Throughout the Cold War era and into the present time, U.S. censure of Israeli policies has been rare. (1) When expressed, official criticisms are sparing and muted, the most recent examples of this phenomenon being the U.S. responses to Israel's targeted assassinations of HAMAS leaders Sheikh Ahmad Yasin and 'Abd al-'Aziz Rantisi. (2) These targeted killings were the latest twist in the U.S. effort to establish peace in Israel/Palestine, the "roadmap" for peace introduced by the Bush administration in April 2003. From its genesis, the roadmap was threatened by Palestinian and Israeli violence, the latter undergirded by institutional noncompliance. Palestinian difficulties in implementing the roadmap were epitomized by Abu Mazen's fitful efforts to negotiate a ceasefire with the three major organizations of Palestinian militants; Israel's difficulties centered around its unwillingness to remove several settler outposts in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) and its continued insistence on the construction of a security barrier, also mostly within the OPT.
Between restoration and liberation: theopolitical contributions
and responses to U.S. foreign policy in Israel/Palestine.
Robert O. Smith.
In the U.S., the roadmap faced domestic difficulties as well. Evangelical leaders such as Gary Bauer and Pat Robertson denounced the roadmap as doomed to failure since (a) the Palestinians are incapable of peaceful coexistence, and (b) the land of Greater Israel (the land stretching from the Mediterranean to the Godordan River cannot be divided since it has been promised by to the Jews: American evangelicals and their Jewish counterparts--American and Israeli--lobbied the Bush administration to withdraw the plan. These efforts were widely reported as evidence of a coalescing theopolitical perspective known as "Christian Zionism."
This essay will explore the theological perspectives informing the special relationship Between the U.S. and Israel. Attention will be given to Christian Zionism and its relation to perspectives expressed by--le American Jewish community, neoconservative policymakers and commentators, American evangelicals, and mainline Christian groups. Since Christian Zionism is not merely a political perspective but is instead theopolitical, an effort will be made to explore its engagement with other theological perspectives on Israel/Palestine and the IsraeliPalestinian conflict. The essay closes with a theopolitical critique of Christian Zionism and some reflections on the relation of religion to state power.
AMERICAN EVANGELICALS AND ISRAEL
The special relationship between the U.S. and Israel has been strong, in both material and sentiment, since the genesis of the state. With the Truman Doctrine--conceived within the bosom of the Cold War--the U.S. shifted from an isolationist power fighting wars of containment to being an internationalist power supporting "free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or By outside pressures" (when, it must be added, the goals of those peoples match their own). (4) While Israel has long conceived of itself as a Western state, tensions arose early-on between the choice of either communism or liberal democracy. With significant U.S. courting, Israel chose the latter; concern for supporting Israel as the lone democracy in the region resonates to this day. (5) During the Cold War, Russian threats to Israel amplified the lesser danger of the state's more immediate neighbors and focused U.S. attention on Israel's proximity to Middle East oil reserves. While too far away from the Persian Gulf to fully secure the flow of oil, Israel during the first Gulf War proved its willingness to make strategic contributions to U.S. concerns. (6) Perhaps most important--and an analogue to Truman's worries regarding Greek nationalism--is Israel's apparent ability to serve U.S. interests by counteracting nationalist movements in its Arab neighborhood. (7) Israel has thus far been able to convince the U.S. that a strong Israeli presence in the region is a Metzia (bargain) (8) for its primary sponsor.
The U.S. willingness to support Israel has been explained from a variety of perspectives, from thinly veiled anti-Semitic attacks on Jewish empowerment to more salient investigations of Israel's strategic benefit to American aims in the region. While much attention has been focused on a formidable pro-Israel lobby (including some very balanced critiques), U.S. interest in Israel cannot be explained solely by the efforts of a pro-Israel lobby in the halls of Congress. As Kenneth Wald states in concurrence with Leo Ribuffo, foreign policies had advocated by ethnic groups succeed "only to the extent that they a allies outside their own communities, could frame their policy in terms that resonated with American values, and, perhaps most importantly, offered plans consistent with American national interest as perceived by the president and public opinion." (9) While Israel has succeeded on all counts, the willingness of George H.W. Bush to confront Israeli disregard for international conventions--coinciding with the apparent end of the Cold War--proves the dominance of the final criterion. In the next sections, we will explore the political 'alliance forged between American evangelical Christians and Israeli politicians and lobbyists. This exploration will take account of the wavering American Jewish unanimity in support of Israel prior to the Second Intifada and the dramatic strengthening of U.S.-Israeli relations following 11 September 2001 and the ensuing War on Terror.
THE AMERICAN JEWISH COMMUNITY
U.S. support for Israel is grounded domestically in the highly vocal and politically active American Jewish community. The community's support is expressed most publicly in political action committees; the most important of these is the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which proudly calls itself "America's Pro-Israel Lobby." Nimrod Novik, who served as foreign policy adviser to Shimon Peres, observed in 1986 that 'The more unanimous the [American Jewish] community is in its support for a given Israeli position, the more likely it is to mobilize effectively its political resources in order to try and prevent American policymakers from undermining that position." (10)
Unanimity--especially on the matter of supporting Israeli policy-can no longer be e expected from the American Jewish community. Prior to the Second Intifada and Sharon's ascendancy to prime minister in 2000, uncritical support for Israel continued to decline among the community; increased room was afforded for voices of dissent critical of Israeli state policies--especially as they impacted the OPT--as such support diminished as a determinant of Jewish identity. Once a unifying symbol, the state of Israel had become a potentially divisive issue that threatened to fragment the American Jewish community. This new reality had far-reaching implications for Israel's approach to Israeli-U.S. relations, both for the amount of philanthropic funds funneled directly to the dependent state and for lobbying efforts in U.S. policy-making institutions: "A most important instrument in American Jewish efforts to secure U.S. support for Israel has been the promotion of the idea of the two-dimensional link between the U.S. and Israel: first, the cultural-ideological-moral affinity; second, Israel's potential and actual contribution to American interests." (11) As the cultural-ideological-moral affinity seemed to erode even within the community itself, American Jewish lobbying efforts focused on the latter concern, as discussed above. Development of this "affinity" on the American popular level was left to American evangelical Christians.
Evangelicals, the Mainline and Israel
After his discussion of the potential instability of the American Jewish community, Novik considers what may be gained from Israel's courting of American evangelical Christians. Israel's relationship with the evangelical community had taken on a new earnestness in the late 1970s. As the political concerns of the American Jewish community--shifted toward national security and the safety--of Israel, they had joined political forces with groups such as Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority. In this 1986 study, however, Novik cautioned that the influence of the Christian Right seemed to be waning and that Israel might consider tempering its investment in their efforts. By that time, however, the relationship was established, a fact that has continued to serve Israel into the present.
As Donald Wagner has observed, "Christian fascination with 'Israel' and its prophetic role at the end of history has been an important but consistently minor theme in Christianity since the days of Jesus and the early Church." (12) Questions regarding the character of this "Israel"-Did the Church replace Israel when it received its promises? Did the promises refer to material or spiritual benefits?--surrounded these eschatological investigations. Among the Christian theological responses to modernity was the development of a particular approach to the Scriptures known as "dispensationalist premillennialsm." Wagner traces this hermeneutie through the figures of Thomas Brightman, Henry Finch, and Louis Way to its systematization in the work of John Nelson Darby and C.I. Scofield. The theological scheme centered on a regressive understanding of human history, a perspective diametrically opposed to the Enlightenment's faith in human progress. The dispensationalists asserted that history was divided into distinct eras (dispensations) characterized by how God deals with distinct human groups. When "the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled" (Luke 21:24, NRSV), Jesus, the Christ, will return to finally defeat the powers of evil, both human and supernatural, and rescue his Church from history.
Already in the mid-nineteenth century, this theolory and its interest in "the restoration of the Jewish people to the land of Palestine" (13) made its way into practical politics. Through the well-connected efforts of William Blackstone (who organized the first Zionist lobbying effort in the U.S.) and Lord Shaftesbury (who is credited, among other things, with providing the inspiration for the Zionist phrase, "a land of no people for a people with no land" (14) British imperialism was given an eschatological significance that would later fuel the efforts of Prime Minister David Lloyd George and Lord Arthur Balfour. The justification for these efforts was found in Genesis 12:3: "I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse" (NRSV).
