How else can we explain the emotional fervor with which Israel’s critics demonize Israel?
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict could be called the “Pundit’s Full Employment Act.” There is no shortage of commentary on the intractability and hopelessness of the conflict.
An army of commentators tells us exactly why the conflict is persistent. We have had to endure these explanations ad nauseam from writers, broadcasters and social media “influencers” who, despite their fame, are ignorant of history, hopelessly prejudiced, or just deranged.
In one interview with the Israeli Prime Minister, an interviewer demanded to know, “Why won’t Israel make peace with the Palestinians?” Apparently the interviewer thought the conflict was entirely Israel’s fault.
CNN commentator Fareed Zakaria has often pushed this theme: “I think that fundamentally you’ll only get peace if the Israelis are convinced that it is in their interests. They have power on the ground. And they’re the only ones who can really determine whether or not they’re going to make peace happen.”
It is perversely amusing to read the anti-Israel Guardian newspaper to see the way they always cast Israel as the culprit. So for example, in 2017 they breathlessly revealed to their readers “the real reason there’s still no peace” in Israel-Palestine. Echoing Zakaria’s complaint, they declared there is no peace because “Israel prefers the status quo.”
According to the Guardian, those dastardly Israelis made unreasonable demands on the Palestinians and refused to halt “settlement construction.” We learn that “the moral costs of occupation for Israeli society” have not been high enough for them to end the occupation. The Israeli public is rapacious and amoral: If their government withdrew from the occupied lands, unhappy Israelis would cause violence. But fear not, because “….Israel has proven quite capable of living with the decades-old label of ‘pariah,’ [and] the ‘stain’ of the occupation.” And they do all this even as they are increasingly “shunned” by the international community. In the final analysis, Israel has “consistently opted for stalemate rather than….agreement.”
Setting aside the odd absence of agency among Palestinians in these accusations, what are we dealing with here?
These characterizations of the Israeli government and its people reek of moral condemnation. This is less about politics and more about morality and religion.
Where have we seen this before?
The Jewish religion emerged in world history over three thousand years ago, based on the then-novel idea of a single God. That God selected the Jewish people above all others, and formed a covenant with them. In exchange for the Jewish people’s loyalty to the one true God, and their obedience to his commands, they secured the special status of God’s Chosen People. Like groups that arose before and after the Jews, the Jewish people cast themselves as the main characters in the drama of humanity.
The script in the Jewish play included a new standard of morality. It was based on a simple set of rules called the Ten Commandments and on subsequent Jewish writings. These principles of morality included things such as honoring one’s parents, preserving the sanctity of human life, and dealing fairly with others. These Jewish ethics became a foundation for Western civilization.
In the years after the destruction of the Jewish Second Temple, the new religion of Christianity emerged. Early Christians were Jews. But as Christianity developed its own identity, it sought to distinguish itself from its mother religion of Judaism. In part to accomplish this, Christian theologians created the doctrine of Replacement Theology.
According to Replacement Theology, God replaced the Covenant with the Jewish people with a New Covenant for Christians, one that centered on Jesus Christ.
In the Christian view, the people of God were now Christians, not Jews.
Centuries later the prophet Muhammed established a new religion based on elements from both Judaism and Christianity. According to Muslims, Islam was the true, immutable, and final expression of monotheism. In the Muslim view then, Islam replaced both Judaism and Christianity as the one true expression of God’s will.
In the Islamic view, the people of God were the Muslims.
Both Christianity and Islam practiced a brutal imperialism. Both insisted that their beliefs and their people were primary. Both looked with hostility upon those who were offered but rejected the new, correct faith. A Jew who rejected Christianity (like a Jew or Christian who rejected Islam) was a reprobate, an outlaw, and a threat.
This was a moral judgement: To be shown the “truth” and to reject it was an act of pure evil.
“Israeli Intransigence” and “Jewish Immorality”
I believe that modern pundits who condemn Israel for failing “to make peace” with the Palestinians are acting out a millennial-old play. They unwittingly apply old Replacement Theology condemnation of Jews to the modern Arab-Israeli conflict.
How else can we explain the emotional fervor with which Israel’s critics demonize it? Or the irrationality of attacks on Israel, in which Israel, a victim of Arab aggression, instead becomes a perpetrator, a moral reprobate? Or the odd attachment of liberal Western elites to an Islamic view of Israel, when the tenets and practices of Islam are otherwise anathema to them?
How else can we explain the deranged slander that Jews, once victims of Nazis, are now themselves Nazis?
The anti-Israel crowd has assumed a view of Israelis (and by extension, of Jews) that says, “These people are obstinate and immoral. They no longer follow the principles that once made them a moral people.” This view of Jews trumps history, facts, and even the self-interest of Israel’s accusers.
According to the anti-Israel narrative, despite Palestinian pathologies — suicide bombings, killings of gays, religious intolerance, self-proclaimed superiority, the oppression of women, and political repression — it is the Jews, not the Arabs, who are no longer moral and no longer in God’s good graces.
This is the legacy of Christian Replacement Theory and the narrative that Christians and Muslims have taken the place of the Jews as the people of God.