Israel, the US, and the Christian Right: The Menage a Trois From Hell
Max Blumenthal printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Thu Aug 10, 2006 at 09:30:55 PM EST
As I reported for the Nation in my most recent article, "The Birth Pangs of a New Christian Zionism," the White House has convened a series of meetings over the past few months with leaders of Christians United for Israel (CUFI), a newly formed political organization that tells its members that supporting Israel's expansionist policies is "a biblical imperative." CUFI's Washington lobbyist, David Brog, told me that during the meetings, CUFI representatives pressed White House officials to adopt a more confrontational posture toward Iran, refuse aid to the Palestinians and give Israel a free hand as it ramped up its military conflict with Hezbollah.

The White House instructed Brog not to reveal the names of officials he met with, Brog said.

Brog, the former chief-of-staff to Arlen Specter, is now the first full-time lobbyist for the Christian Zionism movement. He claims that CUFI's lobbying efforts, including organizing 3500 evangelical activists to visit congressional offices as Israel and Hezbollah exchanged their first salvoes of missiles, are having an impact. "There is an ongoing debate in Washington over how long to let Israel continue the campaign against Hezbollah--how long will we let Israel fight its war on terror as we fight our own war on terror?" Brog told me. "And I think the arrival in Washington at that juncture of thousands of Christians who came for one issue and one issue only, to support Israel, sent a very important message to the Administration and the Congress, and I think helped persuade people that they should allow Israel some more time."

But CUFI has more on its agenda than simply "supporting Israel." Indeed, its founder and president, Pastor John Hagee, is determined to see America and Israel adopt his Armageddon-based worldview as their foreign policy. Consider what Hagee wrote this year in Charisma magazine: ""The coming nuclear showdown with Iran is a certainty. Israel and America must confront Iran's nuclear ability and willingness to destroy Israel with nuclear weapons. For Israel to wait is to risk committing national suicide."

Hagee's desire to doom the now-dormant Israeli-Palestinian peace process is equally disturbing. As I detailed in the Nation, in his book, The Beginning of the End, Hagee celebrated the murder of former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin as a fulfillment of biblical prophecy and glorified his assassin, Yigal Amir. More recently, Hagee's allies, like nationally syndicated evangelical radio host Janet Parshall, became ecstatic at the outbreak of violence in Lebanon and Israel. "These are the times we've been waiting for," Parshall told her audience on July 21. "This is straight out of a Sunday school lesson."

Time and again, Christian Zionists have delighted in events that most Israelis considered grave tragedies. And yet, Israel continually expends more energy cultivating their support than it does on earning much-needed international goodwill. Case in point: after calling Ariel Sharon's descent into a comatose state God's punishment for the "dividing the land," Pat Robertson was granted a personal meeting yesterday with Sharon's successor, Ehud Olmert. Afterwards, Robertson told his 700 Club viewership that the Lebanese people were "sheltering a terrorist group" and urged them to pray for an Israeli military victory.

History shows that the more Israel pursues extreme militaristic solutions to its problems, the more it must rely on support from America's evangelical right. When international opinion turned against South Africa's apartheid regime in the 1980's, it rolled out the red carpet for televangelists like Robertson, who denounced Mandela and the ANC on the 700 Club. Similarly, while Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios-Montt waged a scorched-earth campaign (with Israeli military assistance) to exterminate his country's Mayan population, he called on his friend Robertson for PR help. Robertson responded by hosting a telethon for Guatemala's military. He even funded the construction of "model villages" (read: concentration camps) for the Mayans who survived.

Luckily for Israel, the Bush administration and most Americans still accept its justification for everything: that "the world" is opposed to its survival. But what if a future Israeli government decides, as Yitzhak Rabin did, that Israel can live in the world and survive -- and even thrive? And what if a future American government backs Israel by mobilizing international allies behind a new land-for-peace effort? Most Americans would probably support such a scenario as they did in the past. But so-called Christian Zionists would transform into Israel's worst enemy. They have their own agenda and it has nothing to do with peace.  

Good work on the Religious Right and their bizarre view of the world events. As a Catholic I find it arrogant that supposedly religious people would want to impliment a plan that should only be subject to God's control.

I strongly agree with Israel's right to defend itself, but I worry that the current government is not using the right amount of proportionality. As a supporter of Israel I hope they're not revisting the Lebanese quagmire of the 1980s and 1990s.

But the tone of the piece made me feel a bit uncomfortable. Max, I believe that you are not implicating Israel as a country, just the current adminstration in power. As someone who has always lived in areas with significant Jewish populations, I cannot believe that all or even the majority of Israelis are expansionist.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Fri Aug 11, 2006 at 08:50:01 AM EST

Of course, Christian Zionism has been a growing component of the Religious Right's agenda since its ascendancy among Republicans in the 80's.  The GOI and Israeli Right Wing groups have established many formal and informal networks with American megachurches over the years, some Christian Zionists even supporting the breeding programs for the perfect red heifer or funding for settlements in the West Bank.  What you show evolving here is Christian Zionism as not just one issue among many in the Religious Right, but a lobbying organization of its own.  I am interested in your perspective on how much this is influenced by Hagee's ambition to be a national leader of the Religious Right by attaching his identity to a core value (much as Falwell, Robertson and Dobson have done).

