The Religious Right Embraces Zionism
— Andrea Smith
A COALITION OF diverse organizations held the Interfaith Zionist Leadership Summit May 17-18 in Washington, D.C. Sponsors included the National Unity Coalition for Israel, African American Women's Clergy Association, Christian Coalition, Jewish Action Alliance, the Episcopal-Jewish Alliance, and the Jewish Political Education Foundation.
In addition, Hindu Right activists also attended, declaring that “Israel, India, and the United States are three pillars against Islam.”
The rhetoric of this conference is instructive for a number of reasons--it points to new coalitions in formation in the religious Right, and it also points to how virulently anti-Arab significant sectors of the U.S. are.
Islam as a “Terrorist Religion”
Throughout the conference, there was no pretense to view Arab peoples with any humanity at all. For instance, according to Joseph Puder, Director of the American Jewish Congress Interfaith Task Force for America and Israel, the Muslim world has not undergone the reformation that Jews and Christians did that would enable them to adopt democracy, human rights, and women's rights. (Who knew that the Christian Right was such a staunch supporter of women's rights?!)
Thomas Neumann, Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, argued that some people think the problem we face is “radical” Islam, but the problem is in fact Islam. Most Muslims are anti-American and anti-Israel; they are not a fringe who feel this way.
Charles Jacob, who promotes Zionism on college campuses through the Davis Project, offered the following pearls in a power point presentation to explain the difference between Israelis/Jews and “Arabs/Palestinians:”
Israel teaches its kids songs of peace; Arab/Palestinian kids sing songs of hate. Sesame Street is about being a suicide bomber. Israelis make every effort to pre<->vent civilian death; Arabs kill lots of civilizations. Israel is in anguish when civilians are hurt; Palestinians are dancing when atrocities happen. Israeli mothers don't want kids to fight; Palestinian mothers celebrate fighting.
Jacob summed up his presentation saying, I grieve for Palestinian people who have leaders that succumbed to evil, and have fallen prey because of their “perceived sense of oppression.” They are filling their children with hate and death.
Helen Freedman, Americans for a Safe Israel, then declared that “Those who are with Israel are with God.” However, she argued that there is no room to negotiate with Arab peoples because they are “religiously” motivated. There will only be peace, Freedman argued, when Arabs love their children as much as they hate us. But, she said, Arabs are simply incapable of loving their children.
Why “They” Hate “Us”
Many speakers, such as Freedman and Michael Ledeen of the American Enterprise Institute, contended that U.S. colonialism or economic imperialism is not a factor in why there may be resentment against the U.S. from Arab countries.
Rather, the true reason is “hatred, pure hatred.” According to Ledeen, What unites all Arab countries is tyranny. They hate the U.S. not because of our policies, but because we are democratic and believe in liberty. The only thing they want is the defeat of the United States--so it doesn't matter what is the U.S. stance on any particular issue.
They have to come after us because their people see what a “bastion of freedom” we are; and they fear us, because their people would much rather live in our society than in theirs.
Although the speakers tended to equate Palestinians with Islam, many Palestinians are Christian and also oppose Israeli occupation of Palestine. Joann Magnuson, Bridges for Peace, attempted to address the contradiction of evangelical Christians refusing to support Palestinian Christians.
Magnuson argued that we must encourage Palestinian Christians to support Zionism and recognize that their true oppressors are Palestinian leaders. The reasons they do not currently are: 1) They are fearful and intimidated; 2) They are bad Christians who are leading their constituents astray; 3) They have been seduced by Muslims to support bad positions.
Ethnic Cleansing for Peace
The political platform proferred at this conference was the expulsion of all Palestinians into Jordan--the “Two-State Solution” of the Zionist far right. Actually, according to the speakers, there are no such peoples as Palestinians. They are all simply Arabs who have no claim to the land Israel currently occupies.
Speakers also advocated that the United States topple Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the Palestinian Authority.
This “two state” solution was articulated in a flyer from Americans for a Safe Israel, with the following underlying concepts:
a) All people are entitled to a national land. b) The Arabs held in refugee camps are the only people who have remained unsettled in the land of their people since WWII. c) Israel is a Jewish land by religious, historical and security fiat. d) Jordan, although once comprising part of the Biblical Land of Israel and Balfour's Palestine, now contains an Arab-Palestinian state whose population is over seventy percent Palestinian, and as there is no Palestinian language, religion or culture, those in Israel will be at home in Jordan or any Arab nation.
What is to be done? Refugee camps are to be closed, and those who have endured its horrors are now free to resettle in Jordan or other Arab countries, which will welcome them and where they share a common culture. This course would be shared by all those designed as refugees.
Those living within Judea, Samaria, and Gaza will be offered a financial inducement by buying their property, etc. if they choose to resettle. Those remaining within Israel will be declared citizens of Jordan with the appropriate legal steps taken so that they remain within Israel and loyal to Israel law.
Another flyer from the same organization offered “What we stand for:” Jerusalem is the eternal and exclusive capital of the sovereign Jewish State. The entire Land of Israel belongs to the Jewish People, alone. There is no “Palestine” and there is no “Palestinian People.”
