We have all read and heard Jesus’ famous commandment to “Love your neighbour as yourself”. But what does it mean and how does it look like to love our Jewish neighbour in the Palestinian Evangelical context? This becomes even more of an important question when many Jewish-Israelis hold racist and supremacist ideology and theology towards Palestinians and non-Jews. Recently, many left-wing Jewish-Israeli journalists and thinkers have raised the topic of Jewish supremacy in a number of articles.
They argue that Jewish supremacy has been gaining popularity in Jewish-Israeli society and politics.
For instance, according to a poll by the Israel Democracy Institute in 2019, “over half (54%) of Jewish Israelis, are in favour of denying the right to vote for those refusing to declare that Israel is the Nation-State of the Jewish people” and “43% of Jewish Israelis believe that Arab Israelis should be allowed to purchase land only in Arab neighbourhoods and communities. Another 22% said that Arab Israelis should not be allowed to purchase land in Israel at all”. These statistics reflect that attitude of Jewish-Israelis towards Palestinians living in Israel, one can only imagine their attitude to Palestinian living in the West Banka and Gaza.
How then, do we respond to Jews who think they are religiously, ethnically, nationally and culturally superior to us? Does love have any more qualities to offer? Love is more than affection, feeling good and friendship, as popular culture might teach us, but can also be challenging and disciplining. We can see this form of love in Jesus’ ministry, when he rebukes wrong teachings and behaviour. At times, he even used strong and aggressive language, as well as flipping tables while driving people away with a whip. This of course was done out of challenging love. Likewise, when a family member commits acts of injustice or upholds hateful ideas, we often challenge them to see the fault in their actions or oppression in their opinions. Love can be correcting, upsetting and uncomfortable, but it is still love.
As such, when we love our Jewish neighbours, we should also include challenging, correcting and disciplinary aspects of love. Especially when what needs to be challenged is the supremacist ideology and theology of certain Jewish-Israelis. By advocating for any type of supremacy over another human simply does not correspond with God’s creation. We are all created equal in his image. Jewish supremacists go against this very notion of equality, they view Palestinians as less than what God created them to be, attempting to take away the image of God in them. And by doing so, Jewish supremacists also mistakenly elect themselves to be superior to God’s creation.
Unfortunately, Jewish supremacy ideology and theology has even penetrated Palestinian Evangelical churches. Despite being Palestinian, the very thing the supremacist ideology and theology claims to be inferior, they embrace this oppressive worldview. Partly, this phenomenon exists due to Western Christian Zionists promoting Jewish supremacy among Palestinian Christians. This of course is not only limited to the Palestinian Christian context, but relevant to all Arab Christians who think their identity, heritage, culture, ethnicity and religious tradition to be inferior to that of the West. In the same manner, some Palestinian Christians have embraced prejudices and supremacist attitudes towards other people groups, whether they be Muslims or Jews, Black or Asian.
For this reason, this article will argue that we, the Palestinian Evangelical Christians, need to challenge our fellow Jewish neighbours who are Jewish supremacists. This challenge must come out of love for them and ourselves. Together we must illuminate the heresy of Jewish supremacy. Moreover, this essay also calls on Palestinian Evangelical Christians who have embraced this worldview, to rethink their position and to understand its contrary nature to the gospel. Even though this article addresses the Palestinian context and Jewish supremacy, we also wish to open a broader conversation about any form of supremacy in the Arab World. Whether that be white, western, Arab, Christian, Muslim or any other form of supremacy for that matter.
In the Palestinian context, Jewish supremacy is the state of mind or behaviour, whether conscious or not, that views Jews as superior to Palestinians on the basis of religion, ethnicity or the two together. That is to say, any position that promotes spiritual or civil inequality between the two groups in Palestine/Israel holds a Jewish supremacist ideology or theology. Let us briefly consider the sources of Jewish supremacy and connect it to our contemporary context.
