Haaretz over the past few days has provided us with an interesting dialogue examining the long-term alliance between the Settler movement and U.S. Christian evangelicals.
Avshalom Vilan, Yachad MP
There is no escaping the conclusion that the unholy alliance between the Jewish and Christian extreme right wings is short-term, and absolutely runs counter to Israel’s long-term interests.
He correctly notes the oddness of Jews embracing Christians who essentially believe that at the End of Time there no longer be any Jews because they all will have converted to Christianity or been killed for refusing to do so.
Vilan also attacks the alliance because the funds invested by the Evangelicals in Israel is entirely spent on settlements, rather than on Israelis living within the Green Line. Furthermore, “American dollars grease the wheels of the struggle against disengagement that is waged by the Yesha Council.”
Vilan also correctly notes that the Settler alliance with Evangelicals and their Republican supporters flies in the face of the American Jewish bond with the Democratic Party:
This ideological coalition presents a genuine danger to Israel-U.S. relations. The vast majority of American Jews support the Democratic Party…Jews, who constitute only 2.5 percent of American citizens but whose contributions to political parties are much higher than their percentage of the general population would suggest, are one of the most powerful sources of influence in American politics.
In other words, the Settler movement is, in effect, abandoning American Jewry as it [the settler movement] turns toward the Republicans for support. This in turn drives a potential wedge between most American Jews and Israel.
I spent an undergraduate and graduate year in Israel studying at the Hebrew University. In those days, Haaretz was one of my lifelines in helping me to understand Israeli politics and society. I was always struck by the schizoid nature of the political debate (harrangue might be a better term as there seemed little rational about Israeli discourse). Of course, there was the Israeli right whose defiance and intransigence I detested, but which had some consistency. But what surprised me was how much the Labor Party accepted the right wing terms of debate. In fact, the Labor Party may have even established some of the terms independently of the right wing. During the last year I lived in Israel (1980), the idea of a Palestinian state was absolutely verboten. Even the concept of Israeli negotiations with the PLO earned you the sobriquet, bogdan (“traitor”).
So it is too with Vilan’s article. While I agree with his premise, there is so much that is opaque or just plain wrong in it. Why do Israelis and supposedly sophisticated politicians like Vilan so poorly understand American society and politics? In addition, either the translation from Hebrew is terrible or the original Hebrew text in barely intelligible in parts. For example: “The vast majority of American Jews support the Democratic Party, although there have been recent indications of a gradual transition to support for the Republicans.” This statement is completely untrue though it is bandied about by Republicans and Jewish Republicans every four years.
As for the following Vilan statement, I can’t make head nor tails out of it:
The link with the new Christians [?] shuffles the deck and creates a new situation of reliance on a chance conjecture that may be no more than shifting sands. This is liable to lead to a break in the historic link between American Jews and the Democratic Party, and even weaken the link between them and the mainstream Republican Party. This would do heavy political damage.
How in hell would an alliance between settlers and evangelicals break the link between American Jews and the Democratic and Republican parties? This makes no sense whatsoever.
Vilan also makes the dubious claim that the American need for a pragmatic resolution of the Iraq and Israeli-Palestinians conflicts will somehow trump the “new Evangelist [Vilan can't even get his American political terms straight!] messianism.” He continues: “The need to placate the Arab world in order to maintain interests is stronger than any religious balderdash [by which he means Christian evangelism].” Vilan shows a completely lack of understanding of George Bush’s views on the evangelical movement. He is totally deluded if he thinks that Bush will ditch them as soon as he realizes that they stand in the way of progress in resolving conflicts in the Mideast. In another dubious statement he says: “It is clear, as well, that even the great freedom given to the Sharon government during President Bush’s first term has ended. The current administration will be much more firm and brutal in its attitude toward us.” I would say that nothing of the sort is so clear. Bush has bowed to Sharon during his first term and I don’t see any reason why such a policy will not continue in his second.
Finally, Vilan falls into the perpetual trap of those on the right and left who believe that Republican economic interest in Arab oil will trump their interest in “evangelical messianism” thus making Israel expendable when the U.S. tilts toward the Arabs to curry favor with them and gain access to their natural resources. This is a laughably simplistic understanding of U.S. policy in the Mideast.
Eckstein prays at the Wall:
“Lord, don’t let Sharon give up even an inch
to the Palestinian heathen!
Next, Haaretz printed a response (We Need Evangelical Christian Support) from Yechiel Eckstein, founder of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, one of the chief architects of the Evangelical-Settler nexus. Eckstein’s piece is extremely revealing regarding his strategic considerations in forging this alliance. He has, essentially, dumped American Jews as Israel’s allies of choice in American politics:
“Born-again” Christians now constitute one-third of the population of the U.S. and that this group includes some of the most important decision-makers, including the president of the U.S. and many figures in the current political administration. I do not, heaven forbid, belittle the influence of American Jews, who do a great deal for the sake of the State of Israel, but the influence of the evangelicals on the decision-making process in Washington, and particularly on the now-dominant Republican Party, is several times greater than the influence of U.S. Jewry.
He says he does not belittle the influence of American Jews, which is of course precisely what he IS doing. After all, American Jews ARE overwhelmingly Democratic (as Vilan correctly notes). They cannot open doors or pull the levers of power as the evangelicals can. So in the Eckstein world of realpolitik, you have to make alliances with those you might otherwise detest in pursuit of a “higher” agenda. This is the Machiavellian algebra of the Israeli right. What they should remember is the history of failed alliances between odd bedfellows: Israel’s building up of Hamas as a buffer to PLO secularists; U.S. support for the mujahadeen in Afghanistan. Old allies have a habit of turning on you and becoming your worst enemy. To think it can’t happen in this case would be delusional thinking.
Eckstein makes a few questionable claims on behalf of his evangelical allies: “the evangelicals consider this support atonement for the thousands of years in which Christianity persecuted the Jewish people.” In all that I have read about Christian Zionists, I have never heard their support for Israel explained in this way. He makes this laughable claim: “Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East, and the shared friendship has a common goal – of promoting democratic values so opposed to those of despotic Arab regimes.” The evangelicals don’t support Israel because of its so-called democratic values. They support Israel because it is a bulwark against the Moslem/Arab heathens. This is a holy war for the evangelicals in which they have temporarily allied themselves with the Jews because Muslims are the greater enemy…today.
Then Eckstein reveals this bombshell (at least to me):
The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, which I head, enlists support from these evangelicals – and contributes more than $100 million annually for the sake of the State of Israel and the Jewish people. These funds are not designated to construction of settlements, but to genuine assistance to all sectors of the population, in areas such as immigrant absorption, security and poverty.
Evangelicals are pouring $100-million into aid to Israel. I had no idea! Eckstein’s explanation of where the money goes is entirely opaque. Vilan charged that the money was headed over the Green Line to support the settlements and those living in them. Eckstein seems to rebut the claim but his rebuttal is so qualified as to be almost meaningless. What does he mean when he says: “These funds are designated to genuine assistance to all sectors of the population in areas such as immigrant absorption, security and poverty.” All sectors of the population live beyond the Green Line and “immigrant absorption, security and poverty” exists beyond the Green Line as well. So Eckstein has essentially left unchallenged Vilan’s charge that the money supports the settler population.