Unholy Alliance: Christian Zionists and the Israeli/Palestinian Conflict

By Welton, Michel R. | Canadian Dimension, March-April 2003 | Go to article overview

Unholy Alliance: Christian Zionists and the Israeli/Palestinian Conflict


Welton, Michel R., Canadian Dimension


Standing Up for Jesus and Jews

Imagine thousands of people cheering and shouting for Israel in the huge Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C. On stage, Ehud Olmert, the mayor of Jerusalem, proclaims: "God is with us. You are with us." The crowd hollers, whoops and some blow the shofar. But none of those present is Jewish. Outside the auditorium Leanne Canker from Oklahoma is carrying a placard that reads, "Just say No! to a Palestinian state." Next to her stands another group of demonstrators, Hasidic Jews from Brooklyn. They oppose the state of Israel.

This conference, the annual meeting of the U.S. Christian Coalition for Israel, began with a video-taped benediction from the White House. When Tom DeLay, the powerful, born-again majority whip in the House of Representatives, addressed the audience, he asked them, "Are you tired of all this? Are you?" "Nooo!" they roared back. "Not when you're standing up for Jews and Jesus, that's for sure!" he replied. DeLay was followed by Pat Robertson, the coalition's founder, who dwelt on Arab plans to drive Israel into the sea and the sins of Arafat and his "gang of thugs."

At another rally in Washington, D.C., in the spring of 2002, thousands of miles away from the ruins of Nablus and Jenin, tens of thousands of American Jews (and many of their non-Jewish supporters) gathered to show solidarity with Israel. Speaker after speaker had one simple message: "America and Israel united against terrorism." Janet Paraschall, representing Christian broadcasters in the U.S., made it clear in her speech that support for Israel was now a litmus test for those who claimed to be America's moral majority. "We represent millions of Christian broadcasters in this country. We stand with you now, and forever."

Since September 11, 2001, there has been an explosion of Christian fundamentalist support for Israel in America. The Christian Right (there are approximately 40 million on this side of the political spectrum in the U.S.) has had some influence on U.S. policy over the last three decades. Presidents Carter, Reagan and George W Bush all claimed to be "born-again Christians." But, with Bush's election, the Christian Right has gained extraordinary influence over American foreign policy relating to the Middle East in general, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in particular.

Asked if he believed whether Ariel Sharon was a man of peace, and if he was satisfied with his and his own government's assurances tat there was no massacre in Jenin, Bush gave his infamous reply: "I do believe Atiel Sharon is a man of peace." Coupled with Reverend Jerry Falwell's remarks in the first week of October, 2002 -- "Mohammed was a terrorist I read enough of the history of his life, written by both Muslims and non-Muslims [to know] that he was a violent man, a man of war." - many Arabs and non-fundamentalist Christians were incensed and placed on alert. The "war on terrorism" appeared to turning into a Christian war against Islam and Arabs.

The main interpretive challenge for those of us who are secular-minded (including me, who was once an evangelical, 35 years ago) is to recognize that Christian Zionists read the daily news as signs of God's presence in the world. They don't separate mythic stories about the meaning of life and God's intervention in our affairs from the use of reason to order our affairs.

Beliefs matter -- but some beliefs have very bad consequences.

Christians Dream of a Home for Scattered Jews

Most of the books written on Zionism focus on the writings of early Jewish leaders like Moses Hess, who in 1862 wrote Rome and Jerusalem, and mark Theodor Herzl's The Jewish State (1897) as the seminal Zionist text. Ironically, however, the Zionist dream was articulated by Christian Zionists many years before Jewish involvement in the dream of restoring a "Jewish state" in Palestine. In the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, for example, British Puritans (and Americans like the theologian Increase Mather) wrote several treatises on God's plan to restore the Jews to their homeland.

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