Disseminated through prophecy conferences and educational institutions such as Moody Bible Institute, this theology has proven its endurance among North American Christians. In survey results published in 1987, 57 percent of American Protestants and 35 percent of American Catholics accepted "a prophetic interpretation of the events of 1948," namely, the founding of the State of Israel. (15)
With Israel's declaration of statehood, many evangelicals anticipated that Jesus would soon return. Still, there were problems. Many evangelicals (not to mention many Israelis and other Jews) were concerned that Israel had not claimed the whole of biblical Israel. With its 'alleviation of this concern, the Six Day War of 1967 was a turning point in evangelical confidence in the state; with its conquest of "Judea and Samaria," Israel had finally claimed its birthright. The most significant aspect of this swift victory, however, was that Jerusalem was firmly in Jewish hands. The next month, the editor of the evangelical magazine Christianity Today (CT) offered this reflection: "That for the first time in more than 2,000 years Jerusalem is now completely in the hands of the Jews gives a student of the Bible a thrill and a renewed faith in the accuracy and validity of the Bible." The pages of CT marveled at Israel's military prowess and assured the world that Israel's wars--defensive or offensive were God's will. (16)
Until this point, the Zionist cause had enjoyed broad support among all Christian groups in the U.S. Reinhold Niebuhr, for instance, had in 1942 teamed with Paul Tillich and other theologians to organize the Christian Council on Palestine. The political realities of Israel's founding and subsequent expansion were, however, troubling to many Christian groups, especially those within the World Council of Churches (WCC). Since the mid-1960s, mainline Christian groups (for our purposes, those who reject a dispensationalist biblical hermeneutic and seek to implement an ethical approach to Christian witness in the world) have been increasingly vocal in their criticisms of Israeli policy. The theopolitical perspective of mainline Christians has not resulted in much political influence. While mainline denominations were shifting their political lens toward addressing systemic injustice, the populace of the United States--including the majority of mainline church membership--was shifting the opposite direction.
Evangelicals Go Mainstream
Though rooted in theological commitments that stretch to before the beginnings of Zionism itself, the alliance of Israel and American evangelicals is primarily a late Cold War phenomenon. This context is evident in dispensationalist literature. The theological interpretations of political events popularized by Hal Lindsay in the multiple printings of his The Late Great Planet Earth or the first chapters of the likewise popular Left Behind books penned by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins-both books and their respective successors identify Russia and China as the primary threats to Israel's existence and the instigators of Armageddon--continue on in televangelists like Jack Van Impe, John Hagee, and many others. (17)
Even as its influence on domestic policymaking waned through the 1990s, perspectives put forth by the Christian Right on foreign affairs have gained currency. With this political shift, more evangelicals are coming to self-identity as Christian Zionists, an anachronistic term reminiscent of the much earlier nationalist theology of British Israelism. The popular dissemination of this theopolitical perspective has contributed to the shape of American religiosity.
Walking into their worship space, for instance, the four thousand congregants in Faith Bible Chapel of Arvada, Colorado, are greeted by an Israeli flag flying side-by-side with a Christian one. Cheryl Morrison, the church's Israel Outreach director, works in an office decorated with "framed posters of Israeli military tanks, Apache attack helicopters, and Israeli Defense Forces." In the same state, Israeli tourism officials, hoping to shore up their flagging industry, have tapped a Colorado Springs-based marketing firm to attract tourists to the Intifada-ridden country. The marketing solution is to create "spiritual 'SWAT' teams" of Christian Zionists to experience a peaceful Israel free of conflict. "These are people who are already wired to love and protect Israel," said Butch Maltby, director of the marketing firm. "This is classic grass-roots marketing.... If the model works here, we plan to implement it in all cities with populations over 500,000." (18)
The world of television preachers and colloquial Christianity-while seemingly quite far from the hallowed hails of Congress--is dominated by what Paul Merkley has labeled patriotic conservatism."
As he states, "It is a fact of great significance that the television evangelists are, at the same time, strong on patriotic national assertion, suspicious of internationalism and especially of UN-sponsored efforts, and faithful towards Israel." (19) The simplistic, Manichean worldview that provided a theopolitical framework for the Cold War has been revivified by Israel's supporters as they assert the state's importance for U.S. interests. Political leaders in both the U.S. and Israel have been eager to work closely with Christian Zionists, a community--that was incorporating this perspective into its most basic theological identity.
The alliance between Israel and America's most visible evangelical leaders has been a matter of public display since the 1980s. This representative publicness is manifested annually during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot (the Festival of Tabernacles): Since 1981 every Israeli prime minister has made an annual political pilgrimage to receive the blessings--and the often noisy prayers--of 4,000 Christians apparently eager to endorse almost everything Israel does. Whether for Begin, Shamir, Peres, or Rabin, standing ovations have been given every time, a pleasant contrast to the often cacophonous greetings the leaders receive during Knesset debates. (20)
The only exception came in 1999 when Ehud Barak did not address the gathering, much to the chagrin of the event's organizers. Former Prime Minister Netanyahu and Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmer were more than walling, however, to correct the oversight. (21) Likud efforts to establish and strengthen ties with American evangelicals were inaugurated with Menachim Begin's well-documented relationship with Jerry Falwell. (22) After roughly twenty-five years of evangelical reassertion in the American political landscape, its most conspicuous contribution to American public life (at least in the amount of money. appropriated to the cause) has been unwavering support for the state of Israel.
9/11 and the Evangelical/Neoconservative Blend
With the dissipation of the Manichean dualism that had characterized the Cold War, both the worldview of the televangelists and Israel's strategic value were open for question and critique. On 11 September 2001, "however, a seemingly cosmic dualism again entered American consciousness. While some had entertained the idea that democratic capitalism's struggle against challenging forces had ended, others sensed in 9/11 proof for Samuel P. Huntington's Clash of Civilizations thesis: not only does the struggle continue, it is indeed with representatives of Islam. Forthwith, Israel was provided an opportunity to reassert itself as a strategic partner long combating the terrorism with which the U.S. had been unexpectedly acquainted and practitioners of patriotic conservatism were provided with a new threat against which to preach.
The War on Terror instituted after 9/11--beginning in Afghanistan and continuing, thus far, in the largely unilateral U.S. action in Iraq--demonstrates a policy shift reflecting a distinctly post-9/11 national ethos. With the release of a new national security doctrine one year after those tragic events, this shift was institutionalized. The most controversial component of the statement dealt with preemptive strikes: "While the United States will constantly strive to enlist the support of the international community, we will not hesitate to act alone, if necessary, to exercise our right of self-defense by acting preemptively against such terrorists, to prevent them from doing harm. against our people and our country." The policy thus adopted Israeli policies and practices criticized previously by U.S. administrations. Domestically, the drama of this policy shift had been preempted by swift passage of the USA PATRIOT Act on 25 October 2001. Some have referred to these movements as the Israelization of American policy. (23)
These shifts in American policy were not native with President Bush but were called forth by events beyond his control and the staff with which he had surrounded himself. While during his presidential campaign, Bush had advocated a "humble" foreign policy, theories of free trade no longer provided a satisfactory foundation for security. The interventionist U.S. foreign policy that arose after 9/11 was quickly identified as the product of neoconservative thinkers within the Bush Administration. The neoconservative approach to foreign policy advocated ideological, economic, and military intervention in nations deemed problematic for American security concerns. Key representatives of the neoconservative persuasion have long argued that Israel's security was crucial for American interests.
Media coverage regarding the transformation of American foreign policy after 9/11 tended to focus on outing the "neocons" within the Bush administration and explaining the ideology's contributions to the new position, often with conspiratorial undertones. (24) While it is legitimate to point out that several high-ranking members of the Bush administration are intimately associated with pro-Israel think-tanks and lobbying groups, one common but untoward component of this discussion has been a preoccupation with the "cabal" of Jewish interests that presumably dominates U.S. policy. (25) M1 of this conspiratorial. speculation, led Irving Kristol, who, accepts responsibility for being the godfather of all those neocons," to explain a free market stimulated by tax cuts in an August 2003 Weekly Standard article. Not a "movement" but a "persuasion," neoconservative ideas have taken root among disaffected and disappointed liberals (many formerly dedicated Marxists and Trotskyites) who now trust tax cuts rather than the "welfare state" to stimulate the economy. Kristol outlines a series of theses regarding neoconservative attitudes toward U.S. foreign policy, the most important being "the ability [of statesmen] to distinguish friends from-enemies" and the conviction that "national interest" includes "ideological interests in addition to more material concerns." Thus, just as "it was in our national interest to come to the defense of France and Britain in World War II ... we feel it necessary to defend Israel today, when its survival is threatened. No complicated geopolitical calculations of national interest are necessary." When blended with a lament for the "steady decline in our democratic culture," the dual celebration of America's military strength and support for Israel as an embattled democracy have made for an easy alliance between neoconservatives and those whom Kristol calls "religious traditionalists." (26) On the issue of Israel, the alliance was ready-made.
