In last week’s debate about Chuck Hegel’s nomination for Secretary of Defense, the phrase “unconditional support for Israel” surfaced as the expressed or implied criterion for Senate approval of nominee Hegel. Individuals like Elliot Abrams and organizations such as the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) implicitly used that criterion to criticize the nominee for failing to offer such support despite Mr. Hegel’s unblemished record of voting for Israel’s interests. In doing so the AIPAC and its allies were evidently hoping to find receptive ears in the conservative Christian community which typically constitutes Israel’s strongest support-group on the grounds that the Jews are God’s “Chosen People.”
However, even passing acquaintance with the Bible shows that God himself (sic) never offered “unconditional support” of Israel, nor did the prophets, or Jesus of Nazareth. In fact, the Bible’s stories are largely accounts of Israel’s infidelities, of prophetic criticism of those failures, of their severe punishment by God. (Prophets, of course, were routinely denounced, persecuted, and killed for not offering unconditional support to the Jewish state.)
Usually divine punishment came in response to neglect and mistreatment of those who arguably represent God’s real “chosen people,” viz. the poor and oppressed – the widows, orphans, and resident immigrants. In fact, it might be argued that the Jews were God’s chosen people only insofar as they made up a paradigm of the poor and oppressed when Jacob’s descendents were enslaved in Egypt and exiles in Babylon. Given that understanding, the Palestinians today far better fit the profile of “chosen people” than do Zionist Jews.
Imagine the changes that would take place in U.S. domestic and international politics if Christians adopted the understanding of chosen people as the country’s and world’s poor and oppressed. Imagine if they demanded that nominees for Secretary of Defense or of President (!) show evidence of unconditional support for inner city children, the homeless, LGBTQs, AIDS victims, and the billions on our planet living on less than $2 a day. Imagine if they recognized Mother Earth herself as oppressed by U.S. consumption patterns and demanded the reforms necessary for her unconditional support.
If Christians made such demands (as we should), our country, our world would be an immeasurably better place. Because we do not, but concentrate instead on a nationalistic understanding of chosen people, Christians end up aggravating the world’s problems rather than pointing the way to solutions.
It’s time to change, read the Bible through the eyes of the poor and oppressed, and make demands accordingly.