Will Fundamentalist Christians and Jews Ignite Apocalypse? Many Fundamentalist Christians Embrace Israel Because of Their End-Times Theology; Israel's Right Wing Welcomes the Economic and Political Support

Article excerpt

First in a two-part series

In September, thousands of Christian Zionists met in Jerusalem for the Jewish holiday of Sukkot to cheer on Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and to declare their unconditional support for the state of Israel. Organized by the International Christian Embassy, the meeting appeared to be a love-in as much as a rally. "Walking here, I heard many times, and many people said, `We love you, we love Israel,' "Sharon said. "May I tell you we love you. We love all of you."

On the face of it, the love affair between conservative Christians and Israel's hawkish head of state seems unlikely, but mutual interests notoriously make for strange bedfellows. Many fundamentalist Christians embrace the state of Israel because of its role in their own end-of-time theology. For its part, the right wing in Israel welcomes the economic and political support it receives from conservative Christians around the world and particularly in the United States.

Religion and politics. It's an incendiary combination anywhere, and particularly in the Middle East where Christian fundamentalists, often working in tandem with Jewish Messianic settlers, promote the formation of a Greater Israel that they believe will usher in Armageddon itself. Many of this country's most ardent Christian supporters of Israel welcome that prospect. Others who don't subscribe to the end-of-time theology of "dispensational premillennialism" worry that the agenda pushed by the tactical alliance between Jewish and Christian fundamentalists will transform the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from a battle between two nationalities into a war of civilizations that will engulf the world.

"It's a very tragic situation in which Christian fundamentalists, certain groups of them that focus on Armageddon and the Rapture and the role of a war between Muslims and Jews in bringing about the Second Coming, are involved in a folie h deux with extremist Jews," said Ian Lustick, a professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania, a consultant on the Middle East to the last four presidential administrations and the author of the book For the Land and the Lord: Jewish Fundamentalism in Israel.

Whether the Bush administration is reflecting the views of the Christian right or responding to them is difficult to say, but some Mideast analysts are convinced they are seeing their effect played out in U.S. support for Sharon's hard-line policies. "I think in general it's safe to say Christian fundamentalism has an influence on the administration and specifically with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," said Kathleen Christison, a former CIA political analyst and the author of Perceptions of Palestine: Their Influence on U.S. Middle East Policy.

"There is a group of people in the Defense Department and in the vice president's office who are very, very pro-Israeli and very pro the Likud Party in Israel," said Christison, who named Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz; Undersecretary of Policy in the Defense Department Douglas Feith; adviser to the Defense Department Richard Perle; Vice President Cheney's chief of staff Lewis Libby Jr.; and Elliot Abrams on the National Security Council staff.

The United States' current and exclusive focus on Islamic fundamentalism is a case of what some argue is selective blindness.

"We pay a lot of attention to Islamic extremism, but we don't pay a lot of attention to Christian extremism or the extremism in the Jewish religion that is being used to justify what is going on today," said James Zogby, founder and president of the Arab American Institute in Washington, speaking about the turmoil in the Middle East. Zogby argues that despite disclaimers to the contrary the United States is waging a war on Islam at home and abroad even as it tacitly supports extremist settlers in the occupied territories Israel controls.

Since Sept. 11, suspected Muslim charities have been shut down by the U. …