.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Is it problematic for Israel to accept support from Christian Zionists?

In the Boston Globe, James Carroll writes:

Christian Zionism is shorthand for the idea that the return of Jews to the Holy Land is a pre-requisite for the return of Jesus the Messiah, and the final redemption of the world. Believers who take this notion literally (and are understood, in that sense, to be fundamentalist) have been central players in the drama of Palestine for almost two centuries. A particular biblical verse seized the imagination of such Christians. (“O that the salvation Of Israel were come out of Zion! When God bringeth back the captivity of his people, Jacob shall rejoice and Israel shall be glad’’ — Psalm 56:6. St. Paul cited this verse in Romans 11:26, and Christians took it from there.)

No surprise, perhaps, that the enthused religious “awakenings’’ of 19th century evangelical Protestants therefore jelled around the literal restoration of Jews to their traditional homeland. We saw in a previous column how Catholicism regarded such return of Jews as anathema, but the so-called “restorationist’’ Protestant concern for Jews was not truly friendly. Rather, the restored Jews were only to be instruments of the final triumph of Christianity. Jews again in Israel would be faced with the choice of conversion or damnation.

Christian Restorationism drove a large European arrival in Palestine. The West Jerusalem area known as “the German Colony,’’ for example, was settled by millennial-minded German evangelicals who came to convert Jews. So, too, “the American Colony,’’ the vestige of which remains in the chic East Jerusalem hotel of that name. Indeed, Christian Zionism grew even more powerful in the United States than in Europe. Between a third and a half of all mid-19th century Americans were evangelical Christians, and this vision enlivened most of them. What began as an obsession of the devout became general, affecting even so religiously detached a figure as Abraham Lincoln. “Restoring the Jews to their national home in Palestine,’’ he wrote in 1863, “is a noble dream and one shared by many Americans.’’ Always, the imagined Jewish achievement was implicitly to be at the service not of Jewish vindication, but of an eschatological Christian triumph.

...The irony here is breathtaking. Pursuing an ultimate form of realpolitik, Israeli leaders happily collaborate with a reactionary American religious movement which, while having learned to downplay its Jew-denigrating End Time theology, nevertheless aims in its very essence at the elimination of Jewish faith. Israeli leaders, in their dependence on such Christians, exchange short-term benefit for long-term jeopardy. American Christian Zionism is a particularly lethal form of contemporary fundamentalism. Theologically uncritical and dangerously triumphalist, it is bad for Israel, Palestine, America, and peace.
Is it suicidal for Israel to accept support from Christian Zionists?

It is obvious from the full article that Carroll has no patience for fundamentalist Christians. He is an expert in historic anti-semitism from the Church. His antagonism for Jerry Falwell-types is very clear.

Yet the basic question is a question that many liberal Jews ask as well, and a great number of Jews are undoubtedly uneasy at the thought of collaborating with Bible-thumpers.

In the 19th century, Christian proto-Zionists in England and the US were overt in their reasons for wanting a Jewish presence restored to Zion. They explicitly said that this was a first step towards the conversion of the Jews. In unguarded moments, I would not be surprised if the current crop of Christian fundamentalists would admit to that same desire today.

However, when people or groups or nations cooperate, they only rarely do it for a single reason across the board. More often the relationship is symbiotic, where everyone brings something different to the table, including what they want to get out of it. To give a simple example, men often marry women for reasons far different than their wives had for getting married. Corporations merge for wildly different reasons. It doesn't mean that every such relationship is doomed, as long as each side fulfills the needs of the other.

As long as Christian Zionists have abandoned overtly trying to manipulate Jews into converting, and as long as their love for Israel is at least publicly unconditional, there is no real problem with welcoming their help. And if these ground rules change, it is not as if the relationship is only one way - the Jewish Zionists can freely choose to modify the terms as well.

Carroll's warning seems to be based more on his antipathy towards fundamentalists than on any real, concrete danger that Christian Zionists may represent. He just states categorically that they pose a "long term danger" to Israel. What, exactly, is this danger? Will they force Israel to do something that is against Israel's best interests? More to the point, why would any potential Christian Zionist influence on Israeli policy be inherently more dangerous than White House influence, or UN influence, or Jordanian influence?

Israel can decide on its own what the best course to take is. Carroll apparently is making the assumption that Christian Zionists are more likely to embolden Israel to reject a two-state solution or to hold on to larger areas of Judea and Samaria. He seems to take it on faith that this is inherently dangerous, yet  he couches that political opinion in religious terms meant to scare Jews - specifically, Jews who are more tenuous in their Jewish beliefs.

There is an irony here. Carroll styles himself as being an advocate of inter-religious cooperation. His website describes "his long work toward Jewish-Christian-Muslim reconciliation" (an interesting word choice that implies that once upon a time there was peace between the three.) Yet fundamentalist Christians are working hand in hand with religious Zionist Jews in Israel - a cooperation that is symbiotic even as their ultimate goals are admittedly completely different.

Apparently, to Carroll, only some kinds of inter-religious cooperation that is considered praiseworthy.