Wednesday, July 29, 2009

My answer to the Israel/Palestine Mission Network's E-mail

For the e-mail see post below.

Dear Mr. Davis,

Thank you for replying in such a timely manner. You have written a great deal, but you have not understood or have simply ignored my very deep concerns about the booklet Steadfast Hope: The Palestinian Quest for Just Peace.

There are several issues in your letter I must address. First is the issue of racism and I will connect that with anti-Semitism. The second has to do with Jewish history; the third with Christianity and the biblical text. They will overlap. They all center on the quote I find so offensive, therefore I will also start my essay with it.

“The founding narrative of the State of Israel links the modern-day Jews’ claim to the land of Israel/Palestine to their direct genealogical descent from the ancient Israelites. Recent anthropological scholarship shows that this widespread belief is very likely a myth, not historical fact. Shlomo Sand, an expert on European history at the university of Tel Aviv, and author of When and How Was the Jewish People Invented? posits that the Jews were never exiled en masse from the Holy Land and that many European Jewish populations converted to the faith centuries later. Thus, he argues, many of today’s Israelis who emigrated from Europe after World War II have little or no genealogical connection to the ancient land of Israel.”

In your e-mail you bring up the issue of racism with this sentence. “Even so, it would be a mistake to reduce the vitally important ongoing conversation about Israel/Palestine to an argument about genetic purity and we assume your inquiry to Ms. Hylkema is not an attempt to so.”


Others who are reading your e-mail may not understand the significance of that statement. So I will explain. And this certainly has to do with Sand’s book and your use of the quote. In a review of Sand’s book, Jewish Professor, Israel Bartal, dean of the humanities faculty of the Hebrew University, explains some of the problems. They include Sand’s attempt to caricature the early Zionists and Zionist historians with a form of racism. Sand does this by contending that the Zionist historians covered up any story that connects converted Gentiles to the people of Israel.

Bartal refutes Sand in his article “Inventing an Invention.” For instance, while Sand insists that the early founders of the State of Israel tried to cover up any knowledge of the Khazars, an ancient people who converted to Judaism in the Middle Ages, Bartal has memories of reading about them in the 1950’s in “the Mikhlal Encyclopedia, an almost mythological reference text that nearly every Israeli high school student relied on in those years, the flagship of what is termed ‘mainstream Zionism,’ in the lean Hebrew of 21st-century Israel.”

Continuing, Bartal explains that Sand sees the Zionist insistence on the right of land for the Israelis resting on “on a biological-genetic ideology,” which “became the ‘narrative of the ruling group’ thanks to the fact that the ‘authorized scholars of the past’ have concealed the truth concerning the real, impure origin of the Jews.” But Bartal, as his article shows, has clearly refuted any such nonsense about early Zionist or Zionist historians.

Both Sand and the publication produced by the Israel/Palestine Mission Network are attempting to make the founders of the State of Israel as well as Zionist historians out to be racists, that is, those who insist on a genetically pure ethnic group. And this fits very well, not with true history, but with the constant insistence, in Steadfast Hope, that the Israelis have committed “ethnic cleansing.” Please see my post, More from the Presbyterian Israel/Palestine Mission Network's booklet Steadfast Hope, on this subject.

Instead the Jewish people were strengthened in their knowledge that their people and faith had converted Gentiles to the Jewish faith.

The claim that Zionist founders and historians are and were racist is anti-Semitic.

But even true stories of conversion, such as the Khazars or the stories in Esther, do not negate the truth that the Jewish people in Diaspora are linked genetically to ancient Israel. Sand’s theory, that most contemporary members of European Jewry are not genetically connected to ancient Israel, a theory also upheld by the authors of Steadfast Hope, is clearly refuted by genetic investigation.

Under the “Science” column, the New York Times published an article titled, Y Chromosome Bears Witness to Story of the Jewish Diaspora. The article written by Nicholas Wade begins:

“With a new technique based on the male or Y chromosome, biologists have traced the diaspora of Jewish populations from the dispersals that began in 586 B.C. to the modern communities of Europe and the Middle East.


The analysis provides genetic witness that these communities have, to a remarkable extent, retained their biological identity separate from their host populations, evidence of relatively little intermarriage or conversion into Judaism over the centuries.”

The article goes on to connect the Jewish people with the Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese and to “a common ancestral population that inhabited the Middle East some four thousand years ago.” This is a very interesting article and should be read by anyone interested in the subject.

