October 5, 2002
BITING THE HAND OF FRIENDSHIP:
Rapture and Rupture
(MAUREEN DOWD, October 6, 2002, New Republic)
Evangelicals fervently support Israel for theological reasons of their own, based on a literal reading of the Book of Revelation that entwines the Jewish commonwealth with the Apocalypse and Second Coming. As Mr. Falwell instructs: "You and I know that there's not going to be any real peace in the Middle East until one day the Lord Jesus Christ sits on the throne of David in Jerusalem."
Desperate Democratic senators and despondent liberals mutter that Jews are being snookered. You think the first coming of Christ was bad for the Jews? Just wait.
When the Rapture comes, they grouse, the holy alliance between Christians and Jews will suddenly become unholy, with Christians levitating and Jews left behind to deal with the Antichrist, plagues, sores, boils, frogs, the endless syndication of "Everybody Loves Raymond" and locusts from the "bottomless pit," each with a human face, horse's body, scorpion's tail and a sting that torments for five months.
"This is a grim comedy of mutual condescension," says Leon Wieseltier, the Jewish scholar and literary editor of The New Republic. "The evangelical Christians condescend to the Jews by offering their support before they convert or kill them. And the conservative Jews condescend to Christians by accepting their support while believing that their eschatology is nonsense. This is a fine example of the political exploitation of religion."
On "60 Minutes," Mr. Falwell boasts to Bob Simon: "It is my belief that the Bible Belt in America is Israel's only safety belt right now."
Mr. Simon reports that Zion's Christian soldiers say they are a bigger source of support for Israel than American Jews, a notion Mr. Wieseltier calls
"insulting to the American Jewish community."
Yes, but is it false? An estimated 82% of Americans are Christian and 1% are Jewish
. Even if every Jew is a fervent Zionist--which no one would argue that they are
--it would only take a small proportion of Christians to be equally pro-Israel in order for the Christian soldiers' statement to be objectively true and Mr. Wieseltier's to be at least mildly bigotted in that it seems to disdain Christian support.
Posted by Orrin Judd at October 5, 2002 9:42 PM
Apparently it is altogether inconceivable to Ms Dowd and her ilk that American Christians support Israel for reasons of basic moral discernment between a cult of lunacy in Palestine and a free, if flawed, nation of fundamentally peaceful people in Israel.
Mo' Dope, the Hash Brownie of American journalism.
(I've never - ever... EVER! - seen her write anything that could sneak past a stoner in an 8:00 am Introduction to Logic.)
At this particular point in Israel's (and Jewish) history, in this critical period, the State of Israel and the Jewish people ought to be extraordinarily grateful for every last bit of support that they get from any and every quarter, given the level and intensity of animosity and hatred that is now being directed in their (i.e., our) direction (though I must add that the level of intelligent support for Israel that I do find expressed is truly heartening). And I'm convinced that the great majority (i.e., we) are extremely grateful (even if in the end we realize we can only rely on ourselves).
I think the issue that Wieseltier is talking about is more complicated (and perhaps more delicate), in that he worries that support for Israel on the part of those with fundamentalist Christian beliefs is necessarily bundled with the fundamentalist rejection of Jews, theologically--and therefore in essence (believing them--i.e., us--to be in error (damned?) for not accepting the divinity of Jesus). Wieseltier may be wrong about this, as Paul Cella indicates, and if so, a public apology should be made to all those whose support is whole-hearted and bears no 'ulterior motive' (though one could also fairly ask at this juncture, "So what if there is an ulterior motive? Who cares what the support is bundled with?; the actual support is what's of utmost importance now, and we'll cross that other bridge when we get to it"---I should also add that the entire charge or concept of 'ulterior motive' may not at all be understood by Christian supporters of Israel)....
Anyone who is puzzled by Wieseltier's reservations should take into account that Jewish historical consciousness, assuming there is such a thing, does "remember" episodes in Jewish history where supporters of the Jews (e.g., Martin Luther), turned to arch haters when the Jews did not respond to them in the way the original supporters believed they ought to have. The problem from the Jewish point of view is this: If fundamentalist Christian support for Israel is contingent on the belief that Jews should recognize the divinity of Jesus, then the fundamentalists will, I regret to say, be disappointed with the Jews' response (and then what will their response be in turn?); and if their support for Israel is predicated on the belief that (any approaching) Armageddon signals the second coming--and that this is the raison d'etre of Israel's political existence--then likewise the Jews will perforce disappoint them (by disputing this worldview). And the reason for this is not because we are a stiffnecked people; we, or most of us, just happen to believe something else....
For most ironically, it is precisely the Jewish rejection of the divinity of Jesus that is the basis of so much anti-Jewish feeling (and resulting persecution and suffering) in the past. This is the perplexity that Wieseltier is expressing (I believe).
On the other hand, if Mr. Cella is right, this "perplexity" may well be wrong-headed and archaic. I believe Wieseltier would welcome finding this out, if it were so.
This millienarianism is hardly unique to Christian fundamentalists though. You've got significant numbers of messianic Jews who actually oppose the state of Israel for eschatalogical reasons. One would think they'd be a greater worry to Wieseltier than the Christians.
One might think so (I assume you're referring to the ultra-orthodox population, or the more extreme elements of it). However, while it is true that the group in question's theo-political beliefs may well be worrisome for those with a democratic (liberal or conservative) bent, the "problem" is an internal Jewish one and is still, if growing, relatively negligable (though this could change in the next 20-30 years).
I can't of course speak for Wieseltier, but I would venture to guess that while he would strenuously disagree with the view of the Jewish fundamentalists, he may believe that they are a (relatively) fringe group of fanatics and are thus not the threat (and hence not worth the effort of confronting). On the other hand, he may believe that they do pose a severe threat and should be addressed. But as I said earlier, this is an internal matter beween Jews.
And so, if I interpret (I hope correctly) your question as, "What's the difference between the worldview of fundamentalist Jews rejecting the Jewish state and fundamentalist Christians rejecting Jewish theological beliefs (while strongly supporting Israel and Jews (perhaps))?" I believe the answer is: If Jewish theological belief is (broadly speaking) the basis of the Jewish people and thus (broadly speaking) a major (if not THE) reason for Israel's political existence, a rejection of Jewish theology as a belief system for Jews (obviously, those who are not Jewish can hold other theological beliefs) would appear to mean an undermining of the reason for the existence of the Jewish state, even though strong and active support is given to the state's existence by those same people who believe that Jews are wrong to reject the divinity of Jesus (my assumption, hopefully erroneous, being that they do believe this)....
I believe that this is the conundrum and the cause of Wieseltier's unease. And yet, if fundamentalist Christian support for Israel is, as was indicated by Mr. Cella, totally disinterested in Jewish theology (and the beliefs, or lack of them, of Jews), then the unease felt by Wieseltier is thus wrong-headed and, in fact, a non-sequitur. I would fervently hope that this is the case; but I am not sure--and indeed, it may not really matter....
To close, the unease Wieseltier expresses may reflect the mentality of the perennial minority (whose survival depends on a healthy dose of fear). In this generalized formulation, the Jew may feel, "They're supporting me. Why are they doing that; what do they really want?"; the Israeli may feel, "They're supporting me. I'm extremely grateful. Bless them."
Although I agree with a lot of what Barry Meislin says, I think we're reading too much theology into a MoDo column.
MoDo's concern is the possibility of a realignment of American Jews with Republicans, and, although its hard to tell from the column, that seems to be Wieseltier's concern as well. This is an issue they seem to come to primarily as liberal Democrats so its hard to rely on what they say.
For example, MoDo pretends that leading Democrats actually believe in the Rapture. Wieseltier pretends that American Christians want to either convert or kill Jews because, you know, Christianity is basically still mired in the Inquisition.
In reality the possible realignment comes down to a couple of points that neither MoDo nor Wieseltier want to deal with. First, for the last twenty-six years, the Republicans have been better on Israel than the Democrats - an act of political disinterestedness unequaled in my lifetime. Second, the Democrats are afraid of being torn between blacks, who reliably deliver approximately 20% of their popular vote, and Jews, who, I'm told but haven't checked out for myself, donate two-thirds of the money they receive. Third, American Christians and Jews have discovered that they can work profitably together on matters of joint concern, not only Israel but domestic issues as well, while respecting each other's religion. This respect is in part theological in that Christianity is coming to believe that the survival of the Jews must serve God's purpose and it is in part pragmatic. Neither side is so dumb they don't realize this but neither side feels used.
As far as Israel is concerned, I think most of this falls out. Support of Israel is the correct American conservative position, without regard to religion. It is interesting that MoDo and Wieseltier don't seem to think that support for Israel can be justified on secular political terms but has to be driven by religion.