The impact of Christian Zionism on the Arab-Israeli conflict
[ politics - march 05 ]
Last spring I traveled to Waco, Texas to deliver a lecture at Baylor University, the premier Baptist University in the United States. When leaving the Waco airport to drive to the campus in the car of one of my academic hosts, I saw a huge billboard on the side of the road near the entrance to the airport. The billboard message was: “‘and the Lord said to Jacob... unto they offspring will I give this land.’ Genesis 35:11-12. Pray that president Bush honors God’s covenant with Israel. Call the White House with this message 202-456-1111.” The message was signed “The Religious Roundtable,” which is a Christian Zionist grouping. Baylor University and Waco are in a major evangelical, Christian Zionist location; the George W Bush ranch and the White House retreat are also in that same vicinity. I began my lecture at Baylor last spring by citing this hometown billboard as being indicative of major sentiment in the area in which I was then lecturing.
During a political visit to the United States in late November and early December 2003. Binyamin Elon, an Orthodox Rabbi who lives in the West Bank, is Israel’s Minister in Tourism, an Israeli cabinet member and the head of the political party Moledet, reported that he saw a large, identical billboard in downtown Memphis. Roberta Combs, president of the Christian Coalition; Ed McArteer, one of the founders of the Christian Right Moral Majority; Mike Evans, founder of the Jerusalem Prayer teams; Gary Bauer, the head of American Values, a conservative, Christian grouping; Pat Robertson, the founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network, and a host of other Christian Zionist leaders have cited this same billboard message. Yechiel Eckstein, an Orthodox Rabbi, who has fostered and deepened Christian Zionist and Israeli governmental links and because of this, was named last year by The Forward, a major American Jewish weekly publication, as one of the three most important Jews in the United States, has cited this and some similar messages. Tom De Lay, a leading conservative Republican member of Congress from Texas, who is an avowed evangelical Christian Zionist, cited this billboard message when addressing the Israeli Knesset (parliament) a while ago. He stated as a preface to his statement: “I stand before you today in solidarity as an Israeli of the heart who believes biblically that the struggle in the Middle East is between Israel’s godly good and Arab-evil.” Understandably, numerous Israeli and other politicians and commentators have opined that evangelical Christian Zionists are more important allies for Israel then are American Jews.
Jerry Falwell claims that as a Christian Zionist leader he speaks for 100 million Americans. That is probably an exaggeration, but he may well be speaking for at least 40 to 50 million Americans who are evangelical Christian Zionists. In addition other tens of millions of Americans are part of a more liberal, sometimes termed “main-line,” Christian Zionist contingent.
The first point I am making, therefore, is that when I speak about Christian Zionism, which I shall soon define in more depth, I am speaking about something adhered to by a great number of citizens of the United States. Many of these Americans actively support the government of the state of Israel and its Arab-Israeli conflict policies. Christian Zionists exist in numerous other countries as well. There can be no reasonable doubt, based upon an abundance of empirical evidence, that Christian Zionism and Christian Zionists have significantly and increasingly affected the Arab-Israeli conflict especially since the 1980s and that this influence in the United States - both in regard to public opinion and the government - is currently more of a force than ever before.
As already indicated, I shall focus primarily upon evangelical Christian Zionism. Before going further in that regard, however, I need to provide some additional context and background by defining Zionism per se.
Zionism is one, not the only, theory of Jewish nationalism. As such it postulates a definition - or at least a partial definition - of the Jewish people. From the late 19th century, three distinct and in many ways contrasting versions of Zionism appeared; two were secularist, and one was religious in orientation. One of the secular strains, which I term humanistic Zionism, originated by the great Jewish thinker and writer, Ahad Ha’am, and developed further by Martin Buber and Judah Magnes, was overwhelmed by the other secular version, political Zionism. Until the Holocaust occurred, the third version, religious Zionism, was advocated by a relatively small number of Orthodox Rabbis. Although keeping their own identity and continuing their separate advocacies, political and religious Zionism joined together after the Holocaust. It was nevertheless political Zionism that became and has remained the essence of this Jewish nationalism. The state of Israel came into existence in 1948 as a political Zionist state and has remained such to date. Political Zionism has been legislated into the character of the Jewish state.