Also for information on the Sephardic Jews and their relation to ancient Israel see The forgotten refugees": some film clips and scientific proof here.

To return to the e-mail nothing you write absolves you of using a quote which many radical Muslims and racist, anti-Semitic groups in the United States accept with glee. It does not absolve you of disconnecting the Jewish people from their own history. Both Christianity and Judaism are faiths whose history is of utmost importance. “The sacred books and prayers” are important because of the true Jewish connection to ancient Israel not because of a collective consciousness.

And, in fact, if the Jewish people’s connection to ancient Israel is less than historical, Christianity is grounded in nothing and may once again become the tale of the heroic or noble Aryan as it did in Nazi Germany.

Sand is a historian interested in historiography, and also in a one state solution to the Middle East problem. His words and ideas, which he intends for good, are open to misuse by all manner of anti-Semites and also those whose agenda is incessantly slanted against the Jewish people.

This brings me to my final issue, Christianity and the biblical text. The authors of Steadfast Hope have written for what is supposedly a Christian ministry in the Presbyterian (U.S.A.) And yet they chose to use a historian who is not only on the margins of Jewish historical thinking and one without a background in ancient history, but also one who is a minimalist historian as far as Israel is concerned, that is, he denies the existence of Moses and the exile of Israel as well as King David and Solomon. He denies the ancient Kingdom of Israel.

But the Israel/Palestinian Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) surely knows better than this. Hopefully they uphold the faith of the Church. It may be easy for a secularist, even when he is Jewish, to deny the connection between the Jewish people of today and ancient Israel; perhaps all he believes in are memories of collective communities. But Christians should be grounded in the Holy Scripture.

Christians should understand the connection between the Jewish people and their sacred texts, because part of our text belongs to the Jewish people. To deny the Hebrew Bible is to deny our faith.

I hope I do not offend my Jewish friends, but for a Christian to deny Moses and the Passover is to deny the shed blood of the Lamb. To deny King David is to deny the King of heaven, the coming Ruler. And, woefully, to deny the exile is to deny the sinfulness of humanity and the 'judgment' that eventually came to Rome. So why use a historian who denies all of the Hebrew Bible and bases his historical maneuverings on his denial?

You have suggested the use of Dr. Mary Mikhael’s “Joshua: a Journey of Faith,” the Presbyterian Women’s Bible Study. Its political slant is very much in agreement with yours. And in the study Mikhael, using Richard D. Nelson, refers to the text of Joshua as displaying “a folkloristic character.” With all of this I am reminded of a chapter in the book The German Church Struggle and the Holocaust, in which Franklin H. Littell complains about the state of liberal Christianity in the United States in regards to the Jewish people, likening it to what came before Hitler. (He is saying this in 1974) He writes:

“The irony of our recent decades as men of education is severe: those who have found the particularity of ‘Jewish folklore and fable’ too confining, too earthy, too finite have ended in the pitiful vulgarisms of Teutonic or Anglo-Saxon or other Gentile ethnicity infused by a vague piety.”

That is a warning. Too many in the Presbyterian Church and other denominations are, as I have stated before, descending into the murky waters of anti-Semitism. Your booklet is proof of it. I will be writing about it in further postings.

Viola Larson

Elder, Fremont Presbyterian Church,
Sacramento, Ca




28 comments:

Anonymous said...

Viola,

I am sorry. But other than the fact that you are comparing the PCUSA to Nazi Germany,

(I'm sorry, "reminded" of Nazi Germany by the PCUSA - once again!...),

and that you believe that anybody who isn't dogmatically pro-Israel is an anti-Semite,

it still is not obvious what you are trying to say.

Something about the basis for the modern day Jewish claim to the land of Israel (not clear what you think it is, based on race, not based on race, other?), being somehow linked to what it means to be a real Christian?

Is that it?

Tom
Leaving KC

Viola Larson said...

Tom,
Thank you, you reminded me of something I meant to write about and didn't. That is the assertion in the E-mail that "the Zionist claim to all the "Land of Israel" is "based on biblical texts in which God makes these promises to Abraham and his descendents." Kind of like asking why you killed your wife rather than did you kill your wife. I guess I will have to do a posting on that later.

Anonymous said...

Viola,

Is that your belief? That the basis to the Jewish claim to the land of Israel is the biblical text about Abraham and his descendants?

