My American Identity

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Can I be myself or do I need to be taught?

 

Chapter 12

Jewish Religion

 

some history

Religion is a system of culture that expresses a people’s identity. Its true nature is disguised because in the first millennium B.C. philosophy was superimposed on an earlier tradition, giving the impression that religion is a creed. Religion is also said to involve a belief in God. Philosophy has told us that God is creator of the universe.

However, if we look at the historical origins of religion, the element of identity comes into sharper focus. God is a collective personality associated with a tribe or nation of people. Our universal God, Jehovah, was the tribal god of the Hebrews. The Biblical God said to Moses at their first encounter: “I am the God of your forefathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob.” (Genesis 3:6)

In the history of religion, God’s identity as a tribal spirit is preceded by an identity associated with elements in nature. Primitive man conceived of a spirit world behind the physical world. The sky, sun, moon, and stars were spirits. So were the earth, trees, rivers, mountains, and lakes. These elements had different spheres of influence, and had to be appeased or approached individually to gain their favor.

When human society became organized politically, the nature of religion changed. The gods now became emblematic of particular cities. These gods were often presented in the form of a statue bearing the likeness of an animal or human being which was placed in a temple or shrine. When we encounter God in the Bible, it is in the guise of a divine being linked to political identity. The religion of Judaism is fixed in a form appropriate to that stage of history. It is focused on the Jewish nation-state under Kings David and Solomon.

When that state fell, its remembered identity did not. A principal reason is that the Jewish people, some of the first people to acquire literacy, had developed a tradition of historical literature. The biblical canon was compiled when the priestly establishment returned from exile in Babylon and Persia. Many of the early religious texts were preserved. Since Jews had the idea that these texts were the word of God, “every a jot and tittle on the written page had a magical potency” and could not be changed.

Religion later progressed beyond the stage of expressing tribal identity. In the middle of the first millennium B.C., it became infused with ideas to support universal beliefs. The earlier traditions became associated with emerging world religions that appealed to peoples everywhere. This development occurred both in India, where Buddhism emerged from the Hindu tradition, and in Judaea where Hebrew prophetic scriptures produced the Christian religion. In its third stage, Toynbee observed, religion became transformed into the worship of “an Absolute Reality”, replacing the earlier worships of Nature and of collective Man. The philosophical revolution introduced a moral focus to religion.

Formed in an earlier time, the Jewish religion, Judaism, will remain forever inseparable from the Jewish people. It is an ethnic tradition more than a set of beliefs. Christianity, on the other hand, is embodied in a set of doctrines. It arises from Jesus’ announcement of the impending Kingdom of God. When Rome embraced Christianity as a state religion, it set the stage for Europeans to be Christian. European peoples therefore inherited this religion as if it were their own culture. After the Protestant Reformation, Europe became divided between Christian denominations, with the people of particular nations tending to follow the religious affiliation of their ruler. The Jews meanwhile held on to their own religion.

uniqueness of the Jewish God

The God of Christianity (and of Islam and Judaism), Jehovah, is a God said to have a special affinity for Jews, the “chosen people”. However, the monotheistic religions of the Judaic tradition also maintains that Jehovah is the only real God. He is therefore the God of all peoples.

The religious imperialism of monotheism was a spiritual counterpart to the political empires that existed two thousand years ago. There was a single ruler or God. God was seen as the spirit of a nation. in political empires, when many nationalities were incorporated into a single state, the state created a pantheon of gods in which the tribal god of the dominant city-state - Rome - assumed the top position in the divine hierarchy. Judaic religion would not make that concession to other people’s spiritual identities. Its mistake, according to Julian the Apostate, was that: “While striving to gratify their own God, they (the Jews) do not, at the same time, serve the others.”

Embedded in Jewish culture may be the idea that Jews are unique; they are superior to other people. We see this theme in the story of Joseph’s dream in which his brothers’ sheaves of grain bowed down to his. (Genesis 37) We see it in Moses’ preaching to the people of Israel: “You shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow; the Lord will make you the head and not the tail: you shall be always at the top and never at the bottom, when you listen to the Commandments of the Lord your God.” (Deuteronomy 28) We see this, in an extreme form, in God’s commandment to the invading Hebrew tribes to exterminate the current inhabitants of Canaan. (Deuteronomy 20)

In contemporary parlance, we would call this a “racist” attitude. One group of people feels inherently superior to others. However, the image is softened by God. If the Jewish people are superior because they enjoy God’s unique favor, then others who accept that this God is real can hardly complain. The Jewish God, Jehovah, is believed to be the only real God because his representatives are able to influence nature in miraculous ways.

In a test whose result has stood for all time, the prophet Elijah challenged the priests of Baal to slaughter a bull and lay it on Baal’s altar. He, being a prophet of Jehovah, would do the same. “You shall invoke your god (Baal) by name and I will invoke the Lord by name; and the god who answers by fire, he is God.” (1 Kings 18) The priests of Baal repeatedly invoked the name of their god, but no fire came for the burnt offering. When Elijah then invoked God’s name, the altar of Jehovah caught fire. The people then fell to the ground crying: “The Lord is God.” According to this lesson, the Hebrew people’s God Jehovah was the only real God while other people’s gods were false.

reassessment during the Exile

Jewish religion experienced a crisis of confidence when God’s uniquely blessed dynasty, the House of David, fell to foreign empires. The leaders of Judaea were exiled to Babylon. A group of religious writers who lived during that time, the Old Testament prophets, pondered questions of divine justice. These prophets generally agreed that the Jews’ political misfortunes were a result of having previously disobeyed God’s commandments. Their God, Jehovah, was punishing them for those sins but the punishment would not last forever. These writers created a scenario in which, after a time of chastisement, God would restore the Jewish kingdom to its previous state of power and glory in what became known as the “Kingdom of God”. The Messiah, a descendant of David who was God’s representative, would appear at the time when the Kingdom arrived.

