Nice homeland you've got there, shame if something happened to it
Michelle Goldberg printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Wed Nov 30, 2005 at 11:42:26 AM EST
I want to follow up on what Esther wrote on Monday about the attacks on Jewish leaders who have decided to take on the religious right. I published a story on this yesterday in Salon, and in reporting it, one of the things I found fascinating was just who was pressuring Jewish leaders to be quiet about the Christian right. It's not just few orthodox Jews aligned with the movement who are urging acquiescence -- a more powerful force has been the AIPAC lobby. Apparently, there have been threats, both implied and overt, that Jewish efforts to take on evangelical right  could result in decreased right-wing support for Israel from both inside and outside the government. (Tom Minnery, vice president of government and public policy at Focus on the Family, sounded this theme when, citing the Christian right's ardent Zionism, he told the Jewish newspaper The Forward, 'If you keep bullying your friends, pretty soon you won't have any.'")
JJ Goldberg, The Forward's editor, told me that one reason some Jewish leaders now feel liberated to take on the religious right is because the administration is no longer in a position to threaten them. "The timing here is crucial," he said. "The Bush administration is imploding, so the fear of White House retaliation is much lower than it was. That was a very real fear. It wasn't just a theoretical fear about Israel. It was threats. Play nice or you won't be able to come in and talk to us about the things you need. The major Jewish organizations, either individually or working through AIPAC [the American Israel Public Affairs Committee], they go in every week because there's all kinds of stuff they need -- a missile, a box of bullets, intelligence sharing. It's good for them to be able to play that role and it's good for Israel and the United States to have an intermediary. In Tom DeLay's Washington, if you didn't play nice, you didn't get to walk in the door. So there has been this silence, coupled with the fact that they didn't think they could win."

Readers of this site know that evangelical support for Israel isn't motivated by solidarity with the Jews; it's largely inspired by premillenial dispensationalism, the belief that the return of the Jews to biblical Israel is a necessary precondition for the rapture, the apocalypse and the second coming. Jews don't fare well in this scenario -- in the "Left Behind" books, those who don't repent of the "specific national sin" of "[R]ejecting the messiahship of Jesus" are slaughtered (their anguish is conveyed in bloody detail) and consigned to hell. Jewish leaders who have decided to make alliances with the evangelical right know this, of course, but they figure that  since  they don't believe it's going to happen, it doesn't matter -- what's important is that the Christian right uses its considerable influence on Israel's behalf. (Leon Wieseltier  perfectly characterized this  arrangement  as "a grim comedy of mutual condescension.")

I would argue that militant Christian Zionism is dangerous for Israel's security and for it's very existence,  since it supports the most hard-line and expansionist elements in the country -- even Ariel Sharon is now to the movement's left. Ultimately, the two groups' interests collide, since those aggressively pursuing the conditions that would precipitate the rapture see a bloody war in the Middle East as something to be encouraged, not assiduously avoided.  

But given the Christian right's own investment in Israel, I was struck that, apparently, some members of their movement are willing to use their support for the country as a bargaining chip in their domestic agenda. It's often hard to discern the balance between fervor and cynicism operating in right-wing power politics, but here it's pretty obvious.

It is very good indeed to have access to a sort of meta-narrative on this subject, and I feel priviliged to have access to it even though I've shared in the creation of the venue. The concentration of narrative stream here is very, very important.

by Bruce Wilson on Wed Nov 30, 2005 at 12:36:34 PM EST

Baptists like me really need help understanding why so many in the Jewish community maintain such close relations with Christians who believe in pre-millenialist Armageddon theology.

by Mainstream Baptist on Wed Nov 30, 2005 at 05:00:59 PM EST
I think it's because they don't take them seriously enough except as political muscle. When I've reported on this subject in the past, one Jewish leader said to me something like, so, they think I'm going to hell, I know I'm not, so what do I care? Also, although I don't believe that the mainline Protestant churches calling for divestment from Israel are anti-Semitic, that's how it's seen among much of the Jewish community, and, feeling under siege, they look for allies wherever they can find them.

Throughout the period since the beginning of the second intifada, there hasn't been any conflict between the two groups on Israel policy -- both supported the Likud. That's starting to change, though, because the religious right strenuously objects to Sharon's disengagement plan -- they were furious over the Gaza pullout. Most American Jews have no investment in holding on to all the land of Biblical Israel, and are willing to give up some settlements, especially when Israeli conservatives like Sharon say it's necessary for Israel's ultimate survival.   The Christian right largely is not, since Israel's ultimate survival isn't part of their plan. Thus Sharon's new party is likely to get a lot of support from American Jews, while the Christian right will stick with the even-harder liners left in Likud.

by Michelle Goldberg on Wed Nov 30, 2005 at 06:05:43 PM EST

There is also a strange hard headed resistance on the part of many Jewish groups, especially those that are Orthodox, to learn about the nature of Christianity.  I bump into it frequently in Jewish groups new to Jewish Christian dialogue. The lack of willingness to understand the breadth of Christianity leads to dangerous ignorance in some quarters about seismic differences among Christian organizations and incredible naivete about the political acumen of the various groups within the religious right.

