Judeo-Christian Foreign Policy: Anti- Semitism and Islamophobia - Part I

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The War on Terror was launched by George W. Bush’s administration as a means of supposedly combating "... a radical network of terrorists and every government that supports them" to protect ‘Judeo-Christian’ values (Bush 2001).  Although this concept attempts to incorporate the use of ‘Judeo’ as a form of tying the interests of two of the three Abrahamic religions[1] together, the notion reduces Judaism to a tool for promoting Christian nationalism. Additionally, this idea excludes Islam from a supposedly shared Abrahamic tradition, resulting in the codification and rationalization of violence against people from Muslim-majority countries, West Asia and North Africa. For the United States to move away from a foreign policy which relies on the tokenization and marginalization of Jews and Muslims, there is a need to not employ the term ‘Judeo-Christian’ as a means of advancing Christian nationalism and justifying Islamophobia.

In order to grasp the anti-semitic[2] nature of a ‘Judeo-Christian’ foreign policy, there is an importance to define what ‘Judeo-Christian’ values and foreign policy encompass; also the strong need to define the construct of whiteness in the U.S. in relation to Jewish people and its usage for Christian nationalists gains.

‘Judeo-Christian’ values, simply defined, are values held by both Jewish and Christian faiths. The term was first popularized by Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930s as a means of mobilizing Americans against Nazism. The ideal also became a way of combating anti-semitism and anti-Catholic sentiments in the U.S. (Zubovich 2016). However, the term itself undermines key differences in the beliefs of Judaism and Christianity, such as the belief in Jesus, that make these religious groups different entities (Cohen 1969). Historically, this is significant because Ashkenazi Jews and Catholics, the majority of whom were from Southern and Eastern Europe, were not accepted by the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) establishment into the construct of whiteness in the United States in the 1920s (Green 2016; Zeitz 2015). The acceptance of these two groups into WASP American society created a significant cultural shift that expanded the concept of whiteness in the 1920s: their heightened status in society enabled them significant socioeconomic mobility (Brodkin 1998). However, the incorporation of Ashkenazi Jews - due to their European heritage - into whiteness has led to the erasure of the Ethiopian, Sephardic, and Mizrahi Jewish heritages. Consequently, this acceptance has resulted in the co-option of Judaism by Christian nationalists into ‘Judeo-Christian’ as a code word for Whiteness.

Christian nationalism “... comes from those who adhere to a political ideology that posits a Christian right to rule,” (Goldberg 2006). The idea was employed by former presidents Harry S. Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower as a call to arms against the ‘godless’ Soviet Union. The term was co-opted by the Christian Right - also known as the Moral Majorit - in the 1970s to combat the growing legal separations between church and state (note, not synagogue and state) as a means of reclaiming the supposed United States’ Christian identity. Ronald Reagan further mainstreamed Christian nationalism in regards to the ban on school Christian prayer, “I know this may often be laughed and sneered at in some sophisticated circles, but ours is a Judeo-Christian heritage,” (Preston 2012). The perceived need to defend and expand upon this heritage in the late 1980s and early 1990s led to the rise of the Culture War in the U.S., in which the Christian Right used their believed Biblical mandate to take over and occupy secular institutions through the creation of Christian media and the election of conservative politicians to office to prepare for the second-coming of Christ (Berlet 2008).

...[T]his acceptance has resulted in the co-option of Judaism by Christian nationalists into ‘Judeo-Christian’ as a code word for Whiteness.

Prominent conservatives nowadays such as Sarah Palin, John Kasich, Steve Bannon, and Mike Pence can be associated with this form of Christian nationalism. Palin has stated various times that the U.S. was founded on ‘Judeo-Christian values’ in response to the controversy over the National Day of Prayer regarding legal challenges to whether the day of observance imposes religion on American citizens, which would be in violation of the U.S. Constitution (The O’Reilly Factor 2010). Although the website for the National Day of Prayer claims the event invites all faiths to pray for the nation, the description emphasizes that its Task Force represents a “Judeo-Christian expression” based on the “(...) understanding that this country was birthed in prayer and in reverence for the God of the Bible,” and centered on “the Lord Jesus Christ”, two concepts which Judaism does not accept and therefore, these cannot be considered ‘Judeo’ values (National Day of Prayer 2018).  According to Article 11 of the Treaty of Tripoli, signed by U.S. President John Adams in 1797, that "(...) the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion," (Executive 1797). Kasich promised to promote an American foreign policy built on ‘Judeo-Christian values’ in which the U.S. was founded upon in order to counter radical jihadists and the agendas of Iran, Russia, and China (Tomlin 2015).