The Kingdom of God, to which Jesus often referred, was originally to have been a political restoration. The Jews, like the Assyrians and Persians, would again have their own imperial state. Over the centuries, this scheme was changed. In later versions, God’s Kingdom was ruled by a Messiah who was “Son of Man” rather than David’s earthly descendant. He became a supernatural being who ruled over a supernatural kingdom that would come suddenly to earth, replacing earthly kingdoms. The important thing now was when the Kingdom would come. The prophets in their collective writings presented a series of events that would have to happen first before the Kingdom came.

In Jesus’ view, the countdown on the long-delayed coming of God’s Kingdom had begun in his own day. It started with the work of John the Baptist, who represented the prophesied return of Elijah. Jesus was working to fulfill the remaining conditions - mainly, a predicted period of suffering and tribulation - that needed to be met before the Kingdom arrived. Jesus sent out his Disciples expecting this event to occur. When it did not, he contemplated how the Disciples and the rest of humanity might be spared of the tribulation if he took the suffering upon himself. Therefore, Jesus willingly died upon the Cross. Resurrected three days later, he was now in the form of the supernatural Messiah who would introduce the Kingdom of God.

religion as we know it

Christianity proceeded from the “good news” that Jesus had risen from the dead. This was another miraculous event showing that God, the God of Jesus, had power over nature. On that basis, the fact of Christ’s resurrection could appeal to all people. However, the religion of Jesus was still a Jewish religion. Jesus himself had said: “I was sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, and to them alone.” ( Matthew 15: 24) It was unthinkable that non-Jews, or Gentiles, would want to worship the God of the Jews. That God did not represent their spirit. They had their own tribal gods.

In becoming a world religion, Christianity therefore had to undo its Jewish nature. That was accomplished by portraying the Sanhedrin priesthood as the group most responsible for Jesus’ death. The Gospels make clear that it was the Jewish high priest and elders, more than Pontius Pilate, who wanted Jesus crucified. Christians have thus considered Jews to be “Christ-killers” and treated them accordingly. The anti-Semitism conveyed in the Gospel story cleared the path of ethnic religion and made it possible for Christianity to become a universal faith. The apostle Paul did the rest. There was, wrote he, “no distinction between Jew and Greek, because the same Lord is Lord of all.” “Romans 10: 12)

The three Judaic religions - Judaism, Christianity, and Islam - have coexisted for centuries as separate communities of believers having each their own scriptures and structures of organization. The “hook” for each would seem to be a belief in God with the specific idea that God would take care of righteous persons after death.

Jews in the Diaspora have been organized in small communities under the direction of rabbis. Until recently, they have had no state of their own.

Christianity began with the community of Jesus’ own disciples, relatives and acquaintances. With the conversion of Paul, it sent missionaries into the Greco-Roman world, eventually becoming Rome’s state religion. The Christian church split into a western branch, headed by the Bishop of Rome (the Pope), and an eastern branch, headed by the Patriarch of Constantinople. The Reformation split western Christendom.

Islam rose in the 7th century, A.D. inspired by the other two religions. Since the prophet Muhammad was both a religious and political leader, the Islamic religion spread with the military conquests of the Prophet and his successors. The split between Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims arose from the murder of Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law, Ali, in 661 A.D. and establishment of the rival Umayyad dynasty.

The city of Jerusalem is holy to all three religions. Muslim rulers have held the city for most years since 638 A.D. when Muhammad’s successor took possession. Because of its historic and prophetic importance, Jerusalem has been an object of contention, first, between Muslims and Christians during the Crusades and, more lately, between the Israeli government and Palestinians living in the West Bank.

Jewish secular religion

It would seem that the story of Judaic religion should end here, but it does not. All three religions have well-established beliefs, practices, and traditions. Little more would seem possible to add. Yet, the history of the Jewish people and their tradition continues. The new part of the story falls under the heading of Jewish “secular religion”. Here’s what happened.

After centuries of living in a society that regarded them as Christ-killers”, many Jews welcomed the emancipation from religion that began in 17th century Europe and continued through the Enlightenment. The Jewish “Haskalah” movement, begun by the Prussian philosopher Moses Mendelssohn (grandfather of the composer Felix Mendelssohn), embraced enlightenment values including secular education. The French revolution ended the different treatment of people according to religion. Napoleon I abolished laws that had confine Jews to ghettos and restricting their property rights.

During the 19th century, Jews gained increased recognition and influence in European society. The Rothschild banking family became Europe’s leading financiers. Benjamin Disraeli became England’s prime minister and a trusted advisor to Queen Victoria. Meanwhile, persecution and famine in Russia drove numerous Jews to emigrate. In the 1890s, the Baron Hirsch Fund arranged steamship passage for many of them to New York City. By 1924, almost two million Jews lived in the United States.