The focus on Israel inherent to neoconservative foreign policy encountered no resistance from President Bush. Bush took his first trip to the Jewish state in 1999, a journey that included a helicopter tour guided by Ariel Sharon. During the first year of his term, Bush had taken a hands-off approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a tack that in the end benefited his Likud friend. Critics did not fail to note that in situations like the beginnings of the al-Aqsa Intifada, U.S. silence indicated complicity with the status quo, even when Israeli actions conflict with stated U.S. policy. When the Bush administration made its first foray into peacemaking with the "roadmap," it was done as a component of the larger War on Terror and, with the U.S. refusal to speak with Arafat, included a radical intervention in the internal politics of Palestinians. While worrisome to some, the religious rhetoric and moral clarity with which President Bush has approached these challenges has further facilitated the partnership of neoconservatives and evangelicals in this post-9/11 world, especially around the issue of Israel. (27)
The political tenor set by the executive branch was intensified in Congress as 9/11 revived the moral and even religious foundations of some members' political agendas. This is especially true regarding the matter of U.S. support for Israel. On 4 December 2001, for instance, the two issues--reaction to 9/11 and support for Israel's military actions--came together in a speech delivered on the Senate floor by Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), a member of the Armed Services Committee. Two days before, a suicide bombing in Jerusalem had invited an overwhelming military reoccupation of the West Bank and Gaza. The day of Inhofe's speech, the IDF peppered Yasser Arafat's Ramallah compound with rockets, narrowly missing the Palestinian president and evoking harsh criticism even from members of the Sharon government.
Stating that he is a "born-again Christian" who has "accepted Jesus Christ as [his] Lord and Savior," Inhofe asserted that 9/11 did not portend "a political war" but was, instead, a "satanically inspired attack against America created by demonic powers through the perverted minds of terrorists." The most common question in those days was 'Why?' Inhofe offered an answer:
Why did they single U.S. out? America was attacked because of our system of values .... It is not just because we are Israel's best friend. We are Israel's best friend in the world because of the character we have as a nation. We came under attack and we are Israel's best friend. One of the reasons God has blessed our country is because we have honored his people. Genesis 12:3 says: "I will bless them who bless you. I will curse him who curses you." This is God talking about Israel.
For Inhofe, uncritical U.S. support of Israel is unassailable on all rounds. He sought to offer proof to this end: "I will discuss seven things I consider to be indisputable and incontrovertible evidence and rounds to Israel's right to the land. You have heard this before, but it has never been in the RECORD.'" The seventh point is the most salient:
[This] is the most important reason: Because God said so.... In Gen. 13:14-17, the Bible says: "The Lord said to Abram, "Lift up now your eyes, and look from the place where you are northward, and southward, and eastward and westward: for all the land which you see, to you will I give it, and to your seed forever.... Arise, walk through the land in the length of it and in the breadth of it; for I will give it to thee."
Inhofe then offers an interpretation of this passage:
That is God talking. The Bible says that Abram removed his tent, and came and dwelt in the plain of Mamre, which is in Hebron, and built there an altar before the Lord. Hebron is in the West Bank. It is at this place where God appeared to Abram and said, "I am giving you this land," the West Bank. This is not a political battle at all. It is a contest over whether or not the word of God is true. This. speech from Sen. Inhofe on the Senate floor is surprising in its candid use of theological content to support U.S. foreign policy. (28)
Speaking to Israeli lawmakers in the Knesset building on 30 July 2003, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX) echoed many elements of Inhofe's speech in the Senate. After six days in Israel, DeLay's speech was reported around the world, mostly for his self-identification at the end of his open comments: "Even now, I am filled with a gratitude and humility I cannot express; I stand before you today, in solidarity, as an Israeli of the heart." DeLay went on to speak of the strategic and spiritual bond between the U.S. and Israel:
The solidarity between the United States and Israel is deeper than the various interests we share. It goes to the very nature of man, to the endowment of our God-given rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It is the universal solidarity of freedom. It transcends geography, culture and generations. It is the solidarity of all people--in all times who dream of and sacrifice for liberty.
DeLay, framing the context of his speech as "a great global conflict against evil," characterized Israel as an "endangered democracy" threatened by "terrifying predators." Drawing from biblical imagery, DeLay assured the nation-state, "We hear your voice cry out in the desert, and we will never leave your side." The fight against terrorism is a mission from God to be achieved with or without broad international support:
Freedom and terrorism will struggle--good and evil--until the battle is resolved. These are the terms Providence has put before the United States, Israel, and the rest of the civilized world. They are stark, and they are final. Those who call this world-view "simplistic" are more than welcome to share their "sophisticated" theories at any number of international debating clubs. But while they do, free nations of courage will fight and win this war. Israel's liberation from Palestinian terror is an essential component of that victory.
DeLay outlined the justification for this policy of near-cosmic warfare in neoconservative terms.
The United States does not seek conflict. We are a peaceful people whose military strength has been consciously built to deter aggression so that we might live in peace. Ideally--and I believe, eventually--we will live in peace, with friendly democracies in every corner of the earth, committed to justice and human rights, "with malice toward none and charity for all."
His concluding expression of hope was that, "One day ... free men the world over--whether of the cross, the crescent, or the Star of David--will stand with Israel in defiance of evil." (29)
Much more than policy statements from President Bush, these expressions from high-ranking members of the U.S. Congress demonstrate how the American experience of 9/11 established both Christian Zionist and neoconservative perspectives--and sometimes intriguing blends of both--as fixtures of the American political landscape. The two congressmen's speeches demonstrate how the Clash of Civilizations thesis has been employed in the service of practical politics. More to the point of the discussion, however, the speeches demonstrate Kathleen Christison's observation that a fundamental component of U.S. foreign policy toward Israel/Palestine is the presumption of Palestinian immorality. This presumption encourages policymakers and others to approach the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians as "a zero-sum equation in which support for Israel precluded support for any aspect of the Palestinian position." (30) Especially within American political discourse, the presumptions of Israel's innocence and Palestinians' collective immorality have been conflated with a general suspicion of Islam. (31)
CHRISTIANS APPROACHING ZION
Christians are not of one mind when engaging the political and religious issues raised by Israel and its founding ideology, Zionism. As noted above, mainline Christian support for Israel waned following the 1967 war, precisely the event that solidified American Jewish and American evangelical fervor. This erosion was institutionalized in positions adopted by the World Council of Churches (WCC), a move many evangelicals took as proving the group's disregard for biblical teaching in relation to political realities. Founded in 1948 (the same year as Israel's declared independence), the WCC has developed strong ties with the Middle East Council of Churches (MECC, founded 1974), a relationship that began with the Near East Christian Council (founded 1956). Christianity in the Middle East consists of a vast array of Christian communities; these councils were first and foremost efforts to provide a foundation for ecumenical cooperation. With the advent of the State of Israel and the occupations of 1967, however, the organizations' efforts were increasingly spent on political matters. In the zero-sum equation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, WCC sympathy for MECC perspectives has angered many evangelicals supportive of Israel's aims and means. Evangelical and Christian Zionist perspectives have been closer to long-term U.S. policy in the region.
