Monday, June 25, 2007

What seems like an interlude now...

... could be the beginning of love.*

OK, maybe not, that's just a musically influenced way of saying that posting will probably be on hold for a few days as I try to work through my backlog of marking and head down to London for a fascinating conference on the future of legal training in the UK. On my return, I shall try to make progress on my series on antisemitism.

* Bonus points for anyone who can guess the song and the artist(s).

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Christians in Gaza 2

A timely email I received from the Birmingham Israel Information Centre underscores the point:

Christians must accept Islamic rule

Aaron Klein, World News Daily 19/06/07

Militant leader in Gaza says missionaries will be 'dealt with harshly,' demands women wear headscarves
Christians can only continue living safely in the Gaza Strip if they accept Islamic law, including a ban on alcohol and on women roaming publicly without proper head coverings, an Islamist militant leader in Gaza told WND in an exclusive interview.
The militant leader said Christians in Gaza who engage in "missionary activity" will be
"dealt with harshly." The threats come two days after a church and Christian school
in Gaza was attacked following the seizure of power in the territory by the Hamas terror group. "I expect our Christian neighbours to understand the new Hamas rule means real changes. They must be ready for Islamic rule if they want to live in peace in Gaza," said Sheik Abu Saqer, leader of Jihadia Salafiya, an Islamic outreach movement that recently announced the opening of a "military wing" to enforce Muslim law in Gaza.
Jihadia Salafiya is suspected of attacking a United Nations school in Gaza last month, after the school allowed boys and girls to participate in the same sporting event. One person was killed in that attack. "The situation has now changed 180 degrees in Gaza," said Abu Saqer, speaking from Gaza yesterday. "Jihadia Salafiya and other Islamic movements will ensure Christian schools and institutions show publicly what they are teaching to be sure they are not carrying out missionary activity. No more alcohol on the streets. All women, including non-Muslims, need to understand they must be covered at all times while in public," Abu Asqer told WND.
"Also the activities of Internet cafes, pool halls and bars must be stopped," he said. "If it goes on, we'll attack these things very harshly."
'Fatah behind church attack' Abu Saqer accused the leadership of the Gaza Christian community of "proselytizing and trying to convert Muslims with funding from American evangelicals." "This missionary activity is endangering the entire Christian community in Gaza," he said. Abu Saqer claimed there was "no need" for the thousands of Christians in Gaza to maintain a large number of institutions in the territory. About 2,000 Christians live in the Gaza Strip, which has a population of over 1 million. Abu Saqer said Hamas "must work to impose an Islamic rule or it will lose the authority it has and the will of the people." His comments come after gunmen on Sunday attacked Gaza's Latin Church and adjacent Rosary Sisters School, reportedly destroying crosses, bibles, pictures of Jesus and furniture and equipment. The attackers also stole a number of computers. The attack was the first targeting of Christian institutions since Hamas last week staged a coup against the rival Fatah party of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, seizing all Fatah positions and security compounds, essentially taking complete control of the Gaza Strip.
Hamas officials in Gaza claimed to WND Fatah was behind Sunday's church attack in an attempt to discredit Hamas to the international community. Abu Saqer claimed he had "good information" that the attack really was a robbery aimed at the church's school computers, even though bibles and Christian holy objects were destroyed.

Christians in Gaza

I'll resume the posting on antisemitism probably next week now; in the meantime, a couple of links to highlight the plight of Christians in Gaza, who surely need our prayers at this time. Two posts from the Barnabas fund (both of which refreshingly, and in contrast to some commentators, resist the temptation to Blame It All On Israel), here and here.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Longest Hatred 1

I want to use a few posts to discuss that longest of hatreds - anti-Semitism.

Firstly, to raise awareness that it is once again a problem- if indeed it ever stopped being an issue. This was made clear in last year's Report of The All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism and these statistics from the Community Security Trust; the situation in other European countries, notably France, is at least as bad if not worse; not to mention the explosion of antisemitism in the Arab world (something with a long history, even before the rise of Zionism: here)

Over the next few days, I'll try to post some stuff on how this relates to evangelicals, compile a list of resources, review a book on the subject which I am cirrently reading, and suggest a way forward.

By the way, if you happen to read this, please would you post to that effect - doesn't have to be anything of substance, just let me know you're reading this - just so I don't feel I'm using up time writing stuff which no-one reads!

