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Commentary

A Region in Transition

As we enter 2014, Israel finds itself in a region undergoing tremendous changes, with the outcome of the historic shifts of the 'Arab Spring' still unclear. The challenges facing Israel include the renewed Palestinian peace talks, the persistent campaign to delegitimize the Jewish state, the relentless bloodshed in Syria, and the recurring turmoil in Egypt. The United States also appears to be altering its approach to the region, baffling traditional allies like Israel and Saudi Arabia. And the most over-arching concern remains the ever-growing Iranian nuclear threat.

Yet some Israeli analysts say the nation is in better shape than one might think. In a recent briefing by Amos Yadlin, former head of IDF Military Intelligence, he optimistically noted that Israel is an island of stability and strength in the midst of a chaotic Middle East. Its most rabid enemy Syria is paralyzed by civil war, and the new military rulers in Egypt appear to be a lot friendlier than the Muslim Brotherhood. He added that Israel also will soon achieve energy independence with its huge discoveries of natural gas off the coast and shale oil on land,

Still, Yadlin conceded that the threat of a nuclear armed Iran overrides all other concerns, and aleading security think-tank in London has just warned Iran now has the 'breakout' capability to build an atomic warhead in one month's time.

So it is not hard to see why Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu has become so alarmed about Tehran's drive for nuclear arms. With US Secretary of State John Kerry standing at his side in late November, Netanyahu publicly berated the proposed nuclear agreement being offered by the Western powers to the Islamic Republic, describing it as a "very, very bad deal" which Israel "utterly rejects".

Should Israel truly be worried about the recent deal reached with Iran? Does Iran indeed pose an existential threat to Israel? And are things really looking up for Israel when it comes to other regional challenges? These as some of the key questions facing the nation as we enter the new year.

Rapprochement with Iran
The diplomatic "charm offensive" launched by new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at the United Nations last September changed the dynamics of the prolonged nuclear stand-off with Iran. The world's leading powers decided to reach an interim deal with Iran that offers limited sanctions relief in exchange for a halt to uranium enrichment over the next six months. During this time, talks will continue on a permanent accord to resolve the intractable dispute over Iran’s atomic ambitions.

The Obama administration hailed the deal for making the world more secure. But Netanyahu called it an “historic mistake” which had made the world a "much more dangerous place". He charged that for the first time the world had conceded to Iran the right to enrich uranium, while also relieving the pressure of sanctions that have taken years to build up. This was all in exchange for cosmetic Iranian concessions that they can reverse in a matter of weeks.

Israeli officials also contended the deal undermines six UN Security Council resolutions which require Iran to completely dismantle its enrichment facilities. They also stressed that Iran has invested over $200 billion dollars in its nuclear program already without seeing any peaceful benefits yet - not even one watt of electrical power.

Many in the US Congress also shared Israel's concerns that Iran can easily reverse its actions and then it will take years to reinstate sanctions and build up the economic pressure which forced Tehran to the negotiating table.

Ultimately, critics of the Geneva agreement claim it has revealed US President Barack Obama is now more interested in an historic rapprochement with Iran than simply stopping the Islamic regime’s quest for nuclear arms. Indeed, the US has been making diplomatic overtures to Iran not seen since the storming of the US Embassy back in 1979, including Obama's personal outreach to Rouhani last September.

American policy shifts
The Obama administration has made other recent moves in the Middle East that sent shockwaves through the region. First, the White House suspended hundreds of millions of dollars in US aid to Egypt in protest of the army's overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood government back in July. This upset not only Cairo but Jerusalem as well, since US foreign aid is a linchpin of the 1979 peace treaty between Israel and Egypt.

Meanwhile, Obama also backtracked on his threats to launch strikes against the Assad regime in Syria for using chemical weapons against civilians, a retreat that also likely included assurances of Assad's political survival for now. This all had Saudi Arabia so upset, it refused a seat on the UN Security Council in protest of Washington's new approach to the region.

By courting Iran, the US is increasingly viewed in the region as tilting towards the Shi'ite bloc at the expense of the Sunni Arab majority. This comes as the ancient Sunni-Shi'ite rift has intensified once again in the wake of the Arab Spring, especially in Syria but also in Iraq and Lebanon. The Syrian death toll from two years of fighting now tops 130,000, with another six to eight million driven from their homes.

Charting the Arab Spring
January marks three full years since the wave of political uprisings known as the Arab Spring began sweeping across the Middle East. The turmoil has seen entrenched dictators toppled and nations ravaged by violence and civil war. Yet 36 months in, it is still difficult to gauge the exact impact and direction of these historic upheavals.

The Arab Spring first spawned hopes that democratic freedoms would finally take hold in the Arab world. But such optimism quickly ran aground on the harsh realities of this volatile region. One clear trend has emerged, however, and that is every time an Arab country has allowed free elections the people have voted in radical Islamic elements that are actually bent on suppressing democratic rights.

Scholars suggest the notion that Islam and democracy are incompatible seems to be holding true, as it is a religion which does not separate mosque and state, and requires total subservience to shari'a law.

Meanwhile, international efforts are ratcheting up to convene another peace conference in early 2014 to end the brutal civil war in Syria. The main sticking point remains the rebel forces' demand that dictator Bashar Assad first agree to step down from power during the transition to a new government.

Kerry's quest
Another effort at brokering peace in the region does appear to be gathering steam – the renewed Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. US Secretary of State John Kerry has now made ten trips to the region in the past year in pursuit of an historic peace deal. Yet a final agreement remains out of reach, as the gaps on most core issues remain too far apart. For instance, the Palestinians are adamantly refusing Israel's demand for a continued military presence in the Jordan Valley, while Israelis see unrelenting Palestinian incitement as a signal they are still unwilling to compromise. The Palestinian Authority also lacks control of Gaza and thus could not keep its end of the bargain.

So Kerry is now claiming progress towards a "framework" agreement to guide the parties in future negotiations towards a comprehensive deal to end this 100 year-old conflict. Such an interim deal could be completed by the April deadline set by the Obama team, but the resulting final-status talks could then drag on for years and any final peace agreement could take even longer to implement.

By then, who knows what new changes and upheavals will have recoiled their way through the Middle East.
 

Peace talks resume amid low expectations

An intense American-led diplomatic push has finally succeeded in bringing Israeli and Palestinian officials together for the first direct peace talks in more than three years. But those talks have already hit some early snags and the level of optimism for a real breakthrough is extremely low on both sides.

US Secretary of State John Kerry has paid no less than six visits to the region in six months in an unrelenting effort to get the two sides back to the negotiating table. And in late July he finally broke the ice, hosting Israeli and the Palestinian representatives in Washington for an initial round of direct talks.

The meetings marked a belated victory for the Obama administration, which during its first term managed to get the two sides together for a few brief hours in September 2009, but only after pressuring Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu into declaring a 10-month settlement freeze. Otherwise, the parties have not engaged in direct talks since Ehud Olmert was the Israeli premier, largely due to the stiff pre-conditions demanded by Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.