Theodore Herzl, a Viennese journalist and writer in the late 19th century, was the father of political Zionism. A few other individuals had earlier suggested some of what became political Zionism, but Herzl creatively added substance and put it together in a coherent, rational way. Herzl’s advocacy is based upon the following absolute theory of anti-Semitism: Jews at some point in time in all nation-states wherein they are in a minority will be persecuted by non-Jews. Jews, therefore, need a state of their own wherein they constitute the majority of the citizenry. As a secularist, Herzl did not at first specify historic Palestine as the locale for the Jewish Zionist state. He accepted the designation of Palestine only because the majority of the Jews in his Zionist movement at that time were Orthodox religious Jews who threatened to leave the movement if Palestine, the land they believed God had promised to the Jews, was not so designated.
The religious Jews in Herzl’s Zionist movement wanted a Jewish, theocratic state. They were the early advocates of the religious strain of Zionism. They constituted only a tiny minority of the worldwide community of Orthodox Jews in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The great majority of Orthodox Jews until World War Two and the Holocaust opposed Zionism. They based their opposition primarily upon the pronouncement by the great Jewish sage, Rabbi Akiva, following the Bar-Kochba revolt against the Romans in 135-136 CE. Rabbi Akiva stated that God would restore the Jewish State again only when the Messiah came and that it would be a sin for Jews to attempt to establish this state prior to the Messiah’s coming. Rabbi Akiva’s pronouncement resulted in three talmudic oaths to which religious Jews swore. (Most reform Jews for differing reasons also opposed Zionism as well as all forms of Jewish Nationalism until the late 1930s.)
The relatively few Orthodox Jews who were religious Zionists in the period from the 1890s until the 1940s did not directly disagree with Rabbi Akiva’s pronouncement. Rather, they argued that the messianic age had begun and that therefore a theocratic Jewish state, based upon the Halacha (Jewish religious law) should be established. This has to date remained the platform of religious Zionism. Much of this is explained in Israel Shahak’s and my book, Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel (Pluto Press).
After the Holocaust and World War Two most Orthodox Jews converted to religious Zionism. A significant minority of Orthodox Jews and their rabbis have nevertheless consistently remained anti-Zionist and are to this day still virulent critics of both Zionism and numerous Israeli state policies and actions, especially those that are oppressive to Palestinians.
Zionism became most significant when the state of Israel came into existence in 1948. Israel is a Zionist state; in its public policy, i.e. laws, it grants rights and privileges to Jews not granted to non-Jews. Israel is a demographic Jewish state. The Zionist objective is to keep it as such.
Having briefly defined and sketched an outline of the development of Zionism per se, I now return to my discussion of Christian Zionism: It is a well-known fact that the state of Israel has enjoyed and continues to enjoy Christian support in the Western world, especially in the United States. This support - religious, economic and political - has been broadly based, coming from liberal and conservative Protestant churches, church associations, church leaders, theologians and lay people. To a lesser degree support has come from Roman Catholicism. A good deal of support has been largely uncritical and sometimes unconditional, deriving mainly from the Holocaust and the resultant guilt felt by Christians that they and their spiritual, religious brethren contributed - at least indirectly - to the killing of the six million Jews by not criticizing and by not attempting to combat the onslaught. This feeling or attitude has to date often overridden serious appraisals and criticisms of how the Jewish state was created and how it has behaved. Zionism, the philosophy of Jewish nationalism legislated into the character of the Jewish state, has been glorified. The literature for all of this is voluminous and contains advocacies by a number of distinguished and significant Christian theologians, e.g. Reinhold Niebuhr, and commentators, e.g. Franklin Littell, Paul Van Buren, Alice and Roy Eckardt, Robert Mcafee Brown, John Paulikowski and others. Jewish-Christian dialogue for the past half-century has been dominated by Holocaust concern.
It nevertheless is also a fact that numerous liberal and conservative, including some fundamentalist, Christian churches, church associations, church leaders, theologians and lay people have expressed concerns for and have supported the cause of the Palestinians. They have been - and to a great extent have remained - critical in varying degrees of certain aspects of Zionism, and most particularly some specific Israeli state policies and actions.
As already stated, my major focus will be fundamentalist, evangelical Christian Zionism. The term evangelical refers to the pietistic strands of Christianity, which stress a literal interpretation of scripture as a framework for the “born again” conversion experience. The Christian Zionists, to whom I shall refer, are certainly evangelicals, but all evangelicals are not Christian Zionists. Much of the Southern Baptist Convention and the charismatic Pentecostal and independent churches support and advocate Christian Zionism as do the evangelical wings of main-line Protestant churches (Presbyterian, United Methodist and Lutheran). The reach of Christian Zionism extends though Christian television, radio and publishing. The National Religious Broadcasting Organization, for example, which controls ninety percent of religious radio and television in the United States, is dominated by Christian Zionists.
