exercises in compound storytelling

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Victoria Clark: Allies for Armageddon

Israel districts numberedImage via WikipediaI had a couple of plane flights last week, so I had time to finish Victoria Clark's Allies for Armageddon: The Rise of Christian Zionism.

Here's the scoop: Clark considers the state of Israel to be part of the trailing edge of the Age of Empire, an illegitimate exercise in nation-building by the United Kingdom and the United States, imposed on the Palestinian people, who she considers to be the rightful owners of (at least some part of) the current state of Israel.

She never actually says that all of Israel should be turned over to various Arab/Palestinian groups, and she completely gives the Ottoman former occupiers a pass, and she never actually addresses the question of whether e.g. Russian Jewish refugees should have a homeland.

Instead she focuses on the history of "Christian Zionists" (a moniker I've never heard anyone apply to themselves: they usually choose some gloss on "friend of the nation of Israel") first in the United Kingdom and then in the United States. The book has two sections: 1621-1948 and 1948-2005 or so. 1621 was the date of publication for a book called The World's Great Restauration, advocating the return of Jews to Israel. She deals with various historical issues, including the question of whether Israel should be a vassal state of the United Kingdom, or part of the British Empire proper, whether Christians envisioned a future state as being populated by Christian (ethnic) Jews or religious Jews, etc. She also deals with a few "new Zion" separatist movements in the United States, some of whom moved to Palestine and some of whom settled one place or another in North America. She also deals with the somewhat uneasy question of whether Dispensationalist Christians actually love Jews or just consider them an important part of an End Times scenario (in which two-thirds of them die).

The narrative is mostly chronological until 1948 and then becomes topical, and frankly kind of wanders, becoming studies of a mix of characters, some crooks, some odd, and some neither. My best guess is that in the first section she's working from first-rate books (this is a well-researched books, with a huge bibliography) and in the second section she hits the road to see various things for herself. I'm not sure why she made this particular structural choice. There may be a shortage of books about Chuck Missler, Jerry Falwell, Hal Lindsey, and John Hagee. I have no idea.

This is an interesting book, but not a good book or a fair book. She takes cheap shots at various Jewish leaders for pressing for a Palestinian homeland (rather than taking offers of moving to say Argentina or Africa) while Russian Jews were dying in pogroms, and she never really deals with the Palestinian Question.

She doesn't really present the Palestinians as real people: they're an abstraction, an alternative downtrodden group used to minimize the historical sufferings of the Jews. She never really asks the important question of whether a two-state solution is sensible, what the boundaries should be, etc. But then given the position she stakes out that's not an important question.

She also doesn't deal with the question of modern Israeli society and how it interacts with the Palestinian people, how the various group in the Knesset view "land for peace" deals, etc. She seems mostly to be intent on an argument that says that the state of Israel is an unsustainable imposition that was a silly idea to begin with (because it was believed by people who were by turns crazy and crooked) and is only viable because of billions of annual aid dollars.

It's a pretty narrow book about a fascinating subject, and it's a shame: she's a talented writer who does good research, and some sections of the book are probably required reading for anyone who wants to understand the relationship between fundamentalist/evangelical Christians, a rotating cast of American politicians, and the nation of Israel.

Clark is also the author of Why Angels Fall (2000), The Far-Farers (2004), and Holy Fire: The Battle for Christ's Tomb (2005).

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