Over recent years, Abbas has insisted that Israel release hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, accept the pre-1967 lines as the basis for talks, and declare a total freeze on Jewish building in Judea/Samaria and eastern Jerusalem. But Netanyahu resisted any attempt to pry out concessions ahead of talks.

Kerry managed to break the stand-off when Netanyahu recently agreed to release 104 Palestinian prisoners convicted of lethal terrorist acts in the pre-Oslo era (before 1993), but only in stages to ensure the Palestinians remain at the peace table. Abbas apparently conceded on his other demands, a move which did not sit well with the majority of his Fatah faction.

Still, some in Israel suspect the US forced Netanyahu to quietly agree to a settlement freeze and talks based on the pre-’67 lines. Some of this suspicion has arisen due to the veil of secrecy imposed over the talks.

Some reports have indicated, however, that the Palestinians want to first draw the permanent borders for a Palestinian state, while Israel wants to focus on security arrangements before deciding how much territory to give up. In either case, there are many other tough issues yet to decide, such as the Palestinians' claim to a 'right of return' for millions of refugees and the fate of Jerusalem.

Given the many obstacles to a deal and the turmoil shaking the rest of the region, many view the American diplomatic focus on the Israeli-Palestinian front as an oddity. The civil war in Syria has claimed over 100,000 lives. Egypt is close to sliding into a civil war as well. And all the while, Iran is racing towards a nuclear weapons capability. So why the obsession with Palestinian grievances against Israel?

Israeli analysts suggest the Obama administration has decided to focus on the one issue in the region the US still has some sway over, in hopes that some progress there might restore Washington’s ability to impact other regional events.

“Everything else is self-destructing, and the one product that Kerry can get his arms around as secretary of state is the Palestinian-Israeli crisis”, Dan Diker, former Secretary General of the World Jewish Congress, told ICEJ News. “It’s something that is known. It’s something that he has a dear friend in – namely Israel... But the question being asked by pundits and analysts alike is why the focus on this track when the rest of the region is going up in flames.”

“For the United States, the Palestinian file is one that is still open and there’s a certain inertia that it has to be closed”, explained Amb. Danny Ayalon, Israel’s former deputy foreign minister. “But based on my talks with many Arab leaders, including from the Gulf states, the best way to reassert American leadership and credibility in the region is to stop Iran… and the Palestinian conflict is almost a side issue in comparison.”

For their part, Israeli and Palestinian leaders are both seen as agreeing to resume direct talks because neither wants to be assigned blame for scuttling Kerry’s determined diplomatic efforts. Netanyahu also may have renewed the talks as part of a wider deal with the US regarding the Iranian nuclear threat, analysts added.

“These talks are all about who gets blamed for the failure of the peace process”, surmised Diker. “The Palestinians are coming back to the talks because it is very difficult to turn down the United States, and especially the hundreds of millions of dollars in financial assistance the US is providing. They rely completely on Western aid to meet their budgets.”

Nonetheless, Kerry has set an ambitious goal of concluding a final status accord within nine months. Yet quick polls of both the Israeli and Palestinian publics showed neither people has high expectations the talks will produce a deal anytime soon. Nearly 80% of Israelis surveyed said they doubted a peace deal is within reach for now, while the Palestinians polled showed a similar degree of skepticism.

In an indication of the difficulties ahead, Abbas recently told Arab journalists that he would not agree to one single Israeli Jew living in a Palestinian state. Most Israelis saw his hardline stance as a sign the Palestinians are still not ready for compromise.


Iran seeking second route to nukes

For two decades, Western governments have been focused on Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons via its vast uranium enrichment program, centered around the Natanz and Fordow enrichment plants. But Tehran is now believed to be pursuing a second route to nuclear arms through the nearly-completed heavy water nuclear reactor at Arak, which could be turning out weapons-grade plutonium by next summer.

According to a recent report in The Wall Street Journal, American and European officials are increasingly concerned the Arak facility, due to become operational by July 2014, will be capable of producing two nuclear bombs' worth of plutonium a year. India, Pakistan and North Korea have all built nuclear bombs using plutonium derived from similar heavy water plants.

The warning comes amid reports that international sanctions on Iran are beginning to take a much heavier toll on its economy. Iran's hard currency reserves have plummeted as Western sanctions have cut off Iran's access to world oil markets. Iranian officials also recently reported an inflation rate of 45% and acknowledged the economy is set to contract for the first time in three decades.

Iran's newly-elected President Hassan Rouhani has offered to resume talks with Western governments, hoping to trade some minor concessions for a lifting of most of the sanctions. But he also declared that Israel is "a wound on the body of the Islamic world", echoing the words of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameini that the Jewish state is a "cancer" that must be removed.

Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu responded that Rouhani had shown his true face sooner than many expected. "A nation that threatens to destroy the State of Israel must not be allowed to have weapons of mass destruction," Netanyahu stated.

Netanyahu also told CBS News that Iran was "within a few weeks" of crossing his red line of having enough enriched uranium to produce a bomb, leaving the West not much time to decide on how to stop Tehran. Although there is no sense of impending war in Israel at present, the nation has stepped up the distribution of gas masks and civil preparedness drills.

David Parsons is media director for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem; www.icej.org

Egypt My People

Two-and-a-half years into the Arab Spring (or “Arab Winter” as some call it), the regional unrest is still gathering steam. While Israel seems to be an island of peace and economic stability, the rest of the Middle East is increasingly chaotic and no one can foresee what the near future will bring.

It all started in December 2010 when popular unrest began in Tunisia and then quickly spread to Egypt, Libya and other parts of the Arab world. In the case of Egypt, the initial hopes for a democratic spring of true political freedoms soon soured with the election of an Islamist government led by the Muslim Brotherhood.

Before long, protesters returned to the streets. For some, their hopes for freedom and democracy were being shattered by efforts to impose stricter forms of shari’a law. Others grew anxious over the Brotherhood’s inability to rescue the crumbling economy. The military recently stepped in to take control of the country once more, but all signs are pointing towards a civil war. Already, the unrest has left dozens of civilians dead.

In Syria, the Arab Spring has provoked a brutal civil war which has claimed more lives over the past two years than all the Arab-Israeli wars combined. More than 100,000 people have been killed as troops loyal to the Assad regime battle against rebel forces, and even rebel factions fight against each other.

This mounting death toll follows a decade of war and bloodshed in neighbouring Iraq. Even though American soldiers left the frontlines of battle in Iraq in 2011, another 5,000 people have been killed since then in clashes between various Islamic militias.

The Western world seems lost as to what to do about all this violence and mayhem. Another invasion like Iraq or intervention like Libya is fraught with peril. The situation in Egypt is quite complex. Military coups are in general opposed by Western democracies, however over the past few weeks the guardians of democracy in the West were surprisingly silent as they hope that the military will install a more liberal government.