The sources of contemporary Jewish supremacy can be divided into two. The first is the Zionist movement, and the second is certain theological positions within Rabbinical Judaism. A central foundation in the Zionist movement was the desire to create the ‘new Jew’. This newly formed nationalist movement in the late 19th century sought to rid itself of its previous identity as an ‘exile Jew’, which for many Zionists represented oppression, weakness, blindness, naivety and backwardness. But the new Jew, represented a new era, an era where Jews were at the forefront of society, well-educated, advanced and strong.
Essentially, the identity of the new Jew was created in a completely binary manner to that of the exile Jew. However, while the Zionist movement envisioned new Jews to be the complete opposite of the exile Jew, Palestinians and Arabs also served this binary standard for the new Jew. In other words, if the new Jew represented all that is good, advanced and strong, the Palestinian and Arab represented all that is bad, backward and weak. This is one of the reasons, the European Zionists, the ones doing the identity construction, rejected their fellow Arab Jews living in the Arabic speaking countries, they represented what the new Jew is trying to shake off. In many ways, this early Zionist notion of the new ethnic Jew eventually became part of the Israeli-Jewish identity today, believing in their superiority over Palestinians.
The first source of Jewish supremacy has its roots in the Zionist movement, but the second is grounded in certain theological positions within Rabbinical Judaism. We are not suggesting that all forms of Judaism equate to Jewish supremacy and recognize the diversity of voices within Judaism, but in many rabbinical schools of thought this notion is dominant. There is a fundamental principle in most interpretations of Rabbinical Judaism that distinguishes between Jews and non-Jews. For example, the Halakha (Jewish law) places non-Jews in a completely different legal system called the Noahide Laws (named after the Sons of Noah). A number of Rabbinical Jewish thinkers have argued that these laws are universal for all non-Jews, and if non-Jews living under Jewish territory do not accept them, they may be subjected to capital punishment. And if non-Jews do accept the Noahide Laws they must pay tribute to the Jewish authority.
This distinction, between Jews and non-Jews, in the rabbinical legal system is based on a more foundational theology of election. According to some Jewish theologians, Jews have a divine nature which is determined by blood alone and not by faith or actions. Others have gone as far as to suggest that the Jewish soul is greater than that of a non-Jewish soul. Following this logic, many religious Jews view themselves as spiritually superior to non-Jews who are the pioneers of God’s will on earth.
It is important to note that Rabbinical Judaism has become more hostile to Christians in recent history. According to Karma Ben Johanan, a scholar of Jewish-Christian relations, a number of rabbis have expressed more and more hostile remarks towards Christians ever since the establishment of the State of Israel. She argues that the reason for the increase of hostility is due to the change in power dynamics between Judaism and Christianity. That is to say, Jews are no longer subjected to Christian authorities and have their own country. As such, they are free to voice their opinions and to dictate their own governance. Either way, this increase in hostility follows a religious notion of Jewish supremacy.
It should not come as a surprise to us Palestinians today that the ongoing Nakba, ethnic cleansing, massacres, military occupation, checkpoints, land theft, Nation State Law and racism are connected to and a result of Jewish supremacy. In early 2021 B’Tselem, the leading Israeli human rights organisation, described the Israeli regime (including the West Bank and Gaza) as an apartheid regime. An unjust regime which is led by a fundamental principle, “advancing and cementing the supremacy of one group – Jews – over another – Palestinians”. We need only to lift our heads and look around the world, settler colonial movements oppressing and discriminating indigenous populations (in our case Zionism and Palestinians) need a supremacist ideology and theology which distinguishes on the basis of ethnicity, race and religion to create and fuel their monstrous entity.
Jesus and Supremacist Theology and Ideology
The main purpose of this section is to illustrate how Jewish supremacy, and indeed any form of supremacy, contradicts the message of the gospel. It is important to note that today’s Jewish supremacy is different than the 1st century Jewish supremacy in Jesus’ time. But nevertheless, we can learn how the gospel presents itself and deals with 1st century Jewish supremacy. Therefore, it is vital to explore biblical texts and interpret them with meaning into our current context, making Christ relevant to dealing with today’s Jewish supremacy rooted in European Zionism and Rabbinical Judaism.
