Did you hear the story about the rabbi and the Christian minister? It sounds like an old joke, but our story isn’t old, nor is it a joke. We are two clergymen who were the
most unlikely to know each other, let alone be friends. One of us is an African American evangelical leader of an L.A.-area church group with connections to South Africa, while the other is an Orthodox rabbi with a synagogue located on the border of Beverly Hills.
Our friendship began when we met a number of years ago while participating on a program supporting the State of Israel. Over the years, our friendship developed, and last month we traveled to Washington, D.C., to attend the American Israel Political Action Policy Conference together with some 10,000 other supporters of Israel. At the conference, we heard President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu share their visions for peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, and we listened carefully to numerous congressional leaders from both the Democratic and Republican parties outline their hopes and aspirations for the end to this conflict.
At the conference, we also witnessed a small but loud group of no more than 100 demonstrators outside the conference building who oppose Israel’s positions. Although expressing one’s opposition is part and parcel of what constitutes democratic freedom, what bothered us was not the demonstration, but what the demonstrators said. We saw it on the signs they were carrying and heard it repeatedly on a bull-horn screech — “Stop Israel. Stop the Apartheid.”
We found that accusation nothing less than an abhorrent lie. It was especially offensive to one who has annually visited and ministered in South Africa, beginning two months after the release of Nelson Mandela. We know what apartheid means, and it doesn’t mean a government that protects its citizens’ rights of freedom of speech. You can’t be an apartheid government when you allow all of your citizens the ability to vote, the right to free public demonstration and free press, the ability to be members of the elected government, to serve as a justice on the Supreme Court, to receive medical attention in all the country’s hospitals, and to attend colleges and universities. There isn’t another country in the entire Middle East that offers such rights, only Israel. In fact, the one of us who is an African American bishop supports and preaches at a black, Ethiopian, Christian, charismatic, evangelical church located smack dab in the middle of Jerusalem! Nowhere in the Middle East can this happen but Israel.
What also bothered us was the recently published op-ed essay printed in The New York Times by the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas. Abbas rewrote history to suit his agenda. He claimed that right after the newly established State of Israel was endorsed by the United Nations in November 1947, it attacked its neighbors. Anyone who knows history knows this fabricates the truth. Israel did not attack any of its neighbors; rather, it was attacked by seven surrounding Arab countries and was forced into war in order to survive. With God’s help, Israel miraculously was victorious. With war comes not only death and destruction, but also people ejected from their homes. This is the sad truth, but this is the fact. With such revisionist history, the next thing we can expect is an essay declaring that Poland invaded Germany at the start of World War II.
There is one truth, however, that neither the protesters nor the media will let us know. Netanyahu articulated it in his special address to a joint session of Congress on May 24 when he declared, “Israel is what is right in the Middle East.” During the past few months throughout the Middle East, what people are clamoring for is the Israeli model of life where basic human rights are non-debatable. The uprisings are due to the fact that in the Arab countries, the freedoms we take for granted in this country and that are part and parcel of Israeli life have been absent for too long.
When studying the Middle East, it is crucial to remember the warning that the great 20th century English writer Arnold Bennett once wrote. “Journalists say a thing they know isn’t true, in the hope that if they keep on saying it long enough it will be true.”
May the Almighty protect us from the distortion of truth, and may God grant peace to all parties in the Middle East.
Kenneth Ulmer is Senior Pastor-Teacher of Faithful Central Bible Church in Inglewood, California
Elazar Muskin is Senior Rabbi – Young Israel of Century City, Los Angeles, California