Thursday, June 4, 2015

The New Israelites

Truman and Ben-Gurion

Harry Truman said a long time ago on the Palestinian Question that Israel had a better lobbying group, which is why he ultimately recognized the Jewish state despite his public misgivings.   Apparently, what Truman wanted was an Arab-Jewish federation, or binational state, which would have given Jews and Palestinians equal voice in government, but Israel rendered that question moot when it declared independence in 1948.  Since then, the United States has been its staunchest ally.  Even Truman found himself revising his opinions on the Jewish state in his memoirs.

It is understandable that Americans would be such ardent supporters despite the anti-Semitism that had long been on display in the country.  Roosevelt made no attempt to intercede on the behalf of German Jewish passengers aboard the S.S. St. Louis, which found itself docked off the coast of Cuba in 1939 hoping to secure passage on its way to the United States.  The ship was turned back, and the 900 Jews were forced to return to Europe, where they were given refugee status in Holland, Belgium, France and Great Britain, thanks to the efforts of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, or JDC.

The S.S. St. Louis

The Roosevelt administration knew full well the hardships Jews were facing in Germany, but chose to look the other way.  Congress had placed quotas on immigration in the 1930s.  After the St. Louis incident, efforts were made to grant exceptions for Jewish refugees, but failed to get Congressional approval.  It was only after war broke out throughout Europe that Roosevelt was able to create a War Refugee Board to partially deal with the fallout of the Holocaust, now universally known to be taking place.  However, for most European Jews it was too little too late.

So, why now do we see all this love for Israel?  There are a number of theories, ranging from the darkly conspiratorial Dominionism theories to that of political expediency.

Dominion Theology arose in the 1970s as a kind of Old Testament Christianity in which the only way to recreate a Christian nation on earth was to reclaim Jerusalem.  In order to achieve this lofty goal the Temple Mount had to be rebuilt in order to be destroyed once again.  Unfortunately, the al-Aqsa mosque, one of the holiest sites in Islam, was built on top of the ruins of the Temple Mount, and would have to be destroyed first.  This of course would lead to the "Holiest" of wars that would see the second coming of Jesus.

Bachmann-Perry Overdrive

As absurd as all this sounds, there are many who subscribe to Dominionism, notably Michelle Bachmann, and to a lesser degree Rick Perry. There was major concern voiced in their presidential candidacies in 2012.  Their love for Israel has less to do with Jews as it is using them as their agents to achieve their ultimate goal of a new Christian order.

I suppose that is why you see so many attempts by Evangelicals to reform Jews, making them into Christians.  Mormons had even gone so far as to give posthumous baptism to Jews, which it was forced to apologize for, as the issue also came up in the 2012 presidential election when Mitt Romney was asked for his thoughts on the subject.

Naturally, most Jews are suspect of this new love they feel from Evangelicals, but Ariel Sharon seemed to have no misgivings when he addressed a huge rally of Evangelical Christians in Jerasulem in 2000.  He had just come to power as head of the Likud and knew he needed all the support he could muster in the US.

This way my friends

Fortunately for Sharon, Bush won the 2000 election, otherwise his bold gesture would have been lost.  Not that Israel would have seen any loss of support from Al Gore.  However, Sharon could count on the unquestioning support of the new Bush administation to put less pressure to accommodate Palestinians, which had not been the case with the Clinton administration.  So began the uneasy relationship between Conservative Israeli ministers and Christian Conservatives that has become much stronger over the last two decades.

A Palestinian Intifada followed Sharon's victory, but this was conveniently blamed on Yasser Arafat.  Sharon had holed up his long-time nemesis in Ramallah for weeks on end until the hostilities subsided.  In one of the more dramatic moments of this seige, Sharon refused Arafat the right to visit Bethlehem for Christmas mass, a tradition Arafat had long partook in to show Arab Muslim-Christian unity.

This seemed utterly lost on Christian Evangelicals in America, who unquestioningly took the side of Sharon.  He became a hero to the Christian Right until the poor sot decided to pull Israeli troops out of Gaza to help jump start peace talks in 2005.  When Sharon suffered a stroke in 2006, Pat Robertson saw this as divine punishment, earning Rev. Pat the ignominy of the Bush White House.  It seems that some Dominionists were a little too anxious to see their Christian Nation reborn on the ashes of Jerusalem.

Like father, like son

One might think that Dominion Theology and political expediency represent opposite ends of the political spectrum, but the two are very much intertwined, and it is very difficult to separate the two on the campaign trail.  We have Ted Cruz, whose father is an ardent Dominionist, who believes that his son is "anointed" to bring about the End Times.  Bush and McCain had found themselves in similar positions in 2000 and 2008, as they both embraced the radical Christian right in their presidential campaigns.  They were able to create some distance, but Ted isn't about to disown his father.  Tough break.

Ironically, many of the Evangelical sects see themselves as descendants of the Lost Tribes of Israel.  Joseph Smith built a wonderful fantasy on one of these tribes coming to America and that his sect was the heir to this tribe.  Of course, early Catholic missionaries similarly thought that the Mayans were a lost tribe of Israel, given the crosses that adorned their temples, blithely unaware that the crosses represented the sun.

With the advent of Christ in the second century and the acceptance of Christianity by the Romans in the fourth century, there has been an ongoing attempt to subordinate and in the worst cases exterminate Jews who didn't accept the new religion.  In fact, Jews found more acceptance among early Muslim leaders than they did Christian leaders, finding themselves expelled from Spain the same year Columbus set sail to America, because they were seen as having been in league with the Moors.  In fact, Columbus had to change his port of call because of "The Spanish Expulsion."

Boehner and Bibi, BFF

Well, no mistaking allegiances today.  We have supported Israel unquestioningly in its ongoing war with the Arab states, notably the 1967 Arab-Israel War, after which Israel annexed Palestine so that it could reclaim Jerusalem and other sites considered holy to Judaism.  We've gotten a little upset with Israel from time to time, but have never threatened sanctions nor in anyway chastised the nation, even as we see Bibi Netanyahu openly flaunt his distaste for what he regards as an unsympathetic White House.

It is hard to reconcile this relationship because you have to take all the bad with the good, and there is a lot of bad.  I don't think the Dominionists will gain the upper hand in the Republican Party, but they will force the GOP to make some decisions it was better advised not to make, i.e. nominating Sarah Palin as Vice-President in 2008.  Meanwhile, the new conservative Israeli government has to ask itself if it really wants to be in league with these yahoos, as these Dominionists have no interest in Israel beyond setting in motion the End Times they so fervidly imagine.

This is a volatile mix that all too often leads to dirty wars that only further serve to undermine our credibility as agents of Peace.  If we want to avoid this, conservative leaders need to stop recognizing Dominionist pastors and treat this radical sect as the cancer it is.  Only then may we find some peace with ourselves.

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