In a transcendently ridiculous column at The Daily Beast, readers are warned that MLB Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera has “served at the pleasure of a racist president, taken part in thinly veiled propaganda on behalf of a far-right government in Israel, and gotten chummy with outright bigots and apocalyptic loons.”
Mo Rivera? The greatest closer—perhaps the greatest pitcher—in Major League baseball history? Mo Rivera, the first player unanimously selected as a first-ballot Hall of Famer? As a longtime Yankees fan, and someone fortunate enough to see Rivera up close for a number of years, I can think of few greater pleasures in sports than watching him work. So I never thought I’d be able to admire him more. But here we are.
It’s not surprising that The Daily Beast, whose editor-in-chief blames Israeli Jews for global white nationalism, would find Rivera’s support of Israel problematic (the original illustration for the piece, incidentally, had Rivera standing on a pitcher’s mound shaped like a yarmulke atop a Jewish star).
Nor is it surprising that the piece offers no evidence that Mariano has “served at the pleasure” of the Trump administration—even if you accept the debatable contention that the administration is racist.
Rivera didn’t join the pinstriped Sturmtruppen, he merely accepted a nomination to the Council on Sports, Fitness, and Nutrition. He signed onto the Opioid Drug Abuse Commission. He went to the White House as a delegate for the Special Olympics. He took “friendly photo op” as part of an interfaith conference in Israel with the U.S. ambassador to Israel. These days, I guess all of this qualifies as extremism.
Then again, one of biggest offenses of evangelical Christians like Rivera, one I’ve been hearing about for the last 25 years, is their Christian Zionism. We’re supposed to believe it’s anti-Semitic because it is allegedly predicated on an end-times prophecy. According to this conspiracy theory, evangelicals’ support of Israel is propelled solely by the need to see all Jews make aliyah. (The Daily Beast admits it doesn’t really even know if Rivera, who visited Israel with televangelist John Hagee, subscribes to this belief.)
The piece links to a Washington Post article that goes to great lengths to point out that a large percentage of evangelicals—and this is a bombshell, so brace yourself—believe that God’s hand had something to do with the creation of modern Israel. When asked if the biblical promise of the Holy Land to Abraham and his descendants was an “eternal promise” from God, two-thirds of respondents strongly agreed, one poll found.
This happens to also be the position of most orthodox Jews—and probably any Jew who has even a rudimentary connection to Jewish theology or history. Progressives who have spent decades corroding traditional Jewish ideas to be indistinguishable from leftist partisan politics may have forgotten, but the promise of the return to Jerusalem and Israel is a central tenet of the Jewish faith. When Mariano says that “the chosen people of God is Israel—Jewish Israel” he is merely repeating what is plastered all over the Old Testament.
Whatever the case, the reinstitution of the Jewish homeland after nearly two millennia of oppression and diaspora is one of the most miraculous events in history. It’s not surprising that many view it as God’s work.
And if dispensationalists support Israel solely because they believe Armageddon will be soon be fought at Mount Megiddo, why should it bother me as a secular Jew? I don’t even believe in the First Coming, so I’m not overly concerned about the Second. In the terrestrial world, Rivera, a devout Christian, endorses the existence of a pluralistic nation with democratic institutions, free association, and a devotion to peace. It is his critics who are apologists for anti-American terror entities which oppress women, gays, and every other minority they haven’t yet ethnically cleansed.
The rest of the piece is a series of equally risible cheap shots. Example: While in Israel, Rivera praised IDF training because it makes “a better person, a better citizen, and a better human being.” Two-and-a-half months earlier, The Daily Beast points out, IDF soldiers “killed at least 60 Palestinian protesters in Gaza and injured thousands more.”
Well, it’s true that the IDF stopped (at least) 24 terrorists and many rioters who Hamas had whipped into a suicidal frenzy last year rushing the Israeli border. When Hamas isn’t stabbing or shooting missiles at Israeli civilians, it is sacrificing the lives of its own people as part of a public relations gambit. Many in the U.S. media reward this jihadi nihilism with favorable coverage.
A week before The Daily Beast piece was published, a senior official in Gaza called on Palestinians to start murdering Jews—not merely “Zionists”—anywhere they are encountered in and around world. The Hamas covenant calls it “our struggle against the Jews,” not our struggle against the “elected right-wing coalition of the government” for a reason.
Of course, Hamas’ allies have already embraced this mission in Europe and elsewhere. Yet, for modern progressive, the real villains aren’t Khaled Mashal or Mahmoud Abbas but decent people like Mariano Rivera.