Some Jews became involved in the labor movement. Karl Marx, whose father came from a long line of Jewish rabbis who had converted to Lutheran Christianity, put together a system of economic, historical, and social thought to support the interests of working people. The structure of economic relationships was said to be the driving force of social and political change. As middle-class capitalists had replaced land-owning aristocrats in the late 18th century, so Marx foresaw that lower-class factory workers might bring society away from capitalism toward socialism. The change might occur in a violent political revolution.

Although Marx himself harbored what might be considered anti-Semitic attitudes, his historical scheme resembled that in Jewish prophetic scripture. It featured a scenario of events by which the present evil society would be suddenly replaced by a perfect realm. Instead of Apocalypse, the climactic change would occur through Revolution. The necessity of science, rather than God, would provide the force leading to a new order of society. Instead of a religious Messiah, a revolutionary elite would be facilitating the change. As Jesus had once announced that “The Kingdom of God is at hand”, so Lenin upon seizing political power proclaimed the imminent construction of the Socialist order.

Jews were prominently represented among the Bolsheviks. Although Lenin himself was not Jewish and neither was Stalin, his second-in-command, Leon Trotsky, was. Other Jews prominent in the Bolshevist takeover of Russia included diplomat Maxim Litvinov, Grigori Zinoviev (a Politburo member and president of the Comintern), Lev Kamenev (Trotsky’s brother-in-law and chairman of the Central Executive Committee), Leonid Krasin (People’s commissar of trade), and Karl Radek (secretary of the Comintern). Trotsky had brought with him from New York a large sum of money to finance the revolution. It is believed to have come from Jacob Schiff, managing director of Kuhn Loeb & Co., a Rothschild affiliate.

Zionism versus Bolshevism

In an article published on February 8, 1920, in the Illustrated Sunday Herald newspaper, Winston Churchill observed: “(T)his astonishing race (Jews) may at the present time be in the actual process of producing another system of morals and philosophy (Marxism) as malevolent as Christianity was benevolent ... In the Soviet institutions, the predominance of Jews is ... astonishing. And the prominent, if not indeed the principal, part in the system of terrorism applied by the Extraordinary Commissions for Combating Counter-Revolution has been taken by Jews.”

Churchill’s article, titled “Zionism versus Bolshevism”, purported to describe “a struggle for the soul of the Jewish people” then taking place in the world. “Zionism,” wrote Churchill, “has already become a factor in the political convulsions of Russia ... Nothing could be more significant than the fury with which Trotsky has attacked the Zionists generally, and Dr. Weissmann in particular. The cruel penetration of his mind leaves him in no doubt that his schemes of a world-wide communistic State under Jewish domination are directly thwarted and hindered by this new ideal, which directs the energies and the hopes of Jews in every land towards a simpler, a truer, and far more attainable goal.

the Zionist project

Zionism was the political project of Theodor Herzl and other Jews to establish a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Secular Jews, responding to anti-Semitism in Europe, wanted to create a nation where Jews could live under their own government as other peoples did. There was also a Biblical motive. Herzl published a book, Der Judenstaat (The Jewish state) in 1896. In 1897, an international Congress of Jews in Basle, Switzerland, created the World Zionist Organization to carry out his vision. Great Britain offered the Jews a homeland in Uganda. The Zionist organization rejected that offer in favor of a state in the historic homeland of Israel.

Palestine was then under the control of the Ottoman empire. Herzl’s negotiations with the Turkish Sultan to cede land for Jewish settlement failed. The Ottoman state, which sided with the Central Powers in World War I, was dissolved following the war. The newly formed League of Nations granted Great Britain a mandate to govern Palestine. The British government had previously adopted the “Balfour Declaration” which supported the concept of a Jewish homeland in that region.

Hitler’s rise to power in Germany and the subsequent Nazi persecution caused many Jews to flee Europe. Following World War II, boatloads of stateless Jews, including those who had survived the Holocaust, attempted to settle in Palestine. Many were rebuffed by the British authorities who wanted to limit immigration. Jewish settlers then engaged in terroristic attacks against the British. Britain turned the problem over to the newly formed United Nations. This organization recommended that Palestine be partitioned between a Jewish and Arab state with an internationally controlled area around Jerusalem.

The State of Israel was founded on May 14, 1948, when Ben-Gurion and other leaders of the Jewish National Council proclaimed an independent state. Several surrounding Arab nations then attacked the new state. Israel successfully repelled the attack and, in the process, invaded territories that had been given to Arabs under the UN partition plan. The state of Israel gained additional territories in the Jordanian West Bank and East Jerusalem, the Syrian Golan Heights, and the Egyptian Sinai peninsula and Gaza strip after its three Arab neighbors launched the unsuccessful “Six Days’ War” in 1967. Israel repelled another attack by Egypt and Syria in 1973 on the Yom Kippur holiday. Egypt and Israel subsequently signed a peace treaty brokered by U.S. President Jimmy Carter in 1979.

Today, the state of Israel has a population of 7.3 million persons living on eight thousand square miles of land at the eastern end of the Mediterranean sea. About three quarters of the Israeli population is Jewish. About one fifth consists of Palestinian Arabs. Additionally, Israel controls Palestinian territory in the West Bank. There are an estimated four million Palestinian refugees who live in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Gaza, and the West Bank. The conflict between the state of Israel and its Palestinian population and neighboring Muslim states has been a major source of political instability in the world.

support for this religion

So it would seem that, while Herzl’s Zionist project succeeded in creating a Jewish state in Palestine, there have been some negative consequences. In its Basic Laws, the State of Israel is declared to be both a Jewish and a democratic state. This formulation creates a potential problem with respect to equal citizenship for the non-Jewish population. It would seem that a particular ethnic / religious group is given preferential treatment. The principles of democracy and ethnic preference in a modern state are contradictory.

