After Malachi Before Matthew: Long Silences and Christmas

The Harvest is past, summer is ended and we are not saved. –Jeremiah 8:20

A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. – Isaiah 40:3

When I was growing up I was always picked to play a shepherd in the manger scene. I’m a red headed, Caucasian male with not a drop of blood tracing back to the Holy Land, but I could stand still and be quiet (more or less) so I was perfect for the part. Luke 2 was a favorite chapter to act out during grade school Christmas programs, and for the past two decades, on every first Sunday of December I’ve watched the lighting of the first candle of Advent. From a young age I’ve performed rituals that cultivate anticipation.

Growing up I sang lots of Christmas carols about the coming of Christ, but never about the four hundred years of silence previous to his arrival. There was an emphasis on preparedness for Christ’s coming into the world, but there is a significant difference between anticipation for the month of December and waiting four hundred years. How long can you anticipate something without an intermittent status report or confirmation? What is it like to live in four centuries of silence?

I imagine my ancient ancestors, who didn’t anticipate a Messiah, were more familiar with silence then I am. I live in a world where expectation is celebrated every year for itself. Every Sunday the church is preaching, teaching, and singing about God’s love, his works, and his promises for the future. What would it be like for it all that to gradually go silent? And how long does it take for silence to encourage doubt—for it to make me rush to something talkative and loud? Israel once begged Moses for God to not speak to them “lest they should die.” But how long does he remain silent before you feel the anticipation of non existence?

Emmanuel –God with us—hasn’t always been a comfortable concept. “God with us” was a terrifying reality when Israel stood before Mt. Sinai. It was probably a distant memory for the anointed King David when he roamed the wilderness as an outlaw. For Ahab it was a rouge curse as Elijah cut the throats of the prophets of Baal in the light of heavenly fire. Emmanuel is a heavy reality—inviting a submission that can’t be volunteered by a hardened heart, and the obedient are always driven by Kings and nations into the wild places of the land. As Spurgeon says “men will allow God to be everywhere but on his throne.”

Throughout the Old Testament Israel’s remnant is pushed into the margins; sometimes the wilderness or as some exiled minority in a foreign city. When this happened Jerusalem became their orientation—it was the city of the temple, the place where God met with man. Inside the Holy of Holies God’s presence dwelled until it was pushed by disobedience into the tongues of the prophets. They prophesied to the nation and were killed by the nation. Zachariah is killed between the altar and the sanctuary. The reader finishes the fourth chapter of Malachi and then it goes quiet.

Four hundred years, roughly the same amount of time between Joseph and Moses. This would have been similar to the generations of Israelite slaves who slowly forgot the God of Jacob as they sweat under the whips of the Pharaoh. This would be four hundred years of building a nation that isn’t their own and giving birth to slave children threatened by population control. Four hundred years in subjection to Egyptian gods, Egyptian rule, and Egyptian scorn with no word from God.

Malachi stops writing and the situations are similar. Israel never regains sovereignty from foreign nations and is swapped between the Gentile kingdoms of the Persians, the Greeks, and then the Romans. Four hundred years—the excruciating pause before Incarnation.

From the barren places of the earth God sends a wild man. John the Baptist emerges—the voice of the nation’s remnant. As if the marginalized, abused presence of God in Israel was shaking with impatience John jumps out of the wilderness with a voice loud enough to be heard across the divide of four centuries. A voice so loud and direct that it could be heard through the span of history, from the ears of Moses to Elijah to the Jew under the Romans washing for repentance in the Jordan River. The spirit of the slain righteous shouts the culmination of their prophecies—the flesh blood reality of Emmanuel.

“He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, Born of the Virgin Mary, Suffered under Pontius Pilate was crucified dead and buried. On the third day he rose from the dead: he ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty…”

There he sits. We wait one season at a time as creation groans. We anticipate and suffer in silence. We light the candles and count out the years, knowing that when he comes, it will be exactly at the right time.

Experiencing Joy in Leviticus

God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. He is omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent. Before time came into being: I AM. After the world has passed away and Satan is cast into the lake of fire: I AM. God will never change, never be imperfect, never sin. He is the Creator, Ruler, Judge and Savior of all creation.

Yes, yes, you say. I am a Christian. I know all of that.

