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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Passover in Ukraine: Redemption or Expulsion?

     Growing up in post-World War II Paris, I remember my father telling me that during the German invasion of France, all Jews progressively saw their rights disappear and property being confiscated from them. He told me of his Jewish father Lucien Melnick who fought in the Great War of 1914-1918 as a French soldier very proud to serve his country. He also told me how his dad like all Jews in France was first asked to bring his radio receiver to the nearest police station, as the Nazis were cutting the Jewish community from any communication and /or news from the Allies. Then came the bicycle confiscations to force most Jews to be on foot and slow them down considerably. Of course all these went on alongside registration of who was a Jew on their identity papers.
     My paternal grandfather went along with all these requirements because in many ways he felt as French as he was Jewish and wanted to obey the law, albeit a Nazi enacted set of laws. The stamped ID papers, yellow star and requisition of property considerably reduced the freedom of the Jewish community in the 1930s and 40s. While some saw the handwriting on the wall, many simply refused to believe that humanity could have become so corrupt as to completely seek the total eradication of the Jewish people. Even as a few escaped and returned from Eastern Europe with first hand accounts of the horrors of the death trains, Camps, Einsatzgruppen and other methods of execution, for the most part, people refused to believe their stories. It was believed that these stories were either false, exaggerated or if true, that there would be enough of an uproar to stop the carnage.
     By the time the rumors were confirmed, it was too late and millions of innocent people had perished including six million Jews. Those were the dark years of WWII and the Holocaust. If only they would have believed that mankind could become so depraved and rotten to the core, maybe they could have done something!
     Fast forward to April 2014 in a very shaken and fragile Ukraine. The eastern Ukraine town of Donetsk has been in the news as people are fighting to either remain part of current Ukraine or become part of Russia. Donetsk is the fifth largest city in Ukraine with almost 1,000,000 inhabitants and much of the country's heavy industry. The greater Donetsk province comprises 4,3000,000 people, including about 17,000 Jews. As recently as last week, pro-Russian protesters took over some of the administrative offices and declared that the area was now known as "the People's Republic of Donetsk". The move was immediately rejected by Kiev. Needless to say that "tension" is a word that comes to mind when thinking of the region. Then the unthinkable happened!
     On Monday April 14th, on the first night of Passover, some in the Jewish community of Donetsk were handed out leaflets by a group of three armed men who appeared to be pro-Russian activists. The leaflets were distributed as the Jewish people were leaving their synagogue after a Passover celebration. They contained a message eerily reminiscent of early Nazi Germany. The leaflets, written in Russian (translation here) on government letterhead, were ordering Jews to register their real estate, modes of transportation and family members over the age of 16. Jews were also asked to pay $50 to have that registration processed and were told that if they failed to comply, expulsion was inevitable.
     The leaflets appeared real but their authenticity has yet to be confirmed. Time will tell, and even though most news agencies have picked up the story, I suspect that the flyers will turn out to be a forgery that was meant to discredit Denis Pushilin and the pro-Russian separatist movement. But being either a forgery or a reality, where will it leave the Ukrainian Jewish community? I believe that the end result while being different in each case, will still leave us with much uncertainty about the safety of Ukrainian Jews.
     Assuming that the leaflets were authentic, the Jews of Ukraine have a very bleak future in Donetsk and the rest of the region. Confiscation of property, expulsion, ostracism, demonization, forced conversions and annihilation are very familiar steps that Jews have been forced to go through over the centuries. If indeed the decision came from higher up, we could even see some modern day pogroms in Eastern Europe. But I certainly do not want to be accused of being a sensationalist. So, let's go with the idea that the distribution was not government sanctioned.
     If the leaflets end-up being a forgery, then...well I wish I could say that Jews shouldn't fear for their safety, but I see it otherwise. The very fact that such an idea against the Jews would even cross the mind of any people group is evidence that humanity is not getting any better. The Jews continue to be the scapegoats of humanity for a myriad of reasons, each one more ludicrous than the previous. Yet, the Jews remain at risk. And if and when things heat up against my people to the level of the 1930s and 40s mass murders, it is clear that the new willing executioners will be ready, standing-by in the antechamber of anti-Semitism. See note below.
     Our postmodern world is concerned with social justice, equality and peace around the world, but when it come to the Jewish people, if there is no disdain or hatred, there seems at least to be a corporate boredom that leads to apathy. And that's of course when people are even aware of world events taking place outside of their own "backyard". For the most part, westerners will think that Donetsk is far enough not to pose any danger to their immediate community. But the weed across the street can and will grow to come to our side and choke our own yard. It is only a matter of time.
     How sad that on the day when the Jewish community gathers to celebrate Passover and God's redemption, they would have to face such an outrage. I can't help but wonder if even the date of distribution wasn't premeditated.
     At Passover, we invite Elijah and set a place for him at the table, because we know that according to the Tenach, when he comes, he will usher in the coming of King Messiah. 
Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord. He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse. Malachi 4:5-6
     So, every year we look outside with hope that Elijah is on his way and yet, another year goes by and he is a no show. But there is one who came in the spirit and power of Elijah and who indeed heralded a king (Luke 1:17). John the Immerser was that man, and he ushered in Yeshua the Messiah 2000 years ago. Elijah's cup is empty because I believe that John the Immerser came to drink it and the only hope for the Jews of Donetsk and any other Jews for that matter, is in the one that John introduced to us.
     L'Shanah Haba B'Yrushalaim.... Next Year in Jerusalem, if not sooner!

