Tuesday, May 15, 2018

US Embassy: The Right Move at the Wrong Time

On May 14, 2018, seventy years after Israel became an independent state, the United States of America moved its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The excitement over this move, and the dismay over the deathly clashes that took place along the Gaza Strip on the same day, should not obscure that it was for good reasons that the United States took its time (seventy years) to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.  

Jerusalem has been Israel’s capital for three thousand years, since the days when King David moved the seat of his realm to the mountain fortress of the Jebusites, as narrated in the Second Book of Samuel, chapter 5. Since then, the Judahites or Jews, as they came to be known, have had no other capital. Jerusalem boasted a royal temple that was the symbol of national unity, a sacred center devoted to a national deity that Jews, Christian, and Islamic traditions proclaim as God Almighty. It is this rise of a national deity to God Almighty that transformed Jerusalem from a remote mountain fortress into the holy city it is today: a center of worship for the three great Abrahamic traditions. 

These facts are well known. Religious communities have coexisted in Jerusalem for millennia. Under generations of Muslim caliphs and sultans, Jews, Christians, and Muslims lived and worshiped cheek to jowl. Agreeing to disagree on the right path to eternal redemption, they both rebuked and acknowledged one another as “people of the book,” readers of revealed holy scriptures that taught them that the real Jerusalem was “above” rather than below. 

Until May 14, 2018, when the United States government (though not congress, which had long demanded that the US embassy be moved to Jerusalem) caved to the pressure of a certain kind of strong reading of the Holy Scriptures and imposed an apocalyptic, end-time thinking on US foreign policy. With the move of the embassy to Jerusalem, American Evangelicals, allying themselves with the national-religious coalition in Israeli politics, have taken over US foreign policy. Until now, religion and state had been separate in the United States. Foreign policy was governed by collective self-interest and statecraft. In their place, we now see grand gestures abroad that appeal to a narrow base at home. All because of a foolish campaign promise that should not have been made, and that should have been broken, unless it was accompanied by a comprehensive plan for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Instead, Palestinian moderates are ignored and discouraged, while the radicals are empowered.

“The end” should always come only at the end, after all preliminary matters have been settled. Moreover, it should be God’s prerogative to bring about “the end” envisaged by the biblical apocalyptists. Moving the embassy did not hasten redemption. It will not bring about Middle East peace. The move ignores the human side of redemption. It is a careless, heartless, self-congratulatory act that trivializes Palestinian suffering and ignores the values of justice and peace. It does not even serve American interests abroad. It is a poke in the eye of those who seek peace, reconciliation, and co-existence. 

No, I don’t believe that God Almighty was happy when he saw what happened yesterday, even though the national god of the Jews might have rejoiced. For Jews, this is a time to choose: between the god of Jewish nationalism and the god of the biblical prophets. 

Sunday, December 17, 2017

The Jerusalem Declaration: Why I signed it

Dear Ilya-

I don’t know you, so it is hard for me to say where your question comes from. 

But I can tell you that I am concerned with the peace and the prosperity of Jerusalem and all of its inhabitants. Like many others I assumed that the United States held a key role as an honest broker in the Middle East. I am afraid that the President’s declaration signals the administration’s abdication of that role. 

We already know and agree that, for us as Jews, Jerusalem is Israel’s eternal capital. It will be and remain so whether or not anyone else recognizes this fact. The Jewish State can continue to exist without  claiming exclusive ownership of Jerusalem. The Jewish state existed and thrived for two decades before 1967. It was founded on the hard labor of generations of pioneers and the devotion to the Land of Israel of pious Jews inside and outside the holy land. Our devotion to the Holy Land and to the Holy City should not blind us to the rights and needs of others who are no less devoted to the city of Jerusalem and its holy places.    

Jerusalem’s status should not be reduced to a pawn in nationalist and exceptionalist rhetoric that appeals to the apocalyptic longings of Evangelical Christians or messianic Jews. Jews owe gratitude to the Muslim community for readmitting the Jews after centuries of banishment upheld under Roman Christian rule. We should be wary of the embrace of Israel by so-called Christian Zionists who ultimately hope for the conversion of the Jews to Christ and who want to precipitate the end of history, which as they envision it, entails the great war between Gog and Magog that is to be fought in the Land of Israel. As Jews our interests do not align with that scenario and those are not our friends who promote it in their incessant propaganda.

I don’t wish to be part of this new alliance between Jewish nationalism/messsianism and Christian Evangelical millenarian dispensationalism that thrives on Islamophobic rhetoric, is nourished by the delusion of having special access to God, and despises the wisdom of critical thinking and the prudence of diplomacy.

I will have no part in this. These are the reasons why I signed the declaration in question.

With best wishes-
Michael Zank