Yet our reading of the Bible often does not reflect this knowledge. Many of us read the New Testament over and over again, and stay clear of the more ancient books. If we do read from the Old Testament, we read books like Genesis or Esther or Psalms—maybe even Job or Ecclesiastes. Not the prophets; not Lamentations; certainly not Leviticus or Numbers. Those books seem to contain nothing but doom, gloom, instruction and destruction. The excuses we list to get out of reading and studying these books are endless: They are boring. I do not understand the intricacies of ancient Jewish culture. I cannot pronounce that Hebrew name. I am not an Israelite. Is God seriously telling them they are forbidden to eat bacon?!? And the real kicker excuse: They were written before Christ, so they are not relevant to me as a Christian.


Wrong! Even in these books, the boring books, the ones we skip over because they are long and tedious and sad and scary, we can still find the “New Testament” attributes of God. He is still good, merciful, loving, patient. He is not different from the God who sent down his Son to die for our sins and save us from eternal death. He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. If this is true—and it is—we should be able to find the awesome power of his love and mercy in any book of the Bible. There are amazing lessons for Christians to learn from the Old Testament, if only we will look.

I have recently been reading through Isaiah, Jeremiah and Lamentations. Not happy circumstances—God warns Israel and Judah of the coming destruction and exile due to their sins, and when they refuse to listen, he follows through on his promises. Israel falls to Assyria; Judah falls to Babylon. Yet in the midst of reading about war and death, I was in tears while reading a portion of Jeremiah because of the love and mercy God shows to a single family as a result of their trust and obedience. God’s punishment is not cruel or uncompassionate; his mercy moves beyond justice. He is patient with Israel and Judah, even when they have rebelled against him for hundreds of years.

Far from being irrelevant to Christians, the Old Testament books shadow the cross. Israel’s cycle throughout the Old Testament is always the same. They make a covenant with God, they break their covenant—they sin, worship idols, intermarry, etc. God sends warnings through the prophets, asking, entreating, wooing Israel to return to him. They do not listen. God punishes them through destruction, exile, plague, pestilence and the sword. The people return to God, ask for mercy, and beg Him to deliver them from their dire circumstances.

The amazing part is that he does. Even knowing that the stubborn and unfaithful heart of Israel will turn away again, he still delivers them. This cycle repeats over and over, seemingly hopeless, until one day a star appears over Bethlehem and God sends his only Son to end the cycle and redeem the faithful once and for all. This is the great story of humanity. And the difficult Old Testament books are part of it.

I realize that this Old Testament aversion does not apply to every Christian—there are many of us who do study the law and the prophets. I also realize that the New Testament speaks more directly to us, because it was written after Christ’s birth. I am not suggesting we abandon the New Testament and study only the Old. I have read through Matthew, Mark, Luke and John many more times than Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers, and that is probably correct. Yet as Christians, we should not ignore the first part of God’s epic story. Christ’s victory on the cross does not nullify the importance of those who waited eagerly for that victory.

So go read some Deuteronomy, 1 Chronicles and Habakkuk. Look for hints of the perfect character of God—the coexistence of his justice and mercy, destruction and restoration, love and anger. You will be amazed at what you find.

The Friendly Green Monster: When You Should be Jealous

The second Commandment, as stated in Exodus 20:

“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.”

This passage has always confounded me. Not because of the command against idolatry—I don’t have statues of Baal or Aphrodite sitting on my living room mantel. But the idea of God as “jealous” seems wrong: the Church teaches that jealousy is a sin, a temptation to run away from. Yet the Almighty  is perfect and holy, and therefore His jealousy must be perfect and holy, as well.

The jealousy that stems from selfishness and greed places it squarely in the “sin” category. Someone either wants what they don’t have, or they think someone else is trying to steal what they do have. A child who won’t let her best friend touch her new doll is protectively jealous because she wants to keep the toy all to herself. Her jealousy rises from selfish greed.

The jealousy of God, on the other hand, stems from love and purity. The Israelites are instructed not to make idols because God is jealous of their worship: He does not want them to turn away from Him and lust after false gods, which disrespects the Creator and harms the Israelites. The disastrous consequences of their faithlessness are laced throughout the Old Testament. God rightfully demands Israel’s complete devotion and loyalty, and His jealousy guards a relationship that is only holy when it is pure and complete.

