A super series of articles on Christian Zionism here ;
Excerpts below ;
The term Christian Zionism is of relatively recent vintage and was rarely used prior to the early 1990s. Self-proclaimed Christian Zionist organizations such as the International Christian Embassy-Jerusalem and the US-based Bridges for Peace, both with offices in Jerusalem, have been operating for 20 years, but were under the radar of most Middle East experts and the mainstream media until after Sept. 11, 2001.
Briefly stated, Christian Zionism is a movement within Protestant fundamentalism that sees the modern state of Israel as the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy and thus deserving of political, financial and religious support. Christian Zionists work closely with the Israeli government, religious and secular Jewish Zionist organizations, and are particularly empowered during periods when the more conservative Likud Party is in control of the Knesset. Both the secular and religious media place Christian Zionism in the Protestant evangelical movement, which claims upward of 100-125 million members in the US. However, one would more accurately categorize it as part of the fundamentalist wing of Protestant Christianity, since the evangelical movement is far larger and more diverse in its theology and historical development.
Christian Zionism grew out of a particular theological system called “premillennial dispensationalism,” which emerged during the early 19th century in England, when there was an outpouring of millennial doctrines. The preaching and writings of a renegade Irish clergyman, John Nelson Darby, and a Scotsman, Edward Irving, emphasized the literal and future fulfillment of such Biblical teachings as “the rapture,” the rise of the Antichrist, the Battle of Armageddon and the central role that a revived nation-state of Israel would play during the latter days.
Premillennialism is a type of Christian theology as old as Christianity itself. It has its roots in Jewish apocalyptic thought and generally holds that Jesus will return to earth before he establishes, literally, a millennial kingdom under his sovereignty. Darby added the distinctive elements of the rapture (or removal to heaven) of true, born-again Christians prior to Jesus’ return, and interpreted all major prophetic texts as having predictive value. He also marked world history according to certain periods called “dispensations,” that served to guide believers in how they should conduct themselves. The fulfillment of prophetic signs became the central task of Christian interpretation.
Darby’s ideas became a central feature in the teachings of many of the great preachers of the 1880-1900 period, including evangelists Dwight L. Moody and Billy Sunday, the major Presbyterian preacher James Brooks, Philadelphia radio preacher Harry B. Ironsides, and Cyrus I. Scofield. When Scofield applied Darby’s eschatology to the Bible, the result was a superimposed outline of premillennial dispensationalist notations on the Biblical text, known as the Scofield Bible. Gradually, the Scofield Bible became the only version used by most evangelical and fundamentalist Christians for the next 95 years.
In developing a working definition of Christian Zionism, one can say it is a 19th and 20th century movement within Protestant fundamentalism that (particularly last century and today) supports the maximalist claims of Jewish political Zionism, including Israel’s sovereignty over all of historic Palestine, including Jerusalem. The modern state of Israel, as a fulfillment of prophetic scriptures, is regarded as a necessary stage prior to the second coming of Jesus. Christian Zionism is marked by the following theological convictions:
l God’s covenant with Israel is eternal, exclusive and will not be abrogated, according to Genesis 12:1-7; 15:4-7; 17:1-8; Leviticus 26:44-45; and Deuteronomy 7:7-8.
There are two distinct and parallel covenants in the Bible, one with Israel that is never revoked and the other with the Church that is superseded by the covenant with Israel. The Church is a “mere parenthesis” in God’s plan, and as such it will be removed from history during the Rapture (1 Thessalonians 4:13-17 and 5:1-11). At that point, Israel, as a nation, will be restored as the primary instrument of God on earth.
Christian Zionists claim that Genesis 12:3 (“I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you”) should be interpreted literally and lead to political, economic, moral and spiritual support for the state of Israel and for the Jewish people in general.
The first lobbying effort on behalf of a Jewish state in Palestine was not organized or initiated by Jews. It occurred in 1891, when a popular fundamentalist Christian writer and lay-preacher, William E. Blackstone, organized a national campaign to appeal to the then-president of the United States, Benjamin Harrison, to support the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine.
The power of the pro-Israel Republicans became a prominent feature during the Reagan years, with the president leading the way. On at least seven public occasions Reagan expressed belief in a final Battle of Armageddon. During one of his private conversations with AIPAC director Tom Dine, Reagan said: “You know, I turn back to your ancient prophets in the Old Testament and the signs foretelling Armageddon, and I find myself wondering if if we’re the generation that is going to see that come about.” The conversation was leaked to the Jerusalem Post and picked up across the US on the AP wire. This stunning openness displayed by an American president with the chief lobbyist for a foreign government indicated the close cooperation that had developed between the administration and Israel.
