Alice and Roy Eckhardt: Christians Should Support Israel; Otherwise May Join those Repeating Holocaust

Earlier today I put up a post about Thomas Getman’s talk at the Middle East Report’s conference on the Israel lobby in March this about Evangelical Christian Zionism, which included the YouTube video of the talk.

It’s a long post, and the talk itself is something like 25 minutes long. Nevertheless, it is important because the Israel lobby in America receives powerful support from Evangelical Christian Zionists. They believe that the foundation of Israel in 1948 is the fulfilment of Biblical prophecy, and the state needs to be supported politically, religiously and financially. At its heart is the heretical view, dating from no earlier than the mid-nineteenth century, that the Jews should be gathered together and Israel restored in order bring about the End Times and the return of Christ to Earth.

Getman also made it very clear in his talk that Christian Zionism is outside mainstream Christian orthodoxy, and support for it is waning. Many Christians are returning to the Gospel’s central message of social justice, just as Jews are turning to the message of God’s love and concern for the poor in the Hebrew Bible, or the Old Testament in Christianity. And Jews and Christians together are working together forming new groups and associations challenging Israel and the Israel lobby and its brutal persecution of the Palestinians.

Among one of the factors Getman identifies as having encouraged the growth of Christian Zionism was guilt over Christian participation in the Holocaust. Hitler wasn’t a Christian. In his Table Talk he sneers at Christian and looks forward to its extinction. He was a Monist, a kind of pantheism ultimately derived from the biologist Ernst Haeckel’s Monist League, which view matter and spirit as the same thing. And much of his ideas about nature and evolution came from the cheap neo-Pagan pamphlets he’d picked up in Austria, though he later banned the German pagan groups as a threat to German unity. However, Hitler stated in Mein Kampf that by attacking the Jews he was doing God’s will, and many Nazis were Christians. He also whipped up and exploited Christian anti-Semitism, and like Mussolini in Italy, was supported by anti-Semitic and arch-Conservative factions in the churches.

Many Christians and Christian theologians were haunted after the War by guilt and the problem of Christian complicity in the atrocities of the Holocaust. The United Methodist minister and theologian, A. Roy Eckhardt went further and demanded that Christians should support Israel. Eckhardt was one of the pioneers and leaders in Jewish-Christian dialogue and relations, and attacked Christian doctrines he considered anti-Semitic. In 1979 Jimmy Carter made him a Special Consultant on the Holocaust, and from 1981 to 1986 he was a member of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council as special advisor to its president, Elie Wiesel.

In his article ‘Salient Christian-Jewish Issues of Today: A Christian Exploration’, in J.H. Charlesworth (ed.) Jews and Christians: Exploring the Past, Present and Future (New York: Crossroad, 1990), pp. 159-60, Eckhardt wrote

The political dimension is already identified as decisive in and through the foregoing discussion on theodicy. A few citations will help fill out the point. These are from an essay by Alice L. Eckhardt titled ‘Power and Powerlessness: The Jewish Experience.’

[The] silence of Auschwitz underlines the fact that hope without power is not a hopeful position in a world where power dominates, in a world that has seen all too clearly the price of powerlessness…
Those conclusions that moat most Jews have reached, along with some Christians who have understood the absolute challenge that the Holocaust continues to represent, include: an insistence that the end of Jewish statelessness… is a responsible religious and political commitment; that forces of death and destruction-radical evil-must be resisted on behalf of life and a community’s existence…that martyrdom can no longer be either the ideal religious or the responsible political method of responding to tyranny or other forms of evil; that peace and community must be the continual goal of our strivings, but not at the expense of a ‘sacrificial offering’ of some one nation or people. It is time for the Jewish ‘return into history’ with all the responsibilities and ambiguities-and mistakes-of power and decision-making that this entails, and all the courage that it requires.

The political-moral judgement upon Christians today centres upon the question: Do you or do you not affirm Jewish power, Jewish national sovereignty? If you do not, how is it possible for you to escape enlistment in ‘the ranks of those who would like to repeat the Holocaust’?

