Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, August 2002, pages 71-72
Israel and Judaism
Strange Bedfellows: The Jewish Establishment and the Christian Right
By Allan C. Brownfeld
There was a time, not too long ago, when Jewish organizations viewed the Christian Coalition, the Revs. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, and others on the Christian Right as potential adversaries, if not narrow-minded bigots—and even anti-Semites. The Anti-Defamation League, in fact, issued a report making precisely such charges.
All this has now changed. At the April 15 rally in Washington, DC in support of Israel, one of the most militant speakers was Janet Parshall, a national Christian radio talk-show host and spokeswoman for the conservative Family Research Council. She ridiculed calls for Israel to give up occupied territory in exchange for peace. “It means giving away Israel one piece at a time,” she said. “We will never give up the Golan. We will never divide Jerusalem...We will never vacillate in our support for Israel.”
Recently, an Orthodox rabbi and prominent conservative political strategist formed an organization to mobilize evangelical Christians in support of Israel. Called Stand for Israel, the organization hopes to draw on the support for Israel among conservative Christians, said Ralph Reed, Jr., the group’s co-chairman. Reed, formerly executive director of the Christian Coalition, is a political consultant in Atlanta and chairman of the Georgia Republican Party.
“Christians have the potential to be the most effective constituency influencing a foreign policy since the end of the Cold War,” said Reed. “They are shifting the center of gravity in the pro-Israel community to become a more conservative and Republican phenomena [sic].”
Rabbi Yechiel Z. Eckstein, Stand for Israel’s founder and co-chairman, and president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, declared: “When you have a situation, for example, where someone in Washington is pressuring the prime minister of Israel to hold back in the fight against terrorism, then that’s where we press the button and mobilize the troops. We will provide them with a tangible and meaningful way to do something.”
Rabbi Eckstein described Stand for Israel as the “Christian AIPAC”—referring to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Washington’s principal lobby for Israel.
In a full-page ad in the June 11, 2002 Washington Post, Stand for Israel stated, “For decades, Jews have viewed Christians with a mixture of suspicion and fear. Some have even accused them of being intolerant or dangerous. But the crisis facing Israel has demonstrated yet again the simple truth that evangelical Christians are among the strongest supporters of Israel in the world today. A recent study by the Pew Research Center found that 62 percent of religious conservatives are pro-Israel, compared to only 26 percent of secular Democrats...”
The ties between Christian and Jewish fundamentalists are nothing new.
The Anti-Defamation League sponsored an ad in the May 2 New York Times featuring a statement by Ralph Reed which made, in part, the following point: “For many, there is no greater proof of God’s sovereignty in the world today than the survival of the Jews and the existence of Israel...Regardless of one’s eschatology—and there are as many theological strains as denominations—there is an undeniable and powerful spiritual connection between Israel and the Christian faith. It is where Jesus was born and where he conducted his ministry...”
This stands in marked contrast to the ADL’s 1994 report called The Religious Right: The Assault on Tolerance and Pluralism in America. Although it acknowledged the religious right’s support for Israel, it put the ADL and the Christian right on a collision course, charging the latter with intolerance if not outright bigotry.
Acknowledging differences with the Christian right on a host of issues—including such church-state questions as prayer in the schools, as well as questions such as abortion and gun control—ADL national director Abraham Foxman noted that, “The differences will continue. That doesn’t mean we should reject their support.” Jews should be grateful for that support, Foxman said, especially since the Christian right isn’t demanding any quid pro quo.
Throughout the country, a coalition of Jewish supporters of Israel and conservative Christians is underway. At a recent Israel solidarity rally in San Antonio, church members made up half the crowd, said Judy Lackritz, community relations director for the Jewish Federation. One minister told the assembly that Israel should not give up any of the occupied territories, and denounced Yasser Arafat as a terrorist. “Eventually we will all be in Jerusalem as brides of Christ,” another minister declared.
“A Pure and Moral Bond”
At a recent event in New York where evangelical leaders gathered for Jerusalem Day, Israel’s consul general described the special relationship between the evangelical community and Israel. “It is a relationship that has not been twisted or dictated by politics or interests,” Alon Pinkas said, but is based on “a very pure and moral bond. We are very thankful for the commitment of the evangelical Christian community, especially in these time of crisis.”
