Perry, Israel and the GOP's Faith-Based Foreign Policy
Americans are increasingly aware that most of the 2012 Republican White House hopefuls claim God called them to seek the presidency. But only now are voters learning from the GOP field that He has apparently issued a "directive" for the United States to be a dutiful appendage of the Likud Party in Israel. So as the UN the gathers to consider Palestinian statehood, Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann among others are contradicting decades of American foreign policy by pushing settlement expansion, opposing a Palestinian state and even calling for Israeli annexation of the West Bank. All because, they insist, God said so.
While President Obama is in New York continuing to make Israel's case that the world body should leave Palestinian statehood to negotiations between the two parties, Rick Perry was there this week to pander to Jewish voters. Or more accurately, evangelical voters in Iowa and South Carolina. Echoing his 2009 declaration that "my faith requires me to support Israel," Perry told his audience:
"As a Christian I have a clear directive to support Israel, from my perspective it's pretty easy both as an American and a Christian. I am going to stand with Israel."
Or at least the part that wants to expand settlements in the West Bank territories occupied since 1967. Asked if Israeli should continue to build new settlements in the area some of his hosts refer to as Judea and Samaria, Perry responded:
"I think so, it's their land; it's their right."
Not according to American presidents of both parties. And not according to international law.
Nevertheless, Minnesota Congresswoman and fading GOP White House wannabe Michele Bachmann has parroted Perry's position and for much the same reason. In May, Bachmann not only put out a statement critical of President Obama's Middle East speech, but delivered 150,000 robocalls in Iowa and South Carolina in support of the Likud-line on Israel. America's failure to do so, Bachmann insisted last year, would result in God cursing the United States:
At a Republican Jewish Coalition event in Los Angeles last week, Rep. Michele Bachmann offered a candid view of her positions on Israel: Support for Israel is handed down by God and if the United States pulls back its support, America will cease to exist... "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...[W]e have to show that we are inextricably entwined, that as a nation we have been blessed because of our relationship with Israel, and if we reject Israel, then there is a curse that comes into play. And my husband and I are both Christians, and we believe very strongly the verse from Genesis [Genesis 12:3], we believe very strongly that nations also receive blessings as they bless Israel. It is a strong and beautiful principle."
Bachmann, who said she considers herself Jewish, started an online petition to "Tell Obama: You've Betrayed Israel." Apparently, she believes the Jews are God's chosen people - to attack Iran. As Foreign Policy reported in a story about Bachmann and her Tea Party caucus last July:
Almost two dozen Tea Party-affiliated lawmakers cosponsored a new resolution late last week that expresses their support for Israel "to use all means necessary to confront and eliminate nuclear threats posed by the Islamic Republic of Iran, including the use of military force."
To drive home the point, Bachmann asked President Obama to bar Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad from addressing the UN General Assembly this week.
As it turns out, that was Mitt Romney's line four years ago. In September 2007, Romney demanded that the UN not only stop Ahmadinejad from addressing the world body, but indict him for war crimes under the Genocide Convention as well.
While that effort came to naught, Romney's disastrous February 2007 Iran disinvestment campaign blew up in his face. Following in the footsteps of his friend and one-time Boston Consulting Group colleague Benjamin Netanyahu, Romney demanded that state pension funds divest themselves of any holdings in firms doing with business with Tehran. Sadly for Romney, his crusade lasted 24 hours, or about as long as it took the AP to discover that Romney's former employer and the company he founded had recent links to recent Iranian business deals. In typical Romneyesque fashion, he feebly responded:
"This is something for now-forward. I wouldn't begin to say that people who, in the past, have been doing business with Iran, are subject to the same scrutiny as that which is going on from a prospective basis."
Thus far, Mitt Romney has given no indication that he believes American support of Israel is divinely mandated. But another of his fellow occupants in the clown car that is the Republican presidential field surely does.
As Sarah Posner explained, Herman Cain's declaration that "if you mess with Israel, you're messing with the United States of America" is his way of telegraphing to the GOP religious right that Genesis 12:3 (which evangelicals claim dictates that God will curse the United States if it doesn't "support" Israel) is the basis of the "Cain Doctrine."
Sadly for the former pizza maker, his knowledge appears to end there. In the wake of President Obama's restatement of the Bush policy regarding the borders of a future Palestinian state, Cain joined Romney in declaring that Obama had "thrown Israel under the bus." But just two days later, the clueless Cain assumed that after a peace agreement, Palestinians could just take a bus back to their pre-1948 homes. As ThinkProgress described Cain's exchange with Fox News' Chris Wallace about one of the most contentious issues between the two sides:
Wallace then helpfully offered Cain a definition of "right of return" -- "Palestinian refugees, the people that were kicked out of the land in 1948, should be able to or should have any right to return to Israeli land." Cain again showed his lack of knowledge, veering completely off his pro-Likud script. "I don't think they have a big problem with people returning."
