Thursday, January 25, 2018

Liberal Versus Conservative on Mike Pence’s Israel

Forward columnist and author, Jay Michaelson
I can’t say I’m surprised.  Jay Michelson has ripped Mike Pence a new one! He has torn apart the the Vice President’s historic visit to Israel - calling it a fiasco! I am not surprised because it is clear from his politics that the Vice President never had a chance. Jay is an unabashed liberal Jew who has now favors Buddhism over his own Jewish heritage. A heritage that he is not uneducated about. 

Not that it takes such a tragic move like his to see it that way. But it sure doesn’t help. The truth is that many politically liberal Jews see it that way. It is also not a coincidence that most liberal Jews that care at all about Israel - reside in heterodoxy. That’s because in most cases their only connection with Judaism is the call to social justice and little else. In Michaelson’s case - added to this is the fact that as a gay man he probably sees the Vice President as homophobic and anti gay. Because as Indiana’s governor, Pence supported a law that was eventually ruled to be an unconstitutional violation of the civil rights of gay people - by a slim majority of the Supreme Court.

It should therefore not be surprising that a liberal openly gay man who is active in the LGBT community sees nothing good in religious Evangelical Christians like Pence. This is what I was thinking when I read the views he expressed in the Forward about how dangerous it is for Jews that the Vice President loves Israel so much. 

Among other ‘problems’ he mentioned  of a lesser nature he focuses mostly on the big one! The old canard about how Evangelical Christians have an ulterior motive for loving Israel and the Jews so much. He then goes about describing ‘end times’ theology. Which occupies a great deal Evangelical preaching.

End times is a Christian doctrine that states when their Messiah has a 2nd coming, there will be something they call Armageddon - an apocalyptic war of unprecedented fury that will destroy all non believers – while having ‘lifted’ believers into a spiritual zone called ‘the rapture’. For that to happen, End Times prophesy says that the Jewish people must reclaim their land and return to it en masse. And from there they will suffer the apocalyptic travails of Armageddon unless they become believers (in their god) themselves and join other believers in rapture.

This, Michaelson claims is the true motive behind the support for Israel of virtually all Evangelical Christians.

It’s true that they believe this. But unlike Michaelson’s claim, it is also true that this is not what motives a Christian like Pence to love Israel and the Jewish people. How do I know? Because as I’ve mentioned in the past, I have done my homework here and more importantly - trust the judgment  of those that have long term direct interactions with these people. They do it because that is what their bible commands them to do. You know… that bible. The one we call the Torah and they call the old testament. They believe they will be blessed as the Torah promises if they bless us.

Furthermore many of them see in Israel a microcosm of  American values, culture, and accomplishments. In other words, in Israel - they see themselves. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard a fundamentalist Christian say that. In short, Michalelson’s views on this subject are ill informed and filled with half truths and unmitigated bias.

Fortunately there are people with a much clearer heads expressing a more accurate view of the Vice President’s remarkable visit to Israel. 

One such clear thinker is my friend Meir Yaakov. Although I haven’t spoken to him in years, I still consider him a friend and hope the feeling is mutual. I used to enjoy talking Hashkafa  (and politics) with Meir Yaakov whenever I had the opportunity. Like when he visited his parents  in Chicago on a break from classes at Yeshiva University.  Or when I visited my daughter and son in law who at the time lived on the YU campus - and he would occasionally drop in when I was there. He was good friends with my daughter and son in law and would often baby sit for their newborn child. 

His friends at YU used to affectionately call him ‘The Sol’. That was because of his last name, Soloveichik. I always called him Meir Yaakov because that is how he was known in Chicago. But now Meir Soloveichik uses only his first name. A name that become a recognized in the Modern Orthodox world - and not only because of his famous last name. The fact is that my Rebbe’s grandson is quite brilliant - as are many of the Soloveichiks. Which is why his PhD in philosophy from Princeton doesn’t surprise me. Nor do his brilliant articles in various journals and magazines. Full disclosure - he is also active in Republican politics. 

But unlike Michaelson, he has not abandoned his heritage at all. Quite the opposite. He has embraced it. Having been raised in a home that is pure Torah; ordained at Yeshiva University, is the Rabbi of Shearith Israel in New York and the Director of the Strauss Center for Torah and Western Thought at Yeshiva University, his religious credentials impeccable. He speaks his mind from that perspective. And unlike Michaleson’s misinterpretation of the Vice President’s motives, he knows better.  All of which is why his oped in the Wall Street Journal so resonated with me.  In fact, much of it sounded identical to what I said in a similar piece a couple of days ago. Only he said it much better than I did.

Michaelson’s politics and his obvious disdain for Pence should make whatever he says about him suspect. It’s true that my friend Yaakov Meir’s association with Republican politics might be seen to influence him in the other direction.  But if one factors in Michaelson’s uniformed explanation of Pence’s religious motives, the only fair conclusion is that his narrative is false - based on evidence to the contrary. Which to me means that the best thing you can do with his views is put them where they belong - right into the trash can.