Clearly, a Christian Zionist lobbying organization is helpful to their cause at this time, not only for its influence with legislators, but for its smoothing of relations with the American Jewish community.  In recent years, more and more progressive Jews have questioned whether AIPAC's hard line postions represent them.  At the same time, the ascendance of American theocracy, the so-called "War Against Christmas" and faith-based initiatives, have been a concern to Jews across the political spectrum.  The level of stress between the Christian Right and  mainstream Jewish organizations has been brought to public attention recently when concerns about the Christian Right were voiced even by the spokesperson of the ADL -- the organization that wrote the first book on "The New Anti-Semitism" back in the 70's in which mainline Protestants (even if they were committed to interfaith dialogue, civil rights and the first amendment) were bashed for criticising Israel and Christian fundamentalists (even if they had questionable ties to racist organizations and aggressively proselytized Jews) were embraced for supporting Israel.

The dynamic you note in your article is a prime example of one aspect of "The New Anti-Semitism" (criticism of Israel is now a much greater threat than classical anti-Semitism or anti-Jewish words or actions are not as important as support for Israel):

Yet the thrust of Brog's arguments is targeted toward a Jewish audience suspicious of evangelical motives. Brog's thesis rests on the premise that while Islamic anti-Semitism poses an existential threat to Jews, Christian anti-Semitism is a bygone phenomenon that died the moment the Allies seized Hitler's bunker.

To explain the psychology of those Jews who think otherwise, Brog invokes the stereotype of the shtetl Jew. "Many in the American Jewish community are also living in the past, stuck in European ghettos," Brog wrote. "In an alternative reality built on traumatic communal memories, millions of Jews continue to crouch, fingers on their triggers, surrounded by bloodthirsty Christians who view them as a replaced, deicide people. Yet the world has changed dramatically in recent decades, and the enemy they fear has long since become a friend." As proof, Brog cited the outpouring of evangelical support for Israel.

If Israel were to elect a government that was willing to negotiate peace, resistance to the alliance with Christian Zionists may come from more members of the Jewish Community than just those in peace groups:

Thanks to Brog's parrying of Jewish criticism and securing the cooperation of major Jewish organizations, his "brother" Hagee faces few repercussions as he prays for Armageddon. With local CUFI chapters growing across the country, a "rapid response network" of thousands of pastors developing, and an open door to the White House, Brog and Hagee are planning for the long term. "We want to speak to Washington and encourage support for Israel whatever the conflict may be," Brog said. He paused, adding, "Provided of course that Israel's cause continues to be just."

But the renewal of the peace process and rolling back the West Bank settlements would be an unjust cause. For Hagee and for CUFI, all roads lead to a "nuclear showdown: with Iran. Diplomacy would only make God angry. As Hagee warns in Jerusalem Countdown, "Those who follow a policy of opposition to God's purposes will receive the swift and severe judgment of God without limitation."

by Rusty Pipes on Fri Aug 11, 2006 at 07:36:19 PM EST

Yesterday there was a flyer up at the supermarket advertising a five-day series of talks on 'Biblical Prophecy and the Holy Land' at a local Church of the Brethren.  (I'm in western Virginia.) It was sponsored by the Biblical Church of Prophecy, about which I would like to know more.  The last three nights' topics were "Biblical Prophecy and Israel"  "...and Iraq"   "...and Iran".

I was tempted to attend, but decided for mental health reasons not to go.  But it's a little scary that Bush's base is being whipped up to stop thinking like citizens about issues of war and peace, and to support wider war in the middle east absolutely as a matter of faith and "prophecy."  These policies endanger Israel and all Americans.

by Nell on Wed Aug 16, 2006 at 12:31:28 PM EST

Of course, it's important to the CZ leadership to keep the con going, so it's worth noting that Pat Robertson, in his 700 Club broadcast after his returned from Israel and his personal meeting with prime minister Ehud Olmert,

denied that the war signified the Armageddon that some Christians believe will precede the Second Coming of Jesus. "Some of us have been waiting: Is this the end of it all? No. Is this what precedes the coming of the Lord? I don't think so," he said.

There is also this account of a CZ group that traveled to Israel to support the IDF soldiers (not the Jewish and Arab civilians forced into bomb shelters).  This is my favorite bit from the story, which I'm confident was a sly dig by the Ha'aretz reporter:

For the participants in last week's mission, meanwhile, being here was just one more way to encourage the IDF, or "the armies of God," as one participant called it.

Hezbollah, of course, means "Army of God."

I should add that the Ha'aretz story includes news of more authentically Christian support and charity to Israelis from less fundamentalist Christians.

by Nell on Wed Aug 16, 2006 at 12:48:29 PM EST

Teach me to use 'of course' in a comment...

Hezbollah means Party of God.

by Nell on Thu Aug 17, 2006 at 10:07:43 PM EST

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