Talking to Christians honestly about the Middle East

I recently attended a program on a Sunday morning after services at a prominent Main Line Protestant Church in the Main Line suburbs of Philadelphia on the prospects of peace between Arabs and Jews in Israel which featured a rabbi who was the director of an interreligious-based center in Israel. There were about 75 people in attendance. Unfortunately, this rabbi’s political orientation became quite evident early on: his mantra was that Israel must do a far better job, there was no violence between Israeli Arabs and Jews, both sides were at fault for the lack of peace. He went out of his way to mention the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, whose Kach Party was banned by Israel due to his incendiary views of separation between Jews and Arabs, before he was assassinated by a terrorist in New York in 1990, as an example of extremism of Jews, and gave the distinctly wrong impression that many were engaged in the “price tag” movement which targeted churches and mosques for defacement inside Israel. If this indeed was such a prominent facet (indeed it is not, at best a small, old fringe group whose views have been vilified), it has not been made by Israel’s enemies as part of any dialogue or excuse for retaliatory actions or terrorism. Most troubling, he spoke for 30 minutes, and did not mention Islam, Hamas, or the Muslim Brotherhood once.

Sure enough, the very first question during Q&A was from a gentleman who asked about who Hamas was. The rabbi’s response: there are many flavors of Muslims, just as there are of Christians, and that while they have been violent towards Israel (failing to mention their genocidal charter against Jews, not merely Israelis), there was a separate military wing and a political wing, (which is completely false, even Hamas says that is a distinction only Europeans, the UN and the media has made) and besides not all Arabs are like that. He failed to explain that Hamas is in essence the local branch of the extremist Muslim Brotherhood, and supported by Iran, Qatar and Turkey.

I stood up and commented that: Israel lives in a hostile neighborhood, despite the Arabs continuous rejections Israel has still repeatedly offered to make painful concessions for peace, that Christians inside Israel are doing far better than elsewhere- which he distinctly failed to mention to a group of Christians no less- and that President Abbas has said Israel is engaged in a genocide (the latest iteration referring to the recent war in Gaza) and apartheid and, he will only accept a state free of Jews, which is racist. His response: he shrugged off Abu Mazen’s statement as kind of silly, he could not really mean it, and that politicians make different statements all the time (as if we are supposed to ignore it and brush it off as meaningless?). He said he knows lots of lovely imams and clergy. That’s nice. Peace, love, understanding, kumbaya is all beautiful, a goal we might all want- but is fantasy, with the genocidal, radicalized Muslims that are incited to do serious harm, based on sharia, the Koran and jihad, to Israel and Jews. I was dazed, disappointed and ultimately dejected, and realized the dangers this kind of message conveyed.

It is thus abundantly clear that Christians want answers and basic education, not whitewashed, sugar-coated, varnished politicized views that are devoid of facts, context and the truth. Thus, in that vein, let me propose that in talking to Christian groups especially about the potentially incendiary Middle East, that the following be included to more fully and honestly inform:

