There are a number of similarities between 19th Century British and 20th Century American attitudes to Israel. In both, as the international power broker of their day, the blend of religion and politics became inextricably entwined. In the closing decades of the 19th and early 20th Century, there was a convergence of British strategic colonial interests and Christian Zionism within significant segments of the intellectual and political intelligentsia. Likewise current American foreign policy in the Middle East largely coincides with that of the powerful Christian Zionist lobby.271 Both parties, now as then, favour a strong and dominant pro-American presence in the Middle East whether for pragmatic reasons of military strategy, or because it conforms to their particular eschatology. Among a consensus of American Christian fundamentalist leaders, these twin motives, religious and political are unashamedly connected and intrinsic to a predicted apocalyptic scenario which one writer has gone so far as to describe as, 'Operation Desert Storm II.'272
In 1976-77 several events occurred simultaneously which had the effect of accelerating the influence of Christian Zionism as a political phenomenon in America.
A religious and political marriage was consummated between American Zionist organisations, Israeli leadership, and Fundamentalist Christian Zionists.273
In 1977 the Likud party under Menachem Begin came to power on an expansionist Zionist platform using biblical phraseology to justify the settlement of the West Bank. It was Begin for example who first renamed Israel and the Occupied Territories as Judaea and Samaria.274 In America the Jewish lobby realised the potential significance of wooing the political endorsement of the powerful 50-60 million Evangelical block vote through their fundamentalist leadership. With this in mind, in 1979, the Israeli government honoured Jerry Falwell with the Jabotinsky Award in appreciation of his support of Israel. They also provided him with a Lear jet to assist in his work on their behalf.275
U.S. President Jimmy Carter was well known for his evangelical beliefs and these he applied to his Middle Eastern policy.276 In a speech made in 1978 he explained how he saw the state of Israel as,
A return at last, to the Biblical land from which the Jews were driven so many hundreds of years ago... The establishment of the nation of Israel is the fulfilment of Biblical prophecy and the very essence of its fulfilment.277
In another speech, this time given before the Israeli Knesset in March 1979 he dwelt on the special relationship between America and Israel, stressing how,
It has been and it is a unique relationship. And it is a relationship that is indestructible, because it is rooted in the consciousness and the morals and the religion and the beliefs of the American people themselves... Israel and the United States were shaped by pioneers - my nation is also a nation of immigrants and refugees - by peoples gathered in both nations from many lands... We share the heritage of the Bible.278
Carter made several trips to the Middle East where he met with both Israeli and Palestinian leaders. His recollection of those meetings demonstrates a sad naivety . When faced with repeated claims of the denial of basic human rights among the Palestinians, Carter innocently confessed,
On one occasion I argued with them about their refusal to take the strongest cases to the Israeli Supreme Court, and I tried to assure the group that they would get a fair hearing and perhaps set a precedent that would be beneficial in many similar cases... I was assured that Israeli lawyers were available to represent the Palestinians... The Israelis told me that in every instance there was a legal basis for the taking of land - or it was needed for security purposes... I asked an Israeli Supreme Court justice if he considered the treatment of the Palestinians fair; he said that he dealt fairly with every case brought before him in the high court... When I inquired about the purposes of the PLO, they seemed somewhat taken aback that I needed to ask such a question...279
Following the failure of the Camp David agreements Carter came to believe the Arab-Israeli conflict could not be solved by international intervention, or even pressure from America, but only by the Israeli electorate.
Unless there is a massive Arab-Israeli war, the key to the future of Israel will not be found outside the country but within. Neither the United States nor any combination of Arab powers can force its preferences on Israel concerning the West Bank and Gaza, Palestinian rights, or the occupied territories of Syria and Lebanon. The judgments concerning what is best for israel will be made in Jerusalem, through democratic processes involving all Israelis who can express their views or elect their leaders... The outcome of this debate will shape the future of Israel; it may also determine the prospects for peace in the Middle East - and perhaps the world.280
Carter's pessimistic dispensational roots are perhaps evident in the last sentence. His eventual downfall, in part due to the loss of the fundamentalist block vote; the exploitation of the media by Evangelicals Concern for Israel including well known figures as Pat Boone and Vernon Grounds; the rise of Moral Majority as a political campaigning organisation under Jerry Falwell; and the election of Ronald Reagan as a President who publicly subscribed to a Fundamentalist premillennial dispensational theology, all combined to give a considerable boost to the Christian Zionist cause. In the 1980 presidential elections, Wagner claims that 80% of Evangelicals supported the conservative wing of the Republican party, and Ronald Reagan, in particular.