A little-known feature of the Reagan White House was the series of seminars organized by the administration and the Christian right with assistance from the pro-Israel lobby. These sessions were designed to firm up support for the Republican Party, and, in turn, encourage AIPAC and Christian Zionist organizations to advance their respective agendas. Participation by the Christian right in gala dinner briefings at the White House reads like a Who’s Who of the movement, including author Hal Lindsay, Jerry Falwell, the head of the Moral Majority, and evangelist Pat Robertson, as well as Tim LeHaye (co-author of the influential Left Behind series) and Moral Majority strategist Ed McAteer. State Department official Robert McFarlane, one of those implicated in the Iran-Contra scandal, led several briefings. Quietly working in the background was another Christian fundamentalist, Marine Colonel Oliver North.
Begin developed a close relationship with leading fundamentalists, such as Falwell, who later received a Learjet from the Israeli government for his personal travel and in 1981 was honored with the Jabotinsky Award in an elaborate ceremony in New York. When Israel bombed Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981, Begin made his first telephone call to Falwell, asking him to “explain to the Christian public the reasons for the bombing.” Only later did he call Reagan. Falwell also converted former Senator Jesse Helms from a critic of Israel into one of its staunchest allies in the US Senate, where he chaired the influential Foreign Relations Committee.
Late in the Reagan administration, a number of scandals in the Christian right began to erode its public support. Pat Robertson’s ineffective run for the presidency in 1988 led to a decline in fundamentalist political fortunes. Resilient as ever, the pro-Israel lobby was able to somewhat reassert itself with the election of another Bible-toting Southern Baptist president, Bill Clinton, despite his liberal social agenda. However, Christian Zionist influence did decline after the Reagan presidency, though it would return with renewed vigor after the tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001.
When Israel responded to the Netanya suicide bombing in March 2002 by reinvading the West Bank and besieging Jenin, the ensuing international outcry led US President George W. Bush to order Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to withdraw his forces from Palestinian areas. Bush sent a strong message to Sharon at an April 2 news conference: “Withdraw! Withdraw your troops immediately!”
At that point longtime Christian Zionist spokesman and pro-Israel advocate Jerry Falwell and other Christian Zionist leaders, working closely with pro-Israel groups, used their media and internet outlets to mobilize their constituencies to deliver tens of thousands of telephone calls, e-mails and letters to the president, telling him to refrain from pressuring Sharon and to allow Israel to finish its job. In the aftermath of that campaign, Bush did not utter another word of opposition to Israeli military actions. Falwell told the CBS news program 60 Minutes that after the incident, Israel could count on Bush to “do the right thing for Israel every time.” The lesson was that even when the Bush administration criticized Israel, the Israelis, conscious of the extensive support they enjoy in the US Congress, would not take it seriously. As Falwell said: “The Bible Belt is Israel’s safety net in the US.”
Christian Zionist organizations and the pro-Israel lobby are among the significant special interest groups whose interests have converged since Bush’s election to shape the administration’s policy toward the Middle East. In some respects, most of these groups and political tendencies were lined up and waiting to merge their ambitions even before the election. The tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, provided the spark for this.
Among these interest groups, of which we can broadly identify six, is, first of all, the right wing of the Republican Party. During his election campaign, Bush, with the help of former members of the Reagan administration, discarded the Middle East strategy of the first Bush administration, which advocated a more nuanced, multilateral and collaborative approach to the UN and to international law in resolving conflicts. By 2000, a shift had taken place in the Republican Party. It began embracing the doctrines of neoconservative ideologues who advocated US unilateralism and favored military solutions over diplomacy. This more aggressive approach was put into action after Sept. 11, and to no one’s surprise, Israel’s war against the Palestinians and its other enemies was soon linked to the US “war on terrorism.”
A second interest group was comprised of neoconservatives, among them Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, who submitted a strategy paper during the first Bush administration in 1991 advocating unilateralist and pre-emptive doctrines. Baker and advisers to the president, who viewed the document as too extreme, buried it. Eventually a larger group of Reagan hawks found various means to express their displeasure with the Republican mainstream and leadership.
