Pat Robertson: A Problematic Friend of the Jews, but a Friend Nonetheless

Last Thursday, the pastor and broadcaster Pat Robertson died at the age of ninety-three. Few individuals did more than he to shape evangelical Christianity, and the religious right, in America today. That influence can be found in his vigorous support for Israel, as well as such efforts on behalf of the Jewish people as raising hundreds of thousands of dollars to aid Jews leaving the former Soviet Union. Yet the same Robertson railed against “cosmopolitan, liberal, secular Jews” and promoted baroque conspiracy theories about Jewish freemasons, the Rothschilds, and various other renowned Jewish financiers that bore much more than a whiff of anti-Semitism.

What then should Jews make of Robertson and his legacy? Norman Podhoretz considered this question in 1995, in response to several broadsides against the pastor by prominent liberal journalists:

Michael Lind, Frank Rich (who has turned his column in the New York Times into an echo chamber for Lind’s article), and a number of others have compared Robertson to the Black Muslim leader Louis Farrakhan, presumably because both subscribe to off-the-wall conspiracy theories involving the Jews. But the comparison is intellectually absurd and morally outrageous. Farrakhan attacks Israel while Robertson defends it; and whereas Farrakhan calls Judaism a “gutter religion,” Robertson speaks throughout [his conspiracy-addled book] The New World Order with the greatest respect of the faith of “the God of Jacob.”

Robertson could . . . point as well to earlier statements condemning anti-Semitism which there could be no suspicion of his having been pushed by Jewish pressure into making. Thus, for example in his book, The New Millennium (1990), in a chapter entitled “The Rise of Anti-Semitism,” which expressed anxiety over a “a rising tide of anti-Jewish feeling the world over,” he wrote: “Intolerance in any quarter is wrong, but inasmuch as we are able, we must ensure that the trend throughout the 1990s remains in favor of a Jewish homeland in Israel and not for the elimination of the Jews.”

With such a record, why were so many American Jews eager to embrace the charge that Robertson was an anti-Semite? Podhoretz believes he has an answer:

Since many Jews have great difficulty in distinguishing between Judaism and liberalism, they also seem unable to detect any difference between anti-Semitism and the anti-liberal Christian conservatism of a Pat Robertson. Some of Robertson’s accusers, however, are less confused than devious, rather like the woman in the Yiddish saying who tries to get away with criticizing her daughter-in-law by pretending to be talking about the girl’s mother (zi zogt di shviger; zi meynt di shnir).

[Yet such arguments] still leave open the issue of Robertson’s threatening tone—and here I think he deserves to be castigated. He has every right to criticize Jews for taking positions he considers immoral and dangerous and to characterize those positions in the most unflattering terms. But in resorting to intimidation, as he for all practical purposes does when he warns of a Christian backlash against this “strident minority,” he lends credibility to and reinforces the fear that Christian fundamentalism still inspires in many Jews and that helps account for their stubborn adherence to some of the very policies against which he inveighs.

Read more at Commentary

More about: Anti-Semitism, Evangelical Christianity, Evangelical Zionism

Recognizing a Palestinian State Won’t Help Palestinians, or Even Make Palestinian Statehood More Likely

While Shira Efron and Michael Koplow are more sanguine about the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and more critical of Israel’s policies in the West Bank, than I am, I found much worth considering in their recent article on the condition of the Palestinian Authority (PA). Particularly perceptive are their comments on the drive to grant diplomatic recognition to a fictive Palestinian state, a step taken by nine countries in the past few months, and almost as many in total as recognize Israel.

Efron and Koplow argue that this move isn’t a mere empty gesture, but one that would actually make things worse, while providing “no tangible benefits for Palestinians.”

In areas under its direct control—Areas A and B of the West Bank, comprising 40 percent of the territory—the PA struggles severely to provide services, livelihoods, and dignity to inhabitants. This is only partly due to its budgetary woes; it has also never established a properly functioning West Bank economy. President Mahmoud Abbas, who will turn ninety next year, administers the PA almost exclusively by executive decrees, with little transparency or oversight. Security is a particular problem, as militants from different factions now openly defy the underfunded and undermotivated PA security forces in cities such as Jenin, Nablus, and Tulkarm.

Turning the Palestinian Authority (PA) from a transitional authority into a permanent state with the stroke of a pen will not make [its] litany of problems go away. The risk that the state of Palestine would become a failed state is very real given the PA’s dysfunctional, insolvent status and its dearth of public legitimacy. Further declines in its ability to provide social services and maintain law and order could yield a situation in which warlords and gangs become de-facto rulers in some areas of the West Bank.

Otherwise, any steps toward realizing two states will be fanciful, built atop a crumbling foundation—and likely to help turn the West Bank into a third front in the current war.

Read more at Foreign Affairs

More about: Palestinian Authority, Palestinian statehood