An ethical person - like a politician, banker or lawyer - may know right from wrong, but unlike many of them, a moral person lives it. An Americanist first already knows that.
Bankers and their government agents will always act in their own best interests. Any residual benefit flowing down to the citizens by happenstance will just be litter.
At a press conference in New York on Tuesday billed "pro-Israel," Republican presidential hopeful Rick Perry was flanked by Orthodox Jewish leaders. At first blush the event looked like a play for Jewish voters who would buy his claim that President Obama was a modern-day Neville Chamberlain despite official U.S. opposition to the Palestinian bid for statehood recognition at the United Nations. But while Perry touted his Jewish endorsers, his intended audience was not Jews but Christian Zionists.
Perry, no doubt, seeks the approval of conservative Jewish pundits and the campaign contributions of hawkish donors. But in the battle to prove himself to the crucial voters in evangelical-heavy early primary states like Iowa, South Carolina and Florida, Perry needs to distinguish himself from the merely Israel-supportive Mitt Romney.
And for that, he needs to prove beyond the boilerplate Israel-is-America's-greatest-ally that he embraces Israel's role in what Christian Zionists believe is prophesied in the Bible: that the establishment of the state of Israel is one step in the chain of events that will lead to a bloody showdown at Armageddon and culminate in the Second Coming of Christ. As a Texan, Perry is well familiar with this base, and in particular the religious underpinnings of its beliefs. His friend John Hagee, the San Antonio televangelist who endorsed and spoke at Perry's August prayer rally the Response, is a leading Christian Zionist who in 2006 founded Christians United for Israel, which in short order became the leading Christian Zionist political organization in the country. With a national network of pastors and supporters who host regular "pro-Israel" events at churches, and Hagee's solid relationships with both Republican and Democratic elected officials, CUFI has managed to transform Hagee's apocalyptic fervor into a political movement with the ear of prominent politicians.
Perry, many of these politicians understand that CUFI’s followers
represent a significant swath of evangelical Republican voters. A 2005 pollby the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life
found that white evangelicals were “significantly more likely to
believe that God gave the land of Israel to the Jews” than other
respondents (72 percent versus 44 percent) and “significantly more
likely to believe that Israel fulfills the biblical prophecy about
Jesus’ second coming” (63 percent versus 36 percent).
also found that “traditionalist” evangelicals, the largest evangelical
subgroup, which is characterized by its orthodoxy and church attendance,
are most likely to agree that U.S. policy should favor Israel over the
Palestinians. Traditionalist evangelicals, Pew found, provided George W.
Bush with 27 percent of his total votes in the 2004 election.
2008, though, John McCain notoriously rejected Hagee’s endorsement, a
move that startled and angered evangelical leaders.
Without missing a
beat, Perry has enthusiastically embraced him, building on his
appearance at Hagee’s church the Sunday before Election Day 2006, and
then welcoming him as a leader in the Response. At that event last
month, where Hagee compared Perry to Abraham Lincoln, a section of the
stadium was reserved for — and filled with — members of Hagee’s
Many, like Sarah Palin has,
were sporting Judaica — Stars of David, yarmulkes, prayer shawls — to
demonstrate their claimed affection for all things Jewish. But for
Hagee’s followers, this fetishizing of all things Jewish is motivated by
the belief that when Jesus comes back, the world will be ruled by a
rabbi, and they’d better be ready to adopt Jewish practices. Still,
though, they believe one needs to accept Jesus as savior now, so they
won’t be left behind when the Rapture happens.
like Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman dismiss concerns that Hagee is
animated by a biblical prophecy about Armageddon, Perry knows full well
that Hagee’s followers are indeed motivated by prophecy, not policy. In
an email alert this week, CUFI touted that “CUFI is making a difference!
