My good friend, Jim Tonkowich, the president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD), wrote a news release yesterday on the birth of the State of Israel, which occurred on May 14, 1948. Jim's statement about Israel's past and future reflects my own view of things there quite well. I believe this type of balanced perspective is called for when various confusing voices are raised regarding this important modern democracy in the Middle East.
Since I know Jim very well, and respect his comments profoundly, and because I serve on the IRD Board, I am pleased to share his statement with my readers:
Today the nation of Israel is celebrating the 60th anniversary of its independence, according to the Hebrew calendar. On May 14, 1948, as Great Britain relinquished its mandate over Palestine, Jewish leaders there proclaimed the modern state of Israel. U.S. President Harry Truman, overruling many of his top advisers, was the first to recognize the new nation.
Israel’s Arab neighbors immediately launched a war to destroy the nascent Jewish state. Israel survived that war and has survived three more wars and thousands of terrorist attacks over the intervening decades.
But hundreds of thousands of Arabs were displaced in the 1948 war. The plight of the Palestinians has become a permanent grievance. And many actors in the region—Syria, Iran, and the Hamas movement that controls Gaza—are still committed to the destruction of Israel.
Israelis have good reason to celebrate today, and U.S. Christians can join them. Israel is the longest-lived democracy in the Middle East. It enjoys a vibrant, multi-party system, an independent judiciary, and freedoms of speech and press. Jews, Muslims, and Christians practice their faiths with few restrictions.
After the Holocaust, Israel provided a refuge for Jews from around the world. Yet Israel’s Arab minority is freer than the Arab majorities in most surrounding countries.
U.S. Christians differ in their understanding of Israel’s place within God’s plans for human history. But the vast majority does glimpse some kind of divine Providence in Israel’s existence and preservation. We are grateful for President Truman’s courageous step in 1948 and proud of our nation’s role as one of Israel’s few reliable friends.
Yet our joy is tempered by sorrow. We are mindful of the unresolved conflicts and unrelieved sufferings that date back to 1948. We pray that Israelis, Palestinians, and all their neighbors may finally know peace, security, self-determination, and justice. And we hope that our nation may be a peacemaker.