incessantly in prayer, ‘According to your mercy, oh God, and not according to our sins.’

note: Please click here for a five minute video of Stephen Sizer giving an interview to a member of the Arab media after his presentation. Due to sound quality the questions were edited out, but should be clear enough from his answers given, which are presented in full.


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