Zionist and Christian: Out and Proud

A few months ago, I saw the newspaper story about a Brooklyn, New York middle school teacher who was told he could not wear a T-shirt declaring “Proud Zionist.” I instantly googled where to buy such a T-shirt. (The teacher is suing the school district on the grounds that other teachers were permitted to wear politically oriented slogans. While I question whether school-teachers ought to be wearing slogans in the first place, I do feel that T-shirts ought to be equal opportunity with respect to dress code.) I found the same shirt the Brooklyn teacher had worn online; I pondered sizes and colors. And thenI paused.Would the slogan merely spark unproductive contention with Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) supporters? 

In 2020, Nearly 60 percent of religious-bias hate crimes in America targeted Jews; a remarkable proportion of this venom appears to have come from the BDS movement. In practical terms, the BDS boycott of Israel has as its goal the complete return of the Palestinian refugees and their descendants, which would mean the end of Jewish sovereignty in the Middle East. There are many Christian and Muslim-majority countries, but in all the world there is only one Jewish country. As long as Jews around the world are still being attacked and killed just for being Jewish, there needs to be a place of refuge for Jews. Even in America, over the past year, one in every four Jews has been targeted by antisemitism in some way, and nearly four in 10 report changing their behavior for fear of being identified as Jews. A few weeks ago, a man reported being punched and given a black eye in Brooklyn for wearing an Israeli Defense Forces sweatshirt. His attacker wanted to know how he could support “these dirty Jews.” Last week security cameras in Brooklyn filmed a driver swerving in front of a school bus with Hebrew writing on the side, forcing it to stop, and then getting out to smash the bus windshield.  Children were on board. What fuels this much hatred? 

We can see that propaganda certainly does. In the media, in street demonstrations, on college campuses, the anti-Israel propaganda is so ubiquitous that people stop questioning falsehoods about Israel and fall for the illusion that everyone agrees. Lies become “facts.” Israel the state becomes the scapegoat for everything wrong in the Middle East, or in the world. Meanwhile those who disagree with the anti-Zionist propaganda tend to think of ourselves as helpless in the face of an avalanche of ill-informed and widespread hostility.

So I think it’s time for us to respond to those who hate the world’s only Jewish nation. It’s time to come out and stand up as Zionists. In my case, that means standing as a Christian Zionist who supports the Jewish people as our brothers and sisters in a faith that shares the Hebrew Bible as sacred text, who considers the Jewish people as called by God, and who embraces Israel as a stable and vibrant democracy.

It’s time to point out that the government of Israel is a representative democracy with a free press and an independent judiciary. And that if you are a woman in Israel, by law you are free to go to school, choose who you want to marry, and serve in the military or in the government. And that if you are gay in Israel, you can live freely; the government will not violate your basic rights. And that no matter who you are in Israel, you may hold to or reject any religious faith you wish—Christians, Muslims, atheists—in Israel the religious freedom of everyone is protected by law. 

The BDS movement fails to praise Israel for providing these freedoms–freedoms which are not the norm in many of the countries surrounding Israel. Boycotting Israel is trendy among virtue-signalers, but nobody is out boycotting Israel’s neighbors. Why aren’t there rallies on US college campuses denouncing Iran for hanging a man in 2019 after he was found guilty of having sex with another man? (Homosexuality was made a crime punishable by the death penalty in 1979 after the Islamic revolution). Same-sex sexual activity is a crime in dozens of countries, and in more than ten countries it is a crime punishable by death. In areas under ISIS control, gay men have been hurled off buildings and then stoned to death. In Yemen, it is the law that unmarried gay men be punished with 100 whip lashes or a year in prison, but that married gay men face death by stoning.

Meanwhile, many Islamic countries are gender-segregated societies in which female modesty is mandated and women are harassed out of public life. Why aren’t feminists then praising Israel’s 20th Knesset (2015-2019), in which a record number of women were represented in the legislature? Why don’t we celebrate that in 2014, the IDF appointed Israel’s first female combat battalion commander, or that in 2021, another woman broke the glass ceiling in the Israeli Air Force and was appointed deputy commander of a combat squadron of fighter jets. These are remarkable advances for women in a country only 73 years old.

It is true that, like every other nation, Israel is far from perfect.  Both the Israelis and the Palestinians have inherited a complex conflict with no simple or obvious solutions. Both could do better to protect the people living under their control. Criticizing Israel for its policies regarding the Palestinians—or for that matter, for anything else— is not in itself antisemitic. However, as former Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky has famously pointed out, legitimate criticism of Israel the state does indeed cross into into antisemitism when it demonizes Israel by equating Israelis with Nazis, denies the Jewish people their right to self-determination, and holds Israel to standards not demanded of other countries. It is certainly antisemitic when critiques of Israeli policy use antisemitic tropes, or when solidarity with the Palestinian people leads to condemnation of the entire Israeli society and to justification of violence against Jews. Or, I would add, when Israel alone is vilified for what some consider its human rights failures but never praised for its human rights successes, while other countries get a free pass on their human rights records.

I’m proud of Israel. I am also ashamed to admit that I have sometimes stayed silent about it.  But now is the time for non-Jews who oppose antisemitism and support Israel to speak just as loudly as the BDS speaks. Gentile Christians can stand up in support of our Jewish friends and of Israel. We can stop trying to appease those who want to see the destruction of Israel, and speak of our desire to see the best life possible for the Palestinians, even as we praise Israel as a beautiful democracy helping the world in multiple ways. Rather than divest, we can invest in the Israeli businesses which are constantly inventing new medical and scientific technologies that benefit the world. Israel, a country of out-of-the-box thinkers, has some 6,000 active start-ups, including 600 green tech start-ups. Israel is responsible for hundreds of tech inventions, from USB drives to futuristic medical devices such as a swallowable medical camera. Israelis came up with Firewall, the original protection against malware. This month, Israel scientists announced that they have invented a genetically engineered spinal implant that could help wheelchair-bound people to walk again. 

I admire the Israelis’ hard work, their resilience and innovation, their democracy firmly based in the law. As hatred for Jews continues to fester, even here in America, it is time that people like me—who support Israel privately—do so publicly. I’m thinking it’s time I put on my T-shirt—because I’m a Christian and a Zionist and proud of it. 

About the Author
Angela Winter is a former features reporter with The Baltimore Sun who teaches classes in churches about the history of Christian antisemitism. She writes about Jewish-Christian relations, Protestant Christian theology, and the Holocaust.
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