Western leaders are in a similar dilemma regarding Syria, in that they are ready to get rid of a repressive dictator but concerned over radical Islamist elements in the opposition.

Egypt’s unique history

Despite all of the above, I do believe there is a positive biblical perspective to consider when watching these developments unfold today. A look back in history can help give us a fresh and hopeful outlook on current events.

From ancient times until today, Egypt has always played a central role in the region. The country mentioned in the Bible the most – besides Israel – is Egypt, with some 700 references. The Hebrew Patriarchs spent time in Egypt - Abraham in Genesis 12:10 and Jacob in Genesis 46:3-6. All twelve sons of Jacob, for whom the tribes of Israel are named, died in Egypt. And of course, the great Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt features prominently in Scripture.

Even Abraham’s relations with the Egyptian woman Hagar gave birth to Ishmael, from whom arose the Arab nations.

Egypt’s ignored history

Throughout the Bible the nation of Egypt is generally referenced in negative terms, often alluding to bondage and sin (e.g., Revelation 11:8). But there is another side to Egypt’s history which developed over the centuries.

King Solomon, for instance, established a friendly pact with Egypt when he married Pharaoh’s daughter and even built her a palace in Jerusalem. While the woman became a source of idol worship in Israel, it was the beginning of a political and economic alliance that lasted for a long time - albeit with some often violent interruptions. Yet this alliance was never fully reliable – in fact, God warned Israel not to place their trust in Egypt (2 Kings 18:21).

The main change, however, occurred at the time of the Babylonian Exile when a significant number of Jews fled to Egypt and established a sizable Jewish community there (2 Kings 25:26). According to the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, this Diaspora community grew to more than one million in number around the second century BC, centered in the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria. This city grew to great prominence in Antiquity and produced such leading Jewish figures as the philosopher Philo of Alexandria.

Josephus records that during the second century BC even a replica of the Jerusalem Temple was built in Egypt and maintained by Onia, a son of the High Priest in Jerusalem.

It was in Egypt where the Tanakh (the Old Testament) was first translated into a foreign language. This Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible was called the Septuagint (LXX), referring to the 70 priests/scholars who translated the Scriptures for the legendary library of Alexandria.

The Apostle Paul would often quote from the Septuagint when he referenced Old Testament verses in his New Testament epistles. Thus, the Septuagint became an important tool for preaching the Gospel among the Greek-speaking gentile nations.

According to the Gospel of Luke, Jesus also spent some of his childhood in Egypt when his parents sought refuge there from Herod’s jealous wrath (Matthew 2:13-15, quoting Hosea 11:1).

In Church history, it was Egypt where the new faith in Jesus Christ experienced its strongest early growth, with Christian communities being established all across the country. Members of the Egyptian Coptic Church today claim to be the descendants of this first century church, which would make it the oldest of the historic churches still around. Some of the current revival meetings reported out of Egypt are led by born-again, Spirit-filled Coptic priests. Along with Lebanon, Egypt is still home to one of the largest Christian communities in the Middle East, with Copts making up some 10% of the nation’s 80 million citizens.

Hope for Egypt and Syria

When we look at Egypt today, we all should be greatly encouraged to pray for this nation. While many prophecies declare judgment over Egypt, the Bible also assigns it a glorious future.

The prophet Isaiah speaks in chapter 19 most clearly about God’s redemptive purposes for Egypt. He foresees a national revival in Egypt which will be nothing short of miraculous (Isaiah 19:18-25).

Egypt will have a national place of worship - “an altar for the Lord” (v. 19).

“The Lord will be known to Egypt and the Egyptians will know the Lord in that day.” (v. 21)

It will culminate in a period of peace for the entire region, which will include Egypt, Assyria and Israel: “In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria... In that day Israel will be one of three with Egypt and Assyria – a blessing in the midst of the land.” (Isaiah 19:23-24)

What a wonderful hope! The goal which all political initiatives in recent decades have failed to produce will come into reality. It is remarkable that Isaiah could see peace and restoration for both great empires – Assyria and Egypt – each of which threatened Israel at the time the prophecy was given.

While on the one hand Isaiah prophesied against “the broken reed” of Egypt (Isaiah 36:6) and against Assyria (“Woe to Assyria, the rod of my anger...” Isaiah 10:5), the prophet could also see that God’s plan of salvation would eventually prevail also for these gentile nations that were hostile to Israel.

As we read this remarkable chapter in context, the passage begins by describing great troubles for Egypt. The prophet sees political turmoil coming, in which “Egyptians will be against Egyptians” (Isaiah 19:2). It speaks about a “cruel master” ruling the country for a while (v. 4) and of great natural calamity and economic challenges (vs. 5-10).

People will look for counsel but will find none to give understanding. The prophet challenges the wise to give understanding and to “let them know what the Lord has purposed” (v. 12). Still, nobody is able to give understanding – very much like today. Yet it will be in this time of great trouble when “they will cry to the Lord because of the oppressors, and He will send them a Saviour and a Mighty One, and He will deliver them” (v. 20).

Assyria was the second great world empire at the time of Isaiah. Its borders included much of the modern-day nations of Syria and Iraq. When we look at the current situation, we see not only Egypt but also Syria and Iraq in a state of chaos and civil war as alluded to in Isaiah 19:1-15.

Times of fulfilment

Time will tell whether we will see Isaiah 19 fulfilled in our day, but we have to recognise that much about the current situation fits this passage. I doubt whether there was any period in history when we could see the developments coincide with the prophetic word like today.

Many Bible scholars today recognise that with the re-establishment of the state of Israel and the return of the Jews from exile, we have entered into a new season of prophetic fulfilment. As the prophets foretold, the Jews have returned from all four corners of the earth. The desert is blossoming and Israel has established itself as a prosperous and secure nation even in times of conflict. This enables us to look ahead with expectancy that other amazing prophecies will be fulfilled.

No matter your eschatology, Isaiah 19 should serve as a strong reminder of the great purposes of God with Israel and its neighbours. It might be tempting to focus only on the negative headlines about Islamists seizing power and to just expect judgment ahead. But we all need to understand that the God of Israel has plans and purposes of peace and reconciliation for the entire region (see for example, Jeremiah 48:47; 49:6, 39).

Isaiah 19 starts with a declaration of God being in control: “Behold, the Lord rides on a swift cloud, and will come into Egypt; The idols of Egypt will totter at His presence.” A mere look at the facts on the ground right now might portend chaos and uncertainty. Surely, the counsellors will fail in their wisdom. But the purpose of God for Egypt is established and it eventually will lead to her national salvation alongside Israel.

Conclusion

It is important to develop a view for the region which looks beyond what we see in the daily headlines. While on the surface a clash of religions and ideologies seems underway and the region appears to be sliding into the hands of radical Islamists, we should never stop placing our hope in the One who says “all authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18). Jesus is Lord of all the nations and the next great harvest field appears to be in the Muslim world.

