In 1973, during the Arab embargo on oil exports that followed the Yom Kippur War between Israel and Egypt, many Americans had to deal with embargo-induced hour-long lines at gas stations, gas rationing, and various setbacks to the economy. As a result, some called for our abandonment of Israel for the sake of oil.
Those voices were not heard among evangelical Christians.
In fact, in a television broadcast from his church to his many followers, the Rev. Jerry Falwell said that he would sooner give up his car and ride a bicycle than yield to Arab blackmail. Citing Genesis (12:3), he explained that God “will bless those who bless the Jews and curse whoever curses the Jews.”
I have since heard this over and over from lay Christians calling my radio show and from Christian leaders with whom I have shared platforms.
I heard this again this past weekend in Colorado Springs, Colo., at the 25th Anniversary Celebration of Focus on the Family, where I spoke to a few thousand supporters of that influential evangelical organization. There are many reasons for the support of conservative Christians for Israel – along with social conservatives, the only group giving such support – but their belief that God blesses those who bless the Jews and curses those who curse the Jews plays a central role.
When I first heard this verse cited by the Rev. Falwell, I certainly found it encouraging to hear a major Christian figure say this to fellow Christians. But perhaps because I had just completed graduate work in the social sciences, my rational faculties simply dismissed the idea as more quaint than believable.
Over time, however, that quote stayed with me. Eight years later, when Rabbi Joseph Telushkin and I wrote a book explaining anti-Semitism (“Why the Jews? The Reason for Antisemitism,” Simon & Schuster), we noted this verse. But now, after seeing the resurgence of anti-Semitism in the Arab and Muslim worlds and in Europe, after being asked by the publisher to write a new version of the book, and after hearing Christians repeatedly cite this verse, I feel compelled to finally take a position: Is this verse biblical poetry or verifiably true?
I am increasingly convinced that it is verifiably true.
I think of Spain, for example. One of the world’s mightiest powers and most developed cultures in the 15th century, in 1492 it reached its zenith when it sent Christopher Columbus on a voyage that changed history. But the same year, it also expelled all its Jews and intensified the Spanish Inquisition against the many forced Jewish converts to Catholicism (converses). Spain then descended into a 500-year status as “the sick man of Europe.”
I think of Germany (and Austria) as the cultural and intellectual center of Europe, if not the world, before World War II. Then Germany (with Austrians’ help) murdered nearly every Jew in Europe. Germany lost over seven million people, was divided for a generation, and while it now thrives materially, culturally Germany has become irrelevant. Ask anyone, even an intellectual, to name one living German.
And I think about the world today. Look at who most blesses the Jews and who most curses them, and you decide whether the verse in Genesis has validity.
It is the United States that has, since its inception, most blessed the Jews and that does so almost alone today – in its support of the Jewish state against those who wish to exterminate it. By almost any reckoning, America has been, and remains, the most blessed of countries.
And it is the Arab world that curses the Jews. It rivals Nazi Germany for the ubiquity and intensity of its Jew-hatred. Look at its state. According to Arab scholars appointed by the United Nations to report on the state of Arab society, that part of the world lags behind the rest of humanity, including in most instances sub-Saharan Africa, in virtually every social, moral and intellectual indicator. And there is no question but that its half-century long preoccupation with destroying Israel has only increased the Arab world’s woes.
No one can prove it is God who actively blesses those who bless the Jews and curses those who curse them. But, at the same time, the evidence historically and this very moment suggests that there is indeed a real connection between the state of a society and its treatment of the Jews.