Friday, January 16, 2009

More on Israel, Gaza, antisemitism and Armageddon

Although I have written before about having a "black" first name, I have never before written about having a Jewish last name, as I did for over 6 years.

I loved the combination, which made everybody just stare at me... and this was before Whoopi Goldberg became famous, using a similar fun name.

As I have written here, my father and I never got along, and I was therefore happy for the opportunity to dump his name. At age 19, I married a Jewish man, and decided it was my golden opportunity. I changed it as fast as I could. I didn't think twice. Good riddance, I thought, and I have never regretted it. [1]

I liked the double takes I got, from my African-American-associated first name, coupled with the Jewish last name. People would just *blink*--and it was fun and exotic to me.

At first, anyway.

I won't give the name here, but I will say the kind of name it is: Steinberg, Seinfeld, Silverman, Goldstein, Rosenthal. There isn't any question what kind of name it is. [2]

I like to think I catch on quick; it took me no time at all to figure out that there was significant negative fallout from having a Jewish surname. And I was totally unprepared for it. After all, I didn't grow up with the name. Who knew?

In school; on the job; in the Philadelphia airport or the Pittsburgh Greyhound depot; in a doctor or dentist's office; in an argument with some activists in D.C.... and countless other instances I have undoubtedly forgotten. The name would get exaggerated for effect: STEIN-BERG, dragged-out, an unexpected emphasis on the syllables, a certain weird facial expression... showing unmistakable surprise, quickly followed with barely-disguised contempt. A narrowing of the eyes, an unexpected glare or coldness from one who had been friendly only seconds before hearing the surname. In one instance, a superior who engaged in an ongoing, deliberate mispronouncing of the name in endless variations, virtually daring me to correct him.

I learned.

Therefore, let me assure you, I would never argue, in a million years, that antisemitism isn't real or is not a force to be reckoned with. In fact, over the years, I have repeatedly had to argue with skeptical, enlightened-liberal gentiles that YES, IT IS.

And so, in the giant monster thread over at Feministe (the first of a several-part series), I was more than willing to listen to David Schraub's analysis of how Israel's attack on Gaza, of which I have been very critical, must include an analysis of antisemitism.

Unfortunately, I don't think he made the case very well. Which isn't to say he isn't right.[3]


I moved south in 1987, where there are far fewer Jews than there are in the north, apart from certain long-standing enclaves in the cities (Charleston, Savannah, Atlanta)[4] and retirement areas (Myrtle Beach and Hilton Head). As in the movie Norma Rae (wherein Sally Field suddenly blurts out "You a Jew?"), there can be a free-floating hostility to Jews for reasons nobody can really explain. (In Norma Rae, she adds "I never met a Jew before! I thought yall had HORNS!") Since there has been so little previous interaction, the antisemitism is mixed with general xenophobia. Jews are regarded as weird strangers with strange ideas, and usually liberals.

But not always.

In moving to Greenville, South Carolina, I learned I was moving to a smallish southern town that had elected a Jewish mayor back in the 70s. (Max Heller)

You say what?! I was stunned; certainly, there are plenty of northern towns and cities that can't make that claim. At my first area gig, I learned that wasn't odd at all... local Baptists often regard Jews as special and 'chosen'...after all, they are Jesus Christ's own relatives. And from then on, I discovered a whole fundamentalist Christian cult around Jews and Jewishness, that I had not known existed.

This cultish devotion permeates modern Protestant evangelical theology today. It is most obvious in the whole LEFT BEHIND [5] cult, but is also apparent in the feverish obsession with eschatology in general.

And let me be very clear: this theology prizes the state of Israel, almost as much as it does the USA.

Israel is the crucial cornerstone of this theology. Without Israel, Christian end-times prophecies simply can not happen. Making sure these events DO happen, is regarded as one of the charges to fundamentalist and evangelical Christians; something they have literally conflated with The Great Commission.

Conservative writer Rod Dreher, back in 2002:

It may sound strange, but it's true: Aside from Jews, the strongest American supporters of Israel are Evangelical Christians, many of whom fervently believe God has granted the Jewish people a divine right to rule over historic Palestine. At times like the present, when the Jewish state is largely friendless in a hostile world, the Israelis depends on the backing of this politically potent bloc of American voters to exhort Washington to look favorably upon its interests.

"I think it would be fair to say that Evangelical support for Israel and its legitimate security interests has been paramount to Israel's support in Congress and in many administrations, second only to the Jewish Committee itself," says Republican political consultant Ralph Reed. "The Jewish community has played a strong role in keeping the Democratic party strongly pro-Israel, and Evangelicals have played a similar role among Republicans."

In 1998, Benjamin Netanyahu, who was then prime minister of Israel, was not falsely flattering an Evangelical audience in Washington when he said to them: "We have no greater friends and allies than the people sitting in this room." Indeed, as Columbia University religion scholar Randall Balmer puts it: "Evangelicals have been very charitable, to say the least, toward Israel, because they believe the Jews are the Chosen People of God, even though they failed to recognize Jesus as Messiah. They believe that God's promises to Israel are still good, and that any nation that doesn't line up with Israel is against God."

