Daniel Silva’s latest spy thriller about Mossad agent Gabriel Allon, The English Girl, involves a character named Christopher Keller, an assassin who had once tried to kill Allon but has now agreed to help him with a kidnapping case. Keller is by birth a Brit who faked his own death to begin a new life as a hired gun on the island of Corsica. While he and Allon wait for a target to appear, he tells the Israeli agent that he has “always felt a little Jewish […] in a spiritual sense.” By the novel’s end, he is considering becoming Israeli to work for Israel’s Secret Service, reminding Gabriel that he still feels “a little Jewish.”
In a world in which anti-Semitism is on a marked upswing yet again—Keller’s native Britain was declared by Caroline Glick to be unlivable for Jews, and David Hornik reports that increasing Jew hatred in many countries of Europe, particularly France, Belgium, and Hungary, has led to significant Jewish emigration—such a character’s emotional affiliation for Jewishness and the Jewish state might seem merely wishful thinking on Silva’s part. If more people felt like Keller, Allon would not need to be so vigilant in his country’s defense: a BBC global survey found that a large percentage of respondents ranked Israel in the same group as Iran and North Korea—this despite a democratic culture and admirable human rights record that should, by any reasonable measure, cause it to be widely respected on the world scene.
So why doesn’t everyone feel “a little Jewish”? Why indeed. As David Hornik points out in a recent article for PJ Media, part of his excellent “Israel, Leper or Light unto the Nations” series, Zionists of the early twentieth century believed that the lack of a homeland made Jews particularly vulnerable to pathological hatred and that the creation of the state of Israel would not only provide a safe haven but would also moderate anti-Semitism by normalizing Jewish national identity. With the creation of Israel, the Zionists reasoned, Jews would no longer be regarded as stateless pariahs but would be respected as citizens of their own country.
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The State of Israel has, certainly, thrived, with Israelis creating a modern, inventive, economically dynamic and sophisticated country offering equal rights to all its citizens—including Arab citizens—and special protections for religious minorities. But Jew hatred did not abate; on the contrary, it took on a different but equally virulent form, one that directs itself vociferously against Israel, holding it to a moral standard unlike that for any other country in the world, insisting that it engage in peace-making negotiations with enemies committed to its annihilation and that it make concessions that would result in a perilous weakening of its ability to defend itself or maintain its Jewish identity.
It may be, as political writer David Solway has argued in “The World’s Oldest Sickness,” that anti-Semitism is something in the very DNA of modern human beings, an irrational hatred developed and nurtured over the centuries of human history, irreducible to any identifiable cause and not amenable to a solution. As he eloquently phrases it, “anti-Semitic sentiments and irruptions, by virtue of their millennial repeatability, have become entrenched in human consciousness as a natural inevitability.” Unlike Islam with its perennially bloody borders and aggressive supremacist ideology, the Jewish presence has brought tremendous world-wide benefits—yet no matter how well Jews assimilate, no matter how benign their social presence, no matter how advantageous their contributions in microchip technology, medical procedures, and humanitarian relief (see, as just one example, Robert Fulford’s recent piece on Israel’s secret doctors), there seems to be something at the cellular level of humanity at large that causes hatred and fear of Jews.
But that horrifying and ever-present reality is not the whole story. Although most books about anti-Semitism do not consider—or even acknowledge—its obverse, philo-Semitism, there are undoubtedly people in the world who feel more than “a little Jewish”—like television personality Glenn Beck, who recently made the claim that the Pilgrims who founded the United States were part of the ten lost tribes of Israel and who could not hold back tears in a Toronto appearance in June, 2012 promoting support for Israel; like Sarah Palin, who famously wore a Star of David on her 2011 trip to the Holy Land, stacks her office with Israeli flags, and counseled Israelis when she visited to stop apologizing; like Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee, who leads evangelical tours to Israel (he has visited over a dozen times) and is effusive about his love for Jews: “I worship a Jew!” he likes to proclaim, and “If there weren’t a Jewish faith, there wouldn’t be a Christian faith”; or like Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, who stated in 2010 that America would be cursed if it did not stand with Israel. The largest pro-Israel organization in the United States is Christians United for Israel. Founded in 2006, it has over a million members.
Such religiously motivated support can make some Jews, accustomed to antipathy or proselytizing from Christians, feel distinctly uncomfortable. As Stephen Weiss notes in “The Uncircumcised Israel Lobby,” some Jews see Christian pro-Zionism as another version of anti-Semitism, an eager embrace of Biblical Armageddon and the Second Coming—in other words, a valuing of Jews and Israel only as they are necessary to a triumphalist Christian narrative. But such perspectives misunderstand the positive transformation in the Christian understanding of the Old Testament that has taken place amongst evangelicals, many of whom now understand God’s covenant with the Jews to be still in force. As Weiss argues, the love for Jews and Israel is not part of any ideological or religious agenda: it is simply about loving Jews.
More basically, many evangelicals are drawn by the similarities between religious Jews and conservative Christians, their shared love for Scripture and for the loving, forgiving God of the Bible. Many evangelicals find in Jews a strong morality, a joyousness, a commitment to family life, a respect for learning and hard work, and an intellectual and cultural vitality that resonate with their own most cherished values. At the level of global politics, many Christians recognize western nations’ debt to Jews for the notion of “every human being as a living image of God,” as David Goldman suggests in explaining the natural friendship between the United States and Israel. Most essentially, a horror of the Holocaust and respect for Jewish endurance also play a strong role in Christian love for Jews.
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I suspect there is something even deeper than this at work, some fundamental recognition of goodness at the heart of philo-Semitism. Here we get into regions not conducive to measurable proofs. From the time I was a child in a not-particularly Christian home, I was strongly drawn to Jews and mystified by anti-Semitism. I fell in love with Fiddler on the Roof when I was about 8 or 9 years old. Everything about it—the splendid music, the kvetching humour, the grumpy piety, the loving, agonistic family bonds—all spoke to me powerfully if somewhat inexplicably given my very different family background. I did not know any Jews and yet I somehow knew Jews. In junior high school I developed an interest in the Holocaust that gripped me for years. I did a major project in the tenth grade on the development of antisemitism in Germany and another in twelfth grade on the role of literature in purveying anti-Semitic stereotypes. I still did not know many Jews, but I admired and suffered with them. Although I never doubted anti-Semitism’s existence, it always seemed extraordinarily bizarre. Other forms of prejudice I could understand, if deplore—but hatred of Jews, that people of light and energy and genius … What was there not to love?
It may be that my initial love of Jews, based as it was on little more than a feeling, an impression, could be said to have been as irrational and inexplicable as the Jew-hatred that many feel who have themselves known no Jews (as Solway reports is the case in Japan and South Korea, for example). On the contrary, I believe it was quite explicable and defensible, and has been abundantly confirmed as I have come to know Jews: it was a simple recognition of a brilliant, resilient, life-affirming people whom it is abundantly good to have in the world. I cannot help but feel now that Jew hatred is a perverse recognition of that fact—that Jews are indeed a source of light, and that some people hate the light.