The Arabs are not seeking a real peace; their goal is the destruction of Israel. The world must not attempt to force Israel into making suicidal territorial concessions. Israel must always maintain the ability to militarily defend itself and protect its own vital interests.
Israel must return to the Biblical values that guided the Jewish People throughout its history. Israel must continue to develop as a nation with a vibrant free-market economy. Terrorist organizations, and the rogue nations that support them, must be destroyed.
War Yes, Road Map No
Daniel Pipes of the Middle East Forum contended that there can be no “quick fix” solution through peace road maps. It is a war; one side will win and one side will lose. Israelis must defeat the Palestinians.
Ledeen similarly argued that war is the natural state of humankind. The only time there is peace is when the winners (which are the United States and Israel) impose the terms of peace on those who have been defeated.
We have to topple Iran, Saudi Arabia and Syria, stated Ledeen, so then we can go to the Palestinians and demand to know what they really want. “If you want peace, we're with you, but if you want to drive Jews into the sea and absorb it into a greater Palestine, then you're next.”
The focus of this conference was to garner broad-based opposition to the Bush administration's Road Map to Peace. The participants almost entirely agreed that they would not vote for Bush if he continued to support this road map.
A sizeable contingent of the pro-Zionist population is prepared to make support for Israel a bottom-line voting issue, while the pro-Palestinian side is not as successful in making this a central voting issue among progressives.
The speakers identified the problem in the Bush administration with Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice and the State Department. The Summit issued a declaration opposing the Road Map. In addition, the organizations are organizing to send a million emails to the President opposing the Road Map.
Other organizations are focusing on speaking tours on college campuses to oppose the rampant “anti-Semitic, anti-Israel” sentiment among “leftist” professors. Still others, such as CAMERA, organize campaigns and lawsuits against PBS to stop the portrayal of pro-Palestinian viewpoints. Bridges for Peace and other groups organize to bring Christians to Israel to increase support for Zionism.
Coalition-Building for Zionism
This conference serves as indicator of the coalitions and potential coalitions that sectors of the Christian Right are attempting to carve. This effort marked an inter-religious effort, even including sectors of the Hindu Right, which are generally thought of as demonic by evangelical Christians.
David Blewett, President National Christian Leadership Conference for Israel, spoke on the efforts of his organization to specifically target liberal and mainline denominations represented by the National Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches.
The rhetorical approach Blewett takes to gather support from more liberal Christians is to argue that Christians are persecuted by Palestinians, and should Palestine gain control over these areas, that they will deprive Christians of their ability to visit sites of importance to Christians, such as Bethlehem.
In addition, speakers argued that in light of the Holocaust, it is a Christian duty to support Israel because anti-Zionism is equivalent to anti-Semitism. The road map to peace was often equated by conference speakers with the appeasement of Hitler during the 1930s.
Some organizations appear to specifically target African American organizations with the argument that since Jewish people support African Americans in the civil rights struggle, African Americans now owe it to Jewish people to support Israel. Part of this campaign involves highlighting Muslim oppression of Africans in Sudan to argue that Muslims are particularly anti-Black.
Gerald Bell, a pastor of the Southern Baptist Church in Roxbury, Massachusetts, began his talk saying that he was happy to address “right-wing White Christians, but I'm a registered Democrat.” However, he argued, “I stand with the Jewish people, because the Jewish people stood with my people. They marched with Martin Luther King before it was fashionable to do so. Jewish people stand up for people of color around the world.”
Bell stated that Blacks are being killed and enslaved by an Arab jihad, and that Israel saved all the Jewish people of Ethiopia.
Rifts Within the Evangelicals
Many speakers argued that support for Israel was a biblical mandate. For instance, Gary Bauer, formerly of the Family Research Council argued that “the land of Israel was owned by God, and only God can give it away. He gave it to the Jewish people.”
It is also important to note, however, that there is not necessarily a consensus within evangelical Christianity that evangelical faith requires support for Zionism.
For one thing, many evangelicals support a “supercessionist” theology which holds that God no longer has a covenant with Jewish people, hence there is no particular reason why Israel should be a Jewish state.
Also, Palestinian Christians are becoming increasingly visible within evangelical circles, causing many white evangelical Christians to question their allegiances in this issue. A recent book, Whose Promised Land? by Colin Chapman, was recently published by an evangelical press, Baker Books, which argues that Zionism is not the position that evangelicals should take.
In addition, while there was much support for the U.S. war on terror, some speakers also expressed resistance to Bush's attack on civil liberties through such policies as the Patriot Act.
For instance, presidential candidate Alan Keyes, contended that in response to this threat of terrorism we are surrendering our own liberties. “The real threat of terrorism is the reaction it sets.” We are surrendering more and more power to big government and losing our way of life, said Keyes.
In fact, many Christian Right groups, such as Prison Fellowship, are calling on their constituents to oppose the Patriot Acts. This opposition suggests possible angles to garner broader based resistance to the Bush agenda.
ATC 106, September-October 2003