An instructive and fascinating debate has erupted over what at first glance may seem an academic point. The debate is between Matthias Küntzel, the author of Jihad and Jew-Hatred: Islamism, Nazism and the Roots of 9/11, and Andrew Bostom, the editor of The Legacy of Jihad and author of the forthcoming book The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism: From Sacred Texts to Solemn History.
The debate is not over whether contemporary Islamism is vehemently anti-Jewish but over the historical roots of that Jew-hatred. Küntzel locates the current rabid Jew-hatred specifically in the influence of Nazi ideology. Bostom, alternatively, insists that the legacy of Islamic Jew-hatred is far more ancient and deeply rooted in classical Islam. Bostom assembles a wealth of historical material and concludes, “According to the full range of hadith concerning the Jews, stubborn malevolence is the Jews’ defining worldly characteristic: rejecting Muhammad and refusing to convert to Islam out of jealousy, envy and even selfish personal interest, lead them to acts of treachery, in keeping with their inveterate nature.”
Contemporary Islamic Jew-hatred, according to Bostom, cannot simply be linked to the influence of Nazi propaganda but rather with an entirely explicable reaction to the very existence of Israel. Explicable, that is, given Islam’s traditional hostility to Jews. According to Bostom, “The rise of Jewish nationalismZionismposed a predictable, if completely unacceptable challenge to the Islamic orderjihad-imposed chronic dhimmitude for Jewsof apocalyptic magnitude.” He then quotes his mentor, Bat Ye’or, who explained: “Because divine will dooms Jews to wandering and misery, the Jewish state appears to Muslims as an unbearable affront and a sin against Allah. Therefore it must be destroyed by Jihad.”
One crucial implication of all this is that the Israeli-Palestinian “problem” has less to do with any particular policy pursued by Israel than with the Jew-hating ideology intrinsic to Islamist organizations such as Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Muslim Brotherhood (not to mention the Islamic Republic of Iran). Also, the deep-seated Jew-hatred of the Islamists should disabuse us of the notion that the threat of Islamism will wither away with the establishment of a Palestinian state.
I don’t intend to weigh in on the particulars of the Küntzel-Bostom debate, except to note that it has profound implications for how we name the enemy. Do we call them Islamofascists, which tends to suggest their current form of Jew-hatred is originally modern? Or do we call them Jihadists, suggesting a more ancient and intrinsic connection to Islamic theology and political understanding (with consequently diminished prospects for reform)? In any case, the debate is instructive, with both sides presenting plausible (and not mutually exclusive) explanations.
A more puzzling case of hostility involving Jews, however, is the dislike Jews have for evangelical Christians. The renowned sociologist James Q. Wilson has written a short piece entitled Why Don’t Jews Like the Christians Who Like Them?
In the United States, the two groups that most ardently support Israel are Jews and evangelical and fundamentalist Christians. Jewish support is easy to explain, but why should certain Christians, most of them politically quite conservative, be so devoted to Israel? There is a second puzzle: despite their support for a Jewish state, evangelical and fundamentalist Christians are disliked by many Jews. And a third: a large fraction of African-Americans are hostile to Israel and critical of Jews, yet Jewish voters regard blacks as their natural allies.
Evangelical Christians have a high opinion not just of the Jewish state but of Jews as people. That Jewish voters are overwhelmingly liberal doesn’t seem to bother evangelicals, despite their own conservative politics. Yet Jews don’t return the favor: in one Pew survey, 42 percent of Jewish respondents expressed hostility to evangelicals and fundamentalists.
Wilson helpfully summarizes the historical and theological reasons for the affection and support American evangelicals have for Jews and Israel. For many evangelicals and conservative Protestants such as myself, this is familiar terrain, but Wilson helpfully explains the tale for the uninitiated. He traces evangelical support for Israel to a certain strain of evangelical theology called dispensationalism. My only quibble with Wilson’s article is that there are many evangelicals who reject dispensationalism but who nevertheless strongly support Israel on, they would argue, less dubious theological groundsor on a clear understanding of the Jew-hatred in contemporary Islamism.
In any case, Wilson contrasts evangelical support for Israel with that of mainline (liberal) Protestants:
Mainstream Protestant groups, such as the National Council of Churches and the Middle East Council of Churches, have a very different attitude toward Israel. The NCC, for example, refused to support Israel during the Six-Day War in 1967, and immediately afterward began to protest victorious Israel’s expansion of its territory. From that point on, the NCC’s positions ran closely with Arab opinion, urging American contact with the Palestine Liberation Organization, for instance, and denouncing the Camp David Accords because they supposedly ignored the Palestinians’ national ambitions.