Christian Zionists--Perspectives and Organizations
Christian Zionist and, by extension, evangelical Christian opposition to the roadmap to peace proposed by the Bush Administration was strong. The eagerness of the Bush Administration to court evangelical opinion was manifested in a secret 14 July 2003 briefing. Called by the White House Office of Public Liaison "at the request of a close friend of Sharon, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein of Chicago"--founder of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews and described as "the Israeli government's key liaison to evangelical Christian groups"--the meeting was attended by about forty evangelical leaders and featured a briefing by national security adviser Condoleezza Rice. Despite this intense but secret effort, one church representative for a group "with strong links to evangelicals and Jewish conservatives" said it was unsuccessful: "The meeting was an attempt to sell U.S. the peace plan, and it failed." (32)
Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcast News (CBN) heavily reported Christian Zionist opposition to the roadmap. In an October 2003 story posted on the CBN website, the news service reported that objection to the plan from "believing Jews and Christians" is "based on the Bible." Difficulties in implementing the roadmap are blamed solely on the Palestinians: "This summer, the Road Map virtually imploded under the weight of more deadly suicide bombings, the resignation of Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, and Yasser Arafat's refusal to give up power." Reporting the perspective that "The only ... legitimate Road Map is a Road Map of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob" (in reference to the so-called 'Road of the Patriarchs' through biblical Samaria), the report uncritically accepts the assertion that "The Road Map sets up a current day drama between the ancient covenants and modern day diplomacy." In June of the same year, CBN reported on a purported link between U.S. efforts at peacemaking and natural disasters. Prophecy aficionado Bill Koenig characterized the coincidence of "the early stages of the Road Map peace process, weather catastrophe and recent violence in Israel," as "warning signals, ... warning judgements [sic] to America that this is My covenant land and it's not to be traded for promises of peace and security. This land is not to be parceled." (33)
The Christian Zionist movement does not rely only on a few lesser-known pamphleteers to communicate its perspective to the public sphere. Instead, many organizations, some quite major, have arisen, all dedicated to both the theology and politics of Christian Zionism. Due to the grassroots character of many of these organizations, the network--made up of individuals, congregations, political action committees and humanitarian organizations--is vast. Among the major organizations are Bridges for Peace, Christian Friends for Israeli Communities and the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. Among the largest and perhaps most influential of these organizations is the International Christian Embassy (ICEJ). Although the "embassy" has no diplomatic standing, it nevertheless shapes both theology and policy. The 1996 Third International Christian Zionist Congress, hosted by the ICEJ, was attended by over fifteen hundred people from forty countries. (34)
Heebie-Jeebies?: Suspicion and Defense in the Jewish Community
Despite their ability to marshal support for the state of Israel, Christian Zionists still have not been able to fully convince the Jewish community of their purposes, even when protecting the state of Israel is a stated concern. Many Jews are wary of wedding themselves to t e political power of American evangelical Christians. Robert O. Freedman, professor of political science at Baltimore Hebrew University, offers this perspective: "Once you get in bed with them you are, to a certain extent, subscribing to their view of what America ought to be. And that, in my view, is not in the best interests of the Jewish people." Rabbi Erie Yoffie, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, concurs: "To associate Israel with more extremist religious and political views may jeopardize the allegiance of mainstream Americans. That would be dangerous." (35) Still, the marriage of convenience between Israel and American evangelicals has its supporters. As Lenny Davis, former researcher for AIPAC, once stated: "Sure, these guys give me the heebie-jeebies. But until I see Jesus coming over the hill, I'm in favor of all the friends Israel can get." (36) American Jewish suspicion of the Christian Right (though not directly addressing evangelical support for Israel) informed a substantial 1996 volume published by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), The Religious Right: The Assault on Tolerance & Pluralism in America. The book is primarily concerned with American Christian understandings of separation between church and state, a principle long valued among American Jews. In his introduction, David Cantor describes the religious right as "an exclusionist religious movement [that] has attempted to store what it perceives as the ruins of a Christian nation by seeking more closely to unite its version of Christianity with state power." In addition to more common elements of American evangelicalism, special attention is given to the more obscure element of (Christian) Reconstructionist thought. A defense of the Christian Right from a Jewish perspective was not long in coming. The ADL book was released in July 1994; in September, Midge Decter submitted a critical review and rebuttal in Commentary, a major journal for Jewish thought Decter's analysis is especially disapproving of the book's tactic of employing guilt by association, especially in its vilification of Pat Robertson. Seeking to diminish the focus on anti-Judaic sentiment among evangelical Christians, she writes:
No doubt people hostile to the Jews exist here and there among conservative Christians. But so do people hostile to the Jews exist among liberal Christians and among the fiercest secularists as well. The question, then, is why an organization long regarded as expert in the study of anti-Semitism should have singled out the conservative Christians for opprobrium--especially when, as a group, they have been perhaps the most outspoken friends of Israel in this country.
Decter concludes that the ADL, in the guise of defending pluralism, has "chosen to join hands with ... the liberal Left" and its presumed domination of American political life and has, therefore, engaged in "the one bigotry that seems to be acceptable these days-bigotry against conservative Christians." (37)
In a First Things article appearing the next year, Decter diagnosed Christian liberals with "that age-old Hebraic malady that the Lord once diagnosed as stiffness of the neck." Why, she asks, "do the Christians not celebrate the salvation of Jerusalem made possible by the Israeli military victory in 1967? ... The answer is that the evangelicals do indeed celebrate, both the return of the Jews to the holy land and their rescue of old Jerusalem. But others, many, many others, do not--for reasons that, no matter how often they are articulated, simply make no sense to me." (38) Consigning Christian critique of Israel (and, by extension, critique of Christian Zionists and American foreign policy the region) to irrationality, Decter and her ideological companions have constructed for themselves a thought-world in which critique of its assumptions "simply make[s] no sense."
The charges of anti-Judaism and anti-Semitism are commonly levied against those who speak critically of Israeli policies or American financial support of the state. A recent cover story in U.S. News & World Report asserted that critiques of Israel often mask a latent anti-Semitism:
To complain that such portrayals are unfair and illogical is not to dismiss all criticism of the Israeli government as anti-Semitic. A democracy must welcome critics, and Israel surely has its critics in spades--just look at the spirited Israeli press.... But for many, recent criticism of Israel has become so perverse, so persistent, so divorced from reality that it can be seen only as emotional anti-Semitism hiding behind the insidious political mask of anti-Zionism. (39)
While Zuckerman's examples of political criticism gone awry--especially in Europe and the Middle East--are matters of concern, the guilt of association with hate-filled rhetoric serves to silence or at least mitigate even legitimate critique.
Christian groups critical of Israeli policy--along with its American political and Christian Zionist supporters--raise their voices only with trepidation. Indeed, speaking against such a formidable political alliance, their voice is comparatively small. While engaging in some grassroots political efforts, these groups focus on either non-violent direct action (Christian Peacemaker Teams and the International Solidarity Movement) or on lobbying efforts in governmental or denominational bodies (Churches for Middle East Peace). One important development in the mainline churches has been the establishment of direct relationships between American denominations and their Palestinian counterparts. Particularly strong is the relationship between the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (elca) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan (elcj), which has congregations in Amman, Jordan, and the West Bank. These relationships have necessarily introduced into American denominations a theopolitical perspective that critically engages American policy toward Israel and the opt rather than merely edifying the post-1967 status quo.
Christian Zionist Critique and Colonization of the Mainline
Mainline Christian reluctance to endorse U.S. foreign policy toward Israel--a reluctance based on ecumenical relationships and a theological commitment to social and political justice--has met with challenges from evangelical and Christian Zionist writers. In this zerosum context, most recognitions of competing perspectives are simplistically polemical. Some writers, however, seek to critically engage their interlocutors. Paul Charles Merkley--a Canadian historical scholar who identifies as a Christian Zionist--provides a mix of these two approaches in his book, Christian Attitudes towards the State of Israel. A follow-up to his The Politics of Christian Zionism, 1891-1948 (1998), this impressive book treats the dual concern of diffusing stereotypes surrounding evangelical Christians and their support of Israel and criticizing mainline Christians for their abandonment of the Zionist cause. (40)
Merkley proudly asserts that the "whole constituency of Christian pro-Zionists is ... many times larger than the membership lists of the Christian Zionist organizations and should be numbered in the tens of millions." As discussed above, this popular support, spread across Protestant and Catholic populations, can be attributed to television evangelists and their compelling (for American audiences, at least) brand of patriotic conservatism. (41) Beyond differing approaches to biblical texts, disagreements between liberal and conservative approaches to Israel can be seen as manifestations of a clash of historical narratives. Merkley observes that Israel's "dramatic enlargement" since 14 May 1948 came with an enlarged "sphere of responsibility in what ... she called the 'Administered Territory'" (Judea and Samaria). While 'Liberal historians and ecumenical churchmen tell the story of Israel's expanding sphere of action in the same language that, is used for the wars of Napoleon or Nebuchadnezzar, he notes, "Christian Zionists prefer the vocabulary of self-defence and national security that the Israeli government itself employs."
