Delegitimizing “Exclusivist” Israel

Mark Tooley is President of the Institute on Religion and Democracy (www.theird.org) and author of Methodism and Politics in the Twentieth Century. Follow him on Twitter: @markdtooley.


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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.

  • Joy

    Brueggemans may have changed his position over the years, but he seems pretty well entrenched with his leftist clap-trap now. Mind closed, "science settled," etc. etc. The Left simply cannot brook dissent or disagreement – with THEIR position only, of course.

  • poetcomic1

    Von Hildebrand, the Catholic philosopher said that you can slap and spit on Jesus, he will endure it, but anti-Semitism is spitting on His Mother. Von Hildebrand DOES have the 'street cred'. I think he set some kind of record – he was on the Nazis 'kill' list in 1924. That is NOT a typo, in 1934 he already fled Germany for his life and published an anti-Nazi newspaper in Austria. no one saw so early that the Nazi hatred, well disguised, for Christ as 'the Jew God' that makes a virile Germany weak. As a traditional Catholic I believe that WE are the 'chosen people' now (i.e. we are the pharisees, hypocrites and worshipers of the Golden Calf of this age, God's sinners). If, however you don't believe in Jewish exceptionalism you don't believe in the Virgin Mary's election and the entire history of God's redemption through Christ and you are 'liar speaking in Christ's name.

    • http://www.cmep.org Hal Smith

      Poetcomic1,
      You wrote: "As a traditional Catholic I believe that WE are the 'chosen people' now (i.e. we are the pharisees, hypocrites and worshipers of the Golden Calf of this age, God's sinners). If, however you don't believe in Jewish exceptionalism you don't believe in the entire history of God's redemption through Christ and you are 'liar speaking in Christ's name."
      My understanding is that our belief that "we are the chosen people now" rejects the idea of Jewish exceptionalism. I think Jewish exceptionalism equates the chosen people with "Jews," which today refers only to the ethnic descendants of those who rejected Jesus 2000 years ago. Jews who accepted Jesus were denied the name "Jews," became outcasts, and instead called just "inhabitants of Palestine" or Palestinians. What a horror that Israel's occupation of Palestine throws the descendants of the early church into the same category as Muslim "terrorists" and treats them the same way.

      • http://www.cmep.org Hal Smith

        Instead, Paul writes that there is no longer Jew or Greek, we are all one in Jesus Christ. If we are all the chosen people, then we all carry on Israel's heritage. Palestinian Christians too have a right to their place in the holy land, and should not be expelled from their homes according to Israel's longterm plan to "Judaize the West Bank" with settlements.

        Palestinian Christians should be given a right to return to the homes they lived in western Israel proper before Israel's government expelled them in 1948.

  • Dov

    This is baloney that doesn't match the facts.

    It's not "exclusivist" when Israel grants full citizenship to Arabs living within the 1948 borders, and has Arab members of knesset. It's not "destructive" when Israel pulls out of the Gaza Strip and gives all the Israeli houses and businesses to the Palestinians, in the quest for peace.

    "Exclusivist" is for the Palestinians to insist that their future state cannot contain a single Jew. And "destructive" is when the Palestinians use former-Israel houses in Gaza as launching pads for missiles within a week of the Gaza withdrawal, instead of building a peaceful society and planning for the next stage of Israeli withdrawal.

    As long as the Palestinians are told that they can continue terror instead of working towards true peace, nothing will change.

    • Ken Walker

      These are excellent points. There is a quietitude among the Arab countries supporters of the Palestinian doers of violence against Israeli civilian populations. The rule of law must be based in civil society and applicable to all members of that society whatever their religious practices. This is a lesson that must be learned for democracy to ever take root in the Middle East states.

      Yet if Israel is seen to respond in kind and with a result of 100 deaths for every loss and 100 homes destroyed for every mortared Israeli home will there been a hope of working towards true peace?

