Delegitimizing “Exclusivist” Israel

Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann turns on Israel.

Well-known Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann is identifying Jewish “exceptionalism” as the “root problem” of Middle-East strife in a new book by anti-Israel activist Mark Braverman.

“The claim for exceptionalism – held commonly by Israel’s most one-dimensional advocates and by Israel’s most urbane Jewish critics – makes serious, realistic political thinking impossible and gives warrant for brutalizing policies carried out by the Israeli government that are destructive, self-destructive, and finally irresponsible,” Brueggemann explains in his forward to Fatal Embrace: Christians, Jews and  the Search for Peace in the Holy Land.

Brueggemann, ordained in the far-left controlled United Church of Christ and professor emeritus at Presbyterian Church (USA) affiliated Columbia Theological Seminary – is oddly and widely admired by left-leaning evangelicals for his statist and pacifist social justice themes.  Braverman is a clinical psychologist of Jewish background who was radicalized against Israel after a 2006 trip to the West Bank alerted him to the crimes of the “occupation.”  An officer with the  “sraeli Committee Against House Demolitions-USA” and “Friends of Sabeel North America,” Braverman has joined with the old Religious Left to organize against pro-Israel U.S. policies.

It’s Brueggemann’s forward that is the most notable part of Braverman’s anti-Israel polemic.   A prolific author and speaker featured on a Bill Moyers PBS series in the 1990’s, Brueggemann remains even in his late 70’s as one of America’s most influential left-leaning theologians.  As he observes in his Fatal Embrace forward, he originally affirmed Jewish self-identity with historic Israel in his 1977 book, The Land:  Place as Gifts, Promise, and Challenge in Biblical Faith.   But he recanted upon republication in 2002, deriding Israel for having “merged old traditions of land entitlement” with the “most vigorous military capacity” into an “intolerable commitment to violence that is justified by reason of state.”

Brueggemann admits in Fatal Embrace that his awareness of Israel’s exploitation of “ancient promises” into “toxic ideology” has been “slow in coming,” but he more than atones for his supposed sins by fully endorsing the Israel-as-main-culprit themes of Braverman and the wider Religious Left.    He hails Braverman for exposing Israel’s “elemental conviction about being God’s one chosen people” as the “root cause of the conflict,” which has resulted in so much “antihuman brutality” and has denied “dignity and human rights to Palestinians.

Significantly, but certainly not surprisingly, Brueggemann’s somewhat newly born hostility to Israel joins his long-time hostility to the United States and to the West in general.  As he warned in his 2002 book, “the same ideology of entitlement [from Israel] has served derivatively the Western powers that are grounded in that same ideological claim and that have used that claim as a rationale for colonization [and]…an intolerable commitment to violence.”  In his 2010 Fatal Embrace forward, Brueggemann asserts that his critique of Israel’s “exceptionalism” may apply to “religious-ideological support for American expansionist imperialism.”  He wonders if any idea of “chosen people,” whether of Israel or the church or the United States, inevitably results in “absolutism” and the “seeds of violence.”

Theologians of the left do not usually like orthodox Judaism or Christianity, so they often assail their exclusivist claims, deny the plain meanings of their Scriptures, and attempt to reinterpret religion into merely a platform for materialistic state-imposed egalitarianism.  That Judiasm and Christianity have produced Western Civilization, with its fruits of transcendent authority, intrinsic human rights, and limited government, make them all the more reprehensible to the Religious Left.  For this reason, among others, defaming the “chosen” role of the Jews in the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures is often central to the Religious Left’s attack on the West’s understanding of freedom.

In his Fatal Embrace forward, Brueggemann laments that neither a “two-state” or “one state” solution for Middle East peace will become viable until “Jewish exceptionalism yields” to Palestinian claims to the land that “stand alongside those of Jews, in equal passion and legitimacy.”  Almost amusingly, he likens Braverman’s book to the work of the Bible’s long-suffering Job, who supposedly similarly challenged a “closed ideology that knows all of the answers ahead of time, that assumes high moral ground, and that permits ideology to screen out human data.”

Presumably patient Job would be surprised to learn that he is Brueggemann’s icon for delegitimizing Israel, with its “unbridled military policy,” supported by “radical and violent spokespersons for Zionism.”  Seeking to deflect critique of himself and Braverman, Brueggemann preemptively warns that “strong advocates of Israeli militarism and territorial entitlement” are quick to resort to accusations of anti-Semitism.  Apparently it’s unreasonable to fear that exclusively faulting Jewish Israel and its 3,000 year old self-understanding for nearly all Middle East strife is veering in the direction of anti-Semitism.

Besides featuring Bruggemann’s introduction and devoting a whole chapter to the Old Testament scholar’s insights, Braverman acclaims and cites as sources the usual cavalcade of anti-Israel Religious Left voices:  Jim Wallis, the World Council of Churches, Presbyterian (USA), Evangelical Lutheran and United Methodist officials, Churches for Middle East Peace, Christian Peacemaker Teams, Sabeel, radical Catholic eco-feminist Rosemary Radford Ruether, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Jimmy Carter and even quaky 9-11 conspiracy theorist Ray McGovern.

Fatal Embrace preaches its dogmatically anti-Israel message only to the hard-core converted and will add nothing to Braverman’s or Brueggeman’s reputations.  As a once distinguished theologian admired outside Religious Left circles, Brueggeman’s reputation has the most to lose.