A Religious Problem – Jimmy Carter’s Book: An Israeli View. By Michael B. Oren. Wall Street Journal, December 26, 2006. Reprinted at News for Members of the Tribe, December 26, 2006.
A Biblical Warning Against Statism. NJBR, March 7, 2013.
Letter from John Adams to Mordecai M. Noah, 15 March 1819. Founders Online.
John Adams, Zionist. By Tom Van Dyke. American Creation, June 7, 2010.
John Adams Embraces a Jewish Homeland. By Michael Feldberg. American Jewish Historical Society. Also here and here.
A Case of Courage: Truman and the Birth of Israel. By Michael Beschloss. Newsweek, May 13, 2007. The Daily Beast.
“I am Cyrus”: Harry Truman’s support for the creation of the State of Israel was rooted in his interpretation of Scripture. By Paul Charles Merkley. Christian History and Biography, No. 99 (Summer 2008). Also here.
Michael Oren: Power, Faith, and Fantasy. The U.S. and the Middle East. Video. UCtelevison, March 26, 2008. YouTube.
prominent scholars have taken issue with Jimmy Carter’s book “Palestine: Peace
Not Apartheid,” cataloguing its historical inaccuracies and lamenting its lack
of balance. The journalist Jeffrey Goldberg also critiqued the book’s
theological purpose, which, he asserted, was to “convince American Evangelicals
to reconsider their support for Israel.”
Carter indeed seems to have a religious problem with the Jewish state. His book
bewails the fact that Israel is not the reincarnation of ancient Judea but a
modern, largely temporal democracy. “I had long taught lessons from the Hebrew
Scriptures,” he recalls telling Prime Minister Golda Meir during his first tour
through the country. “A common historical pattern was that Israel was punished
whenever the leaders turned away from devout worship of God. I asked if she was
concerned about the secular nature of the Labor government.”
complains about the fact that the kibbutz synagogue he enters is nearly empty
on the Sabbath and that the Bibles presented to Israeli soldiers “was one of
the few indications of a religious commitment that I observed during our visit.”
But he also reproves contemporary Israelis for allegedly mistreating the
Samaritans—“the same complaint heard by Jesus almost two thousand years earlier”—and
for pilfering water from the Jordan River, “where . . . Jesus had been baptized
by John the Baptist.”
by secular Laborites, he is further unnerved by religiously minded Israelis who
seek to fulfill the biblical injunction to settle the entire Land of Israel.
There are “two Israels,” Mr. Carter concludes, one which embodies the “the
ancient culture of the Jewish people, defined by the Hebrew Scriptures,” and
the other in “the occupied Palestinian territories,” which refuses to “respect
the basic human rights of the citizens.”
in its secular and/or observant manifestations, Israel clearly discomfits Mr.
Carter, a man who, even as president, considered himself in “full-time
Christian service.” Yet, in revealing his unease with the idea of Jewish
statehood, Mr. Carter sets himself apart from many U.S. presidents before and after
him, as well as from nearly 400 years of American Christian thought.
of Christians in this country, representing a variety of dominations, laymen
and clergy alike, have embraced the concept of renewed Jewish sovereignty in
Palestine. The passion was already evident in 1620, when William Bradford
alighted on Plymouth Rock and exclaimed, “Come, let us declare the word of God
in Zion.” Bradford was a leader of the Puritans, dissenting Protestants who, in
their search for an unsullied religion and the strength to resist state
oppression, turned to the Old Testament. There, they found a God who spoke
directly to his people, who promised to deliver them from bondage and return
them to their ancestral homeland. Appropriating this narrative, the Puritans
fashioned themselves as the New Jews and America as their New Promised Land.
They gave their children Hebrew names—David, Benjamin, Sarah, Rebecca—and
called over 1,000 of their towns after Biblical places, including Bethlehem,
Bethel and, of course, New Canaan.
with the Jews, a great many colonists endorsed the notion of restoring
Palestine to Jewish control. Elias Boudinot, president of the Continental
Congress, predicted that the Jews, “however scattered . . . are to be recovered
by the mighty power of God, and restored to their beloved . . . Palestine.”
John Adams imagined “a hundred thousand Israelites” marching triumphantly into
Palestine. “I really wish the Jews in Judea an independent nation,” he wrote.
