Sheesh. I just don’t get it.
Vice President Mike Pence arrives in Jerusalem, and makes a groundbreaking speech at the Knesset. He acknowledges that the modern state of Israel is on the cusp of her 70th year by speaking in the language of gratitude and reciting “Shehecheyanu ve-kiyemanu ve-higianu la-zeman hazeh.”
His words were greeting with standing ovations and constant warm applause.
I watched this speech only after I read a commentary in Haaretz titled, “Lucky The Jews Didn’t Understand What Mike Pence Was Really Saying,” by Amit Gvaryahu. What was the veiled message, I wondered?
Before me was an article that cherry-picked sources to turn Pence’s words into a supersessionist declaration (regarding Christianity superseding Judaism). Much of Gvaryahu’s proposition centered around Pence’s use of the word ‘“faith,” as well as the light in which Abraham was cast by Pence.
I am somewhat weary of Christian proselytization, so I watched the speech for myself, expecting a long Christian sermon or a repeated touting of the administration’s declaration of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital statement. I kept waiting for the inappropriate references from which Gvaryahu deduced a coded message.
Instead, unfolding before me, was an inspiring speech, unifying and inclusive of all three major faiths. Textual references were a thread throughout, but a sermon it was not. It was a parliamentary speech that included Hebrew Biblical references — oh, the horror! It also included references to political realities, acknowledging the goal of a two state solution as well as the compromises it will warrant.
His speech even went so far as switching to first person and taking the opportunity to address the Iranian people (not the government, but the people).
Had Haaretz’s Gvaryahu and I watched two different speeches?
Granted, I did notice the use of the word “resurrected” when Pence mentioned the Jewish people rebuilding after the Holocaust by founding the state of Israel. What he said was literally true, but yes, that is a word with obvious Christian overtones.
And yes, he did talk of Abraham’s faith at the akeda, the binding of Isaac, along with the covenant G-d made with Abraham in promising him descendants as numerous as the sand and the stars. I was surprised by Abraham heralded as someone who didn’t fight wars, because we know he did fight a war and won.
But the arc and essence of the speech was consistently imparting messages of friendship toward Israel on behalf of America; of unity and appreciation of different religious faiths and paths; of the fight against ISIS; the miracle of the Jewish people; the history of Israel in the land of Israel; and, most important, respect and hope for a better world for all peoples.
I am grateful for the friendship of Christian friends of Israel while I am also circumspect, because I worry about proselytization. However, when a friend, a leader, comes and shows such goodwill to the Jewish people, why can’t we just be gracious and say: Thank you? Why read into Pence’s speech something so farfetched, bordering on paranoia? In any event, Pence came and spoke as vice president of the United States of America, not as a preacher. Why conflate the two? Why perceive imagined ideas when none were articulated?
Constantly being malcontent does not necessarily a sophisticated thinker or intellectual make. Sometimes, as Freud said, “a cigar is just a cigar.” This moving speech by Pence is such an example. Sometimes, a speech is just a speech.
It was a truly strong speech of friendship and support. Respond accordingly, not with a lack of grace.
Spewing Pavlovian attacks toward anything coming from a camp you disagree with is counterproductive and ultimately rings hollow. Save your arguments for real, not fabricated, issues. It’s boring to hear a predictable response to anything that hails from a government whose fundamental policies you disagree with.
Second of all, since when did Christians own the messages of the story of the akeda? Last I checked, drawing on a theme of faith from the very painful and difficult akeda narrative, is straight out of the Jewish dvar Torah playbook. I’ve heard that so many times, I can’t count. But what if Pence had read something Biblical through the prism of his own faith, that we don’t see eye to eye on? Is that so terrible?
Third of all, it is a pleasure to hear a speech in the halls of the Israeli parliament with Biblical texts and motifs. After all, the modern secular political Zionist movement notwithstanding, Israel is the land of the Tanach, the Hebrew Bible. Why hide from who we are? There was a time when secular Israelis knew Tanach cold and could quote it freely — it wasn’t a source of shame or tension, but rather one of pride.
Although I was just a little girl and not deeply aware of the ins and outs of Israeli parliament, I was living in Israel when Menachem Begin was at Israel’s helm. His peppering of speeches with Biblical references was a natural fabric of the Israeli discourse. In a sense Pence’s speech harkened back to that time.
There was a gratuitous remark thrown into Gvaryahu’s piece about Arab MKs being kicked out for the speech, which I suppose gives away the bias of the author. Arab MKs were not kicked out because they were Arabs, as was implied. View the video. You see some Arab MKs intentionally disrupting Pence, shouting and waving signs. Obviously, security was going to have them removed. They made a choice and they knew very well what the consequence would be.
When living in Israel and writing my column for the Intermountain Jewish News, on one occasion I was sitting in the press section of a speech that then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was making. Startlingly, shouts from the audience disrupted his speech as a group of Kahane Chai activists ripped off their collared shirts to reveal offensive matching T-shirts as they screamed something in protest. Obviously, they were escorted out.
We have the Kotel and access to prayer at the Kotel. The embassy, I can live with it in Tel Aviv. My point is simply to reiterate and paraphrase Freud’s pithy observation that sometimes a speech really is just a speech. And what a speech it was.
To which I tip my hat to Vice President Mike Pence, and say: Todah! Todah Rabbah!
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