On July 22 the Jewish People Policy Institute released a 100-page report on the attitudes of diaspora Jews regarding Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians. The Institute is no disinterested observer, but a project of the Jewish Agency for Israel – one of the major Zionist state-building institutions in Israel. Although the report found that diaspora Jews overwhelmingly support Israel’s use of force, it also revealed that a majority of those surveyed believe that the Israeli government is not sincere about making peace with the Palestinians. The latter view was doubtless reinforced by Benjamin Netanyahu’s open repudiation of the two-state solution during this year’s Knesset elections.
The report is yet more evidence suggesting that diaspora identification with Israel is in serious decline. As Norman Finkelstein’s work has demonstrated, that includes amongst the most crucial pro-Israel constituency: American Jews.
Maintenance of Jewish support in the United States and Europe has always depended heavily upon promoting the portrayal of Israel as an outpost of enlightened democratic civilisation in a region dominated by authoritarianism and religious fundamentalism. For that reason, the defeat of the Zionist Unity list at the last election was a major defeat for that strategy. As Noam Chomsky has observed, the United States typically has preferred Labor Governments over the Likud. The reason being that the former are more versed in presenting Israeli policies with a veneer of sophistication and respectability unlike the more openly thuggish Likud. However, one might have supposed that the rise of ISIS on its own would have boosted the effectiveness of the traditional strategy. Rather it appears that, particularly in Europe, Israel is increasingly seen not as an outpost of progress, but rather just one of many malign regimes in the region.
As Israel’s traditional constituency within the United States gradually erodes, Israel is likely to become increasingly reliant upon groups that are less troubled by the depredations of the Israeli military and the settlement project. One such constituency is the network of fundamentalist Christian Zionists.
Christian Zionist support for Israel is grounded in the messianic belief that the migration of Jews to historic Palestine portends the second coming of Christ. For instance the Christian Friends of Israeli Communities (CFOIC) – an extremist American organisation that aids illegal settlements in the occupied territories – offers the following description of the situation in the Middle East:
‘The Biblical region of Judea and Samaria was given to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and their descendants, forever, 4,000 years ago. Because of sin, disobedience and lack of belief, most Jews were driven from the land around 70AD… The prophets foretold the ingathering of the exiles and the rebuilding of the Land in the latter days…. In 1948, Israel was reborn as a sovereign nation and in 1967 the “West Bank” was reunited with the rest of the nation in the prophetic, miraculous Six Day War.’
CFOIC was established by Sondra Oster Baras, who helped to create the Karnei Shomron settlement in 1985. Though American-born, she resides in the settlement herself. Baras is opposed to negotiations with the Palestinians, saying that “Israel needs to assert her right to the entire Land of Israel.” She has also stated that the Palestinians are “a people who came into existence only as a ploy to destroy the legitimacy of the Jewish right to a state,” and describes Islam as a religion of “Holy War” whose “leaders promote violence and intolerance on a regular basis”.
One of the most significant Christian Zionist organisations is the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. In its early years, leaders of key Zionist institutions such as the Jewish Agency avoided open alliance with the fellowship and its president, Yechiel Eckstein. However in 2007 the agency took the remarkable step of accepting Eckstein’s membership of the agency’s 26-member cabinet. The appointment was the fellowship’s reward for its commitment to donate $45 million to the agency.
The two organisations collaborated in “aliyah” operations (enabling Jewish migration to Israel) but in March of this year the Fellowship chartered its first “Freedom Flight” outside of the auspices of the agency. Migration to Israel is of course of tremendous importance to Christian Zionists who believe it helps to fulfil biblical prophecy. While a naive person might suppose that such operations are simply responding to a genuine desire on the part of diaspora Jews to migrate to Israel, organisations such as the Fellowship take a far more proactive role.
For instance, the Fellowship has offered financial inducements to Iranian Jews to encourage them to make aliyah. Operation Exodus, a UK-based Christian Zionist organisation that operates in the states of the former Soviet Union, describes visits made by its personnel to Jewish communities in the former Soviet states as “fishing trips”. A remarkable insight into how they view the Jewish diaspora.
Another important group is Christians United for Israel (CUFI), headed by American televangelist John Hagee. CUFI is an umbrella organisation for a number of conservative Christian groups. Established in 2006 and based in Texas, it claims to be the largest pro-Israel group in the United States. Hagee is a vocal supporter of Israeli annexation of Jerusalem. He once remarked that ‘Turning part or all of Jerusalem over to the Palestinians would be tantamount to turning it over to the Taliban.” Hagee has been widely criticised for his anti-Semitic views, for example his claim that Adolf Hitler was a “half-breed Jew” sent by God as a “hunter” to persecute Europe’s Jews and drive them towards “the only home God ever intended for the Jews to have—Israel”. Hagee also infamously argued that the Antichrist would be “partially Jewish, as was Adolf Hitler, as was Karl Marx.”
Remarkably the Jewish Agency for Israel (which one might expect to take a dim view of anti-Semitism) accepts funds from Hagee and has offered thanks to him in its annual reports. This week Glenn Greenwald reported that CUFI is currently busy strategizing the best way to undermine the US deal with Iran regarding its nuclear programme.
There has always been serious tension between Christian Zionists and the major Zionist state-building institutions. The latter fear close identification with religious extremists, are sceptical regarding the real motives of Christian Zionists and fear alienating liberal constituencies. For their part, Christian Zionists have clashed with the Jewish Agency for fostering Jewish identity in the diaspora rather than focussing all of their efforts on facilitating aliyah. Nonetheless, whatever their qualms about the ideology of Christian Zionism, Israel’s leaders may in the coming years have little choice but to accept a more prominent role in Israel-advocacy on the part of Christian Zionist organisations.
Alex Doherty is a co-founder of New Left Project and a graduate student in the War Studies department of King’s College London. He has written for Z Magazine and Open Democracy amongst other publications. You can follow him on twitter@alexdoherty7