In the Bible, we frequently see a pattern whereby troubles come upon Israel in order to draw her people closer to God. The Book of Judges has much to say about this ongoing cycle of an Israel in distress which repents and experiences peace, and yet when they turn from God again their troubles return. The Book of Hebrew encourages us that times of discipline and correction are a sign of God at work in those He loves (Hebrews 12:3-11).

At the end of the day, God wants to bring this troubled region to a place where he can truly call out to “Egypt My people and Assyria the work of my hands”. Sometimes, God does come “with darkness under His feet” (Psalm 18:9). We have seen this in other countries in recent decades. Just two generations ago China was taken over by a radical Communist regime and yet today it is witnessing one of the greatest revivals in human history. Iran was taken over by apocalyptic Ayatollahs and yet it is currently experiencing the fastest rate of church growth in the world.

Let us not forget that God has a wonderful plan and purpose for every single nation in the earth. Paul said in Acts 17:26-27 that the Lord determines the times and borders of nations (and even their respective rulers) “in order that they might seek Him”.

There is a purpose of God today for every single nation in the Middle East and it is ultimately a purpose of salvation. Let us pray like never before for these countries. The Lord wants people from Egypt, Syria, Iraq and the entire Middle East in heaven with Him one day. And God wants to bring His peace to the region and to the entire world. This needs to be our objective and prayer.

Jerusalem, a Praise in the Earth

“For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, Priest of the Most High God, who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of kings and blessed him, to whom also Abraham gave a tenth part of all, first being translated “King of righteousness,” and then also King of Salem, meaning “King of peace,” without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, remains a priest continually.”  Hebrews 7: 1-3

Jerusalem first appears in Scripture as a mysterious city ruled by a very unique person named Melchizedek (Genesis 14:18-20). He is an eternal priest/king that reigns over a city whose name means "place of righteousness and peace." This Melchizedek is honored and served by Abraham, the great Patriarch of Israel, and he is thus a type of the Messiah. Therefore, Jerusalem is the City of God and from the very dawn of time it is elevated to symbolize His eternal and perfect dwelling place. By serving Melchizedek, Abraham gives recognition to the ideals of the city, which are:

1.  That humanity is fallen and lost in darkness and war.

2.  That humanity's great need is to find its way home to the city where God will dwell with His people forever. This is a real city not a fictitious one. Jesus said, "In My Father’s house are many mansions, if it were not so I would have told you." (John 14:2)

3.  That this way home is only by atonement. The King of the city will give the world bread and wine! That is, He will provide Himself a sacrifice for the fallen world.

4.  That Abraham and his people, Israel, will serve the world with the message of the city. The Bible says that Abraham went out looking for a city whose foundations were built by God (Hebrews 11:10). He found Jerusalem and Melchizedek, Priest of the most High God!

5.  That the right of passage to the city is God's righteousness and peace! The two go together and there will be no peace in this dark world until the city gives them to the world. Any peace by human political endeavor is destined to fail without these two ingredients (1 Thessalonians 5:3). God has to give them by His grace as Melchizedek did to Abraham (Titus 2:11). Yet until then some peace, however imperfect, is better than no peace because it allows the message of the city to be preached (1 Timothy 2:1-4).

6.  That the longing of the redeemed is for the day when the city will become “a praise in the earth.” (Isaiah 62:7; Jeremiah 33:9)

These are the ideals that undergird the city of Jerusalem. Sadly, the city today sits astride a fallen world. This “fallenness” is characterized by an unrelenting hatred of God and His messenger - Abraham and the Jewish people. Therefore, the city has been and will be assaulted by peoples seeking to destroy it and remove it from Abraham’s children. Indeed, Jerusalem has suffered more assaults than any other city on earth but it still stands because God is her founder. She will yet again endure a global assault and survive (Zechariah 12:1-3).

In this final assault the nations will be humbled, the Messiah will come to reign over the nations and they will learn war no more (Isaiah 2:1-4; Isaiah 11:1-5; Revelation 12:5). The city will become "a praise in the earth" as the nations ascend year-by-year to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles! Then after one last battle it will merge with the New Jerusalem and forever, those who live there will walk in perfect righteousness and peace! Behold all things will become new! (Revelation 21:1-5)

However, the city’s journey toward this day of praise and glory will be successful in part because of the faithful prayers of God’s people who know and love her. This eternal Jerusalem will forever be a reminder of Abraham, the messenger, for on its gates will be inscribed the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. And on her foundation stones will be the names of the twelve Apostles of the Lamb who gave bread and wine to the world! (Revelation 21:12-14; Luke 22:17-20)

Rev. Hedding is the former executive director of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.

Israel’s first line of defense

Syria's brutal civil war and Iran's renegade nuclear program pose serious threats to countries across the Middle East and beyond. Yet Israel is the only nation truly stepping forward to confront these challenges, as the West still seems to be shell-shocked by the fallout of the 2003 Iraq war.

The US intelligence community in particular has been perilously slow at deciphering the obvious - that Iran is on the threshold of nuclear weapons capabilities and the Syrian regime has used chemical agents against its own citizens. This has given the Obama administration cover for its very hesitant approach to these impending threats.

Ten years ago, the US-led invasion of Iraq was driven by concerns over Iraq's development of weapons of mass destruction and its involvement in sponsoring global terror, including a suspected role in the September 11 terror attacks. For instance, there were those reported mobile gas labs and Saddam Hussein's attempts to acquire uranium ore in central Africa. Meanwhile, the lead 9/11 hijacker supposedly met with Iraqi agents in Prague and a mothballed jetliner outside Baghdad had been used to practice commandeering passenger planes with box-cutter knives.

Much of this intelligence was questioned at the time as being cooked up by hawkish and "Zionist" elements in Washington, particularly in the Pentagon. But then CIA chief George Tenet suggested the information gathered on Iraq's WMDs was a "slam dunk" case and Secretary of State Colin Powell held up that five-pound bag of sugar at the UN Security Council to underline the seriousness of the anthrax threat.

And so the invasion of Iraq ensued. Yet significant stockpiles of WMDs were never located and the death toll began to mount. Although Saddam was swiftly toppled, both al-Qaeda and Iran prolonged the bloodshed by deliberately turning Iraq into the main battlefield against the Crusader West.

Now no one today pines away for Saddam's return and most of his chemical and biological arsenals likely wound up in Syria. But the war fatigue from Iraq and the intelligence failures associated with that conflict are still impacting us, as the West seems handicapped in dealing with the growing Syrian and Iranian threats.

In the case of Iran, there has been a persistent gap between US and Israeli estimates on Tehran's progress towards developing atomic weapons. The Americans and Europeans have had less confidence in their intelligence and thus have preferred diplomacy. That intelligence gap is now closing simply because Iran has drawn so close to the nuclear threshold. Thus, US President Barack Obama recently acknowledged that Tehran is one year or less away from being able to construct the Bomb.

