“What bothers me is the way people were applauding him.”
July 12, 2016 12:24 PM   Subscribe

To "more fully understand why conservative [American] politics [has] become synonymous with no-questions-asked support of Israel," Author Tom Bissell went on a ten day “Stand with Israel Tour” hosted by right-wing Jewish Conservative talk show pundit Dennis Prager. My Holy Land Vacation: Touring Israel with 450 Christian Zionists, is this month’s Harper’s Magazine cover story.

NPR affiliate KERA (North Texas) interviewed Bissell about his trip last month:
posted by zarq (29 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
 
This is a long essay and normally the topics it touches on could be sort of a perfect storm of controversy: right wing conservatives and Christian Zionism, Dennis Prager, Israel and Palestine, Hamas, Fatah, the IDF, Gaza, the West Bank and religious fundamentalism. But I thought it was a fascinating and well-written look into the motivations and (rigid) thinking of Christian Zionists.
posted by zarq at 12:38 PM on July 12, 2016 [6 favorites]


[A few comments removed, let's start over. Insofar as the impetus for this post seems to be "I thought the linked longform piece was a really interesting read despite the hot-button topics it's adjacent to" and not "hey, let's have our nth generic argument about Israel and political culpability and so on", how about folks just go ahead and actually read the piece and discuss what they think is interesting about it and skip the nth generic argument about Israel and political culpability and so on.]
posted by cortex at 12:52 PM on July 12, 2016 [28 favorites]


Liberals tend to assume that right-wing evangelicals support Israel because of how it fits into their imagined apocalypse: only when God’s Chosen People reoccupy the entirety of their biblical territory will . . . his Last Judgment commence.
The Vice TV show did a bit on hardcore Christian tour groups that brings up this topic.
posted by clorox at 12:53 PM on July 12, 2016 [2 favorites]


Thanks for the post, zarq.

The exchange between the soldier and the woman (with the woman in absolute disbelief when the soldier says that yes, there are both Palestinians AND Israelis who teach their children how to hate) was interesting-- I've seen that same debate play out many times (often on Facebook, sometimes in real life) between American Jews and Israelis--and I feel like he engages with a lot of similar party lines in a (to me) even handed way.
posted by damayanti at 12:54 PM on July 12, 2016 [7 favorites]


Also, I'm about 90% sure I had that saw the same dude give that same speech at Misgav Am about 8 years ago, and had the same terrified reaction as the author and Pastor Marty to both him and the people in my group who were whole-heartedly agreeing with him.
posted by damayanti at 12:57 PM on July 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


The lack of respect for lived experience by the closed-minded is everywhere.

At this, she throws up her hands. “Respectfully, no,” she says. “Respectfully, no.”

GAWPS.
posted by lalochezia at 1:07 PM on July 12, 2016 [2 favorites]


This is a great article - a lot to digest (and your post title is definitely the pull quote that lingered with me). People without a real stake in the game have the potential to cause so much damage, and many of them seem to have no problem with that.

I would have liked to hear more about Nazareth and Bethlehem, which were once predominantly Palestinian Christian, and are now mostly Muslim -- I still haven't seen a clear answer on where or why the Christian community went, though everyone seems to blame someone else for their disappearance (Palestinians blame the Israelis and the occupation, especially the wall, Israelis say that Christians are being harassed by their Muslim neighbors ever since Oslo gave the PLO jurisdiction) - it's clear both cities are major Christian tourist draws, so I expected to see more curiosity, if not more answers.
posted by Mchelly at 1:13 PM on July 12, 2016 [5 favorites]


The exchange between the soldier and the woman (with the woman in absolute disbelief when the soldier says that yes, there are both Palestinians AND Israelis who teach their children how to hate) was interesting


My jaw dropped at that part. Sure, I've seen that happen between Jews, too. (Heck, have had that exact argument with family members and even one or two folks here on MeFi!) But that was a Christian American woman speaking with an Israeli soldier. I couldn't believe she dismissed his direct experience and knowledge so easily.
posted by zarq at 1:13 PM on July 12, 2016 [10 favorites]


But that was a Christian American woman speaking with an Israeli soldier. I couldn't believe she dismissed his direct experience and knowledge so easily.

