What Netanyahu Learned from Texas

Last week, the Texas Board of Education approved the use of controversial public school history textbooks that university professors charged “exaggerate and even invent claims about the influence of Moses and the ‘Judeo-Christian tradition’ on our nation’s founding and on Western political traditions.” Those claims included the assertion that the “biblical idea of a covenant, an ancient Jewish term meaning a special kind of agreement between the people and God, influenced the formation of colonial governments and contributed to our constitutional structure;” and that “the roots of democratic government in today’s world—including government in the United States…include elements related to Judeo-Christian philosophy, dating back thousands of years to Old Testament texts and Biblical figures such as Moses and Solomon.”

The idea that the Constitution is based on the Bible comes straight from “historian” David Barton, known for his claims that the separation of church and state is a “myth.” In the early 2000s, Barton was vice-chair of the Texas GOP; he later served as an expert to the State Board of Education as it adopted its new textbook standards. While he was the party vice-chair, it adopted a plank in its platform declaring America a “Christian nation.” (Barton also believes the Bible alone is sufficient reason to support U.S. foreign aid to Israel, has said that “anytime you go after the Jews, God comes after you,” and, speaking about Israel, maintained that only God can establish the boundaries of nations.)

Israel’s proposed Jewish nation-state law, which passed a preliminary hurdle in the Knesset earlier this week, is of course not precisely modeled on the Christian nation mythologists who want to turn Texas classrooms into training grounds for “biblical law” enthusiasts. The United States has a Constitution; nothing in it declares America is a Christian nation (or, in the Texas SBOE parlance a “Judeo-Christian nation”). Barton’s claims that the Constitution in fact codifies a “Christian nation” doesn’t make it so.

In contrast, though, Israel does not yet have a constitution, and the bill declaring it the “nation-state of the Jewish people”—if passed as proposed as a “Basic Law”—could be the foundation for one.

Perhaps the Israeli bill is based on “biblical law,” at least as interpreted by Sheldon Adelson, who thinks[God] didn’t talk about Israel remaining as a democratic state… Israel isn’t going to be a democratic state — so what?” That’s the same Sheldon Adelson, by the way, who reportedly thinks that Texas’s own Ted Cruz is “too right-wing.”

The reaction of the bill’s right-wing supporters in the Knesset to the U.S. State Department’s denunciation of the bill was reminiscent of the iconic motto, “don’t mess with Texas.” Moshe Feiglein called “the intervention of the State Department in crucial questions of the State of Israel”  “a grave and unbelievable thing.” Naftali Bennett declared the bill “an internal issue and I think that no one has the right to intervene with it.” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is reportedly determined to get the bill passed, insisted in the face of widespread criticism, “Israel is a democratic state, as it was and always will be.”

The Christian nation mythologists falsely boast that the greatness of America, as laid out in its founding documents, emanated from the Bible. The proposed Israeli nation-state law, while doing something the Christian right could only dream of—enshrining one religion at the heart of the definition of the state—ditches both the Bible and democracy. As Bradley Burston notes:

On Sunday, the prime minister surprised the cabinet by submitting the most extreme version of the bill—the one that demotes Arabic as an official language, that deletes “equality” as a goal of the Jewish state, that grants the right of way to “Jewish” aspects of policy and secondary status to democratic principles, that opens the door to deporting non-Jews, in particular African asylum seekers, and to depriving Arabs of rights and privileges, and to neutering the Supreme Court as the last vestige of a check and balance to a clown car of a government, a government determined to see how far you can get if all you have is a gas pedal and a steering wheel which only turns to the right.

The bill isn’t about Judaism at all, says Dahlia Scheinlin, but “is creating a false god, a Judaism that is primarily political, material, imposed, devoid of humanity or humility.”

Jeffrey Salkin, an American rabbi, warns that the Israeli government “is playing with American Jewish fire,” taking a risk that “many American Jews will walk away, or drift away, or simply, passively, no longer care. American Jews predicate their support of Israel not only on ethnic solidarity and history, but on the idea that Israel and the United States share common democratic values.”

If democratic-minded, anti-theocratic American Jews do walk away, who would be left to support Israel in the U.S., apart from the most ardent right-wing Jewish supporters of Israel?  The Christian Zionists who think that America is a Christian nation.