Rustlings (September 3, 2019)

The Greenville Jewish Film Festival Summerfest was sold out last weekend. I was humbled and honored to be the featured speaker at this event introducing the documentary Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles. As a Jewish Baptist minister, I was warmly welcomed by all who attended—particularly those from our local Jewish community. In more than one conversation during the reception, I was asked what I thought about the divergent opinions regarding antisemitism and Israeli politics. (I just wanted a glass of wine, a little food and good film! But alas…)

I like to keep things simple…even when they are as complex as Middle East politics, so here goes. Being supportive of Palestinian rights is not anti-Semitic. As a Christian, I am well aware of the limited number of Christians in Israel. Almost all Christians in Israel are Palestinian. A sweeping anti-Palestinian position puts me at odds with my Christian brothers and sisters. Caring for Palestinians does not demand dismissal of Israelis. Acknowledging unjust behavior and calling for change in Israeli policy is not antisemitism. Every prophet of the Old Testament (except maybe Nahum) spoke against the injustices of Israel. Other nations—according to the sacred biblical text—were used by God to correct Israel. Being the chosen and blessed people in no way garners a pass on inappropriate behavior and policy. As people of faith and citizens of this country, we have the right—the responsibility—to support justice and call out injustice. The average Israeli and Palestinian citizen will tell you neither side is all right or all wrong. It’s messy. Licensing either side to do as they please is not a path to justice, righteousness or peace. Rejecting Zionist Christian theology is not anti-Semitic. In fact, the Zionist Christian’s pro-Israel rhetoric is actually extremely anti-Semitic. Their support of Israel is overwhelmingly based on their hope that the restoration of Israel will prompt the return of Jesus and the imminent damnation of the Jewish people. Military and monetary support is not motivated by care for the people, but rather, the advancement of a warped religious agenda.

Antisemitism is more basic. It is making a negative judgement about a person or group of people simply because they are Jewish. It is allowing ethnicity/religion to be the sole determination of how a person is viewed and treated. It has nothing to do with responsible thought, conversation and action involved in insuring the human rights of all people.

So…most of my conversations at the festival ended with a question. “Jim, does this mean you are pro-Palestinian or pro-Israel?” My answer? I’m pro-humanity. I’m in favor of working toward a peaceful path and place for all of God’s children. Feel free to disagree or roll your eyes at my naïveté…but for this Jewish Baptist minister, this is truth.

—Jim