Religious Extremism is at the Heart of US Support for Israel
The fanatically anti-Palestinian group Christians United For Israel, CUFI, claims to have more than 4 million members. It was founded in 2006 by a Texas mega-church televangelist, Pastor John Hagee. It now has smaller branches in the UK and Canada.
Hagee has a profitable line in supposedly prophetic books which promote extremist apocalyptic visions about the “end times.”
With attention-grabbing titles like Four Blood Moons, the books have a sci-fi or fantasy quality to them. Indeed, they are of course mostly fictional, even if their author would claim otherwise.
His upcoming book explicitly appeals to the lucrative fantasy blockbuster audience, titled as it is: Earth’s Last Empire: The Final Game of Thrones.
He also cashes in on the modern “prosperity gospel” trend among those Evangelicals who purport to show how Biblical prophecies and principles can lead to actual, literal wealth for his readers and congregants, in titles like “Decisions that Produce Wealth” and “The Power to Get Wealth.”
Hagee, then, is a modern-day snake oil salesman. As such, he is an appropriate fit for the state of Israel.
Hagee’s CUFI plays an important role in rallying Evangelical support for Israel in the US. It also claims that one of its aims is to fight anti-Semitism across the world.
But in fact Hagee’s doctrine is one of the most fanatically anti-Semitic religious creeds in the world today.
Leading Palestinian intellectual Joseph Massad has made a convincing argument that Zionism’s origins actually lay in evangelical Protestant millenarianism rather than in any Jewish tradition.
At its heart is an anti-Semitic theology which aims to rid Europe of its Jewish communities and “gather” them in Palestine in anticipation of the End Times. There – so this eschatology has it – when the Messiah, Jesus, returns, the majority will convert to Christianity before the final judgement of God. The rest will be doomed to hell.
Christian Zionism sought to bring about this “return” to the “Land of Israel” in very practical terms. In reality, most Jews opposed Zionism as a fringe movement, and never sought to live in Palestine. European Jewish communities are just that – Europeans mostly descended from converts to Judaism.
The dangerous and racist mythology which drives groups like CUFI is therefore a useful tool of the Israel lobby in the eyes of cynical Israeli politicians and their Zionist supporters in the West.
Because despite its empty claims to be fighting anti-Semitism, CUFI’s theology is very much based in anti-Semitic ideas. Hagee himself infamously preached that Hitler was “a hunter” sent by God to drive Jews “back” to Palestine so that the divine plan to “return” the Jews to the Land of Israel could be played out.
Such demented ideology is a major driver of anti-Semitic hatred against Jews.
But it causes little problem for Israel and its supporters. While the re-emergence of Hagee’s Hitler sermon during the 2008 presidential race embarrassed John McCain into renouncing Hagee’s endorsement, the pastor continues to be courted and indulged by both Israeli and US politicians.
At the opening of the new US embassy in Jerusalem in May, Hagee gave the closing benediction, praying in front of a who’s-who of Israeli and American politicians.
The crowd included Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli opposition leader Isaac Herzog (of the so-called “Labor” party), Trump’s son-in-law and advisor Jared Kushner, former US presidential candidate Ted Cruz, and former senator Joe Lieberman.
During his prayer, Hagee claimed that Jerusalem is “the eternal capital of the Jewish people”. This description – a common claim by such Zionist fanatics – is worth thinking about: while superficially philosemitic, it is, in effect, anti-Semitic.
As the Palestinian intellectual Omar Bargouhti – the co-founder of the BDS movement – puts it: neo-Nazis claim that Jews are sub-human while Zionists claim that Jews are super-human – both agree that Jews are, somehow, not human.
The philosemitism of Christian Zionism is actually a subtle form of anti-Semitism.
The obvious implication of Netanyahu’s baseless claim to be not just the prime minister of Israel but the “representative of the entire Jewish people” and of Hagee’s claim that Jerusalem is the “eternal” capital not just of Israel but of “the Jewish people” is that “the Jews” do not really belong to the many various countries in which they were actually born and brought up, but “really belong” – on some sort of mystical, metaphysical level – in Israel and Israel alone.
The long term aim is to drive Jews out of their ancestral homelands and into Palestine where they are compelled into the role of settlers in the apartheid colony of Israel. It is a racist, anti-Semitic logic.
This is something that Zionism has had a degree of success in achieving over the last 70 years. But the project has been a failure in that most Jews do not live in Israel, and show little interest in ever doing so – especially American Jews.
Fiery pits of hell
Another extremist American pastor to attend the embassy opening ceremony was Robert Jeffress. The Evangelical gave a prayer in front of the assembled politicians and embassy staff in which he described Jerusalem as “the city that you [God] named as the capital of Israel 3,000 years ago.”
He went into full-throated political-religion mode, gushing over Trump, and thanking God “every day that you have given us a president who boldly stands on the right side of history, but more importantly stands on the right side of you, oh God, when it comes to Israel.”
But Jeffress is also an extremist anti-Semite Christian Zionist.
As reported by the New York Times, he once said during an interview on a Christian TV channel that Jews, Muslims and Mormons are all going to hell.
“Islam is wrong. It is a heresy from the pit of hell,” he said. “Mormonism is wrong. It is a heresy from the pit of hell.” He continued: “Judaism – you can’t be saved being a Jew. You know who said that, by the way? The three greatest Jews in the New Testament: Peter, Paul and Jesus Christ. They all said Judaism won’t do it. It’s faith in Jesus Christ.”
In a 2008 sermon, he was more direct: “Not only do religions like Mormonism, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism – not only do they lead people away from the true God, they lead people to an eternity of separation from God in hell … Hell is going to be filled with good religious people who have rejected the truth of Christ.”
Israeli politicians like Netanyahu are no doubt aware of the hateful ideology of such allies. But as long as these allies are committed to political support for the state of Israel and defending its crimes, they do not care.
On the surface, this should make little sense. After all, in the fever dreams of Hagee and Jeffress, would Netanyahu – a Jew – not end up in the fiery pits of hell should he refuse to convert to faith in Jesus during the last days of judgement?
A settler-colonial movement
It makes more sense when you consider another historical fact: Zionism is not a movement for Jewish self defence, it is a movement for settler-colonialism.
If the global Zionist movement deems it useful to promote anti-Semitic conspiracy theories (as Israeli intelligence services admit to having deliberately done) and hateful, anti-Jewish Christian theologies, then so be it, goes their thinking.
After all, the goal of Israel is to bring Jews to the land of Palestine and turn them into settlers – human fodder that can be used to displace the indigenous people. Zionism has never had as one of its real goals the protection of Jewish communities outside of Israel.
If anything, the opposite is true. Israeli leaders constantly sensationalize threats to Jewish life in Europe, to encourage migration to Israel. Many Iraqi Jews claim that attacks on their community were actually a plot by Israeli agents to drive them out of the country and head for Israel. Before the rise of Zionism, and the foundation of the state of Israel in 1948, Jewish citizens of Iraq lived in relative prosperity and harmony with their fellow citizens of other religions.
Despite the warm words of Christian Zionists about Jews being “God’s chosen people,” there is no escaping the feeling that behind this veneer of philosemitism, there is a distinctly anti-Semitic core at work.
In the final analysis, the effect of Christian Zionism is anti-Semitic – it is bad for Jewish communities as well as bad for the indigenous people of Palestine.
Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist and associate editor with The Electronic Intifada. He lives in London.