A Protestant’s Reflections on the Jewish Message of Christmas

Contemplating the fact that the Christmas story is one in which all the main characters are Jewish, Walter Russell Mead explores the problem Jewish particularity poses for Christian theology:

New Year’s Day has long been celebrated [by Christians] as the Feast of the Circumcision, the day on which the baby Jesus underwent the traditional rite that, from the time of Abraham, was seen as proclaiming the special relationship between the Jewish people and God. . .

[The] real question here [is] not so much about why the Jews were chosen as about why there should be a chosen people at all. Why would a universal God who presumably loves all people equally choose one people with whom to have a special relationship? How can we reconcile the claims of this special relationship with God’s [purported] commitment to universal justice? . . .

So when we speak of God “choosing” the Jews, the most perplexing problem is less about the specific people God chose than about why God would contribute to the formation of these national and cultural identities that have been responsible for countless wars.

These reflections lead Mead to address the modern problem of nations and nationalism in today’s interconnected world:

It is self-evidently true that our global economy and the many interests the world’s countries have in common demand more complex forms of international cooperation than ever before. . . . But I don’t think the world is going to learn Esperanto anytime soon. The pull of national and religious identity is too strong to be ignored—and the pull of cosmopolitan civilization and universal institutions is ultimately too weak to call forth the kind of economic and political solidarity that some kind of world government would need. Germans don’t want to pay the bill for early-retiring Greeks in the EU; they have even less solidarity with Uganda and Laos.

We are stuck with nationalism and other irrational but deeply held identities and values; we must learn to work through them rather than against them. We think of the tradeoff between local identities and universal values as a modern problem, but it is deeply rooted in human experience. In the ancient world, where tribal and family affiliations were very strong, many cultures shared a strong belief in the moral duty of hospitality to strangers, whatever their tribe. Day-to-day life revolved around your own group of close associates, but the duty of hospitality required a willingness to look beyond these limits to recognize the common humanity and worth of all people.

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More about: Chosen people, Christianity, Christmas, Circumcision, Nationalism, Religion & Holidays

How Israel Can Best Benefit from Its Newfound Friendship with Brazil

Jan. 21 2019

Earlier this month, Benjamin Netanyahu was in Brazil—the first Israeli prime minister to visit the country—for the inauguration of its controversial new president Jair Bolsonaro. Bolsonaro has made clear his eagerness to break with his predecessors’ hostility toward the Jewish state, and Netanyahu has responded positively. To Emanuele Ottolenghi, the improved relations offer an opportunity for joint cooperation against Hizballah, which gets much of its revenue through cooperation with Brazilian drug cartels. In this cooperative effort, Ottolenghi cautions against repeating mistakes made in an earlier outreach to Paraguay:

Hizballah relies heavily on the proceeds of transnational crime networks, especially in the Tri-Border Area [where] Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay [meet], but until recently, Brazilian officials were loath to acknowledge its presence in their country or its involvement in organized crime. [But] Bolsonaro’s top priority is fighting organized crime. Combating Hizballah’s terror finance is a vital Israeli interest. Making the case that Israel’s and Brazil’s interests dovetail perfectly should be easy. . . .

But Israel should be careful not to prioritize symbols over substance, a mistake already made once in Latin America. During 2013-2018, Netanyahu invested heavily in his relationship with Horacio Cartes, then president of Paraguay. Cartes, . . . too, had a genuine warmth for Israel, which culminated in his decision in May 2018 to move Paraguay’s embassy to Jerusalem. Most importantly, from Israel’s point of view, Paraguay began voting with Israel against the Arab bloc at the UN.

However, the Paraguayan side of the Tri-Border Area remained ground zero for Hizballah’s money laundering in Latin America. The Cartes administration hardly lifted a finger to act against the terror funding networks. . . . Worse—when critics raised Hizballah’s [local] terror-financing activities, Paraguayan ministers confronted their Israeli counterparts, threatening to change Paraguay’s friendly international posture toward Israel. [And] as soon as Cartes left office, his successor, Mario Abdo Benítez, moved Paraguay’s embassy back to Tel Aviv. . . . Israel’s five-year investment ultimately yielded no embassy move and no progress on combating Hizballah’s terror network. . . .

Israel should make the battle against Hizballah’s terror-finance networks in Latin America its top regional priority.

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More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Brazil, Hizballah, Israel & Zionism, Israel diplomacy, Latin America