The evangelical-Jewish alliance
Marching to Zion

by Donald E. Wagner

Yielding to increasing pressure to show the Arab and Islamic worlds (and
much of Europe) that he is sensitive to the plight of the Palestinian
people, President George W. Bush recently declared his commitment to
implement a ³road map² to an Israeli-Palestinian peace. Meanwhile, a
powerful domestic countermovement capable of undermining the U.S. initiative
is well under way. Rising opposition from the conservative Ariel Sharon-led
Israeli government and its powerful U.S. lobby, the America-Israel Political
Affairs Committee (AIPAC), was to be expected. But the most numerically
significant opposition is coming from the Christian right, an important
constituency for the president if he is to be reelected in 2004.
Republican election advisers undoubtedly are watching the Christian right
carefully. An early April rally in Washington, D.C., organized by the
International Fellowship of Christians and Jews drew key Christian right
leaders like Gary Bauer, president of America Values. Bauer told the crowd
that ?whoever sits in Washington and suggests to the people of Israel that
they have to give up more land in exchange for peace, that is an obscenity.

Other key players convening the rally included the Christian Coalition and
AIPAC. Major speakers such as the Israeli ambassador to the U.S., Daniel
Ayalon, and pro-Israel Congressmen Eric Cantor (R., Va.) and Tom Lantos (D.,
Calif.) encouraged the predominantly evangelical Christian participants to
campaign against any plan that would force Israel to abandon its settlements
or relinquish land now under its control. Key provisions of the road map
call for Israel to make concessions on both issues.

For the president, pushing for the implementation of the road map will
require a careful balancing act. Since the September 11 terrorist attacks,
he has solidified political support from three important constituencies:
neoconservative intellectuals, American Jews (including members of the
influential pro-Israel lobby) and fundamentalist Christians, constituencies
that find common ground in their vigorous support for Israel.

A decisive moment in the forging of this alliance occurred in April 2002,
while the Israeli army was demolishing several cities and refugee camps in
the West Bank following the dreadful Passover terrorist bombings. Under
increasing international pressure, Bush repeatedly appealed to Sharon to
withdraw from the West Bank city of Jenin. The pro-Israel lobby, in
coordination with the Christian right, mobilized over 100,000 e-mail
messages, calls and visits urging the president to avoid restraining
Israel.

The tactic worked. The president uttered not another word of criticism or
caution, and Sharon continued the offensive. As Christian televangelist
Jerry Falwell commented during an October interview on 60 Minutes: ?I think
now we can count on President Bush to do the right thing for Israel every
time.

Falwell spoke for a large number of Christian Zionists in the U.S.,
Christians who believe that the modern state of Israel is the fulfillment of
biblical prophecy and so deserves unconditional political, financial and
religious support. Christian Zionists work closely with religious and
secular Jewish Zionist organizations and the Israeli government,
particularly during periods when the more conservative Likud Party is in
control of the Israeli Knesset (parliament). Though Falwell claims to be
speaking for over 100 million Americans, the number is actually closer to 25
million. Mainstream evangelicals number between 75 and 100 million;
fundamentalist and dispensationalist evangelicals, whom Falwell represents,
between 20 and 25 million.

Christian Zionism grows out of a particular theological system called
premillennial dispensationalism, which originated in early 19th-century
England. The preaching and writings of a renegade Irish clergyman, John
Nelson Darby, and a Scottish evangelist, Edward Irving, emphasized the
literal and future fulfillment of such teachings as the Rapture, the rise of
the Antichrist, the Battle of Armageddon, and the central role that a
revived state of Israel would play during the end days. Darby and Irving
argued that portions of the books of Daniel, Ezekiel, Zechariah and
Revelation predict when Jesus will return and how the final battle of
history will take place.