During the Revolution, the association between America's struggle for
independence and the Jews' struggle for repatriation was illustrated by the
proposed Great Seal designed by Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, showing
Moses leading the Children of Israel toward the Holy Land.
became a major theme in antebellum religious thought and a mainstay of the
Methodist, Baptist and Presbyterian churches. In his 1844 bestseller, “The
Valley of the Vision,” New York University Bible scholar George Bush—a forebear
of two presidents of the same name—called on the U.S. to devote its economic
and military might toward re-creating a Jewish polity in Palestine. But merely
envisioning such a state was insufficient for some Americans, who, in the
decades before the Civil War, left home to build colonies in Palestine. Each of
these settlements had the same goal: to teach the Jews, long disenfranchised
from the land, to farm and so enable them to establish a modern agrarian
society. In 1863, Abraham Lincoln said that “restoring the Jews to their
homeland is a noble dream shared by many Americans,” and that the U.S. could
work to realize that goal once the Union prevailed.
restorationism reached its fullest expression in an 1891 petition submitted by
Midwestern magnate William Blackstone to President Benjamin Harrison. The
Blackstone Memorial, as it was called, urged the president to convene an
international conference to discuss ways of reviving Jewish dominion in
Palestine. Among the memorial’s 400 signatories were some of America's most
preeminent figures, including John D. Rockefeller, J. Pierpont Morgan, Charles
Scribner and William McKinley. By the century’s turn, those advocating restored
Jewish sovereignty in Palestine had begun calling themselves Zionists, though
the vast majority of the movement’s members remained Christian rather than
Jewish. “It seems to me that it is entirely proper to start a Zionist State
around Jerusalem,” wrote Teddy Roosevelt, “and [that] the Jews be given control
sentiments played a crucial role in gaining international recognition for
Zionist claims to Palestine during World War I, when the British government
sought American approval for designating that area as the Jewish national home.
Though his closest counselors warned him against endorsing the move, Woodrow
Wilson, the son and grandson of Presbyterian preachers, rejected their advice. “To
think that I the son of the manse [parsonage] should be able to help restore
the Holy Land to its people,” he explained. With Wilson’s imprimatur, Britain
issued the declaration that became the basis of its League of Nations mandate
in Palestine, and as the precursor to the 1947 U.N. Partition Resolution
creating the Jewish state.
question of whether or not to recognize that state fell to Harry S. Truman.
Raised in a Baptist household where he learned much of the Bible by heart,
Truman had been a member of the pro-Zionist American Christian Palestine
Committee and an advocate of the right of Jews—particularly Holocaust survivors—to
immigrate to Palestine. He was naturally inclined to acknowledge the nascent
state but encountered fervid opposition from the entire foreign policy
establishment. If America sided with the Zionists, officials in the State and
Defense departments cautioned, the Arabs would cut off oil supplies to the
West, undermine America’s economy, and expose Europe to Soviet invasion.
Hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops would have to be sent to Palestine to save
its Jews from massacre.
listened carefully to these warnings and then, at 6:11 on the evening of May
14, he announced that the U.S. would be the first nation to recognize the newly
declared State of Israel. While the decision may have stemmed in part from
domestic political considerations, it is difficult to conceive that any
politician, much less one of Truman's character, would have risked global
catastrophe by recognizing a frail and miniscule country. More likely, the
dramatic démarche reflected Truman’s religious background and his commitment to
the restorationist creed. Introduced a few weeks later to an American Jewish
delegation as the president who had helped create Israel, Truman took umbrage
and snapped, “What you mean ‘helped create’? I am Cyrus”—a reference to the
Persian king who returned the Jews from exile—“I am Cyrus!”
1948, some administrations (Eisenhower, Bush Sr.) have been less ardent in
their attachment to Israel, and others (Kennedy, Nixon) more so. Throughout the
last 60 years, though, the U.S. has never wavered in its concern for Israel’s
survival and its support for the Jewish people’s right to statehood. While
U.S.-Israel ties are no doubt strengthened by common bonds of democracy and
Western culture, religion remains an integral component in that relationship.
We know that Lyndon Johnson’s Baptist grandfather told him to “take care of the
Jews, God’s chosen people,” and that Bill Clinton’s pastor, on his deathbed,
made the future president promise never to abandon the Jewish state. We know
how faith has impacted the policies of George W. Bush, who is perhaps the most
pro-Israel president in history.
apparent attempt to make American Christians rethink their affection for
Israel, Jimmy Carter is clearly departing from time-honored practice. This has
not been the legacy of evangelicals alone, but of many religious denominations
in the U.S., and not solely the conviction of Mr. Bush, but of generations of
American leaders. In the controversial title of his book, Mr. Carter implicitly
denounces Israel for its separatist policies, but, by doing so, he isolates
himself from centuries of American tradition.