The election of Ronald Reagan ushered in not only the most pro-Israel administration in history but gave several Christian Zionists prominent political posts. In addition to the President, those who subscribed to a futurist premillennial theology and Christian Zionism included Attorney General Ed Meese, Secretary of Defence Casper Weinberger, and Secretary of the Interior James Watt Once the Reagan Administration opened the door, leading Evangelical Christian Zionist televangelists and writers were given direct access to the President and cabinet members. Rev. Jerry Falwell, Christian Zionist televangelist Mike Evans and author Hal Lindsey among them.281
'White House Seminars' became a regular feature of Reagan's administration bringing Christian Zionists into direct personal contact with national and Congressional leaders.
In Reagan's Address to the Nation on the West Bank and the Palestinians in 1982, marking the ejection of the PLO from Beirut, he gave the official position of the United States government,
Today has been a day that should make all of us proud... Our involvement in the search for Mideast peace is not a matter of preference, it is a moral imperative... We also have an irreversible commitment to the survival and territorial integrity of friendly states... So the United States will not support the establishment of an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, and we will not support annexation or permanent control by Israel... But it is the firm view of the United States that self-government by the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza in association with Jordan offers the best chance for a durable, just and lasting peace.282
However, in a personal conversation reported in the Washington Post in April of 1984, Reagan told the chief Israeli lobbyist, Tom Dine,
You know, I turn back to the ancient prophets in the Old Testament and the signs foretelling Armageddon, and I find myself wondering if-if we're the generation that is going to see that come about. I don't know if you've noted any of these prophecies lately, but believe me they certainly describe the times we're going through.283
For Fundamentalists such as Jerry Falwell and Mike Evans, America is seen as the great redeemer, her role in the world providentially and politically preordained.284 The two nations of America and Israel are like Siamese twins, linked not only by common self interest but more significantly by similar religious foundations. Together they are perceived to be pitted against an evil world dominated by Communist and Islamic totalitarian regimes antithetical to the values of America and Israel.285 So for example, Mike Evans, founder and president of Lovers of Israel Inc, in the following quotations from his book, Israel, America's Key to Survival, almost mimics and plays on the apocalyptic scenario of Benjamin Netanyahu, offering 'biblical' grounds for their countries mutual survival.
If America goes down, then the whole world goes down. Nothing will remain of the world. If America was not around, the Soviet Union would take over the world in three days. Their goals are to destroy America... to destroy it... to reduce it to nothing; and they feel they can effectively do it through terrorism.286
Only one nation, Israel, stands between Soviet-sponsored terrorist aggression and the complete decline of the United States as a democratic world power... Surely demonic pressure will endeavor to encourage her to betray Israel. This must not happen. Israel is the key to America's survival. For God has said of the nations who will oppose Israel, "Yea, those nations shall be utterly wasted... I will bless them that bless thee, and curse them that curseth thee..."(Isa.60:12; Gen. 12:3)...As we stand with Israel, I believe we shall see God perform a mighty work in our day. God is going to bless America and Israel as well. It is not too late. I believe this is the greatest hour to be alive, and the key is unity, standing tall, proclaiming with a voice of love our commitment to the House of Israel, and to the God of Israel.287
Similarly, Ramon Bennett, author of 'Saga: Israel and the Demise of the Nations' and spokesman for Arm of Salvation, a Christian Zionist organisation based in Jerusalem, emotively dedicates his book, 'To the men of the Israeli Defence Force who display immense courage when facing impossible odds. To the grieving parents, wives, children, sweethearts, sisters and brothers and friends, whose tears have watered the parched earth of Eretz Yisreal.' 288
The International Christian Embassy, Jerusalem has, since 1980, become the semi-official voice of this coalition of Christian religious and political Zionist organisations, frequently cultivated, exploited and quoted by the Israeli Government when ever a sympathetic Christian view point is needed to enhance their own policies, and rebut Western criticism. For example, in October 1996, Benjamin Netanyahu the Israeli Prime Minister spoke at the Jerusalem 3000 rally organised by the International Christian Embassy, Jerusalem, to support Israel's sovereignty over Jerusalem. Following the provocative opening of an underground tunnel by the Israelis from the Western Wall through the Moslem Quarter, he was cheered when he insisted the tunnel, 'is open. It will stay open. It will always stay open.'289