For Americans, a contradiction also arises between our own national interest and what a domestic lobby sympathetic to Israel wants our nation to do. Considering that large groups of Jewish settlers occupy Palestinian lands in the West Bank under a supposed mandate from God, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict also has a religious dimension. The United States devotes the largest share of its foreign aid to a nation born of religious ideals. The U.S. Constitution forbids supporting any establishment of religion. Some Christian groups in the United States view the Israeli state through the prism of their prophetic beliefs. In a practical sense, religion dictates U.S. foreign policy in that part of the world.

the new religion of the Holocaust

There is also, however, another Jewish secular religion. It is the “religion” of the Holocaust. This new set of attitudes and beliefs arose from the Jews’ horrible experience in Nazi Germany, when millions lost their lives in the wartime concentration camps. Technically, the Holocaust refers to a particular historical experience. However, this history has lately taken on the features of a religion. Why is that?

Normally when people have endured a traumatic experience, it leaves such a painful memory that they do not wish to talk or think about it much. As a boy, for instance, I remember meeting a British man who had been taken prisoner by the Japanese in World War II. I was advised not to ask him about that experience because my question would stir up unpleasant memories. It seems, however, that Jews want to talk often about the Holocaust. They want its history to be taught in schools, become the subject of films and television documentaries, and generally be brought often into public view. That leads me to suspect that something else is involved than telling history.

The Christian religion made effective use of the image of Jesus hanging on the cross. Crucifixion was a particular gruesome form of execution used by the Romans. The sight of Jesus on the cross had a powerful emotional effect. Though negative, this image worked to strengthen belief in Christ’s sacrifice for humanity. Likewise, the image of Jews being herded into gas chambers on the pretext that they would be taking a shower evokes a sense of diabolical cruelty and deceit. The sight of gaunt corpses stacked up like firewood when Allied soldiers liberated the concentration camps is indeed horrifying. It delivers a message which says: This is anti-Semitism. This is what Gentiles have done to Jews.

As an academic discipline, history consists of a body of information and knowledge that is continually developing. As new facts are discovered, our understanding of an event changes. History, like natural science, welcomes new facts and changing theories based on them. Religion, on the other hand, insists on the sanctity of existing ideas. Because religious texts are believed the product of divine inspiration, not a word can be changed. So, too, the history of the Holocaust has become a system of fixed belief that must be accepted without change. The orthodox history says that six million Jews died in Hitler’s concentration camps. Someone who asserts that the number was closer to, say, four million “blasphemes” that version of history. He becomes a “Holocaust denier”, meaning, in religious terms, a heretic.

It is claimed that Holocaust deniers deny that there were concentration camps or that Jews died in them. These deniers are alleged to be like the people who maintain that Neil Armstrong’s flight to the moon never happened; the images might have been manufactured on a Hollywood set. In fact, most denials of the Holocaust concern the number of Jewish deaths. One Holocaust denier reports, for instance, that the New York Times carried a story in 1919 claiming that six million Jews had died during World War I. Wouldn’t it be a coincidence if exactly the same number died in World War II? Still other deniers question whether the concentration-camp deaths were due to Nazi extermination. It is alleged that at least some of those deaths were a result of Typhus epidemics that swept through the camps or illnesses brought on by starvation. I do not know whether the allegations are true, but, from an historical standpoint, they do merit investigation.

It is undeniable that there were Nazi concentration camps and that these were horrible places. Jews certainly died in those camps. We have supporting photographs and eyewitness testimony to that effect. However, this does not mean that details of the historical experience cannot be questioned. Instead, the tone of discussions of the Holocaust is that nothing can be questioned. The subject must be treated with utmost reverence. It seems that the more time has elapsed since the death camps existed, the less this experience belongs to history and the more it belongs to religion.

Holocaustism targets Christianity

The religion of the Holocaust has already started to affect the balance between the traditional religions. Jews, as “Christ-killers”, have historically been at a disadvantage in dealing with the Christian church. Christianity was a threat to Jewish identity. But the new Satan, Adolf Hitler, was nominally a Christian. Jews living in his brutal regime were innocent victims of persecution.

The question has become what Christians did to help Jews. Specifically, what did the Pope do to relieve Jewish suffering under Hitler? It is alleged that the Pope, Pius XII, did not do nearly enough. Even if his negligent role did not match the villainy of the Jewish priests who demanded Christ’s crucifixion, he and other church leaders who might have helped but did not bear some guilt for the injuries inflicted upon Jews during the Holocaust. So the tables have been turned.

The current Pope, Benedict XVI, is a German who, like Hitler, lived much of his life in Munich. That makes him vulnerable to accusations of not caring enough about Jews. And so, when Benedict lifted the excommunication of a Holocaust-denying priest, Bishop Richard Williamson, he had to backtrack quickly when criticized for the decision. The Pope expressed “full and indisputable solidarity” with the Jewish people and warned against Holocaust denials.

A new theology has begun to fall in place as this new and more energetic religion challenges the old one. Elie Wiesel said in the Polish journal Gazeta Wyborcza, “The Holocaust is a mystery that the human mind cannot reach ... It is transcendent in relation to history. The Holocaust cannot be treated as a historical fact but rather as an eschatological drama ... and must be investigated using metaphysical and theological instruments. Even talking about the Auschwitz or Treblinka is a kind of blasphemy and cannot be approached without holy apprehension.”