In the book of Hosea, the relationship between God and Israel is likened to marriage. The Lord refers to Israel as an adulterous whore who has deserted her true husband for various lovers, including Baal and other idols. The Lord, acting as the just and faithful husband, openly shames Israel: “I will uncover her lewdness in the sight of her lovers, and no one shall rescue her out of my hand.” (Hosea 2:10) Yet this is not the end of the story. God will then show mercy upon Israel by wooing her back to Himself: “Behold, I will allure her and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her.” (Hosea 2:14) It is God’s jealousy that spurs both the just punishment and the merciful reconciliation. He loves Israel enough to be jealous for her, and patient with her sins.

This same principle can be applied to our human dating and marital relationships: we need jealousy to keep marriage healthy and intact. At their wedding, a bride and groom give themselves wholly to each other. They are no longer their own, but “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.” (Song of Solomon 6:3) The consequence of not staying true to this commitment is lust and adultery. Just as God rightfully expected the Israelites to unconditionally worship and obey Him, we must expect our spouse to remain unconditionally loyal and committed to the marriage, and guard the purity of this commitment jealously.

I’m not talking about extreme cases of physical abuse or overprotective spouses: a smile of friendship to someone of the opposite sex should not occasion burning jealousy. Yet a small, healthy dose of jealousy only adds to the strength of a romantic relationship because it demonstrates the individuals’ depth of love and commitment. The man who is not jealous of his wife’s attentions does not care enough about their marriage, and will only encourage her to look elsewhere for intimacy.

Romantic love is not like a toy, which should be generously shared with others for maximum enjoyment. Some things should not be shared, and marriage is one of them.

Welcome Home, Gilad Shalit.

Gilad Shalit was welcomed home today after five long years in the Hamas prison system. (The Telegraph is live-blogging his homecoming for those interested.)

The 477 Palestinian prisoners who were freed today in exchange for Shalit are also celebrating their own homecoming, albeit under different circumstances. (The remaining 550 prisoners will be released in two months.) Though Israel hopes the terms of Shalit’s release will lead to renewed peace efforts, Gazans have already greeted their released compatriots with demands for more kidnapping and violence:

“The people want a new Gilad!” the crowd chanted, suggesting the abductions of Israeli soldiers would mean freedom for thousands more Palestinians imprisoned in Israel.

…most of the 477 prisoners freed Tuesday had been serving life terms for killing Israelis, and their release violated a long-standing Israeli pledge not to free those with “blood on their hands”…

In his speech, Abbas praised the released prisoners as “freedom fighters.”

He suggested that his method of negotiations was also bearing fruit, saying that “there is an agreement between us and the Israeli government on another batch (of releases) similar to this batch after it finishes.”

His comments marked the first time he referred to an additional prisoner release, and there was no immediate Israeli comment.

The Boston Globe has some sobering (and gruesome) details about several specific Palestinian soldiers and the reasons they had been imprisoned. JTA has more here.

Even so, polls indicate that an overwhelming majority of Israelis supported the terms of the exchange–likely because universal conscription means nearly all Israelis can strongly identify with the desire to leave no soldier behind.

Curiously, polls also indicate that 66% of Israelis have little hope for a peaceful solution to the Palestinian conflicts. 67% of those polled last month also said that President Netanyahu did not believe peace with the Palestinians is possible.

It’s as if Israelis are desperate for an end to the conflict, but have all but given up hope that an agreement will ever be reached. No doubt Palestinian families feel the same way, though many of their leaders seem bent on continuing the conflict at all costs.

Netanyahu noted this morning that “On this day, we are all united in both joy and pain.” That may be the best, most universally applicable summary of this situation yet uttered. And as Palestinians welcome home their loved ones today, no less loved for having blood on their hands, it’s hard to imagine a time when the pain and the joy will not be thus co-mingled.

Photo courtesy of the Israel Defense Forces


What if Spock Was Right: Gilad Shalit, the Many, and the One

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Hamas announced yesterday that Gilad Shalit, the young Israeli soldier held captive by Hamas since 2006, will be released.

In exchange for Shalit’s freedom, more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, hundreds of them convicted terrorists, will also be released.

