The matter of how Christians regard Israel is a contentious one, just as are their attitudes toward Islam / Muslims. As if I needed to be reminded, several events and exchanges in recent days have made this quite evident. Putting it rather unfairly and too simplistically perhaps, but with more than a grain of truth, there is a camp that is anti-Israel and pro Islam / Muslims and one that is pro-Israel and anti Islam / Muslims. Sadly, and as a result of the gospel preaching, community activist path I feel compelled to follow, I find myself between the two camps and having to be mindful of what I say in case I break the peace that we (Christians) are called to strive for and create harmful schism. But truth is paramount, and such matters cannot be avoided altogether. Without wanting to be boring, I have set my position out in recent blogs on both Israel and Islam.
It happened that the other day I visited a church, where I have excellent relations, that falls in the latter camp, and picked up a copy of the pro-Israel magazine “Israel Today”, which embarrassingly has gone astray since I wanted to read the contents before blogging on its headline article, which was about boycotting Israel. I suspect the arguments would be along the lines we shouldn’t and there are even more valid reasons why we should boycott some of the (usually Arab) anti-Israel regimes in the world, and maybe sold the idea that by opposing Israel we may be opposing God. In one sense, the arguments either way are immaterial to what I wanted to say. But I have been mindful in my regular news watching that there is a growing momentum toward advocating boycotting Israeli goods.
My mind went back to 1970, the very first day I started out on my university studies. Upon exiting the Mile End tube station to complete my 5-10 minute journey to the college, I was (nicely) accosted by some pretty girls, who were representing Barclays Bank and trying to encourage freshers such as me to set up an account with the bank. It so happened that I had joined that bank earlier (although hadn’t got the freebies on offer, which I later remedied) and I proceeded onto my college. A little later in the day, in his address to the students, the president of the student union strongly advised the fresher cohort NOT to deal with Barclays. The reason he gave was that Barclays were investing in South Africa and the only way to bring down apartheid was to boycott South African goods and British institutions that support this evil regime I was later to find that this plea extended into all sorts of areas, notably sporting ones. My own view at the time was that while I did not support apartheid, I was ambivalent regarding the actions that were being proposed and I felt there were bigger issues to attend to, although, looking back, the action had more than a nominal affect in bringing about many of the changes the anti-apartheid people advocated.
As to whether the policies practiced by the Israeli government amounts to apartheid, or something as bad or even worse, remains a debatable subject, and I have no doubt the Christian camp one may find oneself leaning toward may have a bearing on one’s views. My own view is that Israeli injustices perpetrated toward the Palestinian people are not isolated, they are systemic. I also have no doubt many of those recognized as representing the Palestinian people are not good people and some of what goes on in many of Israel’s Muslim dominated neighbouring lands is also unjust, maybe in different ways. So regarding whether or not to boycott Israeli goods and services, the jury is out as far as I am concerned. However, the offer I made a number of times in the past, to weigh the evidence from the growing lists from all sides of the argument and understand the perspectives of all sides, and come to a balanced view, remains.
This brings me to another point that really deserves its own blog entry, and that concerns differences found among Christians and churches. Often individual Christians find themselves out of sync with the opinion setters of the church they attend, thus creating a dilemma. Often it results in them not joining with any church and it seems to me the result is all are losers. I have mentioned the attitude one might take regarding Israel and Islam / Muslims, but there is a long list, and this can be (and is) upsetting to many. I would like to say there is a simple solution like adopt the adage, attributed to Augustine of Hippo: “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity”, but life is not so simple, and I won’t figure out the definitive right answer in this life. However, I can seek out the truth and report on my findings (hopefully graciously) not fearing the possible backlash and I will try (by God’s grace) to love my brothers and sisters (for that is what my fellow Christians are) irrespective of their views, knowing truth will eventually prevail.