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Great video

I just stumbled across this excellent 10-minute clip which gives essential background to the Arab-Israeli conflict. It is necessarily brief, for those who want to explore further there is an excellent compilation of resources here. The video makes brief mention that the Palestinian wartime leader, Haj Amin-Al Husseini, collaborated with Hitler in perpetrating the Holocaust. This important detail, which is dealt with exhaustively here is slowly being edited out of history, not least by various Christian anti-Zionist writers who claim that the Palestinians have unjustly been made to pay for Hitler's crimes, or that Israel has exploited the Holocaust.

Israel news

Matt reminded me, in his comment on an earlier post, of
this very positive and encouraging Israeli TV report on Israeli Messianic Jews. It's in Hebrew with English subtitles, about 8 minutes long, and well worth watching. Some of the terminology is deliberately Hebraicized ("Yeshua", "Messianic" rather than "Christian" which has a whole range of unhelpful connotations in a Hebrew context, etc*) but the believers are thoroughly kosher (so to speak) in their doctrine and belief.

Perhaps the most striking feature is the portrayal of the ultra-Orthodox "antimissionaries" who have been persecuting the Messianic congregation in Arad (South of Israel) for the last four years - the dark and spooky music comes on when they are featured, rather than the MJs. Is this a sign of Israeli society becoming more open to the gospel and more sympathetic to those who bear Yeshua's name?

*The term "Yeshu" is used by the narrator on a couple of occasions - this is a derogatory Hebrew acrostic for Jesus, meaning "May his name and memory be blotted out". His proper Hebrew name is "Yeshua" which means "salvation".

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Great quote

"I believe there is nothing that we Christian Israelites ought more earnestly to seek to maintain than our own distinct nationality. We must show our brethren that in becoming Christians we have not ceased to be Jews. Our national life and expectations are based upon the word and promise of God, and can never be abandoned."

(Ridley Herschell, in 1857 at the 3rd Evangelical Alliance conference in Berlin)

From "All Love: A Biography of Ridley Herschell" by Geoffrey Henderson (HTS Media, 2006), p. 172.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

the Bias of the BBC

Sadly, there will be many posts of this nature on this blog...

Israel news

These two encouraging items, written by Richard Gibson, initially appeared in the British Church Newspaper, page 9, issue 114, 8th June 07

Messianic Jews invited to Jerusalem Day parade
Richard Weisskopf the Chairman of Love4Israel reports that in an "unprecedented move, the City of Jerusalem invited Messianic Jews to lead the Jerusalem Day parade. What is more, a senior advisor to Ariel Sharon marched under the Messianic Jewish banner." The Messianic Jewish Alliance of America was invited to participate in the parade to celebrate 40 years since the unification of Jerusalem. Local Israeli Messianic Jews from the Beit Guela Messianic Congregation pastored by sabra Israeli Meno Kalisher also took part wearing shirts to advertise their website.

Freedom of Worship in Israel Upheld

Calev Myers of the Jerusalem Institute of Justice reports.

A municipality in the south was claiming that use of an apartment for Messianic home-group meetings was illegal based on existing zoning regulations. The municipality went on to demand that the leader of the Messianic Jewish congregation, which was using the apartment for small worship services, apply for a zoning variance or face charges of illegal use of the property.

Our team of legal professionals, at the Jerusalem Institute of Justice, prepared a formal response to the municipality in question, pointing out that their aforesaid request infringes upon basic rights of religious freedom, personal freedom of worship and equal treatment by law.

We are pleased to report that the municipality has formally retracted all of its aforesaid claims and cancelled, in writing, all demands against the aforesaid Messianic Jewish leader.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Israel: to criticise or not to criticise?

On this, the 40th anniversary of the start of the Six Days War, when Israel survived the attempts by her Arab neighbours to commit genocide
here it seems a good moment to broach the delicate topic of when, and how, Christians should criticise the state of Israel. I first wrote this piece a couple of years ago, in response to two particularly aggressive anti-Israel pieces in Evangelicals Now. The article was published in the British Messianic Jewish Alliance's Chai magazine and in Christian Witness to Israel's Herald magazine. Though it is now slightly dated, I believe that it has lost none of its relevance.

