Friday, December 03, 2010

Will Israel survive contemporary Christianity?

By Bernie Quigley

For The Hill on 12/3/10

I would hope that any Jewish studies course at university today might start with a viewing of the very great movie, “The Train,” with Burt Lancaster, about the heroic peasants of the French resistance offering up their lives to save the precious art of the Paris museums, a legacy from Rembrandt to Picasso, from falling into the hands of the Nazis. Lancaster hijacks a train and tricks the Germans to deliver the art unscathed to Free France. It should be immediately followed up by another movie, Alain Resnais’ “Night and Fog,” a gritty documentary about the deportation of Jews on trains to Hitler’s death camps. Because the question cannot arise from watching them save the precious art of Paris why they didn’t do the same for France’s Jews.

Art had become France’s religion. Possibly why it was so easy to conquer. But the two films together illustrate an elementary impulse about the cloak of cowardice that rewards substitute action for the true work that needs to be done: Substitutes saving pictures for saving Jewish lives.

The French have thought a great deal about this and Marcel Ophuls’ “The Sorrow and the Pity” examines French cowardice and collaboration. Possibly not enough. When I worked in New York City in the later 1970s I was perhaps the only non-Jewish Bernie to eat breakfast at DuBrow’s Cafeteria in the garment district. The rest were old Jewish men. Everyone had a relative killed in Hitler’s camps. And so did all Jewish friends my age.

It was the Age of Golem, the rough beast which would sweep across Europe since Rabbi Loeb unwittingly released it in Prague in the 16th century. Golem is still with us and this time hides behind a cloak of religious respectability.

As Marvin Hier and Abraham Cooper report in a WSJ op-ed, “Presbyterians Against Israel” today, “ the anti-Israel politics of certain powerful Christian bodies hampers interfaith relations and threatens to breathe new life into medieval doctrine that demonized Jews for hundreds of years.”

In 2007, they report, the World Council of Churches, an umbrella organization of mostly liberal Protestants claiming a membership of 580 million worshippers, convened the "Churches Together for Peace and Justice in the Middle East Conference." The conference produced the Amman Call, a document that condemned violence and endorsed a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but denied Israel's right to a future as a Jewish state.

Again, in 2008, they say, the World Council of Churches convened a group of Protestant and Catholic theologians to review the underpinnings of Christian attitudes toward Israel. (No Jews were invited.) The group published the so-called Bern Perspective, which, among other things, instructed Christians to understand all biblical references to Israel only metaphorically.

It marks a return to "replacement theology," they say, “the medieval view that the Church has replaced Israel in God's plan and that all biblical references to Israel refer to the "new Israel"—that is, to Christians.”

Jewish friends my age have largely gone over to Bill Clinton and Mick Jagger (did somebody say golem?). In America, Israel’s only true and reliable friends today are earthy red necks (Johnny Cash, grits, Mammoth Jack mules and Pastor Hagee) of the old rugged cross persuasion. But they seem a worthy crew compared with the art lovers and appeasers of Vichy France and the current World Council of Churches.

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