Darby brought these doctrines to the U.S. during eight missionary journeys.
They captured the hearts and minds of those who attended Bible and prophecy
conferences in the years after the Civil War. Darby?s teachings were
featured in the sermons of some of the great preachers of the 1880-1920
period: the evangelists Dwight L. Moody and Billy Sunday; major Presbyterian
preachers such as James Brooks; Philadelphia radio preacher Harry B.
Ironsides; and Cyrus I. Scofield. Scofield applied Darby?s eschatology to
his version of the scriptures and provided an outline of premillennial
dispensationalist notations on the text. The Scofield Bible (1909) gave
dispensationalist teachings much of their prominence and popularity. It
became the Bible version used by most evangelical and fundamentalist
Christians for the next 60 years.

Christian Zionists insist that all of historic Palestine?ncluding all the
land west of the Jordan which was occupied by Israel after the 1967 war?ust
be under the control of the Jewish people, for they see that as one of the
necessary stages prior to the second coming of Jesus. Among their other
basis tenets:

abrogated, according to Genesis 12:1-7; 15:4-7; 17:1-8; Leviticus 26:44-45;
Deuteronomy 7:7-8.

and Israel, one between God and the church. The latter covenant is
superseded by the covenant with Israel. The church is a ³mere parenthesis²
in God¹s plan and as such it will be removed from history during an event
called the Rapture (1 Thess. 4: 13-17; 5: 1-11). At that point, Israel, the
nation, will be restored as the primary instrument of God on earth.

you²) should be interpreted literally?which leads to maximum political,
economic, moral and spiritual support for the modern state of Israel and for
all the Jewish people.

Thessalonians 4-5 and the Book of Revelation refer to literal and future
events.

Temple, the rise of the Antichrist and the buildup of armies poised to
attack Israel are among the signs leading to the final eschatological battle
and Jesus¹ return for his thousand-year reign. The movement looks for the
escalating power of satanic forces aligned with the Antichrist that will do
battle with Israel and its allies as the end draws near. Judgment will
befall nations and individuals according to how they ³bless Israel.²

Christian Zionism has significant support within Protestant fundamentalism,
including much of the Southern Baptist Convention and the charismatic,
Pentecostal and independent churches. The movement can also be found in the
evangelical wings of the mainline Protestant churches (Presbyterian, United
Methodist and Lutheran) and to a lesser degree in Roman Catholicism. Its
reach is broad, since premillennialist dispensationalist themes are advanced
through Christian television, radio and publishing. The National Religious
Broadcasters organization, which controls almost 90 percent of religious
radio and television in the U.S., is dominated by a Christian Zionist
orientation.

The alliance of Christian Zionists and the pro-Israel lobby solidified
during the Reagan administration, although it declined somewhat during the
first Bush administration and the Clinton years. Clinton¹s Israeli ties were
with the secular Labor Party, led by Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, not
with the conservative Likud Party. Through this alliance Clinton embraced
the Oslo peace accords, which were opposed by Likud and the Christian
Zionists because the accords called for reductions, however modest, in the
expansion of Jewish settlements and asked that Israel withdraw from a
significant portion of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.
Shortly after Rabin¹s assassination, Likud¹s Benyamin Netanyahu became prime
minister. Long a favorite of Christian Zionists, he convened the Israel
Christian Advocacy Council, inviting 17 U.S. Christian fundamentalists to
Israel for a tour of the Holy Land and a conference that produced a
statement that resembled the Likud platform with biblical footnotes. The
declaration included a blanket rejection of any outside pressure on Israel
to abandon the settlements in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip
and the Golan Heights. The Christian group supported a united Jerusalem
under Israeli sovereignty rather that a Jerusalem shared by Palestinians and
Israelis.

