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Commentary

'We People of Faith Stand Firmly With Israel'

April 21, 2002|RALPH REED

This past week Israel marked the 54th anniversary of its birth with ceremonies filled more with solemnity than celebration. And yet for Israelis there is always hope in the very fact of survival. For many, there is no greater proof of God's sovereignty in the world today than the survival of the Jews and the existence of Israel.

This truth explains in part why Christians and other conservative people of faith stand so firmly in their support of Israel. But, as it turns out, that is only part of the story, and the fuller explanation is more complex and interesting.

The evangelical movement swept the U.S. during the 19th century, building robust denominations and projecting evangelical social values, while simultaneously spawning social reform movements for temperance, anti-slavery, settlement houses and orphanages. Throughout this period, reconstituting a modern Jewish state remained a remote concern at best, and sojourns to the Holy Land by American Christians were rare.

Following World War II and the shocking revelations of the Holocaust, all this changed. Christians joined the humanitarian impulse to support the creation of Israel out of the British mandate in the Middle East. Few could deny that such a state was a moral imperative in a world whose lexicon now included names like Auschwitz and Dachau. Stigmatized by historical anti-Semitism in Europe, renounced as "killers of Christ" by the medieval church, haunted by the hoofbeats and horrors of the Russian pogroms, hunted down by Hitler's Gestapo and shipped to death camps, the Jews who sought refuge in the modern state of Israel needed no theoretical argument for a homeland of their own.

Christians, meanwhile, saw support for Israel through the prism of a proud tradition that included Corrie ten Boom and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who sacrificed their own lives while resisting Nazi tyranny and protecting Jews from the Holocaust. The depth of such feeling in the Christian community is difficult to overestimate.

I recall as a child my mother participating in a Methodist Bible study in which she read the works of Bonhoeffer and other Christians who resisted Hitler, passing on a formative lesson that standing up for my faith meant defending the right of Jews to practice theirs.

During the Cold War, this humanitarian impulse became inextricably linked with geopolitical reality. As some Arab states allied themselves with the Soviet Union, the Middle East stood at a crucial crossroads in the larger global struggle between communism and democratic capitalism. Outnumbered and outflanked by the armies of Arab neighbors--many armed with Soviet weaponry--Israel bravely stood alone in a region that had known military conflict for centuries.

This is still true today. Israel is the only genuine democracy in the region and remains one of the most reliable allies of the United States. The shared democratic values and common strategic interests of Israel and the U.S. have engendered a deep bond that transcends the domestic politics of either nation and survives the triumph and tragedy of diplomacy.

President Bush's Middle East policy embodies this bond. He has condemned the inhumanity of terrorism, called Yasser Arafat to task for his failure to contain terrorism and decried the use of violence by both sides. It is unlikely that Bush's policy will alienate religious conservatives, as they are sophisticated enough to recognize that the president's own moral impulse is balanced by the demands of statecraft.

Finally, support for Israel derives from the simple fact that its land was cradle of both Judaism and Christianity. Prior to 1967 when Israel gained control of East Jerusalem, access to Jewish and Christian holy sites in the old city was difficult. Regardless of one's eschatology--and there are as many theological strains as denominations--there is an undeniable and powerful spiritual connection between Israel and the Christian faith. It is where Jesus was born and where he conducted his ministry.

I still recall my first visit to Israel, when I awoke at dawn in my hotel and walked out on the balcony to watch the sun rise over the ruins of the ancient temple of Jerusalem. At that moment, I saw Israel's struggle for what it should be for all the world's citizens--a struggle to maintain free and open access to the holy sites of the world's faiths, a struggle to build a beacon of democracy and hope in a region that has for too long known bloodshed and hatred.

At this moment, that hope is greatly challenged. But as Golda Meir once remarked, "Pessimism is a luxury that a Jew can never allow himself. May I say more broadly, today pessimism is a luxury none of us can afford."

Meir rejected pessimism, and so must we. Her optimism--the touchstone of her faith--can bind Christians and Jews together when the world's events seem to counsel futility, not only in opposing terrorism, but in building a better world for future generations.

*

Ralph Reed is chairman of the Georgia Republican Party and served as a senior advisor to the Bush campaign.

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