Israel’s Best Friends are its Worst Enemies
by Eileen Fleming
If we truly love our friends will we always tell them the truth and call them on their bad behavior. When religion and politics are in bed together we the people for Justice and Peace get screwed!
Many of my Christian sisters and brothers are members of the fastest growing cult in America: Christian Zionism-which has nothing much in common with what Jesus was all about- and one of its leader is the fundamentalist fire and brimstone preacher, John Hagee.
On 6 November 2007, I attended a Hagee fest in Miami, Florida at the James L. Knight Center that was packed to the rafters with Hagee’s tribe of Christian Zionists and south Florida’s right wing Jewish community.
Zion’s Fire Banners, dancers, singers and a band whipped the crowd into a frenzy of spinning, jumping, clapping, twirling and moved the rotund Hagee to link arms with men in skull caps and dance the Hora-not to Hava Nagila- but to repeated choruses of:
From one end of the stage to the other, the largest American and Israeli flags I have ever seen were draped side by side and by the end of the evening I imagined every star on the red-white-and blue had morphed into the Star of David.
Miami-Dade County Commissioner Joe Martinez pointed to the flags and exclaimed: “Isn’t that beautiful up there together? I get goose bumps! All nations have been created by an act of man, except Israel was created by an act of God.”
Rabbi Freedman delivered the Invocation, “We are all friends of the only democracy in the Middle East.”
I immediately recalled what American Israeli, Jeff Halper, the Founder and Coordinator of ICAHD/Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions told me during one of my five journeys to Jerusalem:
“Israel is a not a democracy but is an Ethnocracy, meaning a country run and controlled by a national group with some democratic elements but set up with Jews in control and structured to keep them in control.”
Rabbi Freedman continued on, “From Mount Sinai to Mount Zion to Mount Vernon we are all Zionists! Israel is second to America in how many immigrants we have absorbed.”
Immigrant absorption in Israel comes with perks and is called Aliyah, [“go up”] and is a fundamental concept of Zionism enshrined in Israel’s Law of Return, which permits any Jew from any where in the world the legal right to government assisted immigration and settlement in Israel, automatic Israeli citizenship, unemployment benefits, free medical, and subsidized housing. Young adult immigrants receive free room, utilities, and three meals a day for the first five months and 100 percent of their tuition is paid by the government.
Hagee’s mastery of manipulating the fears of his audience garnered him a standing ovation as the shofars blew, “Israel was re-born by an act of God and Israel lives! The Jews have suffered great persecution and survived slavery and the Final Solution! God Jehovah will bury Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran! The flag of Israel will fly over the undivided Jerusalem and be the praise of all the earth! It’s 1938 again and the new Hitler is Ahmadinejad! Radical Islamisicts are threatening to develop nuclear weapons in order to destroy Israel and then the USA! But we are indivisible and we are both here forever!”
The oft repeated comment ascribed to President Ahmadinejad, that “Israel must be wiped off the map,” was addressed by Virginia Tilley, Professor of political science who wrote:
“In his October 2005 speech, Mr. Ahmadinejad never used the word ‘map’ or the term ‘wiped off’. According to Farsi-language experts like Juan Cole and even right-wing services like MEMRI, what he actually said was ‘this regime that is occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time.’
“In this speech to an annual anti-Zionist conference, Mr. Ahmadinejad was being prophetic, not threatening. He was citing Imam Khomeini, who said this line in the 1980s (a period when Israel was actually selling arms to Iran, so apparently it was not viewed as so ghastly then). Mr. Ahmadinejad had just reminded his audience that the Shah’s regime, the Soviet Union, and Saddam Hussein had all seemed enormously powerful and immovable, yet the first two had vanished almost beyond recall and the third now languished in prison. So, too, the ‘occupying regime’ in Jerusalem would someday be gone. His message was, in essence, ‘This too shall pass.'”
Tikkun is Hebrew for mend, repair and transform the world.
Tikkun is also an interfaith organization which researched to discover that there are three distinct elements energizing Christian Zionists:
1. A strong commitment to conservative and ultra-nationalist American politics (so strong, I believe, that if the U.S. were to decide to break with Israel, this part of the Christian Zionist leadership would go along with that and drop its defense of Israeli policies).
2. Dispensationalist religious commitments that lead many of the Christian Zionists to yearn for a cataclysmic “end of history” eschatological war in the Middle East that will precipitate the second coming of Jesus and the Rapture in which all true Christians will go to heaven and all Jews who have not yet converted to Christianity will burn in hell for eternity.
3. A widespread understanding among many Christians that atonement and repentance is needed for 1700 years of murder, rape, and oppression of Jews that was frequently generated by the Church (though, of course, the Evangelicals do not recognize that church as their church). In this category are many Christian Zionists who genuinely feel terrible about what has happened to the Jews and genuinely want to help the Jewish people. Their philo-Semitism is real and sincere. [Rabbi Lerner, Tikkun Magazine page 9, Nov/Dec. 2007]
But in Miami that night, multitudes of misled and misinformed Christian’s celebrated military occupation, violence, power and political control but ignored the gospel Jesus preached: “It is the peacemakers who shall be called the children of God.” –Matthew 5:9
Hagee repeatedly cited that all worship the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but neglected to mention that the first mention of Israel is in Genesis 32:22, when Jacob was renamed Israel for having wrestled and struggled with the Divine.
