“American Values” and “Standing With Israel”

Photo credit: Sarah Posner.

On Capitol Hill yesterday, a glorious fall afternoon, John Cougar Mellencamp’s “R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A.” and the Beach Boys’ “Surfin’ U.S.A.” blared from a stage designed for a photo opportunity for a political figure yearning to be on a dais with the iconic white dome as a backdrop. The crowd was smallish, as these things go, a few hundred people at most, but the people who showed up for Concerned Women for America’s and Mike Huckabee’s Stand With Israel rally came with plenty of enthusiasm, waving their American flags—and their Israeli ones.

How anthems to and of the sixties meshed with a conservative Christian rally at which insufficient support for Israel was blamed on “moral relativism” was just one instance of the day’s many incongruities.

With a big contingent of students from Liberty University, speakers made a push to discourage young evangelicals from slacking off from their support for Israel. David and Jason Benham, the twin sons of Flip Benham, founder of Operation Save America, which defines its mission as rescuing America from the “holocaust” of abortion, were presented as pro-life, pro-traditional marriage paragons of red-blooded American love of Israel. (The Benhams became Christian right heroes after HGTV declined to move forward with their home improvement reality show following reporting of their anti-gay, anti-abortion, and anti-Muslim statements.)

“Despite our differences about Jesus,” said David Benham, apparently referring to Christians and Jews, “we are united because we recognize that God has a plan for Israel.” But, he went on, “there’s someone else who has a plan for Israel:” Satan, who “has waged war against Israel” since God made his promise to Abraham. Benham cited chapter 12 of the Book of Revelation, which he claimed “says the great red dragon seeks to make war against the woman and the offspring of the woman — that’s Jews and Christians — the great red dragon, Satan himself, will manifest himself through the ideologies of Hamas, ISIS, Iran. And for us to sit there and say Iran is no threat? That policy of appeasement, that is terrible. That is not what a loving leader would do,” he added, taking an implicit swipe at President Obama.

Citing 2 Chronicles 7:14, Benham prayed “for America, and for Israel, in Jesus’s name.”

Praying for Israel, or the Jews, in Jesus’s name, is not unusual at Christian Zionist events. Christian Zionists have become accustomed to many pro-Israel Jews embracing their “support” for Israel in spite of it. No one at yesterday’s rally acknowledged that Israel’s chief rabbis, in a highly unusual move, recently have called on Jews to boycott an upcoming Christian Zionist prayer vigil in Jerusalem.

Instead, speakers focused on enemies, conflating, as Benham did, ISIS and Hamas. Several speakers, including Concerned Women for America’s president Penny Nance, cited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech at the U.N. last month making that same claim, as evidence. (Israeli journalist Nahum Barnea and others called that conflation “unfounded.”) 

While the rally speakers credited Netanyahu with identifying the numerous tentacles of Satan, Netanyahu seemed to have implicit words of support for the rally, too. Earlier yesterday morning, CBS broadcast remarks taped by Netanyahu before Yom Kippur, lambasting U.S. criticism of recently-announced Israeli construction in East Jerusalem as “against American values.” (At the Stand With Israel Rally, Mort Klein, president of the ZIonist Organization of America, claimed the administration “want[s] no more Jews to move to eastern Jerusalem,” adding that “it’s a propaganda myth, a lie” that Jerusalem is holy to Muslims.)

As JTA’s Ron Kampeas has documented, the Obama administration is not the first entity whose patriotism Netanyahu has questioned in this flare-up:

 On Sept. 24 the Interior Ministry published in Kol Ha’Ir, a free Jerusalem weekly, an “Announcement of a project approval.” It refers to plans to allow the building of 2,355 to 2,561 units in Givat HaMatos, in the area of Jerusalem that Palestinians claim as a future capital. Its key phrase is high up: “Building approvals and permits: A project that is authorized to issue approvals and permits.”

The language is important because, although the plan was approved in 2012, the ad signals the go-ahead for building; its publication makes it harder to reverse the proposal.

Sept. 24, as it happens, was also the eve of Rosh Hashanah.

On Oct. 1 — yesterday, and the day Netanyahu met with Obama — Peace Now and Terrestrial Jerusalem noted the announcement’s publication. The building permit became an issue in the talks between Obama and Netanyahu and resulted an an unusually sharp rebuke from the White House.

Netanyahu told Bloomberg News that he does not think the timing was a coincidence. The disclosure by Peace Now, which monitors settlement growth, “shows a lack of national responsibility to do something like this,” Netanyahu said. “This was publicized now only in order to damage the meeting” with Obama, he said.

As Kampeas points out, Peace Now was merely reporting a government announcement in the paper—an announcement, it seems, that had the timing of “the Israeli equivalent of one of Washington’s notorious Friday night dumps.” But Obama didn’t take Netanyahu’s side: instead, as Peace Now’s sister organization, Americans for Peace Now, said of the construction plan—that it “is destructive to the two-state solution because it serves as a last link in a ring of Israeli settlements between Bethlehem and Jerusalem”— the administration warned Israel that the construction could cause a rift between it and “even its closest allies.” The United States warned Israel it was sabotaging the peace process; Netanyahu in turn accused it of acting “against American values.”