Tom

Viola Larson said...

Tom,
The way you are asking that question I don’t know if you mean do I believe the Jews are using the Scriptures as their claim to land or do I believe the Jewish people have a claim to the land because of the Scriptures? Please let me know which of those you mean?

Anonymous said...

Viola,

The second. What do YOU believe is the basis?

Tom

Anonymous said...

And the first. On what do you believe the Israelis are basing their claim?

Tom

Viola Larson said...

Tom,
Both answers will be long and complex-but that is not new. On the Jewish claim to the land there is a multitude of answers. The first Zionists were generally not religious. They were secular and even socialist. They did not claim land on the basis of scripture and in fact some of the very early Zionists, even before Theodor Herzl thought of Uganda and even the United States as a place where the Jewish people might find a resting place.

But Theodor Herzl is the father of Zionism and he was not religious. Later religion became a part of the Jewish view of the land. You must remember that the Jewish people came to Palestine when it was not a crowded land and when there were parts of the land that were arid and uncultivated. They truly made the desert bloom. After the Holocaust the Jewish people certainly felt the need to have a haven, a Jewish State, where they would be free of thousands of years of persecution.

So the people of Israel claim the land on several grounds. All, except a very few ultra-orthodox who believe they must first wait for the Messiah, claim the land on the basis of the UN’s decision that there would be a State of Israel and because the Jewish people have need of their own homeland. And they are a sovereign State. Some do see the prophets promising them a return to the land. But this has been made by some radical Muslims and denominational entities to mean that they feel they should have all of the land. This just isn’t true. It is instead the radical Muslims who believe they should have all the land and that the State of Israel should not exist.

That is my answer to your last
question-I will be putting up a link in a couple of days to an article written by a Rabbi who writes much better than I do on the subject.

My views about the State of Israel are also based on several things. First of all I am not a dispensationalist, meaning I do not believe there has to be a State of Israel in order for Jesus Christ to return. My love for the Jewish people is not tied up with prophecy, but with my love for God who chose them to be a blessing to the nations. And I cannot forget these words by Paul in Romans, “…from the standpoint of God’s choice they are beloved for the sake of the fathers; for the gifts and callings of God are irrevocable.”

So here is my foundation for what I believe about the State of Israel. God loves the Jewish people, he has used them to bless the nations. Their Scriptures are our Scriptures. We cannot speak of our own faith without including their Holy texts. God is sovereign, so it is He who has given back the land to the Jewish people. We should all stand in wonder at that. That is my faith reason now here is another reason.

I am a Christian; many Christians in the past centuries have persecuted them. That is a great sin. I will stand against the persecution of the Jewish people no matter what that takes. They have a right to their State and their own defense. The booklet and people I am writing about are telling lies about Israel. The rest of us must tell the truth.

Anonymous said...

Viola,

I think I agree with your first answer, that as far as Israel is concerned, its right to exist is by decree of the UN. And I might add, "as enforced by the US".

Which is why it does not feel a need to obey all of the UN mandates, but only those the US will enforce.

An interesting sociological question is "why does the US single out Israel of all nations to so boldly defend"? I think it is because of our own deeply rooted belief that America is our own land of Israel. We defend Israel because the biblical story of the founding of Israel is the metaphor for our own history, and by defending Israel's right to exist, we are subconsciously defending our own right to exist.

Your own personal faith reason, "God is sovereign, so it is He who has given back the land to the Jewish people." is more difficult to go along with.

If I believed that, then I would have to believe God also sent them the Holocaust. Not going there. But given that God allows both good and evil, then we cannot justify something merely on the basis that God has allowed it.

Your last paragraph goes to the question of collective guilt. Does our cultural and historical guilt over having persecuted the Jews in the past, and by extension for allowing the Holocaust, give us today the right to - and let me extrapolate from what you said - to now persecute others in their defense?

In other words, where is the line to be drawn in the Christian defense of the Jews? Is there in your belief a line at all?

Tom

Viola Larson said...

Tom

With this statement:
"Does our cultural and historical guilt over having persecuted the Jews in the past, and by extension for allowing the Holocaust, give us today the right to - and let me extrapolate from what you said - to now persecute others in their defense?"

Means you have gone back to trying to put words into my mouth. I did not say that and as usual I have to ask you not to comment on this subject again on this posting.

