Level Heads, Warm Hearts
A considerable amount of heat has been generated in the Christian community by the refusal of—Israel’s high court to overturn a lower court ruling that refused citizenship under the Law of Return to three Jewish families who believe in Jesus as their Messiah. Many Christian groups in North America and other parts of the world have castigated the Israelis for discriminating against such believers who otherwise qualify for citizenship. How, some argue, can Israel accept Jews who are atheists as qualified citizens while refusing others who do, without question, have a deep faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and their Jewish Messiah, Jesus? It is a good question and one that Israel will one day, we trust, be in a frame of mind to deal with more objectively. Clearly, Israel is discriminating against believers in Jesus who are Jewish and desire to immigrate.
Having said that, however, allow me to emphasize the need for clear thinking and a proper understanding of the issue. We have been queried recently by some who have less than adequate information about the facts of the situation. Some are saying that Israel is in the process of expelling all Christians from the land. Others are suggesting, with indignation, that Christians should no longer support Israel. One man put it this way. “How can we justify support for a nation that discriminates against Jews who believe in Jesus?” Another passionately demanded that we go on record publicly to condemn Israel for their refusal to accept the applicants as full citizens. The fact is, this incident has given many who are seeking cause to condemn Israel and turn evangelical Christians against them a golden opportunity to do so. Other sincere Christians are confused about the entire question of Israel’s relationship to the Christian community inside and outside Israel.
The Law of the Return
The Law of Return was adopted by the Israeli Parliament on July 5, 1950. David Ben-Gurion, in presenting the bill to the Knesset, said, “This law lays down not that the State accords the right of settlement to Jews abroad but that this right is inherent in every Jew if it is but his will to take part in settling the land. This right preceded the State of Israel, it is that part which built the State.” Simply stated, with a few obvious exceptions, every son and daughter of Jewish mothers could, with all rights and privileges, become full citizens of the State of Israel when their feet touched the soil of the Promised Land.
The Law of Return clearly states that “every Jew” has an inherent right to take part in settling the land if they desire to do so. The question that has evolved, however, is the thorny issue that has occasioned consistent and, at times, acrimonious debate as to who is actually to be deemed a Jew. This was the fundamental question addressed by the Supreme Court of Israel in the recent decision.
You should understand that Israel did not suddenly decide to begin to throw Christians out of the country. Nor was the decision in question a new pronouncement. (See Will Varner’s report) Historically, the Law of Return has been applied in precisely the same fashion to Jewish immigrants who profess to believe in Jesus as the Messiah. This issue was addressed in a landmark case, Rufeisen v. the Ministry of the Interior (1962). The court’s decision was based, according to the Encyclopaedia Judaica, on secular rather than theological grounds. That ruling held that, “in the linguistic usage of the ordinary man (and hence, by implication, of the Israeli legislator) the term Jew could not be construed to include a Jew who had formally embraced Christianity, this act being tantamount, in the general feeling of most people, to opting out of the historical Jewish community.”
It goes without saying that this case focused attention once again on the countering argument that Jews who believe in Jesus do not forfeit their basic identity as ethnic Jews any more than people of, say, Irish descent become any less the children of Irish mothers because they don’t happen to live in Ireland or no longer accept precisely what their parents believe religiously.
Israel’s high court, however, continues to support the view that a religious exception (which is not applied to Jewish atheists and others with views that deviate from Judaism who wish to immigrate) is applicable to Jews who believe in Jesus.
Thus, the challenge brought in the recent cases served only to reinforce the precedent established in the earlier ruling, which establishes (in the words of a high-ranking Israeli with whom I discussed the matter at length) virtual constitutional status, ensuring that future opinions rendered in such cases will be negative.
Level Heads, Warm Hearts
Before we decide to condemn Israel out of hand for discriminatory policy against believers seeking to use the Law of Return and its privileges as a vehicle to citizenship, a few things must be remembered.
While we would agree that Israel does, at this time, in fact, discriminate against Jews who believe in Jesus and wish to return to Israel under the Law of Return, we should not be surprised. Remember, the Law of Return was adopted in 1950, a time when the wounds of the Holocaust were still bleeding perceptibly. Irrepressible images of death camps and stench-filled trenches lined with the emaciated remains of Jews who hadn’t made it filled nights and haunted waking hours. And who, in the minds of the survivors, were the responsible parties? After all, Germany had been regarded as the very heartland of Christian theology. Preposterous as it may seem to us, even Adolf Hitler was viewed commonly by Jews as a Christian. In other words, associating Christianity with Jewish agony made it unthinkable to many that Jews could become Christians and retain their identity as true children of Abraham. As we have detailed consistently (as recently as the April/May issue of Israel My Glory), “Christian” persecution of Jews has never embodied what true Christianity teaches. Nonetheless, as in the case of ancient perverters of Christian truth and conduct, the dark decade of the Holocaust etched a negative image of Christianity in the minds of those who survived the manic obsession to destroy the Jews. It is little wonder, therefore, that an infant Jewish state would refuse to welcome those whom they perceived to be tied to the intractable enemies of Jewry.
