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

By Recognizing Israeli Sovereignty over the Golan, the U.S. Has Freed Israel from “Land for Peace”

March 25 2019

In the 52 years since Israel seized the Golan Heights from Syria, there have been multiple efforts to negotiate their return in exchange for Damascus ending its continuous war against the Jewish state. Shmuel Rosner argues that, with his announcement on Thursday acknowledging the legitimacy of Jerusalem’s claim to the Golan, Donald Trump has finally decoupled territorial concessions from peacemaking:

[With] the takeover of much of Syria by Iran and its proxies, . . . Israel had no choice but to give up on the idea of withdrawing from the Golan Heights. But this reality involves a complete overhaul of the way the international community thinks not just about the Golan Heights but also about all of the lands Israel occupied in 1967. . . .

Withdrawal worked for Israel once, in 1979, when it signed a peace agreement with Egypt and left the Sinai Peninsula, which had also been occupied in 1967. But that also set a problematic precedent. President Anwar Sadat of Egypt insisted that Israel hand back the entire peninsula to the last inch. Israel decided that the reward was worth the price, as a major Arab country agreed to break with other Arab states and accept Israel’s legitimacy.

But there was a hidden, unanticipated cost: Israel’s adversaries, in future negotiations, would demand the same kind of compensation. The 1967 line—what Israel controlled before the war—became the starting point for all Arab countries, including Syria. It became a sacred formula, worshiped by the international community.

What President Trump is doing extends far beyond the ability of Israel to control the Golan Heights, to settle it, and to invest in it. The American president is setting the clock back to before the peace deal with Egypt, to a time when Israel could argue that the reward for peace is peace—not land. Syria, of course, is unlikely to accept this. At least not in the short term. But maybe someday, a Syrian leader will come along who doesn’t entertain the thought that Israel might agree to return to the pre-1967 line and who will accept a different formula for achieving peace.

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More about: Donald Trump, Golan Heights, Israel & Zionis, Peace Process, Sinai Peninsula, Syria