“The government of Israel is placed on a pedestal, and to criticize it is to be immediately dubbed anti-Semitic.” (Archbishop Desmond Tutu, 2002)

Israel is rarely, if ever, out of the news, and the ongoing Israel-Arab conflict is a subject which is guaranteed to provoke a variety of strong opinions. This is the case in both the secular and the Christian press. Increasingly, it seems, some Christian leaders are taking an anti-Israel stance. This raises important questions concerning criticism of the state of Israel, and whether or when such criticism will be anti-Semitic. As Messianic Jews, longing supremely to see our people turn to Yeshua as Messiah, how may we contribute to this debate?

It must be stated at the outset that legitimate criticism of Israel is not anti-Semitic. Like every country in the world, Israel makes mistakes in both her domestic and foreign policy - and should be justly called to account when she does so. As Messianic Jews, committed above all to Yeshua and to his standards, we must have the courage and moral consistency to criticise Israel where it is appropriate to do so, whether in respect of her treatment of Messianic Jews, or of her Arab minority, or of the Palestinian Authority. However, this very much begs the question of when criticism of Israel will or will not be legitimate, and it is this which I would like to address.

I would suggest that much criticism of Israel is illegitimate, for the following reasons. Some critics apply a harsher standard to Israel than they do to other countries. Some single Israel alone out for criticism. Some base their criticisms on inaccurate information. Still others make perhaps the most serious error of all, namely failing to account for the context in which Israel operates: her birth, after centuries of persecution culminating in the Holocaust, as a much-needed safe haven for the Jewish people; and, subsequently, her fight for survival in the face of an ongoing determination by Palestinian terrorists, many of her Arab neighbours, and, on occasions, the wider world, to wipe her out altogether. Even in the short period since the withdrawal from Gaza, Islamic Jihad, Hamas and Hizbollah have all launched terrorist attacks on Israel; Hamas and Islamic Jihad both retain an ideological commitment to the complete destruction of Israel; Syria will not even recognise Israel’s existence; and the Iranian president has called for her to be wiped off the map. A failure to take into account the unique pressures under which Israel operates – in other words, a failure to look at all the facts and at both sides of the story - is unlikely to generate “legitimate” criticism of Israel.

Applying these criteria to just two of the criticisms of Israel recently voiced or alluded to some Christian writers, are they “legitimate”?

Some accuse Israel of being a racist, apartheid state. Israel has publicly acknowledged some shortcomings in her treatment of her Arab minority; yet nevertheless Israel’s Palestinian citizens have full rights of citizenship, including the right to vote, and the right to attend university. Some serve in the Israeli army – for example, Druze Arabs form the units which defend the Golan Heights against Syria. As at May 2005 there were 11 Israeli Arab MPs in the Knesset (including two in Ariel Sharon’s then Likud party) ; an Arab judge serving in the Israeli Supreme Court; and Arabs serving in Israel’s diplomatic service: here

The contrast with, say, the position of the black community under South Africa’s former apartheid regime could scarcely be stronger. In contrast to Israel, Saudi Arabia (for example), does not allow a single Jewish person to live within her borders. Why, then, is Israel alone singled out for criticism, and why is she apparently judged by a harsher standard than other countries?

Meanwhile, some Christians support imposing economic sanctions against Israel until she ends her occupation of the West Bank – implying that the Israeli occupation is the cause of all the problems. Again, is such criticism “legitimate”? Are such Christians aware that Jews were targeted by Arab attacks as early as the 1920s, long before the creation of Israel or the occupation of Gaza or the West Bank; or that Israel did in fact end her occupation of the West Bank in 1995, returning only to some areas in response to terrorism? Are they aware of the extent of ongoing attacks against Israel even since the pull-out from Gaza? I would suggest that those who support economic sanctions against Israel should, at the very least, be unequivocal in their condemnation of Palestinian terrorism, and should also express grave concerns at allegations that much financial aid provided to the Palestinian Authority by the EU (and others) is used to fund terrorism. (For further details see the FPC Report on EU Funding of Palestinian Terror here.

