With Friends Like These, Israel Doesn't Need Enemies
It's official: the perpetual Republican campaign to peel off Jewish voters from the Democratic Party has gone from the ridiculous to the sublime. After positive statements from AIPAC and the ADL which "commended President Barack Obama for his statement of U.S. priorities in the Middle East," Illinois Rep. Joe Walsh declared "President Obama is not Israel's friend" and asked "where is the outrage from the American Jewish community?"
Sadly for Walsh, the outrage remains largely directed at Republicans for their stunning ignorance, comic pandering and casting of Jews as End Times Biblical cannon fodder. With the likes of Mitt Romney, Herman Cain, Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee and Michele Bachmann as their friends, most Jewish voters have concluded neither they nor Israel need enemies.
Hot on the heels of Karl Rove's latest play for the Democrats' second most reliable voting block and a Wall Street Journal editorial titled, "An Anti-Israel President," Congressman Walsh followed suit with his Daily Caller op-ed declaring "President Obama is not pro-Israel." Regurgitating the GOP's repeatedly debunked claim that Obama seeks a return to Israel's 1967 borders, the Catholic Walsh insisted Christian Republicans know American Jews' interests best:
President Obama has effectively abandoned the 50-year-old U.S. alliance with Israel.
So, where is the outrage from the American Jewish community? Don't they understand that the president is not pro-Israel? Aren't they troubled by his history of pro-Palestinian writings, speeches, and actions? The short answer is that most American Jews are liberal, and most American liberals side with the Palestinians and vague notions of "peace" instead of with Israel's wellbeing and security. Like the president, the U.N., and most of Europe, too many American Jews aren't as pro-Israel as they should be and too many share his belief that the Palestinians are victims of Israeli occupation. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Writing at the Washington Monthly, Steve Benen aptly concluded of Walsh's pathetic screed, "It's almost a parody of what a right-wing reactionary foreign policy looks like, and serves as a reminder of why clowns like Joe Walsh are not to be taken seriously."
Then again, neither should the clown car that is the 2012 Republican presidential field.
Take, for example, Herman Cain and Mitt Romney. 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."
For his part, Mitt Romney at least got his talking points right. In September 2007, Romney demanded that the UN not only bar Iranian President Mahmoud 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."
As it turns out, it's not Republicans' bungling theatrics regarding Israel but their theocratic beliefs and policies which continue to alienate Jewish voters. (It didn't help that Mike Huckabee and Michele Bachmann compared taxes and the debt to the Holocaust.) When Florida Republican Dan Webster announced this week that if "we stop helping Israel, we lose God's hand and we're in big time trouble," he could have been speaking for most of the 2012 Republican presidential candidates.
That became evident four years ago during the 2008 presidential race. 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 you may also recall, Pastor Hagee and his group Christians United for Israel (CUFI) have been at the bleeding edge of a Christian Zionist movement seeking to hasten the Second Coming of Christ and the final battle in Israel. Hagee and his allies in the radical religious right see Israel and end-of-times conflict with Iran as the fulfillment of biblical prophecy contained in the Book of Revelation. As Sarah Posner wrote in the American Prospect, "for Hagee's new project - agitating for war with Iran - his influence over Washington is less important than his influence over his audience." His book Jerusalem Countdown sold over 500,000 copies. And as Posner reported, Hagee is not alone:
Hagee calls pastors "the spiritual generals of America" an appropriate phrase given his reliance on them to rally their troops behind his message. The CUFI board of directors includes the [late] Reverend Jerry Falwell, former Republican presidential candidate and religious right activist Gary Bauer, and George Morrison, pastor to the 8,000-member Faith Bible Chapel in Arvada, Colorado, and chairman of the board of Promise Keepers. Rod Parsley, the Ohio televangelist who is rapidly becoming a major political figure in the Christian right, signed on as a regional director.
Just how much influence the likes of Hagee have over the leading lights of the GOP is open to debate. But as Max Blumenthal and Bill Moyers each reported last year, Pastor Hagee counts Washington's hardest of hard liners among his friends and CUFI allies. In October 2007, Moyers described CUFI's annual summit in DC featuring Hagee's friends in high places:
At the recent annual CUFI summit in Washington, D.C., prominent politicians were present to pledge support for this growing movement, including Senators John McCain, Joseph Lieberman, House Minority Whip Roy Blunt, as well as former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay...
CUFI considers its defining issue to be the growing challenge of radical Islam, particularly as relates to the security of Israel and the United States. CUFI is increasingly concerned by Iran and its potential nuclear threats. Hagee often alludes to Nazi Germany in order to underline what he believes to be the gravity of the situation:
"Ladies and gentlemen, we are reliving history. It is 1938 all over again," Hagee explains in a 2007 speech. "Iran is Germany. Ahmadinejad is Hitler. And Ahmadinejad, just like Hitler, is talking about killing the Jews."
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 likely 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."
With Mike Huckabee out of the race, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann is angling to fill the void he left among evangelical voters This week, 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, has 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."
Then there's 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee and 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.
For their part, Republicans leaders believe their campaign to misrepresent President Obama's views on Middle East peace will bring about a Tribulation in Jewish support of Democrats. As Karl Rove told the Daily Caller:
"My friends in the Republican Jewish Coalition are ecstatic at the crossover they're having from independent-minded Jews."
But before the GOP puts Florida and the White House in the Republican column, the party would do well to remember the experience of 2008. Despite polling which suggested Obama lagging among Jewish voters traditionally loyal to Democrats, the Illinois Senator ultimately maintained his party's hold on its vital constituency. Despite the fear-mongering of the McCain campaign and state GOP operatives, Obama dominated among Jews by 78% to 21%. By way of comparison, John Kerry (74% to 25% for Bush) and Al Gore (80% to 17%) scored about the same as Barack Hussein Obama with American Jews. As Newsweek concluded:
Many Florida Jews who had previously been open to McCain appear to share the couple's aversion to Palin, according to political scientists, polling data and anecdotal reporting. "She stands for all the wrong things in the eyes of the Jewish community," says Kenneth Wald, a professor at the University of Florida. Among the examples he cites: Palin seems to disdain intellectualism, she's a vociferous opponent of gun control and she attended a fundamentalist church that hosted Jews for Jesus, which seeks to convert Jews to Christianity. (Palin apparently sat through a speech by a leader of the group in which he said terrorist attacks on Israel were punishment for Israelis' failure to accept Jesus as the Messiah.)...
"There's no question that Obama came into this election with probably less going for him than most Democratic nominees," says Wald. But the Palin pick "probably blunted any gains the Republicans had made."
In an article titled, "I Find Her Offensive," Salon echoed that finding. "John McCain was making a bid for South Florida's Jewish voters, a crucial demographic in a purple state," Tristram Korten wrote, "But then he chose Sarah Palin as a running mate."