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January 18, 2011

A One-Sided Attack on Zionism

The many problems with the documentary 'With God on Our Side.'


Editor’s note: Several months ago, we reviewed a pair of documentaries about Christian Zionism. Our reviewer found one of the films, With God on Our Side, to be a balanced look at the situation. Guest blogger Gerald McDermott, the Jordan-Trexler Professor of Religion at Virginia’s Roanoke College, offers a different viewpoint.

The documentary With God on Our Side is anything but balanced. It does not give “both sides their due” but instead interviews only Israelis on the far left and ignores Christian Zionists who defend the rights of Palestinians. The result is a one-sided attack on Israel that treats social and political realities with the same ideological insouciance which the documentary assigns to John Hagee and his band.

One interviewee in the film claims—without rebuttal—that Jews did not live in the land for two thousand years. The truth is that Jewish communities have lived in the land through all this time, flourishing in Jerusalem, Galilee and coastal cities in the 9th and 11th centuries, and then rebounding after being massacred by Crusaders in the 12th century. By the early 19th century, long before the rise of Zionism, more than ten thousand Jews lived in what is now Israel.

Viewers are told of Jews expelling Arabs from villages in the 1948 war for independence, but not that the war was started by Arabs, or that Arab armies from neighboring countries targeted Jewish civilians, or that the war was unnecessary because the UN had offered a two-state partition that the Jews accepted and Palestinians rejected.

The documentary states that Israel started the 1967 war “pre-emptively” but fails to provide the context: after months of threatening war against Israel, Egypt’s President Nasser announced (just days before Israel struck) that “the armies of Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon . . . are arranged for battle, the critical hour has arrived.”

The film then proceeds to charge Israel with “illegal occupation” of the West Bank after the 1967 War on the grounds that Israel failed to comply with UN Resolution 242.
According to this resolution, Israeli withdrawal was to take place in the context of mutual recognition of the right to exist and territorial adjustments to achieve secure boundaries. Withdrawal was ordered from "territories," not "the territories." Both Arthur Goldberg and Lord Carrington, the primary authors of this resolution, have said that the word "the" was purposely omitted because it was not intended for Israel to give back all of her territories, since they recognized that some were needed for secure boundaries.

Despite the fact that most Arab states have refused to recognize Israel's right to exist (a condition of Resolution 242), Israel has implemented the principles of the Resolution three times. When Egypt terminated its claims of belligerency in 1979, Israel returned the Sinai. When Jordan signed a peace agreement, Israel returned land claimed by Jordan. Then in September 2005 Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza, only to be met with new attacks on her civilians launched from that territory.

Illegal occupation? Hardly. Israel has made repeated efforts to comply with UN stipulations for the territories, while its Arab neighbors have not.

When the Palestinians appeared to accept Israel's right to exist during the Oslo negotiations, Israel turned over control of major West Bank cities to the Palestinian Authority (PA). But when the PA showed support for terrorist attacks on Israeli citizens in 2000, Israel resumed control of those cities. In that same year Israel offered to return 92 percent of the West Bank, which this documentary dismisses as ungenerous because, it charges, Israel never owned the land in the first place.

Yet Jews have lived in ancient Samaria (the West Bank) for over three thousand years. Jordan unilaterally renounced all claims to this area in 1988 and released legal ownership to Israel at that time. This video suggests Jews should remove all settlements from the West Bank, leaving it entirely for Palestinians. That would be as unreasonable as insisting that no Arabs can live in Judaea.

Besides, what other country has been required to give up land that it won in a defensive war? Do Germans displaced from Koenigsberg clamor and agitate for that German city to be returned to them by the victorious Russians?

The film concentrates attention on suffering caused Palestinians by the new wall. The wall is indeed tragic in many ways. But there is only a passing reference to the attacks on citizens which prompted its building, and the fact that this wall has prevented many such attacks.
Perhaps most disturbing, this video leaves unchallenged one man’s denunciation of Israel as “apartheid on steroids.” This accusation is not only inflammatory but egregiously unfair. South African apartheid was based on race. "Blacks" and "coloureds" could not vote and had no representation in the South African parliament. But Israeli citizens of all races—Arabs and Jews alike—can vote, be represented in the Knesset, and have recourse to the courts.
Apartheid was also a legal system that restricted participation to a minority that had control over a majority. In Israel the majority give equal legal rights and protection to Arab citizens, who make up 20% of the population of Israel.

Irshad Manji, a Muslim, has written, “At only 20 percent of the population, would Arabs even be eligible for election if they squirmed under the thumb of apartheid? Would an apartheid state extend voting rights to women and the poor in local elections, which Israel did for the first time in the history of Palestinian Arabs?”