Kattie W. Coon said...

Viola,

I believe Tom asked a very valid question. Having read this statement from you, "I will stand against the persecution of the Jewish people no matter what that takes", he merely extrapolated your line of reasoning to indicate where it could lead, and simply asked you where you would draw the line. I seem to recall some notables of the Evangelical Right extrapolating the opening up of marriage rights to gays into surely resulting in legalized polygamy, incest, and much worse. I certainly would draw the line long before that while still supporting gay marriage and I wouldn’t accuse them of having put words in my mouth. Likewise, there were no words put into your mouth. Your "no matter what that takes" statement might very well be hyperbole, but I think you would have to admit that it is rather open ended. So, where would you draw the line? Before you try to use this excuse again, this isn’t a “why did you kill you wife” type of question.

Kattie
Huntsville, Al

Viola Larson said...

Kattie,
When I said that I was referring to my own welfare not anyone else’s. I supposed most people would get that.

Pastor Bob said...

When I was in Israel last year I made a curious connection that I had never made before. I was part of a group that was made up of mostly rabbis and pastors. We were talking with people who had differing viewpoints on the situation in Israel/Palestine.

One of our conversations was about whether antisemitism could take hold and begin a persecution of Jews in America. Curiously I disagreed with a couple of the rabbis in saying that of course it could. My faith in human decency is rather low.

So I began to ask where is a Jew to go when antisemitism arises and persecution begins? This was the question of the early Zionists. After the Dreyfus affair in France they began to see that modern Europe was not safe for Jews. They needed a place of their own.

And this is a personal question for me. My wife while a Christian is genetically half Jewish. That makes my children, in the eyes of antisemites, also Jewish. Where is my family to go in the face of antisemitic persecution?

I don't support all the policies of the Israeli government. The Israeli government is by no means perfect. The placement of the security barrier when it separates farmers from their land is an example of what I believe is outrageous behavior.

I support a two state solution in Israel/Palestine as do most citizens of Israel. But to have a two state solution there needs to be two parties that both support a two state solution. Neither the Palestinian Authority nor Hamas are willing to do so.

If Israel accepted the terms of the Palestinian Authority that includes the right of return for those who left their homes in 1948 (whether willingly, forced by Arab armies or, in a few cases, forced by Jewish armed groups like the Stern gang), there would be no Israel, no Jewish state.

Then where would Jews go when persecution arises? antisemitism is on the rise across Europe. We see the use of false claims even in documents published by the PCUSA.

That was the foundation of Zionism. Jews were not safe in majority Muslim nations either.

So my question is: where is a Jew to go when antisemitism is on the rise? There needs to be an Israel.

When I was in Israel it became personal for me. I want a place for my family to go when there is no other place. Where would they go if there was no Israel?

Viola Larson said...

Thank you Bob. I will be posting more on this in the next week.

Anonymous said...

thank you Kattie,

Viola,

I don't see what words I put in your mouth.

I was very careful not to. And I clearly stated that I was extrapolating when I suggested we could go so far as to persecute others in Israel's defense. (Or we could for example support dropping white phosphorous bombs on densely populated neighborhoods in Israel's defense.)

I'm convinced that charge is just an excuse you use to cut me off when it starts getting too hot in the kitchen.

The question remains: Where do you draw the line?

Tom

will spotts said...

Pastor Bob -

I concur with your assessment of the potential danger of antisemitism in the United States (and other parts of the world, of couse).

I think people have become a little careless in this regard in the sense of assuming that can never happen and denying evidences of the presence of very harmful anti-Jewish attitudes.

You point to one of the main rationales behind Zionism in general. (Here I'm speaking, of course, of the political movement, not Christian Zionism as a theological concept.) Yet in this debate, Zionism itself is regarded as an evil philosophy.

I'll think you'll find what the activists in the mainline and in the larger culture share is an objection to the concept of a Jewish State. That is the primary purpose of Sand's article. And THAT is the primary purpose of its use in the IPMN materials.

Of course, that is separate from antisemitism in the sense that it could be argued along other lines. I believe the argument against a Jewish state is both weak and tends to run into outright antisemitism. (Among other things, when it applies a double standard of inferior treatment of Israle and the Jews - as is almost universally the case.) But the validity of a Jewish state is what is being challenged here.

Anonymous said...

Will,

You are in fact missing the point.

