March 29, 2007
Evangelical leader’s speech backing Israel alarms some
The tent-revival pro-Israel speech by the Rev. John Hagee thrilled many delegates at the recent policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
However, others were alarmed. It was not by Hagee's message, which was hardly new, but by the reaction of a pro-Israel community that chooses to see only one side of a man and a movement with a complex agenda and a knack for recasting it for different audiences.
Jewish leaders say that with Israel increasingly pilloried by mainline Protestant groups, the motives of the evangelicals don't matter, just the ardency of their support. So do many on the Israeli right. This week, the Knesset Christian Allies Caucus, in partnership with a Christian group that is working for the "restoration" of Israel, held its first Jerusalem Assembly for Christian Zionists.
But that reaction ignores the fact that Christian Zionists like Hagee are increasingly trying to affect U.S. Mideast policy. The biblical perspective shaping that activism offers only more war and new holocausts for the Jews, not the peace that Israelis crave.
Hagee stirred the AIPAC crowd with his promise that "50 million evangelicals and 5 million Jews" will work to solidify support for Israel. Mainstream pro-Israel leaders welcome the Christian Zionists' numbers, their willingness to raise money for Israel, their political clout and their tourism in Israel, even when fearful Jews stay home.
Israeli right-wingers love the Christian Zionists for another reason: Unlike most American Jews, these Christians believe that giving back the West Bank violates God's covenant with Israel.
However, there are also dangers centering largely on the motives of these lovers of Zion. When addressing Jewish groups, Hagee and others focus on only a biblical mandate to love the Jewish people and stand up for Israel. But to fellow Christians, the focus is on biblical prophecy about new and horrific wars, death on an unimaginable scale and a peace that can come only with the 'Second Coming of Jesus.'
In Hagee's 2005 book, "Jerusalem Countdown," he writes "no prophetic scripture is more crystal clear than Ezekiel's vivid and specific description of the coming massive war in the Middle East that will sweep the world toward Armageddon."
In a book emphasizing the Iranian threat, Hagee writes, "God holds the future of Israel in HIS hands, and it will be a glorious future." What he neglects to tell Jewish audiences is that the glory part applies only to Jews who have accepted Christ. "David's son, King Jesus, will rule and reign for one thousand years in the golden age of peace from Jerusalem," he writes.
Jewish leaders aren't unaware of this theology, but they dismiss it as irrelevant. We'll find out who the real messiah is when he comes, they flippantly say, and in the meantime, gladly accept their political support.
But these same Jewish leaders value this new alliance precisely because they believe the Christian Zionists are politically powerful. And Hagee, his eyes alight with the promise of the Christian redemption, seems unlikely to use his political clout to press for peaceful solutions that will avert the prophesied horrors.
Hagee has publicly called for pre-emptive attacks on Iran and linked that to Bible prophecy, promising that "the greatest war the world has ever seen will soon envelop Israel and Jerusalem." How, exactly, is that good for the Jews?
Rabbi Haim Dov Beliak, co-founder of Jews on First, a Web site that opposes Christian-right church-state policies, said that Hagee's "push for an attack on Iran is not based on a logically constructed policy but on cherry-picked biblical verses. And it is only the first step to the end-times scenario that Hagee enthusiastically predicts will engulf Israel in a devastating war."
At the same time, his growing connections to pro-Israel groups -- and his rapturous reception at AIPAC earlier this month --can only reinforce the dangerous charge that Jews are pushing America into yet another war.
If opposing any possible peace process results in horrific new wars, what's the problem? Isn't that what their prophecies demand as the birth pangs of the new millennial age? Confined to a church or revival tent, these views just seem wacky to outsiders, not scary.
But Hagee has the ear of important members of Congress and easy access to the White House; he has created a lobby to support Israel and, it must be assumed, promote his view of what Israel needs in this dangerous age.
Jewish leaders are increasingly willing to overlook how their partnership with the religious right advances a prophecy-driven approach to U.S. policy that proclaims a "love" of Israel but demands unimaginable new suffering for its citizens.
They also choose to ignore how the new alliance legitimizes a radical domestic agenda that stands in stark opposition to the views of a vast majority of American Jews.
They also ignore the tarnish to the whole pro-Israel movement that occurs when nonevangelicals see Jewish groups linked to one of the most polarizing, extreme forces in American society.