Not surprisingly the 1993 Peace-Accord signed by the Israeli Government and the PLO has been sharply criticised by Christian Zionist groups who see it as a threat to the realisation of Eretz Israel. In particular they have opposed the handing back of the West Bank and the threat to the status of the Jewish settlements. For example, Theodore Temple Beckett, Chairman of the Christian Friends of Israel Community Development Foundation, as well as President of the Colorado-based Foundation for Israel, has initiated an 'adopt-a-settlement program among American Evangelical Churches. The Jewish town of Ariel has already been adopted by Faith Bible Chapel in Denver. By the end of 1995 it was Beckett's expectation that around 70 Jewish settlements would have been adopted by churches,
...with larger churches adopting larger settlements and smaller churches adopting smaller settlements and giving all a morale boost to show them they are not alone and are loved by many.290
On the 21st December 1995, just hours before the Israeli's handed over administrative responsibility for Bethlehem to the Palestinian National Authority, the Voice of America radio station carried a news report claiming some Evangelical Christian groups had called for a boycott of Christmas celebrations in Bethlehem in protest.
Nine Christian Organisations have called their faithful not to go to Bethlehem this Christmas, to protest the transfer of the City to Palestinian rule. One of those Groups is called Bridges for Peace. Its Director is Clarence Wagner.
'There are millions of Evangelical Christians and other Middle East Christians who are concerned about the fact that Bethlehem has been unilaterally turned over to the Palestinian Authority, which is under the aegis of the PLO, and therefore has placed Bethlehem under Muslim control. Historically, Islam has not respected Christian holy sites. And here, Manger Square, the birthplace of Jesus, one of the holiest shrines in Christianity, is sort of quietly being turned over to a Muslim authority and no one is saying anything like, 'What will this mean for the future?... We have no idea what the experience under the PA will be, particularly if more fanatical Islamic Fundamentalism does increase in the years to come.'
...But the Latin Patriarch of the Holy Land, Michel Sabbah, who is Palestinian, said he welcomes the transfer of authority in Bethlehem and Mr. Arafat's plan to attend Midnight Mass. He says, religion and politics have always been linked in the Middle East and this is an opportunity to make that linkage in a positive way. Patriarch Sabbah... sharply criticizes those who are calling for a boycott of Bethlehem this Christmas.
'They are our brothers, every human being is our brother, but they are coming from abroad and they are bringing in the country feelings from abroad which do not correspond to the views and to the needs, spiritual and human, of the Land. This Land needs reconciliation. So, this is what we need, and not people coming from outside to tell us to boycott this and boycott that.' 291
The International Christian Embassy, quoted in the Sunday Times, on Christmas Eve 1995 predicted that the celebrations that night would, '...look more like Arafat's birthday than that of Jesus.'292 Ray Borlaise, writing in the Prayer Bulletin of Intercessors for Britain in January 1996, made similar criticisms of the transfer of power in Bethlehem, but apparently on sound theological grounds,
It is plain from Zechariah 12 that Jerusalem will become a contentious issue leading to conflict. Many feel that Ezekiel 38 & 39 will take place in the last days and will be a conflict between Islamic countries and Israel. There may be previous skirmishes before that battle takes place on the 'mountains of Israel' - some areas of which have just been handed over to the Palestinians. We sense that the peace may falter causing Samaria and Judea to pass back into Jewish hands. Will God allow Bethlehem, the burial place of Rachel, the town of Ruth and the birth place of David (let alone that of Jesus) to remain in Arab hands when it was promised to Abraham, Issac (sic) and Jacob as an eternal inheritance? (Genesis 17)293
Borlaise, in one short paragraph, makes a number of typical Christian Zionist assumptions which will be explored in more detail in a later chapter. He assumes, for example, that selectively chosen ancient Hebrew writings relate directly to contemporary events, and will thereby some how determine future events, conveniently ignoring other prophetic passages in which God warns of the expulsion of the Jews from the land as and when they fail to act righteously and with justice. It is also interesting that Borlaise not only refers to the Occupied Territories, as 'Judea and Samaria,' but also assumes that because Bethlehem had an historical significance in Jewish history between 3,500 - 2000 years ago, contemporary Jewish people have some divine right to occupy and confiscate the land of those living there prior to 1967.
