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Middle East

Should We Always Back Israel?

The killing of activists on a ship to Gaza reignites debate over support for Israel and its policies.

Political Advocacy Tracker is a roundup of what Christian activist organizations have been talking about over the last week.

Flotilla Fiasco

Political activists reacted swiftly to a raid on a flotilla bringing humanitarian aid from Turkey to the Gaza Strip. Nine passengers were killed and dozens more were wounded by Israeli commandos. While all lamented the loss of life, activists debated what happened on the ship and what the response should be.

There are competing stories as to what occurred. One views Israel as doing its duty and shooting only after provocation. "[Israel] wanted only to inspect the ferry's cargo," said Ken Blackwell of the Family Research Council (FRC). "The melee on the ferry deck showed 'peace' activists attacking the Israeli commandos with sharpened iron bars. When the Israelis fired back, 10 [sic] of those on board the ferry were killed."

Nathan Schneider disagreed. He wrote on Sojourners' God's Politics blog that the ship was on a nonviolent, humanitarian mission and that those who died were peace activists. Schneider acknowledged that there is a debate about what actually occurred on the ship, but he does not doubt the intent of those on board.

"It appears as if some people aboard took matters into their own hands and attacked the Israeli soldiers. But many of those leading the mission were seasoned activists committed to and trained in nonviolence," said Schneider. "If fighting broke out when armed Israeli forces arrived that is to be regretted, but that should not be mistaken for the Gaza Freedom Movement's intentions."

Pat Robertson said on The 700 Club that Israel should have had better intelligence on the ship's contents. Instead, Israel "stepped into a trap."

"This is a public relations problem. It just hurt Israel. It's going to hurt them, it's going to hurt them worldwide. Because their enemies are looking for provocation and this gave it to them on a silver platter," said Robertson.

Jim Rice, editor of Sojourners, agreed that Israel "shot itself in the foot," but he hoped that this would change the course of the peace process.

"Until the blockade of Gaza ends—and, more significantly, until the illegal occupation by Israel of Palestinian territory is reversed—we can only expect more of these tragic, but preventable, events in the days to come. The result is not only an increased threat to peace in the region, but to Israel's security as well," said Rice.

Blackwell looked for changes in U.S. foreign policy, not changes in Israel. He blamed the Obama administration for the lack of peace in the region, saying that because of Obama's foreign policy, "the wolves of jihad gather. They scent blood."

Tim Wildmon, president of the American Family Association, said that President Obama must "stand firmly and unapologetically with Israel." He said, "it appears [the passengers on the flotilla] deliberately provoked this incident for propaganda purposes" and the Israelis "fired only as a last resort and in self-defense."

Wildmon called on people to sign a petition supporting Israel. He said, "Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East and our only reliable ally in the region. And Christian America owes a spiritual debt to Israel for preserving the time-honored moral standards which are the foundation of our nation."

Jay Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice also has a petition opposing "any international demands for condemnation of Israel's recent act of self-defense when inspecting ships bound for Gaza."

"It's happened again. In an attempt to defend itself, the nation of Israel is in the crosshairs—facing criticism and condemnation over efforts to protect its homeland and its people," said Sekulow. "Israel is our friend. Israel is our strongest ally."

Odds and Ends

• The National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), the Cato Institute, and the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty filed an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court to take up a case involving a Plano, Texas, school district that denied the right of students to hand out written religious messages. In 2004, the district prohibited a student from giving out pencils and candy canes with religious messages such as "Jesus is the Reason for the Season." After a 2004 lawsuit, the district changed its policy to allow students to hand out materials before and after school, at recess, and during school dances; students could not distribute materials in their classrooms. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled that these restrictions were constitutional. "If the Supreme Court fails to overturn the case, schools will be free to ban students from distributing any written materials even when not disruptive, including religious messages of any kind," said the NAE.

• Penny Nance, CEO of Concerned Women for America, said Sarah Palin was right to publicly criticize Joe McGinniss, an investigative journalist and author who is renting the house next door to Palin's home in Wasilla, Alaska. "It is unconscionable that Random House is essentially paying a peeping tom to stalk Sarah Palin and her family," said Nance. "Y'know, I'd lash out if it was my family under constant surveillance as well. I hope that the Palins construct an impenetrable fence around their home so they can have the privacy they need as a family and that the Random House author gets bored constantly looking at lumber all day."

• Liberty Counsel has its own "Don't Tread On Me!" petition opposing the "unconstitutional actions," "attacks on our liberties," and "overtly socialist agenda" of the Obama administration. The Liberty Counsel is offering "the official 'Don't Tread on Me!' campaign sticker" featuring a variation on the classic rattle snake symbol as a thank you gift.

• What is our biggest environmental threat? According to Rusty Pritchard of Evangelicals for Social Action, our biggest environmental threat is lack of conservation. "The conservation crisis that threatens the world is not a single malady. It is a syndrome of mutually reinforcing factors—deforestation, wetland destruction, overgrazing, lack of markets and property rights, poverty, and ignorance," said Pritchard. "We don't need to fight overpopulation; we do need to fight climate change. But at the same time we can't afford to ignore the conservation crisis that is altering the face of the planet and threatening the livelihoods of the world's poorest people."

• The FRC announced that the Duggar family will receive FRC's first-ever pro-family entertainment award at this September's Values Voter Summit. The Duggars are featured on the TLC reality show 19 Kids and Counting (formerly 18 Kids and Counting and 17 Kids and Counting).

Related Elsewhere:

Earlier Political Advocacy Trackers are available on our site.

Christianity Today also follows political developments on the politics blog.

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