An eschatological interpretation of the Holocaust appears in a 1984 book by a Polish philosopher, Stanislaw Lem. According to him, the German Nazis, who were not able to kill God himself, tried to annihilate God’s chosen nation to take its privileged position. After that bloodshed, they expected to become the chosen nation. Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League has speculated that the Holocaust was not just an example of genocide but a nearly successful attempt on the life of God’s chosen people and, in fact, on God himself.

The practical effect of such doctrines is that the deaths sustained during the Holocaust eclipse the central event of Christianity - the self-sacrifice of Jesus. For Jews, the Holocaust is equivalent to the Crucifixion. In the Shoah (Holocaust), the Jewish nation died for God, taking upon itself the burden of his unimaginable guilt for the indifference, absence, or powerlessness in the face of Nazi evil.

While most Christian theologians do not yet equate Auschwitz to Golgotha, they have taken steps in that direction. The Polish theologian Michal Czajkowski has called for a new Christian theology including the Holocaust. Christianity is tainted, he thinks, by the fact that the Shoah occurred in Europe. So the traditional theology is reversed. The gas chambers overcame the Cross. Instead of Jews being responsible for killing Jesus, Christians are now charged with the murder of Jews.

 

"let me tell you who you are"

In contrast with the “Christ-killer” attitude of the medieval church, most Christian communities today take a kindlier view of the Jews who, after all, gave them Jesus. Many Jews, on the other hand, bear the grudge of centuries-long persecution and attempts to convert them from their ancestral religion - i.e., erase their Jewish identity. They complain of a so-called “replacement theology” that systematically substitutes the Christian church for the Jews when references to God’s unique blessing are made. They use the history of the Holocaust to assert a new relationship with Christians willing to give up proselytizing and let Jews stay with their own faith.

“Let me tell you who I am and who you are,” said the executive director of Christians United for Israel. He, a Jew, had not accepted Jesus as the Messiah. Christians who accepted Jews on that basis might be called “children of the righteous Gentiles”, similar to persons who had risked their lives to save Jews from the Nazi death camps. He thought those Christians did that to thank Jews for giving them Jesus and the culture of Christianity. Oskar Schindler, hero of a film directed by Steven Spielberg, exemplifies the righteous Gentile. In the new Holocaust religion, he and others like him are a counterpart to the Biblical characters who showed mercy to Jesus as he carried his cross to Golgotha.

My ears perk up when I hear someone telling other people who they are. It seem to me that that assignment of identity properly belongs to the person himself. In this case, it was further claimed that a positive identity for one group of people depended on their usefulness to another.

Jews have a boundaries problem. I picked up on that several years ago, when, as the United States was assembling a coalition of nations to invade Iraq, Jewish writers asserted that we Americans were not like the soft Europeans, especially the French, who no longer had it in them to fight. We were not, like the French, anti-Semitic. No, we were “good people”, free of hateful attitudes, willing to fight a war not necessarily in our national interest. That’s who we are now - not the nation that used to be grateful to the French for giving us Lafayette, but an empire that fights wars to prove its “greatness”. “We” are a people that wants to help Israel.

The Israeli government seems to recognize few boundaries. When Adolf Eichmann was discovered to be living in Argentina, Israeli security forces simply went into that country and kidnapped him. But, of course, Eichmann had played a key role in the Nazi death camps so there was an overriding imperative to bring him to justice. The Holocaust builds a case for Israeli exceptionalism. Then, when the Iraqi leader, Saddam Hussein, started building a nuclear reactor, agents of the Israeli Mossad hunted down scientists who were working on the project in Europe and assassinated them. The European governments vainly complained that their territorial sovereignty had been violated. And, of course, the Israelis took out Iraq’s nuclear reactor in a daring strike which used advanced, U.S.-provided aircraft without authorization. President Reagan was furious but could do nothing about this.

The latest incident, happening in February 2010, was the assassination of a leader of Hamas in the city of Dubai by a group of assassins using British, Irish, French, and German passports. The passports were forged. It is widely believed that the Mossad carried out this attack, and the Dubai police chief has issued a warrant for its leader’s arrest. The names and pictures on the passports, in some cases, were used without the person’s knowledge or permission. The identities may have been stolen when unsuspecting individuals who had visited Israel presented their passports when entering the country. In other cases, it is known that the Israeli government sometimes asks its citizens or other sympathetic persons if it can borrow their identities for a time to carry out security-related operations. The idea of getting someone else to front for you is steeped in tradition.

the group behind the Iraq war

There are several theories to explain why the United States went to war in Iraq. Maybe we thought we could get our hands on Iraq’s oil? Maybe President Bush wanted to avenge Saddam Hussein’s assassination plot against his father in Kuwait; or maybe he wished to finish the job of conquering Iraq that was left undone in the Persian Gulf war? The official reason, that the Iraqi government possessed “weapons of mass destruction” that threatened U.S. security is now known to have been a fabrication. Another reason, which makes much more sense to me, is that the government of Saddam Hussein threatened Israel’s security. The United States committed its own military forces to serve the strategic interests of another country.

The proximate cause of this war was a group of mostly Jewish writers, policy analysts, and government officials, known as the “neo-cons” who, supported by Vice President Cheney, urged this policy on the Bush Administration shortly after the September 11th attacks. This group included deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, Elliott Abrams, “Scooter” Libby, and Richard Perle, and, as supportive writers, William Kristol and Robert Kagan, among others.

