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Standing up at the Rally--and Swimming Against a Tide

by Earl H. Foote

I am proud to say that I was one of the more than 100,000 people who filled up--in fact overfilled--the West Lawn of the Capitol in a demonstration on April 15 of solidarity with the state and the people of Israel. It was a small act, and frankly it posed no inconvenience for me. In fact, it was fun to take a day off work in order to stand in the beautiful spring weather (it got a little hot for comfort, but that was no big deal). I was impressed by the busloads of people from New Jersey and New York, who had arranged transportation for thousands with less than a week's notice. I was, at times, haunted by sadness and fear about all the innocent Israelis under threat of terror, but the main feeling was a joy at being with so many fellow human beings willing to stand up for the Jewish State.

I do not give Israel a blank check. Like any other nation--any group of human beings--Israel needs to evaluate its national motives and actions, to look into its soul. On the other hand, it's futile to worry about the soul if the body has been destroyed. Also, I still think that, while evil acts have unquestionably taken place under the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, the same standards of conduct need to apply not only to Palestinians but also to Arabs in general. The Israeli-Palestinian struggle must be seen within the context of more than 50 years of stubborn Arab refusal to accept Israel, and several Arab attempts to wipe Israel off the map (actually, drive it into the sea; they already wiped Israel off their maps!).

While the assemblage, unsurprisingly, was overwhelmingly Jewish, I am pleased that Christians had some presence. I would like to have seen more of us there, but we work with what we've got. Among the speakers, Governor George Pataki recalled the freedom he, as a Roman Catholic, experienced in Israel. Let us remember, by contrast, that anyone "smuggling" a Bible into Saudi Arabia is guilty of treason; U.S. soldiers in Saudi Arabia, who helped defend it against Iraq, are not allowed to display crosses.

Unlike most of the crowd, I now, somewhat reluctantly, support the idea of a Palestinian State. The instinctive rejection of this idea (especially the boo-ing and other rude responses every time a speaker mentioned the possibility) can be dismissed, but the concerns of Israel and its supporters cannot be. Clearly, any kind of Palestinian state will have to be the result of negotiations and clearly presented as the final result of the peace efforts, not an intermediate step toward dismantling Israel. Since a reduced Israel, say within pre-1967 borders, would be both logistically and psychologically vulnerable, it must be clear, with U.S. backing, that if a Palestinian state is created and then attacks what is left of Israel, it is essentially rolling for double-or-nothing--and the U.S. will do all in its power to load the "dice" in favor of Israel.

I have also recently discovered that, within my own Episcopal Church, the leadership has shown a solid (and, to me, highly puzzling) support of Palestinians. While most official statements deplore violence in general and call for the right of both Israel and Palestine to have defined, secure states, it is pretty clear who gets blamed for the crisis. Suicide bombing, while condemned pro forma, is labeled as "due to anguish and frustration from the Israeli occupation." Meanwhile, Israel's response to the bombings is called "disproportionate." Some other statements from individual bishops, including my own, have tilted even further toward the Palestinian cause.

On one level, I am not concerned about this. Like any good Episcopalian, I simply ignore what I don't like about the bishop's pronouncements (I suspect it's how we have avoided a total schism). We have no pope (not that Catholics necessarily listen to the Pope either). On the other hand, I have sound theological and historic reasons for supporting Israel. Christians owe Jews a tremendous debt (including, among other things, the One True God), not to mention the many ways in which Jewish culture has contributed to the betterment of the world. Sadly, this debt has been paid, too often, by inquisitions and pogroms. The Church shows at least an insensitivity in excessive criticism of Israel within a historic context of anti-Semitism. What is truly disturbing is the high--one could say unattainable--standard of behavior expected of Israel vs. the excuses offered for Palestinian terrorism and the proto-police-state established by Yasser Arafat.

I have been told by Jewish friends that there is a need for righteous Gentiles who will stand with the Jewish people. I hope that I am worthy of that role (I don't think of myself as particularly righteous!). I sometimes feel overwhelmed by pro-Palestinian sentiments within my parish and my Church at large, but it would be self-indulgence simply to preach to the converted. I draw strength from the 100,000 witnesses (and, in fact, the majority of the American people) who stand with Israel. I hope to change my own Church, one heart and one mind at a time.

Earl H. Foote
Parishioner, St. Stephen and the Incarnation
Communicant, Diocese of Washington

 


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