• Israel wants and yearns for peace- but its security and rights come first
• The Jewish People’s connection to the Land of Israel is over 3500 years; Jerusalem, the holiest city, has always been a unified, whole entity, Jews inexorably returning when foreign invaders kicked them out, and has had a Jewish majority since the mid-19th Century; the Jews are not colonialists
• Israel is an open society, a democracy, surrounded by 22 Arab-Muslim dominated states, many of which are autocractic, theocratic dictatorships, none of which are democratic; its population is 6.2 million Jews and 1.5 million Arab citizens surrounded by 350 Arabs; a land mass ratio of 56:1; Israel is the David versus the Goliath of the Arab-Muslim world.
• Israel has shared Judeo-Christian values with the U.S., and values the sanctity of life; biology trumps ideology (see Israel’s healthcare system which treats all equally, the victim and terrorist alike, Arab and Jew; even Hamas figures have sent their relatives for medical treatment in Israel, which was provided even during the Gaza War, and even up in the Golan near the Syrian border during its civil war)
• The IDF is the most moral army in the world: has to its own detriment, warned its enemies, terrorists and civilians that it was going to be attacking missile launch and weapons sites during the Gaza War, refrained from shooting when they knew civilians were present to prevent collateral damage and instead focused on precision strikes
• As retired Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz has long argued to liberals and progressives: if you are for minority rights, women’s rights, gay rights, top quality health care, education, business opportunities, a robust and free press and a developed, respected judiciary which honors the rule of law, there is only one country in the Middle East which shares and abides by these values, and it is not even close: Israel
• That only in Israel are Christians protected, their population growing and thriving as opposed to the rest of the Middle East where they are being persecuted, enslaved and murdered by Muslims
• Prime Minister Netanyahu has repeatedly said Israel will recognize a Palestinian Arab state if they will recognize and accept Israel as the nation state of the Jewish People. Unfortunately, the Palestinian Authority has refused; in fact, Palestinian Arabs have rejected a state living side-by-side with Israel in 1937, 1947, 1967, 200, 2008, 2013. No other people on the planet have rejected state they claim to want so often
• Israel is not an apartheid state; it is an egalitarian society, where Arab citizens of Israel have full, equal rights, serve in the Knesset, Supreme Court, Diplomatic corps
• Over 90% of Arabs who live in Judea & Samaria/West Bank, are governed by the P.A., not Israel
• Polling consistently shows that the country most Palestinian Arabs aspire to is Israel, and would prefer to live there than in a “Palestinian State”
• Israel engages in tremendous humanitarian efforts around the world, frequently as first-responders during natural disasters, medical epidemics
• Israel shares its amazing resources, high-technological advancements, innovations for all humanity. What do the Arabs share, beside oil and terrorism?
• We have all set the bar too low for Palestinian Arabs, treat them like children, always victims, never credited with being responsible actors. Their goals as stated in their pronouncements, words, deeds, charters, is to destroy Israel- and in some cases (ie Hamas Charter) the Jewish People. This is not a secret
• The P.A. and Hamas, the governing bodies of the Palestinian Arabs, are rife with corruption; more international funds have been bestowed on them than anyone else on earth; most have been subject to massive corruption, which generous donors mostly from the West have never accounted for, and have never trickled down to the people
• The P.A. is engaged in a vicious multi-pronged war against Israel, including BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) and lawfare, which not only shows no signs of letting up, but has increased, and demonstrates they are not genuine partners for peaceful co-existence and recognition of Israel
• At its core, this is a religious war- Islam since its inception in the 7th Century has proclaimed it is triumphant and superior: Jews and Christians can live as dhimmis, second class amongst them, or will be converted or killed, Muslims are enjoined not to befriend “infidels,” not trust them, Muslims are permitted to lie in order to engage in the ultimate goal, which is to establish sharia law throughout the world. Islam, in fact, is the most intolerant religion in the world.
• All of Israel has been designated as “waqf ” (an inalienable religious endowment in Islamic law) which has far-reaching political ramifications as it prohibits and precludes any authentic PA peace treaty with Israel. At least three times in recent weeks, Abbas’ advisor on Religious and Islamic Affairs and the Palestinian Authority’s Supreme Shari’ah Judge have made statements showing that the PA agrees with Hamas’ religious belief claiming Islamic sanctity over all of the State of Israel.
• Does every minority deserve a state of their own? How about one that is in constant word and deed denying your right to exist and whose unadulterated goal is to eradicate you?
• The Palestinian Arabs have denied the Jewish connection to the two destroyed Temples, upon the ruins of which the Muslim conquerers built the Al Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem. This nonsense not only perverts Jewish history, it negates Christianity as well, denying that Jesus ever preached at the Temple in Jerusalem
• The impediment to peace can be summarized as follows: Non recognition of Israel; delegitimization and demonization; erasing Israel on maps, replaced by a fictitious Arab entity; preaching- from Koranic sources- that Jews are descendants of monkeys and pigs; engaging in medieval blood libels; supporting the glorification of violence and terror – pronouncing that the war on Jews is religious and it is the duty of Muslims to kill, for every time they kill Jews it brings them closer to redemption; murderers are heroes; Hitler is a role model
• The P.A. has profoundly poisoned the minds of their children to hate via textbooks, social media, mosques, PA-controlled media, and cultural activities, and PA President Abbas himself; generations have been so brainwashed; hateful beliefs about Jews are ingrained in Palestinian Arab psyche- it is not merely about the political entity of Israel
• This is not about “the occupation.” It is about intimidating and weakening Jews and the Jewish state within any borders. It is not about the lack of a Palestinian Arab state (in fact there has been one since the 1920s- Jordan, which comprises 78% of the original Palestine Mandate which was intended to be the homeland of the Jewish state: even today, 70% of Jordan’s population is “Palestinian Arab.”)
• Negotiating a “two state solution” will not bring peace to the region. Quite the contrary- a Palestinian Arab state at Israel’s border would generate a lethal situation for Israel, it would be a failed terrorist state, aimed at the heart of Israel
• Concessions to violent Palestinian Arabs will not bring a respite from violence. History has consistently proven that when Israel has made concessions (ie per Oslo Accords, unilaterally withdrawing from Gaza, the security zone in Lebanon) Israelis are perceived as weak and thus in the Arab mindset, more vulnerable to additional violence. In fact, the reverse is required: the only language Arabs understand is a superior force.
• Do not expect Israel to simply turn the other cheek in the face of terrorism and the existential threat they have faced since declaring independence in 1948. The Bible commands that when someone arises to kill you, you kill them first
• The Bible also says God will bless those who bless Israel and curse those who curse Israel. (Gen12:3)
• Israel and the Jewish People deserve respect

Israel is not a perfect society, but then again neither is the U.S. It is striving to do better, be fair, treat all with respect. But it cannot be held to impossible standards, especially when its very existence is always under attack.

About the Author
Lee S. Bender co-authored a book, “Pressing Israel: Media Bias Exposed From A-Z” (Pavilion Press) with Jerome Verlin, and has been speaking about anti-Israel bias and activities to numerous schools, synagogues, churches and civic groups, and written dozens of articles published in local and national media. He is Co-President of the Zionist Organization of America-Greater Philadelphia District, a board member of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Philadelphia, Israel Advocacy Committee of Jewish Federation among other organizations. A former Philadelphia Assistant District Attorney, he has been in private practice as a trial attorney in Pennsylvania and New Jersey since 1995.