“Why,” asks Wilson, “do mainline Protestant leaders oppose Israel?” His proposed answer seems to me to be spot on:
That question becomes harder to answer when one recalls that Israel is a democratic nation with vigorously independent courts that has not only survived brutal attacks by its Arab neighbors but provided a prosperous home for the children of many Holocaust survivors. As with any other nation, Israel has pursued policies that one can challenge. Some may criticize its management of the West Bank, for example, or its attacks on Hamas leaders. But these concerns are trivial compared with Iran’s announced desire to wipe Israel off the map by using every weapon at its disposal, including (eventually) a nuclear one.
The answer, I think, is that many Christian liberals see Israel as blocking the aspirations of the oppressedwho, they have decided, include the Palestinians. Never mind that the Palestinians support suicide bombers and rocket attacks against Israel; never mind that the Palestinians cannot form a competent government; never mind that they wish to occupy Israel “from the sea to the river.” It is enough that they seem oppressed, even though much of the oppression is self-inflicted.
Wilson also notes that, according to several disturbing polls, “about one-third of U.S. blacks have very anti-Semitic attitudes, and this hasn’t changed since at least 1964, when the first such poll was conducted.” It has been “African-American leaders, not white evangelicals, who have made anti-Semitic remarks most conspicuously,” but because “African-American voters are liberals,” they “often get a pass from their Jewish allies. To Jews, blacks are friends and evangelicals enemies, whatever their respective dispositions toward Jews and Israel.”
Why then do Jews not return the favor? “Why don’t Jews,” according to Wilson, “like the Christians who like them?”
Though evangelical Protestants are supportive of Israel and tolerant of Jews, in the eyes of their liberal critics they are hostile to the essential elements of a democratic regime. They believe that the United States was founded as a Christian nation and worry about the decay of morality; they must wish, therefore, to impose a conservative moral code, alter the direction of the country so that it conforms to God’s will, require public schools to teach Christian beliefs, and crush the rights of minorities.
But this is a fundamental misunderstanding of the beliefs and attitudes of evangelical Christians:
Christian Smith, a sociology professor at the University of North Carolina, analyzed four surveys of self-identified evangelicals and found that, while they do think that America was founded as a Christian nation and fear that the country has lost its moral bearings, these views are almost exactly the same as those held by non-evangelical Americans. Evangelicals, like other Americans, oppose having public schools teach Christian values, oppose having public school teachers lead students in vocal prayers, and oppose a constitutional amendment declaring the country a Christian nation. Evangelicals deny that there is one correct Christian view on most political issues, deny that Jews must answer for allegedly killing Christ, deny that laws protecting free speech go too far, and reject the idea that whites should be able to keep blacks out of their neighborhoods. They overwhelmingly agree that Jews and Christians share the same values and can live together in harmony. Evangelicals strongly oppose abortion and gay marriage, but in almost every other respect are like other Americans.
Whatever the reason for Jewish distrust of evangelicals, it may be a high price to pay when Israel’s futureits very existenceis in question. Half of all Protestants in the country describe themselves as evangelical, or born-again, Christians, making up about one-quarter of all Americans (though they constitute only 16 percent of white Christian voters in the Northeast). Jews, by contrast, make up less than 2 percent of the U.S. population, and that percentage will shrink: as many as half of all Jews marry non-Jews. When it comes to helping secure Israel’s survival, the tiny Jewish minority in America should not reject the help offered by a group that is ten times larger and whose views on the central propositions of a democratic society are much like everybody else’s. Wilson surely is right that no good can come from repeating H.L. Mencken's accusation that fundamentalists are "yokels and morons." Nor, I hasten to add, should it be revived to attack contemporary evangelicals.
With anti-Semitism deeply embedded in the worldincluding certain American enclavesnow is not the time for thoughtful Jews to cringe in embarrassment at their evangelical admirers. Jew-hatred and anti-Zionism are seemingly intractable features of modern Islam, as Küntzel and Bostom suppose, but the opposite seems to be a persistent feature of modern evangelicalism. Now, with a documented rise of anti-Semitism in the African-American community (an extreme example being the tirades of Barack Obama’s pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright), a solid pro-Semitic segment in American evangelicalism could healthily balance it. The Jewish community should heed Wilson’s advice: Accept the friendship of Christians who share their perspective on a dearly held foreign policy issue.
Keith Pavlischek is senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and director of the Program to Protect America's Freedom.
Jihad and Jew-Hatred: Islamism, Nazism and the Roots of 9/11 by Matthias Küntzel
The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism: From Sacred Texts to Solemn History by Andrew G. Bostom
"Brothers of Invention?" by Andrew G. Bostom
"Debating the Islamist-Nazi Connection" by Matthias Küntzel
"Why Don't Jews Like the Christians Who Like Them?" by James Q. Wilson