Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, JANUARY/FEBRUARY 1995, Pages 20, 44

Special Report

The Clintons: American Hostages in the Holy Land

By Grace Halsell

President Bill Clinton is a very "Christian" man—he will tell you so. But like TV evangelist Jerry Falwell and several million other "Christian Zionists" in the United States, the American president has made the cult of the land of Israel his highest religious priority. Therefore, Clinton apparently did not think it strange that, during his October visit to the Land of Christ, he did not visit a single Christian site. Nor did he meet any of his native-born co-religionists in a land inhabited by Christians since the time of Christ.

When President Clinton arrived at the King David Hotel in West Jerusalem, he was close to Christendom's most sacred shrines. Yet, he did not visit the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem; Nazareth, where Jesus lived; the Mountain of the Beatitudes; the Sea of Galilee; or the site where Christ was crucified and interred—the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.

I talked with the Rev. Dale Crowley, a Christian minister and well-known radio evangelist in the U.S. national capital, about the Clintons being in the Land of Christ but choosing not to visit any Christian sites—or meet with any Christian clergy or laity living there. "It's an example of how Israelis control U.S. policies—and set the national agenda," he said.

As for other Christian ministers who might voice an opinion, the Reverend Crowley said, "If some of them thought it unusual for a Christian to go to the Land of Christ and not want to see the holy Christian sites, most all of whom I know would be too frightened to speak out—too frightened by the power of the Zionists who make U.S. policy and can do harm to them, one way or another."

Reverend Crowley continued: "Judaism is the state religion of Israel. In Jerusalem, Bill Clinton put on a Jewish skullcap or yarmulke. This represents a Judaic religious exercise. And Hillary participated in a Judaic religious exercise by going to the Western Wall, rubbing the stones—and inserting a prayer. They chose to engage in Judaic religious exercises while, at the same time, negating the role of Christianity by ignoring the Christians. For tens of millions of TV viewers around the world, their first-priority choice could not have gone unnoticed."

To learn more about Christians who give Israel and Israelis first priority over their fellow Christians, I began research in 1980 on the TV evangelist Jerry Falwell. For some years, I made a habit of tuning into Falwell's "Old Time Gospel Hour" on TV. "The Jewish people in America and Israel and all over the world have no dearer friend than Jerry Falwell," he liked to boast.

Falwell found many opportunities to tell Americans that the fate of their nation depended upon the attitude they took toward Israel. If Americans did not show an unflinching willingness to provide Israel with arms and dollars, Falwell said, America would lose all.

"They chose to engage in Judaic religious exercises while ignoring the Christians."

In 1983, I was one of 630 Christians who flew out of New York on a Holy Land tour sponsored by Falwell. In Tel Aviv, we began traveling around the country in buses.

Throughout the tour, we had Israeli Jewish guides. Not once did we have a Christian guide. Not once was a service scheduled in a Christian church, nor was an opportunity provided to meet a Christian Palestinian.

On the day we approached Nazareth, our guide said simply, "There is Nazareth." We would not stop, he added, because there was "no time."

However, after a whispered conversation with one of the other passengers, he changed his mind. "We will stop in Nazareth," he said, "to use the toilet facilities." Thus, all that the Christian pilgrims on Falwell's tour saw of Nazareth, the home of Jesus the Nazarene, were the public toilets.

In 1985, I signed on for another Falwell-sponsored tour. Again I got a colored brochure, printed in Israel, with no mention of Christ or the Christian sites.

While we were in Jerusalem, Falwell gave a banquet, honoring then-Defense Minister Moshe Arens, from Israel's hard-line Likud Party.

Seated not far from the two men, I heard Falwell say to Arens, "I want to thank you for that jet plane you gave me." It confirmed what I had learned between my two Falwell-sponsored Holy Land tours during visits to the televangelist's home base in Lynchburg, Virginia. I had seen the jet, and been told by Lynchburg residents: "The Israelis gave the jet to Falwell—as payment for what he's done for them."

