All our Yesterdays

"We have learned of the recent tragic events in Palestine with profound horror and grief. One hundred and nineteen defenceless sons and daughters … have died the death of martyrs. Regardless of age and sex, some were murdered, literally hacked with swords, hatchets and knives; others having been driven into a wooden structure were burnt. One hundred and eighty-three are lying in hospital in a critical condition. Thousands more, who merely managed to escape with their lives, are robbed, ruined, homeless refugees … Widows and orphans prevail in numbers, and many have lost their reason, having witnessed the most savage and atrocious crimes.

We smart with Israel’s agonies, as we watch these people passing through the red sea of blood and flames of fire. Our hearts cry today with Jeremiah, “O LORD, save thy people, the remnant of Israel”. We long more than ever to make known to them that Jesus is their salvation! In Him alone “Jacob shall return, and shall be in rest, and be quiet, and none shall make him afraid” … How one’s heart ached as one “wept with those that wept”.

Apart from reminding us that “Palestine” was formerly a term used by Zionists – it was not generally used by Arabs because they claimed there was no such land – the above excerpt shows us that violence against Jewish people did not start in 1967, when Israel took control of what Palestinians now call “the occupied territories”; nor did it start following the declaration of the State of Israel in 1948, for the extract above was published during 1929 in Immanuel’s Witness, the monthly record of the Barbican Mission to the Jews.* CWI no longer carries eyewitness reports in its magazine of atrocities that take place in the Middle East, but we still weep with those who weep and long, “more than ever” in these days, to make the true Messiah known amongst the Jewish people!

However, when a Jewish person takes a decision to follow the Lord, it will not necessarily mean that the opposition he or she faces will decrease; indeed it will undoubtedly increase. In 1941 the Jewish Missionary Herald ran a story about several thousand Jewish people throughout Europe who had accepted Jesus as their Saviour before the Second World War:

"Now they have to put their faith to the test … They had to break with their families and friends and are excluded from the synagogue and its assistance because of their confession of faith in Jesus. Then, they have lost their occupations, possessions and houses because of their Jewish descent. Sad to say, for the same reason they have often even been cast out from Christian Churches to which they had belonged for many years, and they miss the fellowship with God's children … Remember them in your prayers!"

After 1941, many of the believers mentioned in the above account would have been killed in Nazi concentration camps. But anti-Semitism goes back much further than Adolf Hitler. The book of Exodus tells us that after Joseph died, a new king came to power in Egypt. He viewed the Hebrews as a threat to his nation and so he decided to kill all the male children born to the Israelites. Many centuries later, at the time of Haman, the whole population – men women and children – were under threat of death and only God’s intervention through Mordecai and Esther prevented the Jewish people from being wiped out.

We might have hoped that, by the 21st century, attitudes would have changed, but not so. Israel seems to be the scapegoat for all the world’s problems and anti-Israel sentiment quickly widens to include “the Jews”. Schools in Denmark have refused to admit Jewish children partly because “it might upset Muslims”. Various groups have renewed their call for a boycott of "Israeli goods and Jewish-owned shops" stating, in at least one instance, that the goods being sold were “stained with blood”. Throughout the world places of worship have been targeted by vandals and arsonists, and cemeteries have been desecrated. For example, in France during the month of January, shots were fired at a synagogue in Marseille and attackers rammed a burning car into the synagogue gates in Toulouse before throwing Molotov cocktails at the building. Others attack on a different level, adding fuel to the fire by denying the Holocaust or spreading Jewish conspiracy theories.

But is this relevant to Jewish mission and does it affect the work of CWI? Sadly it is relevant and it does affect our work. When anti-Semitism surfaces in countries that are seen, by many Jewish people as “Christian”, it reinforces their belief that “Christianity and Jesus are not for us”. Furthermore, when the church is silent on such an issue, it reinforces the Jewish perception that "Christians" still blame the Jewish people – and only the Jewish people – for the death of Christ and, on a different level, for the recent war in Gaza.

The Hebrew prophets reflected the heart of a just God through their uncompromising condemnation of injustice within their own communities. Likewise, though CWI does not support every decision taken by the State of Israel, we have been called to stand with the Jewish people, for such identification is at the heart of mission. Within the past month we have received anonymous letters, taken abusive phone calls, and one of our workers was heckled and insulted in an evangelical church as he tried to preach. Although these incidents were very distressing for the individuals involved, they are minor compared with the abuse some of our workers face in other parts of the world. Yet they remind us, in a small way, of the constant hatred that Jewish people have to endure, the curse of anti-Semitism.

CWI is determined to challenge anti-Semitism and to reach out with the love of Messiah “to the Jew first” but also to people of all religions and backgrounds. Whatever your politics and whatever your view on the Middle East situation, we hope you will join with us in the task of taking the gospel both to Jewish people and to Gentiles, to Israelis and Palestinians, so that those who have been damaged by sin may discover the Prince of Peace who alone can set them free.

* In April 1976 The Barbican Mission to the Jews joined with IJS to become Christian Witness to Israel

Howard Fleming

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