I have just read an intriguing and beautifully written post on National Review’s Corner blog by Mike Potemra, entitled “Why Do They Hate Israel?”. The question seems presumptuous, since the haters have never experienced a shortage of anti-Semitic justifications. But still.
Potemra, about whom I know nothing, raises a thought I have often had.
As he puts it, “Part of the problem, in the United States at least, has to do with elitist contempt for Evangelical Christians”. I am beginning to believe that much of the global elite’s anti-Americanism stems from just this contempt, which is actually embarrassment with the subject of Christianity. Evangelicals are the ones consistently bringing up God and morality in public discourse, making us all feel awkward since we have nothing much to say on the subject. So we treat vocal Christians as embarrassing redneck relatives, changing the subject when they’re listening, and mocking them when they’re not.
And Israel, since the rise of Likud, with sytrong voices of Russian refuseniks, has seemed to resemble Evangelical Christianity at least as much as it does liberal cosmopolitan European Jewry.
I must write more on this soon. In the meantime, here is the post.
Why Do They Hate Israel? [Mike Potemra]
Mark Steyn recently reminded us of some European polling from a few years ago, showing that the public consensus was growing on the Continent that Israel is the greatest threat to world peace. The recent global rage against Israel over the Gaza flotilla incident suggests that the trend has not abated. But the American people are resisting it — a recent poll shows them supporting Israel over the flotilla activists by a margin of 49 percent to 19 percent. But as someone who was a child in the late 1960s and early 1970s, at a time when public consciousness of the history of the Holocaust was on the rise, and the bravery of Israel in defense of its values against heavy odds in the Six Day War captured the imagination, I think the trend toward hatred of Israel is more than counterintuitive; it suggests insanity. In a context of fanatical regimes brandishing genocidal threats, posing a danger not just to Israel itself but to the whole world, it would make more sense for global solidarity with Israel to be on the rise. The rest of the world has even more at stake in Israel today than we did when the recapture of the Old City stirred so many romantic hearts.
I happened to be reading Elie Wiesel’s 1970 novel, A Beggar in Jerusalem, which is set in the period of the 1967 war and its aftermath. The main character recounts a conversation with his Hasidic master, for whom he had a question: “I can conceive of God’s wanting to punish us for reasons that are His and not necessarily ours; but why do entire nations, so many nations, aspire to become His whip, His sword?” The rabbi responds:
“The Jews are God’s memory and the heart of mankind. We do not always know this, but the others do, and that is why they treat us with suspicion and cruelty. Memory frightens them. Through us they are linked to the beginning and the end. By eliminating us they hope to gain immortality. But in truth, it is not given to us to die, not even if we wanted to. Why? Perhaps because the heart, by its nature, by its vocation too, cannot but question memory. We cannot die, because we are the question.”
Once when I defended Israel, an angry blogger accused me of believing in the eternal sinlessness of the State of Israel. It is a strange charge, because I can’t recall hearing a similar one made in any other context. I am, for example, a Francophile and a Polonophile, but when I defend certain aspects of France or Poland nobody accuses me of fanatical worship of these countries; people know that if I disagree with some policy of the French or Polish government I feel free to say so. The same is true in the case of Israel, of course: but support for Israel is viewed with a unique level of suspicion. Why? In the absence of rational-empirical explanations, it is not irrational to look to the realm of mystery, and of theology.
Part of the problem, in the United States at least, has to do with elitist contempt for Evangelical Christians: Those ignorant Bible-thumpers give Israel a free pass on everything because they think that Bible prophecies require unthinking support for today’s Israeli state. Now, I am myself an Evangelical Christian of a sort (I am nominally an Episcopalian, and harbor an undying affection for the Catholic Church I grew up in, but my ecclesiology is firmly in the free-church tradition of today’s U.S. Evangelicalism). Yet I do not view the current State of Israel as an object of apocalyptic concern. If its enemies manage to wipe it off the face of the earth, the Jewish people will endure; their role as God’s question to man — as Wiesel’s rabbi suggested — would persist, even after millions of them were slain (yet again). Or, to put it in an even more sobering way: The destruction of the State of Israel would not put an end to anti-Semitism.
No, the support for Israel that is offered by me and like-minded people is based not on headline-devouring apocalypticism but on something perduring and eternal: a sense that the fate of the Jews implicates humanity, that a world that refuses to find a place for the Jews is engaged in a rejection of even more fundamental truths. This State of Israel is, yes, a state like all other states; that should go without saying. But how strange that, of all the 200 or so states-just-like-other-states in the world today, this one alone is treated increasingly as a pariah that’s on a deserved path to being wiped out.
I am not ashamed to say that some of my own support for Israel is based in religious motives, even if these motives are not those presented in caricature form by the cultured despisers. And I resent the caricature less than I otherwise would, because I view it as rooted in a deeper obtuseness, the one these despisers show in regard even to their own self-interest and to their own intellectual consistency. The only country in the region with liberal values — that lets, e.g., its religious minorities vote; that has, e.g., gay-pride parades — is the one they view as an embarrassment. This, again, is a level of obtuseness that cannot be explained on a purely rational basis.
What will become of Israel — and the Mideast generally, and the U.S., for that matter — is a question far above my pay grade. The side of good may not prevail, in the short or even the medium term. But I am proud to be on the side I’m on.