Religious Right Relishing Road Map's
-- Rev. Jimmy Lee Swaggart, March, 1985
Fundamentalist Christians in the U.S. are looking to last month's attack on a convoy of U.S. diplomatic and CIA vehicles in the Gaza Strip -- which killed several U.S. citizens -- as a watershed event that will hopefully force the Bush Administration to re-evaluate its involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Shortly after the October 15 attack the Jerusalem Prayer Team, a U.S.-based Christian fundamentalist organization, introduced an e-mail "Action Alert" with the following: "The Bush Doctrine is being challenged by Arafat's PLO terrorist organization. If the Bush Doctrine is defeated, then the war on terrorism is lost. If Israel loses her war on terrorism, America will lose her war on terrorism. The future of America hangs in the balance."
The Jerusalem Post posed three questions about a potential U.S. response to the attack: "If Palestinian Islamic militants are now targeting Americans in their war with Israel, how should the White House respond to this dangerous escalation? Did Yasser Arafat know about the attack in advance? Did he approve it, even tacitly? What is the future of the Bush Administration's 'Road Map' since the Palestinian side staunchly refuses to crack down on terror for fear of triggering a civil war?"
Aluf Benn, the diplomatic correspondent for Ha'aretz, an Israeli daily newspaper, wrote: "In the immediate aftermath of the bomb attack... Israel is making the argument it has been trying to make since the Sept. 11 terror attacks in the U.S. and since the war in Iraq -- that it and America are facing the same enemy. That the enemy in Baghdad is the same as the enemy in Gaza."
This blow to the "Road Map" came on the heels of increased suicide bombings, Israel's strike against terrorist camps in Syria, its ongoing West Bank "security" fence project, and the Israeli's government's debate over whether Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat should be exiles or assassinated.
In mid-September, in an effort to put a roadblock in the way of Bush's "Road Map," several US fundamentalist Christian organizations sent President Bush a petition urging him to "stop his involvement in the 'land for peace' process," according to Worthy News, a daily Christian-based news service. The petition, organized by Worthy News, Koenig's International News, Bridges for Peace and the International Christian Zionist Center, "presented the Biblical foundation for supporting the nation of Israel and showed the importance of not parceling Israel's covenant land," and serves as a reminder of how opposed to a Palestinian state many fundamentalist Christian groups are.
Religious right ramps up support for Israel
Describing the recent visit to the United States of Binyamin Elon, Israel's Tourism minister and the head of Moledet, "one of the small right-wing parties that help keep Ariel Sharon in power," New York Magazine's Craig Horowitz writes: While the "alliance between the Evangelicals and the Jews is not new, it has suddenly taken on a sense of urgency and an intensity that haven't been seen before."
During his trip, Elon met with a number of fundamentalist Christian leaders including Roberta Combs, president of the Christian Coalition, Mike Evans, founder of the Jerusalem Prayer Team and author of "Beyond Iraq: The Next Move," "a book that depicts Islam as evil and finds biblical harbingers of the end of time in the current global crisis," former presidential candidate Gary Bauer, now head of American Values, and Ed McAteer, one of the founders of the Moral Majority.
Elon's trip began paying dividends as thousands of Christians from around the world -- including a hefty contingent from the US -- participated in the annual mid-October Jerusalem March. According to Israel Insider, the gathering of Christians was organized by the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (ICEJ), which since 1980 has been "the only Christian [sponsored] celebration to take place during the Feast of Tabernacles," which coincides with the Jewish holiday of Sukkot. The daily newsmagazine reported that "officials at Israel's Ministry of Tourism say the festivities are Israel's largest annual tourist event, netting the country some $15 to $18 million a year."
Prime Minister Sharon addressed the crowd during opening ceremonies and thanked the attendees "for coming... and showing solidarity. Your presence," he said, "sends a strong message to the world and your friendship is important to us. Very important."
Over the past few years, Christian fundamentalists in the U.S. have been ramping up their support by forming a number of new organizations to support Israel, sponsoring visits by right-wing Israeli officials, raising and funneling money to favored Israeli charities, and speaking out vociferously against President Bush's "Road Map."
Fundamentalist road map
Last October, the Christian Coalition organized a pro-Israel rally -- called "Israel, You Are Not Alone" -- in Washington to "press for increased support for Israel's fight against terror and oppose the Bush administration's call for the establishment of a Palestinian state," the Jerusalem Post reported.
Early in 2002, one of the Religious right's favorites, Rabbi Daniel Lapin, the president of the conservative Jewish organization Toward Tradition, got together with Gary Bauer, the failed presidential candidate who is now president of American Values, and formed the American Alliance of Jews and Christians (AAJC). According to a Toward Tradition press release, the Washington, D.C.-based AAJC will be a "unique synthesis of Jewish authenticity and Christian grassroots muscle."