Those individuals were associated with an organization, The Project for the New American Century, which Kristol and Kagan cofounded. It had issued several letters to the Clinton administration in the 1990s urging that Iraq be invaded, that Hezbollah bases in Lebanon be bombed, and that Syria and Iran be threatened with military action unless they stopped supporting terrorism. This culminated in passage of the “Iraq Liberation Act of 1998, which called for “regime change”. After the Iraq invasion was carried out, there was also a call for a U.S. bombing attack to take out Iran’s nuclear reactors.

The people who pushed for the Iraq war were high officials in the U.S. government who sympathized with a foreign government, Israel, and actively did its bidding. In an earlier time, such an arrangement might have been seen as treasonous. However, the President himself had conflicting loyalties. The neo-con’s political influence depended on support from American Christians. President George W. Bush was himself a born-again Christian. The Christian supporters of Israel were motivated by Biblical prophecies that associated historical events in the Middle East with the scenario of the Final Days, when Jesus would return to earth. The state of Israel played a part in those prophecies.

Unfortunately for the peace process, the Book of Revelation foretold how the Anti-Christ would pose as a man of peace. The Book of Daniel foretold a peace negotiation that would lead to the destruction of many people in Israel. When the Bush Administration urged Ariel Sharon to pull his tanks out of Jenin in 2002, the White House received thousands of critical emails, most likely from Christians.

If asked, the Jewish-American officials who pushed for the Iraq war would probably deny that their chief motivation was to help Israel. Yet, the invasion of Iraq, alleging “weapons of mass destruction”, comes in the aftermath of a decades-long effort by agents of Israeli security forces to track down and kill scientists working in Europe who were working on Iraq’s nuclear program. It comes in the context of the 1981 air attack in which Israeli pilots using advanced American aircraft destroyed Iraq’s nuclear reactor.

It’s scarcely a secret that the so-called “Israeli lobby”, who would be mainly American Jews, enjoys a stranglehold over U.S. policy in the Middle East. Members of Congress are intimidated by this lobby. When Senator Charles Percy voted to sell advanced air craft to Saudi Arabia, his Jewish constituents saw to it that he was defeated in the next election. So, with their money and influence, Jews exercise political power in the United States vastly disproportionate to their numbers.

a weak reed

After the Iraq victory, an Israeli journalist, Uri Avnery, wrote that “the small group that initiated this war - an alliance of Christian fundamentalists and Jewish neo-conservatives - has won big, and from now on it will control Washington almost without limits ... Seemingly, all this is good of Israel. America controls the world... (and) ... we control America. Never before have Jews exerted such an immense influence on the center of world power. But this tendency troubles me. We are like a gambler who bet all his money and his future on one horse ...

“The Bible tells us about the kings of Judea who relied on the then world power, Egypt ... An Assyrian general told the king of Judea: ‘Behold, thou trusted upon the staff of this bruised reed, upon Egypt, on which, if a man lean, it will go into his hand and pierce it.’ Bush and his gang of neo-cons is not a bruised reed. Far from it, he is now a very strong reed. But should we bet our whole future on this?”

about Jewish influence

One wonders how a group of people comprising less than two percent of the U.S. population wields such political influence? Are Jews smarter than other people? Perhaps so. Ernest van der Haag speculates that Jews are more intelligent because unlike Roman Catholic priests, who were celibate, Jewish rabbis were allowed to have families, and large ones, too. The priesthood tended to attract more intelligent persons within a population.

A second and related factor, however, may be that Jews are well-positioned in society. They are affluent. They hold key positions especially in the opinion-setting institutions of journalism, entertainment, and education. This could reflect “merit” or the existence of a buddy system at work to promote one's own kind.

The third element is coordinated effort. If Jews individually held top positions in organizations of influence, it would be of little consequence provided that these individuals acted independently and in the best interests of the organization. On the other hand, if they worked together to promote an agenda that furthered the interest of Jews rather than that of the organization they nominally served, it would be of legitimate concern.

This leads to the subject of “Jewish conspiracies”. The type of conspiracy described in the fictitious “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” almost certainly does not exist. It would be hard for anyone to keep such a secret on that scale. On the other hand, there may be undisclosed coordination in the media, education, government, and elsewhere in matters affecting Jews.

Who is involved in the “conspiracies” or whether they are Jews is difficult to ascertain. Unlike blacks, Jews cannot readily be identified by skin color. Some last names sound Jewish, but that characteristic, too, is ambiguous. Jews may have a general physical similarity, but they would otherwise blend in with white people. Then, too, Jews may not be the only ones involved in the apparent coordination of results. Conspirators often do not identify themselves.

is there a Jewish agenda?

Therefore, let us ask: Is there a “Jewish” agenda? That’s the real question. Perhaps support for the state of Israel is be a policy that most Jews would support. There are Jewish opinion leaders who argue that criticism of Israel is inherently anti-Semitic. On the other hand, many Jews are themselves critical of Israeli policies. I think it’s legitimate for Jews and Gentiles alike to criticize government policy.

There are other issues such as the Holocaust which would find the Jewish community more united. Few human beings, let alone Jews, would condone such killing. However, the Holocaust issue involves the uniqueness of the killing. Perhaps more Jews than Gentiles see it as unique.. Also, the Holocaust may be interpreted as hatred of Jews by non-Jews rather than simply a horrible event. It anchors the idea of anti-Semitism.

