Politics: Holy War

A controversial anti-Obama letter that rocked the Jewish community — and the reputations of the prominent Philadelphians who signed it — brought the conflict in the Middle East to the banks of the Schuylkill

In other words, a friend of Israel is a friend of ours — the rest doesn’t matter. For proof, one need look no further than a building tucked into the woods of Deptford Township, the international headquarters of Friends of Israel, a nonprofit evangelical Christian organization that raises $9 million for pro-Israeli causes and evangelism annually, publishes a magazine read by 250,000 people in 151 countries, broadcasts a radio program carried on 700 stations throughout the United States, and leads trips to Israel for evangelicals. In many ways it transcends the Freedom’s Watch alliance as an odd pairing. Consider that in New Testament biblical prophecies, the second coming of Christ is based on the proviso that Jews return to a reestablished Jewish nation in the Biblical lands of Judea and Samaria; it’s only then that the Antichrist will rise, setting the stage for an epic battle between God and Satan. Which is another way of saying that for evangelicals, the relationship is rooted in the role Israel will play as a means to the ultimate end: the Apocalypse.

AS FOR JEWS who take the view that peace in the Middle East can only come through a two-state solution, or who advocate for the rights of the Palestinians, a prominent Philadelphia Zionist explained to me that they fall into one of two camps: either “they’re well-meaning but ignorant of the facts” or “they’re simply vicious.”
Among the vicious, then: Noam Chomsky, the linguist, philosopher, professor and political dissident who has written extensively about Israeli-Arab relations. He recalls growing up in East Oak Lane in a virulently anti-Semitic Philadelphia. “Look, if you take a look at Jewish opinion, especially among younger Jews, commitment to Israel is very limited,” he says. “Most don’t care, and there’s a reason for that. By now, Zionism means support of the state of Israel no matter what it does. And that position is just inconsistent with the general, more or less liberal values of the Jewish community.”
Chomsky argues that the Zionists have created an atmosphere in which criticizing Israel is akin to committing anti-Semitism, which is only disaffecting more and more of the middle-of-the-road Jews who make up the bulk of the populace.
Linda Holtzman is the senior rabbi at Mishkan Shalom in Manayunk, which was founded in 1988 by 30 families who followed Rabbi Brian Walt after he left his post at Congregation Beth Israel in Media after stirring up controversy by criticizing the Israeli government’s actions during the first intifadah. Holtzman has received hate mail and been shunned by many in the Jewish community for expressing a more progressive brand of Zionism, which she says “loves Israel while also being open to doing everything that loving something makes one responsible to do.”  
“The Philadelphia community by and large expresses blanket acceptance of everything Israel does, and for those of us who don’t, it is a very challenging place to live,” she says. “There are other rabbis who are prepared to argue with Israel’s policies and who actually think it’s more helpful to Israel to give honest critique rather than blanket support, but those rabbis in Philadelphia are very few. There is an extreme reaction from much of the Philadelphia Jewish community. There is not much of a dialogue.”