Friday, May 03, 2013

Dispatches from the Elders

The Church of Scotland takes on Jewish claims to the land of Israel. It's strategy for doing so is to put forward an extreme irrendetist and biblical-literalist position, characterize this as "the position of Zionism," and then proceed to reject it outright. One might immediately raise an eyebrow at the phrase "the position of Zionism," since "Zionism" is not a monolith and lacks a central governing authority that could present such a singular and specific "position." Or perhaps they got a text from the Elders of Zionism laying out the official white paper? Anyway, the Church kind of recognizes the problem, as it concedes that various Zionist leaders adopted much more nuanced positions that were quite attentive to the importance of establishing a liberal democratic state. Indeed, it notes that these positions were enshrined in Israel's declaration of independence. But somehow, it retains the confidence that these statements create "a tension . . . with the state of Israel’s ethno-national, Zionist goals," rather than creating a tension with the Church of Scotland's overly narrow and ahistorical definition of what Zionism is. And so "Zionism" remains incompatible with any conception of good -- a uniquely Jewish evil that Christians must demolish and Jews must "repent" of.

Of course, there's nothing wrong in the abstract with attacking far-right renditions of Zionist ideology. I do this with at least as much regularity as I attack the resurrection of Christian anti-Semitic ideologies. There is, however, a huge problem with launching this attack as if it is a hit on the sine qua non of Zionism. Structuring the assault that way results in a misappropriation of huge swaths of Jewish experience, and leads the Church here to make a considerably wider-ranging "critique" (if one wants to call it that) of the Jewish peoples' purported "particular exclusivism," our sense of ourselves as "victims and special," and our alleged "specialness." They demand of Jews an obligation to stop believing that we are "serving God’s special purpose and that abuses by the state of Israel, however wrong and regrettable, don’t invalidate the Zionist project." Meanwhile, the Church endorses a return to a "radical critique of Jewish theology and practice." I can't wait to see how that turns out.

Scottish Jews are understandably aggrieved, and accuse the Church of "claiming to know Judaism better than we do." This, of course, is probably the trademark of Christian approaches to Jewish institutions of all stripes (see also the UK's Methodist Church), and so it is hardly a surprise to see that rear its ugly head again. One does continue to marvel at what makes Christian organizations think we will read such a message and think "by golly, they must be right, because if there's one group I trust to issue accurate assessments about moral questions in general and Jewish experience in particular, it's institutional Christianity!" The arrogance, if nothing else, is as astonishing as ever.

Perhaps the Church could take some of its own advice about asymmetries of power and note its own privileged position in getting to interpret the meaning of Jewish history and Jewish ideologies. But somehow, I'm doubtful.

2 comments:

PG said...

One does continue to marvel at what makes Christian organizations think we will read such a message and think "by golly, they must be right, because if there's one group I trust to issue accurate assessments about moral questions in general and Jewish experience in particular, its institutional Christianity!"

Cute, but I doubt that the Church of Scotland's report is directed toward a Jewish audience at all. To be blunt, I don't think they thought about you (Jews) reading such a message. Where the report considers religious texts that Jews and Christians have in common, it uses only Christian interpretations. It refers repeatedly to "Christian Zionism" (which I think you've occasionally found somewhat creepy as well).

I think it's even more depressing than what you posit, i.e. that the Church of Scotland arrogantly believes Jews will take institutional Christianity as an authority on Jewish experience. Instead, this is just more Christians talking to each other about the Jews, with Jews not even considered as part of the audience much less part of a dialogue.

David Schraub said...

Well, the Church's paper does contain prescriptive messages for what Jews allegedly need to do ("repent", stop viewing ourselves as "special", understand that Zionism is an inherently evil ideology beyond any individual objectionable Isreali acts). But I agree that Jews are certainly only the objects of a conversation that isn't designed to include us. At best, we're allowed to be passive observers that they hope will stare awe-struck at the droplets of human civilization they offer to dribble onto our barbaric little tongues.