The lopsided nature of this one-for one thousand exchange has not gone unnoticed, especially since similar past exchanges have not worked out well for Israel. It’s generally agreed that Hamas is set to be the winner in this instance, and though many believe Israel ought to be commended for a renewed commitment to life and hope, it seems probable that the freeing of these hundreds of convicted terrorists will bring an end to many, many more lives in both Israel and Palestine.

Has Israel made the right decision? It’s hard to know.

Perhaps it’s trite, but I can’t help thinking here of two exchanges between Spock and Captain Kirk in the Star Trek movies.

As Spock sacrifices himself at the end of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, he tells Kirk,

Spock:“Don’t grieve, Admiral. It is logical. The needs of the many outweigh…”

Kirk: “The needs of the few.”

Spock: “Or the one.”

Later, when Kirk and Spock are reunited after Spock’s rescue, Spock is puzzled—why was he spared when so much was at stake?

Spock: My father says that you have been my friend. You came back for me.
Kirk: You would have done the same for me.
Spock: Why would you do this?
Kirk: Because the needs of the one… outweigh the needs of the many.

In the Star Trek universe, Kirk found a way to save both the many and the one. Spock sacrificed himself for his shipmates, and they in turn sacrificed themselves for him. It makes for a good story—but real world struggles rarely end so neatly. In buying Gilad Shalit’s freedom at an almost impossibly high price, Israel may end up sacrificing its own people for the sake of a compelling national narrative.

It’s bold. It’s risky. It’s what the “good guys” in the movies would do. But is it wise? Perhaps not.

This tension between the needs of the one and needs of the many is, by the way, an old problem for Israel. In John 11, when the chief priests and Pharisees are discussing what to do about the man whose actions threaten their own power, Caiaphas convinces them to simply do away with Jesus:

“…You know nothing at all, nor do you take into account that it is expedient for you that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation should not perish.” (John 11:49-50)

In the past, when Israel acted out of fear and favored the “many” over the “one”, Jesus died. (Of course, Gilad Shalit is not Jesus, and both stories are complicated. This is not a perfect analogy!) This time, though it’s easy to criticize the country’s desperation, they are at least moving forward boldly, and without obvious fear.

Maybe that’s good. Maybe it’s bad. I don’t know.

“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem”—and pray for Gilad Shalit. That much, at least, is clear.


The Irvine 11: Pity They Settled For So Little

The verdict was just announced a few hours ago, but, predictably, the Irvine 11 have already been turned into hero-martyrs all over the web. Though there’s no knowing yet whether the  students involved planned this kind of treatment for themselves, their website and twitter stream make it appear that they’ve been ready and waiting for this for some time.

This makes it doubly important that people look at both sides of the issue.

I was in a group with Ambassador Oren just an hour or two before his speech in Irvine, at a pastor’s reception at Mariner’s Church. He had a lot to say about the opposition he knew he’d probably face at Irvine. It’s a shame his comments have not been more widely aired, as they were both interesting and illuminating.

Here’s a video in case you haven’t heard what happened. In February, 2010 Ambassador Michael Oren, Israel’s Ambassador to the United States, was invited to speak at the University of California, Irvine. Though school officials practically begged the hecklers to behave, a number of students so disrupted his talk that a planned Q & A session was cancelled and several students from UC Irvine and UC Riverside were afterwards arrested.

This morning an Orange County, CA court found ten of the students guilty of conspiring to disrupt the Ambassador’s speech, and of then following through with plans to disrupt it.

As he was leaving the pastor’s meeting, Ambassador Oren mentioned that he expected to meet some opposition in the coming hours at Irvine—and that he was glad his detractors would likely be present, because he really wanted to spend time listening to and dialoguing with them. I can’t quote him directly, but I do know he said that such people were the audience he most cared about. He appreciated that they were passionate about an issue he also felt passionately about, and he expressed a strong desire to fully understand their objections and to spend time addressing their concerns.

Of course, anyone can say that. But Ambassador Oren spoke so firmly about his desire for fair, honest, productive dialogue with Palestinians and their supporters that it’s hard to discount him. Had the students who disrupted his speech instead asked him to have a real conversation about real issues, he surely would have given them his time.

