To be clear, I am pro-Jew. I am also pro-Israel. I am not a Groyper. I barely know what a Groyper is, but I think they don’t like Jews. I affirm the adage that if Israel were to lay down its weapons, there would be continued war. But if Hamas (and allies) laid down their weapons, there would be peace. War is hell, but sometimes they must be fought.

But several recent issues have forced new questions to be asked and answered. And the time has come to be brutally honest, rather than to rely on tired cliches. HR 6090, the Antisemitism Awareness Act of 2023, has forced Christians to comment on, if not totally reevaluate, the privileged status of Israel and our Jewish friends as our closest religious relatives and as natural allies.

The Latest Battle in an Ongoing War

Obviously, the war raging in Gaza has brought all of this to the fore. A vast majority of Americans are on Israel’s side in the conflict, but the “information war” seems to favor Hamas. Yes, literal terrorists have the sympathies of a well-funded vocal minority, and only “right wing” media appears to be critical of the protests in favor of Hamas. Even the protesting of a Biden fundraiser, the Oscars, and the Met Gala, by a terrorist organization no less (!), does not seem to merit criticism.

Being labeled as the “oppressor” in the Marxist oppressed/oppressor matrix, Israel has become the “bad guy” in the current war. That is pretty wild, considering the brutal events of October 7. But for all the non-Marxist Americans out there, going into Gaza and laying waste to a terrorist hotbed is no skin off our nose. In fact, it’s a little reminiscent of a few well-known Old Testament battle accounts.

As the war drags on, though, the dynamic is changing. Yes, Israel has a right, and even a duty, to protect itself. And the college encampments/sit-ins/protests have become a sick joke. But “antisemitism” is starting to feel like the new “racism”.

Candace Owens, love her or hate her, had an interesting interview with Rabbi Barclay, who previously labeled her an antisemite. Her defense was pretty simple: the definition of that term keeps changing and is inconsistently applied, so she asked: what exactly was it that she was guilty of? Her intuitive opposition to the ugly label seems almost prescient now.

After all, it should be noted that HB 6090, a bill that attaches hate crime status to antisemitism, never actually defines what antisemitism is! Instead, it relies on the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance to provide that definition, a definition which is subject to change at any time with the simple edit of a webpage. Most concerning is a particular example provided of what antisemitism might look like: “Using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis.” So, will someone please tell me, if I read from the Passion of Saint John on Good Friday, might I soon be in violation of federal law?

Time to Ask the Hard Questions

But again, I’m on the side of Israel, pretty much all of the time. While I think the popularity of the pro-Hamas protests is horrible, I believe there is likely an element of “astro turf” activism that is mixed in with some true believers. But if my own nation is closer to being embroiled in yet another war, or if my faith is to be shackled in some measure by this new wave of political correctness, it’s time we offer some clear distinctions. This is best done by asking a few clarifying questions.

1. What does it mean to be Jewish?
I know it’s a bit of a cliche to say that being Jew is both an ethnicity and a religion. But, can it really be both? In general, Jews and Christians share a common “worldview.” But within Israel itself, there are clearly wide gaps in the understanding of what it means to be Jewish. For example, there are atheists who claim to be Jewish. Further, only a small percentage of Jews keep kosher, and there are few who observe all of the Law. So, how are we to speak about our Jewish friends and allies when there is such a wide chasm among those who identify as Jews themselves? We should ask: what does an Orthodox Jew who deeply loves the Torah have in common with a gay man whose mother happened to be Jewish? The answer: one wears a shawl when they pray, and the other waves the rainbow flag. They may both be “Jewish,” but they have virtually nothing in common.

2. Is the term meant theologically or politically?
When we speak about Jews, am I to respond theologically as a Christian, or politically as an American? Or perhaps humanely, as a fellow human? Theologically, the reason for the lack of peace in the Middle East remains the hatred, contempt, and/or ignorance of Jesus. Politically, Israel functions as a secular democracy, and makes up the biggest tent of divergent views in the region. Supposedly, we hear that their courts are corrupt, the political parties hate each other, and Israelis are as internally divided as they are with other nations (until a common, brutal enemy comes along). And humanely, well, we are all human beings, but that is equally true for the Palestinian women and children who are caught up in this mess. So, am I wrong to want this war to end for their sake, even if I think Israel is ultimately in the right?

3. What about supporting Israel?
As a Christian, am I theologically obliged to support Israel, given our shared history? While we certainly do have a lengthy shared history, it is simply a matter of fact that Jews reject the Gospel of Christ. Although we do share the Law of God, which is good, I reject the belief that there is any theological or biblical significance to the creation of Israel as a state in 1948. Heck, we should recall that there were many Jews who were opposed the creation of Israel in 1948!

4. Did the “Jews kill Jesus?”
Factually, the answer to that question is, yes. Are present day Jews to be held responsible? Of course not! Just as I, a Lutheran Christian, am not responsible for Lutherans that supported the Nazis or Christians that carried out the worst of the Crusades. But the biblical witness is clear that Jewish leaders and accusers, along with the mob, conspired with the Romans to have Jesus executed. There is every reason to believe that if they were able to, the Jews of the Bible would have stoned Jesus to death, just as they had attempted to do in John 8. But the Romans did not allow executions, especially in a prominent city like Jerusalem, so the Jewish leaders forced the Romans to do their dirty work for them, even making the remarkable claim that they themselves had no king but Caesar! From their perspective, Jesus needed to be portrayed as a threat to Rome, so they accused him of being an insurrectionist. Still, Pilate, a Roman, washed his hands and declared Jesus innocent.

My concerns these days, then, are threefold:

1. I do not want America involved in another endless war. So, while I think for now that Israel holds the moral high ground and the right to defend itself, it is their problem to solve, and in addition, we are broke. I wish them well to do as they see fit to protect themselves.

2. I am concerned that the definition of antisemitism is expanding to the point of becoming meaningless. We need to retain the right to criticize Israel as a state, especially a state involved in warfare, since we know that things can quickly turn sideways. And, most importantly, we need the freedom to convey theological and historical realities.

3. While I can have both friendly relationships and interesting conversations with believing Jews, I have little in common with ethnic Jews who reject their own faith and/or embrace the same rotten secularism that we see in America today. Therefore, I will not be held hostage to someone’s Judaism. There are some Jews I understand, support, and have true friendship with. On the other hand, there are others with whom I have almost nothing in common.

And Yet One Key Distinction Remains and Matters Most

Finally, as a result of my recent conversations with believing Jews, it has become clear to me that there is a false front between “us” and “them.” A believing Jew, for example, should not believe anything about Jesus except that he is a blasphemer, a false prophet, and a false teacher who has led billions astray. Those are just facts to the traditional believers. Most Christians assume that Jewish believers are as friendly towards Christian believers as Christians are to Jews. But it is definitely not a two-way street.

And logically, it shouldn't be. Christians rightly see themselves as the inheritors of the Hebrew story; believing Jews, when they deny that Jesus is the Messiah, are taught to see Christianity as an aberration and defilement of what they hold dear.

We live in interesting times. I believe Israel can and will continue to be an ally for America on the world stage. I believe the Jewish people need a safe place to live. And, generally, I believe the traditional Jewish understanding of God, ethics, and civic society is similar to that of the Christian. But if I continue to be pressed in the direction of war, or somehow become unable to criticize Israel, I must object on both national and religious grounds.

Photo Credit- Israel ישרא