I remember years ago traveling to Israel as a volunteer at a hospital outside of Tel Aviv. One evening I was roaming the aisles of a grocery store looking for some shampoo when a tall elderly man stopped me and asked, “Are you one of the volunteers at the hospital in town?”
I replied with surprise, “Yes!”
He told me he recognized me and asked, “Why would an American come to volunteer in Israel?”
With joy I explained, “I’m a Christian who loves and supports the Jewish people because God loves the Jewish people.”
Before I could finish my thought, the elderly man abruptly and awkwardly hugged me in the middle of the grocery store aisle. He held me there for quite some time. Mid-hug, he shared that Israelis feel alone in the world and wonder if anyone actually likes them.
I get it—everywhere they look they see and hear criticism about their country. Journalists portray Israel negatively, famous musicians cancel concerts or skip over the Holy Land out of fear of being boycotted by the angry Twitter mob, and political pushback has become more common in Congress and parliaments around the world.
My softhearted fellow shopper was happy to meet a friend of Israel because when every major social institution vilifies your homeland, you can quickly lose heart.
Here are three social institutions that vilify Israel.
Iran remains an existential threat to the State of Israel. Repeatedly the religious leaders who govern the Islamic Republic have called Israel a “cancerous tumor” that “will undoubtedly be uprooted and destroyed.” Recently, thousands of Iranians took to the streets vowing to destroy Israel on Quds Day.
The hatred directed at Israel comes from the top down in Iran. Tel Aviv University Professor Meir Litvak argues Ayatollah Khomeini’s animosity toward Israel is “an essential part of his teachings and his religious worldview, and of the way he understood Islam and its historical destiny, in the shadow of its crisis in the modern age.” Khomeini’s religious beliefs drive Iran’s foreign policy in the Middle East. Iran invests heavily in proxies like Hezbollah (Lebanon), Hamas (Gaza/West Bank), and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (Gaza/West Bank).
Nearly half of Israelis see Iran’s aggression as an existential threat.
Ahead of Holocaust Remembrance Day, The Jerusalem Post reported a new survey found 47% of Israelis are anxious that another Holocaust could be on the horizon. Fewer than 100 years since Hilter’s hostility toward the Jewish people, nearly half of Israelis see Iran’s aggression as an existential threat.
But the religious contempt isn’t just found in the flagrant antisemitism stemming from Tehran; Israel is also vilified in certain Christian denominations. For example, the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) has made the Jewish state a prime target of its Middle East agenda at their General Assemblies. They have adopted resolutions boycotting, divesting, and sanctioning (BDS) Israeli companies while supporting measures opposing anti-BDS legislation.
Rabbi Noam Marans, the director of Interreligious and Intergroup Relations at the American Jewish Committee, responded to PCUSA: “The Church remains obsessively critical of Israel in its national utterances. For many years and in myriad ways, the PCUSA has gone beyond legitimate criticism of Israel and embraced demonization of the Jewish state.”
In no way am I associating the Islamic Republic of Iran with the PCUSA. But for my friend who feels Israel is an island unto itself, it’s unsettling when both groups in the Muslim and Christian community look at you with disdain.
The Brandeis Center conducted a study in 2021 and found that 50% of Jewish students mask their Jewishness and more than half refrain from sharing their personal views on Israel. Additionally, two thirds of the students polled experienced or were familiar with acts of antisemitism.
Where does this fear come from?
College campuses have become the playground for the vilification of Israel. It goes beyond criticizing the actions of the Israeli government. Anti-Israel groups inculcate college students with lies, calling Israel “genocidal” and accusing them of “ethnic cleansing.” These phrases leave lasting impressions on young adults trying to figure the world out.
Instead of teaching students that Israel is a beacon of freedom and the only democracy in the Middle East, schools often subject the Jewish state to extreme scrutiny.
It also didn’t help when college professors like Temple University’s Mark Lamont Hill said during a speech at the United Nations concerning the Palestinian people, “We have an opportunity to not just offer solidarity in words but to commit to political action, grass-roots action, local action and international action that will give us what justice requires and that is a free Palestine from the river to the sea.” The phrase, “free Palestine from the river to the sea” is a mantra to bring an end to the State of Israel.
Even some teacher’s unions in K–12 schools have adopted resolutions vilifying Israel, calling it an apartheid state.
Students carry these anti-Israel lies into their graduate studies and even their future places of employment. Instead of teaching students that Israel is a beacon of freedom and the only democracy in the Middle East, schools often subject the Jewish state to extreme scrutiny.
The Petri dish of anti-Israel vilification can be found at 405 East 42nd Street in New York City—the address of the United Nations. In 2020 the United Nations General Assembly hoisted 17 resolutions against Israel but only six for the rest of the world. Last month, in the middle of Putin’s war in Ukraine, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) hit Israel with four resolutions condemning the Jewish state for human rights violations. Russia received one!
Last month, in the middle of Putin’s war in Ukraine, the United Nations Human Rights Council hit Israel with four resolutions condemning the Jewish state for human rights violations. Russia received one!
You might have expected the UNHRC to adopt human rights violations against North Korea for unlawful killings by the government of its citizens, China for its inhumane treatment of the Uyghur Muslims, Iran for the execution of homosexuals, or Saudi Arabia for its discrimination against women. Yet Israel holds the record for being the most targeted country in the United Nations, despite the fact its Declaration of Independence guarantees freedoms not found anywhere else in the Middle East. Yet somehow, Iran is seen as the good guy and Israel the bad.
The Declaration says Israel “will be based on the precepts of liberty, justice, and peace taught by the Hebrew Prophets; will uphold the full social and political equality of all its citizens, without distinction of race, creed, or sex; will guarantee full freedom of conscience, worship, education, and culture; will safeguard the sanctity and inviolability of the shrines and Holy Places of all religions; and will dedicate itself to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.”
That long, awkward hug in aisle 12 was sincere. My new Israeli friend no longer felt alone in the world. He knew someone else living somewhere else in the world believed the good about his homeland—and for a moment in time that made him feel alive. There are plenty of social institutions that vilify Israel, but religion, education, and politics play a major role in shaping minds to either think positively or negatively about the Jewish state.
It’s important to know how to speak against falsehoods about Israel, but let’s not dwell here too long. Instead, let’s fix our gaze on the Lord our God, the Protector of Israel who neither slumbers nor sleeps (Psalm 121:4).