Zionism during the Holiday Season

The international Left has pretty much succeeded in tarnishing the word "Zionism" as a Bad Thing. It's become Jimmy Carter's shorthand for Evil. A lot of self-identified Jews and Christians have now been taught to be agin' it. Which only shows how completely they have lost touch with their own traditions.

Today's trendy anti-Zionism is odd, because the longing for Zion happens to be embedded in the Holiday Season --- for Jews, Christians and yes, even Muslims. Christian liturgy is filled with quotations from the Psalms and the Prophets, full of references to  Zion --- the holy mountain on which Jerusalem was built, and therefore another word for the city of Jerusalem.

Remember Handel's gorgeous Messiah? Here is the famous tenor solo:
Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people,

saith your God;

speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem;

and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is
pardoned.

The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness:
-Prepare ye the way of the Lord: make straight
in the desert a highway for our God.

(Isaiah 40:1-3)
Hmm, Jerusalem = Zion. Was Handel a Zionist? Yes, just like almost all composers in the Western tradition. Remember this melody?

O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion, get
thee up into the high mountain: O thou that tellest good tidings to
Jerusalem, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, 
be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah,
Behold you God! Arise, shine, for thy light is come,
and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.
(Isaiah 40:9)
Actually it wasn't just Georg Friedrich Handel.  Any setting of Christian liturgy has these acknowledged roots. Almost all the first-rate composers in Western tradition created music for the Mass, one way or another: Mozart, Bach, Beethoven, Verdi, Rachmaninoff, dozens of others. They are part of the historical argument for Christian legitimacy. Which is one reason why Jews may feel ambivalent about it.

But there's no denying that Christian liturgy is written to legitimize  both the Christian and Jewish narratives of the founding of ancient Israel, the first Zionism. That founding narrative is of course the story of the divine promise to the Hebrew Patriarchs to bring their children's children to "a land of milk and honey," where they would increase and multiply and become a  people. Zionism is the nationalism of the Jews. 

Now lots of contemporary Jews believe they have outgrown nationalism; they are internationalists, at least in their philosophy. In some cases, like the British MP Gerald Kaufman, that extends to a passionate dislike of the nation of Israel. Some Jews are therefore anti-Zionist, constantly trying to undermine the national identity of their people. But there's nothing new in that. Every nation has such people. Nations still survive, unless they take over.

The Prophet Mohammed claimed to receive the last valid revelation in the history of monotheism: the Koran.  Devout Muslims believe that Mohammed ascended to heaven on his warhorse, from ... you guessed it, Zion. Or as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would say, El Qods, the Holy City. Ahmadinejad needs to conquer Jerusalem, using his El Qods Brigade, to legitimize his particular sect of Shiite Islam. If Allah allows the Khomeini cult to conquer Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem, that would be taken as a divine sign of favor for the new Caliphate of Tehran. Ahmadinejad is driven by a fanatical religious creed.

The anti-religious Left claims, as a friend of mine once stated, that religion is the most destructive custom on earth --- the opiate of the masses, in the famous words of Karl Marx. The trouble with that naive premise of the Left is that it's got it exactly backwards. Destructive fanaticism is a bad thing no matter how it is rationalized. Marxism killed 100 million people and created a vast amount of human suffering. Unfortunately, today's neo-Marxists haven't learned a thing from that century of bloody disaster. The Nazis, too, were passionately anti-Christian, because Christianity had too many Jewish elements for them. They were the second most destructive secular faith of the 20th century.

So it's not that Zionism is just some recent fable made up by Jews intent on a homeland. It pervades monotheistic scripture from beginning to end. Jesus was crucified because the Roman occupiers of what they called Judaea (the land of the Jews) and later Palestina (the land of the Philistines) were convinced that Jesus was leading a rebellion against them. In their eyes, Jesus was a Zionist, a Jewish nationalist. Forty years later they were to crucify thousands of Jews in Jerusalem to put down the revolt of 72 CE, according to the historian Josephus.

So the next time you hear Handel's Messiah on the radio, or Mozart's gorgeous Requiem, or when you see one of Rembrandt's or Michelangelo's religious paintings,  you might remember how it all grew out of an extraordinary historical tradition. You might not like everything in that tradition. Nobody likes it all. But to deny our own past as a distinct human culture is both ignorant and foolish. It dehumanizes us.

Enjoy your holidays. Have a Merry Christmas.  Enjoy a Happy Hanukkah. And don't forget those peaceful and moderate Muslims who are willing to share our common roots.