One of the passages depicting more explicitly Jesus confronting 1st century Jewish supremacy can be seen in the gospel of John. Here we have a 1st century internal Jewish dialogue. A conversation between Jesus and a group of Jews over sin, truth and freedom escalates into a debate involving Jewish supremacy and Jesus’ authority. Jesus was urging these Jews to stick to his teachings, and that His truth would set them free. In response they replied, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?”. Throughout the dialogue, the Jews in the passage insist that Abraham is their father, they are not Abraham’s “illegitimate children”, and suggest that Jesus is demon-possessed and a Samaritan. There is much to unravel in this passage, but relevant to our discussion, these 1st century Jews were claiming that because they are Abraham’s descendants, their ethnic-religious origin entitled them to certain spiritual privileges and elite status. Here we can see similar characteristics between the Jews in the passage and rabbinical Judaism today (2021) in Israel, both are asserting elite spiritual status over non-Jews.
In Jesus’ reply we can learn the following observations: First, Jesus replies by emphasizing that all humans are equal, “…everyone who sins is a slave to sin…” , and takes it further saying, “Now a slave has no permanent place in the family…”. From the start, Jesus is setting equal terms of engagement with God and suggests that our ability to take part in God’s family depends on our ability to respond to Him and has no connection to our ethnic-religious affiliation and ancestry. Jesus’ statements contradict certain rabbinical Jewish teachings that Jews are superior due to their lineage, and that perhaps they have a unique relationship to God compared to people from other origins.
Second, Jesus challenges their identity and disputes the ideological source of their Jewish supremacy. Jesus is direct when he says, “if you were Abraham’s children…then you would do the things Abraham did. As it is, you are determined to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. Abraham did not do such things…”. Jesus provokes their identity even further by saying that the devil is their father and the reason they do not hear God is because they do not belong to him. Jesus rejects people who claim to have an identity that boasts in its ethnic-religious origin, especially when it comes at the expense of one’s neighbour. Also, the Jews accused Jesus of being a Samaritan as if it were a curse, placing Samaritans and demon-possessed individuals in the same category. Jesus rejects and ignores their racist comments, and continued to dedicate a significant portion of his ministry to Samaritans. Similarly, we ought to challenge the ideological roots and identity of European Zionists. Any constructed identity that implies that Jews are superior to Palestinians and Arabs is not from God and in contradiction with Jesus’ teachings.
Third, Jesus declares truth upon his role, mission, and identity in relation to his Father. This can be seen throughout the dialogue when Jesus mentions the interconnected relationship he has with the Father. Jesus was grounded in his mission and knew he was honouring the Father, while the Father was glorifying him. In the same way, Palestinians that are at the receiving end of Jewish supremacy, must remember our mission in the Holy Land. We are here to take part in Jesus’ inaugurated Kingdom by working for justice and peace.
To summarise this section, we must remember our identity as children of God, and never accept the racist ideologies, categories, policies, and treatment shown by European Zionists and some rabbinical Jews. We must speak and believe the truth of the gospel—we are all equal in the eyes of God and He does not show favouritism.
I am My Brother’s Keeper
Now that we have articulated Jewish supremacy and its contradiction to the gospel, this section explores some approaches and practical ways the Palestinian Evangelical Church can love their Jewish neighbour.
(1) As Palestinians, we will be better able to love our Jewish neighbours when we learn to love and embrace ourselves. This means refusing to accept the inferior position, status, or role the European Zionists, rabbinical Jews, and sometimes Western Christians place upon us. We are not the “younger brother” of the Jews, we are not “sons of Ishmael,” and we are not simply just Arabs who happen to be in “Judea and Samaria”. This means refusing to let our Jewish neighbours and visiting Western Christians define our identity. We are Palestinian Christians, the native people of this land, the indigenous custodians of the holy sites, which have and are still witnessing the gospel to humanity for thousands of years. Whether for us or against us, we should not let our oppressors define who we are. For we are rooted in our heritage and identity that goes back to the early church and the Book of Acts. As such, we have persevered through many rulers, empires and oppressors. Therefore, our Palestinian and Christian identity is source of strength and beauty.