NOTE: As of 4/18/14: As it turned out, and as I suspected, the flyers were not sanctioned by any government and were created to create tension between to sides . Yet I want to reiterate that this doesn't eradicate the problem. The flyers were still printed and distributed. The Jewish people are being used and it won't be long before they will could be accused and abused.




Friday, April 11, 2014

PCUSA and The Great Witch-hunt of the 21st Century!

     This coming June, The Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) will meet for their General Assembly in Detroit, Michigan. Among the many items on the agenda you can be sure to find BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions). PCUSA is hoping to pass a resolution that would result in divesting from Motorola, Caterpillar and Hewlett-Packard because of their involvement with Israel. This is not their first attempt but each year they get closer to success. It is some sort of witch-hunt against Israel and the Jewish people.
PCUSA produced a booklet/DVD teaching packet entitled "Zionism Unsettled" in which they hope to educate their constituents about Israel and Palestine and lead them to make the right decision about BDS. Behind the thin veneer of an ethical study performed by reputable academics and theologians, we find nothing but anti-Israel propaganda. The appearance given by the "pseudo-scholarly" approach of the people used on this project is very misleading. Unfortunately, many people within PCUSA and even outside of the denomination but within Christendom will buy the story hook, line and sinker! This will only worsen Israel’s image.
The following is a non-exhaustive list of some of the issues I have identified in my review:
• In their introduction "Zionism and the Rocks of Judea" they use archive footage of pre-1948 Israel known then as Palestine. The narrator indiscriminately calls the Arab inhabitants of the Land "Palestinians" even though it is clear that no such ethnic title was really given to them until after 1967. When asked about Palestine in 1946, Arab-American historian Philip Hitti said: “There is no such thing as "Palestine" in history, absolutely not.” The name Palaestina was given to Judea by the Romans to humiliate and ridicule Israel.
• The second chapter on political Zionism titled "Historical Myths, Obstacles to Peace" they use footage of Jewish historian Ilan Pappé speaking at a conference. Labelled as an "Israeli Historian", Ilan Pappé has a worldwide reputation of being an anti-Zionist or like some would call him: "a self-defeating Jew". On anti-Zionist site such as Electronic Intifada, Ilan Pappé writes about Israel apparently ignoring Palestinians and states:"This denial was there at the beginning of Zionism and led to the ethnic cleansing in 1948. And it is there today, which may lead to similar disasters in the future — unless stopped immediately."
     In Zionism Unsettled, Pappé claims that Jewish people abuse the memory of the Holocaust and that Israelis compare Palestinians to Nazis. A quick perusal of anti-Semitic sites, articles and books will prove the opposite. Israel is constantly accused of being the "New Nazis" of the Middle East. Cartoons abound on the topic, and the world is starting to believe it.
• The third chapter on the Jewish State titled "The Triumph of Judaism" has several narrators. The first one is Palestinian-American writer and poet Susan Abulhawa. She recites a poem over footage of Palestinians going through the checkpoints. She call the fenced turnstile gates "cattle cages" and the buses used by Palestinians "cattle buses", using terminology reminiscent of the Nazi cattle cars of the 1940s that took the Jews to their death. Who's is using and abusing the Holocaust now?
Following her, movie director Ronen Berelovich gives us a quick lesson on Israeli government. He says that: "All parties in the Israeli Parliament are Zionist from right to left"Is Mr. Berelovich aware of at least two parties in the Israeli government known as Balad and UAL-Ta'al are Arab parties absolutely not in favor of Zionism and opposed to many of the laws passed by the Knesset, yet they are part of the Israeli government? Are there any Jewish representative on the Palestinian government or any other Arab country? Of course not!
Another gentleman by the name of Jeff Halper, an American anthropologist who resides in Israel, claims that: "The current situation is because the media tries to be even-handed or pro-Israel". Which media Mr. Halper, because just about everywhere I look, I see anti-Israel bias in the vastly liberal media? I still have chills as I recall the 2012 60 minutes on "Christians in the Holy Land".
