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  • Israel, AIPAC and Christian Zionism

    by Sunny
    2nd April, 2007 at 11:51 am    

    Writing in the Times on Friday, Gerard Baker talks about America’s bias towards Israel and how they form a barrier to peace. Why, for example, he asks, did Barack Obama get so much flack for simply saying: “Nobody is suffering more than the Palestinian people.”

    He points out:

    It is sadly true, as America’s critics contend, that US debate about the Middle East is constrained within an impossibly narrow field of discussion. In fact it is striking that it is much easier for an Israeli to say things critical of the Israeli Government than it is for an American to offer the same critique.

    But fixation on the Israel lobby is not only misplaced and, with its evocation of wealthy bankers and unscrupulous political consultants, just a tiny bit anti-Semitic. It also misses the real reasons that the US can’t seem to have a sensible discussion now about the Middle East.

    Some of these reasons are to do with internal political developments long in the making. The rise of evangelical Christianity as a political force, especially within the Republican Party, has something to do with it. The belief that the Jews must be returned to the Biblical lands of Judaea and Samaria before the world can end has driven up support for an aggressive Israeli approach to its neighbours in the Holy Land.

    Baker says there are two additional reasons why ordinary Americans support Israel: without American intervention Israel would have been annihilated and a second holocaust happened; and that they feel Israel suffers from jihadi terrorism in the way America does.

    It cannot be denied the Israel lobby group, AIPAC, tries to ensure criticism of Israel is always challenged to prevent America faltering in its support for Israel. But I also have a feeling that ‘Christian Zionism’ is increasingly going to make things a whole lot worse by not only narrowing the debate but calling for more American aggression in the region.

    Writing in The Nation last year, Max Blumenthal observed the rise of the Christian right in America, specifically the group ‘Christians United For Israel’. Some choice passages:

    When [the Jewish] Anti-Defamation League president Abraham Foxman lambasted the Christian right as a dire threat to America’s Jewish community, Brog scolded Foxman in a lengthy Wall Street Journal op-ed. “There are very serious threats facing American Jews today, and they have nothing to do with social conservatives,” he wrote.

    But [CUFI spokesman] Brog maintains that CUFI represents a novel phenomenon in evangelical politicking. Though CUFI’s constituency is almost entirely Republican, Brog says the success of its banquet reflects the increasing importance of Israel to evangelical voters.

    Brog has revealed several “meet and greet” sessions between CUFI and the Bush Administration that highlight the elevated importance of Christian Zionism in GOP-dominated Washington.

    Their critics say organisations such as CUFI are not that powerful yet or play a significant role in influencing AIPAC. But it does mention a big evangelical called John Hagee who was instrumental in launching CUFI.

    Guess where he turned up last month? At the annual AIPAC convention, happily calling for war with Iran (via Patel)

    Worried about their rise, last year a group of Catholic Churches in Jerusalem even went as far as signing a statement called ‘Jerusalem Declaration on Christian Zionism’.

    “Christian Zionism is a modern theological and political movement that embraces the most extreme ideological positions of Zionism, thereby becoming detrimental to a just peace within Palestine and Israel,” the religious leaders said.

    Christian Zionism, the statement said, is an ideology that views the gospel through the prism of “empire, colonialism and militarism identifies,” emphasizing in its extreme form “apocalyptic events leading to the end of history rather than living Christ’s love and justice today.

    That pretty much sums it up.

    But there is a silver-lining in this cloud. Christian Zionists are tightly tied to the Republican party, while most American Jews are quite liberal (meaning pro-choice on abortion) but neo-conservative on foreign policy. As the neo-cons falter in the Middle East, it may be that more Jews speak out against the corrosive impact of America’s foreign policy in the Middle East.

    Writing in Salon last week, Gary Kamiya said:

    Until 9/11 and the Iraq war, this state of affairs was of little concern to anyone except those passionately interested in the Middle East — a small group that has never included more than a tiny minority of Americans, Jews or non-Jews.