Christian Zionism is a central plank of what is often referred to as the Christian Right. The Christian Right includes a growing number of churches, organizations, fellowship groupings and individuals; it is particularly influential in the United States. While allowing for variations in location and among groups, characteristically Christian Zionism takes its cue from a particular reading of certain passages of the Bible, including a specific theological interpretation of the state of Israel. It is largely insensitive to the human rights of Palestinians, demonizes Islam, and assists in the immigration of Jews to Israel. It supports Israeli governments indiscriminately, as a step in the direction of the coming millennium, while too often having little respect for Judaism as such. Since 1980 Israeli prime ministers in particular, have exploited those specific fundamentalist, evangelical individuals and groupings that argue specifically and in some depth that the ingathering of the Jewish people and the rebirth of the nation of Israel are in fulfillment of the Biblical prophecies. Since God gave the land to the Jewish people as an everlasting possession, it is further alleged, Jews have absolute rights over all of it, including the occupied West Bank (Judea and Samaria), Gaza and the Golan Heights. God will bless or curse nations in accordance with their treatment of the Jewish People. In evangelical Christian theology there is a strong emphasis on a certain literalist fulfillment of biblical prophecy, on eschatology and, in some circles, on millenarianism, that brand of eschatology which affirms that the Second coming of Christ will be followed by a 1,000-year reign of blessedness. With regard to the state of Israel, there are two major strands: fulfillment of biblical prophecy and the association of the state with a theology of end-time. Some scholars, e.g. Regina Sharif in her book, Non-Jewish Zionism, argue that the basis for such an association can be traced back to religious changes that accompanied the Protestant reformation in Europe.
John Nelson Darby (1800-82), perhaps more than anyone else, laid the foundations for the development of fundamentalist evangelical Christian Zionism. A minister of the Church of Ireland, Darby renounced the visible Church and organized a group of ‘Brethren’, whose distinctive theology was devised for the final days of history. While the division of history into a number of periods (dispensations) antedated his theological speculations, Darby divided it into seven epochs, beginning with creation, and ending with the millennial Kingdom of Jesus, following the battle of Armageddon, views he claims to have derived from his exegesis of Scripture and from personal proddings of the Holy Spirit.
Rather then subscribing to the view that the Church replaced Israel, Darby claimed that Israel would replace the Church, which was a mere parenthesis to God’s continuing covenantal relationship with Israel. Those portions of biblical prophecy and apocalyptic that had not been fulfilled already would be completed in the future. He invoked apocalyptic language to postulate a two-stage Second Coming of Christ. The first “invisible appearing” would involve the rapture of the saints: the faithful remnant of the Church. This remnant especially his own followers, would return to earth with him after seven years. The seven-year long rapture in the air would be marked on earth by the “great tribulation” of natural disasters, wars and civil unrest. After the rapture, the faithful Jewish remnant would observe Law, and rule on earth for a millennium.
BW Newton, Darby’s chief assistant in Plymouth, proposed a variant: the Jews would be restored only after the return of Christ, who would bring them to the faith in the Messiah, making them into a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. With his authority waning in Britain, Darby concentrated on North America, where he influenced such evangelical leaders as Dwight L Moody, William E Blackstone and CI Schofield with his emerging Bible and Prophecy Conference movement that set the tone for the evangelical and fundamentalist movements in North America between 1875 and 1920. Typically, dispensationalists predict that that the present age is a penultimate one: biblical prophecy finds its fulfillment in the birth of the state of Israel, and soon Christ will come in glory to bring matters to a cataclysmic triumph over the forces of evil at Armageddon.
There has been strong support for the establishment of a Jewish commonwealth among American evangelicals for well over a century, due in no small measure to Darby and those whom he influenced. For William E Blackstone, Zionism was the fulfillment of prophecy. He visited Palestine in 1889 and was impressed by the agricultural settlements in the first Aliya (movement of Jews to Palestine), all “signs of the time,” indicating that the end-time would come very soon. Zionist leaders passed over Blackstone’s real hopes for the Jews and his disparagement of the Jewish law as an agent of salvation as the price for his support for the Zionist venture.