That displeasure grew during the Clinton era, particularly with regard to the administration’s Middle East policy. In 1996, the Project for a New American Century was born, based on neoconservative doctrine, and the same year several neocon leading lights issued a strategy paper for Benjamin Netanyahu, the Likud candidate for prime minister in Israel’s elections, titled A Clean Break. The paper recommended that Israel abandon the Oslo Accords and adopt a strategy of military aggression toward the Palestinians and Arab countries. The strategy helped win Netanyahu victory and became the modus operandi not only of his government but also that of Sharon. Bush’s election and Sept. 11 gave the neocons the opportunity to shift US foreign policy toward more military, imperial and unilateralist approaches.
Two other interest groups are multinational construction firms and the petroleum industry on the one hand, and the arms industry on the other: Access to high quality and inexpensive oil reserves has long been a primary strategic US goal in the Middle East. Multinational companies have also recently become important political players in Iraq’s reconstruction efforts, including Halliburton, an oil company whose former CEO was Vice-President Dick Cheney, and Bechtel. The US arms industry has also benefited from US Middle East policy, particularly after Sept. 11, thanks to the heightened security atmosphere, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the post-war situations in both countries. Israel, meanwhile, has long been a favorite of US arms producers.
A fifth group is made up of the pro-Israel lobby and think tanks. The lobby works closely with a variety of special interest groups, including the Christian right, to exercise considerable influence over the direction of US Middle East policy. By bringing relentless pressure and a steady flow of policy recommendations to elected officials on a daily basis, pro-Israel organizations outpace counterinitiatives, whether from Middle Eastern interest groups, academia, or mainstream churches. It is crucial to understand that the range of pro-Israel groups does not merely include Jews, so that the appellation the “Jewish lobby” is simply inaccurate.
Proof of this is the existence of a sixth interest group whose interests were also served during the Bush administration: fundamentalist Christian Zionists. During the past two or three decades, the conservative Evangelical movement has been the fastest growing sector within the American Christian churches. Estimates of the number of evangelicals range from 100-130 million, out of which 20-25 percent could be classified as fundamentalist some 20-26 million Americans. Of the fundamentalists, most, but not all, are inclined to support the Christian Zionist position. A recent poll by the Pew Research Center noted that 58 percent of evangelicals believe in the Battle of Armageddon, an indicator that they would be predisposed to Christian Zionism.
Today, Christian Zionists form the largest base of support for pro-Israeli interests in the US. Working since the late 1970s, the pro-Israel lobby has mobilized both economic and political support for Israel among fundamentalists. For example, a relatively new organization, Stand for Israel, has emerged in the past two years to work closely with AIPAC, the leading pro-Israel lobby, to support and hold rallies on behalf of Sharon’s policies. Last April 2, Stand for Israel held a convention and lobbying day immediately after the annual AIPAC convention, inviting many of the same speakers and adopting several of the same policies. Former US Presidential candidate Gary Bauer, a co-founder of Stand for Israel, addressed the convention and urged attendees to oppose the Palestinian-Israeli “road map” and an exchange of land for peace.
Bauer declared: “Whoever sits in the confines of Washington, and suggests to the people of Israel that they have to give up more land in exchange for peace, that’s an obscenity.”
Others present at the dinner reflected the intimate relationship the Bush administration has with the Christian right and the pro-Israel lobby. This included US Attorney General John Ashcroft, Israel’s Ambassador to the US Daniel Ayalon, Southern Baptist Convention leader Richard Land, and House of Representatives Minority Leader Tom DeLay. DeLay and Congressman Tom Lantos, perennial advocates of Israel’s interests in the House, received the first annual Friend of Israel Award for their success in leading Congress to pass House Resolution 392, restating the strong solidarity of the US with Israel in their joint stance against international terrorism.
Pro-Israel groups and fundamentalist Christian groups have brought significant political and economic pressures to bear on Congress and the Bush presidency. Their support for Sharon’s militant Likud ideology are unquestioned and usually supported by selected Biblical footnotes. Policies such as increased Israeli settlements, the pre-emptive assassination of Palestinian leaders, Israeli sovereignty over all of historic Palestine (especially Jerusalem), and, if it occurs, the expulsion of Palestinian President Yasser Arafat (and indeed the mass expulsion of large sectors of the Palestinian population), would find ready support within the Christian right.