Book Summary


Fatal Embrace:

Christians, Jews, and the Search for Peace in the Holy Land

Mark Braverman

Israel/Palestine is the longest-running problem on the world stage. The conflict pulls all who try to solve it into a quicksand of contradiction and enmity. A civil war has broken out between those Jews who staunchly defend the Jewish State against all critics and those who fear for its very soul. A powerful, well-organized system of Jewish institutions — synagogues, Jewish Philanthropic Federations, political lobbying organizations — move quickly to suppress or neutralize any possible criticism or threat to that support. The pastor who opens his or her church to a conference on Palestinian human rights faces protests and editorials from Jewish organizations charging anti-Semitism. In the U.S., powerful Christian Zionist organizations join with the pro-Israel Lobby to support the U.S. administration’s unconditional support of the Jewish State.

Meanwhile, sputtering efforts at a “peace process” to resolve the conflict between Israel and its Palestinian subjects appears increasingly futile to a growing number of stakeholders on all sides.  Indeed, the entire effort to achieve a “settlement” appears to be based on a massive, collective self-deception:  While appearing to hold Israel to account, the world powers actually give Israel free rein to pursue policies that breed popular resistance among Palestinians and promise only to prolong the conflict.

This book presents the struggle of an American Jew to come to terms with the dilemma of modern Israel.  It presents an approach to solving the conflict through an understanding of the origins of Zionism and the contemporary Christian reaction to its own anti-Jewish past. Through a discussion of issues of faith deeply embedded in our Western culture, the book addresses two fundamental questions: (1) Why are Jews pursuing a course in Israel which, far from fulfilling the goals of the Zionist movement, is actually heightening the threat to Israel’s security and serving to isolate us in the world?  and (2) Why is the Christian world enabling Israel’s tragically flawed policies rather than holding us to a faithfulness to our shared tradition of justice?  In addressing the first question, I explore the tension in Judaism between the universalism inherent in our monotheistic creed and ethical code, and the particularism so deeply embedded in our cultural identity and history.  I argue that the Jewish quality of exclusivism enshrined in the concept of election is being enacted in the current self-defeating policies of the modern State of Israel.  In taking up the second question, I review post-Holocaust revisionist Christian theology.  I discuss the attempts by contemporary Christian theologians to rehabilitate Judaism through a revised Christian theology and world view in order to atone for the horrors of  anti-Semitism.  I show how this effort, although courageous and commendable, has now resulted in the uncritical legitimization of Zionist strivings as well as a suppression of any honest interfaith dialogue on the issue of the State of Israel.  It has and continues to give Jews license to establish and pursue a nationalist, colonial political agenda in Israel that violates principles of justice as well as international law, and which presents a formidable obstacle to peace. I show how even those Christian thinkers most committed to a social justice agenda appear to endorse the Jewish people’s right to a tragically flawed political project. This runs counter to their principles and continues to lend support to those political elements that block holding Israel to account and that impede progress toward peace.

It’s a fatal embrace:  together, these two powerful, deep-seated forces combine to keep us stuck in Israel-Palestine. I argue that the persistence and power of these beliefs – the more powerful because they are unrecognized, unexamined and even denied – play a major role in thwarting progress toward a peaceful settlement of the political conflict.  I believe the key to a political resolution lies in the initiation and strengthening of a broad-based movement within the major Christian denominations in the U.S., and my book will include a call to action directed at them, as well as to other groups.

Fatal Embrace should be at home on both the Religion and Current Affairs shelves of the bookstores.  A deep exploration of the religious issues is fundamental to understanding the political situation in the Holy Land as well as the social and political forces in the U.S. and globally that exert such a profound influence on Israel’s politics.  There is an excellent literature that covers Zionism from historical, philosophical, and sociological perspectives, and the book reviews some of these writers.  However, the topic has not been approached from the perspective outlined here.  The literature on the question of Zionism and Israel, from Christian and Jewish writers alike, in the fields of politics, history, sociology and religion, are devoted either to defenses of or critiques of Zionism.  Furthermore, I do not believe that anyone has yet addressed the phenomenon of the Zionism – implicit and explicit – to be found in mainstream Christian thought and practice.

In the course of the book I return again and again to my personal journey.  I have deep family roots in Israel, grew up as a religious Jew in the U.S., and in the past several years have become deeply involved in social and political activism with various Jewish and interfaith organizations working for peace and justice for all peoples of the region.  My family background, my experiences growing up Jewish in postwar America, and my encounters with Israelis, Palestinians and Americans since my first visit to the West Bank in 2006 form the scaffolding for the book’s chapters.

I have written the book primarily in order to influence the minds, hearts and actions of Christians in the West today and to lend support to those Jews who are working to salvage our people’s moral standing in the world.  I believe that only in this way can we create a future for the people of the State of Israel as well as for the Palestinian people.  My hope is that by exposing the unexamined assumptions and unacknowledged strivings that are in part responsible for the failure to resolve the conflict, and by helping Christians overcome their fear of being perceived or labeled as anti-Semitic, the book will enable a more open, productive dialogue within the Christian community as well as between the faiths.  I also directly appeal to the church to embrace and pursue actions that will advance the cause of peace in the Holy Land based on justice. I present specific actions that will advance the emerging global movement needed to change the political wind and bring peace to the region.