The evangelical constituency was critical of the British policy after 1920 of limiting the number of Jewish immigrants and was disdainful of Arab opposition for which, these evangelicals claimed, Arabs would pay dearly for their rebellion against God. A coalition between Christian evangelicals and secular Jewish Zionists had enough advantage for each party to co-operate on the one issue of the establishment of a Jewish state. Their example has been followed by all Israeli prime ministers since Menachem Begin in 1977. Up to the 1970s, the evangelicals did not have significant influence over American policy, but they have since exerted considerable influence. When it came to power in 1977, the Likud Party in Israel began to use religious language to advance its revisionist Zionist agenda, which was popular with some branches of American Christianity; efforts were made to forge bonds between evangelical Christians and pro-Israel lobbies. The evangelical Christian constituency was a major factor in the election of Jimmy Carter to the Presidency in 1976 and of Ronald Reagan in 1980. In 1980 more then 80 per cent of the Christian Right supported the candidacy of Reagan. The stage was set for promoting an alliance between the conversionist goals of evangelical Christianity and the political aspiration of Zionism. The establishment of the state of Israel is an important element in such a worldview. The Jews have returned to their ancient homeland and will themselves be ruled by a Jewish imposter of the Messiah. But the return of Jesus, the true Messiah, will end the anti-Christ’s rule and establish the millennial kingdom. Those Jews who survive will welcome Jesus as their savior. During the 1,000-year reign, Jesus would establish his capital in Jerusalem, the center of the world government, and the Jewish people, now living within the boundaries of the ancient kingdom of David, would assist him in his administration. The evangelical world viewed the birth of Israel as the first clear sign of the fulfillment of biblical prophecy and the final countdown to Armageddon. Israel’s amazing victory over Arab armies in June 1967 confirmed the prophetic scenario. Immediately after the war L Nelson Bell, editor of the mouthpiece of conservative evangelicalism, wrote, “That for the fist time in more than 2,000 years Jerusalem is now completely in the hands of the Jews gives the student of the bible a thrill and a renewed faith in the accuracy and validity of the Bible.”
Hal Lindsey’s book, The Late Great Planet Earth (1970), described by the New York Times in 1993 as the number one non-fiction best seller of the decade, of which well over 27 million copies in English and an estimated 20 million more in 54 foreign languages have been sold, reflects a typical evangelical mixture of biblical literalism and political analysis with biblical prediction fulfilled almost to the letter. In Lindsay’s interpretation of the fig tree the most important sign for Matthew was to be the restoration of the Jews to the land in the rebirth of Israel: When the Jewish People, after nearly 2,000 years of exile became a nation again on 14 May 1948, the ‘fig tree’ put forth its first leaves. But the restoration was only a stage in Lindsay’s eschatology. Under attack from godless communism and militant Islam the state of Israel would fight an apocalyptic battle at the mount of Megiddo, in which Jesus Christ would come to the rescue, be proclaimed King of the Jews and rule over the nations form the rebuilt temple in Jerusalem. At this point, “Jerusalem will be spiritual center of the entire world. [..] All people of the earth will come annually to worship Jesus who will rule there.”
In the last 10 years the New York Times best-selling Left Behind Series, co-authored by Tim Le Haye and Jerry B Jenkins, a 12-book sequence of novels about the end-time, has emphasized all of Christian Zionist belief in the second coming of Jesus Christ and in the necessity for a Jewish state in historic Palestine and beyond prior to the second coming. In the Left Behind Series Israel is the only nation God favors. The Left Behind Series has sold nearly 70 million copies.
The October War of 1973 gave further fuel to Armageddon theology. President Carter shocked the fundamentalists with his concern for human rights, and with his use of the words, “Palestinian homeland” in a speech in March 1977. Full-page newspaper advertisements then appeared throughout the country, proclaiming: “The time has come for evangelicals to affirm their belief in biblical prophecy and Israel’s divine right to the Holy Land.” Reflecting its concern that Carter’s advocacy of Palestinian rights might conflict with their evangelical interests, the text went on, “We affirm as evangelicals our belief in the promised land to the Jewish people. [..] We would view with grave concern any effort to carve out of the Jewish homeland another nation or political entity.” The swing of the evangelical Christian Right from Carter to Reagan in the 1980 election was a major factor in the former’s defeat.
