March 23, 2007

Whither Israel?

I have come across a couple different and troubling stories about Israel this morning. The first is in regard to a new law being proposed that would outlaw all proselytism and provide a one-year jail sentence for the offense. (,7340,L-3376215,00.html) Israel currently has laws against offering rewards or material benefits for conversion, and laws against proselyting minors, but this new law would extend the law to include all people. This would be a serious and very deleterious move by Israel toward a totalitarian and closed policy toward other religions. Thought lawmakers did point out that the law would apply to Judaism as well, it certainly seems aimed primarily at Muslims and Christians, in an attempt to avoid losing adherents to the Jewish faith. On one level, it seems very sad that lawmakers feel the need to legislate adherence to the faith, instead of choosing a path of freedom and openness, aligned with an attempt at Jewish education or some other positive measure. Regardless, it is difficult to support a state that proposes such closed policies.

A second troubling story reported comments by U. N. envoy John Dugard, a South African, who likened Israel's treatment of Palestinians to the Apartheid-era policies and culture of South Africa. ( It is quite clear that both sides hold some blame in the current Middle East conflicts centered around Israel and Palestine, but it is equally clear that Israel has developed a culture of unacceptance and exclusion of Palestinians from their "democracy." Things like the "security fence" (read "massive security wall") show a strong desire to exclude Palestinians from Israeli society, instead of a desire to move toward a constructive and peaceful solution.

Dugard makes an insightful point, when he observes that trouble in Israel/Palestine has far-reaching effects around the globe. It in some ways weakens any global response to crises in places like Darfur, because the legitimacy of the Western community is strongly weakened by ambivalent response to the situation in the Middle East, and especially with regard to Palestine. It is clear that we need to pray for and work toward an amicable solution to the crisis that has so perpetually beset the Holy Land. And it is clear that we as Christians must provide support and energy for a peaceful resolution that respects the humanity of those on all sides.

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