After they returned to the U.S., members of the Israel Christian Advocacy
Council launched a campaign, ³Christians Call for a United Jerusalem,² with
full-page advertisements in major newspapers and Christian journals. The
advertisement carried several of the familiar Christian Zionist and Likud
Zionist themes, including the claim that ³Jerusalem has been the spiritual
and political capital of only the Jewish people for 3,000 years.² Citing
Genesis 12:17, Leviticus 26:44-45 and Deuteronomy 7:7-8, the ad stated that
³Israel¹s biblical claim to the land² was ³an eternal covenant from God.²
Among the signers were Pat Robertson of CBN; Ralph Reed, then director of
the Christian Coalition; Jerry Falwell; Brandt Gustafson, president of the
National Religious Broadcasters; Don Argue, president of the National
Association of Evangelicals; and Ed McAteer of the Religious Roundtable, one
of the first Christian Zionist organizations in North America.

The ad campaign was a direct response to a campaign by mainline Protestant,
Orthodox and Catholic churches, launched in April 1997, for ³a shared
Jerusalem.² The United Jerusalem campaign claimed that the Christian
Zionists and fundamentalists spoke for all evangelicals in North America,
stating that ³the signatories and their organizations reach more than 100
million Christian evangelicals weekly.² These inflated numbers were meant to
impress members of Congress, the media, and any evangelicals who took a
different view.

In the late 1990s donations to Israel and to the Jewish National Fund
declined because of the tensions between Orthodox Jews in Israel and Reform
and Conservative Jews in the U.S. The loss of funding caused the Likud to
turn to Christian Zionists for assistance, an appeal that met with a quick
response. Additional support came through a campaign led by the
International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, headed by a former
Anti-Defamation League employee, the Orthodox rabbi Yechiel Eckstein. In
1997 this campaign claimed that it raised over $5 million from
fundamentalist Christians. John Hagee¹s Cornerstone Church in San Antonio,
Texas, presented Eckstein with more than $1 million?funds for resettling
Jews from the Soviet Union in the West Bank and Jerusalem.

The Christian fundamentalist and Christian Zionist worldview converges with
the agenda of neoconservatives like Willliam Kristol, editor of the Weekly
Standard; syndicated journalists William Safire and Charles Krauthammer; and
the chief advisers in the Bush White House?Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle,
Douglas Feith and Elliott Abrams. Many of these figures used to work with
pro-Israel think tanks such as AIPAC; MEMRI (Middle East Media Research
Institute); JINSA (Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs); and the
Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Perle narrowly escaped conviction
for trading intelligence secrets with Israel in the late 1970s, and Abrams
was convicted (and pardoned by Reagan) in the Iran-Israel-contra weapons and
financial scandal.

The neo-conservatives¹ quest for U.S. domination of the oil fields in the
Middle East and of military and economic geopolitics in that region aligns
neatly with the views of Harvard scholar Samuel P. Huntington, whose ³clash
of civilizations² theory divides the world into the West vs. the Rest. In
the Huntington scenario, Islam is the force most hostile to U.S. interests?a
point of view that fits well with the ³evil empire² rhetoric and the
Antichrist scenarios found among the Christian Zionists. The ³clash of
civilizations² rhetoric often takes on theological overtones, as it did in
the president¹s 2002 and 2003 State of the Union addresses.

The advisers around Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President
Dick Cheney are driving their views home. Anatol Lieven, writing recently in
the London Review of Books, points to a 1996 policy paper ³A Clean Break: A
New Strategy for Securing the Realm,² by Perle and Douglas Feith, which
advised Netanyahu to abandon the Oslo peace process and return to military
repression of the Palestinians. The policy statement was developed in an
Israeli think tank, the Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political
Studies. The document seems to have played a large part in shaping the Bush
administration¹s strategy on Iraq, and perhaps for redrawing Middle East
borders according to the Likud vision.

Rumsfeld¹s support of Israel¹s illegal settlements, which he views as
Israel¹s ³right² for having conquered the Palestinian territories, indicates
that he agrees with Perle and Feith. Few have mentioned that Rumsfeld¹s
position violates existing U.S. policy, let alone international law and the
international consensus on the issue. Republican Dick Armey, former House
majority leader, agrees, and even advocates ethnic cleansing (³transfer²) in
Palestine.