For me it was the epitome of the Hardline Fundie On Vacation In The Holy Land where all the sturm und drang and absurdity of perpetual war meets the Pampered American whose personal concept of 'oppression' is being told some children aren't being caned for skipping the word 'God' in the pledge of allegiance.

I really can't think of a bigger cultural disconnect between Israelis and Well-Off Well-Meaning American Christians, and yet here they are, arm-in-arm!
posted by griphus at 1:23 PM on July 12, 2016 [11 favorites]


But that was a Christian American woman speaking with an Israeli soldier. I couldn't believe she dismissed his direct experience and knowledge so easily.

Really? These are the same people who believe man and dinosaurs lived together. That evolution is a fraud. That the world is only 6000 years old. Etc. Never underestimate the ability of zealots to wholesale dismiss anything that runs against their beliefs.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:25 PM on July 12, 2016 [6 favorites]


The ability to create one's own cast-iron fundamentalist narrative arises in part from having built it up entirely second-hand, with no encounters with reality to make the thinking more nuanced. I have relatives who are convinced that they are "standing with Israel!" who--because of where they live and because their social lives tend to be constrained around their churches--most likely don't have a single Jewish friend or close acquaintance. The less real people are, the easier it is to make them puppets in your passion play.
posted by praemunire at 1:46 PM on July 12, 2016 [10 favorites]


Also, that last paragraph. Ouch.
posted by lalochezia at 1:54 PM on July 12, 2016 [5 favorites]


"John Kerry is an even worse Israel Test failure, Prager tells us, because he often takes a “middle position” on the Israel–Palestine contretemps, “as if there really wasn’t a dark and a light.”

->> Morris’ disease was diagnosed over forty years ago, by Frantz Fanon. Based on his experience in subjugated Africa, Fanon observed that “the colonial world is a Manichean world. It is not enough for the settler to delimit physically, that is to say, with the help of the army and the police, the place of the native. As if to show the totalitarian character of colonial exploitation, the settler paints the native as a sort of quintessence of evil … The native is declared insensitive to ethics … the enemy of values. … He is a corrosive element, destroying all that comes near it … the unconscious and irretrievable instrument of blind forces” (from “The Wretched of the Earth”). And further down, “the terms the settler uses when he mentions the native are zoological terms” (let’s not forget to place Morris’ metaphors in the context of so many other Israeli appellations for Palestinians: Begin’s “two-legged beasts”, Eitan’s “drugged cockroaches” and Barak’s ultra-delicate “salmon”). Morris is a case history in the psychopathology of colonialism.

Diagnosing Benny Morris: the mind of a European settler - by Gabriel Ash
posted by little eiffel at 2:21 PM on July 12, 2016 [7 favorites]


Wow! I really don't know my pundits any more. It wasn't until I was reading the article and saw his picture that I realized that I had encountered Dennis Prager 30+ years ago, when I was a university student. What an unexpected flashback to the summer of 1983, and not in a good way!

Summer of 1983: At the urging of my parents, I was a month-long "camper" at the Brandeis College Institute in Simi Valley, CA, which was run as a separate program within the Brandeis Bardin Institute on the same Simi Valley campus. Dennis Prager was the director of both BCI and BBI. This was before his radio show and subsequent fame, etc., and when I met him that summer he was the deeply ernest director of a deeply (!!!) ernest, Jewish-themed education center/institute. He had a deeply ernest enthusiasm for Big Questions about how to be a deeply ernest Jew in modern America. The whole experience was so over-the-top in its love for Zionism and Judaism that I spent much of my month there feeling like I was in a re-education camp. I'm sure many of the other campers were there by choice, but it was most definitely NOT a good time for me. I was 20, had just finished my freshman year of college and was head over heels in love with my college gf. She was half-Jewish, but significantly on her father's side and not her mother's, which meant that due to the Jewish custom of matrilineal descent she was not the "right" kind of half-Jewish, at least back in 1983. GF and parents did NOT get along for lots of reasons, including this one -- "It was a shanda!" (Mom) -- and I think they sent me to the camp to keep me away from her for a month and to give me time and space to "reevaluate" my life decisions. The main thing I evaluated was why, at age 20, I was stupid enough to spend a month at a camp I didn't want to go to in the first place, and feckless enough to allow my parents to send me there. OHGODOHGODITSALLCOMINGBACK...shudder...