    But in the wake of 9/11 and the Iraq war, that all changed dramatically. 9/11, and the Bush administration’s response to it, made it inescapably clear that America’s Mideast policies affect everyone in the country: They are literally a matter of life and death.

    For all these reasons, a powerful spotlight has been turned on the pro-Israel lobby. And there are signs that increasing numbers of Americans, Jews and non-Jews alike, are willing to openly question whether it is in America’s national interest for AIPAC, whose positions are well to the right of those held by most American Jews, to wield such disproportionate power over America’s Mideast policies.

    The latest one to speak out? Billionaire George Soros.

    There is no doubt that AIPAC’s extremely hawkish stance on the Middle East made it near-impossible for even Bush to castigate it for not moving on his ‘roadmap to peace’. In the long term a lack of debate in America over Israel’s disastrous foreign policy makes the Middle East even more unstable, with no pressure put on Israel to sit at the negotiating table.

    Add to that Christian Evangelicals who are just itching for a show-down so they can move quickly towards the Second Coming and we all have a problem.

    While I do believe that Iran poses a problem for Israel, given its president’s willingness to “wipe out” Israel, any war would not only further inflame the whole region, but also put the country firmly in the hand of extreme conservatives, and destroy the pro-democracy movements. Israel needs to make peace with its neighbours before the whole region plunges everyone into war.

    Any inflammatory comments will be immediately deleted

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    Filed in: Current affairs,Middle East,Religion,United States

    25 Comments below   |  

    Reactions: Twitter, blogs

    1. Chairwoman — on 2nd April, 2007 at 12:32 pm  

      Tonight Jews celebrate the start of Passover and certainly we of the diaspora will say, as we’ve said for about 2000 (that’s two thousand, folks) years, ‘Next year in Jerusalem’.

      Note the words, ‘Next year in Jerusalem’. Not ‘Next year in Uganda’ or ‘Next year in Canada’. It’s Jerusalem. I just wish people would stop speaking as though the desire of the Jewish people to return to the land of Israel is some nebulous spur of the moment whim. Frankly, it’s offensive.

      Banabrain has explained exactly what the majority of Jews want to see happening in Israel/Palestine on the HuT thread. Read it, digest it, and finally, please, understand it.

      I’m sorry that fundamentalist Christians have jumped on the Israel bandwagon, but that really isn’t our responsibility. One of the reasons I wouldn’t move there is to make sure that the ‘Rapture’ never takes place.

    2. bananabrain — on 2nd April, 2007 at 1:05 pm  

      i’d just like to agree with chairwoman. “next year in jerusalem”, not anywhere else. i’d also like to congratulate sunny on this particular piece - it is fair and even-handed, as is gerard baker’s original column, a rare breath of fresh air. i note with unsurprised displeasure, however, the comments in the accompanying talkback section which are as predictable as they are one-sided. nobody seems to be prepared to confront their prejudices, sacred cows (pace hindus) and default positions of tribal solidarity and political predispositions. that’s why debating this in an open forum on the web is such a total and utter waste of time; only when people have something invested in their relationships with each other, as we do i hope here at PP are they prepared to genuinely open up and dialogue.

      i have gone on record many times about so-called “christian zionism” - FRIENDS LIKE THIS WE CAN DO WITHOUT. the short-term financial and diplomatic gain comes at a price and the price is imposing the “no-surrender, the rapture’s coming” mind set on the middle east, something far more likely to bring the pre-messianic wars of gog and magog than anything else. i don’t generally approve of abe foxman, but in this case he’s 100% spot-on.

      aipac are imho ridiculously hard-line, but they are not the only jewish lobby in the states; george soros is surely a lobby of considerable impact just on his own but there are plenty of left-leaning, conciliatory jewish lobbies. aipac are just the ones everyone “loves to hate”. most jews in america, fortunately, are not that stupid as to embrace evangelical nutjobs who think they’re going to convert eventually (after most of us are killed, naturally) - it is the right wing in israel that think they’re getting a free lunch and feel empowered to be even less conciliatory, the detestable avigdor lieberman being a case in point and olmert scarcely less so. naturally these people enjoy visiting aipac and getting the red carpet treatment when they visit and steer well clear of jewish lobby groups that will ask them tough questions.