Hagee threw out the names of all the Hebrew prophets, but not the fact that God raised up prophets to speak truth to power and arrogance and to remind people of what God desires:
“What does God require? He has told you o’man! Be just, be merciful, and walk humbly with your Lord.” -Micah 6:8
God also raised up prophets to remind them they cannot know the mind of the Mystery of the Universe, for “His thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.”- Isaiah 55:8
God raised up prophets to admonish the “stiff necked people” [Exodus 34:9, Proverbs 29:1] and that “My people are fools, they do not know me! They are skilled in doing evil, they know not how to do good.”-Jeremiah 4:22
Hagee invoked the “Torah Way” but neglected what the Torah commands:
“From Moses to Jeremiah and Isaiah, the Prophets taught…that the Jewish claim on the land of Israel was totally contingent on the moral and spiritual life of the Jews who lived there, and that the land would, as the Torah tells us, ‘vomit you out’ if people did not live according to the highest moral vision of Torah. Over and over again, the Torah repeated its most frequently stated mitzvah [command]:
“When you enter your land, do not oppress the stranger; the other, the one who is an outsider of your society, the powerless one and then not only ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself’ but also ‘you shall love the other.'” [Rabbi Lerner, TIKKUN Magazine, page 35, Sept./Oct. 2007 ]
Because as Don Hewitt always said: “The formula is simple and it’s reduced to four words every kid in the world knows: Tell me a story. It’s that easy.”
In Chapter 16, I told the story of A CONFRONTATIONAL CONVERSATION
“Father Paul, you cannot possibly be telling me that an Episcopal priest has been taken in by fundamentalist theology?” Terese incredulously asked the new assistant to the rector at St. Joan of Arc Episcopal Church in Orlando, who also served at the noon mass every Wednesday.
Father Paul Hendricks was a passionate evangelist on a mission to convert every Jew he encountered to become a Christian. Terese had kept her silence for the first six months she had been listening to his Wednesday noon sermons, but finally broke her silence after the rest of the parishioners had departed.
Paul sighed and shook his head. “Look, Mrs. Hunter, I read your op/ed in the newspaper about Israel and Palestine, and we both agree we want peace; we just go about it differently.”
“Father, let me say that the fastest growing cult in the U.S.A. is the cult of Christian Zionism. Approximately 25 million U.S. Christians believe as you do, and I am most depressed to see that the simple answers of fundamentalism have reached their tentacles into the thinking man’s church. You just preached for thirteen minutes on Genesis 12:3–‘I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse: and in you all the families of the world are blessed’–as if God meant blessings to be political power and military might. Father, surely you understand that the belief of the ancient Israelites, who held that they were chosen, as if they were somehow special from others, as if God esteemed them above others, is just basic primitive nationalism. Come on, Father, looking down on one’s enemies to foster one’s own tribal interest and praying to God to smite one’s enemies is what the ancients did. Isn’t it about time we moved beyond that limited thinking?”
Father Paul clenched his fists and held them behind his back, as he suppressed a simmering rage. He stood nine inches above Terese’s upturned head, and with a slick smile and condescending tone told her, “Mrs. Hunter, you are very misled. The text is understood to mean a blessing to Abraham’s lineage–”
Terese cut in. “Agreed! And Genesis 12:3 was promised even before Ishmael, the father of the Arab nation, and Isaac, the Jew, were born! And what about the very first mention of Israel? Jacob was renamed Israel for having wrestled and struggled with God. That is how I understand Israel; everyone who struggles and wrestles with God is Israel, too. Israel means more than a geographical location, Father Paul.”
“Mrs. Hunter, the modern state of Israel is the fulfillment of the prophetic scriptures, and God’s covenant with Israel is eternal, exclusive, and will not be abrogated. I refer you to Genesis 12:1-7, 15:4-7, 17:1-8; Leviticus 26:44-45; and Deuteronomy 7:7:8.”
“And Father, I refer you to Matthew 5:43-45, which does not only critique Genesis 12:3; it blows it apart, for Christ commanded, ‘Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despite-fully use you, that you maybe children of your Father.’”
The two had reached Paul’s SUV and he silently prayed he could make a swift escape, but Terese had positioned herself at the driver’s door, and if he were to open it swiftly, she could be easily moved aside. Father Paul entertained the thought for more than a moment, but remained mute and still, as the tiny woman exploded with a torrent of words.
“Look, blind allegiance to the Israeli government has allowed them to become a big bully, and isn’t God always on the side of the oppressed? My sense is that you Zionists see the political state of Israel as a replacement for Christ and that certainly is not Christianity!
“How do you take Genesis 12:3 to literally mean that blessings equal land and political power, yet ignore God’s promise in Genesis 21:17-20 to ‘make a great nation out of Ishmael’s descendants and that ‘God was with the boy.’ Yet your way of thinking allows the growing apartheid wall to continue, and supports occupation and oppression of people that God also made promises too.”
“Mrs. Hunter, why don’t you make an appointment and we can discuss this further? I really have to go.”
“Okay, I can take a hint, but let me leave you with this: when religion and politics are in bed together, everybody gets screwed! The Israeli government is using you Zionists as apologists in support of their agenda of illegal occupation and settlements in the West bank, Golan, and Gaza, on literal biblical grounds taken out of context. Your blind allegiance to every act of Israel, understood as being orchestrated by God and which should therefore be condoned, supported, and even praised, makes me want to puke! And I wonder about the true motives of Christians who actually relish the idea of Armageddon and love to speculate on who gets ‘left behind.’ Christ was very clear that there will be a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth by those who were so sure they were in, but get left out. God has always been on the side of the oppressed, and your uncritical endorsement and justification for Israel’s racist and apartheid policies are an abomination.”
The stunned and silent priest watched in relief as Terese turned, flipped her braid, and walked away…….
I will not, I cannot walk away until US policy changes course and Gaza Palestine are free from military occupation, so I am on my way to D.C. to converse with my American and Israeli sisters and brothers at AIPAC’s annual conference.