But just as striking the faith-based foreign policies of those who have jumped into the Republican presidential race are those who haven't.
Among the would-be and would have been Republican candidates are several who may believe - or at least want the GOP's evangelical primary voters to think they believe - in the rapture (small "r") of Armageddon as a foreign policy objective for the United States.
Fox News host, former Arkansas governor and Baptist minister Mike Huckabee is a case in point. As it turns out, the now non-2012 candidate Huckabee doesn't merely oppose the consensus around a two-state solution in the Middle East. (Last year, Huckabee proclaimed, "The two-state solution is no solution, but will cause only problems." Previously, he insisted there's "no such thing as a Palestinian.") In Israel to support extremist Meir Kahane acolyte Dov Hikind to raise funds to expand Israeli settlements, Huckabee in August 2009 in essence backed de facto ethnic cleansing as the answer to Palestinian aspirations for a national homeland - somewhere else:
"The question is should the Palestinians have a place to call their own? Yes, I have no problem with that. Should it be in the middle of the Jewish homeland? That's what I think has to be honestly assessed as virtually unrealistic."
Then there's 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee and still possible 2012 White House hopeful Sarah Palin.
Like Huckabee and Bachmann, Palin insists anyone who "studies the Old Testament" must take a stand in defending our friends in Israel." But it is her belief in the New Testament's eschatology of Armageddon which apparently explains why Israel shouldn't cede an inch of the occupied territories. Pushing her book in November 2009, Sarah Palin not only went rogue on 40 years of American foreign policy, but raised suspicions that she believes the Apocalypse may be nigh.
"I disagree with the Obama administration on that. I believe that the Jewish settlements should be allowed to be expanded upon, because that population of Israel is, is going to grow. More and more Jewish people will be flocking to Israel in the days and weeks and months ahead. And I don't think that the Obama administration has any right to tell Israel that the Jewish settlements cannot expand."
(As Jeffrey Goldberg reported in The Atlantic, while Palin "holds fairly typical Protestant Zionist beliefs, and one of those beliefs is the regathering of the Jews in Israel," the minister of the Assembly of God church she frequented believed that "based on some personal revelation he claims to have gotten from God, that the Jews would move to Alaska during the Tribulation.")
As the Daily Beast suggested, it is those GOP primary voters who hold those "fairly typical Protestant Zionist beliefs" that Palin was targeting while wearing a Star of David during her March swing through the Holy Land:
So what draws Palin and others to Israel, including Mike Huckabee and Haley Barbour last month, and Mitt Romney in January? For one thing, a chance to curry favor with a much larger constituency that follows the events in Israel no less fervently than Jews: Christian evangelicals. The evangelical community in America numbers tens of millions and votes overwhelmingly Republican. One of its arms, a John Hagee group called Christians United for Israel (also known by its acronym CUFI), now claims to be the biggest pro-Israel organization in America, larger even than AIPAC.
And as it turns out, Pastor Hagee was front and center with Rick Perry at "The Response" day of prayer of fasting last month in Houston. Which means that Hagee's Dominionist theology, End Times eschatology and biblically-mandated final conflict with Iran will once again be on display during the 2012 presidential race.
Just as they were in 2008. Republican nominee John McCain, who previously joked about "bomb bomb Iran" and killing Iranians with cigarettes accepted the endorsement of Pastor John Hagee. McCain later announced he "must reject his endorsement," given the "deeply offensive and indefensible" remarks Hagee had made about the Holocaust. But McCain was silent on Hagee's insistence that the United States must attack Iran to fulfill the biblical prophecy of Armageddon in Israel in which 144,000 Jews will be converted to Christianity and the rest killed.
Hagee, of course, was not silent on that point. Sharing a stage with McCain and Texas Senator John Cornyn, Hagee declared:
"John McCain has publicly stated his support of the state of Israel, pledging that his administration will not permit Iran to have nuclear weapons to fulfill the evil dreams of President Ahmadinejad to wipe Israel off the map."
Speaking to the 2006 conference of his organization Christians United for Israel (CUFI), Pastor Hagee described his own dream of Armageddon as foreign policy:
"The United States must join Israel in a pre-emptive military strike against Iran to fulfill God's plan for both Israel and the West...a biblically prophesied end-time confrontation with Iran, which will lead to the Rapture, Tribulation, and Second Coming of Christ."
As for Rick Perry, his scathing criticism of President Obama and upcoming trip to Israel is a two-fer designed to appeal to Jewish voters and his party's evangelical base alike. But his message to "The Response" audience of thousands may make that first part more difficult than he imagines:
"Like all of you, I Iove this country deeply. Thank you all for being here -- indeed the only thing that you love more is the living Christ."
Like Sarah Palin before him, Perry could learn the hard way that his path isn't the way to win Jewish hearts and minds. As syndicated columnist Jacob Sullum recently wrote:
"My response to The Response: No, thanks. My people have managed without Jesus for thousands of years. Why start now?"