There are also theological problems with this film. First, we are shown only Christian Zionists who use biblical prooftexts to support Israel’s rights to the land. There is no sign of the vast numbers of Israelis and evangelicals who believe that modern Israel is a miraculous work of God fulfilling biblical prophecy while at the same time supporting Palestinians’ rights to self-determination in the land. In other words, viewers never hear of another kind of Jewish and Christian theological Zionism that takes seriously both prophecies of Israel’s return and the biblical mandate of social justice for Jews and Arabs alike.

The second and more serious theological problem is that the end of the documentary suggests that God’s covenant with the Jews (Gen. 12.1-3 et al) was eclipsed by the new covenant for Christians. This is the familiar replacement theology that does not do justice to Rom 11.28-29, and that helped create an atmosphere that required Zionism in the first place. In other words, it was this sort of supersessionism (the belief that the Christian covenant replaced the Jewish covenant) that taught Christians for millennia that Judaism was no longer significant theologically, which then encouraged the belief that Jews were no longer important in a Christian world.


I am delighted to see genuine balance established and recorded in this article by Gerald R. McDermott. McDermott's familiarity with the land and cultural geographic meaning of "place" among the people of the region (indeed its meaning within every culture) runs much deeper than that portrayed in the video. Jacob Burkhardt once observed that the "essence of tyranny is the denial of complexity". McDermott's insights regarding the people and region have helped us unmask the woeful simplicity purveyed by the producers of this documentary and reminded us of the complexities involved those seeking truth will need to grapple with.

While this response was necessary, I do reject this article, although admittedly I disagree with Zionism from the outset, and thus the final two paragraphs of the article to be full of dodgy theology. However, as Christ is my saviour, it is through Him and Him alone that salvation can be found. So I will pray for peace in Jerusalem between all the residents in the surrounding areas, as well as humility and self-sacrifice for God's glory. I'm sure we can agree on that.

This review was very helpful for restoring a balance from the fringe of either side. The situation IS complex, but it can't be attempted to be understood without understanding 1948, or 1929, or the state of the land in 1850. McDermott has done a good job on restoring context to some of the more recent events.

Great to see a reasoned response by McDermott. I wanted affirm Briane's post. But, buysabillion: remember from Psych 101 that when a person says "I'm not" there is a good chance that person is. I hope people are not duped by the movie and rather read material that shows a more complex story, like:
• Burrell, D. and Y. Landau, eds. Voices From Jerusalem: Jews and Christians Reflect on the Holy Land. Mahweh: Paulist, 1992.

• Faust, Avraham. "On the Uses of 'Land of Israel', 'Palestine' and other terms in the study of 'Western Asia': A Comment on C. Dauphin’s Review." Bulletin of the Anglo-Israel Archaeological Society 23 (2005): 177-83.

• Lowe, Malcom, ed., People, Land and State of Israel, Immanuel vol. 22/23, (Jerusalem: Ecumenical Theological Research Fraternity in Israel, 1990).

• Karsh, Efraim. Palestine Betrayed. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010.

Its not about replacement or not. Its about the covenant with MOSES and not the promised covenant with Abraham. That is, Godpromised Abraham and Issac that he will establish a covenant with thheir off springs. That covenant was done with Moses and is talked about in Dueteronomy 38. It was a CONDITIONAL covenant which the Bible tells us that the Israelites repeatedly violated and were repeatedly punished.

What Jews expect is unconditional support based on their geneology. Thats fantasy. So I guess one way for them to solve this is by creating another Judaism that gives the Jewish that unconditional support. And that Judaism is the Rabbinic Talmudic Judaism. That Judaism was condemned by Jesus and its that Judaism that most Jews follow. That Judaism, the Talmudic Judaism, is the state religion of Israel. Deeply ethno-centric it believes if its good of the Jews its good. This is not the Judaism of the Old Testament but a Judaism manufactured by men.

Thank you, Prof. McDermott, for bringing clarity and balance to a complex issue.

As a Jew I have to respond to Bigmo's remark, "What Jews expect is unconditional support based on their geneology [sic]." What evidence do you have for a statement like that? It sounds like the sort of ant-Judaism that has plagued the church for centuries. Moreover, as a follower of Jesus, I also object to the idea that Jesus condemned "Rabbinic Talmudic Judaism," which didn't even exist in his day. Jesus embraced much of Jewish tradition (like the wine at Passover with which he instituted the Lord's Supper). What he condemned was the religiosity and hypocrisy of the religious gatekeepers--and you don't have to be Jewish to be guilty of that sort of thing.

