WASHINGTON, July 20, 2015 – Politics makes for strange bedfellows. That adage is reflected in the unusual alliance between fundamentalist Jews and Christians, who have joined together to oppose the creation of a Palestinian state, and now to oppose any nuclear agreement with Iran and to silence campus debate on the Middle East.
In June, casino mogul Sheldon Adelson held a meeting in Las Vegas to raise funds and create an organization, Campus Maccabees, to aggressively counter the so-called BDS — Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions — movement on some college campuses. This movement pushes to divest college endowments from companies doing business in the occupied territories, and to boycott and divest from firms operating in Israel.
Adelson calls this movement “anti-Semitic,” although many of its leaders and supporters are Jewish. Open debate is being challenged, somehow, as “hate speech.” Adelson has repeatedly said that there is no such thing as the “Palestinian people,” and that Israel need not be a democracy because “democracy” is not mentioned in the Bible.
He has also urged the bombing of Iran.
The man chosen by Adelson and his colleagues to head the Campus Maccabee effort, which has been widely criticized in the mainstream Jewish community, is David Brog. Brog is a long-time leader in the fundamentalist group, Christians United for Israel (CUI). Brog, who is Jewish, has made his career advancing Christian Zionism.
CUI is led by Pastor John Hagee of San Antonio. Hagee’s brand of religion has been widely repudiated in most Christian evangelical circles. Gary M. Burge, Professor of New Testament at Wheaton College and Graduate School, notes that,
“Hagee frightens more than he inspires. Not only does he believe that his theological commitments give him biblically defensible views on Israel, but his eschatology has led him to call for America to strike out militarily against Israel’s opponents.”
Using the language of the Book of Revelation, Hagee looks to Iran as the incarnation of evil:
‘It’s 1938 all over again. Iran is Germany. Ahmadinejad is Hitler.'”
Hagee’s answer, Burge points out, is to “launch a war that will end all war since it will bring an end to human history.” It is wrong to believe that Hagee’s views are in any way representative of evangelical theology.
Burge reports that,
“… most evangelical theologians are characteristically agnostic with regard to modern Israel’s theological significance. The proposition that we do strongly reject is that to be critical of Israel is the same as being anti-Semitic. Israel began as a secular state, the nation barely reflects the beautiful national aspirations of the scriptures, and it has made choices that would inspire harsh criticism from any Old Testament Prophet such as Amos or Isaiah.”
The Christian Zionism advocated by Hagee and others declares that when the end of the world comes, Jews who have not converted to Christianity will be consigned to hell for eternity. The chief complaint of theologians with this philosophy is:
“… the way in which this zeal for the end has shaped the ethic of Christian Zionists. Passion for seeing the Second Coming of Christ has come before a passion for justice and fairness. For instance, when presented with the remarkable losses of about 4 million Palestinians living under military occupation, Christian Zionists and others typically stand unmoved. Land cannot be returned and negotiations are against God’s will. During the summer of Hurricane Katrina, Hagee showed us the depth of his opposition to fair play for Palestinians.”
When the Israeli settlers were removed from Gaza by their own government, he issued a challenge during his interview with Bill Moyers:
‘I want to ask Washington a question. Is there a connection between 9,000 Jewish refugees being forcibly removed from their homes in the Gaza Strip now living in tents and the thousands of Americans who have been expelled from their homes by this tremendous work of nature, the hurricane Katrina? Is there a connection there? If you’ve got a better answer, I’ll like to hear it.”
Notice carefully what has just been said: God punished America with Hurricane Katrina because America supported the withdrawal of the Gaza settlers. It is this sort of outrageous interpretation that stuns and embarrasses mainstream Evangelicals.
These ties between Jewish and Christian fundamentalists are not new. In 1978, Jerry Falwell traveled to Israel on a trip sponsored and paid for by the Israeli government. In 1979, the Israelis extended another free trip, during a period when Prime Minister Menachem Begin was in a rush to build Jewish settlements throughout the West Bank. The Rev. Falwell traveled the road toward the Palestinian town of Nablus and turned off the highway and stood at a clutter of prefabricated houses built by Jewish settlers.
