The Lesson of Lieberman and the Religious Right
Senator Joe Lieberman's bizarre alliance with John Hagee is not as strange as it seems, now that people are noticing. His role as a headliner at the Christians United for Israel conference is of a piece with pandering to the religious right by political leaders, including leading Democrats over many years, particularly when it comes to the religious right's support for Israel.
Now of course, there are many who are supportive of Israel and are not part of or sympathetic to the religious right. And that will remain unchanged. But Leiberman, while no longer a member of the Democratic Party, and of course John McCain, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, epitomize the way that pols of both major parties have been more than willing to turn a blind eye to the apocalyptic, antidemocratic, hate-infused agenda of Hagee, among others. Hagee and the religious right grew powerful in part because of, not inspite of the pandering and accomodation of the likes of Leiberman.
The McCain/Hagee divorce has opened a floodgate. Interest groups including J-Street, Democracy for America and People for the American Way are all demanding that Leiberman also renounce Hagee and CUFI. Times have certainly changed.
"Joe Lieberman has been hustled by a hate-filled con-artist who hides behind the cloak of religion to spread a particularly pernicious type of bigotry," said Arshad Hasan, Executive Director of Democracy for America. "Does Joe Lieberman have no shame? Will he stand with a hatemonger and continue to praise this intolerant figure? Or, will he recognize that Pastor Hagee is no friend of Americans who believe that tolerance and understanding are things that make America great?"
"There should be no place in American politics - and certainly no place in the American Jewish community - for a man who holds John Hagee's views," said Jeremy Ben-Ami, J Street's Executive Director. "John McCain finally got that on Thursday. Now it's time for American Jewish leaders to admit that, for too long, Pastor Hagee's supposed 'pro-Israel' views have bought him a free pass in the Jewish community. This has to end. It simply isn't worth sacrificing core values and principles that the Jewish community holds dear for a political alliance of convenience. And the great irony is, Hagee in the end really isn't 'pro-Israel.' His support for Israel is simply a means to an apocalyptic end of destruction or conversion for the Jewish people."
In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, Steve Waldman, editor of BeliefNet politely stated the obvious:
In the final divorce between John McCain and Pastor John Hagee, there was some media puzzlement about how someone so honored by various Jewish groups could have said Hitler was a tool of God.
Had Mr. Hagee changed? No. The key is understanding that for Mr. Hagee, everything revolves around the Biblical prophecies related to Jesus' return. If Israel hadn't been born, and survived, Jesus wouldn't reign on Earth. Anything, therefore, that caused Israel to come into being - including the Holocaust - must have been part of God's plan.
This should not have come as a big surprise to Jewish groups. Fulfilling Biblical prophecy has always been at the root of Mr. Hagee's support of Israel. Many Jews understood that but bargained that the motives for his support were less important than the fact of it, including his role in rallying other evangelicals and in raising money for Israel.
This desire for allies has led Jews to ignore or rationalize all sorts of Hagee comments. For instance, in his book "Jerusalem Countdown," he disparages modern Judaism. "They have Jerusalem, the City of God. They have a nation. They have everything but spiritual life."
Prophecy requires not peace for Israel but horrific war, an ultimate battle, with Iran as the aggressor, aided by the anti-Christ, who will be the head of the European Union. In the end, the war will prompt the Jews of Israel to accept the returning Jesus as the Messiah, and thereby gain their spiritual life. "He has dragged these anti-Semitic nations to the nations of Israel to crush them so that the Jews of Israel as a whole will confess that He is the Lord."
Indeed, as Bruce Wilson and others have reported, Hagee's views have been out in the open for all to see in his books and sermons for many years. The problem was not that his views were hidden or too hard to understand; it was that not too many people noticed; and those who did were mostly ignored or pooh poohed.
It is in that sense that Waldman is drawing too narrow a picture. It is not Jews alone who should not be surprised.
This underscores why Talk to Action came into being in the first place. There was too little attention being paid to the various elements of the religious right, as well as the movement as a whole -- one of the most significant social and political movements in American history.
The attention being paid to these things in the heat of the campaign season, needs to be sustained over time.
For democracy to flourish, there is no substitute for clearly understanding its most formidable opponents.