Israel¹s leading voice for ³transfer,² Tourism Minister Benny Elon, recently
met with several members of the House and Senate, including Armey and
Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) to advocate transferring Palestinians to Jordan.
While Elon¹s views are linked with the radical fringe in Israel, his
³transfer² concept is gaining support among Christian Zionist legislators
and key spokesmen of the Christian right. Some Israeli analysts speculate
that the purpose of Elon¹s visit was to urge Israel¹s ³friends² in the
Christian right and on Capitol Hill to tell the president not to pressure
Israel to surrender land and settlements to a future Palestinian state.
Newsweek¹s June 2 edition reported that in mid-May, just prior to Elon¹s
visit, several Israeli officials contacted Bauer to rally the Christian
right in opposition to the ³road map.²

The dominance of Christian right, Christian Zionist and Likud policies in
the Bush administration reflects political realities. In 1987 polls
indicated that the Christian right represented 26 percent of the total
membership of the Republican Party. By 1999 that number had increased to 33
percent and was rising. The influence of pro-Israel groups and Christian
Zionists in such vital swing states as Texas, California and all-important
Florida may well have been the deciding factor for Bush in the 2000
election. Bush is very aware that he owes a political debt to this voting
bloc.

The May 2002 ³Washington Rally for Israel,² which drew, according to some
accounts, well over 100,000 people to the Washington Mall, illustrates the
influence of these forces. An impressive lineup of U.S. politicians was
joined by leading voices from the Christian right, Likud and mainstream
American Jewish organizations. The list included Netanyahu; Wolfowitz;
Holocaust writer Elie Wiesel; New York Governor George Pataki; former New
York Mayor Rudolf Guliani; U.S. Senators Arlen Specter (R., Pa.) and Barbara
Mikulski (D., Md.), and leading members of the House such as Armey (R.,
Tex.) and Richard Gephardt (D., Mo.).

However, the loudest cheers at the rally went not to these political leaders
but to a voice relatively unknown to the secular media, Christian radio
personality Janet Parshall, host of the nationally syndicated Janet
Parshall¹s America. Parshall drew a deafening ovation when she proclaimed:
³I stand before you today representing the National Religious Broadcasters.
.. . . We represent millions of Christian broadcasters in this country. We
stand with you now and forever. . . . I am here to tell you today, we
Christians and Jews together will not labor any less in our support for
Israel. We will never limp, we will never wimp, we will never vacillate in
our support of Israel.²

The cozy partnership contains many contradictions, not the least of which is
that within the Christian premillennial dispensationalist scenario, Jews
ultimately have two options: either convert to Christianity or be
incinerated at Armageddon. Israeli author Gershon Gorenberg (The End of
Days) notes that dispensationalism is essentially a four-act play, ³where we
as Jews disappear in the fourth act, just prior to the return of Jesus.²
Further, anti-Semitism is often just beneath the surface among Christian
Zionists and fundamentalists. Just two years ago Jerry Falwell claimed that
³God told him² that the Antichrist is a Jew living in Romania?a statement
for which he later profusely apologized. And the Christian right¹s agenda
includes the creation of a ³Christian America.²

Despite these contradictions, not only AIPAC but mainstream Jewish
organizations such as the Council of Presidents of Major Jewish
Organizations and the Anti-Defamation League/Bnai-Brith have allied
themselves with Christian Zionist organizations such as the Christian
Coalition, Religious Roundtable and the 700 Club. Surprisingly, many
progressive Reform Rabbis have  expressed public support for the Christian
Zionists and the Christian right, knowing full well that the Christian
right¹s theological and political agendas are contrary to the Reform Jewish
community¹s longstanding progressive stance on civil liberties and human
rights.

I once asked Israel¹s director of religious communities if he was aware of
the implications of the alliance with fundamentalist Christians,
particularly in light of their history of anti-Semitism, their dedication to
the Christianizing of America, and the ³convert or fry² Armageddon
scenarios. His response was: ³Of course we know all this, but we will take
support wherever we can get it, and their numbers are significant. We do
keep them on a short leash, however.² At the April rally Ambassador Ayalon
told the crowd, ³We share the same belief in God and we share the same
destiny²?a destiny that appears to be crafted along the lines of the Likud
Party platform.

