A debate over Christian Zionism

09/18/08 Robert Lorei
Radioactivity: Live Call-In (Thursday) | Listen to this entire show:

Good afternoon, welcome to WMNF’s Radioactivity program. I’m Rob Lorei. Coming up, a debate over the support conservative Christians are giving the state of Israel in its conflict with the Palestinians.

But first about two minutes of listener comments. One from a listener who has a program suggestion and most of the rest about yesterday’s interview with Pam Haengel of the Florida Voters Coalition. Some listeners wanted to defend the Post Office from a criticism that was made yesterday during the program in which absentee ballots might be lost in the mail.

Our topic today is Christian Zionism, the belief by some Christians that Israel should be supported in all that it does -- including the continued occupation and expansion of settlements in the West Bank.

Some people see it as standing by a strong ally in the Middle East and promoting the fulfillment of biblical prophecy. Others see it as encouraging human rights abuses against Palestinians and a misreading of the bible. We’re joined by two people on opposite sides of the issue.

The Rev. Stephen Sizer is a vicar in Christ Church in Surrey, England. He’s the author of the new book, Zion's Christian Soldiers. He’ll be speaking in Tampa at the United Church of Christ 7308 E. Fowler Avenue at 7:30 p.m Friday and at USF's Marshall Center at 7 p.m. Monday.

We’re also joined by Rabbi Shalom Adler, who is a regular spiritual commentator on the Sunday Simcha. Rabbi Adler was born in England and is the child of Holocaust survivors. He has studied in rabbinical colleges in Europe, Israel and the United States, and was ordained at the Central Lubavitch Yeshiva in Brooklyn in 1983. Since 1988, he has been the spiritual leader of Young Israel-Chabad of Pinellas County, an Orthodox Jewish congregation in Palm Harbor. He is fluent in Hebrew, both the biblical and modern versions.

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In August, Journalist Amira Haas of the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, addressed IMEMC journalists in Bethlehem and issued this challenge: “If you work to force Israel to see what they are doing, they will be forced to change… Jews create so much hatred,” she said, “politically it is possible to convince the US and Europe that to support Israel is to destroy it.” While living in Bethlehem, I saw the effect of the crushing Israeli policies that work to the detriment of peace. The excuse that they operate for security is a ruse that instigates retaliation and fosters suicide bombers. Demoralized, angry and desperate, the impressionable young are made easy prey for believing a life without hope isn’t worth living. Israeli occupation breeds the futility that leads to suicide bombers. What surprises is that there aren’t more. And perhaps there would be except for the overwhelming number of peace movements throughout the occupied territories. Sadly, they go underreported. When I first arrived, I had expected to hear hate talk against Jews and calls for the destruction of Israel. I heard neither. The protests and demonstrations I saw were non-violent and there was strong desire to seek peaceful solutions. Rabbi Adler said he hadn’t recently been to the occupied territories. I wish he would go now and believe he would be warmly welcomed. I’d like him to see the demonstration at Al Khader where every Friday a prayer meeting is followed by a peaceful protest against the building of the wall on village land. And I wish he’d speak with protestors and also with the Israeli soldiers who roll a large coil of barbed wire across the road and threaten them with pointed guns. I’d like him to see the protest at Um Salamona, and hear the director of the Popular Community in south Bethlehem deliver his challenge to Israeli soldiers, “Let’s talk,” he says, “Why are you armed, we are not: we want peace.” And I want him to visit Nablus where Israeli militia make nightly raids and kidnap citizens. Then go to Belin and Jenin where peaceful demonstrators confront rubber-coated bullets, tear gas and foul smelling spray; Travel south to the village of At-Atawi where peacekeepers, including Jews from Israel, escort children to school so settlers don’t harass them. I want him to go through checkpoints and take alternate roads Palestinians must take to avoid Jerusalem. I’d like him to visit prisons where about 11,000 Palestinians are presently interred. Unless you spend time there, live and listen to the silenced voices of over three million Palestinians, it is not possible to fully understand the economic and emotional affects of the Israeli occupation.