Like many others, I was badly shaken when, on the Sabbath day of October 27, 2018, the horrible murders of eleven Jewish people in Pittsburgh grabbed our attention and directed it to the growing problem of modern and murderous antisemitism. Antisemitism, called “the oldest hatred,” has been around for thousands of years. And today it seems to be intensifying.
Social commentators, both within and outside of the Jewish community, have many theories about this, but they leave out what I believe is the most critical reason of all. Antisemitism is the devil’s invention! When God called Abram to be the father of His chosen people (Genesis 12:1–3), Satan made the Jewish people the target of his fury. The evil one has tried to annihilate the Jewish people in every age and in endless ways to prevent God from using us as His instruments of redemption through the Jewish Messiah. We know the devil will not prevail, although that does not prevent him from continuing to try.
Sadly, one of his ugliest tactics has been to use the Church to promote the hatred of Jewish people.
Anti-Zionism and Antisemitism
Of course, the picture is not entirely dark. We rejoice in the establishment of modern Israel as a sovereign nation and home for the Jewish people. The State of Israel rose out of the ashes of the Holocaust to provide the Jewish people with a safe haven and a bastion of protection against antisemitism.
Although God’s choice of the promised land is ancient and rooted in the Scriptures (Genesis 15:18–21), the vision for the modern State of Israel is the fruit of the Zionist movement founded in the late 19th century and led by the great Viennese journalist Theodor Herzl. Yet, this love for Zion is not new. It has been the cherished hope of both Jews and Christians for centuries because of the prophetic biblical teaching describing the return of the Jewish people to the land of promise found throughout the Old Testament (Ezekiel 36:22–34).
In fact, some of the earliest and greatest supporters of the Zionist movement were Christian Zionists who took the Bible literally. They fervently believed the Jewish people would return to the land of Israel.
Yet, today we see a rising tide of Christians who do not believe that the foundations of Zionism and the modern State of Israel established in 1948 are biblical. In light of the growing criticism of Israel among some Christians and the hierarchies of their churches, the question I want us to consider briefly is whether we believe anti-Zionism and, in particular, Christian anti-Zionism, is antisemitic in nature.
Can we equate anti-Zionism with antisemitism?
I would suggest the answer is sometimes yes, especially when those opposed to the State of Israel support the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) movement 1 and groups like Students for Justice in Palestine, which harass and persecute Israeli speakers on university campuses across America and around the globe.
The answer is also sometimes no! Some Christians simply do not interpret the Bible as teaching that the land of Israel ultimately belongs to the Jewish people. This is unfortunate, but should not necessarily be equated with antisemitism. However, when criticism of Israel specifically leads to hateful language and actions directed toward Israelis, and Jewish people in general, then I believe the line is crossed.
This is when anti-Zionism becomes antisemitism!
Our Response to Anti-Zionism
Again, we ask the question, Is anti-Zionism antisemitic (especially the Christian version of anti-Zionism)? In order to answer this question, we must begin with a clear definition of biblical Zionism, which is sometimes misunderstood, especially by the Christian anti-Zionists who might be more influenced by culture than by what they read in the Bible.
Biblical Zionism holds that God gave the land of Israel to the Jewish people through an unconditional, irrevocable covenant made between Himself and our forefather, Abraham, as found in many chapters of Genesis (12, 15, 17, 22, 35).
The belief that God gave the land of Israel to the Jewish people is still well-accepted by the majority of Christians in the United States, as shown by a recent survey of evangelicals (sponsored by Chosen People Ministries and Joel Rosenberg and implemented by LifeWay Research,) entitled Evangelical Attitudes Toward Israel and the Peace Process.
The Survey reports that over 80 percent believe the Abrahamic Covenant continues, and over 80 percent also see the establishment of the modern State of Israel in 1948 as the fulfillment of prophecy.2
Yet, according to Bob Smietana, who reported on the data discovered by this survey, negativity toward Israel and the hope of Zion seems to be influencing the younger generation of Christians.
“Older American evangelicals love Israel—but many younger evangelicals simply don’t care, according to a new survey from Nashville-based LifeWay Research. Three-quarters (77 percent) of evangelicals 65 and older say they support the existence, security and prosperity of Israel. That drops to 58 percent among younger evangelicals, those 18 to 34.” 3
Our younger generation was born years after the Holocaust and the founding of the State of Israel, and they do not have the same theological or emotional sympathies as those who were born closer to this time period. They did not grow up during the days when a much larger coalition of Arab nations tried to destroy Israel or when groups like the Palestinian Liberation Organization murdered Israeli athletes and began terrorist attacks within Israel. It is hard for some to understand why Israel has been so careful to protect the Jewish people within her borders.
This has been difficult for Israeli leaders. There is a mistaken understanding that followers of Jesus who believe God gave the land of Israel to the Jewish people also support every decision that Israeli politicians make. This is false. All leaders are human and capable of mistakes. Israel is not a perfect country! They have made mistakes.
I am hoping that Bible believers will carefully study the Scriptures and conclude that at the heart of biblical Zionism is the understanding that God gave the land of Israel to the Jewish people. It is a land to be shared among all her inhabitants since Israel was chosen to bless the nations of the world (Genesis 12:3, Isaiah 44:8). And it is a land and a people to be loved, prayed for (Psalm 122:6), and reached with the gospel message.
The negative spillover of anti-Zionism is impacting the view of many toward the Jewish people within and outside of Israel. When embraced, this critical attitude toward Israel can easily, and unfortunately, lead to antisemitism.
If Anyone Should Oppose All Forms of Antisemitism, It Should Be US!
Recently, Jeremy Sharon and Sara Rubenstein, writing for the Jerusalem Post, reported on the European Jewish Congress held in November 2018. It was sponsored by the Austrian Chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, who initiated the development of a Catalogue of Policies to Combat Antisemitism. The 32-year-old chancellor was quoted as saying,
“Antisemitism and anti-Zionism are getting blurred, but they are two sides of the same coin.” 4
He recommended the following actions,
“The recommendations, which it is hoped will be adopted by the EU and by national governments, include adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s Working Definition of Antisemitism; the appointment by EU countries of a special commissioner for combating antisemitism; a commitment of a percentage of GDP annually to fighting antisemitism; barring antisemites from political parties and public office; committing financial and other resources to guaranteeing security for Jewish communities in Europe; making Internet companies liable for antisemitic content on their platforms; and advising companies not to do business with countries or organizations that support antisemitism in any way.” 5
“Fighting antisemitism deserves much more than simple statements of good will—we need concrete policies and reinforced legislation.” 6
Oh, how I hope the Church will take the lead on encouraging the above!
How can we possibly reach Jewish people for Jesus without cultivating a love for all Jewish people, including Israelis, and to have a tender heart toward Zion? This is my prayer for you, that God would give you the same heart as the Apostle Paul, who wrote in Romans 10:1, “Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation.”
Opposing antisemitism may be a crucial first step in leading Jewish people to open their hearts to Jesus, the Messiah. I pray my people will see that true Christians love the Jewish people (Romans 11:11).
3 “Support of Israel Wanes Among Younger Evangelicals,” LifeWay Research (blog), December 4, 2017, https://lifewayresearch.com/2017/12/04/support-ofisrael-among-younger-evangelicals/.
By Dr. Mitch Glaser. Originally published in The Chosen People, Vol. XXV, Issue 1, February 2019.