Jerry Falwell’s “friendship tour to Israel” in 1983 included meetings with top Israeli government and military officials, a tour of Israeli battlefields and inspections of defense installations. Falwell’s tour and trips to Jerusalem supposedly heralded the immigration of Jews into Israel as the sign of the imminent second coming of Jesus Christ. Jews would rapture true Christians into the air, while the rest of humankind would be slaughtered below. Then 144,000 Jews (some dispensationalists say a few more) would bow down before Jesus and be saved, but the remainder would perish in the mother of all Holocausts. This could happen even while the evangelical pilgrims were in Jerusalem, thus giving them a ringside seat at the Battle of Armageddon. (A few Christian Zionists recently changed their position and amended this prophecy of destructions of all but 144,000 Jews. In agreement with some other Christians they now maintain that God in a separate covenant put Jews in a special category, by which they, or at least most of them, would avert destruction.)
The views summarized here are at the core of the normal creed of evangelicals. Of some influence in this creed was the carefully orchestrated and heavily financed campaign, coordinated by Jerry Strober, a former American Jewish Committee employee, who recognized the value of the evangelicals to the Israelis. As the committee’s national inter religious affairs director, Rabbi Marc Tannenbaum, attested later, the pro-Israeli lobby felt abandoned by the mainstream Protestant Churches and National Council of Churches, both of which were sympathetic to Third World countries and supported the Palestinians. The lobby then targeted the evangelicals, who, as already mentioned, had as many as 50 million Americans and a lot of money. Prime Minister Begin presented Jerry Falwell with the Jabotinsky Award from the Government of Israel in appreciation of his support. Pat Robertson charted the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982 with daily reports on CBN (Christian Broadcasting Network), interpreting the events according to the end-time fulfillment of biblical prophecy. Israeli’s attack was a modern Joshua event. Robertson urged American viewers to phone President Reagan immediately, offering encouragement to Israel’s war against the Palestinians.
Together with the power of the Israeli lobby, the influence of the North American evangelical right wing is a major factor preventing the United States from exercising even-handedness in the Middle East. On January 27, 1992, for example, a full-page advertisement in the Washington Times claimed: “Seventy Million Christians Urge President Bush to Approve Loan Guarantees for Israel.” That same day, Hal Lindsay became a consultant on Middle East affairs to both the Pentagon and the Israeli government. The evangelical Right was responsible for the pro-Israel advertisement in the New York Times on April 10,1997, titled “Christians Call for a United Jerusalem,” supporting the uncompromising Likud Party position on Jewish sovereignty over the entire city. Some evangelical bodies, moreover, have compensated in recent years for the fall-off of some American Reform and Conservative Jewish support of the Jewish National Fund by providing substantial financial donations.
In Jerusalem the leader of the International Christian Embassy has continued to insist that Israel be faithful to its role within God’s cosmic plans. He has consistently maintained that Israel should listen to God rather than to the United Sates Secretary of State and should not give up territory. In his apocalyptic reading of human history, Islam is satanic, and the mosques on the Temple Mount must be destroyed in order to prepare for the coming of the Lord and the rebuilding of the temple. Indeed, no event in everyday Israeli political life is above the possibility of being interpreted as a fulfillment of a biblical prophecy. In the United States Pastor John Hagee from San Antonio established himself as not just a prophetic voice on the end-time but a “prophet for our generation.” According to Hagee, whose books have each sold well over 500,000 copies, even the assassination of Prime Minister Rabin was in fulfillment of biblical prophecies, auguring the imminent arrival of Armageddon and the end of days. The peace process, Hagee and others have maintained, will result in the most devastating war Israel has ever known, after which the Messiah will come.
For their part, successive Israeli governments have entered into a marriage of convenience with the International Christian Embassy, happy to use this as a means of gaining support for Israel from some groups of Christians, while ignoring its eschatological expatiations. Prime Minister Netanyahu addressed its annual conference at the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles again in 1998. Ehud Olmert, the then Mayor of Jerusalem, assured the gathering, “I’m going to tell the Prime Minister, The Defense Minister, the Chief of Staff you are part of our army, of our power, of our defense.” The audience contained representatives of Christian Friends of Israeli Communities, an organization that twins churches in the United States with Israeli settlements.