Merkley offers a less than charitable analysis of why liberal Christians choose to approach the state of Israel in a manner different from his own. Following criticisms of "the new anti-Semitism," Merkley states that adhering to "the 'Anti-Zionist' side gives one plenty of company among progressive people, allowing one to use the noble-sounding rhetoric that surfaces easily when one speaks of 'the oppressed.'" For Merkley, this rhetoric is fully disingenuous: "It serves as the perfect cover for anti-Semitism--all the more perfect for the fact that many Jews themselves employ it." Merkley lets this last incongruous comment go by without further reflection. Liberal Christians have all too easily allowed themselves to be taken in by this pro-Palestinian political perspective. This is so, Merkley believes, because "the liberal-ecumenical attitude" is "not grounded in a transcendent theology" and thus "shifted when the political scenery shifted." Merkley sees liberal attention to the plight of Palestinians as a product of "1960s ... disdain for 'the establishment'" and a "disposition to patronize" that leads to alignment with "the generalized cause of the 'oppressed' everywhere, callable of serving the ingrained need of liberals to condescend." (42)
That liberal Christians are politically gullible, Merkley believes, has compromised their theology. In Palestine, this compromise is due to the disingenuous and heretical innovations of indigenous theologians, especially Naim Ateek, Elias Chacour, Mitri Raheb, and Munib Younan. While Merkley wishes to draw a sharp distinction between what he terms the Churches of the East and Churches of the West, he notes that on the matter of the state of Israel the distinction "is now of virtually no significance. This is so, Merkley states, because "local leaders of the Churches of the West are for the most part no longer Europeans but Arabs" who no longer see themselves "as defenders ... of what used to be called 'Christendom.'" Politically, he accuses these non-European Christians of engaging in a systematic disinformation campaign concerning the decline of the Christian population in Israel and the OPT, putting forth "testimonies [that] are never challenged in mainline Christian circles."
For Merkley, however, theological integrity is ostensibly more important than political clarity. To this end, he rejects out of hand Palestinian contextual theology (liberation theology) for two reasons. First, it is brazenly political, working toward Palestinian national liberation. Second, he charges that Palestinian contextual theology, to the extent that it rejects Zionist (both Jewish and Christian) readings of the Hebrew Scriptures, "Openly embrac[es] the doctrine of Marcion." As he states, "Palestinian contextual theology displays its repudiation of the doctrine of God's election of the Jews--the keystone of Christian theory of history since the mid-second century, when the Church formally denounced as heresy the doctrines of Marcion, which proposed the rejection of all Jewish Scripture." Thus, when pastors such as Raheb observe that the Hebrew Scriptures have "become almost repugnant to Palestinian Christians" since they have been used "largely as a Zionist text"--thus tragically alienating his people from the bulk of their scriptural canon--Merkley labels him a Heretic. Merkley assumes that association with such theological methods has corrupted liberal Western Christians. As anti-Zionists, liberal Christians and the groups with which they choose to identify are both theological and political opponents. He closes the book with this comment: "It is simply too soon to know whether the work done by forces dedicated to Jewish-Christian reconciliation ... will stand against the flanking effort of the neo-Marcionists, whose heart is in the different work of accomodating [sic] the secular liberals, the Churches of the East, and the Muslims." (43)
Though Merkley would argue that through relationships with the Church of the East, the mainline has been colonized by a foreign theological perspective, the widespread popularity of Christian pro-Zionist (if not Christian Zionist) perspectives in the mainline can likewise be labeled as colonization. In the mainline churches, the pervasiveness of this theopolitical perspective has led to denominational leaders being criticized for their openness to relationships with Palestinian Christians and their Muslim neighbors. One example of such intra-denominational struggle in the American church is to be found among United Methodists. Since 2001, Mark Tooley, director of the United Methodist (UM) committee of the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD), has been reporting and critically commenting on the activities of six UM missionaries in the Middle East supported by the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM). Tooley is a former CIA analyst and serves on the board of Good News, a UM evangelical renewal movement. While not adopting a Christian Zionist approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, IRDS's reports demonstrate a commitment to political realism and a strong affinity with established American policy in the region.
The bulk of Tooley's criticisms toward UM missionaries in the Middle East has been directed toward the Rev. Sandra K. Olewine, who, until recently, served as United Methodist Liaison in Jerusalem through the International Center of Bethlehem--an outreach of the ELCJ's Christmas Lutheran Church. In April of 2001, Tooley dismissed the "simplistic lens" through which Olewine and her colleagues view the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Critiquing a presentation by Olewine to the GBGM, Tooley characterized the missionaries as speaking only of "oppressed Palestinians seeking to liberate their own land from an imperialist occupier" while not acknowledging "the national security reasons for Israel's reluctance to accede to all Palestinian demands." Like Merkley, Tooley dismisses the work done by UM missionaries as corrupted by liberationist perspectives. In one report, he uncharitably compares their work to that done by politically controversial missionaries in Nicaragua; in another, liberation theology is maligned as exclusively "looking for a political salvation" and saddling the UM missionaries with a "worldview [that] divides the world neatly between oppressors and the oppressed.... Israel bad, Palestinians good, is their summary of a Middle East situation that is a great deal more complicated than that." The latest major report from the IRD on UM missionaries in the West Bank concludes that they "are not agents of reconciliation in a tumultuous region," but are, instead, "polemicists for one side, the Palestinian side, against the Israelis. Their contacts with Israelis seem to be largely restricted to left-wing activists who share their own political views." (44)
Neither Merkley nor Tooley allow for the possibility that Christians who disagree with them do so from legitimate grounds, theological or political. Merkley implies that liberals have been hoodwinked by Palestinian Christians; Tooley attributes their perspective to a persistent naivete. Both are dismissive of liberation theology, demonstrating a lack of regard for the ability of Christianity (or, for that matter, Judaism or Islam) to provide a fundamental (prophetic) critique of politics and culture. Their conservative theology seeks to protect the political status quo as well as Christian doctrine. That politics rather than theology is the ground of this conservative perspective is evidenced by the dismissal of "left-wing" Israeli groups like Gush Shalom, B'Tselem, and Rabbis for Human Rights, doves who hope for Israel to live in peace with a peaceful Palestinian state at its side in opposition to hawks who favor efforts to defeat the hopes of Palestinian nationalism through a protracted war of attrition. No doubt, these doves are aware that the process of peacebuilding is "complicated." (45) It is irresponsible to preclude or delimit the possibility--of a livable, just peace on the grounds of either political or theological principle.
The Intra-Evangelical Intifada
That the Christian Zionists and their pro-Zionist evangelical constituency are not all that interested in constructive efforts toward building a just peace--even when such efforts are articulated by the Bush administration or tentatively assented to by a Likud-dominated Israeli government--has become a liability. While this approach to Israeli-Palestinian conflict has drawn condemnation from Palestinian Christians and their mainline sympathizers, (46) it is beginning to attract consistent criticism from American evangelicals. This critical evangelical perspective is summed up by Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary: "Evangelicals who are Christian Zionists want to see events unfold, but they aren't so concerned about justice." (47)
Merkley explicates the theological ground for the sometimes blithe attitude with which Christian Zionists approach temporal matters, including matters of justice. When reasoning politically, "the Christian Zionist [takes] it as an article of faith to prefer the blessing of Israel above all passing things" since this preference "cannot ... ever be incompatible with the will of God"--even in relation to allegations of IDF human rights abuses or targeted assassinations. This theopolitical reasoning stems from the root of the historical situation: "the case for the Restoration of the Jews in the first place, even though ... manifestly defensible in terms of 'justice,' actually stood upon a firmer ground: namely, that it was predicted and ordained by Scripture. To have resisted it would have been sin, and in any case would be futile." (48)
The political manifestation of this theological reasoning is epitomized by John Hagee, pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in San Antonio, Texas. In February of 1998, Hagee announced that his congregation would be giving more than $1 million toward Israel's effort to resettle Jews from the former U.S.S.R. in the OPT. When asked if he was concerned that this effort was possibly illegal since it contradicts stated U.S. policy, Hagee, confident in-his reading of biblical prophecy, replied: "I am a Bible scholar and theologian and from my perspective, the law of God transcends the law of the United States government and the U.S. State Department." According to Hagee's website, through ministries such as "Operation Exodus" and, now, "Exodus II," his people have "donated in excess of $3.7 million sponsoring the transportation expenses for over 6,000 people." (49)
Such political reasoning has led some in the American evangelical community to distance themselves from the Christian Zionist perspective. One example of these criticisms came in 2002 after Jerry Falwell's October 6 appearance on the CBS newsmagazine, 60 Minutes. The interview gained wide notoriety for Falwell's characterization of Muhammad, the founding prophet of Islam, as a terrorist. The Baptist Standard reported the discomfort regarding Falwell's perspective expressed by Bob Campbell, president of the Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT):
Mr. Falwell's desire to link present-day Middle East events to biblical prophecy represents only one possible interpretation of "last things." The blatant disregard of Arab nations is an extreme position that does not reflect genuine biblical scholarship and is more political than biblical. American foreign policy cannot be based on just one biblical interpretation of "last things" that may, in fact, be the wrong interpretation of the Scriptures.