Those who think they are going to "play" the religious right, have, at best, a mere shard of understanding of the power of the dynamite they are playing with.

by tikkun on Wed Nov 30, 2005 at 09:32:14 PM EST

And on a parallel note, I find that a lot of people who maybe politically or otherwise very literate, are often astoundingly ill informed or uninformed about the range of religious groups, and not only Christian.

This has been a tremendous stumbling block in trying to ratchet up the level of conversation about and understanding of the religious right.

by Frederick Clarkson on Wed Nov 30, 2005 at 09:46:56 PM EST

Amen, enough said.

by tikkun on Wed Nov 30, 2005 at 10:21:51 PM EST

The Jewish community and dispensationalists have had an uneasy relationship at least since they actively lobbied the US government together to support the creation of Israel. Ultimately the dispenstionalist got their "fulfilled prophecy" and Zionists got there state,  government and private financial support and enormous popular support in the U.S.
All of that being said, it's very important to understand that both sides operate very active propaganda programs.

Grace Halsell's book, Forcing God's Hand is a good place to start because it's a quick read and she wrote from the perspective  (bible church/fundamentalist/evangelical/dominionist/reconstructionist...whew!!) that so many of us share.
Jim Demarest

by jim d on Wed Nov 30, 2005 at 07:38:37 PM EST

Thank you for the great piece you wrote on about some Jewish leaders speaking out so strongly against the Religious Right. I'd like to think that even though Jews make up such a small percentage of Americans, the development you covered is important. A dear friend of mine works for Women of Reform Judaism (WRJ), and I think she was also happy about the development, and I forwarded her your article.

by IseFire on Wed Nov 30, 2005 at 08:57:29 PM EST
Emailing important stories to people is something we all can do.

In that regard, there is are icons on the front page of Talk to Action, below each story, that will allow readers to email or print out Talk to Action stories.

by Frederick Clarkson on Wed Nov 30, 2005 at 09:13:37 PM EST

Point taken.  ;)

by Bruce Wilson on Wed Nov 30, 2005 at 10:23:11 PM EST

In over six decades, I have observed that among the US exports, we have McReligion....and especially McFundy shoppes - selling "fast food for the soul." - complete with easy slogans, slick icons, and drive-through access.

My point is simple. The agenda is global. Your right wing theocrats have become "catholic" in their strategies and in their outreach. While some stop confronting them at international borders, they are learning from the "parent" of Western Christianity - and observing the failures inherent in the jurisdictional dichotomy of Eastern Christianity.

Name the subject of contention. Name the players.
They are active in my native Canada, as well as in the USA. Funds earned on either side of the border are used to further their agenda and the secular neocons who enable them.

As a priest and bishop, I have worked and preached in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese in both hemispheres - as well as in the UK.

In the last thirty years, we have seen the simultaneous erosion of the mainstream Reformation- Continental or English - along with the political centre.

In Canada, the Progressive Conservative party was hijacked by the Reform/Alliance neo-conservatives. In true fashion, they adopted the name "Conservative Party of Canada" in order to make legitimate their newly-found honour and dignity.

In the USA, both major political parties have either been controlled by the neocon-theocratic alliance, or have been controlled by centrists unwilling to engage due to complicity with powerful economic interests they share.

It has always been difficult to divorce the economic from the political from the religious causations of history. Ecclesial history is no different. In fact, and in this case, it makes the point.

Our challenge, alluded to earlier, is equally simple. Engage them. "Out" them. Redefine them. Define ourselves. Oh yes, talk first and then act. (grin).

by LIBERAL CROZIER on Thu Dec 01, 2005 at 02:46:49 AM EST

I was about to mention the Conservative party's hijacking by dominionists in Canada.  Still might do a writeup on it (you, being apparently local in Canada, should do so too).

Another English-speaking country with dominionism probs is Australia.  Their dominionist movement is almost entirely run by the AoG and the few "independent charismatic" groups (as there isn't really a huge Baptist presence there) and an explicitly dominionist political party, Family First, has been set up there that is a de facto political wing of the AoG in that country.

I've done a bit of a writeup on Family First, which I'll be mirroring here later today.

by dogemperor on Thu Dec 01, 2005 at 09:41:26 AM EST

I myself grew up in one of those dominionist, "premillenial dispensationalist" churches (though they'd not have known either of those terms--they'd just have insisted they were "filled with the spirit" and non-dominionist churches were "lukewarm" because they weren't being obnoxious).