The next few chapters give the platform to a Catholic priest and a reformed theologian as they continue to paint Israel as the oppressors and Zionism as racism and ethnic cleansing.
• Chapter seven on evangelicals and Christian Zionism titled "Onward Christian Zionists" is meant to be more theologically oriented that the rest of the series. It contains commentaries by Reverend Donald Wagner associated with anti-Zionist organization Friends of Sabeel as well anti-Semitic author Irving Wesley Hall who is featured on the movie of the same title as this chapter Onward Christian Zionists. Between the two men, the viewers are exposed to a theology that is Christian only by name. They try to paint a picture of Christian Zionism by showing selected clips of John Hagee and CUFI (Christian United for Israel) interspersed with theological vignettes void of any biblical foundation, but delivered with enough authority to fool those who don't open their Bible much.
So Wagner goes on saying that John Hagee is a dispensationalist, which according to Hall is synonymous with Christian Zionist. This is not a forum for such a discussion but let me just say that while all dispensationalists are Christian Zionists, not all Christian Zionists are dispensationalists. Hall adds that: "Zionists have a primary obligation to support the policies of the State of Israel above all things".  While as a Zionist myself I support Israel's right to exist and right to the Land, I also do it from a biblical viewpoint, according to God's decree and certainly not in blind accordance with every move made by the Israeli government. Some Christian Zionists might be blindly supporting Israel and all government decisions, but they are not the majority.
Wagner continues by saying that: "Christian Zionists do not represent the Gospel and have no concern for Palestinian Christians". I know this is not the fact for the majority of Christian Zionists, but I have to say that in regards to John Hagee, it is true since he doesn't even believe that Jewish people need to acknowledge Yeshua as their Messiah to be saved. Hagee's approach is known as Dual Covenant Theology and THAT is a faulty view of salvation. True Christian Zionists are Christians before they are Zionists and they regard all human lives equally; Jewish, Palestinian or other. If some people have given a bad rep to the Christian Zionist movement over the last few decades, it certainly is no reason to throw the baby out with the bath water. We can always find people misrepresenting any movement or organization anywhere, anytime, yet we do not dismiss the whole for a few of the rotten parts. I also find it interesting that the terms "terrorist" or "terrorism" were never mentioned in the whole three-hour program.
• The last chapter titled: "A Zionist Dream–The Shadow Side" was actually embarrassing for me as a Jew. I saw a South African family who converted to Judaism and then moved to Israel to live in the settlements. The father acted arrogantly as if he had lived there all his life. He belittled the Palestinians and even humiliated them. But I do not see this man and his family as bona fide Jewish settlers since they converted.
For the most part, Zionism Unsettled is a patchwork project composed of many parts, several individually available on YouTube. The theme is clear; it is the delegitimization of Israel. It is a witch-hunt that has been going on for a while now. One reason why it is gaining momentum is because true Christian Zionists are not doing enough to counteract and expose this evil propaganda. We cannot sit and watch history being re-written in front of our eyes!
Many Christian within PCUSA and outside the denomination will fall into that trap. This is all a part of the new anti-Semitism that Jewish politician Natan Sharansky capsulized under the 3Ds definition as follows: "The first "D" is the test of demonization. The second "D" is the test of double standards. The third "D" is the test of delegitimization.
     God was the first Zionist (Genesis 12:3, Psalm 83, Jeremiah 31:35-37) and as one who follows the Bible, I am also a Zionist and like God, I respect human life and care as much for my fellow Jews as I do for anybody else including the Palestinians. If PCUSA still claims to be part of Christendom, they certainly are making a huge mistake by demonizing Israel. It would behoove them to spend a little more time in God's Word and a little less time trying their anti-Semitic agenda.
Note: for a serious, scholarly and heavily documented study of the topic, this writer recommends Mitchell Bard's book: Myths and Facts about the Arab-Israeli Conflict (fully available on line for free).