Unfortunately, it seems that’s not what the Irvine 11 wanted.  Too bad—if they’d really wanted to start a conversation, as their website claims, they could have had quite a conversation with Michael Oren that day in Irvine. It’s a pity they decided to settle for less.

Egyptian Turmoil is Among the Least of Democracy’s Worries

The news from Egypt is different every hour, but right now it looks as if the Egyptian people may soon enjoy the democratic elections they have so firmly demanded. (Either that, or a messy military-led coup.)

But would elections do them any good?

It’s hard to know. Freedom and democracy are devoutly to be wished for, but the possibility of an ascendant Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood is alarming at best, both for Egypt and for the rest of the world.

CNN recently revealed that the Brotherhood has contributed tens of thousands of dollars to candidates in Islamic democracies—candidates who are expected, upon taking office, to use their positions to further the Brotherhood’s goals.

In other words, the organization that now helps rally for reforms in Egypt has a history of using such reforms to further its own agenda. That agenda, the worldwide institution of Sharia law, is profoundly anti-democratic, and the Brotherhood will not hesitate to use democracy against itself. Unfortunately, both the Brotherhood and some of its most important leaders are popularly considered to be moderate voices—a fact that both endangers those who listen to them, and prevents real moderate Muslims from being heard.

The Muslim Brotherhood was formed in 1928 by Hassan al-Banna, whose belief that jihad and death were intimately intertwined still motivates Brotherhood actions. A decade after its founding, the Muslim Brotherhood had over a million followers in Egypt alone.  Today its adherents are all over the globe, including in the United States, where advocates at Virginia’s International Institute of Islamic Thought coined the term Islamophobia in an effort to gain sympathy and “beat up their critics.”

The Brotherhood’s motto remains unambiguous: “Allah is our objective. The Prophet is our leader. The Koran is our law. Jihad is our way. Dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope.”  Widely recognized as one of the world’s most dangerous terrorist entities, the Brotherhood has birthed groups like Hamas, whose tactics are neatly representative of the sort of radical Islamism the Brotherhood seeks to spread.

Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated protesters claim to be upset by the ruling party’s assault on democracy, but historically their own assault has been much worse.  Claire Berlinski writes,

I find it unfathomable, a true national security emergency, that the words “Muslim Brotherhood” mean so little to most Americans… The first thing you must grasp about the Brotherhood is its ideology: Its goal is the establishment everywhere of an Islamic state governed by Sharia law. In al Banna’s own words, it seeks “to impose its laws on all nations and to extend its power to the entire planet.”… The Brotherhood’s essence is immoderate: It is at its core unremittingly anti-secular, anti-Semitic, anti-democratic and anti-Western.

Sheik Yusuf al-Qaradawi is the Brotherhood’s de facto spiritual leader, and a key figure in its quest to set up global Sharia. He has spoken openly in favor of suicide bombing, wife beating, and female genital mutilation.  A fierce anti-Semite, Qaradawi has called the holocaust a “divine punishment” and praised Hitler because “he managed to put them [the Jews] in their place.”  And, lest you think such travesties don’t affect you, he has also forbidden the sale and advertising of American or Israeli goods, stating,

“America is a second Israel. It totally supports the Zionist entity. The usurper could not do this without the support of America. “Israel’s” unjustified destruction and vandalism of everything has been using American money… America has done this for decades without suffering the consequences of any punishment…”

Qaradawi has encouraged the killing of Israeli women and children, including pregnant women, on the grounds that babies might grow up to join the Israeli army. He teaches that Muslims have a duty to support Hezbollah.  And, though he has written in favor of democracy in the Muslim world, he admits that a Muslim democracy would be very different from those found in the West because “…in Islam there are some fixed principles that cannot be changed.”

The fact that the Brotherhood has joined the demands for democratic elections in Egypt ought to be overshadowed by the fact that the group subscribes to a philosophy that seeks to “destroy the Western civilization from within.” Yet, few realize that radical Islamism poses a danger even more insidious than outright violence.  Robert Spencer writes,

There is a new attempt to confuse the American people about the nature of the threat we face. It’s a large-scale mainstream media effort to deny both that there is any attempt to bring Sharia to the United States, and that Sharia is anything to be concerned about in the first place. Unfortunately, there is plenty of evidence of attempts to establish the primacy of Islamic law over American law, and much to indicate that Sharia is anything but benign.