In this climate, to hold the opinion that Israel is out of line to attack Gaza, is to attack Christianity itself. (As one who took that position a couple of weeks ago, my subsequent emails are a testament to that very strong conviction.)

Thus, when I criticize Israel, I criticize the wedding of Christian theology to government... the unholy union of Church and State, which I think is unfailingly catastrophic for both Church and State, as history has repeatedly shown us.

I am very, very disappointed in David Schraub and other liberal apologists for Israel, who look the other way when this is pointed out to them.

My comments directed to Schraub (blogger at The Debate Link) during the Feministe brawl, echo my exasperation that the conversation remains focused on Israelis vs. Palestinians, overlooking that sticky issue of WHERE THE MONEY TO MAKE WAR COMES FROM in the first place. I was pretty much ignored by people (including Schraub) who don't want to look at that... and having just had a long and convoluted conversation with a fundamentalist Christian who wears a Star of David (really), I am then astounded to go to a thread wherein people say things like "Jews are hated by most"... say what?!?

The juxtaposition of these world-views (my daily-existence here in hyper-Baptist upstate SC/the version of reality reflected in the thread) makes me dizzy. Erasure does that to people. I finally get it: This is New York, the East coast, the West coast, people with highfalutin educations talking. They have no idea what's going on out here. Clueless as hell. They don't even know the lyrics to "Our God is an awesome God"--I should not be surprised. These were the people who were slack-jawed at Sarah Palin's rise; these are the people who argue about Gaza at elite cocktail parties, not with people of faith.

But you know, when you count the votes, they start to add up. There are a lot of us that don't live on the coasts. There are a lot of us who don't even go to fundamentalist churches, yet can give you the 1-2-3 of apocalyptic events, right after the Rapture. It's just osmosis. Of course we know. We know what the Book of Revelation says, what the antichrist is supposed to do, what the Tribulation will involve. This is second-nature if you live in certain corners of the south; how do you avoid hearing about it? I am Catholic, and I was officially told that the End of Days would be, you know (dismissive wave of the hand) a long time from now. I have never heard a single Catholic sermon on the End Times, unless it's to warn you to stop obsessing about it. (My priest, whom I have criticized here before, actually told people in our parish to stop reading the dopey Left Behind books, unless they properly understood it was all fiction.) Everything I know about the Rapture, was communicated to me via Bible tracts, personal conversation, radio, TV, emails, and numerous intense sermons delivered face-to-face.

And as I attempted to tell the intrepid David Schraub: These people are all 100% pro-Israel. Schraub talks about "gentile privilege"--and then refuses to see that the backing of Israel by these Christians, is part and parcel of that privilege.

On the tumultuous thread in question, I wrote:
And I believe an understanding of fundamentalist Christian prophecy, (The Book of Revelation, Armageddon, The Rapture and Tribulation, the antichrist, false prophets, et. al.) is necessary to understand exactly why many Christians will gladly pay any amount of money necessary to do what they believe is crucial to Israel’s survival, which of course means mowing down the heathens and infidels that surround it. No questions asked… I mean, that IS part of the prophecy…you know that, right?

I’m amazed at how many people don’t.

The Southern Baptist Convention (to name only the largest denomination that subscribes to these prophecies) has over 16 million members and more than 42,000 churches. And this isn’t counting the Sarah Palin Pentecostals and countless other fellow-traveler denominations. Now, imagine all those votes, from very politically active people, deciding where the money goes.

Do you see now?
And then David replied:
Daisy: I’ll be talking somewhat about the role Christians have been playing in constructing the norms of philo-Zionist discourse in America a little bit in parts III and IV (short answer, I think what they’re doing is horrific), but the better discussion would be found in my post Can Zionism Be Defended by Proxies?
And if you go to that linked post, you basically get David saying, Wow, we wish the wacko Christians wouldn't use us like that...

You sure?

Rod Dreher again:
...tens of millions of Protestant Christians (though not all Evangelicals) [believe in the Rapture], and they tend to back Israel with an uncritical fervor that exceeds that of even some American Jews. The Israeli government tapped this deep, unlikely vein of support in the 1970s, and has assiduously courted these Christians for a generation — especially because many self-described "Christian Zionists" back Israeli settlements in the occupied territories as part of God's prophetic plan. One of the leading Christian Zionist organizations is the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, a nondenominational Protestant group (without diplomatic standing) which established a presence in the Israeli capital in 1980.

"We're trying daily to encourage the Israeli people," says Susan Michael, director of ICEJ's Washington office. "The Israelis are very depressed. We want to let them know that they have friends who understand the battle they're in."

Esther Levens is a Jew and a Kansas Republican who founded an ecumenical group called National Unity Coalition for Israel, a network of over 200 Jewish and Christian congregations who pray for, donate to and lobby on behalf of the Jewish state. She chides American Jews for being "a little short-sighted" in not properly valuing the efforts Christian conservatives make for Israel.
What is David Schraub saying to Esther Levens and her friends? Anything?