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Focusing on what unites Jews and Evangelicals!

     For as long as Jews and Christians have existed, there has been an obvious tension between both groups too often resulting in the ostracizing, force conversions, expulsions and deaths. Both sides have become very good at itemizing what divides them and dwelling on the differences.  Over the years, finger pointing and blame shifting has almost become an art form in Judeo/Christian relations.
     To be perfectly honest, I regularly find myself on the forefront of a constant battle to defend Israel and the Jewish people, and I do my own share of finger pointing. Don't get me wrong, I still believe that there is much to be learned about Christian anti-Semitism through the ages, and even today if we want to successfully defeat the beast. But I often wish that we could focus on what unites evangelicals and Jews more that what divides us. 
     On April 1st (no joke here!) a dialogue between Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, Chancellor of Ohr Torah Stone and Joel C. Rosenberg, New York Times bestselling author, took place at an orthodox Jewish synagogue in New York. The theme for the evening was "Are We Still Alone?" and was based on Rosenberg new novel The Auschwitz Escape.
     I resonate with Rosenberg who after visiting Auschwitz in 2011 and reading a book on the few who escaped the death camp, wanted to write a book about those who helped the Jews. That process led him to discover the incredible story of the small French village of Le Chambon sur/Lignon and how all the villagers went out of their ways to save Jewish people from the Nazi furnace. They risked their own lives and many even lost their lives as they were also taken to the camps with Jewish people. But to the villagers, saving the Jews was "the most natural thing to do!" like this elderly woman says in the book by Philip Hallié about le Chambon titled "Lest Innocent Blood be Shed".
     I haven't yet read The Auschwitz Escape but I can tell you that we can learn a few things from the dialogue that just took place in New York. While I tend to side with Joel Rosenberg theologically, I am also very aware that as a Jew I am a constant target for many different people today. Yet, some of them have never met a Jew in person.
     The fear expressed by Rosenberg and Rabbi Riskin, is that a second Holocaust would take place today, especially if or when Iran finishes building the bomb. It is a real fear because Iran wants the eradication of Israel more than anything. Even though President Rouhani sugarcoats his anti-Semitism to the West, his goal is the total annihilation of Israel. Disagree with him all you want (and I do), but at least Ahmadinejad was very clear about his desire to destroy Israel. So the question remains: Will there be Christians to stand for Israel?
     Rosenberg made an excellent point when he defined who was an evangelical Christian based on what the Bible has to say. It can be very easy to succumb to some sort of corporate character assassination and put all Christians who didn't help Jews in the same shameful category. I can even justify it by quoting passages like Psalm 83.
     If a Christian is defined by a commitment to follow Yeshua's teaching based on the Bible, then the boundaries are clear. Christians are forgiven not perfected (at least not yet). Christians can and will make mistakes, wrong judgments and even biased decisions. Yet, in Leviticus 19:18 we read: "You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord". It is then repeated by Yeshua in Matthew 5:43-44 and even taken one step further: You have heard that it was said, ‘ You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. ’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you".
     Have Christians fallen short over the centuries? Yes! Are some giving a bad rep to the rest of the Christian community? Yes! Should we then paint with broad strokes? NO!
     On one hand, Rosenberg claimed that while some Christians might have made mistakes about the Jews and even some that lead to the death of some, this cannot disqualify them as born-again Evangelicals, and as much as I dislike the divide and its tragic results, I must agree.
     On the other hand, I also agree with Rosenberg who stated that if you are characterized by a chronic hatred leading to a constant desire to destroy the Jews or any other human being for that matter, you are not a genuine Bible believing follower of the Jewish Messiah.
     One of the most important aspects of true Christianity is the ability to love unconditionally. Christians who love Jews–and they still exist–ought to love them regardless of their ability or willingness to embrace Yeshua and His teaching. Anything short of that kind of love falls short of what Christian love is. Period!
     Rabbi Riskin obviously didn't share Rosenberg's belief in Yeshua of Nazareth being the Messiah but recognized the common obligation of biblical Jews and Christians. Followers of the one true God must be driven not only by their convictions but also by a constant desire for human decency and justice.
     Rabbi Riskin and Joel Rosenberg see the need for Jews and Christian Zionist (a disappearing breed) to unite, and I join them in their honorable effort. Christians failed the test of unconditional love in the 1930's and 40s. The day might be coming when there will be a retake. Will they fail again? I pray that they don't
     Christians and Jews are UNITED by the Jewish Scriptures!
     Christians and Jews should be UNITED by their love for Israel!
     Christians and Jews can be UNITED by Yeshua the Jewish Messiah!


