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Missing the Target in the Middle East
Israel - Middle East
Friday, October 29, 2010
Alf Cengia

Jack Kinsella touched upon supersessionism in last Monday’s Omega Letter daily briefing. This is a subject that keeps getting raised by churches who see no biblical significance in Israel. People may get tired of hearing the same stuff but it needs to be regularly re-addressed because of its importance.

This past week there has been some controversy regarding statements by a Catholic (Melkite) archbishop under the headline, “Vatican Synod calls for an end of Israel’s occupation”.

“We Christians cannot speak of the ‘promised land’ as an exclusive right for a privileged Jewish people. This promise was nullified by Christ. There is no longer a chosen people – all men and women of all countries have become the chosen people.”

In fact from both a secular and biblical outlook Jews have a right to be there. Public comments such as the above rarely, if ever, include supportive evidence.

The synod went on to further state that the Holy Scriptures couldn’t be used to justify a return of Jews to Israel and to displace the Palestinians. That sounds like one step back from exclusive rights. That’s like saying that the Palestinians were always there; have a right to be there but that the Jews shouldn’t be there. It apparently assumes that if Israel was out of the picture, Christians in the region would be safer.

The synod told Israel that it shouldn’t use the Bible to justify “injustices against the Palestinians”.

When are you going to stop beating up on people? Are you still stealing money? Are you still telling fibs to the IRS?

I think I can accurately imagine my reaction to having those questions incessantly aimed at me. I’d defend myself and protest my innocence but what if the questions kept coming day in and day out without let-up? The mud would eventually stick. The innuendo would become the “truth” and before you know it I’m guilty of all those things.

Years ago I was counseling a co-worker who had just moved from another part of the country and was going through some personal trauma. Counseling mainly involved discussing her issues doing lunch breaks. But that truth turned into an “affair”. And despite my denials, I’d get that knowing look. Just ask George W Bush why he really went into Iraq. It was the oil, right? Everyone knows that.

Israel has the same problem.

But what may have partially motivated the synod’s statements would have been concerns about Christians in the Middle East caught up in the ME conflict.  According to Reuters:

“Pope Benedict called on Islamic countries in the Middle East on Sunday to guarantee freedom of worship to non-Muslims and said peace in the region was the best remedy for a worrying exodus of Christians.”

Which raises the question as to why go on the attack against Israel. Reuters again:

“He said that while some states in the Middle East allowed freedom of belief, "the space given to the freedom to practice religion is often quite limited."”

The Reuters article went on to add that freedom to practice Christianity is not a given in the Gulf and varies from country to country. The article singled out Saudi Arabia has having by far the tightest restriction ns. “Tightest restrictions” isn’t an accurate assessment of the Saudi state. It actually has absolutely zero tolerance for anything other than Islam.

I was first alerted to that fact back in the nineties when I sent a package to someone was working a two year contract in Saudi Arabia. The package contained a copy of an Australian newspaper and two magazines. I learned later that I was lucky that it passed through the mail system. Normally items like that are confiscated. The recipient of my mail and friends voraciously read every word of that literature.

In Saudi Arabia, certain aspects social and religious life for westerners is restricted to the confines of closed doors or within an Embassy. Women cannot go out alone or dress in western fashion, because of strict Islamic regulations and for their own safety.  In fact, the uncompromising austerity of Islam Saudi-style hasn’t escaped Wikipedia’s attention.

Saudi Arabia is also known to be one the most active promoters of Islam in western countries, providing finance for Islamic schools and mosques. So we must consider how much influence that might have on Muslims even where they are a minority.

In essence, even an outwardly secular country that has a major Islamic population will have degrees of intolerance that will vary from region and social groups. Years ago I had a Malaysian-Chinese boss who moved from Malaysia to Australia. While his life wasn’t threatened, he and his family felt real pressures of being Christians in that dominant Muslim society. Australia has taken in countless Christians from Malaysia for the same reasons.

The Christian exodus from the Middle East can’t be blamed on Israel or solely on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. People choose to leave because of oppression, even if their lives may not be under direct threat. The exodus occurs over a period of time and eventually the demographics in a region changes. Sometimes the departure is dramatic. Lebanon is a testament to that fact as Brigitte Gabriel attests.

Israel isn’t a paragon of virtue; however, it stands head above shoulders over any other nation in the region in terms of human rights. Yet the criticism it receives by observers is disproportionate. It misses the target to use Israel as a scapegoat when the problem is Islamic ideology.

I guess it’s a whole lot safer to slap someone who won’t slap back…or kill you. But it won’t fix the problem.

Further reading:
A Tale of Two Bishops
Rights of Non-Muslims in an Islamic State
Religious discrimination in Malaysia is real

About Alf Cengia

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