Mixing prophecy and politics
Christian Zionists are growing in influence - even as they fight for policies their critics say work against peace in the Mideast. For these believers, it's all about fulfilling biblical prophecy.
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Americans for a Safe Israel has joined with other groups in a national One-State Solution Campaign to halt the road map, using bumper stickers and billboards displaying a White House phone number.Skip to next paragraph
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Members of Congress in sympathy with the Christian Zionist point of view have taken positions contrary to administration policy, which supports a Palestinian state.
House majority leader Tom DeLay (R) of Texas, while visiting the area, said, "I don't see occupied territory; I see Israel." Speaking on the Senate floor, Sen. James Inhofe (R) of Oklahoma said Israel had a right to the land "because God said so."
In a 2002 appearance on Chris Matthews's "Hardball" show, former Rep. Richard Armey (R) of Texas, then House majority leader, proclaimed his support for "transporting" the Palestinians to other countries.
"In Israel, this position is regarded as somewhat like that of the Ku Klux Klan in the US," says Gorenberg. "These American figures are taking positions way to the right of the Israeli mainstream."
The debate over these groups is not whether they have influence on US policy but how much.
Deal Hudson, editor of Crisis magazine and a conservative Catholic, says their influence is overemphasized. "The administration's commitment to Israel was there from the very first day, prior to the coalition of Evangelicals the administration has cultivated for the past 3-1/2 years," he says. "Their role is only supportive."
Others point to many instances of influence. Gary Bauer, president of American Values, for example, recalls Israel's first attempt on the life of Hamas leader Abdel Aziz Rantisi in June 2003, when Mr. Bush publicly berated Israel.
"Several Evangelical leaders took issue with the president," Mr. Bauer says. They urged others to let the White House know. "I got thousands of e-mails the next day that were copies of e-mails sent to the president. Within 24 hours, he [Bush] had modified his remarks and emphasized Israel's right to defend itself."
The White House was publicly supportive in April when Israel's second effort to assassinate Dr. Rantisi succeeded.
As a result of Christian Zionists' alliance with Likud governments, they now work actively with Jewish groups in the US, even though historically the two have been on opposing sides of key issues.
"Christian Zionist groups play an increasingly important role," says Morton Klein, head of the Zionist Organization of America and a leader of the Jewish lobby, AIPAC. "In many districts where there are very few Jews, the members of the House and Senate are Israel's supporters in part because of the strong Christian Zionist lobby on Capitol Hill."
Other observers say the Bush administration's tilt toward Israel in the Israeli- Palestinian dispute results from a coalition of neoconservatives, the Jewish lobby, and Christian Zionists - with the latter providing the grass-roots political punch as a prime Bush constituency.
Most worrisome to critics is the impact Christian Zionists are having - or could have - on the volatile situation here.
Some local Christians say they feel the impact directly. Thousands of Palestinian Christians - many of whom trace their family histories back to the early church - live in Israel and the occupied territories. They've survived as a minority among Muslims and Jews for centuries.
But because the Christian Zionist perspective is hostile to Islam and ultimately to Judaism, some now worry about its influence on their neighbors. They say some local Muslims now assume that this Western prophetic phenomenon - and its dismissal of hopes for a Palestinian state - is what all Christians believe.