May 3, 2010

Abraham, Israel, Palestine

Writing in National Review, Dennis Prager explains why conservatives like himself are “virtually unanimous in supporting Israel”:

The reason is based on a verse in Genesis in which God, referring to the Jewish people, says to Abraham: “I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you.”

One need not be a Jew or Christian or even believe in God to appreciate that this verse is as accurate a prediction as humanity has ever been given by the ancient world. The Jewish people have suffered longer and more horribly than any other living people. But they are still around. Its historic enemies are all gone. Those that cursed the Jews were indeed cursed.

And those who blessed the Jews were indeed blessed. The most blessed country for over 200 years has been the United States. It has also been the most blessed place Jews have ever lived in. Is this a coincidence? Many of us think not.

Those who curse the Jews still seem to be cursed. The most benighted civilization today is the Arab world. One could make a plausible case that the Arab world’s preoccupation with Jew-hatred and destroying Israel is a decisive factor in its failure to progress. The day the Arab world makes peace with the existence of the tiny Jewish state in its midst, the Arab world will begin its ascent.

The converse is what worries tens of millions of Americans—the day America abandons Israel, America will begin its descent.[1]

There are several problems with Prager’s argument. First, it seems that he has misinterpreted the Bible. According to all the English translations I’ve found, Yahweh’s promise in Genesis 12.3 (the verse Prager quotes) is to Abraham, not to Abraham’s descendants, not to “the Jewish people.” As the New International Version reads, “I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse.”[2]

It’s true that Yahweh makes promises to Abraham’s descendents elsewhere in Genesis,[3] but even if we assume that Genesis 12.3 is one of these passages, I’m not sure how this strengthens Prager’s argument. For it seems that “the [modern] Jewish people” do not have a closer lineage to Abraham than Arabs do. As numerous scholars have shown, many of the “original Jews” converted to Christianity in the first few centuries of the Christian era, while many others converted to Islam when Muslims conquered Palestine in the seventh century; and many non-Jewish Europeans and North Africans converted to Judaism during the Middle Ages.[4] In other words, if it’s true that Genesis 12.3 refers to Abraham’s descendants, then it would follow that the United States is just as blessed for siding with Israel as it is cursed for siding against the Palestinians.

But there are other, more significant, problems with Prager’s argument. For instance, take his claim that the Jewish people’s “historic enemies are all gone. Those that cursed the Jews were indeed cursed.” Historically speaking, nobody has been more of a curse to the Jewish people than European Christians. For nearly two millennia, European Christians fiercely persecuted Jews. Jews were frequently banished from their homelands, their possessions often expropriated, their homes burned to the ground; they faced torture, beatings, executions.[5] Although Jews were generally treated like second-class citizens in the Ottoman Empire, Bernard Lewis writes that this never matched the violence and sheer hatred they experienced in Europe.[6]

But Europe has not ceased to exist. In fact, Europe is thriving today far more than the Arab world. And Germany is thriving as much any other European nation. If “the Arab world’s preoccupation with Jew-hatred and destroying Israel is a decisive factor in its failure to progress,” then one has to wonder why Germany—which just sixty years ago, rounded up and subsequently murdered six million innocent Jewish men, women, and children—isn’t suffering the same fate.

And while Prager claims that America will “begin its descent” if it “abandons Israel,” the truth is that many of the biggest problems facing America today result from its support of Israel. As I argued last month, US support for Israel has engendered all kinds of blowback. For instance, the perpetrators of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing wrote that they were acting “in response for [sic] the American political, economical, and military support to Israel…and to the rest of the dictator countries in the region.” Additionally, US support for Israel played a role in radicalizing Osama bin Laden, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Mohammed Atta, Mohamed Rashed Daoud al-Owhali, Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi, and Umar Faruk Abdulmutallab.[7]

I don’t claim to be God’s spokesman, but I’m pretty confident that he wouldn’t punish people living in one nation-state simply because their leaders didn’t unconditionally support the policies of another nation-state, especially if those policies frequently violated the basic human rights of innocent civilians. I’d venture to say that God loves all people, Arabs as well as Jews, and wishes that more Americans felt the same way.

[1] Dennis Prager, “The Genesis Prediction,” National Review (20 April 2010).

[2] “Passage Results: Genesis 12 (New International Version),”

[3] See 13.14-17, 15.18-21, 17.3-8, and 22.15-18.

[4] See Shlomo Sand, Invention of the Jewish People, trans. Yael Lotan (Brooklyn: Verso, 2009), 130-249.

[5] “An overview of the persecution of Jews for the past 2,000 years,” Religious Tolerance.

[6] Bernard Lewis, The Jews of Islam (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984).

[7] “It’s the blowback, stupid! (part 3)” (5 April 2010).


Greg said...

I have far too many friends who support Israel blindly, with no consideration of the facts. Yes, the reason is as you stated, they somehow believe that we are doomed to destruction if we don't, and blessed (I guess regardless of any other evil we do) if we do.

I am astonished with this thinking. Yes, I acknowledge the blessing on Abraham, and maybe it extends to his family (I think it does) - but what does that have to do with the Secular State of Israel? And how did the Lord treat them when they did evil, did He bless them for it? Should we?!

The statement "Its historic enemies are all gone. Those that cursed the Jews were indeed cursed" is so ludicrous, I won't even bother to restate what you have well stated. Central Europe 60 years ago anybody? (and centuries before then as well ...)

Very lucid discussion Don, thank you.

Don Emmerich said...

I find the viewpoint of some of your friends -- and some of mine -- especially troubling when those friends happen to be Christians. I'll grant that there can be some legitimate disagreement regarding how Israel/Jews fit into the New Covenant. But one thing I'm absolutely certain of is that this whole dispensationalist scheme is utter nonsense. There's simply no reason for a Bible-believing Christian to believe that rebuilding the Jewish Temple will precipitate the Second Coming, that God's promise to Abraham regarding the Land is still awaiting literal fulfillment, etc. Dispensationalism was a nineteenth century heresy, not a valid interpretation of Scripture.