      as for living in judea and samaria, that is part of the solution, indeed, as i have already pointed out, although arabs living in tel aviv and jerusalem is an equal part of it - but if you take a truly *religious* zionist perspective, as i hope i do, then i needn’t live in the west bank - anywhere between the nile and the euphrates will do to count as “eretz yisrael” but - and this is an *important* but - the *religious definition* of what counts as the *biblical land* of israel is NOT, repeat NOT, the same thing as the nation-state definition, unless you are a christian or jewish free-range imbecile. israel as a state can stay at the 1967 cease-fire lines until the nation-state becomes a feature of historical record as far as i’m concerned; eventually we will grow beyond mere national “sovereignty” and i will be able to live in haditha or hilla if i please, without some idiot iraqi telling me that no jews are allowed to live on “arab land”. puh-leeze. there’s no such thing. as it says in the Tanakh, “the earth is G!D’s; and its richness; and those that dwell on it.” (psalm 24:1)



    3. soru — on 2nd April, 2007 at 2:04 pm  

      The impact of full-blown Christian zionism is often over-stated. What is much more significant is a subtler belief, along the lines:

      1. Israel, the Holy Land and birthpace of Jesus, is really important, in a way say Malaysia or Turkmenistan aren’t.

      2. As such, God is paying more attention to US actions with respect to Israel.

      3. Consequently, it is important in this particular case to act morally and not pragmatically: Providence will reward good actions.

      4. That means, typically:
      - supporting good-guy allies even if that is against obvious economic interests; greed is bad
      - fighting bad guys even if that means they threaten you; cowardice is bad
      - anyone who deliberately kills innocents is definitely a bad guy

      Sometimes this changes around to other views, like supporting peace even if that seems impossible, or supporting the oppressed even if they seem unpleasant. But the underlying logic is the same: this is a theatre where the theme of the play is good versus evil.

      See, for example, the explicitly Christian book and film ‘Lord of the Rings’, and the moral status of those who argue for doing something rational and pragmatic with the Ring, instead of giving it to a hobbit to walk into the heart of the enemies power.

      All strands of US thought in relation to Israel are built on a similar principle: doing the Right thing is the right thing to do.

    4. bananabrain — on 2nd April, 2007 at 3:02 pm  

      whoa, whoa, WHOA there soru. you’ve just challenged a key tenet of my faith there.

      LOTR is *not*, repeat *not* a christian book or film, either explicitly or otherwise. read what tolkien himself had to say about it, when criticising c.s.lewis’s “narnia” books: “i cordially detest allegory in all its forms.” read the preface, where he says that “in real life, the ring would have been used and barad-dur would have been not destroyed, but occupied.” so fie upon thee, sirrah.

      other than that i agree with you about americans seeing things in terms of good and evil - which i think most religious people do as well, except that they often differ over who is good and who is evil.



    5. soru — on 2nd April, 2007 at 3:15 pm  

      sorry bb, didn’t mean to undermine your faith.


      J. R. R. Tolkien once described his epic masterpiece The Lord of the Rings as “a fundamentally religious and Catholic work.”

      “…there was something else at work, beyond any design of the Ring-maker. I can put it no plainer than by saying that Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, and not by its maker. In which case you also were meant to have it. And that may be an encouraging thought.”

      Gandalf can “put it no plainer,” of course, because in this story Tolkien wishes to avoid explicit entanglement with religious doctrine. Nevertheless, the underlying idea is clear.

