The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

It’s Tuesday, May 18, 2021.

I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Conflict in the Middle East: How Should Christians Think About the Violence Between Israel and Hamas?

The world has been focused upon the military action between Hamas and Israel, particularly with reference to Gaza, formerly known as the Gaza Strip. What we are talking about here is indeed a very costly military exchange. What we’re talking about here comes down to real rockets, real missiles, real stones, and real bullets, and when they hit real human beings, you’re looking at real violence. As Christians understand the integrity and the dignity of every single human life, we understand that when human life is at stake, huge moral issues are at stake.

We also come to understand that as Christians have sought to understand when the use of violence is rightful in a fallen world, when it becomes necessary, inevitable, when it is the least worst thing that you can do, you have to put the issue of violence in that moral and theological context, and understand that even as it might be inevitable in a fallen world, it has to be controlled. It has to be rational. It has to be undertaken with the goal of putting an end to violence, not to extending the reign of violence.

As you’re looking at the exchange between Israel and Hamas, you’re looking at an exchange between implacable enemies. One of them is a state, a full member state of the United Nations, a Jewish state actually established by the United Nations in the aftermath of World War II. When you’re looking at Hamas, you’re looking at an organization that most nations in Europe and in North America recognize as a terrorist organization, at least when it comes to its military wing. In any event, Hamas is dead set against the existence of Israel going all the way back to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that dates before 1948, but ever since 1948 has been an existential threat to the Jewish state of Israel.

The larger context also means that we have seen recurring cycles of escalating conflict between Israel and Palestinian terrorist groups. You’re looking at irreconcilable claims. Israel claims the right to its existence and at least in so far as their public comments have made clear not to mention their actions, groups such as Hamas, and Hezbollah, a Shiite group, are absolutely determined to extinguish Israel. Now, when Americans look at this, they often try to put it into a context we can understand. But we have to work hard at understanding this context, because as a nation, we have never experienced anything like what Israel experiences every single day of every single week of every single month ever since its formation as a country.

It has been surrounded by enemies who have been pledged to extinguish Israel and to wipe it off the face of the earth. Unless you think that’s exaggerated language, some of that language comes directly from the official statements made by those terrorist organizations and neighboring states. Israel now has a precarious peace with at least some of its neighbors, most importantly, Jordan and Egypt, but you are looking at a precarious peace. But you’re also looking at something else. You’re looking at the fact that when it comes to an organization like Hamas, which is a terrorist organization that also has a social work and a political branch or arm, you’re looking at the reality that Egypt considers Hamas a terrorist threat to its own existence as well.

There is a blockade against Gaza from both Egypt and Israel. So even as they are not holding to a common national identity or a common set of national goals, they do have a common enemy. Furthermore, along both borders, Hamas as established a series of very sophisticated tunnels. They tunnel under buildings. They tunnel under borders. They use these tunnels in order to bring in goods that are blocked by the blockade coming from both Egypt and Israel. This includes of course arms, anything that can be turned into a weapon. Yet, terrorists need weapons, and one of the inflexible rules of a fallen world is that somehow terrorists do get weapons.

Some of those weapons are actually extremely common in the Middle East, and that is represented by rocks. But an exchange that sometimes begins with the throwing of rocks sometimes ends up with an exchange of rockets or missiles. Here’s where we need to know that Hamas and its allies, or at least forces within Gaza have launched over 3,000 rocket attacks upon Israel. They target Israeli cities and suburbs, most particularly and most deadly have been the rocket attacks upon Tel Aviv, which is in many ways the current technological and cultural hub or capital of Israel and its spreading suburbs are within the reach of the rockets fired by Hamas. Remember 3,000 rockets as of the estimate on Sunday night.

Israel is of course a technological powerhouse. It has to be when it comes to the kind of military technology that is used defensively. Over the course of the last several years, the world has watched in wonder as Israel’s system known as Iron Dome has targeted so many of these incoming rockets. But we’re also looking at two new developments. For one thing, when you consider the Iron Dome defense, it is fairly good against most rockets, but when you’re looking at the advent of more sophisticated missiles, more deadly, more able to adjust their course, well, Iron Dome is going to have a harder time reaching them all and detonating them before they hit Israeli territory or Israeli homes.