Anti-Semitism is itself an issue for Jews. As usually interpreted, this concept denotes a blind, irrational hatred of Jews by Gentiles just because they are Jewish or, perhaps, because they are successful. Interpreted loosely, it can mean any criticism of Jews as a group. It can mean any negative remark about Jews. Because anti-Semitism led to the Holocaust and everyone agrees that was a bad experience, the charge of anti-Semitism is supposed to be of general concern.

Because Jews have been historic victims of anti-Semitism, they are concerned about situations where a majority population threatens their interest. That was perceived to be the case in the United States when a WASP elite controlled society. Jews were then on the outside of the power structure. They became allied with other groups such as members of labor unions or blacks struggling for power. In the mid ‘60s they supported the loosening of immigration restrictions that let more people into the United States from places other than Europe.

Jews feel more comfortable in a multiracial, multicultural society where a balance of power protects them from majority abuse. It is they who pioneered the politics of discrimination giving minority groups a weapon against the majority. However, this attitude applies only to communities where Jews are in the minority. In the state of Israel, a multicultural society is not considered so desirable. Elements of the Israeli government, its armed forces, and the population of Jewish settlers in the West Bank are every bit as “redneck” or abusive to the Palestinians as white supremacists were to black people in the American south sixty years ago.

the Jews’“cultural DNA”

Let me go out on a limb here and advance my own theory about the Jews and their agenda. I do not think there is a conspiracy in terms of a tightly knit organization that takes its marching orders from a commander somewhere. There is, however, coordination within the Jewish community, and elsewhere perhaps as well, to promote certain points of view. I also think this coordination lies in the Jews’ “cultural DNA” more than in a structure. It starts with a rather unique history and it is perpetuated in the religious culture that constantly relives and refreshes that history.

The formative experience, I think, was the exile to Babylon in the 6th century B.C. Traumatic at the time, it proved to be the salvation of Jewish religion. The Jewish exiles made good use of their opportunities. Some gained high government positions at the Babylonian court. The prophet Daniel, for instance, gained such a position through his ability to interpret dreams. In that respect, he is like Joseph, Jacob’s son, who served in a high administrative capacity at Pharaoh’s court in Egypt.

Such experiences engrain in the “Jewish cultural DNA” the idea of exercising power in someone else’s name. Jews became skilled middlemen who put their agendas across under the cover of a ruler whom they served rather than persons who did this on their own authority. A certain secrecy is involved in the process. A certain shift in identities takes place.

The Babylonian regime that had conquered Jerusalem lasted forty-seven years before Cyrus II of Persia conquered it. The Jewish exiles then lived under Persian rule for a time. Persian rule was congenial to the Jews. Through Daniel’s influence, the Persian emperor allowed Jewish leaders to return to Judaea to rebuilt the temple. It was during that time that many of the Biblical texts were compiled and codified.

When Alexander the Great conquered the Persian empire in 333 B.C., the situation abruptly changed. Greek rule was not congenial to Jewish interests. The philosophical culture of the Greeks had created an advanced civilization that regarded the Jews as a backward people and dismissed their religion.

This conflict erupted into open rebellion in 167 B.C. when the Greek Seleucid emperor Antiochus IV Epiphanes attempted to erect a statue of Zeus in the Temple at Jerusalem. A Jewish priest named Mattathias and his five sons launched a campaign of guerilla warfare against the Seleucid regime. An army led by one of those sons, Judas Maccabaeus, defeated the Greeks, recaptured Jerusalem, and restored Jewish worship in the Temple. As the Hasmonean dynasty, the Maccabee family ruled Judaea for the next century.

This period of history is also illustrative of the Jewish character. The Hasmonean dynasty was a revived Jewish empire in every sense of the word. It had, however, few of the imperial virtues that the Romans, for instance, possessed. These included magnanimity and forgiveness, accommodation of other people’s gods, and tolerance of local rule. Instead, as the Hasmonaean empire expanded into new territories, it required people to convert to Judaism. Males were forcibly circumcised.

The Jewish state also developed political factions. The Pharisees were the anti-hellenizers; the Sadducees, supporters of the Temple establishment. There were also class-based factions, pitting rich against poor. After her death in 69 B.C., two sons of queen-regent Salome Alexandra fought for the throne, one backed by the Pharisees and the other by the Sadducees. Both sides appealed to the Roman general Pompey for support. He captured Jerusalem in 63 B.C., desecrated the Temple, and installed one of the pretenders on the throne while giving real power to the Antipater family.

In contrast to the success of Jews who administered other people’s kingdoms, the Jewish Hasmonean dynasty failed because of excessive factionalism. Ideological purists battled the realists who were more content with power and wealth. There was too little forgetting of past grievances or willingness to forgive. This fiercely partisan culture continued to the day that the Roman armies under Titus besieged Jerusalem in 70 A.D., massacred many of the inhabitants, and dispersed the remaining Jews to various parts of the empire. The Jews could manage the business of others but not run a peaceful house of their own.

In the Jewish “cultural DNA”, some of those traits remain: a taste for ideological bickering, an unwillingness to forgive and forget, and, of course, a focus on historical literature that clings to past experiences. Its Zoroastrian heritage includes, besides Messianic expectations, a fierce moral dualism pitting the people of God against the forces of evil and a propensity to favor the centers of civilized society as opposed to the rural hinterland.

