Israel and the United States

Posted on July 6, 2014


Recently some friends returned from a trip to Israel to visit some of Christianity’s holiest places.

It has become such a matter-of-fact or ordinary trip abroad for so many Americans that it got me to thinking.

This is not a trip to the Bahamas to gamble a bit on the island of Nassau, or a cruise to Cancun to eat your way through the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, or even a romantic weekend in Paris in May. This is a trip not exactly halfway around the world, but far enough–to the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea–to a land not particularly known as a resort area for traveling Americans.

This is a trip to a nation surrounded by neighbors whose public avowal is to destroy it. The Muslim/Arab nations have been attempting to do just that ever since the British withdrew in 1948 from their “mandate” of Palestine, created after the First World War, and left behind a new Jewish state. Iran is racing to build a nuclear weapon to throw at the Jews when the next spat of hatred of Israel grips the Mullahs in Tehran.

Read the book Exodus or rent the movie if you want to witness one of the most dramatic moments in the history of the modern world when modern Israel came into being.

So what does this piece of land called Israel have to do with us you ask? Well, you may well start with some Americans worth remembering who were Jews.

Try Paul Newman for you older girls who remember when you were younger girls.
For you engineers and science nuts, google Albert Einstein.

Like music? Bing Leonard Bernstein. Into more popular music, the music that helped define America in the twentieth century? Yahoo George and Ira Gershwin. Never heard of them? Go to their web site and dial up Rhapsody in Blue or Porgy and Bess.

But this column is not about celebrated Americans who happened to be Jews. It is about a special relationship between these United States and the modern state of Israel, bound by far deeper ties than mere political and strategic/diplomatic interests, like our relationships with Canada or Mexico for example, which run pretty deep themselves.

It is a relationship that goes back deep in time, before the United States was even invented, before Europeans came to the Americas in the wake of Christopher Columbus’s voyages, before the Roman Empire crumbled, back into the early mists of Christianity 2000 years ago, and, if we take a truly long look, back into ancient history before even the coming of Jesus Christ.

God established a special covenant with the Jewish people thousands of years before Jesus walked the earth. The story of these covenants—for there were more than one–is told in the Old Testament, but, in the most summarized way possible, God entrusted the Jews—even before they became known as Hebrews—with bringing his message to the world. They became his chosen instrument, his special people, and they worshiped him, and him alone, as the one true God.

Over their long history, the Hebrews were conquered several times by great empires around them, such as the Assyrian, Babylonian, and Roman Empires. They were anticipating a Messiah, a savior or liberator prophesied to deliver them from oppression when Jesus was born.

Christ, the Greek translation of Messiah, was the Messiah as Christians came to understand the life and message of Jesus. But he came in a different form from what the Hebrews expected. He taught peace not war, love not revenge, and came in the form of a servant, not a king as was generally anticipated. There are other, some quite fundamental, beliefs and elements that separated the life and teachings of Jesus and his followers from the Hebrew matrix he emerged from. But it was clearly understood that Jesus was a Jew and the Christians were but a branch grafted onto the Hebrew tree.

Christianity grew apart from the remnants of the Jewish people whose capital Jerusalem was sacked by the Romans in a rebellion in 70 A.D. (or C.E. if you prefer). The Jews were scattered across the ancient world in a diaspora.

Christians, although persecuted by some of the Roman regimes, prospered in the Roman Empire until even becoming the dominant and official religion of the empire in the fourth century.

An ambivalence between Jews and Christians has prevailed over the past two millennia. They are linked inexorably by a common faith as described in the Old Testament, but part ways on the life and meaning of Jesus. Jews consider him a holy person, a prophet, in the same category as Moses. Christians believe he is the Son of God, co-equal with God. And to complete the complicated equation, Islam too finds its origins in the Old Testament, but it too, like Judaism, considers Jesus to be only a prophet, not divine as do Christians.

Jews have been often persecuted and sometimes reviled by Christians and Muslims over the centuries, but the yoke between the three faiths, all of the “same book,” the Bible, is unbreakable.

When the modern state of Israel emerged in 1948, the Arab countries, overwhelmingly Muslim, pledged to destroy it because Israel had been carved out of lands occupied by Palestinians for centuries and the Palestinians—descendants of Canaanites, Phoenicians, and others–were in the main Muslim.

The Jews, on the other hand, reclaimed what God had given them thousands of years ago, the Promised Land, the land of Canaan, and the wars were on, six of them between Israel and her largely Arab neighbors in the past three quarters of a century.

The United States stepped in to defend modern Israel, the only democratic state in the region that reflected the political values so cherished by Americans.

Furthermore, six million Jews had been massacred by Adolf Hitler’s Germany during the Second World War, and Americans came to Israel’s defense to prevent a crime against humanity, the Holocaust, from ever again happening. And, finally, many evangelical Christians in this country viewed the creation of the state of Israel as a step toward the return of Jesus, the Second Coming prophesied in the New Testament.

Instead of viewing the Jews as the people who tortured and killed Jesus, a view that prejudiced Christians against Jews over the ages, modern Christians began to view Judaism for what it was, the stock from which Christianity was born. And so, out of theological and historical circumstances, the commitment to maintaining Israel as a free and independent state was born in the United States.

Today 44% of the general U. S. public believes Israel was given to the Jewish people by God. 34% disagree. If you just ask Christians, 55% believe, according to the Pew Research Center. Yet, even Jews in the U. S. have a widespread spectrum of opinion and do not support Israel in an unqualified manner.

Plus, other legitimate points of view exist in the long relationship between the U. S. and Israel. The Palestinians have a right, by virtue of history and tradition, to many of the same lands held by Israel. And the Israeli government has sometimes assumed an aggressive, intolerant attitude toward the Palestinians. In international politics, and war, no one is perfect, unless you believe everything your government tells you.

And there is a latent anti-Semitic (anti-Jewish) strain that runs through much of the western world, based in part on envy of the tremendous success that the Jewish people have achieved in culture, in science, in business over their long history, even as minority people in seas of Christian or Islamic majorities.

If the Hebrews thought they had a special relationship with their God established by sacred covenants, the U. S. also feels a special relationship to modern Israel, deeply imbedded in our collective psyches. We are both devoted to free, democratic processes of government in secular affairs, and we share a deep Judeo-Christian foundation in matters of faith. As long as those two are in place, there will be a special relationship between these two nations.

This article published in my column, The Port Rail, as Bond Between U. S. and Israel Has Deep Roots in The Tuscaloosa News, Sunday July 13, 2014.