    6. bananabrain — on 2nd April, 2007 at 3:25 pm  

      ahem - that’s quite a convincing essay, actually. i may have to moderate my position - but only a little.

      for all that LOTR can possibly be seen as an essentially christian and catholic schema, i don’t see anything in the idea of “fighting the long defeat” or “until the world is renewed” (or indeed the messianic stuff) that couldn’t be characterised as jewish, except for the fact of course that i don’t think tolkien meant it like that (unless it’s the dwarves that he means, in which case i’m going to get a bit offended, although terry pratchett does an excellent job of dwarves-as-jews which gives me many a larf)



    7. Kismet Hardy — on 2nd April, 2007 at 4:23 pm  

      ha ha dwarves

    8. Anna — on 2nd April, 2007 at 4:27 pm  

      I know I am likely being pre-emptive here, but am I seriously reading a civil discussion of this situation on the INTERNET? Maybe the fundamentalists are right that the second coming is nigh.

      I wish a good seder to the Jews of the bunch-there’s no better time to be reflective about oppression and the struggle for justice.

    9. Shady — on 2nd April, 2007 at 4:30 pm  

      it is much easier for an Israeli to say things critical of the Israeli Government than it is for an American to offer the same critique.

      Absolutely right. If only it were possible for someone with the status of an ex-President to write a book associating Israel to apartheid. Damned Jewish lobby.

    10. Rumbold — on 2nd April, 2007 at 5:05 pm  

      AIPAC give the Jews a bad name, just as other so-called representative bodies do. It is one of the best things about Pickled Politics that there is a general ethos against such groups.

      Oliver Cromwell’s support for the Jews was partially based on a similar line of reasoning to the Christian Zionists, though he believed that the Jews had to be converted before the Second Coming, which is why he let them officially return to England.

      Happy Passover Chairwoman, Katy, Bananabrain et al.

    11. Sid Love — on 2nd April, 2007 at 5:20 pm  

      Happy Passover, from me and mine.

    12. lithcol — on 2nd April, 2007 at 6:03 pm  

      I am more worried about the coming of the 12th Imam the Mahdi. He may actually arrive before the second coming. I could be wrong. Apparently Jesus will join him in a battle against the great Satan so I must be wrong.

      How positively primitive is such thinking. Trouble is, such thinking apparently permeates the enfeebled minds of many and is used by the more sophisticated to manipulate popular sentiment.

      If it were not for the Christians and secularists in the middle east I would call for a withdrawal of all support , financial and military, for all states in the middle east. Israel, given its peoples, would probably against the views of many on this blog prosper and survive. Egypt the most populous country in the region, and the receiver of US largess 2nd to Israel, would probably implode and become a fundamentalist Islamic state. Pity the poor Copts and secularists with the Muslim brotherhood in charge.

      The Palestinians, or people who are now called Palestinians have been, and are still, used by various regimes in the middle east as whipping boys for their own political ends. They appear to have a lot in common with the disposed wandering Jews of history.

      I do not expect a resolution between Israel and those that seek its destruction in my lifetime, and I have a good 50 odd years left according to actuarial perditions.

      All I can hope is that the fundamental integrity of Israel is not breached, because that would assuredly lead to a nuclear exchange from which the rest of the world will not benefit.

    13. Sunny — on 2nd April, 2007 at 6:14 pm  

      I’m sorry that fundamentalist Christians have jumped on the Israel bandwagon, but that really isn’t our responsibility.

      Chairwoman, unfortunately it is not as straightforward as that. As I pointed out above, AIPAC is actively courting the Christian Zionists and invited John Hagee to give one of the main speeches at their annual convention.

    14. Vikrant — on 2nd April, 2007 at 7:00 pm  

      Imam Mahdi?Second Coming? Gog ‘n Magog?…. Hah thankfully coming of Kalki is about 93000 years away. Unfortunately for her, semites will have faltened the place long before.

    15. lithcol — on 2nd April, 2007 at 7:19 pm  

      Surely Vikrant you meant to say semites will have flattened the place.

    16. Don — on 2nd April, 2007 at 7:42 pm  


      Surely actuaries haven’t worked out the odds of you going to the Bad Place?

    17. lithcol — on 2nd April, 2007 at 7:55 pm  

      Just noticed my use of perdition instead of prediction. Who knows could be the good old US of A. but in reality could be any place I am not in now.

