President Bush And The Christian Zionist Lobby

By Clifford Kiracofe

Clifford Kiracofe is a journalist based in Washington, DC, and a former senior professional staff member of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He wrote this commentary for The Daily Star in 2002

Any doubt about the pervasive influence of Christian Zionist ideology in the US Congress was just erased by the leader of the Republican Party in the House of Representatives. On May 1, Texas Congressman Richard Armey, on national television, bluntly told MSNBC talk show host Chris Mathews that he supported the mass expulsion of Palestinians from Israeli-occupied Palestine.

Christian Zionist influence over Republican Congressman and Senators has reached a level such that even President Bush, as leader of the national party, cannot prevent Republicans in Congress from introducing and voting for inflammatory and irresponsible resolutions diametrically opposed to the US national interest and security requirements in the Middle East.

While rejected by all mainline Christian churches in the United States, Christian Zionist ideology is aggressively promoted by a small minority of fundamentalists linked to the Jewish Zionist lobby in the United States and allied to the most militant extremist elements of the Israeli political spectrum.

Although this strategic political alliance was forged in the mid-1980s, it did not become a topic of national political discussion until the current crisis triggered by the Israeli provocation and aggression led by Sharon. Even though Congressman Armey is retiring this year, his protege and fellow Texas Congressman, Tom DeLay, is scheduled to step into his place next year. Like Armey, DeLay openly espouses Christian Zionist ideology using such coded terms as "Judea and Samaria" to described occupied Palestine.

The relevant background on the Israeli link to American Christian Zionists dates to the 1967 war. In the wake of the war, extremist elements in Israel formed the Movement for Greater Israel, and the settler movement that established Kiryat Arba near Hebron. The extremist Gush Emunim settler organization grew out of this environment. In the years after 1967, the Gush Emunim became the leading edge of the Israeli new right. There were three components of this new right: Labor Party factions supporting the Movement for Greater Israel, the new religious-nationalist activists, and the old-line Jabotinsky nationalist right converted into the Begin-led Herut Party. From 1974 to 1977, three Labor Party leaders vied for supremacy, and each had his Gush Emunim supporter within his ministry. Prime Minister Rabin had General Ariel Sharon as his special adviser.

Defense Minister Shimon Peres had Yuval Neeman, later leader of the pro-Gush Emunim Hatechiyah Party. Foreign Minister Yigal Allon was the patron of the fanatic settler network behind Kiryat Arba. By the time Likud came to power in 1977, the power of the Gush Emunim over the government was complete because Begin was a long-time supporter of the settler movement. In the United States, however, the Carter administration attempted to pursue a more evenhanded policy in the Middle East in the face of an omnipotent domestic Zionist lobby. So hard-line Jewish Zionist intellectuals formerly associated with the Democratic Party adopted a new stance. They repackaged themselves as neoconservatives in order to penetrate the Republican Party foreign policy network with a view to the 1980 election and a potential victory for the US new right.

In Israel, preparations were made by the Likud to form political relationships with Christian fundamentalist groups in the United States because they could be counted on to support Likud's "Eretz Israel" policy. In turn, such a political alignment would enhance the position of the Jewish neoconservatives in a Republican administration in Washington. A key academic study by a brilliant young Israeli scholar, Yona Malachy, emerged as an operational guide for Likud political strategists targeting the United States. In 1978, this study, entitled American Fundamentalism and Israel: The Relation of Fundamentalist Churches to Zionism and the State of Israel, was published by the Institute of Contemporary Jewry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

In due course, the International Christian Embassy-Jerusalem (ICEJ) appeared in Jerusalem on Sept. 20, 1980. Mayor Teddy Kollek hosted the opening ceremony, and the organization became a leading international Christian Zionist support mechanism for the Likud's Eretz Israel policy. The ICEJ's Washington office became a focal point for Christian Zionist political and lobbying activity in the United States. After several years of organizational activity in the United States, the Christian Zionist lobby came out of the closet with its first National Prayer Breakfast for Israel held in Washington on Feb. 6, 1985. The event attracted many key political personalities and supporters.

"A sense of history, poetry and morality imbued the Christian Zionists who more than a century ago began to write, plan and organize for Israel's restoration," said the featured breakfast speaker. "The writings of Christian Zionists, British and American, directly influenced the thinking of such pivotal leaders as Lloyd George, Arthur Balfour and Woodrow Wilson." The guest speaker was the Israeli UN ambassador, Benjamin Netanyahu. Over the past decade, the so-called National Unity Coalition for Israel (NUCI) emerged as an important lobbying arm of the American Christian Zionists. It is not surprising that this organization has close links to the ICEJ, to neoconservatives in Washington think tanks and to neoconservative operatives inside the Bush administration.

On Capitol Hill, NUCI works in parallel with the well-established and influential American Israel Public Affairs Committee to dominate the United States Congress when it comes to legislation and policy relating to the Middle East. President Bush faces many international challenges to his policy of a two-state solution for the Palestine question although the Saudi plan and the new "quartet" offers some hope. But the US president must first impose his full constitutional authority at home in order to conduct foreign relations despite a recalcitrant Congress and a Republican Party in the thrall of an extremist Christian Zionist minority.

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