I replied, in part:
David–no offense, but I found a lot lacking in that post you linked to. I’ll be writing more about this myself, because I think it’s a major paradox that needs illuminating when we discuss these issues.

If you want to discuss “gentile privilege”–then understanding that the present agenda has little to do with you, and everything to do with the gentiles, is a necessary first step. You don’t seem ready to do that, since this discomfiting reality disturbs you. Of course, the gentiles will use Israel as the gentiles see fit. That’s what privilege is.

FACT: Zionists are actively collaborating with hard-line fundamentalist Christians, who seek to bring about the conditions necessary for the Second Coming. Period. You don’t get to tell them to back off. They have the privilege, remember? They are calling the shots; you have helped to create a monster. What are you going to do about that, besides pointing at Rick Warren and Mike Huckabee and going “Ew!” –? (PS: They don’t care what you think, they have a prophecy to fulfill.)

You have reminded me of the joke about the southern Baptist preacher who was asked if he believed in infant Baptism.

“Are you kidding?” he said, “I’ve SEEN it done!”

“Can Zionism be defended by Proxies?”

“Are you kidding? I’ve SEEN it done!”
Of course, this whole discussion is far from over, and Part II up already, titled Anti-Semitism and Subordination Part II: The Myth of Jewish which Schraub writes:
Folks talk about the way the Christian Evangelical community defends Israel. But as far as I’m concerned, their defenses are anti-Semitic too – the glee they hold at the prospect of Israel being the front-line of the “clash of civilizations” is taking pleasure in Jews dying for their cause.
No, their defenses are not textbook antisemitism... again, Schraub doesn't live here, and has obviously never spoken to these people he thinks he knows.

It is IDEALIZATION of Jews that marks the Evangelical approach, the idea that they are the Chosen People and can therefore do no wrong. [6]
The dominance of the Christian narratives amongst the defenses of Israel considered acceptable in the global sphere isn’t proof of Jewish power, but Jewish irrelevancy. Our voice gets superseded by Christian speakers who claim to be speaking on our behalf, but in fact are articulating a vision of “pro-Israel” that is very hostile to Jewish interests (this is one of the reasons I find groups like AIPAC allying with such speakers to be utterly unforgivable).
How is supporting Israel hostile to Jewish interests? In my humble opinion, that appears to be THE major Jewish interest right now, as evidenced by Schraub's whole series.


By coincidence, I wrote some of this when I was exhausted from cleaning up a huge mess of Acai berry juice, cheerfully flung across the floor of the store where I toil... by a 3-year-old ball of energy, a human pinball he was, bouncing off the walls and into the produce bins.

"Zion!" his mama kept calling, sternly, "Zion!"

Zion's beleaguered mama was wearing Quiverfull clothes and had five or six other energetic children to tend to.

In short, I very much doubt his name was a reference to THE MATRIX.


[1] I have been married three times, and I have had three last names. This, of course, echoes my mother, married four times, with four names. She always told me, if you want to be cool, you have the right to use all of them together, just as the Hollywood media has sometimes referred to my idol as Elizabeth Taylor Hilton Wilding Todd Fisher Burton Warner Fortensky. Sometimes, I like to put them all together like that, just to see how it sounds. It makes me sound either like a floozy or worldly, can't decide which.

(Since Liz was married to Richard Burton twice, does that mean we should repeat "Burton" twice? Do any of you Miss Manners fans know the answer to that one?)

[2] Lots of jolly fun at THIS WEBSITE... where you can find out the ethnic derivation of names, and where in the world they are concentrated. My maiden name, for instance, is most concentrated in Waimate District, New Zealand and Leeds in the UK.

This website is as addicting as Hershey's Kisses and you will eventually end up entering every name you know.

[3] Other participants in the thread asked why we had to talk about antisemitism, specifically. What about the concurrent hatred of the people under attack? Are we discussing hatred of Palestinians also? I think this is an excellent point, never sufficiently addressed by Schraub. In any event, I am putting this question on the back-burner for now, to better address my subject. But I do want to acknowledge the importance of this point, and underscore it here.

[4] For those who don't know about the lynching of Jewish factory-owner Leo Frank in Atlanta in 1915, educate yourselves.

[5] The co-author of these billion-selling books, Tim LaHaye, is a famous alumni of Bob Jones University, frequent subject of this blog.

[6] I find this whole sentiment to be reminiscent of the ancient claims about the Merovingian monarchs, recently popularized by the novel, The Da Vinci Code. The concept was that the Merovingian kings of France were actual descendants from the bloodline of Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene. If this were true, of course, overthrowing them would have been 'blasphemous' and impossible. (This is likely one reason that the royal family never debunked the rumors, even as they regarded themselves as devout Catholics.)

The Evangelical concept that Jews are "Jesus' family" and (as I once heard a local preacher say) have "His actual blood running through their veins"--seems based on the mystical idea that Jews are holy simply by virtue of being related to God Himself. And if Israel is their ancestral home, then Israel is holy, too, and must be defended at all costs.