Ah, American values. John Cougar Mellencamp, the Beach Boys, the Benham brothers, and the great red dragon of Revelation as a driver of foreign policy.

24 Comments

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    Who are Israel’s “closest allies”? I know who one of them is. Who is the other one?

  • whiskyjack1@gmail.com' Whiskyjack says:

    Stephen Harper, the (closet evangelical) Prime Minister of Canada, is also an invariable supporter of Israel.

  • tojby_2000@yahoo.com' apotropoxy says:

    Israel is doing to the soul of Judaism what Hitler tried to do to its body.

  • dennis@fpaofnys.org' Rabbi Dennis S. Ross says:

    Don’t they know that safe abortion is readily available in Israel?

  • aravistarkheena2@gmail.com' Aravis Tarkheena says:

    What a repugnant, absurd thing to say.

    My father and mother are Holocaust survivors and also part of the Founding generation of the State of Israel. When my father was in the Haganah, he spent most of his time smuggling Jewish refugees from the concentration and extermination camps, into Israel, in defiance of a draconian British quota.

  • tojby_2000@yahoo.com' apotropoxy says:

    1. Your family experience has bearing on Palestinian-Israeli relations in 2014.

    2. Jewish Pulitzer winning columnist Richard Cohen: “The greatest mistake Israel could make at the moment is to forget that Israel itself is a mistake. It is an honest mistake, a well-intentioned mistake, a mistake for which no one is culpable, but the idea of creating a nation of European Jews in an area of Arab Muslims (and some Christians) has produced a century of warfare and terrorism of the sort we are seeing now”.

    David Ben Gurion (the Founding Father and first Prime Minister of Israel):
    “Jewish villages were built in the place of Arab villages. You do not even know the names of these Arab villages, and I do not blame you because
    geography books no longer exist. Not only do the books not exist, the Arab villages are not there either. Nahlal arose in the place of Mahlul; Kibbutz Gvat in the place of Jibta; Kibbutz Sarid in the place of Huneifis; and Kefar Yehushua in the place of Tal al-Shuman. There is not a single place built in this country that did not have a former Arab population.”

    Zion is not helping to heal the world. It is killing the soul of Judaism. The worship of land is blasphemy.

  • aravistarkheena2@gmail.com' Aravis Tarkheena says:

    We disagree. And I find your characterizations both false and offensive. One can criticize many of Israel’s policies—and I often do–I am a member of the Zionist Left, as are my parents—without invoking Nazism and Hitler.

    If Israel’s founding was a mistake, then so was America’s. I look forward to your posts calling for the US to return the entire country to Mexico and the American Indians and referring to the American ethos as “killing the soul of Americans.”

    The double, triple, and quardruple standards involved in these sorts of judgments render them difficult to take seriously. If you want to have a real conversation about the Arab-Israeli conflict, I am happy to do so. But if all you want do do is engage in Reductio-ad-Nazi arguments, you’ll have to do that with others.

  • tojby_2000@yahoo.com' apotropoxy says:

    1. “If Israel’s founding was a mistake, then so was America’s.”

    a. False equivalence fallacy.
    b. The “Right of Return is a modern construct that is as bogus as it is immoral. If peoples do have a “Right of Return”, it would be the very Palestinian families who have been displaced. Are Jews especially entitled to land belonging to others?
    c. America wasn’t founded by guilt-ridden world superpowers in the aftermath of a world war as a convenient place to send stateless victims. The USA was founded after almost 200 years of residency as colonists.
    d. If you’d like to apply the traditional model of land acquisition of one people upon another (America- Mexico/Indians), I invite you to do it. New Israel did not form a powerful invasion, defeat a sparsely populated area and plant her flag. It was created by Christian nations and handed over to the Jews. Your people didn’t earn that acreage. It was given to you and you think you somehow deserve it because you were persecuted.

    2. The Nazi reference was carefully chosen and is not a reducto argument. I believe Zionism is the spiritual equivalent to the soul of the Jewish people as was Nazism to the Jews body. They both kill out of a religio-political ideology.

    I recommend you avoid false equivalencies and personal testimony. Make your case that Jews have a right of return and that their claim on Palestinian land is stronger that that of the Palestinians.

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    We handed over the land because we thought that was what God wanted. We created the new nation because our scriptures told us that would fulfill the prophecies. At the time, it seemed pretty certain.

  • aravistarkheena2@gmail.com' Aravis Tarkheena says:

    Re: False equivalency fallacy.

    You cannot robotically apply fallacies that you’ve found in your Intro to Critical Thinking textbook. Whether or not something is a false equivalency is in the eye of the beholder, and I don’t find the equivalence false at all. Indeed, I would argue that the American Founding is far worse and far less justifiable than the Israeli Founding.

    Re: conquest, substantial portions of land in Israel were purchased from the Arabs long before the War of Independence.

