Tell Israel That ISIS Is Not An Option: Syrian Christians’ Safety Comes First

By Jason Jones & John Zmirak Published on March 10, 2016

It is only natural for Christians to be supportive of Israel. That’s “natural” in the best sense: We owe the Jewish people an inexhaustible debt for the gift of monotheism, for the faith that they treasured for millennia while our ancestors worshiped trees and practiced human sacrifice. We feel a healthy affection for the blood kin of Jesus, Mary, St. Paul and every apostle. We gain the bread of eternal life as crumbs from a Jewish table.

Even so, our Christian ancestors mistreated Jews for centuries. In the twentieth, half the Jews of Europe were murdered in just four years during the Shoah, by nations whose populations overwhelmingly called themselves Christian — and whose churches did far too little to stop the slaughter.

Politically, Israel is a steadfast and natural ally of the West, and compared to all its neighbors a haven of religious freedom for Christians. The small sect of bigoted Jewish extremists who target Christian churches is firmly repressed by Israel’s government. In much of the Middle East, such groups control the governments, and Christians are either absent or live as pariahs, sad relics of a once-mighty church that was conquered by Muslim colonists. (Angela Merkel, call your office.)

David Goldman explains in Why Civilizations Die (and Islam Is Dying Too) another source of sympathy: The English rebels who fought for liberty against despotic kings, whose cousins planted that love of freedom on our American shores, were deeply inspired by Old Testament examples, and founded America as a kind of New Testament Israel, a land where the vision of man that formed the State would be grounded deeply in Scripture.

Given all this, it pains us to say that sometimes we Christians cannot back Israel’s moves in foreign policy. Not when Israel’s policy threatens the safety of persecuted Christians, a helpless, embattled minority for whom virtually no one cares about enough to advocate. As we’ve argued before, we Christians should look out for our persecuted brethren abroad with all the fierce concern that Jews feel for hunted Jews in other countries. To do any less amounts to cowardice or betrayal.

So it is more in sorrow than in anger that we read this recent statement from one of the top figures in Israel’s government:

Speaking at the Institute for National Security Studies’ (INSS) conference in Tel Aviv on Jan. 19, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon made a bold statement: If he had to choose between Iran and the Islamic State, he told the audience, he’d “choose ISIS.”

Ya’alon reasoned that Iran had greater capabilities than the Islamic State and remained the biggest threat for Israel. He argued that if Syria were to fall to one of the two powers, he would prefer it were the Islamic State rather than Iran or Iran-backed groups.

It is unclear whether Minister Ya’alon considers the legal government of Syria an “Iran-backed group.” (Iran is joining Russia in propping that government up.) But that is how many hawkish Americans treat the question. They act as if the secular Syrian government — the reliable protector of more than a million Christians who worship there freely — were nothing more than a puppet of Iran. So if we oppose (as we absolutely should) Iran’s attempts to gain nuclear weapons to threaten Israel, supposedly we must also support groups that wish to overthrow Syria’s government, no matter who they are or what they will do to minorities like the Alawites and the Christians. Such lazy thinking is worse than callous. It borders on criminal.

The sad fact is that there is no powerful rebel group in Syria that favors religious freedom for Christians. The most effective rebel group militarily, which is backed by Turkey and Saudi Arabia, is the al-Nusra Front, a formal ally of al Qaeda. Remember al Qaeda? New Yorkers certainly do. If Syria falls, it will most likely fall to al-Nusra, who will treat its one million Christians little better than ISIS would.

We have seen how ISIS treats non-Muslims who fall into its power: Thousands of men simply murdered, their wives and daughters sold into sexual slavery, churches and shrines and ancient landmarks demolished. As Christians with real political influence in the most powerful nation on earth, we cannot abandon Syria’s Christians to such a fate — the same fate suffered by the Christians of Iraq in the wake of our 2003 invasion.

If Israelis really do prefer that ISIS conquer Syria, rather than leave it in the Iranian sphere of influence, that’s their business. Israel is a secular state, whose first duty is to preserve the safety of its citizens. Given the deadly neighborhood where it lives, and the fanatical hatred it attracts from Muslims and leftists around the world, Israel has no margin of error. It faces the daily threat of savage terrorist attacks against women and children, led by the fanatical Muslim group Hamas that is pledged to drive all of Israel (and hence all its Jews) “into the sea.” Around the world, “social justice warriors” whip up a vicious boycott aimed at bankrupting Israeli businesses and censoring Israeli academics. It’s ugly, and it’s motivated by genuine anti-Semitism.

So Israeli leaders must perform a cold-eyed assessment of the threats to their nation’s safety, and to the safety of Jewish minorities in countries where they are endangered — which tragically now includes many countries in Europe that imported Muslim Jew-hatred in the form of millions of “refugees.” The Israelis cannot afford to be sentimental about the fate of a million Syrian Christians who probably don’t care a fig tree about Israelis.

But we Christians must be equally cold-eyed in assessing the moments when what Israel sees as its best interests diverges from our own interests: which must include the freedom and safety of our fellow Christians, people whose ancestors have courageously kept the faith through 1400 years of Muslim persecution. In that way, they have a lot in common with the Jews. They deserve an advocate too.

There seems to be no other choice but to leave Assad in power. Yes, he has fought ruthlessly and targeted civilians, fighting in defense of his endangered Alawite people using harsh means against Islamists that the Allies employed against both Germany and Japan. But if we give up our commitment to replacing his regime with intolerant Sunnis, we can gain some leverage over this dictator. We can help to rein in Iranian influence, can pressure Syria to rely more on Russia and less on Iran. We can press for peace talks that might help to freeze the conflict. But we cannot let our natural love for Israel, or our proper suspicion of Russia, make us complicit in the ethnic cleansing of a million more helpless Christians from yet another country. We must make the defense of Christians a key plank in our Middle Eastern policy, and act as a powerful lobbying group on behalf of these “least among our brothers.”

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