That summer was a terribly odd and disjointed time in my life, and BCI/BBI, Mr. Prager, etc., were not my cup of Manischewitz. But I did get to observe Mr. Prager up close and in a leadership role. He's a very passionate guy, and good luck if you find yourself on the opposite side of an issue he's passionate about. Leading group tours of evangelical tourists through Israel seems like a good fit for his personality and skill set. Those same tours may also represent some new 10th circle of Hell, but I'll never know because I will NEVER go on one.
posted by mosk at 2:41 PM on July 12, 2016 [28 favorites]


Must be quite a power trip to be a lobbyist for AIPAC or the NRA, to see politicians tremble in fear as you walk past them in the halls of Congress.
posted by Beholder at 3:19 PM on July 12, 2016 [5 favorites]


I loved the bus revolt and loyalty tests.

I'm also shuddering at the idea that 100% of these people are likely going to vote for a man who supports mass deportations and banning people of a certain religion from entering the country.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 3:27 PM on July 12, 2016 [3 favorites]


are you talking about Trump or Netanyahu.
posted by griphus at 3:35 PM on July 12, 2016 [36 favorites]


I want to know a lot more about the tour guide.

But these people are exactly why I find the Christian right's support for Israel an issue, though these guys sounded slightly less anti-semitic than most.
posted by jeather at 5:34 PM on July 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


I'd gather that pointing out to the tour group that the original kibbutzim were often socialist Zionists would make a bunch of heads explode. Or saying "If you stand with Israel, you stand with universal health care!"

Great article, though.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 5:50 PM on July 12, 2016 [12 favorites]


If you enjoyed this article, you might also enjoy Sarah Glidden's How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less, an autobiographical comic about going on a birthright trip while not particularly sympathetic to Israel.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:51 PM on July 12, 2016 [6 favorites]


I don't care for Christian Zionists, but I am absolutely terrified by Christian anti-Zionism, which is a mainstream position held by mainstream churches. This movement depicts Jews as theological actors who should be rebuked and/or punished for straying from their Biblically-appointed role, and also characterises them as secular actors who steal, oppress, murder and so forth. This dual demonisation is literally identical to medieval polemics against Jews.

The Christian anti-Zionist movement crosses denominational lines, has substantial support at convention level if not higher, and has a whole lot more chance of affecting people's lives than some Biblical tour group led by an aging and not-especially-relevant author and theologian. You can read a critique of their platform here:
Theology Fail in Christian Statement on Israel, Judaism, Palestine
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:47 PM on July 12, 2016 [6 favorites]


I loved the bus revolt and loyalty tests.
Their mistake was not requiring a signed pledge.
posted by Nerd of the North at 10:12 PM on July 12, 2016 [1 favorite]


Strangely, my daughter had just asked me to make shakshuka, and I read this while thinking of my own experience of Israel and the kibbutzniks of Misgav Am and other frontline kibbutzes we visited — because this was where I had shakshuka the first time.
Israel is such a strange place to be in - not only for the Christian Right. I can understand the need for denial. Nothing makes sense there, and I swore never to return. Now I want to return.