In late May of last year, Rabbi Yehiel Eckstein, president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ), and Ralph Reed, former executive director of the Christian Coalition and current Republican Party chairman of Georgia, launched "Stand for Israel." The Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz reported that "Stand for Israel" hopes to become a "Christian version of the pro-Israel lobby on Capitol Hill, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC)." According to New York's Craig Horowitz, Rabbi Eckstein "was named the third-most-important Jew in America by The Forward," because "[h]e spent years as a kind of outcast among his peers for his efforts to foster better relations between Jews and Evangelicals; now the Jewish community has begun to see things his way."
Stand for Israel recently set aside the last Sunday in October for its annual Day of Prayer and Solidarity for Israel and the organization aimed for more than 5 million Christians to show support for Israel in churches across the country.
In July 2002, thanks to a $2 million donation by the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, 400 American Jews moved lock, stock and barrel to Israel. According to the Christian news service, AgapePress, "It was the largest single U.S. group" to move to Israel in 25 years. Bishop Huey Harris, whose church, the First Pentecostal Tabernacle in Elkton, Maryland, helped raise money for the exodus, told AgapePress: "What I'm seeing is the Scriptures being fulfilled right before our very eyes." AgapePress reports: "He says what he is looking for next is for the Church to be raptured, and then Jews receiving Christ as their Messiah."
In early February of this year, a group of prominent Christian broadcasters including Dr. Jerry Rose, Dr. David Clark, Dr. Michael Little, President of the Christian Broadcasting Network, Belarmino "Blackie" Gonzalez joined Dr. Mike Evans, of the Jerusalem Prayer Team, at the Opry Land Hotel in Nashville, TN. to help him launch the Evangelical Israel Broadcasting Network (EIBN).
Armageddon on their minds
According to Dr. Evans, the mission of EIBN "is to guard, protect, and defend Eretz Yisrael and its people until the Messiah comes to Zion." The phrase "until the Messiah comes to Zion" is more than a little troubling, especially if you're a Jew. Many believe that Bishop Harris' vision and Dr. Evans' dedication to the cause is motivated by belief in the "end-times," which will take place in Israel only after the Jews have returned there. "The key episode in pre-millennial theology is an event called 'the rapture,'" writes author Fred Clarkson in Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy. "All the saved Christians, dead and alive, are brought up into the clouds with Jesus prior, during or after (depending of the school of theology) a period called 'the tribulation.'"
Craig Horowitz: "Though specifics are a little sketchy, there is a generally accepted version of events leading up to Judgment Day. First, and this is key, Jews will return to Israel. A wicked world leader -- the Antichrist -- will assume power by deceiving everyone into believing he will bring peace. Soon after, the final battle, the Apocalypse, Armageddon, will be fought.
"At its conclusion, Jesus will descend from Heaven. He will come down the Mount of Olives on the east side of Jerusalem, through the Golden Gate, and into the city. (Just in case, Muslims bricked over the Golden Gate when they controlled the Old City.) There will then be a thousand-year reign of peace on Earth."
In "Armageddon Anxiety: Evil on the Way" William Cook quotes Grace Halsell, author of 14 books including "Prophecy and Politics: The Secret Alliance Between Israel and the US Christian Right," who says Christian Zionists believe that "Every act taken by Israel is orchestrated by God, and should be condoned, supported, and even praised by the rest of us." In 1988, Halsell wrote that "Christian Zionism is a dangerous and growing segment of Christianity."
"These days, however, the [Religious right] movement's agenda appears to have become our president's vision for the country," Maureen Farrell wrote in a Buzzflash.com Reader Commentary just prior to the invasion of Iraq. "[President] Bush's flirtation with End Times rhetoric makes some suspect that he actually perceives himself as God's instrument," columnist and author Gene Lyons pointed out.
The first chapter of Joel Rosenberg's new novel "The Last Days" "deals with Islamic militants targeting and attacking a U.S. diplomatic and CIA convoy heading into Gaza with a massive and deadly bombing. This morning such an event actually happened inside Gaza," Rosenberg, a well-connected conservative activist, columnist and author wrote on the morning of October 15.
"Is the West Bank and Gaza the next battleground in the global war on terror? Should Yasser Arafat be brought to justice, dead or alive, along with Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein?" asks Rosenberg, whose previous best-selling novel, "The Last Jihad," was a fictional account of the war against terrorism that takes America, Israel and Iraq to the brink of a nuclear conflagration. That book was published a few months before the president's invasion of Iraq and has been recently released in paperback.
Politically savvy Christian fundamentalist leaders are wise enough to either deny or to equivocate at the suggestion that their support for Israel -- or for the war in Iraq for that matter -- is rooted in Biblical or End Times theology. In 2002, however, Gary Bauer was a bit more forthright in a conversation with a Washington Post reporter, saying that conservative Christians believe that "America has an obligation to stand by Israel" based on "readings of the Scripture, where evangelicals believe God has promised that land to the Jewish people."
Bill Berkowitz is a longtime observer of the conservative movement. His WorkingForChange.com column Conservative Watch documents the strategies, players, institutions, victories and defeats of the American Right.
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