On God’s side

US Ambassador David Friedman was criticized earlier this month for remarks he made about religion and Israel, and the relationship between the two.

May 28, 2019 22:46
3 minute read.
On God’s side

US Ambassador David Friedman [C] Rabbi Israel Meir Lau [L] and Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac Herzog [R]. . (photo credit: US EMBASSY)

US Ambassador David Friedman was criticized earlier this month for remarks he made about religion and Israel, and the relationship between the two.

Friedman was speaking at a celebration marking the first anniversary of moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem.
The group sponsoring the event was the Friends of Zion (FOZ) Museum, founded by Mike Evans, an American Christian Evangelical. In his remarks, Friedman described the embassy building as being akin to a pilgrimage site.

“We have done something that hasn’t been [seen] for a really long time,” Friedman told the crowd, which included Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “We have created a new shrine in the ancient city of Jerusalem, and we’re extremely proud of it.

“What I get perhaps the greatest satisfaction from is not watching people coming in to change their passports or get their visas or engage in diplomatic or commercial issues, but what I really get a kick out of are the tourists who come to visit the embassy,” Friedman said.

He described tour buses routinely pulling up in front of the new embassy compound in Jerusalem’s Arnona neighborhood, and how people got off the bus and just stare at the plaque and seal.

“I kid you not. People got on their knees and they prayed to God that they have seen this day, that this day had arose. They took pictures. There were people in tears. There were people in deep moments of prayer. The reactions were frankly stunning and moving. And I can’t get enough of that. It’s extraordinary.”

Friedman was criticized for calling the embassy a shrine, but that’s what he was describing, which his audience of Evangelical Christians could appreciate.

What really got everyone exercised, though, were his remarks about religion. In speaking of the growing strength of Israel, Friedman said: “Is Israel getting stronger? Look, Israel is growing stronger for two reasons. Number one, the objective metric by which Israeli measures itself, the most important one, is how strong is its relationship with the United States and on how many levels. And that keeps growing and growing and getting stronger and stronger and stronger.
“And the second is, Israel has one secret weapon that not a lot of countries have. Israel is on the side of God, and we don’t underestimate that.”

Friedman didn’t say God was on the side of Israel, but that Israel was on the side of God – the same belief and faith as his audience, and the same belief and faith of the Jewish people.

Such a remark to such a crowd was not out of line. But apparently The New York Times thought so, posting on its Facebook page that Friedman’s comments were “the latest sign of an anything but evenhanded approach to the conflict by the Trump administration.”

But Friedman wasn’t talking about the conflict. David Friedman – a religiously observant Jew in the Modern Orthodox mold – was speaking to an Evangelical Christian crowd about belief and conviction, explaining his faith and the deep historical and biblical ties between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel.

Friedman later defended his remarks, explaining, “Billions of people around the world accept the Old Testament as part of their faith. Most of the prophecies are about the return of the Nation of Israel to their land. And it is happening in our lifetime.

“The fact that God has fulfilled his prophecies and delivered the people of Israel to their land is demonstrably true.”
We agree. The Zionist enterprise begins first and foremost in the belief that the Land of Israel is the birthplace of the Jewish people, and the return of the Nation of Israel to that land, the redemption of Israel. And it is happening in our lifetime.

This does not mean that changes to Israel’s borders cannot be made. This paper has for years supported a two-state solution that would see the establishment of an independent Palestinian state throughout most of Judea and Samaria.

But this does not mean that Friedman is wrong either. While it may not be politically correct, there is nothing wrong talking about belief in God. There is actually value in recognizing the traditional connection Jews have to this land. What happens with it is a question that the people, and not God, will have to answer.

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