Prior to giving him the jet plane, right-wing Israelis had presented Falwell with one of a very limited number of medals named for Vladimar Jabotinsky, founder of Israel's right-wing Zionist "revisionist" movement, precursor to the Likud Party, and mentor or role model to many of its leaders, including Menachem Begin, Ariel Sharon, Yitzhak Shamir and Arens.

Falwell and Jabotinsky

"Falwell felt honored to receive a Jabotinsky award because Jabotinsky said 'power should be your goal,' and Falwell thinks like Jabotinsky," said Dr. James Price of Lynchburg, an ordained Presbyterian minister and co-author, along with Dr. William Goodman, of a book on Falwell. Reverend Price added: "Falwell's evangelical militancy parallels that of Jabotinsky, who urged all Zionist organizations to engage in uncompromising militancy against Arabs. In his militancy, Falwell claims that 'nowhere does the Bible rebuke the bearing of armaments.' And like Jabotinsky, Falwell has said that 'peaceful intentions are acts of stupidity.'"

While President Clinton undoubtedly thinks of himself as a peacemaker, Jerry Falwell, a seasoned "Christian Zionist," sows seeds of hatred between Jews and those Christian and Muslim Arabs who are victimized by the illegal seizure of land and oppressive tactics of the Israeli government and its "settlers" in Jerusalem, Gaza and the West Bank. Clinton tends, as do other Christian Zionists, to place Israel on center stage for all of history, past, present and future.

Since the Jewish state looms so large in this vision of history, a Christian Zionist easily reduces all of the Middle East, birthplace of civilization as well as of Christianity, Islam and Judaism, to one phrase—"Israel and its neighbors." As glowingly described in Ma'ariv, Israel's mass-circulation daily newspaper, "the Clinton court" is filled with American Jews who work proudly for Israeli interests (see "Other Voices" in the Nov.-Dec. 1994 Washington Report on Middle East Affairs,). Some write speeches for Clinton, and in one such speech Clinton recently referred to the Middle East as "Israel and her Arab enemies." One can imagine what would happen if a Clinton speechwriter mistakenly reversed the formula and described the Middle East as "the Arabs and their Jewish enemies."

Speaking in the Knesset, Clinton told the Israeli legislators about the Christian clergyman who, upon realizing that young Bill might someday become president, warned him that after he became president, "If you ever let Israel down, God will never forgive you." One can imagine the ridicule the U.S. president would evoke if, on a visit to Paris or London, he declared that God would not forgive him if he "let France down," or "let England down." Yet not a word of criticism was written in the U.S. press at the implication by a U.S. president that he could let down, with impunity, all of the nations of the world—save one.

Was it in order not to "let Israel down" that Hillary Rodham Clinton—in a land holy to three faiths—chose to engage in a religious exercise of only one? Was it in order not to "let Israel down" that Bill Clinton did not ask an aide, "Get Bethlehem Mayor Freij on the phone. He's a Christian—and he can show me his town and the manger where Christ was born."

Did he fear he would "let Israel down" if he asked Faisal al-Husseini, a Muslim Palestinian leader in East Jerusalem, to show him the Haram al-Sharif, the Noble Sanctuary, with its Al Aqsa mosque and the golden Dome of the Rock? Having seen the sites holy to two billion people around the world, it would then have been quite unremarkable for him to go to the Western Wall, sacred to some 14 million Jews around the world, with Ehud Olmert, the Israeli mayor of Jerusalem.

But, instead, Olmert insisted on accompanying the U.S. president on any visit to any site in or around East Jerusalem, whether Jewish, Muslim, or Christian. And, if Olmert didn't go, Clinton couldn't go either. So Clinton dutifully observed Israeli rules. Though raised a Baptist, he went to no religious sites at all in the land of Christ. And Hillary Rodham Clinton, raised a Methodist, was equally circumspect, visiting only a Jewish religious shrine, accompanied by Olmert.

Washington, D.C.-based writer Grace Halsell, author of Journey to Jerusalem and Prophecy and Politics , recently returned from the Middle East.