Thursday, January 26, 2006

More from Rolling Stone

While attending a Bible Church with the family (after taking communion at a Catholic Church):
Brownback chuckles when he's supposed to, sings every song, nods seriously when the preacher warns against "Judaizers" who would "poison" the New Testament.
"Judaizers"? What does that mean?

Google starts me off with historical references that end in the first century. It also turns up this bizarre little page.

Back in the day, the Judaizers where Jewish converts to Christianity (or Christianized sects of Jews, "Christianity" was a fluid concept in that era), and they insisted that converts to the teachings of Jesus ought to follow the Law of the Jewish Bible, especially circumcision, the mark of the Abrahamic covenant, the sign that descendants of Abraham were the heirs to Abraham's God, and to the lands promised him.

The loony reverend I linked above is building on that term. Jews aren't the Chosen People, he argues, because Christians are. Circumcision is meaningless because "Faith in Jesus is what truly counts."

OK, fine. This gets to an aspect of Christian exegesis I find frustrating: the idea that the New Testament rewrites the Old Testament. Apparently, God is so infallible that it was necessary to have copious letters explaining what parts of the Word really count and which were just filler.

Fine, whatever; asking for consistency in these matters is without much purpose. The thing that bothers me is that some Christians think they are more qualified than Jews to speak for Judaism and Israel.

The election of Hamas to a leadership role in the Palestinian authority has drawn some of that out into the open. Revka is livid about the implicit anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism of the election. At least, I think that's what she's livid about. The first draft of the post referred only to an unknown nation called "Isreal," and the thought process behind the post is pretty vague.

But clearly, she feels personally like Israel/"Isreal" is her land in some sense.

The fact that Sam Brownback is in the Senate in part because of an anti-Semitic push poll isn't a problem for her, I'm sure. The number of actual Jews she knows, let alone the information she has about the modern state of Israel is probably near zero (though she does now know how to spell it!).

But she thinks it's hers because there's some part of her that thinks that the real Chosen People, the true heirs to Abraham's covenant, are the Christians, not necessarily the Jews.

It's worth noting that the Zionist movement is not a historically religious movement (though modern Zionism often draws heavily on the Abrahamic covenant and the lands promised to his descendants). It was a nationalistic movement, one that sought safe harbor. While the Levant was a regular chart topper of locations for a Jewish homeland, Argentina was seriously considered, as was an area in modern Kenya.

Revka dismisses her imagined opponents as "socialists," forgetting that it was socialists who created the Zionist movement and who established kibbutzim as toeholds and proving grounds for the Jewish state to come.

My point is that Israel, like Judaism and Jews, is not an abstract concept. Israel is a nation, one with real residents, real citizens, real history, and real problems. Trying to fit Israel into premillenial dispensationalist conspiracy theories (only when "Greater Israel" is united will we have the second coming, so let's hurry it up!) puts real people in the line of fire. So long as those people are abstractions in a country that lives as an abstraction, it's easy. But if you think Israel's situation is easy, you've been napping for the last few decades.

Finding a successful two-state arrangement with the Palestinians is the only way to preserve the Zionist vision. The reason is simple demographics. The Arab populations of Israel and the occupied territories is growing faster than the Jewish population. That territory can sustain a Jewish state, a place where Jews are guaranteed safe haven, only under two circumstances:
  • a stable, reasonably prosperous Palestinian homeland is created
  • Israel ceases to be a democracy, relegating the Arab Muslims to second-class status
Since no one wants the former, only the latter is possible.

One of the unfortunate things about democracy is that the only people who get to decide on a country's leaders are the residents of that country, and even some of them don't get their choice.

Just as lots of countries would rather be dealing with President Gore or President Kerry, lots of countries would prefer to stick with President Abbas. But we'll have to put up with President Haniyeh.

There is hope, though. Fatah was voted out because people felt like social services weren't being handled well. There was frustration, and rather than resorting to violence, the Palestinian people came together and began a stately transfer of power. If Hamas, with its long experience delivering these services, does better, it will show the Palestinians that peaceful politics can be successful, and we can hope to see a different perspective on violence as a political tool.

Will Hamas recognize that Israel does and will exist? If they want to live up to their promises, yes.

Will Hamas enforce the ceasefire it has obeyed since last February? Here's hoping.

Arafat, for all his flaws, successfully put revolutionary violence behind him. If Hamas can do the same, this event may be remembered as the moment when peace in the Promised Land became possible. If not, it's a failure of politics and of individual humans, not of paper-thin stereotypes cut from the Bible.