In 1996 the Proclamation of the Third International Christian Zionist Congress clearly and simply outlined the position of many fundamentalist, evangelical Christian Zionists. This proclamation, which has often been reiterated since, stated: 1) God judges all people on how well they treat Jews. 2) Islam comprises an anti-Jewish and anti-Christian distortion of the true faith of Abraham. 3) Jews have the absolute right to possess and dwell in the Golan Heights and all of what are now the occupied territories as an everlasting possession by and eternal covenant with God. 4) Islamic claims to Jerusalem derive not from the Quran or early Islamic traditions but from later, more secular origins. 5) Jerusalem must remain undivided under Israeli sovereignty ant the capital of Israel only.
In the late 1990s, as previously noted, donations to Israel and the Jewish National Fund declined because of the tensions between Orthodox Jews in Israel and the Reform and Conservative Jews in the United States. The loss of funding caused the Likud Party to turn even more to Christian Zionists for assistance, an appeal that met with quick response. Additional support came from campaigns led by the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews and headed by a former Anti-Defamation League employee, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein. In 1997 this campaign clamed that it had raised many millions of dollars from fundamentalist Christians. John Hagee’s Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas, presented Eckstein with more than one million dollars for resettling Jews from the former Soviet Union in the West Bank and Jerusalem. Again, these American Christian Zionists send millions of dollars each year to the Israeli government. The conservative estimate is that these people have sent at least 75 million dollars just to settle Jewish immigrants in the West Bank and to support the settlers. The Reverend James Hutchens, president of the Christians for Israel/ United States, claims that his organization alone had by 1999 financed the immigration of 65,000 Jews to Israel. These Christians have for years urged the United States Congress to increase its aid to Israel. The Reverend John Hagee, among others, is especially keen about all of this, because he believes that God will greatly expand the boundaries of the state of Israel. As Hagee wrote in book, Beginning of the End (1996): “Given these boundaries found in Holy Scripture, we discover that Israel will have far more land when the Messiah comes than she presently does. Israel’s boundaries established time and time again in the Old Testament, will include all of present-day Israel, all of Lebanon, half of Syria, two-thirds of Jordan, all of Iraq and the northern portion of Saudi Arabia... God told Abraham that the land would belong to his offspring forever.” (Hagee, Beginning of the End, pp23-4, 30.) Hagee is but one of many Christian Zionist leaders who have taken such a position. American Christian Zionists have for a number of years said that they are a more important source of support of Israel than are American Jews and the Israeli lobby. Jerry Falwell in 2002 stated publicly: “It is my belief that the Bible belt in America is Israel’s only safety belt right now.”
In December, 2000, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told a group of 1,500 Christian Zionist pilgrims who were in Jerusalem: “We regard you as our best friend in the world.”
In a November 15, 2001, article in the Jerusalem Post, titled “U.S. Christians Care More than U.S. Jews,” Jonathon Rosenblum observed that many of Israel’s staunchest supporters in Congress have been influenced more by Christian Zionists than by Jews. Rosenblum noted, as many others have pointed out, that significantly intertwined relationships exist between American Christian Zionist and Israeli political leaders. After being elected prime minister in the late 1990s, Binyamin Natanyahu, for instance, established an Israeli Christian Advocacy Council and flew seventeen prominent Christian Zionist supporters to Israel. Included in the seventeen were the president of the National Association of Evangelicals and the president of the National Religious Broadcasters, whose oversight includes almost ninety percent of all Christian Radio and television broadcasting in North America. Similar trips have occurred more recently.
Christian Zionist influence in the current Bush administration reflects political realities of at least almost three decades. In 1987 polls indicated that 26 per cent of the total membership of the Republican Party adhered to the positions, including Christian Zionism, of the Christian right. By 1999 this had risen to 33 per cent and has since continued to rise. The influence of pro-Israel groups and Christian Zionists in such vital swing states as Texas and all-important Florida may have been the deciding factor for George W Bush in the 2000 and 2004 elections. Bush is certainly aware that he owes a political dept to this voting bloc. George W Bush, who became a born again Christian when he was 39 years old, is clearly a sympathetic follower of evangelical Christian Zionism. His personal minister, Franklin Graham - the son of Billy Graham- is an outspoken Christian Zionist advocate, who in writing and speaking has called Islam evil and Israel God’s nation. President Bush has often had Franklin Graham lead prayer meetings at the White House and at the Pentagon.
