“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.