    18. Bartholomew — on 2nd April, 2007 at 8:43 pm  

      John Hagee is certainly a huge figure (in all senses of the word), and his book Jerusalem Countdown has sold more than one million copies in just over a year (he shares David Brog’s publisher, by the way). There’s also, of course, the whole Left Behind phenomenon and books by Joel C. Rosenberg and Mike Evans, to give just a couple of the most famous names. With this comes an extensive Christian fundamentalist “solidary with Israel” scene, which has increasingly been co-ordinating with right-wing MKs through the “Christian Allies Caucus” in the Knesset.

      However, I think the apocalyptic angle can be overemphasised; perhaps a lot of people read things like Left Behind for the same reason they read Nostradamus or the Da Vinci Code - it’s just a gateway to the mysterious and unknown.

      It’s also worth remembering that not all Christian Zionists are apocalyptic: as suggested above, there are issues of how the conflict with the Palestinians has been framed, the Holocaust, the reality of some nasty neighbours, and Biblical sentimentality (Genesis 12:3). The former head of the National Association of Evangelicals, Ted Haggard (deposed in a gay sex scandal a few months back), was until recently a very influential Christian Zionist, and his former church finances a West Bank settlement - but his church isn’t in the least apocalyptic. The Left Behind series of books began being published during the Clinton era; is apocalyptic politics as attractive when there’s a real chance of conservative victory?

      According to Dick Armey, former US House Majority Leader, Bush does himself hold the apocalyptic view, but commentators such as Kathleen Parker are more sceptical. She reckons that although Hagee gets invited to the White House he’s not taken very seriously.

      And while some Jews are getting increasingly wary of the Christian right, some Christian Zionists are themselves becoming wary of the Israeli right and its objections to evangelism in Israel. The existence of gay Israelis has also upset a few Christian Zionists.

    19. Clairwil — on 2nd April, 2007 at 11:44 pm  

      ‘I’m sorry that fundamentalist Christians have jumped on the Israel bandwagon, but that really isn’t our responsibility.

      Chairwoman, unfortunately it is not as straightforward as that. As I pointed out above, AIPAC is actively courting the Christian Zionists and invited John Hagee to give one of the main speeches at their annual convention.’

      Yes but all Jew’s worldwide are not any more responsible for the actions of AIPAC, than all Muslims are responsible for the July 7th bombings.

      Frankly the activities of the AIPAC are no more the Chairwoman’s responsibility than they are mine. Unless the Chairwoman has some mandate to speak on behalf of the world’s Jew’s that I’ve not been told about.

      Happy Passover folks.

    20. Sunny — on 3rd April, 2007 at 4:11 am  

      Yes but all Jew’s worldwide are not any more responsible for the actions of AIPAC, than all Muslims are responsible for the July 7th bombings.

      No of course not, and that’s not what I meant. When she said “our responsibility”, I did assume Jews who are specifically interested or active in political lobbying (but clearly not herself).

      More broadly though, it’s not possible to dismiss it as a non-issue any more than it’s possible to dismiss what is happening in Iraq as a non-issue. Sooner or later it does come back to all of us, as the writer in the article above points out.

      Happy Passover!

    21. Katherine — on 3rd April, 2007 at 10:20 am  

      I generally find internet discussions on Israel/OT deeply depressing, simply because of the utterly intransigent views of the “debaters”. So good for PP for having a civil discussion about it (even if it did get side tracked to LOTR for a while - urgh).

    22. Leon — on 3rd April, 2007 at 1:06 pm  

      It’s been a long road to get here trust me…

    23. Refresh — on 3rd April, 2007 at 4:25 pm  

      Irony perhaps:

      I generally find internet discussions on Israel/OT deeply depressing, simply because of the utterly intransigent views of the “debaters”.

      I would rather Israel/OT remained Israel/Palestine.

    24. Sunny — on 3rd April, 2007 at 10:34 pm  

      Bartholomew: thanks for a very informative post by the way…

    25. Refresh — on 4th April, 2007 at 9:30 pm  

      This is really amusing:

      “It’s been a long road to get here trust me…”

      and it seems that it dare go no further.

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