Why do Mormons support Israel?

11

January 17, 2009 by The Mormon Worker

In 2003 I studied at Birzeit University in the occupied West Bank of Palestine. It was shocking to experience life under Israeli Occupation and to see the difficulties under which Palestinians must live. I was quickly disturbed when thinking back to conversations I had had with so many people back in Utah who were supportive of Israel’s occupation of Palestine and of the wars the Israelis  have so often fought to maintain the occupation and continue to steal Palestinian land. However, it is somewhat natural for many Latter-Day Saints (LDS), who have a limited understanding of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, to support the state of Israel. A superficial reading of the prophecies in the Bible, as mentioned in Ron Madsen’s recent post (Mormon Cheerleaders for Israeli Tanks), as well as learning about the horrors of the holocaust in school growing up, creates a natural affinity for Jews amongst LDS. Of course we should have sympathy for the Jewish people, but this should not translate into support for Israeli government policies, which are two different things. Additionally, anyone who reads the western press or watches the news (which of course all American LDS do)only learns about the conflict from the Israeli/US governments’ perspective. In fact I was passively supportive of Israel myself growing up. However, when LDS learn more details about the conflict, my experience is that they are quick to realize that in this case the Israelis are the oppressors, and the Palestinians are victims of Israeli aggression, just as I revised my views after seeing the occupation for myself. Prophecies of the gathering cannot justify confiscating Palestinian land and driving Palestinians from their homes by force so that the land can be used for Jews only, let alone bombing defenseless people and starving them to death through an economic blockade, as is currently happening in Gaza. This behavior is antithetical to the foundational teachings of Christianity, which requires that we love our neighbors and treat everyone kindly. I think the BYU Jerusalem Center is helping many Latter-day Saints understand the conflict better and to realize that supporting political Zionism is not consistent with the Gospel. When students go there they see something of the reality and my sense is that most of them revise the views they held previously. Hopefully this process will continue and more and more LDS can become advocates for ending the occupation. On a side note, Elder Bruce R. McKonkie noted in Mormon Doctrine that the State of Israel was not the fulfillment of biblical prophecies of the gathering, and former Church President Howard W Hunter was a supporter of the Palestinians.

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11 thoughts on “Why do Mormons support Israel?

  1. Grégoire says:

    Thank you so much for posting this. I have always wondered why Latter-Day Saints were so adamant about supporting Zionism.

    In 1990 or 1991 (can’t remember) some Israeli government bureaucrat spoke at the University of Utah or SLCC (can’t remember which). I noted at that time that I was the only person who wasn’t wild with joy at the end of his speech, giving him a standing ovation. It was as though The Beatles had been resurrected and had come to town for their reunion concert.

    I don’t want to comment on religion in depth as I’m the minority here, but I became convinced at that time that it wasn’t strictly a religious issue. I had friends in attendance with me who were atheist/agnostic types and non-Mormons, and they seemed equally enthusiastic. It might be more of a Utah cultural artifact, with all the linguistic ties (words like Zion, Israel, etc. seem to have a dual meaning, and even if one isn’t religious she instinctively identifies with these things).

    I also differ with most of you guys, I think, in that I see the initial foundation of Israel (even the ‘terrorist’ attacks such as the one on the King David Hotel) as a legitimate national liberation/anti-colonial movement. I think it’s important not to conflate the Israeli struggle for self-determination with the oppression of their neighbors once Israel became the colonizer. That’s what the apologists do, so in doing so I think we might just enter the other side of an illegitimate dialectical argument, giving weight to their assertions of legitimacy today — and there is no legitimacy in what’s being done today.

    Gee, I posted a complete article in the comments field. Sorry about that. I meant to just say *thanks*. So, thanks.

  2. Mark says:

    While I appreciate that your time in the West Bank gave you a good view of the Palestinian perspective on things, it is clear to those of us with a more distant perspective (the 10 thousand foot view that looks at all factors rather than the view on the palestinian ground) that the issue is far more complex than Israel “stealing” palestinian land. All land that Israel has “stolen” came from wars started by arab neighbors determined to destroy the state of israel. They lost. As a result, they lost land. Palestinians have equal responsibility to work for peace, and they repeatedly pass this up, opting for violence instead (see the 2000 camp david offer to arafat). Hamas is explicit in its determination to destroy israel and kill all the jews living there.

    To shy away from supporting israel because you see Palestinian suffering at the hands of the israeli government is extremely short sided. Palestinians must take responsibility for peace themselves, and their leaders have not done so. I think the israeli government is mostly justified in the sometimes excessive security measures it takes towards palestinians. While I feel sorry for palestinian civilians, recent events in the middle east have only strengthened my support for israel as a jewish state. The zion cause is just, palestinians, hamas, iran must work for peace as well, they cannot simply complain that israel acts harshly towards them while simultaneously calling for the destruction of israel. It is a holy land, and needs out support.