Egyptian tyranny is tragic, and should be stopped. But tyranny, it seems,  is among the least of democracy’s worries.

Image credit

Anwar Ibrahim: Not the Bright Spot We’d Hoped For

As Israel struggles to defend itself, Islamist voices around the world still stridently condemn the Jewish state for stopping the flotilla bringing aid to Hamas. Shockingly, one of those voices is Malaysia’s Anwar Ibrahim — the former media darling and favorite of the foreign-policy teams of both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

In a remarkable development, B’nai B’rith International has urged the U.S. to end its relationship with Anwar, citing his “…anti-Jewish and anti-Israel slanders, such as his April 30 assertion that Israeli spies are ‘directly involved in the running of the government,’” and his active role in sparking the recent resurgence of anti-Semitic sentiments in Malaysian politics.  In a letter addressed to the State Department, the Senate’s Committee on Foreign Relations, and the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, the venerable organization argued that “[a] purveyor of anti-Jewish hatred such as Ibrahim should not enjoy the measure of legitimacy that a positive relationship with the United States would confer upon him.”

Statements like these are symptomatic of a larger resurgence of anti-Semitism in Malaysian politics—a resurgence that Anwar himself has helped spark.  While the current Malaysian leadership is eager to be counted among our Muslim-majority allies, Anwar and his party are another story.  Anwar, who was long mentored by the publicly anti-American anti-Semite Mahathir Mohammed, has continued Mahathir’s legacy despite having been disowned by him in the late 1990’s.  Anwar’s conspiracy-theory laden charges of Israel’s secret takeover of the Malaysian Police IT unit bear all the marks of Mahathir’s influence—and he isn’t stopping there.

At the “Justice and Peace for Gaza” roundtable in Malaysia on June 4th, Anwar continued his anti-Semitic verbal assaults by attacking an American public relations firm, previously hired for minor work by the Malaysian Prime Minister, as an agent of Jewish influence: the firm, Anwar said, is “able to influence the oldest Jewish body to attack me personally… and to ask [other] countries, mainly the United States, to consider me an enemy because I’m seen as an enemy of Israel.”  Anwar declared that he was being subjected to retribution for his previous statements before the Malaysian Parliament, in which he claimed that Jews were working to manipulate Malaysian policy for America’s benefit.

Purveyors of anti-Semitism are often dealers in anti-Americanism, and Anwar Ibrahim is no exception.  He went on to attack President Obama, telling some one hundred Malaysians at the roundtable, “Obama is weak. He only said that he ‘regretted’ the attack [on the Gaza flotilla] when we actually need action.” This theme of weakness in the face of alleged Jewish interests was a continuation of one Anwar advanced several weeks back, when he accused the Malaysian government of bending to Jewish pressure in participating in sanctions against Iran’s nuclear program.

Statements like this make it clear that in asking the U.S. government and policymakers to end their erstwhile cordial relationships with the Malaysian opposition leader, B’nai B’rith is doing us a significant favor. There is simply no place for American engagement with traffickers in anti-Semitism, for both moral and pragmatic reasons.  Withdrawing support from Anwar will not solve the problem of world-wide anti-Semitism, but it will help put America on the right side of the issue.  If American policy makers choose to distance themselves from Anwar and his anti-Jewish hate speech, perhaps they will also distance themselves from others whose foul rhetoric we have wrongfully ignored.

While Anwar has spent years polishing a genteel Western image, his conduct and associations in Malaysia prove that he is every bit the sort of anti-American radical the U.S. must avoid.  Anti-Semitic statements like the ones B’nai B’rith has condemned show that Anwar’s public stances on major issues like race and foreign policy vary wildly depending on his own political needs.  And, despite his recent acceptance at places like Johns Hopkins University, where he was invited to teach for a year in their School for Advanced International Studies, he is quick to link his own anti-Semitism with anti-Americanism.

When asked about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict he told CNN, “Stoking the flames of anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism is a good distraction from the stench in their own backyard, namely rampant corruption, denial of basic human rights, abuse of power and the suppression of civil society.”