The inevitable clash between Likud/Christian Zionist ideology and the
promise of the road map inevitably will come to the fore as the 2004
presidential election campaign heats up. Mitri Raheb, the Palestinian pastor
of Bethlehem¹s Christmas Lutheran Church, fears that if the pro-Israel
voices prevail, the ³road map² will turn into a ³road trap² for Palestinians
and for those Israelis committed to a two-state solution.

Muslims and other non-Jewish religious minorities in the U.S. have no
standing with the Christian right; indeed, Christian Zionists are openly
hostile toward Islam. Though an evangelical-Islamic dialogue has begun, it
is too new to begin to counter the voices of outspoken Christian right
leaders such as Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, who have
consistently portrayed Islam as an evil force that will align itself with
the Antichrist to attack Israel, leading to the Battle of Armageddon.

This doctrine fits well with the Bush ³axis of evil² concept, which can
readily be applied to any nation in which Muslims are the majority. Now that
Afghanistan and Iraq are occupied by the U.S., neoconservatives, Israeli
politicians and the Christian right seem to be targeting Iran, Syria and
possibly Saudi Arabia. In a revealing remark in London in December 2002,
Sharon noted that once the U.S. and its allies dispose of Saddam Hussein and
Iraq, Iran will be next on the list. Will such views dominate U.S. foreign
policy? Powell¹s speech to the AIPAC convention on March 30 included a
warning to Iran and Syria?an indication Sharon¹s vision is alive in U.S.
policy.

The Christian Zionist distortions of historic evangelical and orthodox
theology must be debated and confronted primarily by evangelicals but also
by mainline Protestants, whose churches sometimes absorb these doctrines.
Christian Zionist and dispensationalist thinking appears to be growing in
influence, especially in the Bible Belt and pockets of the West Coast and
rural America. As it spreads it will dominate more and more of our culture
and thus exert a growing influence on politics. Christian and Jewish
theologians need to attend to the deep inroads made by millennial theology
and its political alliances.

The biblical hermeneutic of Christian Zionism distorts biblical texts by
reading them out of their canonical and historical context, making them seem
more like such fictional works as the ³Left Behind² series than the whole
Word of God. The Christian Zionist worldview elevates Israel to a political
entity not accountable for keeping Torah or obeying the norms of
international law. In its justification of Israel¹s illegal program of land
confiscation, demolition of homes, targeted assassinations and continued
transfer of Palestinians from their homeland, the Christian right and
revisionist Zionist ideology encourage the breaking of the Ten Commandments
and the Levitical codes. Christian Zionists have traded the mantle of the
biblical prophets for an idolatry of militarism and the nation state.
An additional task for Christians is to make a closer examination of
ecclesiology. Christian Zionism is grounded in a reductionist ecclesiology
in which the state is elevated above the church. Such a view is inconsistent
with the New Testament and traditional Christian theology. Darby¹s doctrine
that the church is a ³mere parenthesis² enables Christians to minimize the
role of the global church and to ignore or openly despise Palestinian
Christians.

If present trends continue, the Palestinian Christian community, which
claims a historic continuity dating back to the first disciples, will
disappear from the Holy Land, leaving behind nothing but museums or shells
of churches. Palestinian Christians are fleeing their homeland not because
of Islamic fundamentalism, as many Israelis and Christian Zionists would
have us believe, but because their lives, livelihoods, families and future
are doomed by the continued Israeli occupation. In providing political and
economic support for Israeli militancy against Palestinian Christians and
Muslims, Christian Zionists are aiding the collapse of Christianity in the
Holy Land.

Donald E. Wagner teaches at North Park University in Chicago. He is the
author of Anxious for Armageddon (1995) and Dying in the Land of Promise:
Palestine and Palestinian Christianity from Pentecost to 2000 (revised
edition, 2003).