A Response to Gary Leupp’s “The Myth of Abraham and America’s Allegiance to Israel”
By David Ramírez
People who have been critical of the modern state of Israel often have done so within the frame of International law or deploying an antithetical rhetoric from what the Israeli government says, does not say, or did not mean or meant to say. It’s complicated. In the last few years, there has been a developing trend from non-Jewish, some Jewish, pro-Palestinian activists to try to delegitimize the foundational narrative of Jewish right to self-determination, either on Biblical or ethnic grounds. This latter vein is where Leupp’s commentary falls under. This commentary is done through an individual interpretation of the Biblical text, completely ignoring the way traditional Jews have interpreted the Bible in the past 2,000 years, and through a lens particular to Western Christianity and Secular intellect.
It is in this manner that Leupp deploys his own sui generis textual analysis, and bring, in what he thinks, is the heart of the cardinal ideological problem underlying the Israeli fascist attitudes, and therefore seeks a way to eliminate it from its root, and convince us all in the process, the “myth” of what is Israel.
As an observant Jew, one can find many of Leupp’s assertions amusing, being that traditional Jews do not read the Bible as a book of history, and are deeply aware of its many contradictions, incomplete plots and paradoxes. After all, Jewish commentators have made a rich complimentary, often mutually contentious, literature based on the Biblical text extending millennia. Second, because the Israeli nationalist narrative is not really based on the Jewish tradition that preceded it; in fact, many times is contrary to it. Third, and ultimately, Jewish nationalism, as any nationalism or a sense of belonging to a group in human history, is strictly a Jewish private matter. It does not depend on anybody else.
Perhaps Leupp’s words will resonate with a main audience of modernist and secularist non-Jews who believe to be above the fray, and who pretend to bring “reason” and “rationalism” to justify a delegitimization, which when holding everything equal, could aptly apply to any nation existing today. The Bible may not be the only narrative that could be used as a “dangerous myth” in the history of nations; there is too the once beloved U.S. myth of Manifest Destiny—can we hear a similar call from Leupp to ideologically dismantle the U.S. on the same grounds? If one is to ideologically dismantle Israel, we could perfectly dismantle any other nation.
Most, if not all, nations exist today because people identify with a collective experience found in the deep recesses of history that is often based on myth. Challenging the perceived foundational “myth” of Israel also invites to challenge other foundational myths. The pretension to dismantle the basis of a Jewish polity in the Land of Israel because of that line of reasoning ought to be equally applied to any nation existing today. So where does that leave everybody?
First, it is a non-starter because culturally and cognitively it is a notion most people would not accept. Collective identities are the glue that binds us as a society, which serve as the source of a jurisprudential culture that extends for thousands of years and form the skeleton and nervous system that breathe life into a nation. But somehow, Leupp would like us to have us convinced to unilaterally apply it on Jewish nationalism and the state of Israel alone. Well, no.
Pursuing that line of thought would only engender more reactionary pro-Israeli nationalist rhetoric from the Israeli right, which will do nothing but to strengthen its resolve to keep doing business as usual, because after all it would be proof positive to them that the Gentiles just want to destroy the Jewish people.
But let us not forget such ideas of delegitimizing nationalities would not have occurred to the pro-Palestinian activists had not the Israeli nationalist brought the idea of destroying the Palestinian one in the first place, which still remains stock and barrel of Israeli anti-Palestinian rhetoric. So let’s gain some perspective on this. Not only has the destruction been deployed on a rhetorical level, but it has been actualized on a real level before our very eyes.
As it has been the case with the Palestinians vis-à-vis the Israelis, one must note to Leupp, such rhetorical tools, no matter if you use history, the Bible, the poems of Homer or tales of Gilgamesh, prove truly dangerous and spiral down to actual xenophobia. The rise of anti-Semitism in the Western world and consequent attacks on and murders of Jews everywhere in recent memory are due in part to this irrational path that is not constructive nor helpful, plus it is too a sign of disrespect and intolerance to other’s identity.
Jews of the Israeli nationalist persuasion are not free from fault of what has been done to the Palestinians, true.
But at the end of the day, modern day “Zionism” is not truly about the Biblical, much less Rabbinic, narrative. In the words of award-winning journalist and activist Max Blumenthal, the type of “Zionist” who single mindedly created the state of Israel were people whose internal thought processes was, “I do not believe in God, but God gave me the land.” The men and women who had their best intentions in their hearts to create Jewish polity in the Land of Israel to make a safe haven for Jews were mostly atheist who cared little or nothing for Jewish tradition. If one were to notice in secular Israeli nationalist rhetoric there is little or nothing about the Bible itself, although they may use it as a referential departing point; everything else is nothing different what other Western colonial enterprises had been doing for quite some time already. But Westerners prefer not to look into that path, because one thing that Westerners (read, “white people”) are good at is never pointing the blame to themselves, much less recalling their own history of manipulation, destruction and genocide.