Most Americans failed to realize that he was describing this as a useful strategy, not condemning it.  We overlook it at our own peril, however, as our eager search for bright spots in a largely unwelcoming Islamic populace makes it all too easy for our policy makers to rest contented when they think they’ve found what they’re looking for.

The Obama administration will have to keep this in mind as it seeks to strengthen relations with the Islamic world in general and Malaysia in particular.  It’s not always easy to tell the difference between our friends and our enemies among the people of the Muslim faith, but in Anwar’s case the problems are clear to anyone willing to pay attention. ‘

War of the Words: Israel and the U.S.

As Israel struggles to stay afloat beneath the nearly universal condemnation of its conduct in the recent flotilla incident, I can’t help wondering: When did racism suddenly become so socially acceptable – and even fashionable – in the U.S.?

To be sure, the decades-long struggle between Israel, Palestine, and the rest of the world is far from simple, and atrocities have doubtless been committed by both sides.  War is ugly, and we are rightly repulsed by it.  We make an enormous tactical mistake, however, when we allow this to separate us form our long-time ally–because that is exactly what our mutual enemy hopes for.  The U.S. government is doing no one any favors by distancing itself from Israel’s recent actions—no one, that is, except the flotilla organizers.  They depended on just this sort of reaction to solidify Israel’s place as Most Hated Nation. By making their own enemy the enemy of the civilized world, the Islamists behind the flotilla have gained an entirely new set of friends and potential allies.

Anti-Zionism is often merely a half step away from anti-Semitism. Though the two ideologies are not precisely identical—anti-Semitism was around long before the state of Israel existed—they are very closely related—so closely related, in fact, that in stoking the flames of anti-Zionism across the globe, the organizers of the flotilla have, at least temporarily, made anti-Semitism a Western virtue.  And almost no one has noticed.

Israel’s account of the events leading up to this week’s international outrage is fairly straightforward.  In fact, it’s the only unambiguous part of this whole PR nightmare.  Every other nation’s reaction has been so heavily contextualized with emotions and memories of past events that it’s a wonder we know what happened at all.

This is intentional.  Cold, hard facts are easy to confirm or deny; symbols are not. The flotilla, its cargo, and its passengers were selected to confuse the issues by serving as a symbol of Israeli aggression or of Palestinian hardship or of . . . whatever else it might take to turn the world against Israel.  Mostly, it was intended to spark anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic sentiments all over the globe.  It worked.

The international media’s emotional outrage is clearly about a lot more than just the deaths of the protestors on the flotilla.  It’s about the much longer struggle, stretched out over decades, between Israel and Palestine.  It’s about the resentments on both sides, and about how hard it is to wait patiently for a resolution between two competing worldviews.  And it’s about the belief, implicit in all these frustrations, that the world would be a better place without both Israel and the Jewish people.

In other words, it’s about the Islamist narrative.

Why is the leadership of our government buying into this narrative? It’s not a narrative that will ever be good for the U.S.  Neglecting our longstanding relationship with Israel will merely lead to the deterioration with our other Middle Eastern alliances.  With Iran so close to developing a nuclear weapons arsenal, we cannot afford to cause unnecessary shifts in the balance of power.  Not only can we not afford to alienate our ally, but we also can’t afford to endorse anti-Semitism in any form—not only because it is wrong, but also because where anti-Semitism thrives, anti-Americanism too often follows.

Yet we are endorsing it, as is the rest of the world, when we refuse to give Israel a fair trial.  This is not to say that Israel is incapable of error or that we should support our ally without reservation or precondition. Like all nations, Israel is a flawed state composed of imperfect people.  But in being so quick to assume that the international media narrative is correct, we are opening ourselves to exactly the sort of feelings and opinions that our enemies have been hoping for.

Islamists have ennobled their own position in the world by making Israel a global outcast.  They’ve encouraged us to turn against one of our best allies, endangering our own security in the process. They’ve also enflamed the anti-Semitic suspicion and hatred that is frequently associated with anti-American convictions.

The media frenzy surrounding the flotilla will quickly subside and most of us will forget about it within weeks. But next time Israel acts in a way that the world doesn’t approve of,  it will be easier for us to uncritically condemn them, and easier for us to learn to hate them.  If we don’t stop ourselves we will become so much like our enemies that they will defeat us without our even noticing. ‘