OAKLAND, California, Dec 19 2006 (IPS) — Over the past 20 years, the U.S. Christian right has evolved into one of the most powerful grassroots organising forces within the Republican Party, and a host of Christian Zionists have taken a well-earned seat at the foreign policy table.
At the same time, their support for Israel is not only growing – it is also becoming an influential political factor.
Several prominent Christian right and conservative Jewish leaders have teamed up to found organisations that have provided millions of dollars to Israeli charities, lobbied in support of policies advanced by right wing leaders in Israel, opposed President George W. Bush's so-called "Road Map" to peace in the Middle East, and have helped defray the costs of the immigration of Russian Jews to Israel, among other activities.
While the Reverends Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell have been longtime supporters of Israel, the founding earlier this year of Christians United for Israel by John Hagee, the pastor of the 18,000-member Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas, drew a great deal of media attention.
As Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's popularity has plummeted since the end of the Israel-Hezbollah conflict, Christian Zionists in the United States view the outcome not only as a defeat for Israel, but also as a prelude to a much wider war. In fact, they think the conflict might be a sign of impending Armageddon.
"The end of the world as we know it is rapidly approaching," Hagee wrote in his most recent book, "Jerusalem Countdown: A Warning to the World". "Just before us is a nuclear countdown with Iran," he wrote, "followed by Ezekiel's war (as described in Ezekiel, chapters 38 and 39), and then the final battle – the battle of Armageddon."
For Hagee, bestselling author Joel Rosenberg and other Christian Zionists, Israel plays the critical role in End Time scenarios. Their books, commentaries, and public statements reflect their beliefs that serial conflicts in the Middle East are a sign of the biblical prophesy presaging Armageddon, the return of Jesus Christ, and the final battle for the souls of mankind.
And some have started to train their sights on Tehran. In a recent blog post datelined Jerusalem, Rosenberg wrote: "The buzz here in the last few days is that Israel is seriously considering a preemptive strike against Iran's nuclear facilities and ballistic missile sites."
Given Israel's less than sterling performance against Hezbollah this past summer, Rosenberg was not convinced that Israel "has the capacity – or the will – at the moment to neutralise the Iranian nuclear and ballistic missile threat."
However, with "a new Hitler rising in Iran", it is up to U.S. President George W. Bush, who met with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in Washington in mid-November, to deal with the Iranian threat: "If President Bush believes Iran needs to be neutralised (and I believe he does), and he is convinced that military action is the only way (I don't believe he is there right now), then the U.S. should take the lead."
After all, wrote Rosenberg, "If anyone is going to stop Iran from threatening the world with nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them, it has to be soon, perhaps no later than the end of 2007. After all, 2008 is an American election year. 2009 will be the start of a new administration. By then it may be too late. The thermonuclear genie may be out of the bottle."
The Israeli/Hezbollah war led several U.S. cable television news networks to raise questions about whether the crisis in the Middle East was a signal that the "End Times" were approaching. Rosenberg, author of such apocalyptic political thrillers as "The Copper Scroll," "The Ezekiel Option," and "The Last Jihad," was invited to appear on CNN and the Fox News Channel.
In one recent appearance, Rosenberg said that he had made several visits to "speak at a White House Bible study" and had conversations with "a number of congressional leaders and Homeland Security, Pentagon [officials] about my novels, which are based on Bible prophecy."
Rosenberg said that "the question that's been most interesting among these various administration and congressional officials is, 'Are you saying that the Bible talks about an alliance between Iran, Russia, and a group of Middle Eastern countries to attack Israel at some point?' And the answer is yes."
Some critics charge that Rosenberg is a self-promoter with little real understanding of Judaism.
"Rosenberg chooses to trade in his private salvation narrative as way of winning readers, exploiting contacts, and most dangerously – political ventriloquism," said Rabbi Haim Dov Beliak, the co-founder of JewsOnFirst.org, a website devoted to protecting free speech, and the rabbi of Beth Shalom Temple in Whittier, California.
"In this case, political ventriloquism is using the 'voice' of Jews to their eventual detriment – while claiming it is for their benefit – and seeking, what I as a believing Jew, must describe as apostasy against Judaism and God," he told IPS. "Rooting for war with Iran and lobbying for world destruction using Israel, as catalytic agent, is no longer 'entertainment' – it is obscene."
Rosenberg was an important but mostly behind-the-scenes figure in the conservative movement until his first novel "The Last Jihad" became a bestseller. A Jew who converted to Christianity more than 30 years ago, he had worked for former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli politician and author Natan Sharansky, U.S. business magazine magnate Steve Forbes, and right-wing radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh. He is also a former Heritage Foundation staffer.
"The Last Jihad," completed before the 9/11 Trade Centre and Pentagon attacks, propelled Rosenberg into the spotlight. The novel featured a hijacked jet making a kamikaze-like attack against the president of the United States, simultaneous terrorist strikes on the U.S., London, Paris and Saudi Arabia, an oil deal between Israel and the Palestinians that threatened to unleash a war with Iraq, and a possible preemptive nuclear strike.
In a late-October interview with the Washington Times, Rosenberg told reporter Chrissie Thompson that he didn't think that his novels "were going to predict the future… I was basing them on a series of Bible prophecies, but when [they] started to come true… that has been striking for all of us, myself included."
Another of his novels, "The Ezekiel Option," is described by Rosenberg as "a political thriller about the threat of a Russian-Iranian alliance to destroy Israel based on the Biblical prophecies found in the Book of Ezekiel, chapters 38 and 39."
These prophecies, according to Rosenberg, "describe what Bible scholars call the war of Gog and Magog. Russia and Iran form a military alliance with Lebanon, Syria and a group of other Middle East countries to destroy Israel in what Ezekiel described as the last days."
In recent months Rosenberg has suggested that Russia be added to the Bush administration's "axis of evil".
Recently, Rosenberg, and his wife Lynn, co-founded the Joshua Fund, which "partner[s] with evangelical ministries in the Middle East to provide desperately needed resources to Christians in the region to bless their neighbours in need in the name of Jesus.."
According to Richard Bartholomew, the Fund's two "humanitarian aid" efforts are called the "Project to Bless Israel" and the "Project to Bless Lebanon."
"Lebanese refugees will get 'Bags of Blessing', to be distributed by Campus Crusade for Christ and local evangelicals," Bartholomew reported.
The bags will include food and other basic items like soap and aspirin, he said, as well as a Jesus film DVD in Arabic.
However, Bartholomew clarified that while the Lebanese refugees will receive the Jesus DVD, the Israelis "will be spared a similar Jesus DVD in Hebrew, for obvious political reasons."
*Bill Berkowitz is a longtime observer of the conservative movement. His WorkingForChange column "Conservative Watch" documents the strategies, players, institutions, victories and defeats of the U.S. Right.