At the UN Opening Assembly last September, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu famously set a red line for stopping Iran's atomic quest, insisting the Ayatollahs must not be allowed to accumulate 250 kilos of uranium enriched to 20% purity - the amount needed to make one bomb. Iran has basically reached that point, although it diverted some for use in fuel rods and needs a little more time now to build back up to Bibi's red line.

In any event, we have reached the moment of truth on whether the US administration will keep its promise to confront Iran militarily, if necessary, or opt for containment. Vice President Joe Biden insists Obama "does not bluff," but what if Biden is bluffing?

Meantime, the bloodbath in Syria has claimed over 70,000 lives in the past two years, but the NATO countries have been loath to get involved, perhaps because Syria lacks oil reserves like Libya. Moreover, two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have soured the West on such interventions.

Obama did draw a red line in Syria, warning the US would act if Bashar al-Assad used his deadly arsenal of chemical weapons in his fight to stay in power. Yet in the face of credible reports that Assad loyalists indeed have used chemical agents on rebel forces, the White House now wants to establish a "chain of custody" back to the Assad regime.

As with Iran, this is a decision borne of a lack of Western political will to confront the rising dangers in Syria, and an intelligence community that is still gun-shy from the failures in Iraq a decade ago.

Israel, on the other hand, has trusted its intelligence and acted decisively to reinforce its own red lines in Syria. Jerusalem does not want to get entangled in the civil war between Assad and the Sunni Arab majority, in part because the rebel forces are teeming with jihadists who hate Israel as well. But Netanyahu has warned that any attempt to funnel advanced weapons or WMDs to Hizbullah or al-Qaeda militias would be thwarted.

The IDF has now backed up that warning with precision air strikes on at least three occasions in recent months. This includes twice targeting missile convoys headed for Hizbullah in Lebanon, as well as destroying a military research factory near Damascus.

These bold actions carried great risks, but they also sent a strong message to Iran that Israel means business when it comes to weapons of mass annihilation.

So far Syria has not retaliated for the Israeli attacks, most likely due to the Assad regime's current preoccupation with survival. But it also failed to directly respond to the IAF's reported strikes on the secret al-Kibar nuclear reactor in September 2006.

At that time, Israel had ample proof it was a nuclear plant based on a North Korean model and shared its hard evidence with the Bush administration. This included soil samples and photos of the reactor coil taken inside the plant by Israeli commandoes operating deep inside Syria. Yet the Bush team was still smarting from Iraq.

Recent accounts indicate Vice President Dick Cheney stood alone in urging President George W. Bush to take military action. But Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld urged the matter be handed over to the UN. They relied on intelligence briefings which conceded the Syrian plant was a nuclear reactor but questioned whether it was part of an atomic weapons program.

This reflected the fact that, after Iraq, America's intelligence branches changed their entire system for grading the certainty and uncertainty of their data and conclusions, and consistently came down on the cautious side on nearly every security challenge analyzed.

In other words, the spooks got spooked by Iraq and have never recovered.

But not Israel! The Olmert government trusted its intelligence and courageously ordered air strikes on al-Kibar, which succeeded without drawing any Syrian military response.

No doubt Syria and its allies Iran and Hizbullah will now try to retaliate for the latest air strikes near Damascus through terror attacks on Israeli and Jewish 'soft targets' abroad.

But Israel is starting to feel it alone has the pluck to face the mounting threats from Syria and Iran, while the West remains handcuffed by the mistakes of yesteryear.

The problem is that Iran was and remains a much bigger threat to the region and the world than Iraq was ten years ago. In fact, then-prime minister Ariel Sharon paid two separate visits to Washington in the lead-up to the Iraq war specifically to warn Bush that Iran was the greater threat.

So how did we wind up in this difficult place, where the West is so wearied of war and hamstrung by lingering doubts that it cannot deal with the real threat posed by Iran and its proxies? I believe all this negative fallout is because the US was seduced into Iraq.

Now Saddam is thankfully gone and our intelligence was not that far off. But something lured us into a fight in Iraq that dragged on way too long and handcuffed the West in dealing with the more serious menace in Tehran. I believe that something was what the Bible describes as seducing or deceiving spirits, which we are told will operate on a global scale in the "last days" (2 Thessalonians 2; 2 Timothy 3:13).

The West must defend our freedoms, but I believe we are being slowly seduced into an endless war with Islam. It is a spirit that wants to destroy Israel but will never succeed. Yet it will seek to drain our resolve and stir up excuses for demonizing Israel and the West. It also seeks to provoke us into a massive military response that would result in the deaths of multitudes of Muslims. And that perhaps is what the devil wants most of all.

David Parsons is media director for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem; www.icej.org

Handcuffed by Iraq

Syria's brutal civil war and Iran's renegade nuclear program pose serious threats to countries across the Middle East and beyond. Yet Israel is the only nation truly stepping forward to confront these challenges, as the West still seems to be shell-shocked by the fallout of the 2003 Iraq war.

The US intelligence community in particular has been perilously slow at deciphering the obvious - that Iran is on the threshold of nuclear weapons capabilities and the Syrian regime has used chemical agents against its own citizens. This has given the Obama administration cover for its very hesitant approach to these impending threats.

Ten years ago, the US-led invasion of Iraq was driven by concerns over Iraq's development of weapons of mass destruction and its involvement in sponsoring global terror, including a suspected role in the September 11 terror attacks. For instance, there were those reported mobile gas labs and Saddam Hussein's attempts to acquire uranium ore in central Africa. Meanwhile, the lead 9/11 hijacker supposedly met with Iraqi agents in Prague and a mothballed jetliner outside Baghdad had been used to practice commandeering passenger planes with box-cutter knives.

Much of this intelligence was questioned at the time as being cooked up by hawkish and "Zionist" elements in Washington, particularly in the Pentagon. But then CIA chief George Tenet suggested the information gathered on Iraq's WMDs was a "slam dunk" case and Secretary of State Colin Powell held up that five-pound bag of sugar at the UN Security Council to underline the seriousness of the anthrax threat.

And so the invasion of Iraq ensued. Yet significant stockpiles of WMDs were never located and the death toll began to mount. Although Saddam was swiftly toppled, both al-Qaeda and Iran prolonged the bloodshed by deliberately turning Iraq into the main battlefield against the Crusader West.

Now no one today pines away for Saddam's return and most of his chemical and biological arsenals likely wound up in Syria. But the war fatigue from Iraq and the intelligence failures associated with that conflict are still impacting us, as the West seems handicapped in dealing with the growing Syrian and Iranian threats.

In the case of Iran, there has been a persistent gap between US and Israeli estimates on Tehran's progress towards developing atomic weapons. The Americans and Europeans have had less confidence in their intelligence and thus have preferred diplomacy. That intelligence gap is now closing simply because Iran has drawn so close to the nuclear threshold. Thus, US President Barack Obama recently acknowledged that Tehran is one year or less away from being able to construct the Bomb.