The story also reported the perspective of Ellis Orozco, who served as chairman of the BGCT Strategic Planning Committee and currently is on the Administrative Committee. "As Christians, we should speak out against violence and those who enact it or support it. Whether it is an Islamic state, Israel, or even our own government involved in the violence, it is wrong," he stated. "We would be better friends to Israel if we followed Jesus' example and opposed them when they are wrong." (50)
Systematic critiques by evangelicals of Christian Zionist perspectives have not been common. This project has been undertaken by both Don Wagner and Gary Burge, scholars teaching in evangelical schools. Wagner is director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at North Park University in Chicago and Burge is professor of New Testament at Wheaton College, also in Illinois. Both are active in Evangelicals for Middle East Understanding, a Christian advocacy network promoting understanding and partnerships between Arab and western churches. They have encountered stiff resistance to their work, including charges of anti-Semitism. In addition to the work of Burge and Wagner, Colin Chapman, a British researcher and former lecturer in Islamic Studies at the Near East School of Theology, Beirut, has produced several editions of Whose Promised Land?, a sourcebook of texts, theological interpretations, political perspectives and proposed solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As evangelical scholars sensitive to the theological and Scriptural expectations of their larger community, Chapman, Wagner, and Burge have served to widen the conversation and challenge the stereotype that, politically at least, evangelicals are merely a ready constituency for Christian Zionist approaches to the state of Israel. (51)
This wider conversation has been documented in the pages of the world's most important evangelical magazine, Christianity Today. From its founding through the 1967 reflections noted above, CT documented the easy relationship between evangelicals in general and Christian Zionists in particular. More recently, the magazine has run pieces advocating a balanced view of the conflict through rejecting an essentialized view of Arabs and, in particular, Palestinian Christians, (52) coverage complimented by Timothy Weber's masterful "How Evangelicals Became Israel's Best Friend." With the Bush administration's release of the roadmap in 2003, however, CT began to include perspectives quite at odds with Christian Zionists, in what may be interpreted as an effort to distance themselves from a group that had for too long claimed evangelicals as a theopolitical constituency.
In April 2003, Mark Harlan, who taught at Jordan Evangelical Theological Seminary in Amman, offered thoughts, on a third theological path through the Israeli-Palestinian thicket based on the conditionality of Israel's covenant with God. By considering God's demands of justice, Harlan felt that he was able to develop a 'more balanced theology," one that allows Christians to "take seriously both the biblical teaching about Israel's special place in God's unfolding purpose and the cries of injustice by Palestinians." June 2003 saw the online publication and interpretations of polling results collected by CT regarding the theopolitical perspectives of American evangelicals. The polling, along with subsequent interviews of evangelical leaders, showed a marked diversity of opinion among the evangelical community, including many strong articulations of what Merkley would identify as anti-Zionist perspectives. (53)
A distillation of this interpretive essay was the foundation for an editorial in CT's August 2003 issue, written against ubiquitous news stories reporting almost monolithic evangelical resistance to the roadmap. Conscious of the community's past, the editorial argued that there now is "no monolith" of evangelical opinion concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: "at no time in the past 50 years has there been as broad a spectrum of evangelical opinion on this issue as there is today. And this fact should free the Bush administration from vague fears of evangelical voting-booth backlash." Stating, among other things, that "heavy-handed military approaches to security--though occasionally necessary--can never be a solution' and that "peace is not a zero-sum game," the editorial informed the Bush administration that "evangelicals form no ideological bloc" and, more importantly, that "Today's evangelical public cares deeply not only about security and safety for all in the region, but also about the health and well-being of all its people." (54)
In books, journal articles, magazine editorials, and grassroots organizations, some American evangelical Christians are challenging the calculated exploitation of their community by Israeli politicians and those who have become their friends. In the same way American Jewish unanimity on the Israeli policies of occupation waned prior to the second Intifada (lit. "shaking off"), American evangelicals are extricating themselves from a long-time association with Likud. As they continue to be exposed to non-Likud perspectives that seek peace for all peoples in the region--whether from Palestinian Christians and Muslims or Israelis and American Jews (left-wing, doves and others) who grieve over the content and character of modern Israel--that process of extrication will continue. The "cultural-ideological-moral affinity" (55) with Israel expressed by Christian Zionists has, after 9/11, gained political currency. The general presumption, however, that American evangelicals automatically, uncritically and monolithically accepted the Christian Zionist version of that affinity caught the evangelical community by surprise. American evangelicals now seem to realize, the implications of being associated with an ideological theology that, in the name of God, despises efforts at peacemaking; this longtime association must itself be "shaken off."
If the perception of evangelical unanimity regarding the modern state of Israel Begins to erode, the U.S., widely seen among both Israelis and Palestinians as the only entity with the power to encourage a resolution, may be freed to unreservedly pursue the possibilities of an equitable and just peace. In the meantime, however, the Palestinian catastrophe experienced in 1948 (al-Nakba) and further consolidated in 1967 is now complete. The extent of the Palestinian defeat is exemplified in the-public shift from the possibility of negotiated, peaceable coexistence to the unilateral enforcement of Israel's proclivities and prerogatives for its Palestinian population. (56) This shift--in policy and ethos--has been undergirded not only by strategic arguments but by Christian theology.
The theopolitical outlook of Christian Zionism can be understood as a manifestation of western Christianity's dominant characteristic: its systematic application of presumably objective theological principles for the purpose of conserving political power. Ultimately, the (modern) claim of objectivity allows Christian Zionists to be indifferent to the human suffering supported by their theology. If human suffering (both Palestinian and Israeli) is one side of the Christian Zionist theological coin, the other is comprised of an abstracted, a-historical, highly sentimentalized and almost mythological philo-Semitic approach to Jews. While commentators like Merkley laud the evangelical "conviction of the special favour under which Jewish believers live," Jews are often uncomfortable with their Christian pro-Zionist supporters. In a section titled "Jews as Cosmic Curiosities," the ADL's assessment of American evangelicals found them to possess a "fundamental ambivalence toward Jewish experience." With their often constant emphasis on Jewish difference, evangelicals often fail "to recognize the common humanity of Jews" and "tend, finally, to dehumanize Jews." This positive, evangelical dehumanization of Jews matches the general dehumanization of Arabs and, in particular, Palestinians. (57)
In the present theopolitical climate, these expressions of dehumanization, the basis of interpersonal and inter-communal conflict, can be understood as emanating from the self-preserving impulse of political power. Theologically speaking, the opposing force to political power is prophetic critique. When religious communities. collude with political power, they are leached of their prophetic possibility; the cynical use of religion by political power is exposed by prophetic critique. Prophetic, critique identifies religious rhetoric that seeks to preserve ideologies rather than express concern for human beings. In its rejection of the cynical manipulation of religion, the prophetic seeks to discern the greater horizons of God's will in the world, listening to those affected by political policies and, if they are persons of faith, allowing their theological reflections to expand/shape its own. It identifies and rejects religious perspectives that have no concern for justice--political, material justice--as they pursue an apocalyptic program. Although they are in keeping with American religious trends of the past two decades--trends of complicity with political power that in the late 1990s came to be critiqued from within (58)--Christian Zionists have missed the prophetic forest for the apocalyptic underbrush.
