In Britian, Christian Zionist leaders are striking out at church leaders and writers who defend the human and civil rights of Palestinians and question the theology of Armageddonism. Two have lambasted the Rev. Stephen Sizer, Vicar of Christ Church, Virginia Water, Surrey, and author of Christian Zionism: Roadmap to Armageddon? Some outspoken champions of human rights here in the States have also been attacked by Israel-firsters, but the situation is changing.
A deplorable ignorance of and inability to understand the complexities of Jewish life and culture, coupled with the constantly reinforced image of European Jews as history’s most sympathetic victims, and a wholly laudable desire to prevent another unspeakable crime like the Nazi holocaust, leaves a great many Americans vulnerable to the mythology and propaganda with which ardent Zionists routinely seek to mask criminal excesses committed in the name of Israel’s security. Similarly, many American Christians seem to be unaware or functionally incapable of internalizing the knowledge that Islam, like Christianity and like Judaism, is one of the three Abrahamic faiths, all of which worship the same God though they refer to that God by different names (Allah, God, and Yahweh). Moreover, among many church leaders at every level, the term "interfaith dialog" seems to be little more than a term of art signifying a long-standing commitment to Jewish-Christian relations, to the effective exclusion of all other faith communities. ("Interfaith conversation" would better describe a genuinely inclusive effort to communicate across the boundaries of faith traditions.) Worse, when questioned or challenged, church leaders who are committed to a special and distinctly preferential relationship between Jews and Christians are quick to cite “the Judeo-Christian tradition” and suggest that anti-Semitic bias motivates those who hold more inclusive views, even when those views are based explicitly upon the New Testament teachings of Jesus and the norms of international law and U.S. laws requiring that all people, regardless of race, religion, or national origin, be afforded equal treatment and basic human rights under the law. Those church leaders, like many ardent Zionists, Christian and Jewish alike, seem to be incapable of comprehending that intelligent, educated, and informed citizens might quite reasonably choose to oppose the excesses and crimes of Zionist organizations and criticize certain policies and actions of the government of Israel -- especially those that make a mockery of international human rights law -- and yet not be guilty of anti-Semitic bias or hatred of Jews.
As the late, great Israel Shahak pointed out, Zionism is not easily understood, in large part because Zionists take pains not to be easily or readily understood outside a purposefully insular, determinedly parochial, and politically reactionary culture:
The usual treatments of Zionism, whether by enemies, friends, or apologists, are usually vitiated by two interconnected errors. The first is lack of discussion of the related historical background. Although the Jewish situation in the nineteenth century is almost always discussed, especially the second half of that century, the immediately preceding period is usually ignored. This is a great mistake because the 19th century was a time of rapid change for Jews. . . . It was then that all essential aspects of Orthodox Judaism developed—from the rabbinate (which did not exist before) to the very clothes worn by ultra-orthodox Jews. The influences of the Jewish mode of life persisted, together with the beliefs that were created or crystallized during that period. To a greater or lesser extent, these influences continue to the present time. In fact, they are increasing and have greatly influenced the Zionist movement.
The second common error in treatments of Zionism is forgetting that Zionism is a Jewish movement [emphasis in the original], the first objective of which was to influence Jews. Other aims, such as expulsion or enslavement of Palestinians and the domination of the whole Middle East, are basically for a Jewish reason. . . . Zionists ignore them when speaking or writing in languages other than Hebrew.
. . . Zionism presents a façade of “secular” or “western” values while perpetuating many characteristics of Jewish society of the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries.
Zionism cannot be understood by concentrating only on Zionist actions in Palestine and the whole Middle East. Their worldwide purposes have been profoundly influenced by early periods of Jewish history which cannot be ignored. . . . Zionism as a Jewish movement is a reaction against progressive changes in Jewish life starting about 100 to 200 years before Zionism’s beginnings. “Reaction” or “recidivist movement” means a movement which, after [emphasis in the original] political and social change of essentially a liberating and progressive character, tries “to put back the clock” by attempting to revitalize the pre-change situation.
. . . [A] linguistic cultural barrier, almost absolute in 1774, continues even now in Zionist policies. It is apparent in the efforts to revive . . . a distinctly parochial “Jewish” culture. Reinforced by overwhelming military power, it is effectively antisepticised against serious interaction with any other culture. A notable, political consequence of this parochialism is the predilection of Israeli apologists for many Israeli policies to claim that normal, negative, international reactions are a matter of “us” against “them.” Or, in language more characteristic of Zionist political polemics, that these negative reactions are motivated by “anti-Semitism.” It is in this spirit that the United Nations General Assembly is often described as “anti-Semitic.”
. . . Many motives behind Israeli politics that so often bewilder the superficially informed, confused, western “friends of Israel” are explicable once they are seen as recidivist, or reactionary, in the political sense of the word. (Shahak, I. "Zionism as a Recidivist Movement: Origins of its Separatist Aims." Anti-Zionism: Analytical Reflections. Brattleboro: Amana Books. 1989, 280-289 passim)
Smearing as anti-Semitic those who stand up and speak out in behalf of human and civil rights for the long-oppressed, dispossessed, and exploited Palestinian people does not make it so. Anti-Semitism, bias against and hatred of Jews on the basis of race and/or religion, is a social problem in the USA, but it is not the problem that anti-Arab and anti-Muslim bias is. Hate crimes against Arabs and Muslims, like vandalism and arson attacks on mosques and Islamic centers, are far more frequent occurrences and represent a far more serious problem than hate crimes against Jews and Jewish places of worship. False, politically-motivated charges of anti-Semitism, which are more and more widely perceived as what they are, only further complicate the interfaith conversation and place the entire Jewish community in the unenviable position of the boy who cried "Wolf!" There is evidence of a perceptible shift in public opinion, driven in large part by growing public disgust with the chaos and death in Iraq and the transparently manipulative dishonesty with which the slavishly pro-Israel neoconservative cabal in the Bush administration, with the active assistance of Big Media and the complicity of many Democratic Party leaders, stampeded the nation into an illegal and unnecessary war in and occupation of that country, an occupation that is hideously expensive, stunningly brutal and destructive, and disastrously counterproductive. That shift in public opinion is not occurring in a vacuum. When asked privately about the role of the American Jewish community in U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, many Americans who have never in their lives publicly uttered the word "Zionism" quietly indicate, in no uncertain terms, that they understand quite well the inordinate influence that "Jews" have over U.S. policy. And they are not happy about it. That sentiment is illustrative of the danger Zionist leaders have persistently courted with their claims to be the exclusive spokespersons for and about all people and things Jewish, not to mention their efforts to silence or marginalize all dissenting views or their arrogant assumption of extraordinary influence as the unofficial arbiters of race relations in this country. With a growing perception that its leaders have over-reached at the expense of other groups in a manner that has put those other groups, and indeed the entire nation, at serious risk, any minority group, no matter how influential and powerful, runs the risk of generating increasingly serious ill-will.
It is literally true that selfish political sagacity is ultimately suicidal, destructive of all those enduring qualities that insure planetary group survival. And as Tanya Reinhart noted in her 30 March 2004 article in Yediot Aharonot, "Under military rule, Israel has become a leading force in the destruction of the very protections that humankind has established, out of World War II, for its own preservation, protections that we too may need one day, as history has already shown us."
Michael Gillespie is a freelance journalist based in Ames, Iowa, who writes about politics, media, and interfaith relations. His work appears frequently in the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.
Other Articles by Michael
Other Articles by Michael Gillespie