It is not about the validity of the Jewish state. Its validity is established - by law and by force of arms.

What is being challenged, and what you and others refuse to acknowledge except in the vaguest hypothetical language, is the unilateral dogmatic US Christian support of the state of Israel at any cost.

If, as you say, there is a line (as you said in your other reply), how do you know it has not been crossed? Are you as zealous in watching that it is not crossed as you are in watching out for any symptom or word that might be perceived as anti-Semitic coming from a Church you appear to despise anyway?

On this very blog, committed Christians were willing to justify dropping white phosphorous on maternity wards if there was the slightest chance that Hamas militants had set up defensive positions on its roof.

Is that a line you, Will, are willing to cross in defending Israel?

Or would you rather participate in the hard work of bringing these two sides (three sides if you include the Palestinian Christians) to the table to break the cycle of violence. To repay evil with good.

THAT is the question that our church is putting on the table. Not this imaginary anti-Semitic throwback to pre-Holocaust days you keep confabulating.

And I would wager that is Sand's intent as well. He is, after all, a child of the Holocaust and a Jewish veteran of war, living in Israel. Maybe, just maybe, he is just tired of the endless bloodshed and is saying - "hey, it's not black and white. We are all guilty here. We should all get off our high and mighty self righteous horses and face reality"

That's what I hear.

The first step in making peace is to stop demonizing the enemy and to recognize one's own complicity in the conflict.

In the case of Israel and the Palestinians, it is either that or mutual genocide. And THAT is the issue that is before us. Are we, as Christians, for peace, or are we for mutual genocide.

Or do you believe there are any other valid alternatives?

Tom

Pastor Bob said...

Will

And I am arguing that one of the reasons for the necessity of a Jewish state is rampant antisemitism around the world, not just in the West.

will spotts said...

Tom,

Your last comment is a remarkably tangent-full response. I’m unsure of your purpose in conducting conversation in this manner. But it remains true that some of what you said does necessitate a response.

1. “You are in fact missing the point. It is not about the validity of the Jewish state. Its validity is established - by law and by force of arms.”

Clearly you misrepresent Sand’s argument since Sand himself is against the concept of a Jewish State. Whatever reasons he may give to support his own presence in the State of Israel – are quite extraneous to a Jewish State.

Equally clearly the IMPN does understand Sand in this way or their label under which the paragraph Viola highlighted appears would be meaningless. Namely: “The Genealogical Claim to Israel”. The only possible rhetorical or rational use of this in that context is to oppose what they term, “The founding narrative of the State of Israel.”

2. “Or would you rather participate in the hard work of bringing these two sides (three sides if you include the Palestinian Christians) to the table to break the cycle of violence. To repay evil with good.”

If that were indeed the work of the IPMN or of various PC(USA) related groups, or of the mainlines, or of a host of groups, I would support it wholeheartedly. Of course, I would point out that there are far more than three sides or perspectives. Unfortunately, that has not been the work of these groups. Instead they have gotten bogged down in bias – anti-Israel bias in the best cases, anti-Judaic bias in many cases, and antisemitic bias in several cases. No good thing can come from these biases, and the energies of these groups are not going in that direction. In fact, spending time opposing them on grounds of fundamental fairness is an obligation that prevents others from using their resources more productively.

3. “Not this imaginary anti-Semitic throwback to pre-Holocaust days you keep confabulating.”

Here, more than anywhere I else, I could not disagree with you more strongly. Pre-Holocaust days? It would be a grave mistake to imagine the Holocaust has changed things in terms of reducing antisemitism. Sure, it made it unfashionable for fifty years. But you seem to suggest that somehow now antisemitism is either non-existent, non-dangerous, or non-odious. All three are manifestly false. And it would be dangerous to proceed under that misconception.

To suggest that it is no big deal in when people claiming to speak for churches indulge antisemitic discourse is unworkable.

will spotts said...

4. “… coming from a Church you appear to despise anyway?”