A notorious example of this relates to the confiscation of Palestinian owned land at Abu-Ghoneim mountain, located at the northern edge of Beit Sahour on the traditional site of the Shepherds Fields, which was ratified by the Israeli Supreme Court on December 4th 1994. Local Christians see this particular Jewish settlement project, called Har Homa, as one of the most serious and dangerous, not only because the building work involves the destruction of several ancient Christian shrines, but also because it demonstrates a flagrant State-initiated contradiction and judicially-ratified disregard for both the text and spirit of the Peace Accord signed a year earlier.294
At the Third International Christian Zionist Congress, held in February 1996 under the auspices of ICEJ, the following resolutions were passed unanimously indicating the explicit religio-political agenda of ICEJ.
Further, we are persuaded by the clear unction of our God to express the sense of this Congress on the following concerns before us this day,
1. Because of the sovereign purposes of God for the City, Jerusalem must remain undivided, under Israeli sovereignty, open to all peoples, the capitol of Israel only, and all nations should so concur and place their embassies here.
2. As a faith bound to love and forgiveness we are appreciative of the attempts by the Government of Israel to work tirelessly for peace. However, the truths of God are sovereign and it is written that the Land which He promised to His People is not to be partitioned... It would be further error for the nations to recognize a Palestinian state in any part of Eretz Israel.
3. To the extent the Palestinian Covenant or any successor instrument calls for the elimination of Israel or denies the right of Israel to exist within secure borders in Eretz Israel, it should be abolished.
4. The Golan is part of biblical Israel and is a vital strategic asset necessary for the security and defense of the entire country.
C. The Islamic claim to Jerusalem, including its exclusive claim to the Temple Mount, is in direct contradiction to the clear biblical and historical significance of the city and its holiest site, and this claim is of later religio-political origin rather than arising from any Qur'anic text or early Muslim tradition.
7. While Gentile believers have been grafted into that household of faith which is of Abraham (the commonwealth of Israel), replacement theology within the Christian faith, which does not recognize the ongoing biblical purposes for Israel and the Jewish People, is doctrinal error.
8. Regarding Aliyah, we remain concerned for the fate of imperiled Jewish People in diverse places, and seek to encourage and assist in the continuing process of Return of the Exiles to Eretz Israel. To this end we commit to work with Israel and to encourage the Diaspora to fulfill the vision and goal of gathering to Israel the greater majority of all Jewish People from throughout the world.295
Under Netanyahu's influence, the Israeli government remains enthusiastic to nurture the support of Christian Zionists. Exploiting the association of Megiddo with the apocalypse, Israeli planners and architects, with Netanyahu's blessing, have began creating a three dimensional 'virtual Megiddo'. While some critics have described it 'Apocalypso', Israeli officials are keen to capitalise on the millions of additional visitors, 'expected to flock to mark the end of the millennium in gloomy style.'296 Ze'ev Margalit, the official in charge of the development claimed, ...the beauty of this place is that it has a 6,000-year history that can take people back to the dawn of civilisation, a vibrant present and an apocalyptic future.297 Anxious to avoid creating a 'Disneyland of the apocalypse', Margalit added, 'There are a lot of different ideas on how to deal with this. It is easy to get kitsch and we must avoid that. So we will leave a lot to the imagination.'298 Keen to encourage greater numbers of Christians to visit Israel leading up to the Millennium, Netanyahu has recently taken part in programmes broadcast on Evangelical radio stations.
Boosting evangelical tourism dovetails with his plans to deepen Israel's ties with leaders of America's Christian far right, many of whom are sympathetic to Zionism... Netanyahu has a long history of nurturing these ties. He believes the conservative Christian influence in American public opinion, and particularly within the Republican party controlling congress, can be used to counter liberal Democrats such as President Bill Clinton, who want Israel to cede land to the Palestinians.299
Was this article helpful?