    • Sam Roberts

      It is "exclusivist" when you ethnicly cleanse Palestine of eight hundred thousand Palestinians, raze over four hundred Palestinian towns and villages, deny those forcibly driven off their land the right to return to it, confiscate the land and bank accounts of those Palestinians who remain, deeming to be "present absentees". It is exclusivist when you force your non Jewish children to attend segregated schools that are funded at a fraction of the level of Jewish schools. It is exclusivist if you systematically destroy the homes of Palestinians and build settlements on their land. I It is exclusivist if allow a Jewish citizen of Israel to marry a Jew living in the West Bank and retain citizenship but deny a non Jewish citizen the right to marry a non Jew living in the West Bank and retain citizenship.(and illegal under international law) It is exclusivist if you build "Jews only" roads. It is exclusivist if you provide far more funds for Jewish towns than you provide for non Jewish towns. It is exclusivist if studies reveal that non Jews receive far harsher punishments for the same crimes than are given to Jews.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/JosephWiess JosephWiess

    Israel has given land to the Palestinians, and they have, in turn, used it to launch rocket attacks against Israel. If you had a neighbor that kept lobbing rocks into your back yard and almost hitting your kids, what would you do? Wouldn't you try to build a bigger fence to stop him, or report him to the authorities?

    Israel has done that, but the authorities (Read the UN) are now a hotbed of islamic nutjobs. So Israel will have to do what you or I would do, and go punch the bully in the jaw.

    • Steven

      Israel did not give any land to the Palestinians. All the land belongs to the Palestinians and Israel is only returning stolen land.

      If a man occupied your home and refuses to let you return, and bribed the police to do nothing would you be happy and accept it? Would you walk away without a fight? I don't think so. If after 60 years he agrees to return some of your furniture would you view it as a gift from the thief to you or your rightful property? I think we all know the answer to this question.

      When will you people stop believing your own lies?

  • USMCSniper

    These self hating Jews are becoming a serious danger in Israel because they openly and unashameably aid and abett the enemies of Israel, the Islamic Jihadists of all stripes, who are all barbaric anti semite fanatics who strap munitions on their own women and children and send them out on homicide-suicide missions to murder other innocent women an and children on school buses, in restaurants and in public markets. My parents have had friends who were in the holcaust camps that would put a bullet in Walter Brueggemann and Mark Braverman head for their travesties. And they would deserve it!

    • Burning Bush

      My parents have had friends who were in the holcaust camps that would put a bullet in Walter Brueggemann and Mark Braverman head for their travesties. And they would deserve it!

      you speak of murder so casually, you are racist and Israel is a bloodthirsty golem that needs to be destroyed.

  • PAthena

    Walter Brueggemann and Mark Braverman are indeed antisemites, ignoring facts in order to attack Israel. The cause of the wars between Arabs and Israel is the antiJewish religious prejudice of the Arabs. The Arabs could make peace instantly if they chose not to make war on Israel.
    Walter Brueggemann and Mark Braverman, supposedly historians, do not even know why some Arabs are now called "Palestinians." The Roman Emperor Hadrian defeated the last Jewish rebellion under Bar Kochba in 135 A.D., and change the name of Judea to Palestina and outlawed Judaism in order to forever eradicate all memory of Judea and Jews. "Palestine" then became synonymous with "land of the Jews" or "the Holy Land" (since Jesus was a Jew), and "Palestinian" synonymous with "Jew." That is why the Zionists wanted the "Palestine Mandate" and Great Britain was awarded the "Palestine Mandate" as homeland for the Jews.
    The Soviet Union and Gamal Nasser in Cairo in 1964 founded the "Palestine Liberation Front," and it was their propaganda that led to calling Arabs "Palestinians" with the phony history rewrite that goes along with it. These Arabs, called by Walter Brueggemann and Mark Braverman a "people," are not; they are simply Arabs who live in the historic land of the Jews. And why should Arabs have yet another state?

    • Joy

      Great thumbnail sketch of that troubled region – thank you, PAthena! Frankly, I, too, was not altogether certain about the origin of the word, "Palestine" – but your succinct explanation really filled in the gaps for me! I always knew that "Palestinians" meant "Jews" from a very early historic period, but was curious how the Arabs, living in and sharing the land with those Jews over the centuries, co-opted that name for themselves – and now, sadly, current generations, totally ignorant of this history, have accepted this erroneous revision of history. So, it's up to all of us – in letters to the editor and other fora – to drive home the truth and scuttle the lies!

    • Haydar

      Why should the Arabs have another State? Is that the best you can do? The fact that you use this to state your case confirms your agreement that the land does not belong to the European Jews who immigrated to t Palestine.

      If I am to even entertain the absurd notion that God gave this land to his people, then it does not belong to the Jews, but the Muslims. It might have been given to the Jews who were Gods people at the time, but no longer belonged to them when they rejected Jesus (pbuh), who was Gods messenger. Therefore, the land then belonged to the Christians, who replaced the Jews as God's children. Then came Prophet Mohamed (pbuh) who was Gods final messenger. When the Christians rejected Mohamed (pbuh) they failed to remain Gods children. So under that absurd claim that God gave this land to his people, it rightfully belongs to the Muslims.

