Recently in Washington, D.C., Senator Ted Cruz attempted to deliver a keynote address at the Inaugural Summit of the organization In Defense of Christians. His speech to an audience composed mostly of Christians was on the persecution of Christians in the Middle East, a humanitarian crisis that he cares about. Cruz ended his speech early when a minority of listeners continued to heckle and boo him.
Sen. Cruz presented several pro-Jewish statements including the following: “In 1948, Jews throughout the Middle East faced murder and extermination and fled to the nation of Israel. And today, Christians have no greater ally than the Jewish state…. And the very same people who persecute and murder Christians right now, who crucify Christians and behead children, are the very same people who target and murder Jews for their faith for the very same reason.”
To better understand why some of the audience jeered Cruz it is helpful to point to the long-lasting differences between Christian Zionists and Christian anti-Zionists.
Christian Zionists are Bible-believing Christians who stand strong for Israel. For these conservative Christians, the existence of the State of Israel in the Middle East give compelling evidence of the “Sovereignty of the Lord of History.” Was not God’s promise to Abraham of a “great nation,” written in the Old Testament, realized?” Virtually all conservative Christians affirm the link between the Israelites of the Bible and modern Jews and their support is actually quite straightforward: they support Israel because God promised to bless those who bless the Jews (Genesis 12:3).
Many conservative Christians recognize that Israel embodies freedoms rooted in western civilization; they expect economic and other freedoms in Israel will lead to prosperity beneficial to both Jews and Arabs. Conservatives reject a zero-sum interpretation embraced by those liberal Christians who saw Israel’s advance coming at the expense of the Arabs. Liberal Christians and the Evangelical Left rarely acknowledge that since the creation of Israel even neighboring Arabs viewed Palestinian refugees as a security threat and that Arab leaders had a dreadful record of taking care of their poor compared to the treatment of Arabs who benefited from Israeli social programs.
Moreover, with their rejection of a literal interpretation of the Bible, Christian anti-Zionists are more open to the idea of seeing the State of Israel as a mistake. Historian Paul Merkley claims that Christian anti-Zionists prefer a counter-history version that questions the legality of Israel’s existence: “Did Israel really come into existence by decision of the nations, they ask?” They continue the discussion of whether the Jews should have a home: “Anti-Zionists live in the same counter-factual world as do the Muslims, who speculate about the right of Israel to exist and who refuse to permit its name to appear on maps while demanding that it be liquidated.” To explain the thinking of liberal Christians critical of Israel, Merkley points to theology: “Christian Zionism is anathema in liberal theology because it takes with unqualified seriousness and literalness the historical process that in fact has brought Israel back to Israel.”
Christian critics of Israel claim that collaboration and reconciliation between Jews and Arabs is the answer. But that only works when there are two equally valid narratives, which is clearly not the case. Sadly, as Mark Tooley points out, “one side seeks coexistence while many on the other side seek eradication of their adversary.” Critics of Israel focus on their liberal understanding of justice that often lacks appreciation of Israel’s genuine national security concerns – the death struggle to survive as a nation.
Almost 40 years ago, a Christian Zionist named G. Douglas Young declared in a letter to the Jerusalem Post: “I have been accused of being a Zionist – a Christian Zionist – by some of my coreligionists in Israel and in the administered areas. I would like to take this means of thanking them for this compliment.” I suspect Sen. Cruz would share such a sentiment.