By Dow Marmur
Jerusalem (Jan 23, 2018) – It’s not uncommon to hear or read Israeli intellectuals telling us that Zionism is finished. It was essential for the establishment of the Jewish state and important in its early decades, but by now it has ceased to be relevant. These critics often describe themselves as post-Zionists. Many Israelis, particularly but by no means only on the political Right, disagree vehemently.
Post-Zionists differ from anti-Zionists. The latter believe that the very establishment of a Jewish state was a mistake. It has reduced Jews to behaving like all those who’ve persecuted them through the ages. The recent decision to exile African asylum seekers in Israel to Rwanda or any other country that will have them is an apt illustration. The authentic destiny of the Jewish people, as articulated for example by George Steiner, is to be perennial guests in other lands, whatever the cost and the pain.
Both these views are radically different from views expressed by U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence, the ardent Catholic Christian Zionist. In the course of his current visit to Israel he has warmed the hearts of many Israelis, especially those on the right of the political spectrum.
As is well known, Christian Zionists believe that it’s imperative that all Jews come together in the land of their ancestors so that they can finally see the light and accept one of their own, Jesus of Nazareth, as the Messiah. In this scheme of things, Zionism is a tool of universal redemption and it behooves all Christians to espouse it.
This kind of Zionism – in the oft cited formulation by Yehuda Bauer, the great Holocaust historian – loves Jews and hates Judaism. It would, therefore, make sense for all Jews to say to all the Christian Zionists, including Mr. Pence, thanks but no thanks. However, that’s not how most Israelis react. Pence has been received in Israel with enthusiasm, especially but not only by politicians on the Right.
The love of right-wing Jewish politicians for fundamentalist Christians of Pence’s ilk isn’t new. For many years now many Jews have been anxious to ignore the theology in favour of the politics of evangelists. Years ago, for example, the late Benny Elon, an Orthodox rabbi and at the time Israel’s minister of tourism, urged these ardent Christians to stop trying to convert Jews and turn to Muslims as their targets. Muslims were his enemies, missionary Christians apparently were his trusted friends.
Enthusiastic supporters of Christian Zionists are said to be prepared to ignore evangelical theology and “re-interpret” the missionary zeal by maintaining that, in the world of Realpolitik, Israel has no choice but to stay close to them. Even if this is expedient politics, it’s lethal ideology. The least we can do is to learn to differentiate between them and not collude with religious suicide.
By doing so, we may be able to welcome the Vice-President with the expected pomp and civility, even warmth, without in any way being duped to embrace his deep-rooted sinister intentions.
To repeat: It would be suicide for Jews to give up on traditional Zionism and rely on the Zionism of Christian fundamentalists whose aim seems to be to gather us in the land God promised us to turn us into believing Christians. Our action, so it is implied, will not only save us but redeem the whole world.
Well-meaning Jewish intellectuals no less than pious Jews and ardent Israeli patriots may thus be playing into the hands of our loving enemies.