(2) We need to recognize that we, the Palestinians, are the key to freeing our Jewish neighbours from their oppressive identity. Unavoidably, the destiny of the Palestinians and Jews in the Holy Land are interconnected. As neighbours, we serve as a mirror to one another, and are responsible to holding each other accountable. For us Palestinians, it is our vocation to expose the fallacy of the nationalistic-Zionist dream (as well as Palestinian nationalistic visions that contradict the gospel), for the Zionism dream is the Palestinian nightmare. Most importantly, we must ask ourselves, where is God today in our context? The message of the gospel did not reveal itself through the powerful and elite-establishment, but through marginalized and oppressed individuals living in humble circumstances. Similarly, in the 21st century, the message of the gospel in the Holy Land is being revealed through the oppressed, who are in most cases Palestinians. Despite the oppressive pressures, when we engage with Jews, we must not separate love from justice and reconciliation from liberation. Truly, this conflict presents the Palestinians and the Palestinian Evangelical Church a huge ethical opportunity to bring the message of Jesus to the world.
(3) There are several existing platforms and practical opportunities for the Palestinian Evangelical Church to love their Jewish neighbours. First, is through reconciliation and peace programs. For example, Musalaha and the Holy Land Trust are organizations that work in this field. We are confident that these platforms expose Israeli-Jews to Palestinian-life and narrative in an equal and healthy way. In other words, Palestinians can participate in these programs without compromising their identity and commitment to justice. Moreover, in the process of reconciling and learning about one’s neighbour, one has the opportunity to discover oneself. Second, we need to participate and support advocacy organizations that advocate for justice and peace. Some organizations that do such work are Christ at the Checkpoint, Sabeel, and Kairos Palestine. Such organizations hold our Jewish neighbours ethically and spiritually accountable. These are not the only ways to engage with our Jewish neighbours, one can pursue other avenues and formats to engaging with our Jewish neighbours as long as the nature of the interaction is based on justice and compassion.
Ultimately, we are our brother’s keeper, we are responsible to confront our Jewish neighbours’ sin of Jewish supremacy. For the blood of oppressed Palestinians is crying out of the ground, pleading for justice, dignity and liberation. The Evangelical Palestinian Church has a responsibility to respond to both situations respectively.
To conclude, the Palestinian Evangelical Church needs to love our Jewish neighbours by rejecting and exposing their Jewish supremacy as is contradicts the ministry and teachings of Jesus. It must also be mentioned, and perhaps a subject for another article, that certain Jewish supremacy notions are being promoted by Christians and is connected to Western/European/white supremacy as well. As such, this subject relates not only to the Palestinian context, but the whole Middle Eastern context. An area for more theological and historical examination.
In addition, as we have challenged Jewish supremacy in this article, we Palestinians cannot remain hypocritical without examining our own Palestinian Christian supremacy. In the same way that we oppose any ideology or theology of Jewish supremacy, we must also oppose any Palestinian Christian ideology or theology of supremacy against Jews or Muslims. We often hear in Evangelical churches anti-Muslim rhetoric, in which Palestinian Christians think of themselves to be superior in many dimensions to their Muslim neighbours. In this regard, any individual and group is susceptible to the sin of ethnic or religious supremacy. This is the reason we need each other for accountability, pointing to each other where we have gone wrong. Healthy criticism and confrontation is needed in the body of Christ.
Therefore, let us love one another, as well as our Jewish and Muslim neighbours by challenging any theology or ideology that promotes the superiority of one group over another. Only by promoting this culture of love through accountability, will we be able to see a better future for all people in Palestine, Israel and the Middle East, “Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing”.
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* The article was included in a new book under the title " Towards a Renewed Mind" published in November 2021 by . Bethlehem Bible College, Nazareth Evangelical College and Come and See web site. It was presented to Dr. Salim Munayer upon his retirment from Bethlehem Bible College