(In: Jeff Astley, David Brown, Ann Loades, eds., Problems in Theology-Evil: A Reader (London: T&T Clark, 2003), p. 28 (my emphasis).

I think this passage also helps explain the mentality behind the absolute insistence of the Israel lobby that those who do not support Zionism must be anti-Semites, because they’re denying the Jewish people’s right to self-determination. They share much of Eckhardt’s assumption from the passage above that not supporting Israel brings you dangerously close to being one of those, who wish to repeat it. They extend this attitude beyond Christians to include Jews, who they will revile as JINOs – Jews In Name Only – or ‘kapos’, referring to the leaders of the Warsaw Ghetto, who had the terrible responsibility of selecting victims for the Nazi death camps under the threat that if they didn’t, the Nazis would kill everyone there.

In fact a moment’s thought will show that not supporting Israel does not bring anyone, whether Christian or Jewish, closer to joining Nazis like the British Nazi terror group, National Action, in wanting to start another Holocaust. All you have to do is take seriously the rejection of racism and religious hatred, and support the position of Jews as full and equal members of society.

At the same time Zionism itself is not a rejection of anti-Semitism. As Tony Greenstein and other Jewish critics of Israel have pointed out, Zionism accepts the anti-Semitic idea that Jews and non-Jews cannot live together in peace, equality and harmony, and that therefore Jews should emigrate to their own state. The Israel lobby in Britain is constantly trying to show this, such as through the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism’s use of inflated, misleading statistic and the calls by Israeli rabbis for European Jews to settle in Israel.

And Jews are very definitely not anti-Semitic if they also reject Zionism. Some of the fiercest resistance to Nazism in Germany and occupied Europe came from Jews, who shared the attitude of the Jewish Socialists of the Bund: wherever they were, that was their homeland.

By contrast, the Zionists were willing to collaborate with the Nazis in the Haavara agreement, in which the Nazis supported sending Jewish emigrants to the nascent Zionist colonies in Palestine. When the Nazis passed the infamous Nuremberg race laws, the Zionists responded by approving their acceptance of racial difference between Jewish and non-Jewish Germans. The Haavara agreement later collapsed as the Nazis moved out to more vicious forms of persecution and then finally the Holocaust.

But the essentially religious nature of the demand for support for Israel shows why Ken Livingstone and others have been so viciously denounced and reviled for speaking an historical truth: they blasphemed against the dogma that if you didn’t support Israel, you were dangerously disposed towards Nazism. Hence the violent denunciations of Jeremy Corbyn, a committed anti-racist, who has always supported the Jews, and his supporters because Corbyn supports equality for the Palestinians.

It’s also significant that at no point do the Eckhardts mention the Palestinians. Perhaps this extract is unrepresentative, and that they are mentioned elsewhere in Eckhardt’s article. But whatever the case, they aren’t mentioned here. It seems that the problem of the Palestinians and their right to live in peace in their land was simply ignored. But everything Alice Eckhardt says about the Jews and the need for them to return to history, to have a land of their own, and not to be a ‘sacrificial offering’ for peace and community, can equally be said of them.

Elie Wiesel is also not quite the moral paragon he was made out to be. He was fiercely loyal to Israel and never denounced its crimes and atrocities against its indigenous people. After he died last year, the radical magazine Counterpunch published a piece on their website making it very clear how willing he was to turn a blind eye or excuse the Israel’s crimes against humanity.

Western, British Christians had no right to give Palestine to the Zionists. It was not our land to give, and in doing so we were partners in the dispossession and oppression of a people, who had traditionally been far more tolerant of Jews than Christians. We should instead have tried to atone for the Holocaust by welcoming Jewish refugees and immigrants, supporting legal provisions for the protection of them and other minorities; and reparations and compensation for their suffering and what they had lost. We had no business sending them away to dispossess and persecute another nation in their turn.

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