      I am a pragmatist and say the land belongs to whomever lived there, and it was the Arabs not the European immigrants. It is Europe that does not need another Country to colonize.

      In the infinite wisdom of journalist Hellen Thomas I say to the Jews go back to Poland, Russia, or wherever it is you came from.

  • john

    the responses to this article only prove the point of the book

    • Ken Walker

      I was thinking the same thing. The thesis of the book seems to be that the stark "them-or us" thinking is the root of the problem in Israel/Palestine. This article and the majority of comments seem to demonstrate that thesis. The Biblical message of God calling for a Righteous People and not a self-righteous people has never been more clearly observable.

      I ask the critics of Brueggemann a few questions:

      1. Is it possible to support the security of Israel and yet to criticize the violence to people, home and property by officials (police and military) that is demonstrating the "might is right" philosophy of obstructed agriculture, water access and land title?

      2. Is it possible to demonstrate justice, fairness under the law and social development in the face of rocket attacks by terrorists so as to demonstrate in behaviour the moral superiority that is claimed?

      3. Is it possible for someone to criticize specific actions for being unjust and unrighteous without being accused of "blaming the Jews" exclusively for all the problems in the Middle East?

  • wolf terner

    No matter what, just blame the Jews!
    I must say this theologian(yeah, right) has wasted his life's time and work to finally arrive at a blame the Jew conclusion. Heck, he could just as easily started with such a premise. May before have, many after him will do the same.

    Jews have historically commemorated a person's death rather than his birth. Just as a sinner can renounce his transgressions unto the moment of his death, so too can a saint remove his saintliness unto the moment of death. After a life has been lived can a person's accomplishments be judged.

    This theologian can now be judged as having lived an obscene life, replete with falsifying the words of God in the Testament. He has done battle with God in this life. Any bets on whether he'll prevail in battle against God in the afterlife?

    • http://www.cmep.org Hal Smith

      The name Israel has two meanings. One of them is "one who fights with God". There is a story in the Old Testament of one of Israel's forefathers wrestling with God physically. It is ok to wrestle with holy ideas like Job did. Whether or not Bruegger's conclusions are right, I believe he is honest and faithful in his struggles.

      One of the Old Testament books is Ecclesiastes. The word Ecclesiastical means churchly. One of the longtime views in Christianity is that we in the church are now God's chosen people, we have joined the group of Israel spiritually. It is not limited to the genetic sons of Abraham.

      I would be very happy if God clarified all my spiritual struggles in the afterlife, and prevailed over all my doubts.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/WilliamJWard WilliamJamesWard

    The Communist agenda was to subvert every aspect of American life, so labor
    unions, trades, universities, religions, businesses, political parties, on and on,
    nothing was exempt from leftist attack. Leftist subversives always turn up and
    against the anti-communist world, so who is surprised at this man, everything
    is tainted and sullied intellectually and can be viewed as high mockery. These
    men live their lives to the end like Zinn, so save some spit. They all help to
    make life surrealistic. America will be cleansed when all of these people are
    gone. Jew bashing is so old testament, new testament and the Almighty will
    judge it all for the wrongness of it and the evil that it inspires.