The second development is the sheer number. The reality is that Hamas was able to launch missile attacks against Israel that have been such large barrages that Iron Dome has been unable to keep up. As some observers have noted, even if Iron Dome has a 90% success rate, and that’s just spectacular as a matter of fact considering the technology that’s at stake, that means that 10% are getting through and that can be very deadly. There have been both military and civilian casualties amongst the Israeli population. But Israel has been firing back, firing back with mortar fire and rockets. At one point, there were reports that Israeli ground forces were moving into Gaza. It turned out that was not the case.

But the biggest headline news has to do with the fact that the Israeli Air Force and others have been targeting specific buildings. One of those buildings reported to be the tallest that had existed in Gaza was destroyed by an Israeli air attack. It included press offices for Al Jazeera and for the Associated Press. These rarely government gave those press agencies and other occupants in the building one hour notice in order to prevent the loss of life. You’re looking at a lot of howling coming from these press agencies because of the destruction of their offices there in Gaza. Israel explained that it targeted the building because it was being used by military and intelligence branches of Hamas and that would be a very legitimate military target.

Interestingly, you had at least some of the press agencies asking the question as to why Israel didn’t merely inform them that Hamas was active in the facility, or as might be the case, given the tunneling under the facility. That’s just a fascinating question as if it would be the responsibility of Israel to share its military intelligence with the press. As the Wall Street Journal noted in an editorial, it’s not as if there should not have been suspicions that that kind of facility was being used by Hamas.

But let’s talk about Hamas for a moment. In its current organizational form, Hamas goes back to 1987, but its roots go back much further into the organization known as the Muslim Brotherhood birthed in Egypt at the end of the 1920s. The Muslim Brotherhood was pressing even in Egypt and beyond against secular Arab governments. It represented a claim of the necessity of Islamicization. So when you’re looking at what’s often referred to as Islamicism terrorism or Islamic terrorism and ideology, a lot of it goes back to Egypt and other Arab dominated lands with a rejection of Western style secular governments. The Muslim Brotherhood is more often considered an enemy of Egypt than an enemy of other states.

The charter of Hamas, actually in article seven states this, “The day of judgment will not come until Muslims fight the Jews, killing the Jews. When the Jew will hide behind stones and trees, the stones and trees will say, ‘Oh, Muslims, oh Abdullah, there is a Jew behind me. Come and kill him.’ Only the Gharqad tree would not do that because it is one of the trees of the Jews.” The Muslim Brotherhood before and Hamas now is armed with many antisemitic tropes it uses against Israel, including at least in some of their arguments citations to the virulently antisemitic protocols of the Elders of Zion. The point is this, they see Israel and they see the Jewish people as deserving of being pressed all the way into the Mediterranean Sea, a comment that is often heard on the ground amongst Palestinian terrorists.

But even as this violence has now broken out and at least at this point still appears to be escalating, one of the interesting questions is where are the Arab governments around Israel and why aren’t they complaining more loudly? It becomes very evident that whether it is acknowledged or not, the tacit acknowledgement of Israel’s neighbors is that it does no one in the neighborhood any good to have a terrorist organization like Hamas fully armed and representing a threat. But that also points to a larger historic reality. As the world looks at the Palestinian people, it sees a beleaguered people, no doubt about it, an abused people, no doubt about it. Christians looking at the Palestinian challenge must understand that a large number of those Palestinians identify with some form of historic Christianity, although the majority are Muslims.

The truth is that the Palestinians operate in a stateless existence, and ever since the 19th century, that has been an extremely precarious position. But the greatest injury against the Palestinian people has not come from Israel, but it has come from Arab nations who want nothing of the kind of population and unrest that is represented by what you see in Gaza and also on the West Bank. At least one of the catalysts for what took place had nothing to do with Israel per se, but it had to do with the fact that the Palestinian authority under Mahmoud Abbas, its chairman or president, had called and election and once again predictably had canceled it.

There’s a lot behind this, but at least a part of it is the fact that, follow my words closely, Mahmoud Abbas is currently serving his first term as the chairman of the Palestinian authority, the head of the Palestinian government. He is in his first term, it’s a four year term. He was elected to that first term in 2005. So he is now actually serving in what must be counted as the 17th year of his original four year term. What you’re hearing is the fact that there is no real representative government of the Palestinian people.