Some of Israel’s critics point to the fact that many Jewish people are also strongly critical of Israel. Yet this is, surely, inconclusive. A small minority of Jewish people flirt with Holocaust Denial; a majority of Jewish people deny that Jesus is the Messiah: but this does not prove that either of those two positions is correct! The fact that Israel has her Jewish critics testifies, primarily, to the traditionally wide range of opinion, and freedom of information and debate, which exist within the Jewish world. In any case, while it may indeed be “ironic” that Israel has her Jewish critics, is it not equally ironic that there are Arabs (including some Palestinians) who support her – here ? One such is Walid Shoebat, a former PLO member who participated in terrorist attacks against Israel, now a Christian, who wishes to travel to Britain to boost Israel’s PR: here

It goes without saying that “legitimate” criticism of Israel will need to be well-informed: the chapter on “Zion” in Paul Johnson’s A History of the Jews is warmly recommended for its even-handedness and thorough approach; likewise Sir Martin Gilbert's very accessible Routledge Atlas of the Arab-Israeli Conflict.

Finally, all Christians (both Jewish and non-Jewish) need to be aware of the long and inglorious record of the church’s persecutions of the Jewish people – something which remains a “stumbling-block for Jews” and from which our evangelical forebears have not been immune – as detailed in Graham Keith’s excellent, if harrowing, “Hated without a Cause? – A Survey of Antisemitism” (Paternoster, 1991). Once again, legitimate criticism of Israel is not anti-Semitic. Many unbelieving Jews speak of an anti-Israel bias in the Christian press. Would it not be tragic, if today’s Christians - whatever their motives - criticised Israel in an unfair, inaccurate, unbalanced, and thus illegitimate manner: and were thus to place yet another stumbling-block between the Jewish people, and their true Messiah?

Friday, June 01, 2007

A Light to the Nations 3

My friend Richard Gibson has written this review of a biography of Ridley Hershell, one of the figures mentioned in my first LttN post.

All Love: A Biography of Ridley Herschell
By Geoffrey Henderson
Publisher: HTS Media, 2006
Available from CWI Bookroom, 166 Main Road, Sundridge, Sevenoaks, Kent, TN14 6EL, 01959 565955 ,here
£8.50 (including post & packaging within the UK)
199 Pages

All Love takes us to an almost forgotten yesteryear and to the story of an almost forgotten Jewish Christian giant, Ridley Haim Herschell, who was born to Orthodox Jewish parents in Strzelno, Poland in 1807. By the age of eleven, when he left home to study at a Yeshiva for two years, Haim was already fluent in Hebrew, German and Polish. At the age of fourteen, he studied Kabbalah for two years with his Hasidic relative Rabbi Aaron in Piotrkow Trybunalski. A year later, wanting to feed his mind even more, Haim went to study German literature in Berlin where, amongst other young doubters, who were losing their Protestant and Catholic faiths, Haim lost his faith in Judaism. In the years that followed, he dramatically strayed from the ways of his ancestors but, while living in Paris, through circumstances that are explained fully in the book, he was drawn back to his Judaic faith. In London he found to his astonishment that the Messiah promised to his people was none other than Jesus of Nazareth.

Ridley, as he was known by then, became involved with the charismatic son of Rabbi, Erasmus Haim Simon, and a number of other Jewish Christians in establishing the short-lived National Hebrew Church in London. Lacking the ability to understand the aspirations of these Jewish Christians, the Bishop of London withdrew his support from the Friends of the Hebrew Nation, which was the group seeking to establish a National Hebrew Church, thus almost extinguishing the dreams of a National Hebrew Church, the first gasping breath of a nascent Messianic Jewish movement.

Young Ridley Haim certainly travelled a bit and his wanderings didn't stop after his marriage to Helen Mowbray. However, the engagement of a Jewish man to an aristocratic English lady caused quite a stir. Attempts were made to blacken Herschell's character to the point that serious doubt was cast on whether he was truly a Christian. All this happened with the undercurrent of anti-Semitism in a Britain where Jews did not yet have full rights as citizens.

In forty one short chapters, Geoffrey Henderson manages to capture a staggering amount of detail about Herschell's colourful and varied life. Henderson's insights into nineteenth century Jewish life and culture and Jewish attitudes to Christianity are invaluable. His style is absorbing and easy to read, transporting us back in time and enabling us to enter into the pain of Herschell's family, who thought he had apostatized and become an idolater. We rejoice to hear how his brothers, too, came to faith and that three of them also became ministers of the gospel. In spite of the obstacles he had to overcome, Ridley became a well-known, respected non-conformist minister and was amongst the founders of The Evangelical Alliance and The British Society for the Propagation of the Gospel amongst the Jews, now Christian Witness to Israel.

All Love is written with imagination that will inspire the reader and excite the believer at what God can and will do with a life lived for Him.

Reviewed by Richard Gibson