The following is a transcript of a lecture given at the McHenry, Maryland United Methodist Church on October 7, 2014. It is similar, but not identical, to the lecture (with a somewhat similar title) given on June 12, 2014 to another group. For the latter, go here.
I’ll begin with a few words about America and its historical ideals, which, of course, most Christians treasure and seek to preserve; and then I’ll discuss where Israel fits into the scene.
America is the unique nation in world history founded upon an idea. All other nations, current and in the past, came into existence because of one or more of: language, religion, ethnic or racial identity, geographical proximity, population transfer, colonial boundaries, etc. But the US was established based upon an idea – that human beings are meant to live free and the structure of society should be organized so as to foster, protect and maximize individual liberty.
Sadly, at this moment in our nation’s history, liberty in America is under assault – and with an effectiveness that is without precedent. This is a topic with which everyone here is quite familiar. Indeed, it is the reason why many people in the United States are so agitated these days. We are literally bearing witness to a startling deterioration in our freedoms and it has us worried, fearful and struggling to reverse the trend. However, that is not the topic that I wish to address today.
But before addressing my topic, let me point out that one of our freedoms that is clearly under assault is our religious freedom — that is, the right to live our lives, run our businesses and raise our children according to the precepts of the religion that we espouse. This too should be a familiar refrain to all present here today. The increasing secularization of American society and its growing manifestations of intolerance toward and lack of accommodation for people of faith – especially Christians – is deeply disturbing. However, once again, that is not the specific topic that I wish to address here today.
In order to motivate my topic, let me observe that part of the American gestalt regarding liberty is that we not only treasure our own, but we see it as our duty to promote and protect it outside of our borders as well. That obligation is a key part of what we understand as American Exceptionalism. It helps to explain why we fought so vigorously to defeat Nazism and Communism – two of the greatest tyrannical forces ever to menace the planet. In fact, those two were the paramount threats to freedom in the twentieth century and it is to America’s eternal credit that we led the fight to consign them to the ash heap of history. The great menace of Islamism appears to be an analogous threat in the twenty-first century and – so far at least – America’s role in the battle against it has been inconsistent and uncertain, especially in comparison to its previous two heroic struggles – but that too is a topic for another day.
Instead, I come to the main point – Israel. In fact, the tiny nation of Israel is another bastion of freedom in the world – indeed in a part of the world where people have rarely if ever tasted the sweet flavor of human freedom. There was a period, roughly three decades ago, when freedom was on the march around the globe. Countries in Eastern Europe, Asia, Latin America, even Africa were casting off the yoke of tyranny and establishing free societies. Alas, it was a temporary phenomenon, as many have reverted to their former modes. Moreover, even in Western Europe, due to the growing tyranny of a pan continental government, freedom is in retreat. And, as I have observed, the US has not been immune. But Israel, on the other hand, has bucked the trend.
In principle, Israel at its founding was a free country. Of course, the rationale for its existence was very different from that of the US. Its primary raison d’etre is to serve as the revived nation state of the Jewish people – an ethnic nation state, which, ironically, is a concept that has lost favor in the western world. Nevertheless, Israeli society is one that operates under the rule of law, with regular elections, a free press, independent judiciary, and many of the guarantees of individual rights found in our Bill of Rights. It took Israel thirty years to cast off one party rule and another twenty years to abandon its socialist economy. In fact, one can legitimately argue that Israeli society today is more conducive to individual liberty than it has ever been, and it certainly compares favorably to any other democratic state you might cite – including any in Western Europe and even the United States.
But whoa, you might object; what about the matter of its Arab population? That is a legitimate objection, but it is also true that the Arabs of Israel enjoy more individual freedom than is experienced by any citizen in any of the 22 Arab states anywhere in the Middle East.
Well, Japan is a free country and the US is bound by treaty to protect it. The 28 nations of NATO are free countries (more or less to varying degrees) and we are treaty bound to protect them. Since the time of the Monroe Doctrine, we have felt obliged to protect the nations of Latin America – and many of them are not free. You would have to go thousands of miles from Jerusalem into Africa or Asia to find another group of free people. Israel is a precious island of freedom in a sea of tyranny, chaos and bloodshed. If we are to remain true to the idea that America is a beacon of freedom to mankind and that we are devoted to nurturing it where it exists or where it is struggling to come into existence, then we have a holy obligation to help the Israelis keep alive the freedoms they enjoy in such a dangerous neighborhood – an obligation, incidentally, on which the current administration gags and seeks to shirk at every opportunity.
The next point may be self-evident, but it is worth making. The threat to freedom in America today comes from within, not from without. We are in no danger of being conquered by Soviet communists or the Chinese military or Islamic Jihadists. The grave danger we face arises from the traitorous intentions of some of our fellow citizens, compounded by the simple-minded ignorance of so many of their neighbors. Unimaginably, the radical left has managed to overrun the cultural institutions of the nation; they now control virtually all of the opinion-molding organs of American society: the media, universities, public education, libraries, the legal profession – and even the seminaries. It took them a century to accomplish this, but they did it. And as is well-known, the flow runs downhill from culture to politics, so it is not surprising that the cultural putsch has resulted in a political revolution – including the capture of the presidency.
