Wednesday, November 16, 2005

My Golem's Name Is "McCarthy"

I remember an old story about the golem, a creature in Jewish folklore which could be made from inanimate materials only by the greatest sages, who used them to fight pogroms and anti-Semitism. The main problem was keeping the golem from turning on its creators. I recalled the legend when I read this story courtesy of the Drudge Report. The ADL is issuing a wake-up call to the Jewish community. It has a list of hundreds (perhaps millions) of card-carrying Evangelicals who have infiltrated our institutions and halls of government, and who are using their influence to destroy the country. As Abraham Foxman, the ADL's national director puts it:
"What we're seeing is a pervasive, intensive assault on the traditional balance between religion and state in this country" . . . "They're trying to bring Christianity to all aspects of American life. They're not just talking just about God and religious values but about Jesus and about Christian values."
I didn't know there was a difference, when it came to "the traditional balance between religion and state in this country." That "traditional balance" has always exiled and outlawed any talk about God and religious values -- Christian, Jewish, or otherwise -- from the public forum. Government at all levels has, for the past sixty years or so, built a "wall of separation," between "Church and state" that includes synagogues, ashrams, and mosques. It is stupid at best, and disingenuous at worst, to suggest that this anti-religious attitude welcomes "God and religious values," and is endangered only when people mention "Jesus and Christian values."

True to form, the ADL has produced its own questionable poll supporting its position. It is, of course, tailor made to elicit answers that can seem threatening to non-Christian religious minorities. For example, the ADL trumpets alarm over this result:
Sixty-nine percent of Evangelicals and 60 percent of weekly churchgoers said there should be "organized" prayer in public schools, according to the survey, and 89 percent of Evangelicals agreed that religious symbols "like the Ten Commandments" should be displayed in public buildings.
I wasn't aware that displaying the Ten Commandments is an act of anti-Semitic exclusion. More to the point, however, is that the ADL (among its many unclarities in the poll) apparently didn't want to ask the respondents whether they thought "organized prayer" meant prayers voluntarily organized and attended by student groups, or mandatory, "gun-at-your-head" recitations of the Nicene Creed. If I were worried about an impending Evangelical theocracy, I'd want to know that.

The rhetoric -- communicated, no doubt, faithfully by The Jewish Week -- is full of code-words that telegraph the ADL's intended course.
Warning that the evangelical right has made alarming gains . . . .

ADL policy [of] attacking several prominent religious right groups and challenging their motives . . . .

national Jewish summit to respond to the growing challenge . . . . .

But even more threatening . . . . .

More ominously . . . .

naming names, and judging the motives of leading conservative Christian groups . . . .

get-tough approach

Jewish groups have been ‘seduced' by the Evangelicals' support for Israel, even as those groups pursue the ‘Christianization' of the nation'
The Nazis are back (as though they'd ever been absent from the ADL's version of history). They're trying to "Christianize" the nation, "seducing" the Jewish leadership with equivocal gestures and words, all the while pursuing "threatening, ominous, alarming" aims with questionable (anti-Semitic) motives that call for all-out Jewish effort to "get tough."

I confess to a great lack of sympathy with this approach, as much as I admire it as a brilliant example of mass politics.
Rabbi Eugene Korn, director of Jewish affairs for the American Jewish Congress and a former ADL official, agreed that a collective re-evaluation of Jewish church-state strategies is in order . . .

He conceded that "Jews have always fared badly in systems where religion is allied with the government. But I just don't see that there is a serious move to do that in this country. I'm not frightened by the issue of whether the Ten Commandments should be in public buildings."
There's far more of Rabbi Korn's sage and excellent observations than I've quoted, but I quoted this small piece to point something out.

Jews have not "always fared badly" in systems where religion is allied with the government. The Lutheran Church, it's interesting to note, is the official, state-supported religion of Sweden and Denmark.
Denmark was the only occupied country that actively resisted the Nazi regime's attempts to deport its Jewish citizens. On September 28, 1943, Georg Ferdinand Duckwitz, a German diplomat, secretly informed the Danish resistance that the Nazis were planning to deport the Danish Jews. The Danes responded quickly, organizing a nationwide effort to smuggle the Jews by sea to neutral Sweden. Warned of the German plans, Jews began to leave Copenhagen, where most of the 8,000 Jews in Denmark lived, and other cities, by train, car, and on foot. With the help of the Danish people, they found hiding places in homes, hospitals, and [gasp! official state] churches. Within a two week period fishermen helped ferry 7,220 Danish Jews and 680 non-Jewish family members to safety across the narrow body of water separating Denmark from Sweden.

The Danish rescue effort was unique because it was nationwide. It was not completely successful, however. Almost 500 Danish Jews were deported to the Theresienstadt ghetto in Czechoslovakia. Yet even of these Jews, all but 51 survived the Holocaust, largely because Danish officials pressured the Germans with their concerns for the well-being of those who had been deported. The Danes proved that widespread support for Jews and resistance to Nazi policies could save lives.
Israel is another counter-example that comes to mind rather handily -- Israel is a good day's walk from the ultra-secular model of Church-State separation being touted by Mr. Foxman as the be-all and end-all of human civilization. It would be interesting -- and perhaps will be interesting -- to see the secularist ideals promoted by the ADL's campaign met by some pithy comparisons between Evangelical political influence in America and Jewish religious influence in Israeli politics, or between the supposedly-malign project of "Christianizing" America and the supposedly-benign project of "Zionizing" Palestine.

That sort of heated rhetoric is what Foxman and the ADL hope to provoke. They've already taken the first steps with their axe-handle rhetoric and vexing innuendos. If evangelicals reply in kind, it will only serve to fuel the ADL's paranoic framework and create cause to question the bona fides of any Jewish group which refuses to join the fray. In a world of bitter suspicion and antagonistic relationships, everyone turns to the men who can "name names" and "get tough." As I said, it's a brilliant piece of mass politics. So was McCarthyism. It's playing with fire, and I hope everyone declines the ADL's invitation to strike a match and that we follow instead the civilized approach of Rabbi Korn:
Instead of raising the level of confrontation, he said, "we should be thinking about how to develop a nuanced relationship with the religious right. We should be giving them support and praise for the wonderful things they are doing for Israel, and still manage to be strong where we disagree with them on our domestic agenda."
There have been times when Jewish attempts to build a liveable society through secularism goaded Christians into demonizing them as a culture-destroying race bent on undermining wholesome values. Let's not invite that old, vile rhetoric to emerge -- on either side -- again.

No comments: