How Palestine Divides Messianic Jews

Image: Thomas Coex / Contributor / Getty

Among Christians in America, Israel can be viewed as a fulfillment of prophecy, a democratic ally in a region of chaos, or an occupier oppressing stateless Palestinians. How to choose?

Given that 2 out of 3 US evangelicals have a positive perception of Israel, according to LifeWay Research, perhaps a better question is: How should evangelicals identify with the issues Israel faces?

Fortunately, there is a useful interpreter. “If the Christian community wants to understand Israel from a believing perspective,” said Jamie Cowen, an Israeli lawyer and a believer in Jesus, “going through Messianic Jews is best.”

However, the complexity of Israel divides even Messianic Jews in attitude toward Palestine, as illustrated by debate this year over an interview provocatively summarized as supporting ethnic cleansing.

“The only rights the Palestinians have are squatter’s rights,” Paul Liberman, executive director of the Alliance for Israel Advocacy (AIA), toldThe Intercept. He described how the lobbying arm of the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America (MJAA) was pushing for a shift of US funding from UN–administered Palestinian aid ($364 million in 2017) to an Israeli-led effort offering money to relocate from the West Bank. The goal: eventual annexation of the territory in a one-state solution with fewer Palestinian citizens, maintaining Israel as a Jewish state.

First adopted by the MJAA in 2015, the idea reverberated within Messianic Jewish circles once TheIntercept highlighted efforts to harness evangelical influence in Congress and the White House.

“It is not a removal. It is an opportunity for a much better life,” said Joel Chernoff, CEO of the MJAA. “But the demographic issue is real.”

About 700,000 Jews and 1.5 million Arabs live in Judea and Samaria—the favored name in Israel for the West Bank. Chernoff desires more Jewish settlements there. And he believes many Palestinians already want to escape the territory’s corrupt Palestinian Authority. (A 2017 MJAA poll found half of residents were discussing a move abroad and were open to resettlement in exchange for about $5,000.)

The “ethnic cleansing” headline was a smear tactic by liberal and anti-Israel media, Chernoff said. The issue is not controversial among the MJAA’s 3,000 dues-paying members, 12,000 supporters, or 155 affiliated synagogues. But it is controversial to other Messianic Jews.

“There is not a consensus this is a good proposal,” said Monique Brumbach, executive director of the 75-member Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations (UMJC). “The Scriptures promised the land to the Jewish people. But there will always be other people within it.”

Nearly all Messianic Jews believe modern-day Israel is the fulfillment of biblical promises. They stand opposed to anti-Semitism and the BDS movement of “boycott, divestiture, and sanctions.” Both the MJAA and UMJC support charity work and investment in Israel.

While both organizations accept Arab Christians as fellow members in the body of Messiah, Brumbach said there is no widespread consensus on how to achieve peace.

Cowen, a former UMJC president, put it bluntly: “Those involved in dialogue between Messianic Jews and Palestinian Christians will be traumatized by that proposal.”

According to Lisa Loden, co-chair of the Lausanne Initiative on Reconciliation in Israel/Palestine (LIRIP), the consequences are high. “For those of us living in Israel, this proposal has serious implications for our work of reconciliation,” she said. “We wish to disassociate from it.”

In February, Loden and the Palestinian LIRIP co-chair led 27 participants from Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza in their fifth three-day conference of prayer, study, and discussion. This year’s topics included issues of identity, military service, and the new “Basic Law: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People.”

“Our unity in Christ needs to be demonstrated by our actions, and our commitment to working through the real issues,” Loden said.

But though divided on issues of Palestine, Messianic Jews are remarkably united in their support for Israel—and their place within it.

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Source: Christianity Today

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