Israel: The country Conservative Republicans love to be seen loving

Blind foreign policyA Pew Research Center poll last month asked 1,503 respondents the following question: In the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians, which side do you sympathize with more, Israel or the Palestinians?

Not surprisingly, 75 percent of those who identified as Conservative Republicans sided with Israel, while only 33 percent of those identifying as liberal Democrats gave the same answer. (Only 2 percent of Conservative Republicans and 22 percent of liberal Democrats said they’d side with Palestine.)

Hagelian Controversy

Political brawl in MexicoOne of the stories that’s fallen under the radar in the past week is Obama’s nomination of Chuck Hagel to become the next United States Secretary of Defense. Some cabinet shuffling usually takes place during a President’s second term in office, and this one is no different. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, and Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis are all stepping down from office at the end of this term.

Last week Leon Panetta, current U.S. defense secretary, announced he’d also be stepping down, and like Secretary Clinton vowed to stay on until his replacement was installed. Despite Republican opposition to Hagel’s nomination, it’s likely he’ll be confirmed.

The controversy over Hagel’s nomination comes not over his qualification, but mainly over the charge that he’s anti-Israel. This view comes apparently from a comment Hagel made in 2006, that “the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here [in Washington D.C.]”

The “Jewish lobby” here is AIPAC: the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. They are indeed a powerful lobbying group that carries a lot of political pull these days. Fred Kaplan wrote on

For decades, they [AIPAC] have thundered that criticism of Israel is thinly disguised anti-Semitism. Yet they cry “anti-Semitism” again when someone inverts the equation (which is what the phrase in question amounts to: If anti-Israel equals anti-Jewish, then pro-Israel equals pro-Jewish).

Love, Israel Style

Flag of IsraelThe United States has been an ally of Israel since 1948, months after the General Assembly of the United Nations officially recognized it as an independent republic on 29 November 1947. Ties strengthened considerably during Ronald Reagan’s two terms in office, and since 1985, the United States has provided nearly $3 billion in grants annually to Israel, which was the largest source of American aid from 1976 to 2004 (source: Congressional Research Service).

In the early 1990s there was some tension between AIPAC and the United States at the beginning of George Bush, Sr’s administration. However, that ended when the United States led 34 nations in the brief Persian Gulf War (which some of us will remember as “Operation Desert Storm”) in 1991 against Iraq in defense of both Israel and Kuwait.

After that, the connection between the United States and Israel was sealed. Every United States President since then has expressed unyielding support for the nation.

But why?

End of the World

Mushroom cloudI was 16 days shy of my eighth birthday at the start of the Gulf War. For those born after 1991, those were scary days, similar to the anxiety of the Cuban missile crisis in October of 1962. Two years later, I remember Bill Clinton meeting with Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat during the Oslo Accords in 1993. There was a lot of talk in my home and at church during those years about the “End Times” and the imminent possibility of the Rapture. For us, Clinton’s appearance in Israel marked him as a prime candidate for the Antichrist.

To conservative, Evangelical Christians, Israel is the most important nation on Earth — after the United States. Even though “the Way, the Truth and the Life” comes through Christianity and belief in Jesus as the Son of God, the covenant that God made with Abraham in the Bible is still valid and grants Israel divine protection:

I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed. (Genesis 12:3)

Congresswoman and Tea Party darling Michele Bachmann addressed the Republican Jewish Coalition last year, saying: “I am convinced in my heart and in my mind that if the United States fails to stand with Israel, that is the end of the United States.” (No comment on the mind or the heart of Michele Bachmann.)

Variations on this refrain are chanted by Conservative Republicans desperate to retain the Evangelical vote during elections. To retain God’s blessing on the United States, we must continue to unreservedly support Israel.

A Secular Purpose

Senate FloorOf course, that’s not to say that we shouldn’t support Israel or any other country if it needs our assistance. If it’s within our means, we ought to extend help so long as there are no ulterior motives.

However, to base a foreign policy on a religious doctrine that elevates one nation above all others is dangerous business. And to base one’s political position on that religious doctrine to scare the voter base into lockstep or to appeal to their spiritual devotion is deplorable.

One point of valid concern might be over Chuck Hagel’s past comments on gay rights and on gays in the military. In 1998 he called then-ambassadorial nominee James Hormel “aggressively gay,” wondering how his appointment would reflect on the United States’ image abroad. Hagel has apologized for the remarks (albeit 14 years too late), calling them “insensitive” and that they “do not reflect my views or the totality of my public record.” Hormel has accepted, and even supports Hagel’s nomination.

Some Democrats have also wondered whether he would attempt to reinstate Don’t Ask Don’t Tell as defense secretary. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell dismissed those concerns in a recent interview, voicing confidence that Hagel would implement the repeal in a way consistent with the Obama administration’s position.

The next move will be the Senate confirmation hearing, where we’ll hear more about Hagel’s record and qualifications. But Conservative Republican accusations of his being anti-Israel hint at the ongoing underlying Evangelical motivation to make the United States a “Christian nation.”

Any government policy should have a secular legislative purpose. If the world ends, it won’t be because we didn’t support Israel.

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