You’d have to be blinded by love to think that the state of Israel is above reproach, but what does constructive criticism of a nation look like?
There is a huge movement to boycott Israel by refusing to buy Israeli products or support the country in any way, in order to express disapproval about the treatment of Palestinians. Musicians and celebrities are often under great pressure to keep Israel off their tour lists, and those that do visit may be seen in a negative light and even threatened after having given tacit approval to the “pariah” state. Many good people, believers and non-believers, want to do what they can for those who are suffering, and to take a stand against oppression. But is boycotting Israel a good way to do it? What are the ways of the Kingdom? And what would Jesus do?
First of all, it is important to say the the situation is far more complex than many people have grasped. It is certainly not a simple as Israel being the bad-guy aggressor and Palestinians being innocent victims (or the other way around, for that matter). The conflict is dual and goes far deeper than many people appreciate. But even when Israel is in wrong, then there are a few principles that should be heeded if we want to take a stand for justice.
We are supposed to speak the truth in love. It is important, if you are criticising Israel, that you do not forget to love her. If you struggle to honestly say that you love Israel, the first thing to do is to go to the throne of God and ask him to help you with that, because it is not optional. We have to love our friends, our neighbours, and even our enemies. There is no get-out clause for us as believers – absolutely everyone is included in that. Your motivation needs not only to be love for those who are suffering at the hands of Israel, but also for Israel itself. This means praying that you will see Israel as God sees her. To move into a place of compassion and mercy for Israelis. When criticism comes from this place of love and grace, with an assurance that you are concerned about the welfare of the one you are holding to account, you are more likely to be heard in any case. If you are not, then you are collaborating with the Accuser, whose delight it is to vociferously point out wrong with the aim of destruction. There is so little love in the boycott Israel campaign – it’s all about punishment, accusation, hatred, and contempt. A desire to exclude and to vilify. What is in your heart regarding Israel?
One of the best pieces of advice I ever heard about how to bring a challenge or a word of correction was to first pray about it until my natural human anger and judgment had been ground away. As we pray, as we sit in the light of God’s grace and truth, the true condition of our hearts is revealed, and he graciously helps us to repent and walk away from attitudes and thoughts that are not in line with his. The more you talk with God about an injustice and a matter in need of correction, the more you will share his heart for the person (or nation) and start to see things from his perspective. Indignation is often replaced by grief, contempt with a holy compassion, and a desire for retribution with a desire for restoration. YES, there is often anger, even fury, when we see wrong and injustice, but direct your anger towards God in passionate prayer, and see where your journey takes you. Vent that fire heavenward, and seek him for his perfect plan of action. It is right to take action, it is right to speak, but let us be careful to do it with God and in his wisdom, by the power of his Spirit. Think surgeon’s scalpel rather than flailing battle-axe. He’s really much better than we are at knowing what to do, and how to go about it. It’s worth seeking his advice rather than making a bigger mess in our own desire to fix things. We cannot do anything for God, but it’s amazing what we can do with him.
Judgement and Justice
Whether it is complicit abuse of sweatshop slaves, cover-ups and corruption, participation in unjust global trade laws, racism within its borders, trampling on its own poor, or any number of ways of breaking God’s perfect law, every single nation is guilty under God. Greed, abuse, lies, oppression, murder and wickedness are easy to find in every country. This fact must be appreciated in order to come with a humble and clean heart to make a righteous appeal to Israel to change. It is true that nations can be charged as a body of people with abuses against another nation or group, and it is right to stand up for the oppressed. But before you do so, have stood before God on behalf of your own nation and asked for forgiveness for all the evils within it? It’s so easy to see the sin of another and ignore our own sin – both on an individual level, and with regards to whole nations.
When considering bringing your challenge to Israel, are you also willing to bring similar challenges to any other nation that is committing atrocities? And if it is only Israel that you wish to rail against, why is that? The judgmental fury that is so often directed uniquely towards Israel can sometimes better be understood at old school, ugly anti-semitism. That is certainly not to say that criticism of Israel is de facto anti-semitic – but if it’s only Israel that gets your goat, something is not quite right. To bring a charge against Israel in a godly manner, we must come in humility, aware of our own sin and imperfections – not as superior, but as one forgiven sinner to another sinner, pleading for a return to God’s ways, and knowing that forgiveness is available for us all. It also means being open to hearing Israel’s side of the story and being ready to see the things they are getting right before you judge.
Seek Israel’s restoration
This is one of the best things about loving God – he is into the business of transformation, reconciliation and restoration. Just think: what would it look like if Israel were to step up to her calling and destiny? What does that even mean? Do you know? Are you aware of what God has promised for Israel in times to come? If you are unclear on these matters, it is a fascinating area of study and doorway to understanding more about your God. Attending to him as he paints a prophetic future for his people along with her Arab brothers and sisters is an exciting path to venture down. It requires study. It requires diligence. But if you cannot be bothered to learn what God intends for Israel, how can you in all conscience come against her with wisdom? Developing a picture of God’s best outcome is one of the most beautiful ways we can enter into the process of challenging someone in their sin. We can communicate that we believe in them. We can see their potential restoration, and we can hold out the hope of the best that they could become. We can offer a bridge toward that destiny and encourage them to make steps into all that God wants them to be.
Practically making a difference
One alternative to boycotting Israel, if you would like to do something to make a difference, is to help bring both Israelis and Palestinians into the operating theatre of God’s heart surgery. The boycott will never be an effective way to bring change; change will come when hearts change. You can help us and other organisations to bring the gospel of Jesus to more people in this region, and sow seeds of truth that can result in true spiritual transformation. Supporting those who are bringing the gospel to both Jews and Arabs will mean there can be more people ready to obey Jesus, and love with his radical kind of love. That’s how the first disciples turned the whole region upside down – or downside up. After Jesus got a hold of those twelve men, the world was never the same again.