Their primary interest in Jews, and in Israel, were not as a people, but largely as objects, and their main interests focused in four areas:

a) Israel's formation as a "trigger event" for the Last Days (of course, in their worldview, they'd be Raptured Up, they would get to watch the whole Tribulation thing from a front-row seat in heaven (they talked about how they would laugh as the world was tortured), then come back down to Israel to fight the Final Battle and then get to have another frontrow seat as all the non-dominionists (including the non-messianic Jews) literally burned in nuclear hellfire

(In the AoG circles where I grew up, this was generally combined witha peculiar view that Russia was going to invade Israel and that Russia was home of the Antichrist.  They have actually kept this up a full ten years after the fall of the USSR, first claiming Russia was faking the fall of communism, then claiming that Iraq was being used as a stalking horse (and seeing as a lot of the President's advisors are in the same AoG circles that were promoting this nonsense, you now know where  the whole idea for invading Iraq came from) and now claiming Russia secretly controls the UN and European Community.  Some sectors are now calling China the home of the Antichrist, but it's still largely more anti-European (probably because a lot of the dominionist churches and orgs are defined by law as hate groups through much of Europe).)

b) A rather bizarre form of idolatry regarding Israel and Jewish people in general--it was quite literally considered blasphemy if one criticized Israel's foreign policy (this was when Israel was expansionist, before they started making concessions).  I remember being explicitly told growing up by both family and by members of my church "You better support Israel even if they commit genocide against the entire Palestinian community" (my emphasis).

They've become more critical of some of the government concessions, and now the Palestinians have become the Antichrist's Stalking Horse in some worldviews (yes, many dominionists literally believe the Palestinians--ironically, the home of some of the Christian community in the area--are agents of the devil himself).  Many dominionists are actively supporting the settler groups refusing to move, which is part of Israel's concern.

c) The hope that the Israelis could finally run the Moslems out of the country, destroy the Dome of the Rock, and build the Third Temple.  (The very group I walked away from has supported groups both here and in Israel for which this is an explicit goal.)

d) Conversion of Jews to what they euphemistically refer to as "Messianic Jews" or "Completed Jews" and what I not-so-euphemistically refer to as "kosher pentecostals".  (The AoG is the second largest denomination that has as an explicit goal conversion of Jews to "Messianic Judaism" and actually has the longest history at it (approximately since Jews for Jesus has been around; nearly all of the "Messianic Jew" groups besides Jews for Jesus are explicitly tied to the AoG in some form or another).  This includes explicitly targeting Jews within Israel itself.)

No, I don't apologise for calling them "kosher pentecostals", as they are essentially AoG members who keep kashrut laws.  (There was a "Messianic Jew" division in the church I walked away from, and I grew up with several of them in my Sunday school.)  Some AoGers have even gone the route of adopting kashrut laws, only calling themselves "Hebrew Christians" (and still being essentially pentecostals that keep kosher and celebrate Rosh Hashanah).

In the case of the particular AoG church I am a walkaway from, a good deal of their effort has been expended on both attempts to convert Jews and promotion of "Israel Idolatry" within the dominionist community.  The shortwave religiocasting empire that the church runs is part of this; they operate High Adventure Ministries as one of their front groups as well.

High Adventure Ministries not only promotes "Bible Tours" targeted at pentecostal/charismatic dominionists and "Christian Zionist" groups, but also broadcasts radio programs specifically targeting Israel itself including promotion of "messianic Judaism".  High Adventure essentially also operates as the shortwave operations of the dominionist group I walked away from.  They also operate a TV station on Sky Angel/Dominion Satellite, a dominionist-operated "Christian DBS service" that was also the original point of broadcast for both of the Justice Sunday broadcasts.

by dogemperor on Thu Dec 01, 2005 at 08:35:30 AM EST

Max Blumenthal has a fascinating post up at Huffington Post about dispensationalist rage over Sharon's concessions:

In an article entitled "Will the Goyim Win?" published on the official site of best-selling author Tim LaHaye (who also operates an annual Holy Land tour for evangelicals), "Christian journalist" Stan Goodenough takes Israel and the Sharon government to task for trading land for peace. In breathless prose, Goodenough bemoans the Israelis' supposed surrender of "the cradle of their nationhood, the burial places of their national patriarchs and heroes."...

Goodenough excoriates the Israelis for inviting the contempt of the "nations of the world":

All you are doing is proving them right in their long-held belief that you are illegitimate, land grabbing, not-to-be-trusted Yids. And, as far as the Muslim world is concerned, your actions only confirm their view of you as a dhimmi nation, fit only to be ruled over by, and subdued under, Islam.

by Michelle Goldberg on Thu Dec 01, 2005 at 10:47:56 AM EST

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