James Lewis blogs at  Dangerous Times.
The international Left has pretty much succeeded in tarnishing the word "Zionism" as a Bad Thing. It's become Jimmy Carter's shorthand for Evil. A lot of self-identified Jews and Christians have now been taught to be agin' it. Which only shows how completely they have lost touch with their own traditions.

Today's trendy anti-Zionism is odd, because the longing for Zion happens to be embedded in the Holiday Season --- for Jews, Christians and yes, even Muslims. Christian liturgy is filled with quotations from the Psalms and the Prophets, full of references to  Zion --- the holy mountain on which Jerusalem was built, and therefore another word for the city of Jerusalem.

Remember Handel's gorgeous Messiah? Here is the famous tenor solo:
Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people,

saith your God;

speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem;

and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is
pardoned.

The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness:
-Prepare ye the way of the Lord: make straight
in the desert a highway for our God.

(Isaiah 40:1-3)
Hmm, Jerusalem = Zion. Was Handel a Zionist? Yes, just like almost all composers in the Western tradition. Remember this melody?

O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion, get
thee up into the high mountain: O thou that tellest good tidings to
Jerusalem, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, 
be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah,
Behold you God! Arise, shine, for thy light is come,
and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.
(Isaiah 40:9)
Actually it wasn't just Georg Friedrich Handel.  Any setting of Christian liturgy has these acknowledged roots. Almost all the first-rate composers in Western tradition created music for the Mass, one way or another: Mozart, Bach, Beethoven, Verdi, Rachmaninoff, dozens of others. They are part of the historical argument for Christian legitimacy. Which is one reason why Jews may feel ambivalent about it.

But there's no denying that Christian liturgy is written to legitimize  both the Christian and Jewish narratives of the founding of ancient Israel, the first Zionism. That founding narrative is of course the story of the divine promise to the Hebrew Patriarchs to bring their children's children to "a land of milk and honey," where they would increase and multiply and become a  people. Zionism is the nationalism of the Jews. 

Now lots of contemporary Jews believe they have outgrown nationalism; they are internationalists, at least in their philosophy. In some cases, like the British MP Gerald Kaufman, that extends to a passionate dislike of the nation of Israel. Some Jews are therefore anti-Zionist, constantly trying to undermine the national identity of their people. But there's nothing new in that. Every nation has such people. Nations still survive, unless they take over.

The Prophet Mohammed claimed to receive the last valid revelation in the history of monotheism: the Koran.  Devout Muslims believe that Mohammed ascended to heaven on his warhorse, from ... you guessed it, Zion. Or as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would say, El Qods, the Holy City. Ahmadinejad needs to conquer Jerusalem, using his El Qods Brigade, to legitimize his particular sect of Shiite Islam. If Allah allows the Khomeini cult to conquer Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem, that would be taken as a divine sign of favor for the new Caliphate of Tehran. Ahmadinejad is driven by a fanatical religious creed.

The anti-religious Left claims, as a friend of mine once stated, that religion is the most destructive custom on earth --- the opiate of the masses, in the famous words of Karl Marx. The trouble with that naive premise of the Left is that it's got it exactly backwards. Destructive fanaticism is a bad thing no matter how it is rationalized. Marxism killed 100 million people and created a vast amount of human suffering. Unfortunately, today's neo-Marxists haven't learned a thing from that century of bloody disaster. The Nazis, too, were passionately anti-Christian, because Christianity had too many Jewish elements for them. They were the second most destructive secular faith of the 20th century.

So it's not that Zionism is just some recent fable made up by Jews intent on a homeland. It pervades monotheistic scripture from beginning to end. Jesus was crucified because the Roman occupiers of what they called Judaea (the land of the Jews) and later Palestina (the land of the Philistines) were convinced that Jesus was leading a rebellion against them. In their eyes, Jesus was a Zionist, a Jewish nationalist. Forty years later they were to crucify thousands of Jews in Jerusalem to put down the revolt of 72 CE, according to the historian Josephus.

So the next time you hear Handel's Messiah on the radio, or Mozart's gorgeous Requiem, or when you see one of Rembrandt's or Michelangelo's religious paintings,  you might remember how it all grew out of an extraordinary historical tradition. You might not like everything in that tradition. Nobody likes it all. But to deny our own past as a distinct human culture is both ignorant and foolish. It dehumanizes us.

Enjoy your holidays. Have a Merry Christmas.  Enjoy a Happy Hanukkah. And don't forget those peaceful and moderate Muslims who are willing to share our common roots.

James Lewis blogs at  Dangerous Times.