Thursday, February 9, 2012

Christian Zionists urge Americans to "Vote Israel"

As I hope and trust you have all been following, a disagreement has kindled in recent months among a number of American commentators on the affairs of a certain traditional ally of their government's in the eastern Mediterranean. This inflammation concerns the use by some of the term 'Israel Firster' to accuse an American of putting the interests of the Israeli state before those of his own.

I didn't at first feel much impelled to join either side of the argument, having reservations both ways and also thinking that I could probably argue the case both ways too. On the one hand, it would be idle to deny that the Israel Lobby continues to command a peculiar influence on Capitol Hill, and that when America vetoes Security Council resolutions condemning things that it officially opposes (like West Bank settlements) and condoning things that it officially supports (like Palestinian statehood), then this influence ipso facto both supersedes and compromises American (and humanitarian) policy interests. On the other hand, the powers of the Lobby are easily overstated, and the 'Israel Firster' formulation has an uncomfortable echo of its kindred 'neocon', a catch-all slur for anyone who advocates anything but the sheerest isolationism in foreign policy. In his Huffington Post piece, 'Why the Term "Israel First" Matters', the populariser of the term MJ Rosenberg came right out and said that "I don't think we should lose even one soldier in a war against a country that does not directly threaten the American people". Jeffrey Goldberg therefore wasn't at all far off when he defined the term ironically as one "used by [the left] to describe American Jews with whom it disagrees on American Middle East policy".

However, Goldberg and his friends went on to forfeit any claim they could have had to the moral high ground by reaching for the greasiest and most overplayed card in their deck. Just as one can't these days utter a word about, say, the stoning of adulterers in Afghanistan without being accused of 'Islamophobia', so it seems one can't express the smallest reservations about the rising tides of Israeli religious-nationalism without being denounced as an 'anti-Semite'. While being careful to clarify that those who use the term need not necessarily be anti-Semites ("they might just be ignorant"), Goldberg later wrote about the "straight line from Lindbergh to 'Israel-Firster'" and described it as a "neo-Nazi-derived anti-Semitic slur". Whatever the facts may be about the phrase's ugly history, this was a straightforward, self-pitying argument-from-injured-feelings that didn't so much as attempt to address the original points made by Rosenberg et al.

In any case, it is now no longer possible to deny that, at the very least, there do exist some groups who explicitly advocate for putting Israel 'first'. On Tuesday, the Christian Zionist outfit, Christians United for Israel, circulated a petition titled "Defend America - Vote Israel", encouraging American voters to elect precisely whichever candidate is most supportive of the Israeli government. The petition invites the signatory to assert that "When I cast my vote, I'll be looking for a candidate who affirms that one of the best ways to defend America is to stand with Israel." Below is a screenshot of the petition (click to enlarge):

As well as closing the case on 'Israel Firster', this CUFI petition also highlights what Goldberg and his co-ideologues (along with far too many Arabs) don't or won't admit, which is that the Israel Lobby is emphatically not a 'Jewish' lobby. From Jerry Falwell to Pat Robertson to CUFI's John Hagee, some of the most towering constituents of the Lobby (not to mention the most egregious apologists for Israeli aggression and expansionism) have been Christian fundamentalists, who wish to facilitate the Jewish conquest of the biblical Eretz Yisrael only to propitiate the second coming of Christ, at which point the Jews will face a choice between conversion and extermination. How 'anti-Semitic' is it to oppose that outcome?

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