It was not surprising, then, that big-city Jews from the northern part of the United States went down to the to wage war against racial segregation in southern small towns. It was not surprising that Jewish lawyers engaged by the NAACP won critical battles. The “empire” applies control from the top down as Daniel once did in the name of the Persian king. There is an empire also in the mass media.

Jews controlling the media

One can cite many examples of Jews holding top positions in media organizations - in the three major television networks, for example - but it is unclear what these media moguls have done specifically to promote a “Jewish agenda” or set such a tone for others to follow. Images and opinions that are disseminated by the communications media are created behind an institutional facade. If there is an ulterior purpose, it is not revealed to the public.

In the early days of the U.S. film industry, it is known that the largely Jewish heads of the studios were reluctant to portray Jews in films for fear of arousing anti-Semitism. They were afraid of letting communist screen writers and producers insert pro-communist messages into films in part because they feared the public would associate Bolshevism with Jews and have anti-Semitic thoughts. Today, the old inhibitions have disappeared. Jews appear in films and in television shows in numbers exceeding their share of the population.

There were formerly occasional small attempts to promote favorable attitudes about Jews. For example, in the 1939 Hollywood film, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Mr. Smith, played by Jimmy Stewart, is the All-American boy thrown into the wicked political arena. A scene at the end of the film shows Smith (Stewart) addressing his cheering supporters. In the back of the crowd are a black man and a man wearing a yarmulke - a Jew - applauding Smith. This image says subliminally that Jews and blacks are friends of honest people like Mr. Smith. They are your friends.

Today the style would be to attack persons perceived to be enemies of Jews rather than to cultivate friendships. The media has developed a culture of demonization with respect to proponents of disfavored views. For example, the Anti-Defamation League called Ralph Nader a “bigot” when he criticized Israel’s influence over U.S. foreign policy. No less a figure than former U.S. President Jimmy Carter has been accused of anti-Semitism for his book that used the word “apartheid” to describe how Israel treats Palestinians.

The key is not not whether people say certain things but how the media chooses to treat accusations of that sort. It seems that comments or stories initiated by the Anti-Defamation League or the Southern Poverty Law Center often appear in the newspaper as if those organizations were an unimpeachable source of information. If, on the other hand, David Duke made remarks on the same subject, newspaper articles would be sure to point out that Duke was a former Ku Klux Klan leader so his opinions would be viewed negatively and dismissed. Most likely, his views would not be reported at all.

the flap over Congressman Ellison’s remarks

Here’s a real-life example of how the media game is played. Rep. Keith Ellison is the first black Congressman from Minnesota and the House’s only Muslim member. To allay fears about his religion, Congressman Ellison spoke to a group of Minnesota atheists, assuring them of his tolerance toward all points of view.

What got Ellison in trouble was a comparison of Bush’s response after the September 11th tragedy with the burning of the Reichstag building in Nazi Germany. He said: “It’s almost like the Reichstag fire, kind of reminds me of that. After the Reichstag was burned, they blamed the Communists for it and it put the leader of that country (Hitler) in a position where he could basically have authority to do whatever he wants.”

A week later, the Anti-Defamation League publicly called on Ellison to apologize for his remarks which it called “odious and demean(ing to) the victims of 9/11.” Republican Congressmen Eric Cantor of Virginia and Zach Wamp of Tennessee - I believe both of those gentlemen are Jewish but am not sure - wrote to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi asking her to “swiftly and immediately” reprimand the first-term congressman.

Rep. Ellison recognized the danger. He said in response: ‘I want to be clear that the murderous Nazi regime is historically distinct and the horror of the Holocaust must be acknowledged as a unique event in human history. I did not intend any direct comparison between the totalitarian state of Nazi Germany and the current administration ... I have taken consistent and strong stands against Holocaust denial throughout my life in public service.”

The damage was repaired. The following month, Ellison accepted an invitation from House majority leader Rep. Steney Hoyer to visit Israel on a trip with other Democratic members of Congress under AIPAC auspices although, when he was first elected to Congress, he had pledged never to do so. Breaking a campaign pledge was evidently less dangerous to him than failing to show proper reverence with respect to the Nazi horrors. A newspaper story on his re-election campaign cited the flap over the Reichstag fire as Ellison’s only serious mistake in his first term of office.

independence at last

Between the media and religion, Jews have a grip on American culture. The media grip is direct; the religious one is historical. The result in both cases is to control the idea of our identity, making it convenient for someone else. But we are neither the people described in news reports nor in the Bible. We are Americans. There is enough in recent American experience to furnish positive examples of ourselves. We do not need someone else’s system of culture to tell us who we are.

If the Tea Party people are running around in three-cornered hats declaring a return to American values, I would suggest that one of those values should be our national independence in more than politics. We need to declare our identity independence, end secretive manipulations of the public experience, and learn the truth for ourselves. Yes, that includes the truth about certain political assassinations that have been covered up in official reports. It includes the Pearl Harbor-type attack that led to a war in Iraq.

With respect to religion, be what you want to be for whatever reasons you choose. But that is your choice, not necessarily mine. Choose to believe in unseen realities, if you will. Continue to expect the Kingdom of God. However, assertions of unseen realities do not belong to the realm of the seen. They do not belong to Caesar’s realm. Let’s bring back a real separation of church and state. I want to believe what I know, not be forced to accept someone else’s word. I want to distance myself from certain religions and compulsory beliefs.

The new cry of revolution would be this: Don’t tread on me. Leave my identity alone.

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