Aug 24 2008

Layers

 There is another, deeper, emotional/spiritual layer to this entire problem.  I used to try to explain it but it falls on secular ears, and is largely ignored as insignificant.  It is anything but, and anyone who cares about justice and dignity in the Middle East would do well to try to understand it better.  Back in the late 40s and 50s and early 60s, Israel was the darling of socialist/left-wing politics.  Women soldiers, kibbutzim, different ethnic groups comingling and cooperating — Israel was seen as the socialist phoenix rising from the ashes of right-wing fascism.  Conservatives, like Dwight Eisenhower, were among the biggest skeptics of this bold Jewish experiment.

I’m not sure what changed.  It may have been the rise of the PLO after 1967, and its association with other socialist guerilla/terror groups in Ireland and Japan (not to mention its obvious funding by the Soviets).  Jews have a long, cultural, almost genetic/instinctive suspicion of Christians, much older and deeper than their relatively recent animosity against Arabs and Muslims.  It may seem curious that the conservative fringe of America adopted the Israeli baby abandoned by liberals, but some PR wiz-kid in Israel must have figured out that there was a gold mine in America just waiting to be exploited.

That gold mine was fundamentalist Christianity.  For more than a century, these scattered and mostly self-regulated Christians (each church was completely autonomous or else their structured hierarchy was much weaker than than those of Catholics and other large mainstream Protestant groups) have embraced a notion of how the world will end that is, to put it as nicely as I can, exegetically wacky.  Their end-of-the-worldview colors everything else, from how they understand natural events to economic and foreign policy.  Key to their thinking about how it all ends is that Jews will return to Palestine, rebuild their Old Testament temple, fight a big battle with everybody else, and then convert to Christianity.

When Israel was recognized in 1948, it was their Eureka! moment.  It seemed to validate their end-times fantasies and fundamentalists everywhere started synchronizing their prophetic watches in a giant countdown to Armageddon.  And this is where orthodox Christianity completely fell down on the job.  Instead of pointing out what asinine flummery their claims were, based on sacred writings they all had in common, the leading Christian voices in America were completely (as far as I know) silent.  That awkward silence over the last half century has resulted in fundamentalist silliness seeping into even the most orthodox, conservative congregations in the country.  It is so entrenched, in the music, the worship services, and worst of all, in the way these Christians are instructed to view the world around them, that I’m not sure it can ever be completely expunged.

Anyway, Israel takes full advantage of this love affair that has now saturated so much of Christendom.  Huckabee’s recent trip to help settlers take Jerusalem property from Arabs is just one small example.  All across America, Christian pastors get free trips to Israel for organizing tours to the “Holy Land,” tours which always include visits with IDF officers who thank them for defending poor little Israel against the hordes of godless Arabs arrayed against it.  These pastors and tourists come back to America enraptured (there’s a pun in the use of that word) that they have somehow helped David battle Goliath.  Their frenzied enthusiasm is contagious and catches on with little thought given to the absurdity of it all.  Israel is largely a secular nation with little interest in religion, Judaism or otherwise, but this mutual admiration machine reaps great PR and financial rewards for all Israelis and many American Christians, particularly Christian leaders who, if they have even a modicum of theological training, should know better.

If you’re still awake and reading, the point I’m trying to make is this.  If you could fix everything at a secular/political/military/diplomatic level — return or otherwise compensate the Palestinians, establish an equitable government that provides rights and safety nets and promotes opportunities for everyone, regardless of their ethnicity and/or religion — then there is still a deep, widespread, unchecked belief among too many Americans, that flows and pulses out of sight and mind of secularists, that Jews are special/good/right and Arabs are not.  If you don’t fix that undercurrent of what is ultimately little more than institutionalized racism and bigotry, then all the surface corrections are for naught.  Unless you defuse the gut-feeling emotions that in turn drives political realities, American power and influence will again favor Jews and deny Arabs and once more destabilize the region.

I am deeply pessimistic about long-term improvements in the Middle East as long as this underlying foolishness is ignored and allowed to fester.  We can’t blame the Jews for everything.  There are limits to what they can do, unless we blindly throw our support behind all that they do…

Permanent link to this article: http://levantium.com/2008/08/24/layers/

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