Saturday, March 27, 2010

Israel - the "faith homeland" of Jews?

A columnist for the Dallas Morning News, Mark Davis, has written an article where he also presumes to tell American Jews what we should think about Israel and the Obama administration - American Jews and the Israel conundrum.

His article reveals a deep misunderstanding about the nature of Israel and what it means to most American Jews.

He writes:
There is something fundamentally wrong when I care more about Israel than the American Jewish community.

As a Christian, I have the most fundamental of differences with my Jewish brothers and sisters. I believe Jesus is the Son of God, and they don't. But when it comes to the precious value of Israel as an ally that needs protection and support, we have another disagreement. I am passionate about it, and they are not.
I mean that collectively. To the Jewish readers who truly care about their faith homeland: I know you exist. And I ask you: Why aren't you in the majority?

The basis for my observation is the whopping 77 percent of the Jewish vote garnered by Barack Obama in 2008. This is roughly the same percentage won by Democratic presidential nominees John Kerry and Al Gore
I have no problem absorbing the apparent fact that America's Jewish population leans sharply liberal. Fine. So do America's black community and its Hispanic community. But in siding with Democrats– and this president in particular – Jewish voters placed a leftist agenda above the interests of the nation that is their faith homeland.
Mr. Davis appears to be unaware that the Democratic Party has, historically, been just as supportive of Israel as the Republican Party. President Harry Truman recognized the state of Israel minutes after its founding in 1948. It was President Dwight Eisenhower (Republican) who in 1956 told the Israelis that they had to leave the Sinai Peninsula (after they seized it in collusion with the British and the French). Richard Nixon, who seems to have been an anti-semite, airlifted arms to Israel after the Yom Kippur War broke out. President George H.W. Bush threatened to withhold loan guarantees from Israel in order to get Prime Minister Shamir to the negotiating table. President Bill Clinton tried to make peace between Israel and the Palestinians at the end of his term in 2000. President George W. Bush supported almost everything the Israeli government wanted, but refused Israel permission to fly over Iraq on the way to bomb the Iranian nuclear installations. But all of these presidents, and the U.S. Congress, have for many decades supported Israel, regardless of their party affiliations.

Barack Obama may be more liberal than the current crop of hard-right Republicans, but that doesn't make him any less supportive of Israel. And unlike them, he recognizes that the settlements are an obstacle to peace negotiations with the Palestinians. (On their side, the Palestinians also have many obstacles to peace negotiations with Israel, including the fact that they are split into Hamas and Fatah).

The second problem with his essay is his reference to Israel as the "faith homeland" of American Jews. I must admit this is the first time I have heard this curious phrase. In all of my reading about Zionism, Israel is referred to as, among other things, the national homeland of the Jewish people, or as the state of the Jewish people. That is, all the Jewish people, regardless of whether they are religious or not. Being Jewish does not mean that one belongs to a particular "faith." There are Jewish atheists and agnostics who are Zionists. Being Jewish may mean that one practices the Jewish religion - but unlike Christianity, Judaism as a religion is not centered around faith. From the Protestant standpoint, in fact, Judaism is centered around works, which classic Protestant theology has a lot of problems with.

By calling Israel the "faith homeland" of the American Jewish community, Mr. Davis is denying the way that many Jews define themselves - as members of a worldwide people, as members of the Jewish nation. He is trying to force Jewish identity into a Protestant model. There are some Jews who probably would agree with him - this was certainly the model of the classic Reform movement in the United States - but I suspect that most Jews would find this term as strange as I do.


  1. I know you don't disagree with this, but I'm just struck by the incredible arrogance of it all. Normally, if my first thought was "X group has a far greater stake in this institution than I do" and my second thought was "X and I have very different views about what it means to support this institution", my third thought would be "maybe I should re-evaluate whether my brand of support is best", not "wow, X folk must be crazy!"

    The perk of being Christian is that you never, ever have to concede that Jews have anything new to teach you.

  2. Rebecca,

    I respectfully disagree with you when you write: "Barack Obama may be more liberal than the current crop of hard-right Republicans, but that doesn't make him any less supportive of Israel."

    Obama, if this article from The New York Times about Israel is correct, really cannot be all that pro-Israel. In fact, what is described in the article sounds a quite a lot like the attitude of Britain and France towards Czechoslovakia before WWII. My recollection is that those countries were also a "friend" of Czechoslovakia. Which is to say, Obama's administration believes that Israel's dispute with the Arabs is the "root cause" of Muslim and Arab displeasure with the West (just as the British and French government thought that, among other areas of conflict, the minority problems in, for example, Czechoslovakia was the cause of German anger) and that by forcing the Israelis to take painful steps, supposedly (and perhaps someday) in their interest but certainly in support of the perceived master plan for the settlement for the entire region's problems, peace with the Muslim and Arab worlds will break out, Iran will be satisfied and take up a more rational attitude towards the US, etc., etc.

    Obviously, there will need to be a deal regarding Jerusalem in any ultimate resolution. But, viewing this as a solution to that region's problems is, in my mind, more than delusional. It is dangerously wrong and will make a large war more, not less, likely.

    I might add: the view that the dispute can be settled just now is wishful thinking. This is a dispute involving not only boundaries and separating two groups who clash but also a dispute about worldviews, including (but not limited to) views about Jews among Christian and post-Christian peoples in the West, views about Jews among Muslims (which are, as I am sure you know, decisively not all that lovely), views about Muslims and Arabs by Israelis and by Americans, traditionalist views about the world versus modern ways of thinking (e.g. about conflicts, about war, about dying, etc., etc.), etc., etc.

    Down the line on all of this mistaken line of thinking by the Obama administration is that, whatever "sacrifices" the Israelis make will not be enough to the most conservative traditionalists among the Arab Muslims (and even Arab Christians), who do not believe that Jewish rule could ever be anything but a crime against God. This is the view, I suspect, of the vast, vast majority of Palestinian Arabs and certainly of most Muslims throughout the world. So, a very large number of Palestinian Arabs will go on fighting no matter how the dispute is "settled." Otherwise, their notion of right and wrong in the eyes of God will be wholly undermined.

    And, Western Christians and post-Christians will, maybe not immediately but in due course, come to side with the Arabs over the Jews.

    So, I see this as a dangerous situation and, I think, Obama is being the opposite of Israel's friend. Instead of being a friend, he is stoking the embers of the next round of the dispute.

    I might also add that if this report about how some in the Obama administration view Dennis Ross, there is prejudice at work in that administration, supposedly, in your view, pro-Israel. Rather, if the report is true, despite the fierce denial by at least one person (but which, as I read the report, is largely consistent with the debate at hand), there are some prejudiced people among the Obami.