The big challenge for Israel, the big moral challenge, and the Christian worldview points us to this challenge, is the question as to whether or not Israel is using proportionate or disproportionate force. The United States government and others have made very clear statements of what’s just de jure, that is according to law and according to morality the truth, and that is that Israel has a right to self-preservation and it’s self-defense. The question is, are the actions proportionate or are they out of scale? Are they disproportionate? Is the use of violence too much? Or is it just right or too little? You can understand that in Israel, there are political forces that are basically saying all three things. But actually, the claim that Israel is using disproportionate force has not gained much traction in Israel, even amongst those who are the declared political opponents of the incumbent Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

It’s very difficult to make an argument of disproportionate force when, even as of Sunday night, more than 3,000 rockets have been fired into Israeli territory, including Israeli communities. The use of the air attacks is particularly violent. It brings extensive damage. Israel says that it is doing so in order to eliminate the military leadership of Hamas and to subdue the threat and also to destroy that network of anti-blockade tunnels and other infrastructure. Since so much of it is underground, it comes down to bombardment, that is to use one word, rather significant.

Part II

A Changing Political Environment in the United States Over the Nation of Israel? Irreconcilable Ideological Claims Evident in American Political Dialogue

But now we need to shift to the United States where we have a changing political environment. In this case, the most interesting change is taking place within the Democratic Party. There is an insurgent anti-Israeli wing of the Democratic Party. It’s represented, for example, by members of the Squad, the progressivist wing, mostly populated by women in the House of Representatives. But as you look at it, you understand that the arguments are becoming quite interesting to watch. There’s another story here and that is the fact that even as USA Today said in its front page yesterday, President Joe Biden as a candidate severely criticized President Trump’s policies in the Middle East and in much of foreign policy, including engagement with nations such as Iran and China, but President Biden, not candidate Biden, but President Biden has basically extended and continued the Trump administration policies.

That raises the huge question, why? Well, first let’s look at the Squad. Let’s look at AOC, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and look at other members of the Squad because they are now using language that is very important. For example, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez now in her second term, let’s just remember, as a member of Congress, she said, “Apartheid states aren’t democracies.” She said that in a tweet, and according to the Jerusalem Post, it garnered 275,000 likes. Notice again her language, apartheid states aren’t democracies. What does she mean by apartheid? Just to remember that that was the intentional separation of the races in South Africa fueled by an ideology of white supremacy. It was one of the great evils of the 20th century. The use of the word apartheid is very, very significant.

But when used against Israel, you have to understand something. Israel is a religiously determined state. That’s also by the very intention of the United Nations when it established Israel by its own action in 1948. Israel is not merely a state. It is a Jewish state. So in Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez refers to Israel as an apartheid state, make no mistake, she is arguing that Israel as it currently exists and as it is currently defined, not only in terms of its own claims and constitution, but as it is currently defined by action of the United Nations is illegitimate. That’s clearly what she’s saying. That’s something that is really big in terms of an argument that would have any traction in American politics, not to mention in the Democratic Party.

That is a huge issue, and now President Biden faces a very clear challenge from the left wing of his party and that includes Vermont independent Senator Bernie Sanders, who took to the New York Times in order to make the case that Israel’s use of its own self-defense forces in this case should come to a stop. The reality is, by the way, that Israel and its allies are going to see this through to some extent. Israel is not going to get this deeply involved until it reaches at least some of its essential military aims and degrading the threat coming from Hamas. It looks as you watch the comments coming from other nations, including the White House, it looks as if there is that tacit acknowledgement. President Biden and the United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said over and over again Israel has a right of self-defense.

Of course, there is then a statement saying there needs to be a ceasefire, there needs to be a return to peace. But that last part becomes crucial because there is actually no peace to which anyone there can return. Even if there is a ceasefire, you can predict this quite safely, it will be temporary. It will be followed by the inevitable breakout of violence coming to the future because here’s one of the issues the Christian worldview also understands. When you are looking at absolutely irreconcilable claims and there are entrenched arguments and there is a personal identity or a national identity or a religious identity on those claims, it is a recipe for violence. Israel has the claim of its existence as a Jewish state. Israel surrounded by its enemies from the very beginning in 1948 basically does not apologize for the actions it takes including maintaining so many of the territories that it won in the 1960s in a series of war with its neighboring Arab nations.

In reality, given the intractable nature of these absolutely contradictory or incommensurate claims, the room for negotiation is smaller than you might like to think. That’s one of the reasons why most efforts at negotiation between Israel and the Palestinians have failed. Israel has been far more successful in negotiations with Arab states, but then again, states are different. States have to take responsibility. Governments have to take responsibility. That’s very different than when the fight is against terrorist organizations that have declared their intention to annihilate the state. We’ll be tracking this story with you, but you can count on this. If those rockets keep coming, Israel will keep fighting.