After September 11, 2001, the pro-Israeli lobby and Christian Zionists began to close ranks, fearing that George W Bush’s support for Israel was beginning to waver. At the April, 2002, Washington Rally for Israel, for example, an impressive group of politicians was joined by leading voices from Israel and the American Jewish community to address the audience of over 100,000 people on the Washington Mall. The list included former Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, New York Governor George Pataki and others. The loudest cheers of the rally, however, were reserved for Janet Parshall, who hosts her own nationally syndicated radio program, Janet Parshall’s America, and serves as a spokesperson for the Family Religious Council. Parshall drew an immediate ovation when she said: “...We represent millions of Christian broadcasters in this country. We stand with you now and forever.” She went on to loud applause and sustained cheers: “I am here to tell you today [that] we Christians and Jews together will not labor any less in our support for Israel. We will never limp, we will never wimp, and we will never vacillate in our support of Israel.” At this rally Gary Bauer, the president of American Values, told the crowd: “Whoever sits in Washington and suggests to the people of Israel that they have to give up more land in exchange for peace [is uttering] an obscenity.”
In April, 2002 Jerry Falwell reacted to President Bush’s call for Israel to withdraw its troops from Palestinian towns in the West Bank by sending a letter of protest to the White house. More than 100,000 emails from self-identified Christian Zionists followed Falwell’s letter. President Bush has to date not again asked Israel to withdraw. In October, 2002 Falwell commented during a 60-minute television program interview: “We can now count on President Bush to do the right thing every time... There’s nothing that would bring the wrath of the Christian public in this country down on the government like abandoning or opposing Israel in a critical matter... I really believe that, when the chips are down, Ariel Sharon can trust George Bush to do the right thing every time. The Bible is Israel’s safety net in the U.S.” Falwell speaks for a large number of Christian Zionists in the United States. To reiterate, these Christians believe that the modern state of Israel is the fulfillment of biblical prophecy and thus deserves unconditional political, financial and religious support. Christian Zionists work closely, as they have for many years, with religious and secular Jewish Zionist organizations and the Israeli government. A recent Religious News Service report noted: “The Israeli Embassy has begun monthly strategy discussions with evangelicals about increasing Israeli tourism, sponsoring pro-Israeli events on United States campuses and doing more political lobbying in Washington.” On February 15, 2004, Israeli Tourist Minister Binyamin Elon, as previously noted, honored Pat Robertson of CBN at the National Association of Broadcasters Convention in Charlotte. Elon said that Robertson’s leadership saved Israeli tourism from bankruptcy by promoting pilgrimages to the Holy Land despite the United States Government’s travel warnings. After September 11 and an increase in hostilities between Israel and the Palestinians, the pilgrimages continued. Elon estimated that over 400,000 evangelicals traveled to Israel in 2003 and contributed millions of dollars to the Israeli economy. Elon reiterated what Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said in Jerusalem in the fall of 2003 when he addressed 3,000 Christian Zionist evangelicals who had come from the United States, Europe and South Africa: “Coming here, I heard many people say, ‘We love you, we love Israel.’ I tell you now - we love YOU. We love all of you.” Sharon continued: “You did not come here as normal tourists, you came because your souls and hearts brought you here. And when you come here you don’t need a ‘guide book.’ You have the guide book, you have the Bible in your hands.” Many of the Christian Zionists called out to support Sharon in “finishing the job” and encouraged him to “annihilate” Yassir Arafat.
The Israeli Embassy in Washington has recently begun to expand its work with evangelical Christian Zionists in sponsoring pro-Israeli events on United States campuses and doing political lobbying work in Washington. This work was largely initiated in the 1990s during the Clinton administrations.
At first glance it might appear that Christian Zionists and Israeli Jews are strange bedfellows. After all, Christian Zionist theology - or at least most of it - portends doom for the great majority of Jews when the end-time arrives. According to most Christian Zionists only 144,000 Jews will accept and follow Jesus and thus be saved. When in Israel in the summer of 2003, I asked officials of and other individuals close to the Sharon government about all of this, I received a standardized answer. These Israeli Jews considered the Christian Zionist theology “nonsense,” but, of course, they accepted with great thanks the aid and support given by Christian Zionists. The Christian Zionists, with whom I spoke in Israel, said they knew that Israeli Jews viewed their theology as nonsense, but they nevertheless were not dismayed. They merely told me that they were neither receiving direction nor taking orders from Israeli Jews but rather from above. And when they said this, they looked up towards heaven. Be that as it may, Christian Zionists are playing a significant role in the Arab-Israeli conflict. This will likely continue for at least the foreseeable future.