Conservative Split on Israel
For the past forty years, since the very inception of the Moral Majority, the Religious Right has organized itself around certain core themes. They are pro-life, pro-capitalism (remember, the old Soviet Union was still around), and pro-Israel. In 1980, The Rev. Jerry Falwell and a group of American evangelicals received the prestigious Jabotinsky Centennial Medal from Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin on account of their steadfast support for the Jewish State.
Christian Fundamentalists had different reasons for supporting Israel from those that motivated President Harry S. Truman when he recognized the Jewish state in 1948 and which have characterized American foreign policy ever since. For the Fundamentalists, Israel was important because of its role in their eschatology. They see the scriptures as a geo-strategic roadmap for understanding the Mideast. This, Falwell once said that the "times of the Gentiles" referenced in Luke 21:24 "either ended with the Jewish taking of old Jerusalem in 1967, or will end in the not too distant future."
Conservative Catholics, who were some thirty percent of the Moral Majority in the early 1980s, had a more checkered history when it came to the Jews. Some conservative Catholics were the ideological heirs of the violent anti-Semite Father Charles Coughlin. Joseph Kennedy, the family patriarch, was an anti-Semite. Sen. Joe McCarthy, whose career reached its zenith after the Shoah, when anti-Semitism was in low esteem, transferred traditional anti-Semitic diatribes and directed them at communists and many saw communism as an essentially Jewish enterprise. Note the fifth letter to the editor in this compendium from America’s 1954 archives. But, with Cold War at the center of geo-political concerns in the 1980s, whatever anti-Jewish sentiments still roiled in their memories, conservative Catholics set them aside to embrace Israel as part of the Moral Majority’s platform.
Today, I see, there is a crack in the coalition. Deal Hudson has published a remarkably ill-informed article that questions why Israel insists on its designation as "a Jewish state." He writes, "Since Palestinians entered the Oslo peace process with Israel in 1993, they haven't seen anything in return, except for a tripling in Israeli settlers, construction of modern Israeli-only highways, a 40% drop in Palestinian GDP, and draconian restrictions on movement." That’s funny, I seem to recall that the Palestinians received free elections and local autonomy. It is my understanding that President Abbas heads a governing authority that did not exist in 1993.
One must have a heart of stone not to be moved by the plight of the Palestinian people though it is strange what catches the conservative eye. "An entire generation of Palestinian children in the West Bank have never been to the sea," Hudson writes, "even though many can see it from their homes." What is it with the conservative, Palinesque fixation with the geo-strategic significance of what can be seen from one’s house? But, surely, those children would have had a better chance of getting to the sea if there had been no Intifada against Israel, attacks on civilians which killed scores of Jewish children.
Conservatives in America have enough troubles what with Cheney defending torture, Rush Limbaugh embarrassing himself on a daily basis, and congressional Republicans looking like so many deer in the headlights. Now, they have a split within the ranks on support for Israel. Keep an eye on this. Anyone familiar with the history of anti-Semitism knows that Western culture seems always to have another outbreak of this vile prejudice just around the corner. But there is this difference. During the pogroms of earlier times, there was no Israel to which Jews could go to defend themselves. Happily, that is no longer the case.