    Your demands for justification are just that…*your* demands. I feel no need to justify my parents and grandparents and cousins and other relatives and their homes and lives to you. This is partly because the demands are hypocritical — for the reasons I have already described — and partly because they are pointless. Israel is not going away because you think it is an illegitimate country.

    Those who wish well for the Palestinians had better figure this out. You are not going to shame Israel out of existence. You are not going to shun her out of existence. You certainly are not going to defeat her militarily.

    The smart thing–and the humane thing–is to learn to live together and to create a viable, thriving community of countries in the Middle East. And I would argue that it is not the Israelis who pose the main obstacle to that occurring (though the continuing building of these abominable settlements is certainly a significant obstacle).

    The problem is that by dividing the Left, you embolden and empower the Right. By calling Zionists Nazis and comparing us to Hitler, you rhetorically undermine any possible coalition between Leftist Zionists like myself and anti-Zionists. And all that this does is strengthen the Rightists, which will have exactly the opposite effect that you claim you want.

  • Very true. Look at the early sermons which thank God for sending smallpox to the Indians, when in fact that was the military providing smallpox-infested blankets.

  • aravistarkheena2@gmail.com' Aravis Tarkheena says:

    Really. That’s the reason the State of Israel was created by UN Resolution?

    The original Zionists were secular Socialists. They did not want to have a Jewish state because “God wanted it.” They wanted to have a Jewish state because of the centuries of persecution the Jews suffered in Europe and the rest of the Diaspora.

    You simply don’t know what you are talking about. Read some of the history surrounding the founding of the State of Israel before you talk about it.

  • aravistarkheena2@gmail.com' Aravis Tarkheena says:

    What does this have to do with the Founding of Israel?

  • The problem is, I agree it was a profound error, but it exists and people have been born and died there who knew no other land. The challenge now is to find a peace which is just for all, or the Middle East will continue to resemble the former Yugoslavia writ large, rehashing injustices of 500 years ago as if that justified genocide now.

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    It was created by the united nations, but I always thought that was because the US won the war, had all the power, and so we got what we wanted. It was a contentious period back then as it is now, and I believe there are different histories giving different points of view.

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    Speaking from the American Christian Zionist perspective it might not matter because when Jesus comes most of those in Israel will be killed anyway. Israel has their priorities, and Christian Zionists have their priorities, and as long as both have a priority of wiping out Palestinians and Iran they can continue to work together. Jesus can sort out the extra details later.

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    NPR has a recent interview with Lawrence Wright who wrote a book on Carter, Begin, and Sadat. He says when Israel was starting Begin had a terrorist organization. They wanted to clear out a town on the road to Jerusalem, so Begin sent a truck to warn the people to leave, but the truck had an accident and never made it. They want through the town throwing grenades into the homes. People were afraid, and hundreds of thousands fled the area They expected to return to their homes when it was sorted out, but they were never allowed to return to this day, and a new nation of Israel was born.

  • aravistarkheena2@gmail.com' Aravis Tarkheena says:

    Begin was the head of the Irgun, one of the Rightist underground groups. It was tiny in comparison to the Haganah, which was Leftist, and the Leftists controlled Israeli politics all the way up until 1977, when Begin became Prime Minister.

    Yes, today, the Right is politically in control of Israel. But if you actually understand the politics of the region, you’ll know that this is in large part because of the never-ending conflict with the Arabs. The Palestinians, in short, have driven the Israeli public right into the arms of the politicians who are *least* likely to make any sort of substantial peace deal with them.

  • reedjim51@gmail.com' Jim Reed says:

    And according to the story on NPR, Begin’s right wing terror group scared the Palestinians when they threw grenades in their houses, and when they fled they were never allowed to return, so everyone turned to politics to resolve the issues, but the political results have been questionable.

  • tojby_2000@yahoo.com' apotropoxy says:

    I agree. It is now up to the Jews to shed their collective denial and act morally.

  • Okay, you’re sailing perilously close to missing the point. First, it’s up to the Israelis, not all Jews everywhere. It’s like saying “It’s up to the Muslims to act morally”. A lot of Muslims (and Jews) actually are; we don’t have to view a group as collective enemies.

    THat’s actually a good thing; changing the direction of a state is easier than changing all followers of a particular religion. Look at the US — there’s all sorts of internal resistance from Americans for the outrageous behavior of its leaders. Similarly, there’s a whole movement of Jews for peace. If the people in power view an entire group as collectively responsible, back to war we go — whichever people those are.

  • tojby_2000@yahoo.com' apotropoxy says:

    Yes and no. The rediscovery of morality must first occur among the Jews living in Palestine but the great diaspora throughout the world must also act. I fear that another horrenda will soon befall the Jewish people if a dramatic reversal doesn’t happen.

  • williameburns@verizon.net' William Burns says:

    There are huge differences between evangelical fantasy Israel and actually existing Israel. Actually existing Israel not only has legal and cheap abortion, it also has a thriving system of sharia courts.

  • williameburns@verizon.net' William Burns says:

    Australia is also a pretty close ally. For some reason, Israel tends to get along with settler-colonial states, can’t imagine why.

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