It is a really lovely article.
posted by mumimor at 2:25 AM on July 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


I like it too, but it's a bit lazy. The author didn't really bother examining his prejudices, and there are allegations just crying out for a [citation needed]. For instance, this bit:
The diary of Zionist leader Theodor Herzl, which dates before the founding of Israel, contains plans to expel Arabs from Arab land and the belief that “we are not obliged to state the limits of our state.”) Netanyahu tightened access to the national archives before any more embarrassing documents could be discovered.
Herzl died in 1904, more than forty years before the establishment of the State. And I hardly think IDF soldiers were issued with a copy of his diary when they enlisted. But more importantly, I actually follow the Israeli state archivist's blog and he isn't aware of any "tightening" of access; he's all enthusiastic about his 25-year project to digitise the entire State Archives. Yes, many researchers have complaints about disruptions consequent to this project, or the (feared) loss of access to physical copies, but that's not the allegation Bissell is making: Netanyahu is restricting access to the archives because some guys reportedly found something embarrassing in a diary written over a hundred years ago. That's just stupid, lazy, conspiracy-mongering.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:29 AM on July 13, 2016 [5 favorites]


The diary of Zionist leader Theodor Herzl, which dates before the founding of Israel, contains plans to expel Arabs from Arab land and the belief that “we are not obliged to state the limits of our state.”) Netanyahu tightened access to the national archives before any more embarrassing documents could be discovered.

Nice catch. I missed that!

Weren't his complete diaries published in book form during the 1960's? How could Israel restrict access to books that were probably scattered in libraries all over the world?

Anyway, whether his diaries contained such statements is really irrelevant. He'd written elsewhere about the topic. He had thought about some of the problems of settling Jews in with native populations in both Palestine and Argentina. We know this because he published those musings in at least a couple of books, including The Jews' State. Some of his work is available online, along with analyses.

I get why such statements would be considered controversial by anti-Zionists. But it seems like a really stupid allegation.
posted by zarq at 6:37 AM on July 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


I'm also shuddering at the idea that 100% of these people are likely going to vote for a man who supports mass deportations and banning people of a certain religion from entering the country.

A lot of conservatives, particularly of the neocon variety, seem to view Israel as a proxy for the open and bold nationalism that they feel that they can't express in, and on behalf of, the USA.

In this sense, Israel is objectified, simplified, and exploited as an illustrative example for the USA: good guy Jews, bad guy Palestinians, and an eternal, Biblical war for survival.

We saw a lot of this in the Gaza conflict in 2014: lots of American conservative cheering as Israel smacked around both soldiers and civilians in Gaza.

With the advent of Trump, it's interesting to see a lot of these impulses transmuted into genuine US-based nationalism. It will also be interesting to see if this results in reduced support for Israel, if conservatives can express American nationalist sentiments more openly.
posted by theorique at 9:06 AM on July 13, 2016 [2 favorites]


Weren't his complete diaries published in book form during the 1960's? How could Israel restrict access to books that were probably scattered in libraries all over the world?

It's a parenthetical aside that confuses what items in the Israeli national archives the author is talking about. He's referring to things that Israeli New Historians found written by founding figures of the state of Israel that give a level of intentionality to ethnic cleansing that make the old tale of "they left of their own accord" untrue. I don't have the time right now to look up which specific figures have the most revealing statements, though.
posted by Gnatcho at 9:14 AM on July 13, 2016


What strikes me is how simple these people's ideas about Israel and the conflicts of the region are. There are good guys and bad guys and that's that. This kind of thinking seems to characterize so much of conservative thought. I guess it's comforting to believe the world works that way, but it seems so childish. I hate relying on "the other side is dumb" as an explanation, but it's hard not to draw that conclusion based on their beliefs.
posted by threeturtles at 1:12 PM on July 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


threeturtles: There are good guys and bad guys and that's that. This kind of thinking seems to characterize so much of conservative thought.

I've seen similar good-guy-bad-guy simplifications about Israel from both sides - the author gives a nod to them with, "Israel has committed wartime atrocities, yes, but not like this" - so I'd suggest that seeing the world in black and white is related to extremism in general rather than conservatism in particular. It's just that today, the extreme left doesn't have the platform (or the guns) that the extreme right does; the permanent revolution is dead. Meanwhile, moderate and thoughtful conservatism is all but drowned out.
posted by clawsoon at 4:30 PM on July 13, 2016 [1 favorite]


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