The emerging coalition between Israel’s Jewish and evangelical Christian supporters has had an important influence upon U.S. Middle East policy. The Christian right’s vocal support of the Sharon government “is having far-reaching consequences,” reported the May 23 Wall Street Journal. “More than any other single factor, it explains why there has been so little pressure from a Republican White House on Israel to curb its crackdown on Palestinians. President Bush, himself a born-again Southerner with far more instinctive sympathy for Israel than his father displayed, has taken advantage of the new climate by repeatedly expressing understanding for Israel’s tactics in response to terror attacks. House Republican leader Dick Armey of Texas has gone so far as to suggest that Palestinians, not Israelis, ought to be the ones to surrender land in the quest for peace. In large part, this new alignment of forces represents an unanticipated consequence of the rise of religious conservatives within the GOP....”
The ties between Christian and Jewish fundamentalists are nothing new, however. In 1978, Jerry Falwell traveled to Israel on a trip sponsored and paid for by the Israeli government. In 1979, when Prime Minister Menachem Begin was building Jewish settlements throughout the West Bank, the Israelis extended another free trip. Falwell traveled the road toward the Palestinian town of Nablus, turned off the highway and stood at a cluster of prefabricated houses built by Jewish settlers. At the time, Falwell declared that God was kind to America only because “America has been kind to the Jews.”
At a gala dinner in New York in 1980, Prime Minister Begin bestowed upon Falwell a medal named for Vladimir Jabotinsky, the right-wing Zionist leader. In 1981, when Israel bombed Iraq’s nuclear reactor, Begin immediately called Jerry Falwell for support.
Few Americans—and even fewer American Jews—understand the real reason for the alliance between Christian fundamentalism and the most extreme segments of Israeli life—and, today, with the major American-Jewish organizations. An interesting explanation for these reasons can be found in the late Grace Halsell’s book Prophecy and Politics.
Joining two of Falwell’s Holy Land Tours, Halsell, who worked as a speech writer during the administration of Lyndon Johnson and was a distinguished author and journalist, interviewed fundamentalist Moral Majority members, all of whom believed that the biblical prophecy of fighting World War III—the Battle of Armageddon—must be fulfilled preparatory to the Second Coming of Christ.
According to Halsell, the strain of fundamentalism known as “dispensationalism” believes that the world will soon be destroyed: “God knows it will happen. He knew it from the beginning,” she wrote. “But, God kept his plan secret from all the billions of people who lived before us. But now...He has revealed the plan...we must move through seven time periods, or dispensations—one of which includes the terrible battle of Armageddon, where new and totally destructive nuclear weapons will be unleashed and blood will flow like mighty rivers.”
Dispensationalism spread throughout the U.S. largely as a result of the efforts of Cyrus Ingerson Scofield, born in 1843. His belief system was not original with him, however, but goes back to John Nelson Darby, a 19th century Irishman and one-time priest in the Church of England.
On one occasion, Scofield reminded his audience that year after year he had sounded the same warning: our world will end “in disaster, in ruin, in the great, final world-catastrophe.” But, he said, born-again Christians should welcome such a catastrophe because once the final battle began, Christ will lift them up into the clouds. This has come to be known as the “rapture.”
As a participant in two Falwell-sponsored journeys to Israel, Grace Halsell mingled with many dispensationalists. One of them, Owen, explained his belief system, which entailed the need to destroy Jerusalem’s most holy Islamic shrine, and the necessity of waging a nuclear Armageddon to destroy the world.
Christian fundamentalists donate heavily to Jewish fundamentalist groups in Israel. Wrote Halsell, “Dr. James DeLoach, pastor of Houston’s Second Baptist Church...boasted that he and others had formed a Jewish Temple Foundation specifically to aid those intent on destroying the mosque and building a temple.”
Dr. John Walvoord, a professor at Southwestern School of Bible in Dallas, explained the dispensationalist worldview: “God does not look on all of His children the same way. He sees us divided into categories, the Jews and the Gentiles. God has one plan, for the born-again Christians. The other peoples of the world—Muslims, Buddhists, and those of other faiths as well as those Christians not born again—do not concern Him. As for destroying the planet earth, we can do nothing. Peace, for us, is not in God’s book...”