Israel is rapidly becoming an issue recognized by millions of Americans
as a key factor in our national security and an essential requirement in receiving God’s blessings as a nation and a people.” (emphasis added)
on Tuesday whether he considered supporting Israel a theological
priority, Perry responded, “Well, obviously, Israel is our oldest and
most stable democratic ally in that region.” That’s the boilerplate, but
then he went on, “That is what this is about. I also as a Christian
have a clear directive to support Israel. So from my perspective, it’s
pretty easy. Both as an American and as a Christian, I am going to stand
Perry’s directive is straight from the Christian
Zionist reading of Genesis 12:3: God “blesses” those who “bless” Israel
and “curses” those who do not. Like the theme of Perry’s Response — that
America must collectively repent for “sins” like abortion — this view
is premised on the notion that God will punish America if it doesn’t
“support” Israel. In his 2006 book, “Jerusalem Countdown,” Hagee argued
that God would curse America with terrorist attacks if it didn’t
militarily strike Iran to destroy its nuclear program.
blessings and curses don’t just apply to a failure to strike Iran, but
to any U.S. support for the Israel-Palestine peace process, and in
particular, dismantling of the Jewish settlements in the occupied
territories. I once interviewed a woman at Hagee’s church who believed
that Hurricane Katrina was God’s punishment for what she termed the
“Gaza land giveaway,” otherwise known as Israel’s 2005 pullout from the
“Jerusalem Countdown” was recently made into a film
featuring, among others, Stacey Keach, Lee Majors and Randy Travis, and
is endorsed by the American Family Association, the anti-gay,
anti-Muslim Christian right group that bankrolled the Response. The website for the film
reveals the real heart of Hagee’s polemic, noting that it “highlights
the reality of an inevitable conflict between Israel and Islam.”
cosmic battle with Islam is also the theme of the propaganda films
“Relentless,” “Obsession” and “The Third Jihad,” produced by the Clarion
Fund, an offshoot of the Orthodox Jewish group Aish Hatorah. The films
are widely promoted to evangelical audiences. The Clarion Fund has ties
to Jewish businessman Irwin Katsof, who paid for a Perry trip to Israel
in 2007, where his firm Global Capital Associates gave the governor a
“Friend of Zion” award.
Perry’s allies in Israel also understand
how to play the Christian Zionists. Far-right Knesset Deputy Speaker
Danny Danon, who appeared with Perry in New York, argues Israel should
annex the West Bank to punish the Palestinians for pursuing statehood.
He apparently inspired Illinois Rep. Joe Walsh (of deadbeat dad fame) to
introduce a congressional resolution supportive of an Israeli
annexation of “Judea and Samaria” should the Palestinians continue their
quest for U.N. statehood recognition.
Although at the Tuesday
press conference Perry claimed to not know of Danon’s annexation demand,
he, like Walsh, understands that his audience is the Christian
Zionists, not American Jews. In fact, prominent Jews question his
allies. When his friend Danon staged a show trial
in the Knesset in an effort to portray the American group J Street as
“anti-Israel” for its support of a two-state solution, even the
Anti-Defamation League’s Abe Foxman, criticized by liberal Jews for,
among other things, his opposition to the Park51 community center in New
York, called Danon’s hearings “inappropriate” and “counterproductive.”
And this week, J Street’s president Jeremy Ben Ami called Perry’s
“pro-Israel” press conference “one of the most irresponsible things I
have ever seen in my three decades in American politics.”
Zionism is not without its evangelical critics. On the same day that
Perry held his news conference, the evangelical scholars David Gushee
and Glen Stassen released an open letter
to their Christian Zionist brethren accusing them of underwriting sin
against the Palestinians. Pleading with their evangelical brethren to
rethink their reading of biblical texts, the pair argued, “it is
overwhelmingly clear that American evangelical-fundamentalist Christian
Zionism affects US policy toward Israel and the Palestinians in
distressing ways. It is one reason why the United States stands almost
alone in the world community in supporting Israeli policies which our
international friends generally find intolerable if not immoral and
The dire tone of Gushee and Stassen’s letter
demonstrates just how powerful (and destructive) the Christian Zionist
ideology has been. Perry understands the power, but has chosen to
overlook the destruction.