  3. Hi Mark
    Thanks for visiting the site. My views come partly from living in the West Bank and partly from studying the conflict in graduate school and doing a lot of reading on my own. I strongly disagree with the assertions you made in the above comment. Israeli expansionism (ie stealing Palestinian land) is at the root of the conflict. For a refutation of your arguments, consider the two articles at the links below. One is by John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago, the other is by Norman Finkelstein, formerly of Depaul. Thanks.

    http://www.amconmag.com/article/2009/jan/26/00006/

    http://www.counterpunch.org/finkelstein01282009.html

  4. theradicalmormon says:

    Mark,
    You are sadly misinformed. The Arab countries didn’t start the 1967 wars. Check your history books. Or better yet, see Finkelsteins explanations of the war a few posts down which shows a youtube speech of his in Canada recently.

  5. Grégoire says:

    Dear TRM & Mark,

    see Finkelsteins explanations of the war a few posts down which shows a youtube speech of his in Canada recently.

    That was the most memorable part of his presentation for me. Excellent speech.

    Palestinians have equal responsibility to work for peace, and they repeatedly pass this up, opting for violence instead (see the 2000 camp david offer to arafat).

    Hi Mark, I agree with you on this point. The Palestinian people are controlled by a small oligarchy at the top which has been consistently and horribly corrupted. Note that Arafat was constantly going to his palace in Europe for vacations, for example. Where did this guy get the money for vacations, much less real estate? Why did his wife get 1 million euro a month? The short answer is that he stole this wealth from the people. He was bought and sold by business interests.

    I don’t dislike Yassir Arafat, mind you. He seemed like he tried to do the right thing for a while, but there’s just no denying the figures.

    Like you, I see these peace deals (Oslo, et al) as a sham, which only lull the people to sleep while they’re being exploited. I think there’s plenty of blame to go around, and the first constructive step toward bringing a lasting, real peace in the region is for both Israelis and Palestinians to rise up and throw these bums out. If there were a democratic, socialist government in power in these societies, which was responsible to the working people as a whole, I have no doubt that more violence could be avoided.

    Instead you’ve got corrupt people at the top, and the wars which are periodically declared are merely wars between the Israeli and Palestinian ruling classes.

    Just my view. What do you think?

  6. Ayman says:

    I came across this page while I was googling something, and I felt I had to comment.
    There is no legitimacy for Israel to exist whatsoever, except for the fact that it does already. Unless we just agree to just blindly believe that God promised them that land and hence they deserve it. Otherwise, the terrorist attacks at the king david hotel was not a liberation attempt by any definition. Mind you, the United nations records show that the population of Jews in Palestine was 10% at most in early 1900s and it is the Belfour declaration that mixed up everything. The British promised the Jews a nation in Palestine but the British did not own the land to give it to any one.
    It stuns me to see people, seemingly religious, justify winning land through war. What values or morals is this based on ? Regardless of who started the war, agreeing to that formula is pretty much saying power is justice..

  7. dc bateman says:

    mormon communists….how quaint.

  8. LDSDPer says:

    thank you–

  9. Rafasa says:

    Another anti-Israel rant…I’m neither Jewish nor Mormon (in fact, I grew up in a pretty atheist household), but I’m just so tired of everyone blaming the Jews for everything that’s been going on. Honestly, grow up…

  10. KylaB says:

    Thank you for your post. I hope that more American Mormons can learn the truth about what’s happening there and start to have a balanced opinion on the issue.

  11. The Muslim says:

    Peace be upon you all.

    The Mormon Worker,

    Your post has surprised me to the point I needed to write something. I am surprised that we share something in common. Something so fundamental. I am not talking about Israel-Palestine conflict, but mainly about our sense to what is right and what is wrong. I know I shouldn’t be surprised, because of the clear fact that we all descend from Abraham. Don’t we? and the common lessons from his teaching that all Abrahimic religions share. Don’t we all believe in the same God, same prophets, same ancestor? Don’t we share the same history? Aren’t we brothers because of that? … Today when someone ask such questions, others would say that he’s mentally deranged.

    There is something we have common that no one dare to discuss with others. When, someone say: “Be careful of the others”… Don’t he, whatever his religion is, really mean: Be careful of the evil (NOT the person itself), he may be controlling this person? … When someone of another religion convert to your religion, why then, are we all required to accept him?

    I have never been religious before, but I’ve always had a strong feeling that some conflicts existed simply because some questions were not asked and clearly because some were simply lost and misguided.

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