Friends and Enemies
Jews would be well advised not to regard evangelical American Christians as their allies in a battle against Muslims.
That evangelical American Christians support Israeli government policies through thick and thin should come as no surprise to those who pay attention to Middle Eastern politics. And while it is well known that such groups support the Jewish homeland in Israel, believing it to precipitate the second coming, and oppose any land concessions to Palestinians, it is shocking nevertheless to learn quite how many people support such a view. According to pastor John Hagee, some 40 million people embrace evangelical thinking on the Jewish state's need to vanquish its Muslim enemies - Christian Palestinians, of course, being more friend than foe.
This is a serious problem not only for the Palestinians, but for Israel, whose chances of any peace settlement with its neighbours are greatly hindered by such a massive political lobby of people who probably know next to nothing about the intricacies of the Israel-Palestine conflict. However, what is perhaps more worrying is the readiness of certain Jewish groups to embrace such evangelical ideologies and trade on the notion that Israel's political climate is part of a wider conflict of cultures - the Jews and the Christians versus the Muslims.
A number of advertisements have appeared on Haaretz.com in recent weeks, attesting to this division. One such ad read: "Land of Judea. Settled by Israelite tribes. The land walked by Jesus. Now in Arab hands." By drawing attention to the Biblical nature of this West Bank region and a shared history between Jews and Christians, Arabs are then referred to as a present day threat to a Jewish-Christian unity.
Right-wing Jewish groups are quick to refer to the flight of Christian Palestinians from Bethlehem as though Muslim Palestinians are the enemy and Jews and Christians are united in their victim status. Judeo-Christian values are constantly referred to as though they are one and the same thing and that, in contrast, other peoples, and particularly Muslims, do not share these inherent values and are incapable of coming up with them on their own.
A few years ago, I was in Venice with my dad and we saw a chessboard in the window of a shop in the city's old Jewish Ghetto. The pieces were made up of rabbis and Jews on one side and Popes and Christians on the other and I remember my dad saying that that was the real battle - the Catholics were the Jews' real enemy, not the Arabs. He was joking, of course, but the point still stands that despite centuries of intermittent pogroms and persecution- and then the Holocaust - the advent of Arab Israeli hostility in the last century has led many to gloss entirely over the history of anti Semitism and conclude that Muslim Arabs are the real enemy and that Jews and Christians are natural allies.
I am not denying that there are serious divisions between Jews and Muslims in certain parts of the world, nor that there is no basis for hostility between Israel and Arab nations. Likewise, I welcome Jewish-Christian harmony, indeed wouldn't it be nice if we could all just get along? However, the focus on the Jewish-Muslim tension of the last 80 years and the good Jewish-Christian relations of the last 40 often deliberately inverts history, placing Christians as the eternal friend of the Jews and Muslims the eternal enemy, whereas the reality is rather more complex, with periods of calm and periods of conflict between all three religions throughout history.
By referring back to the Bible, and shared Judeo-Christian values and looking forward to the coming of the messiah, second or first, Jewish and Christian groups alike create a false continuum, an eternal union of religions, and reduce complex world politics to simplistic Manichean oppositions: Jews and Christians versus Muslims; enlightenment versus barbarism; good versus evil. Somehow the Jews who subscribe to such ideologies have placed themselves on the Christian side of the revived Crusades, whereas they were in fact always caught up in the middle.
And somewhere in the middle comes close to depicting the Jews' reality today. While Israel might be at the epicentre of the Middle East's turmoil, it is far too reductive to place it in a clash of west versus east. Likewise, the Jewish state is about nationalism, self-determination and independence, not part of a messianic development that will see Jews and Christians triumph and Muslims perish. The Israel-Palestine conflict demands a just resolution for both sides, not the convenient absorption into a wider conflict of culture which warmongers on both sides are willing towards world war three.
Right-wing Jews would do well to consider that despite Israel's current allegiances, the naturalisation of existent hostilities with certain Muslims as a timeless, unavoidable given, will do nothing to solve Israel's political problems. Islamist jihadis and evangelical Christians both view themselves as the bearers of truth and manipulate world events to bring about a final war between good and evil. Israeli politics are, and must remain, unconnected to such dichotomies and Jewish groups would do well to focus on solving Israel's problems as they exist in reality, rather than trying to curry Christian favour in exterminating the "eternal" Muslim enemy.
Josh Freedman Berthoud is a journalist and writer currently travelling through Israeli settlements in the West Bank and the Golan, gathering research for a book to be co-written with Seth Freedman, planned for publication next year. You can follow his progress on the trip at www.40yearson.blogspot.com.
© 2007 The Guardian