At the UN Opening Assembly last September, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu famously set a red line for stopping Iran's atomic quest, insisting the Ayatollahs must not be allowed to accumulate 250 kilos of uranium enriched to 20% purity - the amount needed to make one bomb. Iran has basically reached that point, although it diverted some for use in fuel rods and needs a little more time now to build back up to Bibi's red line.

In any event, we have reached the moment of truth on whether the US administration will keep its promise to confront Iran militarily, if necessary, or opt for containment. Vice President Joe Biden insists Obama "does not bluff," but what if Biden is bluffing?

Meantime, the bloodbath in Syria has claimed over 70,000 lives in the past two years, but the NATO countries have been loath to get involved, perhaps because Syria lacks oil reserves like Libya. Moreover, two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have soured the West on such interventions.

Obama did draw a red line in Syria, warning the US would act if Bashar al-Assad used his deadly arsenal of chemical weapons in his fight to stay in power. Yet in the face of credible reports that Assad loyalists indeed have used chemical agents on rebel forces, the White House now wants to establish a "chain of custody" back to the Assad regime.

As with Iran, this is a decision borne of a lack of Western political will to confront the rising dangers in Syria, and an intelligence community that is still gun-shy from the failures in Iraq a decade ago.

Israel, on the other hand, has trusted its intelligence and acted decisively to reinforce its own red lines in Syria. Jerusalem does not want to get entangled in the civil war between Assad and the Sunni Arab majority, in part because the rebel forces are teeming with jihadists who hate Israel as well. But Netanyahu has warned that any attempt to funnel advanced weapons or WMDs to Hizbullah or al-Qaeda militias would be thwarted.

The IDF has now backed up that warning with precision air strikes on at least three occasions in recent months. This includes twice targeting missile convoys headed for Hizbullah in Lebanon, as well as destroying a military research factory near Damascus.

These bold actions carried great risks, but they also sent a strong message to Iran that Israel means business when it comes to weapons of mass annihilation.

So far Syria has not retaliated for the Israeli attacks, most likely due to the Assad regime's current preoccupation with survival. But it also failed to directly respond to the IAF's reported strikes on the secret al-Kibar nuclear reactor in September 2006.

At that time, Israel had ample proof it was a nuclear plant based on a North Korean model and shared its hard evidence with the Bush administration. This included soil samples and photos of the reactor coil taken inside the plant by Israeli commandoes operating deep inside Syria. Yet the Bush team was still smarting from Iraq.

Recent accounts indicate Vice President Dick Cheney stood alone in urging President George W. Bush to take military action. But Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld urged the matter be handed over to the UN. They relied on intelligence briefings which conceded the Syrian plant was a nuclear reactor but questioned whether it was part of an atomic weapons program.

This reflected the fact that, after Iraq, America's intelligence branches changed their entire system for grading the certainty and uncertainty of their data and conclusions, and consistently came down on the cautious side on nearly every security challenge analyzed.

In other words, the spooks got spooked by Iraq and have never recovered.

But not Israel! The Olmert government trusted its intelligence and courageously ordered air strikes on al-Kibar, which succeeded without drawing any Syrian military response.

No doubt Syria and its allies Iran and Hizbullah will now try to retaliate for the latest air strikes near Damascus through terror attacks on Israeli and Jewish 'soft targets' abroad.

But Israel is starting to feel it alone has the pluck to face the mounting threats from Syria and Iran, while the West remains handcuffed by the mistakes of yesteryear.

The problem is that Iran was and remains a much bigger threat to the region and the world than Iraq was ten years ago. In fact, then-prime minister Ariel Sharon paid two separate visits to Washington in the lead-up to the Iraq war specifically to warn Bush that Iran was the greater threat.

So how did we wind up in this difficult place, where the West is so wearied of war and hamstrung by lingering doubts that it cannot deal with the real threat posed by Iran and its proxies? I believe all this negative fallout is because the US was seduced into Iraq.

Now Saddam is thankfully gone and our intelligence was not that far off. But something lured us into a fight in Iraq that dragged on way too long and handcuffed the West in dealing with the more serious menace in Tehran. I believe that something was what the Bible describes as seducing or deceiving spirits, which we are told will operate on a global scale in the "last days" (2 Thessalonians 2; 2 Timothy 3:13).

The West must defend our freedoms, but I believe we are being slowly seduced into an endless war with Islam. It is a spirit that wants to destroy Israel but will never succeed. Yet it will seek to drain our resolve and stir up excuses for demonizing Israel and the West. It also seeks to provoke us into a massive military response that would result in the deaths of multitudes of Muslims. And that perhaps is what the devil wants most of all.

David Parsons is media director for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem; www.icej.org

Israel and the enduring land promise

Gentile Christians have always had a problem with understanding and accepting God's enduring election over Israel. The latest to challenge Israel's irrevocable calling is the Church of Scotland, which recently issued a report entitled "The Inheritance of Abraham" that concluded the land promise to Israel no longer stands and was allegorical to begin with.

After sharp criticism from the Jewish community and fellow Christians, the Scottish church is now reconsidering this document. But in it, they also insisted that the divine election of Israel can no longer be defended in light of the New Testament message of God's universal love.

The debate now raging over Israel's modern-day restoration is undoubtedly a heated one and there are good, honest Christians on both sides of the divide. Some Christians see no biblical significance in Israel's restoration, since they view God's promise to give the Land of Canaan to Abraham and his descendants as an "everlasting possession" (Genesis 17:8) as being forfeited when the Jews rejected Christ.

At the heart of the matter is the Abrahamic Covenant and what one thinks about it. Have the everlasting promises of God to Abraham, including the land allotment to the Jewish people, been revoked? And if so, what evidence of this "revoking" is in the Bible? This alone is the real issue!

The Abrahamic covenant is first mentioned in Genesis 12:1-3 and is reaffirmed time and again throughout all of Scripture, including repeatedly in the New Testament. This covenant sets aside a people and a land in order to "bless all the families of the earth." For the Apostle Paul, this was one of the earliest proclamations of the Gospel (Galatians 3:8). Thus, the Abrahamic Covenant promises salvation to a world lost in sin, and it is made with Abraham and his descendants after him (Genesis 17:7). It is, therefore, "the covenant of decision" and all the other great covenants of the Bible flow from it. John the Baptist and even Jesus come into the world because of the promises made to Abraham in this covenant (Luke 1:54-55; 72-75).