  • guest

    Its hysterical that Brueggemann rails against the Jews for their "exclusivity" and for their sense of sole entitlement to the land. The fact of the matter is that Jews were rooted in the area from the earliest times, thousands of years ago. The archaeological record is pretty clear. Moreover, the way he uses "exclusivism" is very, very deceiving in terms of the Jews. The Old Testament is riddled with moving passages that refer to the righteousness of others who are non-jews. I can't think of another two religions that are as 180 degrees removed from each other as Judaism and Islam. There is NO ethic within Judaism to dominate others, to slay other groups. In fact, if anyone wanted to convert to Judaism, Jews would be shaking their heads and wonder "who would want to??" No world domination agenda, no institution of religious law (a la Sharia) to rule over Mankind eventually. Many Israelis are pro-Palestinian rights, etc. The Courts of Israel regularly hand down judgments favoring Palestinians and against Jews interests. Numerous Christian sects see themselves as exclusive. So what? Remember, the Jews were commanded to be a "light unto the world." If you look at the extraordinary gifts of this small number of people, its undeniable that that mandate has been largely followed. There is no mention of an afterlife, no murder for even being anti-jewish or pro-palestinian and no honor killing. With the notion of "The Chosen People" came a huge, huge responsibility to uphold certain ethical/moral ideas and behavior. Not a perfect people, but a people who VALUE INDIVIDUAL CONSCIENCE to the highest level. Try being pro-Jew, pro Israeli with Hamas or other Islamic milieus and you just may wind up dead. Bruggemann ignore the fact that it is MUSLIMS who are murdering MUSLIMS beyond belief on an almost daily basis. There is no army that has been more careful about civilian casualties than Israeli in the history of warfare probably. I mean dropping leaflets to civilians? Making cell phone calls to them to warn them of what is coming? It is ARAB/PALESTINIAN TERROR that KILLED the MASSIVE peace movement that existed in Israel years ago. And Netanyahu was totally correct in his speech after his election that the MAIN BLOCK is the REFUSAL of the Arab world to accept the very existence of Israel's presence. Their OWN intractability has produced their misery, by and large, as Israel would have reached out to help build the institutions needed, to provide jobs. TERROR=POVERTY. The seeds of violence, Mr. Bruggemann……..are in the Koran. Have you read it? Do your REALLY believe Ahmadinjad (anymore than Bin Laden) care about Palestinians? None of the Arabs do really, isn't that obvious?

    • Ken Walker

      Well reasoned thinking and excellent points about the Bible and righteousness in the Jewish tradition and the many efforts of democratic Israel to use the law and not terrorism. Israel is a complex state. Its right to existence is at the heart of the debate of "exclusivism." maybe we should be drawing a difference between exclusivism and "existantism."

      Israel can only gain and maintain its moral and political support in the world when it holds up a light to its democratic and economically progressive principles. That means questioning the wall, and rooting out the abuses of power in its interactions with West Bank school children and farmers and small business people. It means being and being seen in the world as righteous. It appears to be losing a public relations war for the "middle" of western society with the exception of the polemical right wing because the militarism is not cowing the Palestinians the same way it did 20 years ago.

      If a viable Arab-Israeli movement of non-violent protest took root and expanded in the same way that Ghandi, Mandela or King lead such movements Israel would be increasingly vulnerable to public opinion of the relations in the settled West bank.

  • Jackgn

    The same old leftist blah blah blah. I left my birth church (United Methodist) after 60 years because our council of bishops are now a bunch of gay activists and femi- nazi left wing nut jobs who constantly criticize God's people (Christian & Jewish). Islam is a gutter religion that treats unbelievers and women as dirt. This country is toast if we dont wise up and defend our land and our allies (Israel) against the muslim scourge.

  • Joy

    Ken Walker is sleep-walking in a dream world: What part of the Palestinians' various manifestos – coming from BOTH Fatah and Hizbollah – declaring eternal war on the very existence of the Jewish State, does he not understand? How much more plainly, directly and honestly must all these entities state the obvious – namely, that they will NEVER accept the existence of a Jewish state anywhere in the MId East?!? He is deaf, dumb & blind to actually believe in an "Arab-Israeli movement of non-violent protest," given the stated enmity of the Arab world in general and Israel's Arab neighbors in particular. How can Israel hope to gain any "high ground" if it is blown off the map?

  • Joy

    Herewith a late posting on a much earlier subject: I don't know what the "correct" Christian/Gentile position is on their relationship with the Old Testament's pronouncement of "The Chosen People," but it was, after all – acc. to the Bible/Old Testament – the Jewish belief that they were God's "Chosen People" – which implied directly and indirectly that God would always protect them and never would they be obliterated on Earth. This has been the case for nearly 6,000 years of Jewish history; but if Christians, who are, in fact, spiritual descendents of the Jewish people, want to consider themselves "Chosen" as well, then who are we – Jews & non-Jews – to speak on behalf of God? For the time being, however, Jews do believe (after all, it's just a matter of faith – not nec. scientific fact!) that "Chosen People" refers only to them; but if they are Messianic or Evangelical "Jews" – people who have accepted Christ as God and as their Savior – then they are no longer Jews in the eyes of those who have NOT accepted Christ or become Christians.

  • Caron

    AMEN and AMEN.

    I want to know what kind of seminary would hire this man who is not a believer…..

    Another example of a person who sets his own intellect above that of the creator of heaven and earth…