The Ancient Christian Roots of Some Modern Anti-Zionism

March 1 2019

According to a doctrine espoused by some of the earliest Christian thinkers, Jesus’ life and death brought an end to Jews’ identity as the chosen people, now replaced by the Christian church. To this idea, known as supersessionism or replacement theology, St. Augustine added what was later called the “teaching of contempt”—that Jews are condemned to suffer for their rejection of Jesus and complicity in his death. These doctrines were renounced by the Vatican and by most Protestant denominations following World War II. Yet, writes Jon D. Levenson, they have resurfaced, in modern guise, in anti-Zionist rhetoric. Take for instance, the decision of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to endorse divestment from Israel in 2004:

The gross double standard [at work in such condemnations of the Jewish state] suggests that the loudly professed moral concerns of the Presbyterians (and other Protestant groups that have passed similar resolutions) do not fully account for their anti-Israel actions. What, then, does account for them?

To answer this, we must return to [the Presbyterians’] 1987 statement renouncing the teaching of contempt. In its sixth affirmation, the statement makes the claim that the book of Genesis

indicates that “the land of your sojournings” was promised to Abraham and his and Sarah’s descendants. This promise, however, included the demand that “You shall keep my covenant” (Genesis 17:7-8). The implication is that the blessings of the promise were dependent upon fulfillment of covenant relationships. Disobedience could bring the loss of land, even while God’s promise was not revoked. . . .

[I]f we read Genesis 17 as the Presbyterian statement does, we have a ready explanation for [this] double standard: the legitimacy of China, Iran, North Korea, and other malefactors does not rest upon fidelity to a covenant with God. Israel’s does. . . .

Liberation theology has [also] long had a problem with Jewish particularism. Consider the liberationists’ penchant for interpreting the poor and oppressed as the beneficiaries of one of their favorite biblical events, the Exodus. That the God of Israel is especially concerned with the vulnerable and eager to protect them is exceedingly easy to document. [But] what links the beneficiaries of God’s intervention in the Exodus is something very different: descent from a common ancestor. . . .

When the poor and oppressed replace the people Israel as the beneficiaries of the Exodus, an idea, or social norm, has replaced a flesh-and-blood people. It then becomes possible for any group that can be made to fit into that idea or to benefit from that social norm to be the new Jews. This is the replacement theology secularized, or supersessionism without the church—and it swiftly opens the door for the old anti-Judaism to reappear in a post-Christian culture—not in the mouths of theocratic reactionaries but in those of free-thinking progressives. Les extrêmes se touchent.

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More about: Anti-Semitism, Anti-Zionism, History & Ideas, Jewish-Christian relations, Liberation theology, Supersessionism

War with Iran Isn’t on the Horizon. So Why All the Arguments against It?

As the U.S. has responded to Iranian provocations in the Persian Gulf, various observers in the press have argued that National Security Advisor John Bolton somehow seeks to drag President Trump into a war with Iran against his will. Matthew Continetti points out the absurdities of this argument, and its origins:

Never mind that President Trump, Vice-President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan, and Bolton have not said a single word about a preemptive strike, much less a full-scale war, against Iran. Never mind that the president’s reluctance for overseas intervention is well known. The “anti-war” cries are not about context, and they are certainly not about deterring Iran. Their goal is saving President Obama’s nuclear deal by manipulating Trump into firing Bolton and extending a lifeline to the regime.

It’s a storyline that originated in Iran. Toward the end of April, Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif showed up in New York and gave an interview to Reuters where he said, “I don’t think [Trump] wants war,” but “that doesn’t exclude him basically being lured into one” by Bolton. . . . And now this regime talking point is everywhere. “It’s John Bolton’s world. Trump is just living in it,” write two former Obama officials in the Los Angeles Times. “John Bolton is Donald Trump’s war whisperer,” writes Peter Bergen on CNN.com. . . .

Recall Obama’s deputy national security advisor Ben Rhodes’s admission to the New York Times Magazine in 2016 [that] “We created an echo chamber” to attack the Iran deal’s opponents through leaks and tips to the D.C. press. . . . Members of the echo chamber aren’t for attacking Iran, but they are all for slandering its American opponents. The latest target is Bolton. . . .

The Iranians are in a box. U.S. sanctions are crushing the economy, but if they leave the agreement with Europe they will be back to square one. To escape the box you try to punch your way out. That’s why Iran has assumed a threatening posture: provoking an American attack could bolster waning domestic support for the regime and divide the Western alliance.

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More about: Barack Obama, Iran, Javad Zarif, John Bolton, U.S. Foreign policy