As I reported for the Nation in my most recent article, "The Birth Pangs of a New Christian Zionism," the White House has convened a series of meetings over the past few months with leaders of Christians United for Israel (CUFI), a newly formed political organization that tells its members that supporting Israel's expansionist policies is "a biblical imperative." CUFI's Washington lobbyist, David Brog, told me that during the meetings, CUFI representatives pressed White House officials to adopt a more confrontational posture toward Iran, refuse aid to the Palestinians and give Israel a free hand as it ramped up its military conflict with Hezbollah.
The White House instructed Brog not to reveal the names of officials he met with, Brog said.
Brog, the former chief-of-staff to Arlen Specter, is now the first full-time lobbyist for the Christian Zionism movement. He claims that CUFI's lobbying efforts, including organizing 3500 evangelical activists to visit congressional offices as Israel and Hezbollah exchanged their first salvoes of missiles, are having an impact. "There is an ongoing debate in Washington over how long to let Israel continue the campaign against Hezbollah--how long will we let Israel fight its war on terror as we fight our own war on terror?" Brog told me. "And I think the arrival in Washington at that juncture of thousands of Christians who came for one issue and one issue only, to support Israel, sent a very important message to the Administration and the Congress, and I think helped persuade people that they should allow Israel some more time."
But CUFI has more on its agenda than simply "supporting Israel." Its founder and president, Pastor John Hagee, is determined to see America and Israel adopt his Armageddon-based worldview as their foreign policy. Consider what Hagee wrote this year in Charisma magazine: ""The coming nuclear showdown with Iran is a certainty. Israel and America must confront Iran's nuclear ability and willingness to destroy Israel with nuclear weapons. For Israel to wait is to risk committing national suicide."
Hagee's desire to doom the now-dormant Israeli-Palestinian peace process is equally disturbing. As I detailed in the Nation, in his book, The Beginning of the End, Hagee celebrated the murder of former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin as a fulfillment of biblical prophecy and glorified his assassin, Yigal Amir. More recently, Hagee's allies, like nationally syndicated evangelical radio host Janet Parshall, became ecstatic at the outbreak of violence in Lebanon and Israel. "These are the times we've been waiting for," Parshall told her audience on July 21. "This is straight out of a Sunday school lesson."
Time and again, Christian Zionists have delighted in events that most Israelis considered grave tragedies. And yet, Israel continually expends more energy cultivating their support than it does on earning much-needed international goodwill. Case in point: after calling Ariel Sharon's descent into a comatose state God's punishment for the "dividing the land," Pat Robertson was granted a personal meeting yesterday with Sharon's successor, Ehud Olmert. Afterwards, Robertson told his 700 Club viewership that the Lebanese people were "sheltering a terrorist group" and urged them to pray for an Israeli military victory.
Even as Israel alienates the international community by pursuing extreme militaristic solutions to its problems, it can count on unflagging support from America's evangelicals. It has recycled a strategy employed during the Cold War by authoritarian, anti-communist governments waging purportedly existential battles against dark-skinned barbarian hordes. For these regimes, the Bible Belt provided a natural constituency.
When international opinion turned against South Africa's apartheid regime in the 1980's, it presented itself to evangelicals as a final redoubt of Christian civilization in a sea of Afro-militant communism. Robertson responded with repeated denounciations of Mandela and the ANC on the 700 Club. Similarly, when evangelical Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios-Montt initiated a scorched-earth campaign (with Israeli military assistance) to exterminate his country's Mayan population, he called on Robertson for PR help. Robertson leapt to aid his friend, hosting a telethon for Guatemala's military. He even funded the construction of "model villages" (read: concentration camps) for the Mayans who survived the massacres. Israel has clearly applied the lessons of the past.
But it would be simplistic to expect Israel to continue down the dead-end road paved by regimes like those of P.W. Botha and Rios-Montt. For all its flaws, Israel has one of the most resilient and politically sophisticated societies in the world. When the dust clears in Lebanon, Israelis will realize that their problems can only be solved through politics. And someday, they will have to deal with the Palestinians again. But then what?
What if a future Israeli government decides, as Yitzhak Rabin did, that Israel can live in the world and survive -- and even thrive? And what if a future American government backs Israel by mobilizing international allies behind a new land-for-peace effort? Most Americans would probably support this as they did in the past. American Jews would back a peace process if convinced there was a viable partner. And polls consistently show Israeli opinion in favor of the establishment of a Palestinian state. But in such a scenario, so-called Christian Zionists would reveal themselves as one of Israel's worst enemies. They have their own agenda and it has nothing to do with peace.