Had you not capitalized Church, I would have probably let that pass. But the capitalization suggests that you’re somehow talking about The Church, the Body of Christ. That is gross mis-characterization. Everyone here knows I severed my relationship with the corporation, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Many people understand why. However, that corporation exists only to serve the Church. When it acts against the Church, it cannot be considered the Church. Actions of that kind (that a corporate organization claiming church affiliation could take that would be against the Church) would include dishonesty, failure of officials to follow their own express policies, actively working toward harm in the world. Insofar as I have criticized the PC(USA) on its flirtations with antisemitism and its anti-Israel bias – that is not a criticism of the Church. It is not even a criticism of Presbyterians generally, or of the Presbyterian tradition. I have never personally been in a congregation affiliated with the PC(USA) that I had any ill feeling toward at all – not even to visit. I love the Presbyterian tradition – both in terms of theory of governance and in historic theology. It is solely a criticism of the corrupt actions of corporate players in this temporal, human organization.

Because they cause wider harm in this area, I also criticize the actions of the UMC, the MCC, the UCC, TEC, WARC, NCC(C), WCC. This type of activism along with its biases are also making considerable inroads among … gasp … conservative churches.

In short, my history is not relevant to the actions of the IPMN.

5. Your rehearsal of the conversation about white phosphorous is a mischaracterization. You brought the topic onto the post. When a manifestly false story was being pressed by a speaker at PW, you suggested this would have been a better choice. You then made a blanket assertion about the use of WP being a war crime – which is not technically correct. The International Committee of the Red Cross denied any illegal usage; HRW alleged illegal usage – again on a technicality of sorts: HRW acknowledged that the use Israel put WP to was legitimate, but its employment in an area as densely populated as Gaza would violate the spirit of the law.

The thing is, if your choice to disregard one international source and to accept another is valid – and it may be – then yes, I would agree that the use of these weapons is unacceptable. However, I’m not sure there is a great difference in either pragmatic or moral terms among weapons that kill civilians. True, this one is grotesque – but all targeting of civilians falls into the same category.

At any rate, I’m very persuaded that shifting the topic to your impressions of my consistency or lack there of – is a misdirection at best.

Aric Clark said...

I actually do think the idea of Israel as a "Jewish" state is a mistake. Only because I think that the best model of governance is secular and geographic rather than religious or ethnic. I think much of the problem in the middle East is caused by the conflation of these important, but separate interests. Do Jewish people need a safe haven? Yes. But Israel should be equally responsible to all people who desire to legally live within its borders and accountable to all nations that are its neighbors regardless of ethnicity or religion.

America is not a Christian nation. Nor do I support the balkanization of Europe, for example, in establishing separate nations for every ethnic group. I think this kind of mentality is a step backward. We do not all become safer by living apart from people who are different from us.

Right or wrong, for better or for worse - much of the objection of the Arabs to Israel is and has always been that it was a western intrusion in their land for the sake of establishing a "Jewish nation". The force of that objection could be significantly dulled if Israel would simply distance itself from Judaism, and acknowledge a responsibility to be a just and representative democracy for all people desiring to live there.

I'm not so naive as to believe this would immediately solve the problem and stop all violence, but I think great harm is being done to both Israel and Judaism by this association. The rise of anti-semitism Viola fears is greatly attributable, in my opinion, to the reprehensible actions of Israel acting supposedly, on behalf of the Jewish people.

Pastor Bob said...

Aric

What a great idea! Israel should become a secular state. But let's not stop with Israel. Hamas should support a secular state at the same time. And Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran and Syria too!

Oh that's right, in Saudi Arabia you get arrested for having any worship service in any tradition except for Wahhabi Islam. And in Egypt it's impossible to get a permit to build a church and even if you do your neighbors will burn it down. Christians get persecuted in Iraq right now.

I'm all for a secular state in all these places at the same time. But I don't think it's likely.

Why single out Israel as the only place to be a secular state?

Aric Clark said...

Pastor Bob,

100% agreed about all of the examples you gave. My intention is not to single out Israel, but this discussion was not about Saudi Arabia. Furthermore, the US wasn't heavily involved in the recent creation of Saudi Arabia as a state. The US does, unfortunately, give Saudi Arabia a pass on matters of violence and human rights much as we do with Israel but for far less noble reasons - we need their oil. As we just launched the new regime in Iraq we have the same stake in seeing it become a secular democracy in service to all of its people regardless of religion or ethnicity, as we have with Israel.

So agreed, and agreed.

Anonymous said...

With a couple of refinements I think Aric is right.

Israel IS a secular state, but because being Jewish is not a matter of ethnicity or religion, it can also be a Jewish state. Everyone on this blog could convert to Judaism and our children could be atheists and never go to temple and they would still be citizens of Israel if they chose (You only have to be religious for the sake of your conversion).

