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Christians often refer to Israel as “the Holy Land.” This is an allusion to the fact Jesus walked these highways and byways millennia ago. It may also refer to the notion the land, so revered throughout the Old Testament, is hallowed because, according to the story, God ceded it to the Hebrews who were escaping from captivity in Egypt. That escape is at the heart of the principal annual celebration in Judaism, Passover. Any glance at the New Testament shows the church began as a movement within the developing Judaism of the time – and that history also contributes to the idea of holiness. We need, for the moment, to back away from that religious terminology.
Fast forward to today. We have seen an alarming amount of antisemitism in the USA recently, which has escalated since the hostilities between Israel and Gaza began earlier this year.
But wait. Stop and think for a moment. We need to draw a distinction between the contemporary state of Israel, which stands culpable for universal human rights violations and sanctions like any other nation in the world, and Jewish people worldwide.
Israel is not Judaism. While Israel is now a state to which Jewish people fled after the Holocaust, and continue to migrate as a revered homeland, the nation itself is a rather odd combination of traditionalist Judaism and secular polity. It is not automatically antisemitic to criticize the nation of Israel for faults in the international arena, including those recent attacks on Gaza. It is antisemitic to blame and target Jews as if they were responsible, by being Jewish, for actions deemed wrong committed by the Israeli government.
The protests seen on elite university campuses in recent weeks are a reminder that Jews have suffered ostracism and obloquy through the centuries simply by being themselves.
At the same time, we have got to recognize the Palestinians are not represented by nor equivalent to Hamas. Hamas is a militant movement within the Palestinian community whose goal is the erasure of Israel as a country. Hamas has, in fact, since its inception, completely refused any talk of a two-state solution and has called for jihad against Israel. We’ve got to recognize the Palestinians have been abandoned by various Islamic countries. The Palestinians have not been welcomed everywhere, and they have been hampered in their efforts to come to terms with Israel by fractures in their own community, which have consistently led to the lack of any united front to bring to a peace table.
Both sides, meaning the movement of Hamas and the state of Israel, are culpable for the current disaster in Israel and Gaza. Neither one should nor can be let off the hook for the suffering that is currently ongoing in the region.
Hamas’s attack against Israel was horrendous. Israel’s response has been equally horrendous.
We should also remember a large contingent of Israelis (and Americans) have protested the Netanyahu government’s policies, particularly regarding new settlements, for years, to little avail. Certainly not all Palestinians, 99 percent of whom are Muslim, back Hamas, either.
So, let’s call genuine antisemitism what it is.
It’s an ugly remnant of centuries of persecution, and it is certainly not helpful in the current situation.
An attempt to assign moral superiority to Hamas, furthermore, is dangerous. Hamas is no knight in shining armor come to free Palestinians; their callous disregard of their own people demonstrates that. Attempts to hold the Jewish people collectively guilty for the sins of the nation of Israel are similarly dangerous. We need balance in our assessment, calm voices to prevail, and we must dispel these old stereotypes.
Fr. Gabriel Rochelle is serving as interim pastor at St. Anthony of the Desert Orthodox parish, Las Cruces. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.