Michael Saenger

Gay Marriage and Israel

Just a couple of observations about the Supreme Court ruling

One is, I know a lot of my friends are in more liberal areas, and I totally understand the celebration thing. In Texas, though, this feels more urgent than anywhere. We have a significant teen suicide problem doubtlessly exacerbated by homophobia and bullying, and Texas would certainly never have made this change on its own. The SC decision will be felt as a lifeline to teens in this area, an authoritative signal that there is hope.

Second, I just want to keep everyone’s eyes on another aspect of this. Ted Cruz blamed the decision on the lack of Protestants on the court, and the presence of “elites” who want to impose their (lack of) values on the country. Just to translate what he means by “elites,” the court has six Catholics and three Jews. The Catholics voted 4-2 against the decision, and all the Jews voted in favor of it, which is how we got to 5-4 in favor. So I hope it’s pretty clear what Cruz meant.

So if you like the decision, thank a rabbi, honestly. Jewish ethics have been leading to this kind of thinking for a long time.  But secondly, it is important that everyone open their eyes to the insidious anti-Semitism that Cruz was advancing. Cruz is a strong advocate for Israel, and so am I, but those of us who believe in the fundamental ethics of Israel must find a way to navigate these perilous waters.

Israelis are doubtlessly aware of the tricky nature of Evangelical Protestant Zionism, which is often associated with not-too-quiet ideas of Jewish Christianization and the Apocalypse. But the re-emergence of this kind of anti-Semitism should ring a different set of alarm bells. It underlines just how crucial it is that liberal Zionists, like myself, construct a meaningful dialogue with the American Left.

The Jewish concept of tzedek basically means justice. Justice sometimes means allowing people with different beliefs to have different spaces. That means that churches are not required to perform gay weddings, but they are also not allowed to block the government, or other churches, from performing them. The nation of Israel was founded on exactly the same logic. Jews had long lived in Palestine–throughout the early modern period, for example, they were supported financially by Jews in Europe. But there was no solid protection. Israel was founded on the notion that the Jewish people need and deserve a distinct space, and that Palestine needs and deserves one too. Ted Cruz does not need to love gay marriage, but he and his followers need to acknowledge that the same country that gave the Puritans a safe place to go is also the country that accepted Jews, saw them advance to the Supreme Court, and is now safer for the LGBTQ community–not just fairer, but also safer. And the Left should seriously consider that the same ethical system that enabled that ruling also built the State of Israel.

Finally, as Jews, we should thank Evangelicals for their support, but not when they talk like that.

About the Author
Michael Saenger is Professor of English at Southwestern University and the author of two books and the editor of another. He has been a Finalist for the Southwestern Teaching Award, and he has given talks on cultural history in Europe, Israel and North America.
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