President Obama gave a largely unremarkable speech yesterday, but for some Republicans, the earth shakes with God’s wrath.
First, the target of their discontent: his statements about the Israel-Palestine conflict. As Matt Duss points out:
There has been a lot of attention paid to the president’s statement that “the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps.” This exact language may be new for a U.S. president, but the sentiment it described is not. George W. Bush himself made a similar reference to ’67 in a 2005 speech.
To be clear, no one is saying that Israel will be forced to withdraw to the pre-1967 lines. What Obama made clear is that those lines will be the basis for negotiations to determine how much settlement land Israel will be permitted to retain, and how much of pre-1967 Israel must be given to Palestine as compensation.
This really shouldn’t be as controversial as it probably will be. Treating the 1967 lines as a basis for negotiations in this way represents the overwhelming consensus of the international community, enshrined in multiple UN resolutions. That anyone should be confused or surprised about this probably goes to the success that Israeli leaders have had over the years in obscuring it, and the indulgence that American leaders have often shown toward those efforts.
Mike Huckabee says Obama “betrayed” Israel, and took the opportunity to chide him for not “secur[ing]” U.S. borders. Mitt Romney says he “threw Israel under the bus.” Michele Bachmann claimed Obama’s speech “will cause chaos, division & more aggression in Middle East & put Israel at further risk.”
All this hyperventilating is, as Duss points out, disconnected from reality — from the truth of what Obama actually said, what U.S. policy actually is, and the reality of what the starting point for peace negotiations is. Obviously for Republicans desperately trying to score political points, anything Obama does draws their ginned-up ire. But in this case, they’re not just attacking Obama for the sake of attacking Obama, they’re tapping into a hot-button issue for many evangelicals, one that can stoke as much agitation as abortion or same-sex marriage.
These Republicans are not whistling to Jewish voters, or even to AIPAC, but to the Christian Zionists. These are the same activists who look to Likud MK and Knesset Deputy Speaker Danny Danon, author of yesterday’s New York Times op-ed arguing that Israel should annex settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank before a Palestinian state is created. Dahlia Scheindlin, writing at +972, called Danon’s argument “so flimsy that it crumbles if you touch it.”
That’s the same Danon who is part of an increasingly powerful extremist element in Israel, bent on enacting laws depriving non-Jews of civil rights, and engaging in anti-democratic witchhunts designed to demonize pro-peace groups, both Israeli and American, as enemies of the state, and to silence their activities. In March, Danon held a hearing on whether J Street was “pro-Palestinian,” a show trial intended to depict the American organization as an enemy of Israel because of its support for the two-state solution. That was probably a show for his American friends; most Israelis haven’t heard of J Street.
Danon is close with American Christian Zionists — it’s with them he says he shares a common bond. He was Sarah Palin’s Israeli tour guide when she visited earlier this spring; he speaks to American religious right gatherings about how “Christians and Jews share the same future.” Danon has likened Obama to Pharaoh, a bit of religious imagery that turns irony on its head as he portrays any even tepid effort to change the terms of Israel’s brutal occupation of the Palestinians as an plot to enslave the Jews.
Never mind tomorrow’s predicted Rapture—many, if not most, Christian Zionists, although they believe in the end-times, do not believe that the precise date can be pinpointed by mortals. No, the Republican hawkers want to turn their attention to Obama. Danon’s proposed land grab is right in line with what many Christian Zionists believe the Bible not only demands, but prophecies as a precondition — the in-gathering — for the end-times. If Obama messes with that, he’s messing with God’s word. And that’s really what Huckabee et al. are talking about.