The wise King Solomon says in Ecclesiastes 1:9:
“That which has been is what will be,
That which is done is what will be done,
And there is nothing new under the sun”.
This statement remains a powerful warning of the continual vigilance we all must have to combat evil that arises in each generation.
And nowhere can this be truer than with the ever evolving phenomenon of antisemitism, one of civilizations oldest prejudices. A new poll released this weekend has shown a third of British Jews have considered moving abroad, in part due to fears about increasing antisemitism.
Although the Jewish community is somewhat divided on the result of this poll, I myself have witnessed antisemitism during my time at university. This has tended to happen within the context of discussions surrounding the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. It's an issue which often provokes strong feelings, but whatever the rights and wrongs of the politics of the region, there can be no excuse and no justification for the kind of hatred I've seen directed at my Jewish friends.
Israel and the Bible
I often find myself reflecting on my nation’s history and involvement in facilitating the formation of the Jewish state - a state which is seen by some Jews (past and present) as a safe haven where they are protected from European antisemitism.
This year is the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration (a document from 1917 which stated the British government supported for the establishment of a "national home" for the Jewish people). There were many Christians in British politics during this time who supported the Jewish people in their endeavour to live in the land of their forefathers in peace and security.
Most inspiring for me is the testimony of Lord Arthur Balfour himself who, as a Christian, stood courageously in front of the Zionist Federation in proclaiming "I am a Zionist", announcing his intent to join hands with all those in the Jewish community who longed to see the nation of Israel restored.
I too am a Christian Zionist. And with good reason. The Bible mentions the word 'Israel' approximately 2,500 times and almost every page of the Old Testament is speaking, in one way or another, about the nation of Israel.
Indeed, the land of Israel is of undeniable centrality to the context of the gospels and the teachings of the New Testament. Anyone who reads the Bible will soon discover that Israel is the ancient homeland of the Jewish people.
And yet the truth of the Jewish connection to the land of Israel is subject to attack almost every day on British campus’. This should concern Christians for a number of reasons, including the fact its creating a climate where antisemitism is emboldened.
Within months of joining my university I witnessed the intense hatred which many Jewish students are subjected to for simply defending their natural and historical rights as Jews.
I listened with horror as a staff member at the University even claimed that Israel had fabricated all the archaeological evidence of Jewish heritage! They claimed any evidence was merely state propagated lies.
At other universities students have been subjected to verbal and physical abuse by violent anti-Israel activists who were seeking to prevent an Israeli army spokesperson from sharing his story.
Even when Jewish students seek to simply educate people about Israel on British campus’ they often find themselves subjected to vicious attempts to have their voices silenced.
Although many of my fellow Christians remained silent about this, I couldn't. In the end, I joined with other non-Jewish students and with the help of StandWithUs UK, started the Exeter University Friends of Israel society.
Not just a Jewish issue
It's important to remember that intimidation against the rights of UK Jews to peacefully express themselves is not simply a Jewish issue. These acts serve to redraw the lines of prejudice, entrenching opposition, division and hatred towards one another when all students should work towards the universal goal of building bridges of peace between communities, not tearing them down.
By making a compassionate stand in solidarity with Jewish and Israel societies across the country Christians can help lead the change on University campus’ to demystify the discussion about Israel on campus and stand upon historical truths that our faith could not exist without.
And change is possible. I’ve met Egyptian students who recall with pride their nations’ peace treaty with Israel since 1979 and are inspired by its example to other nations of what can be achieved through dialogue and reconciliation. And I’ve met Palestinians who have wanted to learn Hebrew to be better equipped to build cultural bridges between Israelis and Palestinians.
Change is possible when students are willing to work together, challenge each other and shed their own prejudices in the hope of a more constructive dialogue on the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
I long to see how great the impact might be if more Christian students would take heed of the biblical and historic call to stand with the Jewish people as a mark of commitment to their faith of Judaic origin.
I’m committed to making a change. My faith demands it. And so does our shared duty to justice.
Jonathan Farrell studied Political Thought at University of Exeter and is now Communities Director at StandWithUs UK