Israel struggles to some extent with the same kind of sinister internal forces. But the main threat – indeed an existential threat – to Israel is external. It has two components: Islamic rejection and European anti-Semitism. Regarding the first, from the birth of the Zionist movement a century and a half ago until this day, the Arab world – indeed, the Muslim world – has been and remains unalterably opposed to any kind of Jewish homeland, much less a sovereign Jewish State in the Middle East. Some of this stems from historical anti-Jewish bias in the Muslim world, but the main impetus comes from the Muslim concept of the Ummah: the lands of the Middle East constitute an Ummah, sacred Muslim soil on which no independent, non-Muslim entity may exist. Incidentally, like the deceased Soviet Empire, the Ummah is a constantly expanding, never contracting entity. Thus, Spain was absorbed into the Ummah over a millennium ago; it is a blasphemy against Allah that it escaped, and the Spanish State is viewed by Muslims – when they think about it – as nearly as illegitimate as Israel. In any event, in the Arab/Muslim world, Israel is not only illegitimate; it is an abomination, a violation of the sanctity of the Ummah, a cancer “populated by the descendants of apes and pigs” – if I may cite the words of Obama’s good friend, Mohamed Morsi, former president of Egypt. Israel will never be accepted and like any cancer it must be destroyed.
How’s that for an attitude common to all your neighbors! Alas, that is only one-half of the threat. The other half is that of European-inspired, albeit world-wide anti-Semitism; good old-fashioned Jew hatred. Tomes have been written about the phenomenon of anti-Semitism, its origins, its causes, its manifestations. Let me just remark sorrowfully that, less than 70 years since European anti-Semitism led to the horror of the Holocaust, the systematic murder of one-third of world Jewry; less than 70 years since the liberation of the last death camp, this deadly virus is back and, as before, has its headquarters in the societies of Western Europe. Sad to say, the recent Israel-Hamas conflict instigated a further flare-up in Europe – and even in the US to some extent.
However, whereas in the past the Jewish people were dispersed around the globe, today 80% of world Jewry is found in two places: Israel and the United States. For the moment, the attention of the world’s anti-Semites is focused almost exclusively on Israel. Its manifestations include: vile accusations, biased journalism, incipient boycotts and disinvestment movements, occasional small-scale deadly attacks on Jews or Israelis in Europe (as has happened recently in Bulgaria, France and Belgium), and finally rampant support for Arab/Muslim efforts to delegitimize and ultimately destroy the Jewish State. From a purely physical standpoint, Israel is able to defend itself against European anti-Semitism – I venture that the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) could defeat a NATO force that lacked American participation. But when combined with the threat from Iran and the rest of the Muslim world, European anti-Semitism does magnify significantly the danger level that Israel confronts.
Therefore, in summary, although the nature of the threat to freedom in Israel is different from the type of threat that faces us, the threat to Israel’s freedom is very real. Once again, if the US is to be true to its values and its history, then we are duty bound to come to the aid of the beleaguered Jewish State.
I will next present two sets of points addressed specifically to the title of the talk, and then conclude with a perhaps unusual comparison of a key aspect of Israeli and American societies. The two sets are: (i) Why the issue of American defense of Israel is particularly an American Christian issue; and (ii) what specific steps America can take in defense of Israel.
First, why should American Christians care about Israel and its threatened freedom? For some Christians, usually of the evangelical variety, the answer is couched in terms of scripture. I will attempt a more secular and non-sectarian response. But before I list the reasons, I should mention that in forthcoming language, I tend to conflate American conservatives and American Christians on the right side of the political/cultural ledger; and equivalently liberals/progressives and secular Americans on the left. Of course this is an oversimplification. There are certainly many examples of secular conservatives, as well as people of faith whose political outlook steers to the left. But these tend to be more the exception rather than the rule. I believe that, generally speaking, the groupings implicit in the reasoning that follows are typically on target, albeit not universally valid.
- As we’ve seen, the left in America cares far more about equality than liberty. Well if the left is not troubled by the loss of freedom in America, do you really expect it to care about the liberty of a bunch of Middle Eastern Jews? And in fact, we have seen increasing hostility toward Israel expressed by America’s leftists. That hostility is generally shared by secularists for whom the ethnic nation state of Israel holds no attraction. Obama is exhibit 1 in this regard. The responsibility passes to conservatives in the US – especially of the religious variety – to uphold the ideal of American Exceptionalism in general and the support of free countries, like Israel, in particular.
- Another historical aspect of American society that finds little favor on the left is traditional culture, including strong morals infused by a religious foundation. The notion of an ethnic nation state founded as a haven for a tiny religious community doesn’t really rank high on the left’s list of important ideals. Ditto for secularists. Once again, it falls to American Christians to uphold the Jewish State – i.e., the state one of whose key components is the religion that gave birth to the religion that does – or at least did – undergird much of the morals that guide (or guided) our country.