If politically engaged persons of faith are to engage in a prophetic critique of state policy that takes into account the sufferings of our fellow human beings--in this case, both Palestinian and Israeli--we must develop a hermeneutic with values other than success and power. To develop an American theology that responds to the needs of Israel/Palestine in a manner concerned with justice, it is necessary to work within the s stems of thought already current among American evangelicals. Mainline theologians can engage as both interlocutors and guides with evangelical counterparts such as Donald Wagner and Gary Burke. (59) It is equally necessary to engage faithfully with contextual theologians operating from both Jewish and Palestinian perspectives, whether politically conservative or liberal, radical or moderate. (60)
A theopolitical perspective is inept if it fails to take
into account the perspectives of those most directly affected by its implications.
It is necessary to be biblical, to faithfully define a canon within the
canon that provides a reasonable guide to praxis in this theopolitical
matter. Christians, perhaps, already possess a possible hermeneutical key:
"Blessed are the peacemakers...."
(2.) Both assassinations resulted from missile strikes launched by Israeli Defense Force (IDF) helicopter gunships. Yassin, a quadriplegic, was in his wheelchair being escorted out of a neighborhood mosque following his routine morning prayers; a few weeks later, Rantisi was killed while riding in a car with bodyguards. For the U.S. responses to the first assassination, see Steven R. Weisman, "A Day When the White House Reversed Stand on the Killing," New York Times, 23 March 2004, and Warren Hoge, "U.S. Vetoes U.N. Resolution Condemning Israel for Hamas Killing," New York Times, 26 March 2004.
(3.) The full name of the peace plan was "A Performance-Based Roadmap to a Permanent Two-State Solution to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict."
(4.) The doctrine was announced during Truman's address to a joint session of Congress on 12 March 1947.
(5.) For a brief recounting of this history, and its effects, see Tom Segev, Elvis in Jerusalem: Post-Zionism and the Americanization of Israel, trans. Haim Watzmann (New York: Owl Books, "2003).
(6.) See Karen L. Puschel, U.S.-Israeli Strategic Cooperation in the Post-Cold War Era: An American Perspective (Jerusalem: The Jerusalem Post, 1992).
(7.) On this matter, see "Issues Arising Out of the Situation in the Near East" (29 July 1958), in Foreign Relations of the United States, 1958-1960 (Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1993), 12: 119: "if we choose to combat radical Arab nationalism and to hold Persian Gulf oil by force if necessary, a logical corollary would be to support Israel as the only strong pro-West power left in the Near East."
(8.) As stated by Senator Rudy Boschwitz (R-MN), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's Subcommittee on the Middle East (12 December 1982). Cited in Nimrod Novik, The United States and Israel: Domestic Determinants of a Changing U.S. Commitment (Boulder, Colo.: Westview, 1986), 71.
(9.) Kenneth D. Wald, Religion and the Politics of the United States, 4th ed.
(10.) Novik, The United States and Israel, 71.
(11.) Ibid. See Steven T. Rosenthal, Irreconcilable Differences?: The Waning of the American Jewish Love Affair with Israel (Hanover, N.J.: Brandeis University Press, 2001). While not yet easily received on a popular level, Jewish voices like those of Marc H. Ellis and Norman G. Finkelstein are now given wider hearing.
(12.) Donald Wagner, "Reagan and Begin, Bibi and Jerry: The Theopolitical Alliance of the Likud Party with the American Christian 'Right'," Arab Studies Quarterly 20 (Fall 1998): 34. A more thorough account of this history is contained in Timothy Weber, "How Evangelicals Became Israel's Best Friend," Christianity Today (hereafter, CT) 42 (5 October 1998): 3849.
(13.) Advertisement in the London Times (4 November 1840), cited in Wagner, "Reagan and Begin," 39.
(14.) Ibid. His phrase, from an 1839 essay, read "a people with no country for a country of no people."
(15.) Ronald R. Stockton, "Christian Zionism: Prophecy and Public Opinion," Middle East Journal 41 (Spring 1987): 234-54.
(16.) L. Nelson Bell, "Unfolding Destiny," CT 11 (21 July 1967), 28. An editorial one month earlier carried this title: "War Sweeps the Bible Lands: Frantic Nations Forget that the Prophetic Vision of World Peace is Messianic," CT 9 (23 June 1967). There, it is noted that UN concerns are marginal compared to Cod's prophetic timetable.
(17.) For Jack Van Impe, see <www.jvim.com>; for John Hagee, see <www.jhm.org>. An important television clearinghouse for dispensationalist teaching is the Trinity Broadcasting Network (<www.tbn.org>), which hosts programs from Hal Lindsay, Zola Levitt, and others.
(18.) Brent Boyer, "Arvada Church Champions Jewish Cause: Christian Zionists Back Jewish People," Denver Post, 22 November 2002, and Lou Gonzales, "Marketing Team Reaches Out to Christian Zionists," (Colorado Springs) Gazette, 6 March 2002.
(19.) Paul Charles Merkley, Christian Attitudes towards the State of Israel (Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2001), 200.
(20.) David Aikman, "Christians in Zion," The American Spectator 28 (December 1995): 64.
(21.) Matt Rees, "Christian Zionists scorn Barak for refusing to address gathering," (Edinburgh) The Scotsman, 29 September 1999, 12.
(22.) See Grace Halsell, Prophecy and Politics: Militant Evangelists on the Road to Nuclear War (Westport, Conn.: Lawrence Hill, 1986), esp. 74-76, 171-73, 191. Referencing Novik and Halsell, Charles Smith notes that "how Menachim Begin used his ties to Falwell to lobby Reagan foreshadows Binyamin Netanyahu's use of Falwell to lobby Congress against Bill Clinton after 1996," in Palestine and the Arab-Israeli Conflict: A History with Documents, 4th ed. (Boston, Mass.: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2001), 387.
(23.) "The National Security Strategy of the United States," New York Times (20 September 2002). On the USA PATRIOT Act, see C. William Michaels, No Greater Threat: America After September 11 and the Rise of the National Security State (New York: Algora, 2002). The "national security state" status toward which the U.S. is moving is seen by Michaels as descriptive of the state of Israel.
(24.) See Robert J. Lieber, "The Neoconservative-Conspiracy Theory: Pure Myth," Chronicle of Higher Education 49 (2 May 2003): 14-15. For a critical analysis of neoconservative contributions to post-9/11 U.S. policy, see Joel Beinin, "Pro-Israel Hawks and the Second Gulf War," Middle East Report Online, 6 April 2003.
(25.) Vice President R. Cheney and Undersecretary of Defense D. Feith have served on the board of JINSA (Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs) while Cheney, Defense Secretary D. Rumsfeld and Deputy Defense Secretary P. Wolfowitz are affiliated with PNAC (Project for a New American Century) founded and chaired by Weekly Standard editor William Kristol. The neoconservative relationship with Israeli politics has been intimate.
(26.) Irving Kristol, "The Neoconservative Persuasion," Weekly Standard, 25 August 2003. This ideology, when paired with Jewish state power in Israel, may have far-reaching implications for Jewish political identity. See Ian Bunnna, "Annie Hall Get Your Gun: How Woody Allen turned into John Wayne and changed the face of American conservatism," The Guardian, 17 September 2002.
(27.) See Kathleen Christison, "George W. Bush and the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict," Journal of Palestine Studies 33 (Winter 2004): 36-50; and Derek H. Davis, "Thoughts on the Separation of Church and State under the Administration of President George W. Bush," Journal of Church and State 45 (Spring 2003): 229-35.
(28.) James M. Inhofe, "Senate Floor Statement of Senator Inhofe: America's Stake in Israel's War on Terrorism," 4 December 2001.
(29.) Tom DeLay, "Be Not Afraid," 30 July 2003. In February of that year--the day the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated on reentry with Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon aboard--DeLay expressed an even more profound self-identification with Israel, if not Judaism, by reciting, in Hebrew, the last lines of the kaddish, the Jewish prayer for the dead.
(30.) Kathleen Christison, Perceptions of Palestine: Their Influence on U.S. Middle East Policy (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1999), 92-93.
(31.) This suspicion has grown since 9/11, but certainly predated those terrible events. A good resource on this history is provided by Rollin Armour, Sr., Islam, Christianity, and the West: A Troubled History (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis, 2002).