Observant Jews know all too well that secular “Zionists” hate Judaism, which makes the alliance between the secular and religious “Zionist” politicians even the more bizarre. To bring the Jewish religion, and Abraham’s life (who actually was never told how the Land of Israel was going to be parcel for his descendants), to blame the Israeli mindset for Palestinian suffering is even the more erroneous when only 12 percent of its population consider themselves “Orthodox” at worst and 25 percent ‘as traditional but “not very religious”’ at best, which is neither here or there, according to Central Bureau of Statistics. So let’s not make the Bible or Judaism, and Abraham of all people, the culprit here for, as Leupp ignorantly puts it,
“such considerations as apartheid, Palestinian property seizures, brutal attacks on Gaza and Lebanon that Israeli officials positively boast about as “disproportionate,” laws against Israeli-Arab married couples living in some housing developments, and the culture of racism that results in half of Israel’s Jewish high school students opposing the presence of Arabs in their midst?”
Bringing also the genealogical angle when saying that Palestinians may be also the descendants of Abraham, suggesting they too are co-proprietors to the Land of Israel, is another selective misreading of the Bible, since it was the line of Jacob (the last of the three Patriarchs) who received the blessing of the promise, not Ismael (Isaac’s half-brother, and thought to be the father of modern Arabs) or Esau (Jacob’s brother, who in Rabbinic literature is treated as the symbolic father of Romans, thus modern Europeans).
That the Palestinians may be descendants of converted Jews to either Christianity or Islam, there is some truth to that, and something that the state-sponsored clerical establishment of the Israeli state—controlled by a most racist lot of Ashkenazim (some Sephardi-Mizrahi too)—is not willing to address. In fact, the same racist clerics are unwilling to convert a Palestinian wishing to become a Jew with the purpose of obtaining Israeli citizenship.
That Ashkenazim may share over 80-100 percent of their maternal genes with modern Europeans (thus suggesting mass conversions of gentile European women for the purpose of marriage) does not make them less legitimate as Jews, since conversion in Judaism works similarly as citizen naturalization in modern secular societies; once swearing allegiance to a nation’s laws and customs, the person technically belongs to that nation to whom he or she has sworn allegiance. In Judaism, such status is preserved ad perpetuam on the mother’s side.
If Leupp’s intention was to challenge the notions of U.S. “Christian Zionists” that has them supporting the state of Israel, then he started with the wrong foot. There are much better ways to do that, and without the need to skewer the Patriarch Abraham, and without ever having the need to address the Hebrew Bible. The New Testament would have sufficed.
The underlying theology of “Christian Zionists” has them thinking that the state of Israel is another step for the coming of their messiah, Jesus. In the classical Christian end-of-the-days scenario, there will be mass genocide of Jews, and those who are left over will accept Jesus as their lord and savior, as is clearly delineated in the book of Apocalypses. Of course, “Christian Zionists” leaders will publically deny ever harboring these feelings, and Israeli fascist pandering “Christian Zionist” organizations for their moral and economic support will say there is nothing Jews ought to worry about.
To have some assurance, on the one hand, I would like to see a public denial, verbal as well as written, that “Christian Zionists” believe nothing of what the book of Apocalypses says. This, of course I know, would be pure and open heresy to Christians of faith everywhere. But please, bemuse me. Of course, even if “Christian Zionists” were to agree to publically accept such, and sing it into a document, in the end agreements do not hold water in the Western colonialist mindset. Is it any wonder why America is such good buddies with secular Israel? Dime con quién andas, y te diré quién eres (trans. “Tell me who you keep company with, and I will tell you who you are”). Just ask the Native Americans, who already have suffered the same fate that Palestinians are currently suffering. The only difference is that back then nobody cared for the Native Americans.
On the other, let’s all point out to Leupp that the type of pro-Israeli nationalist Jews deploying such tight relationship with “Christian Zionists” are not religious Jews at all, but secular Israelis and American Jews who love to eat lobster and drive on Shabbat, most of whom do not even believe in God. In Judaism we like to call them minim, or worse than (ancient pagan) non-Jews, who have no share in the World to Come (or “heaven” if you like).
Yeah, I know. It is all really messed up. Merry Christmas!
 Leupp, Gary. “The Myth of Abraham and America’s Allegiance to Israel.” Counterpunch.org. December 23 2014. Web. December 24 2014.
 Bassok, Moti. “Poll: Fewer than half of Israelis see themselves as secular.” Haaretz.com. September 13 2010. Web. December 24 2014.
 Shamah, David. “The lost Palestinian Jews.” Jpost.com. August 20 2009. Web. December 25 2014.
 Ghose, Tia. “Surprise: Ashkenazi Jews Are Genetically European.” Livescience.com. October 08 2013. Web. December 25 2014.
Engaging read, and excellent points.