- Christians often refer to the miraculous nature of the founding of America. This was perhaps expressed most eloquently by President Reagan when he said: “I’ve always believed that this land was placed here between the two great oceans by some divine plan. That it was placed here to be found by a special kind of people – people who had a special love for freedom and who had the courage to uproot themselves and leave hearth and homeland, and come to what, in the beginning, was the most undeveloped wilderness possible.” Indeed the miracles implicit in Reagan’s words were and have been concrete: for example, that we won the Revolutionary War – a dicey proposition that; that we were able to overcome the crippling monetary problems that followed independence and establish the Constitution; that we survived the Civil War; that we were able to defeat 20th century totalitarianism; that we have managed to create arguably the most robust, tolerant and peaceful multi-ethnic nation in the history of the world. All of this is miraculous. But perhaps not as miraculous as the reconstitution of an ancient people, homeless and persecuted for two thousand years, said reincarnation being accompanied by the rebirth of its ancient language, essentially not spoken for two millennia, and involving the absorption of millions of destitute immigrant brethren from around the world – all of it resulting in a free, strong and prosperous modern nation – Israel. Now that’s a miracle. As people of faith, American Christians should identify with this miraculous story and help to see that it retains its storybook vitality.
- Finally, we often bemoan the irresponsible behavior of our European cousins – behavior that is usually encouraged by our liberal/secular siblings in America. We rue their unwillingness to defend themselves and how they often cuddle up to unsavory characters who threaten their freedom (Vladimir Putin, for example). By actively supporting Israel, we send the Europeans a clear message that their anti-Semitism is unacceptable and their overall irresponsible behavior is self-defeating and dangerous to liberty. American liberals won’t send that message; once again, it falls to conservatives to do so.
Next, I would like to outline just a few concrete steps America could take to help defend Israel. American Christians should be advocating these steps.
- First and most obvious, political support in world forums. These include combatting anti-Israel UN resolutions, warnings to states that threaten Israel, agreements with Israel on bilateral issues, and enabling closer cooperation between Israel and America and its allies.
- Military support. No one is suggesting that American troops need be deployed to Israel, but America should ensure that Israel is supplied with the most advanced weaponry and that it maintains its qualitative edge over its Arab enemies. Unfortunately, there are unconfirmed reports that the Obama administration actually withheld military supplies from Israel during this summer’s conflict.
- Maintain American vigilance in the long battle against jihadism and radical Islam.
- Drop the even-handed nonsense and give Israel the full-blown political support that it deserves. The Arabs in general and the Palestinians in particular are not democrats, not free marketeers, not lovers of liberty. We should put our mouth where our values are and cut out the politically correct phony evenhandedness.
- Move the US Embassy to Jerusalem.
- Regarding the futile and never-ending so-called Middle East Peace Process, support the resolution of it that is advocated by Caroline Glick in her new book: “The Israeli Solution: A One State Plan for Peace in the Middle East.” Any further words here on the book and its ideas would take us too far astray, but listeners are recommended strongly to read Glick’s book. It contains a trenchant analysis of how America, in its pursuit and sponsorship of the fatally flawed Middle East Peace Process, is basically repeating the exact same mistakes that Britain made in trying to administer the League of Nations Mandate for Palestine.
- Fight anti-Semitism in all its manifestations in all locales where it rears its ugly head.
- Our dependence on Middle Eastern oil is declining. We should adjust our Middle East policies accordingly.
- At least consider the idea of a defense treaty with Israel. This is admittedly a tricky proposition. But we are treaty bound to defend Formosa. Is that island more important to us than Israel?
- Finally, get rid of Obama and all the other leftists – whose back-stabbing of Israel is only one of the many harms that they are perpetrating on the United States of America.
Here is my final idea – the one, which I suggested earlier, that you might find a bit unusual. The US and Israel are both what I would call “biblical societies” – in the following sense. The Bible, specifically the Old Testament, represents a deal that the ancient Israelis made with God more than three thousand years ago – a deal which, incidentally, they viewed as binding on their descendants. The Jews would obey all of God’s mitzvot, i.e., commandments and in so doing bring holiness to the world and be a light unto the nations, thus serving God’s purpose of having mankind perfect the world. In return God would make the Jews a great nation that would enjoy peace and prosperity. Arguably, neither side has kept his end of the bargain very well.
America has trod a similar path. Namely, a quarter millennium ago, the young Americans made a deal with themselves – a deal that they also viewed as binding on their descendants. The Bible in this case was the Constitution. The people pledged to live according to the rules set forth in the sacred document. In return they would receive lives of peace, freedom, prosperity and moral honor. They and their children would continue to know the blessing of freedom. We did a fairly good job of honoring the deal for a long time. But now we are in the process of abrogating it.
There is a theory that in spite of the fact that most Jews throughout history have failed to keep up their end of the bargain with God, there has always been a saving remnant (usually found among so-called Orthodox Jews) that followed the rules. It is because of the saving remnant that, in spite of repeated severe punishments, which He has allowed to befall the Jewish people, God still considers the deal to be in force. That explains why He has permitted the Jews to continue to exist for lo these many millennia.
Well, American Christians are the United States’ saving remnant. It is your job to remain faithful to the deal, to uphold the rules in the Constitution and to lead America back to the biblical arrangement made by our Founders.