At a 1985 meeting of Christian Zionists in Basel, Switzerland, the group adopted resolutions calling for all Jews living outside of Israel to leave their countries and move to the Jewish state. The Christians also urged Israel to annex the West Bank. When an Israeli in the audience urged more moderate language, pointing out that an Israeli poll showed that more than one-third of Israelis would be willing to trade territory seized in 1967 for peace with the Palestinians, one of the Christian leaders replied, “We don’t care what the Israelis vote! We care what God says! And God gave the land to the Jews!”
The roots of Christian Zionism go back to the Protestant Reformation. Before that time, all Western Christians were Catholic and generally accepted the view taught by St. Augustine and others—that certain biblical passages should be interpreted allegorically, not literally. As an example, Jerusalem and Zion were heavenly, other-worldly—open to all of us, and not actual places here on earth to be inhabited exclusively by Jews. By the 16th and 17th centuries, however, Christians for the first time were buying Bibles and interpreting Scripture for themselves. In doing so, they began to elevate the concept of Israel—and the Jews—as the key factors in biblical prophecy. Bible-loving Christians came to regard the Old Testament as the only history that mattered in the Middle East.
In 1839, Lord Anthony Ashley Cooper, seventh Earl of Shaftsbury, and known as the “great Reformer” for his championing of more humane treatment of child labor, the mentally ill and prisoners, urged all Jews to emigrate to Israel. In a published article, ”State and Prospect of the Jews,” he expressed concern over the “Hebrew race” but opposed the idea of assimilation and emancipation on the ground that Jews would always remain aliens in countries where non-Jews resided.
Shaftsbury saw Jews playing a key role in the “divine plan” of Christ’s Second Coming. As he interpreted scripture, the Second Coming would transpire only with the Jews living in a restored and converted Israel. Convinced that he should help God bring about the Divine plan of moving all Jews to Palestine, he told his fellow Englishmen that the Jews were vital to a Christian’s hope of salvation.
Ignoring the people living in Palestine at the time, Shaftsbury stated that Palestine was “a country without a nation for a nation without a country”—a phrase later used by Jewish Zionists as “a land without a people for a people without a land.”
Dreams Beyond Israel
Some Christian Zionists have dreams beyond Israel. “Just as early Christian Zionists urged European Jews to go to Palestine and take as much land as they could,” reported Halsell, “so Christian Zionists like Jerry Falwell are urging Jews today to go beyond Palestine and claim all Arab lands that stretch from the River Euphrates on the east, west to the Nile.”
Expressing this mindset in the Congress, Sen. James M. Inofe (R-OK) stated March 4 on the Senate floor, “I believe very strongly that we ought to support Israel...because God said so...Look it up in the Book of Genesis...This is not a political battle at all. It is a contest over whether or not the word of God is true.”
According to Randall Price, founder of World of the Bible Ministries, “In the Book of Genesis, there are territorial dimensions for the land that is given to Abraham and his descendants. It’s from the river of Egypt to the River of the Euphrates.” In Price’s view, Israel’s right to the land, which extends into modern-day Iraq, is absolute. As for the Palestinians, says Price, “Ishmael has said that his descendants would live to the East of their brother. There’s a much larger geographical territory allotted to them.”
It is unlikely that many members of the Jewish organizations now embracing the Christian Right understand the motives and theology of their new allies. Do they understand that Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Tom DeLay and the others support Israel’s most extreme policies—even the “transfer” of Palestinians from the West Bank—not because they seek Middle East peace, but because they are encouraging conflict which, they believe, will hasten the end of the world and the Second Coming of Christ? And what would become of Jews if this scenario occurred? Those who did not become Christians would be condemned to hell while their “allies” were raptured to heaven.
To the extent that U.S. Middle East policy is influenced by such an apocalyptic vision it becomes an instrument which sows discord and makes genuine peace increasingly unlikely. Jewish groups making a theology of embracing every twist and turn in Israeli policy find themselves in a strange alliance with those whose dream is a violent end of the world. It is this dangerous confusion of religion, politics and foreign policy which leads to such strange bedfellows and their current embrace. Such an embrace is likely to bear very bitter fruit indeed.
Allan C. Brownfeld is a syndicated columnist and associate editor of the Lincoln Review, a journal published by the Lincoln Institute for Research and Education, and editor of Issues, the quarterly journal of the American Council for Judaism.