While stating, "Interesting that McDermott accuses the film of replacement theology when it actually goes out of its way to criticize replacement theology..., " Sandy Newhart fails to note the phenomenon of cryptosupercessionism which is rampant among many who both deny and decry superscessionism, including Dispensationalists. Cryptosupercessionism is present whenever Christians assume the expiration or setting aside of those identity markers that formerly applied to the Jewish people, effectively nullifying Israel’s unique chosen status in whole or in part. To say that the Law is no longer in effect, and/or the the Promise of the Land is no longer in effect, and/or the unique chosenness of the Jewish people is no longer in effect is be cryptosupercessionist. It needs to be recognized and corrected.

This is right on. YES! Thank you. The documentary was unfairly one-sided and extremely selective - an attempt at demonizing Israel.

As much as I admire Dr. McDermott as a historian, in this case he has stepped into a role to which historians are largely unaccustomed - that of political advocate for a nationalist ideology given credence by bad Christian theology (Christian Zionism). He has, in fact, written exactly the kind of piece that we often find Israeli authorities writing to make sure that American and Christian sympathies remain with a brutal occupation whose legality and morality has rightfully been challenged by nearly every nation on earth apart from the US.

The point is, what Dr. McDermott presents here as historical "fact" is overlaid with an interpretive narrative that even Israeli historians (ala Benny Morris) can no longer justify. It is not an attempt to "balance" the record. It is yet another attempt to cover up an injustice to which Christians have too long closed their eyes and hearts.

The documentary never purports to be balanced. In fact, it is the first major film piece that portrays a side of the debate within the broad evangelical community that is too little seen and heard. So kudos to the makers of this critically important documentary for bringing, in some small measure, balance to a discussion that is normally one-sided toward the Christian Zionist perspective.

Why is that when a pro-Israel and often anti-Palestinian argument is made publicly, either by authors, dramatists, politicians, a counter Palestinian perspective is rarely included. It's assumed that the pro-Israel argument is the only legitimate one. Present a Palestinian-only argument publicly, and cries for balance! balance! are demanded immediately. What's sad is that forces opposed to the Palestinian narrative will often succeed in canceling the presentation all together. The short play about Rachel Corrie on off-off-Broadway last year is a perfect example.

When do you ever expect a balanced argument.....the goyim do not count......the press owned by rupert Murdoch,
sarnoff, palewski, Goldston......and Hollywood by again Murdoch, Mayer, Coen, Spielberg...etc. etc...Not to mention the Lord of Banking the Rotschilds......the Palestinian viewpoint has zero chance of being presented in a fair and balanced way

Interesting how none of the pro-Palestinian comments actually rebut the facts that McDermott brings to the table. I'm one to base a belief on facts. McDermott has a well-supported stance which is not driven by emotional zeal.

By the way, Jessica--McDermott is not a historian--he's a professor of Religion, as the article states.


Actually McDermott is a church historian. As for rebutting his points, this is easily done, but requires more space than a short letter would give. Most easily done is to challenge his assertion that the occupation is not "illegal." It is, in point of fact, illegal by international standards of justice. But given that McDermott is speaking as a Christian, we don't need those standards to dispute his claims. The biblical standards of justice make the same case. Israelis who have documented the occupation have made a strong case for the fact that at least 40% of the land that the militant settlers have declraed their own is, in fact, stolen land. "Thou shalt not steal" does very nicely in terms of refuting McDermott's claims. His attempt to justify this is, in fact, appalling from a Christian perspective. Stealing is wrong.

People who assert that "the occupation is illegal" are victims of conceptual confusion. The occupation of the West Bank by Israel is not illegal as such. The issue is what acts by Israel in the area would or would not be legal under international law. What an occupying state can do on the territory of another state is fairly well defined in intrernational law, so that would apply to the Golan Heights. The West Bank, however, has not been the sovereign territory of any state since Ottoman Turkey. Moreover, it was part of the area assigned for a Jewish national home by the league of Nations; so what constitutes international law is this case is disputable. UN General Assembly resolutions have no force in international law, so it is irrelevant to quote them in this context. UNSC Resolution 242 did not specify any timetable for withdrawal of Israeli forces from the areas occupied in 1967; but it did couple an eventual withdrawal with the establishment of secure boundaries for Israel. By signing the Oslo agreements, the PLO agreed to various aspects of the occupation pending a negotiated peace treaty. That includes: 1) Israeli security control total over Area C and partial over Area B of the West BAnk; 2) no PLO activity in any part of Jerusalem. These are just some of the complexities of the issue.