Bannon has utilized this anxiety surrounding the Culture Wars between conservatives and liberals in the U.S., and white Christian fear of the potential collapse of ‘Judeo-Christian’ values as a means of creating Breitbart News - a far right news network that has been deemed anti-semitic by the Anti-Defamation League (Anti-Defamation League 2017). In a 2014 talk, Bannon attributed the West’s “crisis of capitalism” post-2008 to the loss of a ‘Judeo-Christian’ foundation. He further employed the term to say how these values were utilized to “(...) take back continental Europe and to beat back a barbaric empire in the Far East,” (Bannon 2014).

Vice President Mike Pence has been praised by the Religious Right in the United States for upholding anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ policies. He extends his belief in Christian dominion over the world to his stance on Israel. Although some Jewish Americans have praised his stance on Israel, and moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, as Matthew Rosza points out:

When you're talking about evangelical Christians [a religious group that Mike Pence self-identifies as] who sincerely believe that those who don't share their faith are going to hell, it is hard to argue that they would be truly loyal allies. Their support for Israel is motivated in part by their hatred for Muslims and in part by their belief that the Jews returning to Israel after a 2,000-year diaspora fulfills a biblical prophecy. This is the same prophecy, it's worth noting, that eventually suggests that those same Jews must be either forcibly converted to Christianity or slaughtered (Rosza 2017).

The concept of using ‘Judeo-Christian’ values to not only combat secularism, but to also wage a Crusade against ‘savages in the Orient’ in order to reclaim European ideals, clearly ties the concept of protecting ‘Judeo-Christianity’ to the protection of whiteness, and the otherization of Islam.

 

[1] Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are considered the three Abrahamic religions because they all accept the tradition of God revealing himself to the prophet, Abraham (Helm 2010).

[2] Anti-semitic/anti-semitism is used solely to define prejudice, hatred, and other forms of discrimination against people who identify as Jewish/are considered to have Jewish heritage throughout this essay (International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance 2015).


Mary Marston is a woman of color who wants to decolonize U.S. Foreign Policy and various legal systems.


References:

Anon, 2017. About Us. National Day of Prayer Task Force. Accessed December 31, 2017.

Anti-Defamation League, 2017. Stephen Bannon: Five Things to Know. Anti-Defamation League. Accessed January 2, 2018.

Bannon, S., 2014. Poverty and the Common Good: Putting the ‘preferential option for the poor’ at the service of human dignity. The Human Dignity Institute. Accessed January 2, 2018.

Berlet, C., 2008. What is Dominionism? Palin, The Christian Right And Theocracy. The Huffington Post. Accessed December 16, 2017.

Bush, G.W., 2017. President Bush Addresses the Nation. President Bush's address to a joint session of Congress and the nation. Accessed December 10, 2017.

Brodkin, K. (1999). How did Jews become white folks and what does that say about race in America? New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Cohen, A., 1969. The Myth of the Judeo-Christian Tradition. Commentary. Accessed December 18, 2017.

Executive, 1797. Treaty of peace and friendship between the United States of America and the Bey and subjects of Tripoli of Barbary, Tripoli. Accessed December 17, 2017.

Goldberg, M., 2006. What Is Christian Nationalism? Accessed December 16, 2017.

Green, E., 2016. Are Jews White? The Atlantic. Accessed December 20, 2017.

Helm, P. 2010. Philosophy of religion. Encyclopedia Britannica. Accessed March 3, 2018.

International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, 2015. Memo on the Spelling of Antisemitism. Accessed February 1, 2018.

Rosza, M. 2017. Jews would be foolish to trust Mike Pence or the Christian right. Salon. Accessed March 16, 2018.

The O'Reilly Factor ed., 2010. Sarah Palin on National Day of Prayer Controversy. Fox News. Accessed December 22, 2017.

Tomlin, G., 2015. Kasich wants U.S. foreign policy based on 'Judeo-Christian values'. Christian Examiner Newspaper, Christian News, Christian Commentary, Church Events. Accessed January 2, 2018.

Zeitz, J., 2015. When America Hated Catholics. POLITICO Magazine. Accessed December 20, 2017.

Zubovich, G., 2016. The strange, short career of Judeo-Christianity. Aeon Ideas. Aeon. Accessed December 15, 2017.

Marissa Conway