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Fear not American Jews, our government is "disappointed" at anti-Semitism!

     This week, President Obama is on his way to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia where he will meet with the Saudi King and his entourage. Most political analysts believe that this could end-up being a historic meeting comparable to the one that last took place in 1945 between President Franklin D. Roosevelt and then King Abdul Aziz. Topics of discussion will be Iran, Syria, Egypt and of course the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. I believe that it could be historic too, but not necessarily in a positive way.
     Prior to his Riyadh visit, Mr. Obama received requests from numerous non-governmental agencies as well as a bi-partisan group from Congress to confront Saudi Arabia about their ongoing human rights violations. What will actually transpire has yet to be seen, but let me predict that not much is to be expected in that area. The boldness required to confront the Saudis about their treatment of women, activists, religious minorities and Jews is something that simply doesn't exist within the current administration.

     If there is any doubt in your mind about such a statement of mine , consider the following. Jerusalem Post Washington Bureau Chief, Michael Wilner originally planned to join Mr. Obama and staff. He had scheduled his trip to cover the US President's visit to Saudi Arabia for his newspaper. But Michael Wilner was denied a visa to the gulf country. He is the only journalist who was denied entry to Saudi Arabia on this upcoming trip. He must be a great threat to the country for being denied entry! Is he a political agitator? No! Is he a human rights activist? No! Is he a terrorist? No! So what seems to be the problem? Oh Yes, I failed to mention, Mr Wilner is Jewish, not Israeli Jewish, simply a Jew who lives in America and reports for the Jerusalem Post.
     So what's the big fuss? Am I upset that the Saudi government made such a decision? Frankly, I am not even surprised, considering that the same country banned Swissair from flying over Mecca because of the "offensive to Muslims"white cross being part of their logo. It is ultimately their decision, and as ludicrous and unacceptable as I think it is, they make their own laws for their own country. I wonder what reaction we would get if we were to state that such a move was archaic, paranoid and purely xenophobic? Is Saudi Arabia an "Apartheid" country? but I digress!
     What greatly concerns me is the US administration's reaction to the banning of Michael Wilner's entry into Saudi territory. They are not disgusted, outraged, or even highly offended. They simply are "deeply disappointed" as was stated:
     "We are deeply disappointed that this credible journalist was denied a visa,"US National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said on Tuesday. "We will continue to register our serious concerns about this unfortunate decision."
     I feel better already for the American Jewish community. Next time anti-Semitism shows its ugly head, will our government be "disappointed" again? Merriam-Webster defines "disappointed" as: feeling sad, unhappy, or displeased because something was not as good as expected or because something you hoped for or expected did not happen.
     The message sent by such a statement will not be mistaken; it shows weakness, lack of care, misunderstanding or possibly a combination of all three. The US administration's decision to make such a weak statement days ahead of such an important visit will certainly set the mood and send a clear message.
      America used to be a leader in the free world but they have become a secondary country. As a government, we are all bark and no bite. Hamas and Hezbollah are not afraid of us, Iran doesn't take us seriously, Putin certainly doesn't either.
     If America is now simply disappointed at anti-Semitism, I fear for the upcoming day when Jews will have to seek shelter for their lives in the US. If and when a second Holocaust takes place, America might be "disappointed" at the way Jews are treated and massacred but they will be so much more "disappointed" when they face God and have to answer for how they treated Israel and the Jewish people (Psalm 83:1-5; Zechariah 12:9). Your choice America!
     The lack of chutzpah displayed by our current administration doesn't give us individuals an excuse to sit and be silent. While America might be asleep, wake up Americans and speak up!
     When speaking on the death of the 6,000,000, Jewish philosopher Abraham Joshua Heschel said: "In a free society, few are guilty but all are responsible". How pertinent for such a time as the Holocaust, and yet how pertinent for such a time as today!