Today’s Christian-Jewish Zionist Alliance Imperils American JewryRoundup
tags: Jewish history, Israel
Jim Sleeper is a lecturer in political science at Yale University. His books include The Closest of Strangers: Liberalism and the Politics of Race in New York (Norton, 1990) and Liberal Racism (Viking, 1997).
The Zionist Organization of America’s indulgence of Evangelical Christian Zionist theology, which M. Reza Behman described well here in Tikkun, isn’t just a tactically savvy gambit to attract support for Israel. Whatever this alliance’s actual consequences for Netanyahu government policies, its endorsement, at least nominally, by 40 million American evangelical Christians has ominous implications for Jews’ sense of belonging and security in America — implications that Jewish deal-makers in the ZOA and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee overlook or downplay at their – and the republic’s — peril.
Jews’ expectation of full membership in the early American society of the late 18th century – a fully “enlightened” membership that they hadn’t yet encountered in Europe — began not only with George Washington’s famous letter of 1790 to the Jews of Newport, Rhode Island that affirmed full tolerance of “the stock of Abraham;” more surprisingly, it had begun 160 years earlier, when Puritan settlers of New England re-interpreted evangelical Christian theology’s predestination of Jews to be “called in” to the Holy Land for Armageddon, where they would either perish in the Rapture of Christ’s second coming or embrace him as the Messiah.
Puritans did assert this. But they also made the somewhat contradictory presumption that New England was the new Zion because they’d superseded the Children of Israel by fleeing “slavery” in England across a sea to establish biblically grounded communities “for the exercise of the Protestant religion, according to the light of their consciences, in the desarts of America,” their new promised land, as the Puritan minister and chronicler Cotton Mather wrote later. But if America was Zion, would the few Jews who lived there then really need to go to Palestine for the Second Coming?
Puritan responses were ambivalent. They didn’t disown or disguise their theological conviction about Jews’ divine destiny by professing great love for them in America, as today’s evangelical Christian leaders — Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, and John Hagee — certainly do, with immense hypocrisy, serenely confident as they are of God’s real plan for Jews in the Holy Land.
The 17th and 18th–Century Puritans did leave Jews quite a bit of wiggle room, in ways that I happen to have experienced first-hand two centuries later, growing up in Longmeadow, MA, an old Puritan town founded in 1690, six miles north of the spot in Enfield, CT, where the great Puritan minister and theologian Jonathan Edwards preached “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” in 1741.
Quite a few of my Longmeadow classmates were lineal descendants of its Puritan founders; the town the birthplace of Kingman Brewster, Jr., Yale’s president from 1964-73 and a lineal descendant of the Elder William Brewster, the minister on The Mayflower. The family of one of my high school class’ football stars, Will Thayer, had come to Massachusetts in the 1630s, and Will is now a retired minister in the Congregational Church (originally the Puritan church) who spent years working with poor residents of Brooklyn’s beleaguered East New York neighborhood, which I, too, came to know well in writing The Closest of Strangers (which the late historian Christopher Lasch reviewed here in Tikkun in 1990).
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