At that time, Falwell declared that God was kind to America because “America has been kind to the Jews.”
At a gala dinner in New York in 1980, Prime Minister Begin bestowed upon Falwell a medal named for Vladimir Jabotinsky, the right-wing Zionist leader. In 1981, when Israel bombed a nuclear reactor in Iraq, Begin immediately called Jerry Falwell for support.
Few Americans understand the real reasons for the alliance between these Christian fundamentalists and the most extreme segments of Israeli political life. In her 1987 book, “Prophecy and Politics,” Grace Halsell, who served as a White House speechwriter during the administration of Lyndon Johnson, explored this relationship.
During two of Jerry Falwell’s Holy Land tours, Halsell interviewed members of his Moral Majority, all of whom believed that the biblical prophecy of fighting the Battle of Armageddon must be fulfilled preparatory to the Second Coming of Christ. The strain of fundamentalism known as “dispensationalism,” writes Halsell, argues that the world will soon be destroyed:
“God knows it will happen. He knew it from the beginning. but God kept his plan secret from all the billions of people who lived before us. But now … He has revealed the plan … we must move through seven time periods or dispensations—one of which includes the terrible battle of Armageddon, where new and totally destructive nuclear weapons will be unleashed and blood will flow like mighty rivers.”
Dispensationalism spread throughout the U.S. largely through the efforts of Cyrus Ingerson Scofield, born in 1843. His belief system was not original with him but goes back to John Nelson Darby, a 19th century Irishman and one-time priest in the Church of England. On one occasion, Scofield reminded his audience that year after year he had sounded the same warning: our world will end “in disaster, in ruin, in the great, final world-catastrophe.”
But, he said, born-again Christians should welcome such a catastrophe because once the final battle began, Christ will lift them up into the clouds.
Grace Halsell became a participant in two Jerry Falwell-sponsored journeys to Israel where she mingled with many dispensationalists. One of them, Owen, explained his belief system, which entailed the need to destroy Jerusalem’s most holy Islamic shrine, and the necessity of waging a nuclear Armageddon to destroy the world.
“Dr. James DeLoach pastor of Houston’s Second Baptist Church … boasted that he and others had formed a Jerusalem Temple Foundation specifically to aid those intent on destroying the mosque and building a temple.”
Dr. .John Walvoord of the Southwestern School of Bible in Dallas explained dispensationalist beliefs to Halsell:
“God does not look on all of His children the same way. He sees us divided into categories, the Jews and the Gentiles. God has one plan, an earthly plan, for the Jews. And he has a second plan, a heavenly plan, for the born-again Christians. The other peoples of the world—Muslims, Buddhists, and those of other faiths, as well as those Christians not born again…do not concern Him, As for destroying planet earth, we can do nothing. Peace, for us, is not in God’s book.”
At a meeting of Christian Zionists in Basel, Switzerland, the group adopted resolutions calling for all Jews living outside of Israel to leave the countries where they are now residing and move to the Jewish state. The Christians also urged Israel to annex the West Bank. When an Israeli in the audience urged more moderate language, pointing out that an Israeli poll showed that one-third of Israelis would be willing to trade territory seized in 1967 for peace, one of the Christian leaders, Van Der Hoeven of the Netherlands, replied:
“We don’t care what the Israelis vote! We care what God says! And God gave the land to the Jews!”
Jews in Israel and the U.S. who have embraced these Christian Zionists, Sheldon Adelson and Haim Saban among them, seem indifferent to the fact that their allies such as Pastor Hagee urge confrontation with Iran and annexation of Palestinian territory because they believe it will usher in the Battle of Armageddon and the end of the world. Unconverted Jews such as Adelson and Saban will find themselves condemned to eternal damnation in hell.
These are strange bedfellows indeed. The rest of us would do well to avoid them.