Hagee, the Holocaust and Israel

John McCain and Pastor John Hagee (AP)There is something odd – and even harmful – about the reticence of Jewish groups that have carefully cultivated ties to Pastor John Hagee and the Evangelical community he represents to criticize him, or at least to criticize him too harshly, over the comments that have already caused John McCain to reject Hagee’s endorsement of him.

 

And it’s not the thing you’re thinking of.

 

First, let’s review Hagee’s reading of history: “Theodor Herzl is the father of Zionism. He was a Jew who at the turn of the 19th century said, this land is our land, God wants us to live there. So he went to the Jews of Europe and said, ‘I want you to come and join me in the Land of Israel.’ So few went that Herzl went into depression. Those who came founded Israel; those who did not went through the hell of the Holocaust.

 

“Then God sent a hunter… Hitler was a hunter. And the Bible says – Jeremiah writing They shall hunt them from every mountain and from every hill and from the holes of the rocks,’ meaning there’s no place to hide… How did it happen? Because God allowed it to happen. Why did it happen? Because God said my top priority for the Jewish people is to get them to come back to the Land of Israel.”

 

Now, some have taken offense at the notion that God had sent Hitler to punish Jews for their transgressions, while others have pointed out that certain rabbis have espoused just such a notion (although they disagree about the nature of those transgressions). Call that one a toss-up, if you like; I don’t think it benefits the Jewish community much to dither over such an esoteric theological subject.

 

Sure, someone ought to send a memo to Hagee explaining that blaming victims for their suffering – even if that blame is meant to be an excuse for the victims’ suffering rather than a justification for their tormentors – is a dangerous task. It’s a whole lot easier to pull off if, say, you’re a monumental Biblical prophet whose dire warnings have been proven in your lifetime, than if you’re a televangelist whose wisdom is being disseminated on Youtube and parsed in the blogosphere.

 

For the Jews, though, and for Israel, a more important issue is at stake. That is the false and dangerous claim that the founding of the Zionist state was a payment of sorts to the Jewish people for their suffering at the hands of the Nazis.

 

How is this claim, unintentionally rephrased in Hagee’s sermon, false? Recalling Hagee’s own words, Theodor Herzl got the ball rolling on Zionism fully four decades before Hitler rose to power. In 1922, the League of Nations granted the United Kingdom a mandate over Palestine for the express purpose of “placing the country under such political, administrative and economic conditions as will secure the establishment of the Jewish national home.”

 

Far from being a modern phenomenon, Jewish settlement in the Land of Israel has been a constant fact for 3,000 years; the Jews have outlasted the Romans, the Byzantines, the Umayyads, the Abbasids, the Crusaders, the Mamluks, the Ottomans and the British, to name a few.

 

Why is this claim dangerous? Because it feeds Arab propaganda that paints Jews as occupiers and colonialists in Israel, rather than rightful heirs to the Promised Land. On campuses across America, this propaganda is being foisted on a generation of students for whom the lie of Israel’s illegitimacy is fast becoming accepted history. And in mosques across the Middle East, it fuels poisonous plots to murder and maim women and children who have “usurped” the cafes of Jerusalem.

 

Hagee’s comments certainly put Jews and Israelis in an awkward position. Evangelical Christians are easily the best friends we have in America – ironically, in large part because of views such as these. John McCain has the good sense to recognize that Hagee’s words are harmful to his political ambitions; Jews and Israelis, too, ought to realize that this issue demands a response. Unfortunately, the response so far follows the familiar – and mistaken – pattern of taking offense at a preacher’s theology. This won’t work.

 

Rather than argue over God’s mysterious ways in yesterday’s Europe, the Jewish community and the Israeli government would be better served by pointing out the unintented consequences of Hagee’s comments on the debate over the Israeli-Arab conflict today. Doing so would allow Hagee to preserve his religious views, let him show off his pro-Israel credentials on a modern political topic as well. Most importantly, it would provide an invaluable opportunity to fight one of the most pernicious canards of our era.

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