The Jewish people are chosen as the servants of the covenant. In other words, the nation of Israel is not brought into existence as an end itself, but as a means to an end - the salvation of the world. They are the means by which God delivers His redemptive initiative to the world. Jesus said "salvation is of the Jews." (John 4:22)

Yet some Christians contend that the Abrahamic Covenant has been abolished or reconstructed in the New Covenant. The "abolitionists" say it has been totally invalidated. Yet Paul says a later covenant cannot "annul" an earlier one but merely builds upon it (Galatians 3:17-19). In fact, he taught that Christ came to "confirm the promises made to the fathers" (meaning the Patriarchs; Romans 15:8), and that Jesus came so "that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles" (Galatians 3:14). The writer of Hebrews adds that wavering Messianic believers can trust God and His promises in the New Covenant because He is completely faithful to His promises made in the Abrahamic Covenant (Hebrews 6:13-20). Hence, there are absolutely no grounds for saying the Abrahamic covenant has been abolished in the New. On the contrary, it is affirmed and established in the New Testament, even after Israel's rejection of Jesus' Messianic credentials! (Romans 3:3-4; 11:11, 29).

But others say it has been "reconstructed" - the position of Replacement theology. This theory claims that the Abrahamic Covenant has been altered or adjusted because of Jewish unbelief. Yet those who expound it inadvertently accuse God of lying! (Romans 3:4)

The covenant that promises the world salvation also promises everlasting possession of the land of Canaan to the Jewish people. To question either is to say that God is not trustworthy! But the God we serve does not lie!  (Titus 1:2; Numbers 23:9)

The land promise will have a literal fulfillment in due time, just as the coming of the "seed" that would "bless all the families of the earth" had a literal fulfillment in Christ.

In the end Scripture affirms that Israel will exist forever as a nation before God and He will not cut her off because of all that she has done (Jeremiah 31:35-37; Romans 11:25-27).
 

Rev. Malcolm Hedding is an international speaker and former executive director of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem; www.icej.org

The Epistle of Barnabas

Anti-Judaic theology in the early Church starts with a rather unknown document called the Epistle of Barnabas. Containing 20 short chapters, this letter was written around 80-120 C.E. by an orthodox writer addressing believers. It is not an isolated work; it was read in churches in the first three centuries and was even a candidate for the canon of Scripture. It was therefore received in the Church as a recognized work, and was never condemned or strongly criticized. We do not know who wrote it, but we do know it has nothing to do with the Barnabas of Acts.

So why is it important for our study of anti-Semitism among the early Church Fathers? Because here we find the earliest examples of adversos-judaeum theology, which in many cases still exists in churches today. It is the first example of the poisonous seed which slowly infected Christian churches and cultures and formed the backdrop, the murky bog from which violent, bloodthirsty and merciless monsters arose for hundreds of years.

In his letter, the author warns Christians against the evil of those days. But right from chapter 2, he speaks of two groups; us and them – us being Christians and them Jews. Among the dangers threatening the Christian was “to liken yourselves to certain persons who pile up sin upon sin, saying that our covenant remains to them also.”

So for the first time we learn that there is no longer any covenant between God and the Jews. Not only that, it is a grievous sin to even say so. The Jews are out – period! They lost the covenant at Sinai when they turned to idols (chapter 14). Jesus’ death was their final condemnation: “Therefore the Son of God came in the flesh to this end, that He might sum up the complete tale of their sins against those who persecuted and slew His prophets” (5:11). Thus substitution theology was born!

Secondly, we find a peculiar way of reading the Bible, a hermeneutic style which persists in many churches today. Put brutally, the promises of the Old Testament are for the Church, the curses are for Israel. This is possible because of his use of the allegorical reading of the Bible.

Amazingly, Barnabas’ reads the two goats theme of Yom Kippur in a way where everything has a Christian message and has nothing to do with Israel (Chapter 7). Almost comical (and tragic) is his reading of the dietary laws of Moses (chapter 10), or his interpretation of the Sabbath (chapter 15).

Allegory enabled his anti-Judaic theology to shape his exegesis. Thus “the younger shall serve the older” theme present in the stories of Esau/Jacob and Manasseh/Ephraim becomes symbolic for the teaching that God has chosen the Church over Israel. So Jacob becomes a type of the Church and Esau of Israel.

He is the first to appropriate the Patriarchs and make them Christian. Thus when Abraham circumcises the males in his household, he is really revealing Christ and the cross (chapter 10).  Moses, the prophets and the patriarchs are all Christians in the midst of an incredulous and sinful Jewish nation.

For the first time we see the manipulation of Paul’s veil theme found in 2 Corinthians 3:13-16. Here Paul affirms that a veil remains on the eyes of Jews regarding the Old Testament because they do not see Christ foreshadowed in it. Our Barnabas reads this as meaning the Jews do not and cannot understand the Old Testament tout court! The examples abound. They do not even understand the food laws or the true meaning of the Sabbath!

One last ‘first’: When one reads this letter, as with later church documents, you find much sound teaching and exhortations to good works and holy lives. There are even attacks on abortion and pederasty. But all this love and respect does not include the Jews. They have been abandoned by God and consequently by the Church as well! This means you should love your neighbor, as long as they are not Jews. They simply do not count! This horrific idea first emerges in the epistle of Barnabas.

Rev. Anthony Rozinni is a pastor and Bible school teacher in Italy whose studies for a Master’s degree included extensive reading about the Church Fathers. This is the latest in his series on the rise of anti-Semitism in the early Church.

The sad legacy of Christian anti-Semitism

As a Christian, it seems to me that Christianity has sadly played a significant role both in anti-Judaism and the persecution of the Jewish people. The teachings of various established churches included the charge that Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus, and thus they deserved to be punished. The prolonged suffering and dispersal of Jews among the nations were seen as just retribution for their monumental crime of killing God. Another theological concept basically claimed that Christianity had replaced Judaism, due to the Jewish people’s poor performance as the Chosen People of God.

All in all early Christianity, spearheaded by the early Church fathers, began to view Judaism as inferior to Christianity and Jews themselves as evil and cursed, unworthy of mercy and love. In essence, a Jew was regarded as worse than a pagan.

One of the most well-known detractors of Jews was the Church father John Chrysostom (354-430), who accused the Jews of, among other things, idolatry and housing the Devil himself in their synagogues.

In his “First Homily Against the Jews”,Chrysostom insisted that, “Jews are dogs, stiff-necked, gluttonous, drunkards. They are beasts unfit for work… The Jews had fallen into a condition lower than the vilest animals… The synagogue is worse than a brothel and a drinking shop; it is a den of scoundrels, a temple of demons, the cavern of devils, a criminal assembly of the assassins of Christ…. I hate the Jews, because they violate the Law… It is the duty of all Christians to hate the Jews.”

Several centuries later, this visceral anti-Jewish propaganda was refuelled by the influential reformer Martin Luther. When asked, “What shall we do with this damned, rejected race of Jews?” Luther responded:

“First, their synagogues should be set on fire… Secondly, their homes should likewise be broken down and destroyed… Thirdly, they should be deprived of their prayer books and Talmuds in which such idolatry, lies, cursing, and blasphemy are taught… Fifthly, travelling privileges must be absolutely forbidden to Jews… If however we are afraid that they might harm us personally… then let us settle with them for that which they have extorted usuriously from us, and after having divided it up fairly, let us drive them out of the country for all time.”

