The conflict between Israel and Hamas intensified yesterday. An airstrike launched from within the Gaza Strip killed two workers in southern Israel, while protests in the West Bank turned deadly. The fighting is being described as the worst since 2014.
In response, a group of twenty Republican senators is pushing for a vote this week on a resolution that expresses support for Israel. On the other side, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez claimed that “the expulsions of Palestinians and attacks on al-Aqsa” were “what precipitated this cycle of violence.” However, she makes no reference to the fact that Hamas fired the rockets to which Israel responded. She and others have castigated Israel as an “oppressive regime” which is responsible for the cycle of violence.
In a similar vein, thousands of protesters have gathered across the US in recent days to support Palestinians and call for sanctions against Israel. A Jewish journalist who attended one such rally in Seattle was assaulted by a woman who hit him with a Palestinian flag. A Jewish counterprotester was attacked as well; his Israeli flag was stolen, stomped on, and burned.
There was a time when support for Israel was nonpartisan. For example, President Harry Truman, a Democrat, was the first world leader to recognize the State of Israel, doing so only eleven minutes after it was created in 1948.
In the decades since, however, a narrative that condemns Israel and American support for the Jewish state has become extremely powerful in our culture. This narrative also illustrates our week-long theme on the power of ideas and the urgency of biblical truth.
The intellectual who “transformed” our view of the Middle East
Edward Said may be the most important American intellectual whom most Americans have never heard of. Born in Palestine in 1935 to an American father and a Lebanese mother, he spent his boyhood in Cairo and Jerusalem. Fluent in English, French, and Arabic, he graduated from Princeton and later received his Master of Arts and Doctor of Philosophy degrees from Harvard University.
Said joined the faculty of Columbia University in 1963, teaching there until his death from leukemia in 2003. He was a visiting professor at Yale University and lectured at more than two hundred other universities in North America, Europe, and the Middle East. He was also an accomplished pianist and music scholar.
His 1978 book Orientalism was especially significant. A review this week noted that it is “routinely hailed in lists of the world’s most influential books.”
In it, Said makes the claim that the West views the East through a prejudicial, patriarchal colonial lens. Western biases, in his view, stereotyped the East as inferior and primitive and served to justify the colonial ambitions of the US and European powers.
This narrative has become enormously influential in intellectual circles and has especially framed the way many view Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians and America’s support for Israel. In a 2013 article for World Affairs Journal, scholar Joshua Muravchik stated that Edward Said “transformed the West’s perception of the Israeli-Arab conflict.” After exposing numerous errors of fact and logical fallacies in Orientalism, Muravchik noted that Said’s position on Arab-Israeli issues nonetheless “came to dominate Middle East studies.”
While Said stated that he was “horrified” by the terrorist acts “Palestinian men and women . . . were driven to do,” he blamed Israel, which had “literally produced, manufactured . . . the ‘terrorist.'”
Dennis Prager is right
As a result of Edward Said’s influence and that of other anti-Western intellectuals, it has become conventional wisdom for many that Jews in Israel are the oppressor and Palestinians their victims. The horrifying rise of anti-Semitism on US college campuses and around the world is a direct result of this narrative.
To be clear: I am not defending everything that the State of Israel does or has done. I am also a strong advocate for a two-state solution in which both Israel and the Palestinians have an autonomous homeland for their people. But I am deeply troubled by the rising popularity of anti-Israel narratives that are both illogical and unbiblical.
To the logical: as radio host Dennis Prager notes, if the Israelis were to lay down their guns, Israel would be destroyed tomorrow; if the Palestinians were to lay down their guns, there would be peace tomorrow. He is correct on both counts.
Now to the biblical: God chose the Jewish people as a conduit through whom “all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3). Paul stated of them that “they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers” (Romans 11:28) and added, “For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (v. 29).
Paul’s prayer for the Jewish people
As a result, I am convinced that God is still using the Jewish people in unique ways to bless the world. For example, though Jews comprise only 0.2 percent of the world’s population, they have been awarded 22 percent of all Nobel Prizes between 1901 and 2020 (and comprise 36 percent of all US recipients during the same period). Israel is the only true democracy in the Middle East and our most significant economic and military partner in the region.
At the same time, I know that the Jewish people need Jesus.
Being Jewish is not enough. As Jesus said of himself, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6, my emphasis). This is why Peter proclaimed before the Jewish ruling council, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12, my emphasis).
Paul said of his fellow Jews, “My heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved” (Romans 10:1).
Will you join him today?