Remember also that the 1962 decision, Rufeisen v. the Ministry of Interior, was said to have been established on common secular perceptions. There is an important point here. Israel was, and is, a secular country. Granted, religious forces have exercised what seems, even to a majority of Israelis, inordinate influence over the affairs of the nation; still, Israel is essentially a secular government. Should people in similar environments turn away because national decisions are made from that posture? Perhaps the best way to answer that question is to ask another. Does the government of the United States, which is now more militantly secular than ever in its history, discriminate against Christians? Of course it does, in ways too numerous, obvious, and, to Christian sensibilities, painful to mention in so short a space. Is it then proper to categorically reject our country and no longer offer our allegiance? No indeed! We speak to the individual issues as responsible citizens and, as instructed in the Scriptures, “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers” (Rom. 13:1). Consequently, it seems obvious that our posture toward decisions made by secular authorities in Israel should be accorded the same response as those encountered in our own country.
As touched on above, we can have little doubt that the enemies of Jewry and the State of Israel will seize every available opportunity to discredit Israelis and drive a wedge between Christians in North America and the Jewish people. It is an age-old ploy of the Devil, one that, unfortunately, is consistently successful when embellished with misinformation or based on false ideas about how we, as Christians, should react to perceived or actual injustices. One thing we cannot allow to happen in these critical days is to permit wrong attitudes toward Israel to fester into indifference or outright hostility.
One very obvious reason for this is that the prayers and support of believers have never been more important to Israel and those—Christian or otherwise—within her borders. At this hour, frustrated parties are seeking to find a way to peace in the Middle East. They are, in the process, experiencing the “distress of nations” affliction that Scripture tells us will be a common lot during the end times. It is vitally important that believers engage in passionate prayer for the true peace of Jerusalem and do everything possible to be a constructive part of the process.
In actuality, the future of the church in Israel is not linked inexorably to immigration of believing Jews from outside the country. As desirable as it would be to see Israel put out the welcome mat to Jewish believers who wish to exercise their right as Jews to move to Israel, it is doubtful that their numbers are sufficient to add significantly to the numerical strength of the Israeli church.
It is of immense significance that the church within Israel is alive and well and growing in numbers and potential influence. Keep in mind that Israeli citizens have freedom of religion. The Law of Return affects only those who seek, under its provisions, to enter the country and become citizens. Israelis are free to worship Jesus as their Messiah if they so choose. And while there may be opposition from the orthodox community and hindrances to some forms of public evangelism, the fact is that Israelis have a legal right—as citizens—to worship as they deem fit. Thus, the real future of the church within the country is found in believers within the country. True faith is infectious, and, in this period of disintegrating options for Israelis and people the world over, there is a deepening hunger for the reality obtained only through such faith. People need a faith that provides the substance to sustain and guide them through the choppy waters of life and on to better things for eternity. Faith in Christ answers that need, and we can be assured that as believers in Israel live the reality, others will continue to be attracted to Him.
Therefore, this is not a time for Christians to become sour and cut and run because they perceive injustice in a court decision. On the contrary, it is a time to recognize the deeper tides that are running and get in the flow through prayer and support for our brothers and sisters in the faith in that troubled land.
A Time for Healing
I, for one, am convinced that the time may soon come when Israel will recognize that significant numbers of the citizenry are believers in Jesus and pose no threat to the country or their fellow Israelis. On the contrary, Jewish believers are, in large measure, a credit to their country, obedient to the laws of the land, contributing citizens, and willing to put their lives on the line in defense of their nation. By no stretch of anyone’s imagination can such people be deemed unworthy to live in the land of their first love. At this moment, public opinion polls reveal that the vast majority of Israelis have no personal problem with allowing Jews who believe in Jesus to immigrate.
For years, many responsible leaders in Israel have welcomed the support of Bible-believing Christians in the Western world who have a deep and abiding love for Israel and the Jewish people. These Christians, unlike some aforementioned imposters who, in His name, have raised hands against the Jewish people, have no hidden agendas. They do not aspire to intimidate, harass, or liquidate Jews or their religion. On the contrary, unfeigned love and unswerving solidarity with the People of the Book are their genuine stock in trade. It is our fondest hope that not long hence discerning Jews will understand that these true friends of Israel in the West are one with their brethren in Israel, wear the same mantle of faith, and stand together in defense of Israel and Jewish people the world over.
God Had Not Changed His Mind
A few weeks ago, I was interviewed at length by an Associated Press reporter who happened to be Jewish. The interview covered a broad range of questions about evangelical Christians and our views on Israel and the Jewish people. In light of what we have discussed in this article, an interesting question was posed: “As a Christian, do you believe that Jews must be believers in Jesus to have a legitimate right to live in Israel?”
The answer to the question was “No.” Israel has been, under its God-given covenant, granted the land of Israel in perpetuity—and God has never changed His mind about that. So, whether Jewish people are in the land or out of the land, believe in the Messiah or do not believe in the Messiah, the land of Israel is the property of the descendants of Abraham through Isaac. Israel’s dispersion has never nullified its ownership of the land. I cited to the reporter the fact that one day—according to Scripture—Israel will as a nation, embrace the Messiah, whom we, of course, believe to be Jesus. But until national reconciliation occurs, Zionism (the belief in the right of Jews, under international law, to possess a homeland in the Middle East) does reflect the biblical record regarding land rights for Jews in what can only properly be called Israel.
God has established His covenant with Abraham’s descendants. He will, as you will read in the articles following, remain true to His Word. And the day will come when questions about who has the right to live in the Promised Land will be placed in higher hands than any human authority. Only then will the divine Law of Return be fully implemented.