Part III

Big Good News for the Pro-Life Movement: Supreme Court Announces It Will Hear Important Abortion Case from Mississippi

Back in the United States, very big news on the abortion front. The Supreme Court announced yesterday that it would accept a case and it would hear it and decide it in its next term, an abortion case coming from the state of Mississippi. Officially, the court handed down a writ of certiorari. That means that it is going to allow a hearing. That particular action by the court requires at least four justices to concur that the court will hear a case. The vast majority of cases that are at least appealed to the Supreme Court are never heard because the court doesn’t have time to take all the cases. The justices tend to pick the cases that they think will be of the greatest constitutional importance.

This is a case known as Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization and ground zero for this case is Jackson, Mississippi, and an abortion clinic, an infamous abortion clinic there. The state of Mississippi has adopted legislation that makes illegal abortions after the 15th week of a woman’s term. That becomes very important because the Supreme Court, at least at this point, following the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, and then the Casey decision a generation later, has basically said that the state may intervene to make abortion illegal or restricted after the fetus reaches the point of viability, which is generally considered about 24 weeks. We’re talking here about a nine week difference and we’re talking about saving many unborn lives.

The state of Mississippi also has adopted a so-called Trigger Bill. That’s a bill that would make all abortion illegal if the Supreme Court were to reverse the Roe V Wade decision of 1973. This particular legislation is an effort to at least restrict abortion further. That approach in general was authorized by the Supreme Court in that Casey decision. But what you see in the mainstream media and it’s coming to us in a torrent and it’s coming from the pro-abortion side is that the court has just announced it’s going to take a case which could mean the reversal of Roe. They hold that up for fundraising reasons. They hold that up for political reasons and attention getting reasons, and it’s very successful.

Should conservatives, should pro-lifers see this case as the grand opportunity to reverse Roe? Well, not yet, but we do understand this is a big, big development and it is big, big, good news. I want to tell you why it’s big, good news. I want to put it into two particular arguments. Number one, the pro-life movement has learned that it simply isn’t the case that we can expect the Supreme Court in one decision to just eliminate Roe. That was probably from the beginning unlikely. But instead the Supreme Court and especially with a conservative majority, and particularly now that the court has as one of its members not Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the late justice, but rather Amy Coney Barrett appointed by President Trump, we’re looking at a very different situation.

Conservative pro-lifers should look at the development yesterday as very good news, for what I often refer to as the cumulative case theory of the pro-life movement. That is that you will have pro-life legislation and pro-life lawyers working to erode Roe v. Wade step-by-step law by law restriction by restriction court precedent by court precedent. Of course, this could be a very, very big court precedent. Could the Supreme Court reverse Roe? Yes, it could. Is that the most likely issue? Probably not, given the way that the court has announced it’s going to take the case. But here’s something else and here’s very good news. It is likely that those four justices who were behind the decision to grant a hearing to the case have reason to assume that the plaintiffs in this case arguing on behalf of the defense of human life have a very good opportunity to win.

But the second issue and I’ll close on this is even more important. Notice that the Mississippi law and thus this particular Supreme Court case focuses on the life of the unborn child, that morally and theologically and biblically speaking is the biggest issue here. We have to keep pointing to the unborn child. We have to keep pointing to that invisible unborn child, who we believe from the moment of fertilization is an image bearer of God and deserving of the full dignity and sanctity and protection of life. The more attention that must be drawn to the unborn child, that unborn baby, the more the pro-life argument gains traction, not only in the law, not only in the courts, not only in legislatures and not only in minds, but in hearts.

We need to hope and pray right now that the Supreme Court hands down the right decision in this case, sustaining the dignity and sanctity of unborn life. It is not likely to take that question as far as we want it to be taken, but we understand that this is progress and this is good news for the unborn. We need to pray not only for a change in the law, not only for a change in the court, not only for change in precedent, we need to pray for a change in American hearts so that those hearts have the basic moral instinct and intuition to defend all human life, including especially life in the womb. The Supreme court will hear the case and decide the case in the next term. But as we bring the briefing to an end today, recognize we are headed from the month of May into the month of June, and that means we’re going to be receiving decisions handed down by the court in some of the biggest cases of its current term. You can count on this. There will be plenty for us to think about and to talk about.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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