Centuries later, such pronouncements were a source of inspiration to the Nazis. Both Chrysostom and Luther were quoted by Nazi officials and their works were reprinted by the Third Reich. Quite strikingly, their views were also quoted by the defence in the Nuremberg war crimes trials. For instance, Julius Streicher, editor of the anti-Semitic weekly Der Stürmer, asserted at his trial that Martin Luther also should have been there presenting his case. Thus one can clearly see the link between classic Christian anti-Judaism and modern racist anti-Semitism.

Because Christianity shared a tradition with Judaism, the Jews constituted a perpetual challenge to Christian truth. Even more disturbing was the fact that the Christian Messiah hailed from the House of David. One way of overcoming this dilemma was to increasingly diminish and blot out the Jewish identity of Jesus.

As a consequence, the Jewish character of Jesus was removed and he became first and foremost a Christian, leaving little to connect Christians to Judaism. However, Jesus was indeed a Jew, as were his family and disciples, and there is nothing in the New Testament which negates that.

In Matthew 5:17. Jesus states clearly:"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them.”

Similarly, the Gospels record Jesus celebrating the Jewish holidays, and describe him as wearing the garments of a religious Jewish male.

Perhaps the saddest attempt at removing any traces of Jewishness both from Church practices in general and from Jesus’ persona in particular took place in the Nazi era and the effort to ‘de-judaize’ Germany. To this end “Deutsche Christen”, the so-called German Christian Church, disassociated Christianity from the Old Testament altogether and turned Christ into a perfect “Aryan Jesus”. They also published their own de-judaized New Testament, altered their hymn books, and updated their catechism, all in the effort to rid German Christianity of all Jewish influence.

It is no wonder then that when Kristallnacht – the Night of the Broken Glass – took place on November 9, 1938 the churches of Germany were silent. The mass pogrom saw 30,000 Jews rounded up and taken to concentration camps, while 1,000 synagogues were burned all over Germany. The lack of public criticism left the Nazis with a sense that they now had a license to forge ahead with anti-Jewish actions, including the confiscation of Jewish property. As far as I know, there was only one church leader who publicly lamented that “synagogues too are houses of God”.

By the time Germany ignited World War Two in 1939, many opportunities to react had been lost. Increasingly, churches throughout Europe mostly kept silent while Jews were persecuted and murdered. Any protest was exceptional.

Several factors lay behind this deafening silence: anti-Judaism in churches expressed in sermons and by other means; Europe’s identity as a primarily Christian continent and a perceived need to protect the church institutions themselves. This, in turn, raises a very profound question: In times of crisis, is it more important for a church to protect its institution or to be a voice of morality?

What does come through clearly are the limits of human compassion. In such a situation, how was it possible for only some to react to the Lord’s leading while most of humanity were deaf to His gentle voice.

Let us all remember the words – very serious words – of the detained pastor and concentration camp inmate Martin Niemöller: “Christianity in Germany bears a greater responsibility before God than the National Socialists, the SS and the Gestapo. We ought to have recognised the Lord Jesus in the brother who suffered…”
 


Dr. Susanna Kokkonen is Director of Christian Friends of Yad Vashem. Learn more about this vital work at http://www.icej.org/yadvashem

The ICEJ has an official partnership with Yad Vashem to help that institution carry its message about the universal lessons of the Holocaust to the Christian world.

A New Intifada?

The world has been worried since Cold War days about the start of the Third World War. Israelis, on the other hand, are constantly on the lookout for the third Palestinian intifada.

In recent weeks, an upsurge in rioting and violence among Palestinians in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem have had IDF commanders warning that a new intifada indeed could be brewing if the situation is not handled properly.

The number and size of violent Palestinian protests rose sharply in February and on the surface appeared to be linked to the issue of Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails. Many prisoners were not demanding better conditions, they simply wanted out and several launched hunger strikes in protest. Relatives and friends joined in by staging widespread street demonstrations.

Tensions escalated when Arafat Jadarat, a 30 year-old Palestinian prisoner, died in custody in late February under disputed circumstances, and Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas responded by accusing Israel of “killing our children.”

Some analysts linked the disturbances to the bitter rivalry between Fatah and Hamas. Hamas scored big with the Palestinian public when it managed to free hundreds of prisoners in the exchange deal for IDF soldier Gilad Schalit in October 2011, and Fatah and other PLO factions are now anxious to spring their own members from Israeli jails.

But others say the growing unrest was stirred by separate factors. For instance, the Palestinian cause has been on the back burner since the outbreak of the Arab Spring and the recent protests are seen as a deliberate attempt by the Palestinian Authority to get the attention of US President Barack Obama ahead of his expected visit to the region.

“There is some kind of unrest, we cannot ignore this,” veteran Israeli journalist Pinhas Inbari, an expert on Palestinian affairs, recently told The Christian Edition. “But I don’t think it will develop into a full-blown intifada. And these prisoner riots have been going on ever since the Schalit deal, so they are nothing new.”

The name intifada is taken from an Arabic word for “shaking” and refers to a sustained period of Palestinian anarchy and disturbances against Israeli rule. Inbari explained that, ironically, the first intifada (1987-1993) has gone down in Palestinian accounts as a planned uprising when in fact it was spontaneous, while the second, more violent intifada (2000-2005) has been billed by the PA as spontaneous when in truth it was a deliberately launched terror campaign.

“The first intifada erupted not because of dire economic plight and the other reasons often cited,” insisted Inbari. “On the contrary, tens of thousands of Palestinian Arabs were working inside Israel and were making a lot of money, so they were much better off than their counterparts in surrounding Arab countries. Nevertheless when they compared their situation – especially in Gaza with its open sewers and other societal ills – to the prospering Israelis, they were jealous and this frustration is what triggered the first intifada. Remember, it began with several Palestinian workers stabbing their long-time Israeli employers.”

“Now the current unrest is truly about the bad economic situation, and it’s not so much directed at Israel as much as the Palestinian Authority,” he assessed. “The first of these recent riots actually erupted in Nablus against the PA. It was part of a kind of quiet tax protest. The Palestinians are struggling, they see corruption in Ramallah, and so they do not want to pay their bills. No one has paid their electric bills for months in the West Bank. And the PA sees this and is trying to shift the rioting and unrest in the direction of Israel.”

“But still, they have to be careful because the street could spin out of control and they know how easily it could turn on them,” Inbari maintained.

He noted that the first major demonstration over the prisoners issue this winter came on the same day as a teachers’ strike against the PA. So with all the students out of class, the PLO factions just roped some of them into joining the protests against Israel.

Meanwhile, Inbari does not expect Hamas to get too involved in the rioting.

“Qatar has promised Hamas a lot of money to rebuild Gaza if they keep the quiet, and Hamas is holding back until they have all those funds in hand,” he stated.

 

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