Jews have almost always had safe havens. When Christians refused to provide it, the Muslims did. In fact, over the centuries, Muslim nations have been safe havens for Jews more often than Christian nations. The rise of 18th and 19th century nationalism hurt them, as it hurts all peoples who can not define themselves as nations with controlled borders (eg. the Kurds), but the rise of Western secularism has given Jews the best protection of all.

And secular America, not Israel, is today the safest haven for Jews there ever was.

"The rise of anti-semitism Viola fears is greatly attributable, in my opinion, to the reprehensible actions of Israel acting supposedly, on behalf of the Jewish people."

And, I might add, so is the rise of anti-Americanism.

Tom

Aric Clark said...

Tom,

Israel isn't quite a secular state. Its relationship to Judaism is complex. A lot would have to be done for it to be able to convincingly claim a secular identity - especially to convince any of its neighbors.

I also wouldn't attribute the rise of anti-americanism to the actions of Israel at all, but to the actions of America (in some cases on behalf of Israel).

Aric Clark
Ft. Morgan

Anonymous said...

Aric,

"A lot would have to be done for it to be able to convincingly claim a secular identity"

Well, you do have to be a Jew to gain Israeli citizenship. It is after all a Jewish homeland. And the definition of who is a Jew is a whole topic all by itself.

(of which the topic of DNA genetics is irrelevant except in the most surprising claims of Jewishness)

But there is no state religion, and the head of government is not the head of religion, nor is the state run by a religious institution. In that regard it is more secular even than England where the Queen is the head of the church. Also not a theocracy, and not run by religious laws. I realize it's a beast of its own kind, unlike any other, but it is more like a secular government than a religious one, wouldn't you agree?

Every sovereign state has the right to decide arbitrarily who may become a citizen.

Are there any other reasons you would say it is not secular?

Tom

Leslie Fox said...

A person does not have to be a Jew,(religious or cultural), to become a citizen of Israel. There is a process of naturalization for non-Jews.

Jews like myself who follow Jesus cannot become citizens. One can however be an atheist, only culturally Jewish etc. and become a citizen. Good thing I'm more than content to have just American citizenship!

Leslie Fox

Pastor Bob said...

When I was in Israel I was told if I moved there I could become a naturalized citizen. And I'm a Christian of, as far as I know, Northern European ancestry. Of course it was the tour guide who told me this . . .

And as for deciding who is Jewish, particularly in the cases of those who have converted, there is a curious process that is all caught up in politics. Reformed and Conservative Jewish converts have problems becoming
citizens because the main political parties usually need the religious parties to form a government. And the religious parties want a say in who is Jewish and the religious parties tend to be Orthodox or Hasid. Well you see what a mean.

will spotts said...

Aric -

1. I agree with you that the relationship is complex - Israel is neither entirely secular nor entirely religious. But that also reflects the use of the word Jewish. In some ways this is an ethnic distinction, in others it is a religious distinction. The topic is, admittedly, very complex.

2. "The rise of anti-semitism Viola fears is greatly attributable, in my opinion, to the reprehensible actions of Israel acting supposedly, on behalf of the Jewish people."

I disagree with you on this point. The perception of "reprehensible actions of Israel on behalf ot he Jewish people" is indeed contributing to the rise of antisemitism. But anti-Israel bias has fueled a portion of that perception in the first place. It has been typified by a singularity of focus on Israeli acts - as opposed to those of other nations, by a consistent tendency to take the worst possible scenario as true of Israel when evidence is lacking and an issue is disputed, and by a persistent failure to acknowledge mistakes - stories of 'atrocities' that were widely reported that turned not to have been accurate. Those factors create a picture that is far more hostile to Israel.

[For example, you clearly avoid the trap of singularly criticizing a Jewish State as opposed to an Arab State or a Muslim or Christian State. But most commentors do not. In fact, overwhelmingly, those who call for an end to a Jewish State do not pair that call with calls for an end to Muslim states, Arab states or the peculiar state sponsorship of Christianity in many European nations.]

The source of the bias I do not know. In some cases antisemitism contributes to it. But the effect of the bias also increases antisemitism.

That same perception has also contributed (partly) to anti-American attitudes. In the 1990s Europeans complained of two issues in America: capital punishment and Israel. Obviously there are many other factors in anti-American sentiment, but this has been one.