(32.) Douglas Turner, '"Christian Zionists' Resist Bush on Mideast Peace," Buffalo News, 17 August 2003.
(33.) Chris Mitchell, "The Spiritual Road Map to Middle East Peace," CBN online, 3 October 2003. Jennifer James, "Acts of God: America's Warning Not to Divide Israel," CBN online, 26 June 2003.
(34.) For an apologetic look at the politics and theology of the ICEJ, see Merkley, Christian Attitudes, 170-79.
(35.) Jeffery L. Sheler, "Odd Bedfellows," U.S. News & World Report, 12 August 2002, 34-35.
(36.) Cited in Merkley, 204.
(37.) David Cantor, The Religious Right: The Assault on Tolerance & Pluralism in America (New York: ADL, 1994), 1. Midge Decter, "The ADL vs. the "Religious Right,'" Commentary, September 1994, 47. A more recent contribution to this conversation is found within Yaacov Ariel, Philosemites or Antisemites? Evangelical Christian Attitudes toward Jews, Judaism, and the State of Israel, Analysis of Current Trends in Antisemitism 20 (Jerusalem: Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism, 2002). I am grateful to my colleague, Santiago Slabodsky, for this resource.
(38.) Midge Decter, "A Jew in Anti-Christian America," First Things, October 1995, 25-31. The omitted phrases in this paragraph are worth reading and were edited only for space concerns.
(39.) Mortimer B. Zuckerman, "Graffiti On History's Walls," U.S. News & World Report, 3 November 2003. The issue's cover read "The New Anti-Seinitism." A group of recent books are the foundation for Zuckerman's thesis: see especially Phyllis Chesler, The New Anti-Semitism: The Current Crisis and What We Must Do About It (San Francisco, Calif.: Jossey-Bass, 2003); note 38: Abraham H. Foxman, Never Again?: The Threat of the New Anti-Semitism (San Francisco, Calif.: HarperSanFrancisco, 2003); Gabriel Schoenfeld, The Return of Anti-Semitism (New York: Encounter, 2003), based on Schoenfeld's essays for Commentary magazine.
(40.) A helpful review of Merkley's treatment of the Roman Catholic approach to the state of Israel is provided by Eugene J. Fisher, review of Christian Attitudes Towards. the State of Israel, by Paul Charles Merkley, First Things, February 2002, 62-66.
(41.) See Stockton, "Christian Zionism," 247.
(42.) Merkley, Christian Attitudes, 200, 201, 216, 215.
(43.) Ibid., 73; 55-59; 76-77; 220. It must be stated that the concern expressed by Raheb, pastor of Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem, is pastoral, not political--though the two, especially for Lutherans, can never fully be separated.
(44.) Mark Tooley, "UM Missionary Urges Solidarity With Palestinian 'Liberation Movement,'" UMAction, 30 April 2001; Erik Nelson and Mark Tooley, "A One-Sided Explanation of Terror," IRD online, 23 August 2001; Tooley, "UM Missionaries are Activists for the Palestinian Cause," IRD online, 24 August 2002. See also Tooley, "Commentary: Methodist Missionary Berates America on 9-11 Anniversary," IRD online, 12 September 2002.
(45.) These complications are taken into account, for instance, in the "Geneva Accords" released in October 2003, a thorough peace plan spearheaded by Yossi Beilin, Israeli MK (Member of Knesset).
(46.) Munib Younan, Bishop of the ELCJ, has called Christian Zionism a heresy for this very reason. See Ann E. Hafften, "Challenge the Implications of 'Christian Zionism,'" Journal of Lutheran Ethics 3 (February 2003).
(47.) Cited by Malcolm Foster, "Christian Zionists Feel the Heat for Fighting Peace: Extremists Wield Considerable Power within Republican Party," (Middle East & North Africa) The Daily Star, 26 July 2003, 3.
(48.) Merkley, Christian Attitudes, 218, 217-18.
(49.) Cited in Wagner, "Reagan and Begin," 46. The website is at <http://www.jhm.org/exodus2.asp>, accessed 1 November 2003.
(50.) Ken Camp and Becky Bridges, "Falwell's Theology Shaped by Politics, BGCT Leaders Say," Baptist Standard, 14 October 2002.
(51.) See Gary M. Burge, Who Are God's People in the Middle East? (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1993) and his Whose Land? Whose Promise?: What Christians Are Not Being Told about Israel and the Palestinians (Cleveland: Pilgrim Press, 2003); Donald E. Wagner, Anxious for Armageddon: A Call to Partnership for Middle Eastern and Western Christians (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald, 1995) and his Dying in the Land of Promise: Palestine and Palestinian Christianity from Pentecost to 2000, 2nd ed. (London: Melisende, 2003); and Colin Chapman, Whose Promised Land?: The Continuing Crisis Over Israel and Palestine (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2002).
(52.) See, for instance, D. Neff, "Love Thy (Arab) Neighbor," CT, 22 October 1990, 22; and Elaine Ruth Fletcher, "Between the Temple Mount and a Hard Place: Palestinian Christians Want Both Peace in Their Villages and Justice for Their Muslim Brothers," CT, 4 December 2000, 66.
(53.) Mark Harlan, "A Middle Way in the Middle East: A Third Theological Path through the Israeli-Palestinian Thicket," CT, April 2003, 84; Todd Hertz, "Opinion Roundup: The Evangelical View of Israel?," CT online, week of 9 June 2003.
(54.) CT Editorial, "Roadblocks and Voting Blocs: Today's Evangelicals are Committed to Peace--Not Just Security--for Israel," CT, August 2003, 32.
(55.) Novik, The United States and Israel, 71. See n. 6 above.
(56.) At the time of this writing, President Bush has agreed with Israeli Prime Minister Sharon's assessment that a unilateral departure from Gaza is a move toward peace and that the return of Palestinian refugees displaced in 1948 and 1967 is impractical. Those agreements took place in the shadow of Israel's "separation barrier"--decried by many Israeli and international human rights organizations as another means for Israel to annex West Bank land desirable for Israeli purposes. These understandings were established in the exchange of letters between Bush and Sharon during the latter's visit to Washington, D.C., on 14 April 2004.
(57.) Cantor, The Religious Bight, 71-73. On the dehumanization of Arabs, though in a different context, see Edward W. Said, "The Essential Terrorist," in Blaming the Victims: Spurious. Scholarship and the Palestinian Question, ed. Edward W. Said and Christopher Hitchens (New York: Verso, 1988).
(58.) See Cal Thomas and Ed Dobson, Blinded by Might: Can the Religious Right Save America? (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1999).
(59.) Interesting mainline/liberal engagements with these perspectives can be found in Rosemary Radford Ruether and Herman J. Ruether, The Wrath of Jonah: The Crisis of Religious Nationalism in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, 2nd ed. (Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress, 2002), and in the first chapters of Barbara R. Rossing, The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation (Boulder, Colo.: Westview, 2004). Approaches less combative to evangelical sensibilities will make for a more productive interface between the two communities.
(60.) For indigenous Palestinian perspectives, see Naim Stifan Meek, Justice, and Only Justice: A Palestinian Theology of Liberation (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1989), Elias Chacour, We Belong to the Land: The Story of a Palestinian Israeli Who Lives for Peace and Reconciliation (San Francisco, Calif.: HarperSanFrancisco, 1990), Mitri Raheb, I Am a Palestinian Christian (Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress Press, 1995), and Munib Younan, Witnessing for Peace: In Jerusalem and the World (Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress Press, 2003). Jewish prophetic perspectives, theological and otherwise, can be found in Tom Segev and Carey Roane, eds., The Other Israel: Voices. of Refusal and Dissent (New York: New Press, 2002); and Tony Kushner, ed., Wrestling with Zion: Progressive Jewish-American Responses to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (New York: Grove Press, 2003).
* ROBERT O. SMITH (B.A., Oklahoma State University; M.A.,
M.Div., Luther Seminary) is pastor, St. John Lutheran Church, Coryell City,
Texas and Ph.D. candidate, Church-State Studies, Baylor University. He
is co-author of Christians and the Land Called Holy: Special Space, Special
Call (forthcoming). His articles have appeared in Dialog and Word &
World. Special interests include Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Lutheran social ethics,
liberation theology, and post-Holocaust Jewish thought and Jewish-Christian