Israel now facing 'new anti-Semitism,' Sibley says

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--As Israel weathers a tide of criticism over its actions against a Gaza-bound flotilla, an expert in Jewish studies identified a new form of prejudice against the Middle Eastern country.

"What we see in the reaction of much of the world in the wake of Israel's enforcement of its blockade of Gaza is what is called the new anti-Semitism," Jim Sibley, director of the Pasche Institute for Jewish Studies at Criswell College in Dallas, told Baptist Press.

"The old anti-Semitism was largely founded on a racial basis, while the new anti-Semitism is politically based," Sibley said. "Nevertheless, it is still anti-Semitic in that it is a hatred of Israel simply because it is a Jewish state."

In world opinion, Israel is suffering a fate similar to what Jesus said His followers could expect, Sibley said.

"Matthew 24:9 says, 'Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name,'" Sibley noted. "Satan still opposes both Israel and the church, because God has promised blessings to both."

In regard to the ongoing threat posed by Iran, Sibley said he doesn't sense that the historical sites in Israel that carry Christian significance are in danger.

"God has said, 'I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you' (Genesis 12:3). In light of this promise of God's Word, I would be much more comfortable in Israel, facing the threat of nuclear weapons, than in Iran, facing the curse of God," Sibley said.

"That is not to say that Israel may not be attacked and suffer greatly, but it will not be destroyed," he added. "The state of Israel, like any secular government, is subject to criticism, but we must support the Jewish people and their right to their own government in the Land of Promise."

The latest round of criticism aimed at Israel stems from a May 31 incident in which a group of Turkish, Palestinian and European self-described "peace activists" attempted to break a maritime blockade that Israel had imposed on Gaza to prevent the smuggling of weapons to the Hamas-controlled region.

For the past 18 months, following a 2008 war against Hamas in Gaza, more than a million tons of humanitarian supplies have entered Gaza from Israel, including from the United Nations and the Red Cross.

"This amounts to nearly a ton of aid for every man, woman and child in Gaza," the U.S.-based Heritage Foundation said on its blog June 4. "International food aid continually flows through the Israeli humanitarian apparatus, ensuring that there is no food shortage in Gaza."

The blockade, which also is enforced by Egypt, is not in place to keep out food, medicine or building supplies, the foundation noted, but is meant to monitor shipments in order to reduce the number of weapons available to the Palestinians.

But at the end of May, a flotilla of six ships carrying more than 600 activists and humanitarian aid supplies was intercepted by the Israeli Navy and special forces commandos before it reached Gaza. Nine Turkish activists were killed, and international outrage ensued.

At least one ship in the flotilla was backed by the Humanitarian Relief Fund, a Muslim charity which is part of an umbrella group called the Union of Good. The Heritage Foundation said the Union of Good was created by Hamas leaders in 2000 to aid fundraising for a radical Islamist agenda and the U.S. government has designated the Union of Good as a terrorist organization. Media reports indicated the expressed purpose of the flotilla was to break the blockade, and some activists reportedly wanted to die as martyrs for Allah.

Even so, the World Council of Churches denounced Israel's action and called for an end to the blockade.

"We condemn the assault and killing of innocent people who were attempting to deliver humanitarian assistance to the people of Gaza, who have been under a crippling Israeli blockade since 2007," Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the WCC, said in a statement. "We further condemn the flagrant violation of international law by Israel in attacking and boarding a humanitarian convoy in international waters."

The Washington-based Institute on Religion and Democracy countered that the religious left has eagerly seized upon the Gaza flotilla incident.

"Statements from the WCC and others ignore video of flotilla 'peace activists' beating Israeli soldiers with metal poles. They also ignore the nature of Islamist rule of Gaza under Hamas, under which ordinary Palestinians continue to suffer," Mark Tooley, IRD's president, said.

"The religious left's quick condemnation of Israel was exactly what flotilla organizers hoped for: demonizing only Israel while turning a blind eye toward Hamas and its Iranian patrons."

Israeli president Shimon Peres said the flotilla protesters "were no freedom fighters."

"They are terrorists. And even under these difficult circumstances, Israel still reaches its hand out for peace. If you want to lift the Gaza blockade, then abandon your way of terror. Recognize Israel, and let's begin a peace treaty," Peres said, according to a news release by the Israeli Defense Forces.

Abdullah Gul, Turkey's president, meanwhile, said the incident has "left an irreparable and deep scar" on relations between Turkey and Israel, which had been strong allies until the Gaza war.

"Turkey will never forgive this attack," Gul said.

Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, commenting on the Arab-Israeli conflict, said Israel's response to the provocation was consistent with international law.

"Although the flotilla was boarded in international waters, the intent to enter the coastal area of Gaza was clear and undisputed. A sovereign nation need not wait until the line is unlawfully crossed when the intruders have made known their determination to cross the line," Dershowitz wrote for The Jerusalem Post.

"The United States and other western countries have boarded ships in international waters over the years to enforce blockades and to protect security," Dershowitz wrote. "When Israeli marines were attacked by lethal weapons, they had the absolute right to defend themselves and protect their fellow soldiers."

The Wall Street Journal said June 3 that Israel has faced rising international criticism since the 2006 Lebanon war, and the newspaper gave examples of countries shunning Israel.

British grocery chains have dropped products made in Israel, Scandinavian pension funds have divested themselves from an Israeli defense company, and an annual "Israeli Apartheid Week" has spread to 50 cities worldwide, The Journal said.

The Heritage Foundation described this as a new kind of warfare in which Israel's enemies use not just military force but public relations force, waging war on the information battlefield. If, through incidents like the flotilla flap, Israel's enemies can turn public opinion against the Jewish state, they gain political victories. Israel has not yet adjusted to such a struggle, commentators have said.

The United Nations Human Rights Council has launched an international investigation into Israel's actions against the flotilla. A draft resolution harshly condemned Israel and said Israel violated international law. It also called on Israel to lift the Gaza blockade.

David Dolan, an evangelical reporter based in Jerusalem, told Baptist Press Christians need to decide whether they support Israel's right to exist and to occupy Jerusalem.

"I think we as Christians need to take sides on this issue, and without being against anyone, we need to be for what the Scriptures say and recognize that this will end with the feet of the Messiah standing on the Mount of Olives," Dolan said.

"He takes sides in a way because He is faithful to His covenants and He remembers His covenants as Psalm 105 says. That includes the covenant He made with Jacob for the land here," Dolan said. "It doesn't mean the Palestinians shouldn't be here, but it does mean the Jews returning here is what the prophet said would occur (Isaiah 11 and others) and I think we as Christians do need to support that."


Erin Roach is a staff writer for Baptist Press.

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