A Christian Contemplates the Meaning of Jewish Chosenness for Non-Jews

For many Christians, January 1 is the eighth day of Christmas and thus also a commemoration of Jesus’ circumcision—that is, of the rite that confirmed his membership in the Jewish people. The occasion prompts Walter Russell Mead to reflect on the meaning for Christians of the Jews’ biblical status as the chosen people, and to ask not “Why did God choose the Jews?” but “Why did God wish there to be a chosen people at all?” In turn, this question leads him to the age-old tension between the universal and the particular:

People seem pulled in two directions. On the one hand, we form strong group identities, and these identities are the basis of our political loyalties; on the other, we recognize universal values and acknowledge a duty, at least in the abstract, toward people everywhere regardless of their race, language, color, or creed.

It’s a puzzle. Human beings need roots in a particular culture and family, and those roots shape them; at the same time, human beings have values (like freedom and democracy) and ideas (like the Pythagorean theorem and the laws of thermodynamics) that demand to be recognized as universal. We seem perpetually torn between “cosmopolitan” and “local” values: universal ideas and the customs of the country. . . .

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, [in short,] stuck with nationalism and other irrational but deeply held identities and values; we must learn to work through them rather than against them. . . .

[In Christians’ own view, God grounded their religion] in the life of the Jewish nation, a people whose history and literature reflected by that time centuries of struggle with the demands of monotheistic, Abrahamic religion. This was not, Christians believe, out of any idea that the Jews were better than other people or the only people in whom God took an interest. Indeed, the biblical record of the Jewish Scriptures is largely a record of God’s disappointment with the all-too-human failings of the people He chose. . . . Although Christians and Jews disagree about many things, they agree that God’s special relationship with Israel was always intended to be bigger than Israel.

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More about: Chosen people, Christianity, Jewish-Christian relations, Nationalism, Religion & Holidays

Yasir Arafat’s Decades-Long Alliance with Iran and Its Consequences for Both Palestinians and Iranians

Jan. 18 2019

In 2002—at the height of the second intifada—the Israeli navy intercepted the Karina A, a Lebanese vessel carrying 50 tons of Iranian arms to the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). But Yasir Arafat’s relationship with the Islamic Republic goes much farther back, to before its founding in 1979. The terrorist leader had forged ties with followers of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini that grew especially strong in the years when Lebanon became a base of operations both for Iranian opponents of the shah and for the PLO itself. Tony Badran writes:

The relationship between the Iranian revolutionary factions and the Palestinians began in the late 1960s, in parallel with Arafat’s own rise in preeminence within the PLO. . . . [D]uring the 1970s, Lebanon became the site where the major part of the Iranian revolutionaries’ encounter with the Palestinians played out. . . .

The number of guerrillas that trained in Lebanon with the Palestinians was not particularly large. But the Iranian cadres in Lebanon learned useful skills and procured weapons and equipment, which they smuggled back into Iran. . . . The PLO established close working ties with the Khomeinist faction. . . . [W]orking [especially] closely with the PLO [was] Mohammad Montazeri, son of the senior cleric Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri and a militant who had a leading role in developing the idea of establishing the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) once the revolution was won.

The Lebanese terrorist and PLO operative Anis Naccache, who coordinated with [the] Iranian revolutionaries, . . . takes personal credit for the idea. Naccache claims that Jalaleddin Farsi, [a leading Iranian revolutionary], approached him specifically and asked him directly to draft the plan to form the main pillar of the Khomeinist regime. The formation of the IRGC may well be the greatest single contribution that the PLO made to the Iranian revolution. . . .

Arafat’s fantasy of pulling the strings and balancing the Iranians and the Arabs in a grand anti-Israel camp of regional states never stood much of a chance. However, his wish to see Iran back the Palestinian armed struggle is now a fact, as Tehran has effectively become the principal, if not the only, sponsor of the Palestinian military option though its direct sponsorship of Islamic Jihad and its sustaining strategic and organizational ties with Hamas. By forging ties with the Khomeinists, Arafat unwittingly helped to achieve the very opposite of his dream. Iran has turned [two] Palestinian factions into its proxies, and the PLO has been relegated to the regional sidelines.

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More about: Hamas, History & Ideas, Iran, Lebanon, PLO, Yasir Arafat