One would have expected at least some debate among neo-conservatives about last week’s repudiation of Christian Zionist Rev. John Hagee by Sen. John McCain, but the silence to date has been positively deafening. Virtually nothing has appeared in the National Review Online, and nothing at all in Bill’s Kristol’s Weekly or Daily Standard. Most remarkably, Commentary’s hyper-active on-line blog, ‘Contentions’ — which, like the other two publications, has been obsessed with Obama and the Rev. Wright — has simply ignored the event, as if it never happened. Is it because any comment at all is seen as too politically risky? Criticizing McCain for so peremptorily rejecting the man who, after all, was the keynote speaker at last year’s AIPAC convention could undermine his courtship of Jewish voters and funders. Agreement with McCain’s decision, on the other hand, could be taken badly by the Christian Right, a strategic ally of the neo-cons since before the 1980 election campaign.
After all, it was the neo-cons, mainly Irving Kristol and Commentary’s former editor, Norman Podhoretz, who, like the Likud party (whose then-leader, Prime Minister Menahim Begin, gave the late Jerry Falwell his first private jet), saw Christian Zionists as a key political constituency in the U.S. that would mobilize effectively against any inclination by a future U.S. president to pressure Israel to dismantle Jewish settlements on the West Bank or remove Jewish settlers from East Jerusalem as part of a peace deal with the Palestinians. That Christian Zionists like Falwell and Hagee have seen a Greater Israel as simply the necessary instrument for hastening the “Rapture,” the “Second Coming,” and Armageddon (and the annihilation of all the world’s Jews — except for a few thousands who accept Jesus as their savior as depicted in what I consider to be the thoroughly anti-Semitic Left Behind series by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins) was of no consequence. As Kristol wrote in Commentary’s pages in 1982, the same year that Hagee launched his “Nights-to-Honor-Israel” ministry, “Why would it be a problem for us? It is their theology; but it is our Israel.”
In the 26 years since, this “devil’s bargain” between hard-line neo-conservatives and the Christian Right has been embraced by the increasingly neo-conservative and Likudist leadership of the organized American Jewish community, a development highlighted not only by Hagee’s starring role at the AIPAC convention, but also by an astonishing letter to the editor of the New York Times written last month in his defense by no less than seven former chairmen of the community’s most powerful organization, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. “Pastor Hagee has been a true friend of Israel for many years,” it said. “[His] Christians United for Israel [CUFI] is among the strongest supporters of Israel in the United States.”
Now, it’s true that Hagee has raised millions of dollars from his followers on Israel’s (and Jewish settlers’) behalf, but that’s a drop in the bucket compared to the many billions of U.S. taxpayers have provided. And what has been the price of Hagee’s “support?” Pressure on the Israeli and U.S. governments to reject a more conciliatory approach toward the Palestinians, an approach that might actually advance a just and sustainable end to the conflict based on territorial compromise? Pressure on the Israeli government, in particular, to reject any move to halt the West Bank settlement project, let alone to reverse it? This is the point made so eloquently last weekend by Jeffrey Goldberg when he wrote in the Times: “The leadership of the organized American Jewish community has allowed the partisans of settlement [which includes the Christian Zionists] to conflate support for the colonization of the West Bank with support for Israel itself.” That is the same leadership, of course, that invited Hagee to speak at the AIPAC convention and that signed the letter defending him.
The only leading voice among the mainstream national Jewish institutions who has spoken up clearly against Hagee has been Rabbi Eric Yoffe, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism, who early last month called on Jewish organizations to disassociate themselves from the pastor and CUFI which, he noted,
“…rejects a two-state solution, rejects the possibility of a democratic Israel, and supports the permanent occupation of all Arab lands now controlled by Israel. If implemented, in fact, these views would mean disaster for Israel, and would lead to diplomatic isolation, increased violence and the loss of Israel’s Jewish majority.”
Yoffe went on to warn against Christian Zionist leaders, such as Hagee, who “have engaged in repeated attacks, expressed sometimes in shocking and unacceptable language, directed against other religious traditions. This is not a matter of highlighting differences in belief but of making use of overheated rhetoric that spews hatred and vitriol toward the Muslim and Catholic faiths.”
Indeed, Barry Block, a Reform rabbi in San Antonio who has observed the pastor for many years, noted last week that Hagee “has a long history of making hate-filled statements about a variety of groups.” The most recent controversy over his remarks about Hitler and the Holocaust marked “the first time …we’re dealing with a problematic statement about Jews, but we should be equally concerned about his record on Muslims, Islam, Catholics, Catholicism, and gays and lesbians,” Block, who added that he did not consider Hagee anti-Semitic, told the Washington Times.
I’m not well enough informed, theologically speaking, to know whether Hagee’s remarks about Hitler and the Holocaust that spurred McCain’s decision to break with him reflected a defensible interpretation the Book of Jeremiah — as some of his Jewish defenders have claimed — or not. But it’s very clear from his past statements that he, like Rev. Rod Parsley, Falwell, Pat Robertson, James Dobson, and others of that ilk, holds rather hateful views, as Block noted, about a range of groups and religions, particularly Muslims and Islam. How inciting Islamophobia enhances Israel’s (let alone the U.S.’) long-term security or how it reduces anti-semitism is quite beyond me, but this is clearly something that unites Christian Zionists with hard-line neo-conservatives, such as David Horowitz, Daniel Pipes, and Frank Gaffney, to name a few. That national leaders of the organized Jewish community would also associate themselves with such views is also quite beyond me.
Of course, in the wake of the latest controversy, both neo-conservatives and the organized Jewish leadership appear to be keeping their heads down, at least for now. So far, the only prominent neo-con who has defended Hagee has been Dennis Prager, who last week told his radio audience, “Identifying John Hagee with anti-semitism would be like identifying Raoul Wallenberg, the great Swede who saved thousands of Jews in the Holocaust, with anti-Semitism.” (For a wonderfully concise statement of Prager’s worldview — minus any mention of Israel — see his Dec 17 op-ed in the Wall Street Journal celebrating Saddam Hussein’s capture.)
It will be most interesting to see if Sen. Joe Lieberman, a neo-conservative “independent” Democrat who in the past has compared Hagee to Moses and repeatedly praised his “pro-Israel” positions, follows through on his acceptance to be the keynote speaker at CUFI’s annual “Washington-Israel Summit” here July 22. The J Street Project has launched a petition drive to persuade Lieberman to stay away.