Page 8, 20th September 2002

20th September 2002
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Page 8, 20th September 2002 — Israel, the war on terror and Christianity in America

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Locations: Jerusalem, Dubai


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Israel, the war on terror and Christianity in America

American foreign policy, especially in the Middle East, is heavily influenced

by culture, history and religious beliefs, explains Dwight Longenecker

heavily' influenced by religious beliefs. Who says religion doesn't matter?

The English may not agree with the quirky beliefs of the American Religious Right any more than they believe in the claims of the Islamic mullahs, but they had better try hard to understand the religious beliefs on both sides because they are a most powerful motivating force.. It is dangerous to write them off as simply being "crazy." But this is not the only aspect in which the English liberal attitude is dangerous. Its danger is illustrated by a shocking conversation I had recently.

'Americans like Israel because it is a pioneer state. The first immigrants were religious idealists who set out to establish colonies where Protestant religion, hard work and danger went hand in hand'

ot long ago I overheard an Anglican bishop comment privately on George W Bush, "He's as crazy as Saddam is." It wasn't my place to reply, though it seemed to me a most bizarre opinion for an intelligent church leader to take. But I wasn't surprised. As an American living in Britain I find the bishop's attitude all too typical of the English chattering classes.

I am certainly not uncritical of my native country, and often joke that I saw a bumper sticker in America that said, "America, love it or leave it" so I left. However, the sort of criticism America gets at the hands of the English is often not only snobbish, but unfair, ignorant and dangerous. So, for example, when the subject of the Second World War comes up I always hear complaints about how America came into the war too late. Now I hear that America is going to war too soon.

How can an attack on Iraq be too soon? Ten years ago America led a restrained and focused attack on Iraq's invading armies. Everything was done to avoid unnecessary human casualties. Once the job was done it withdrew and used international diplomacy to check Saddam's aggression. It didn't work. The UN inspectors were thrown out. Now. ten years later, America decides to take further action, and this is being hasty?

The typical English liberal criticism of America is also ignorant. This is shown in their criticism of America's pro-Israeli stance. Most English people who criticise America's support of Israel don't understand why Americans are pro-Israeli. There are three main factors: culture. Christianity and American Jewry. First of all, Americans have an instinctive liking for Israel because it is a pioneer state. America is also a pioneer culture. It was founded by hard-working persecuted minority groups. The first immigrants were religious idealists who set out to establish colonies where Protestant religion, hard work and danger went hand in hand.

he second great wave of immigrants in the nineteenth century were the "troubled, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free." They were the persecuted Jews, poor Irish, Italians and Poles. These Jews and Catholics were also willing to endure great hardship to improve their lives and gain a better future in the Land of Opportunity. Because of this shared experience Americans identify with the little nation of Israelwhere another type of persecuted minority group struggleagainst the greatest of odds to live out their religious dream of a Promised Land.

This cultural dimension is intrinsically linked with religion in a way that English liberals simply do not understand. For the Pilgrim Fathers and for the Catholic and Jewish immigrants, America was a land not only of economic opportunity, but also of religious freedom. The economic and educational opportu nities were linked with religious idealism and the dream of a culture that was founded on Judeo-Christian principles and the perennial power of the story of Exodus. This religious dimension is evidenced in the specific teaching on Israel amongst Evangelical Christians. Much of their theology is influenced by a quirky theological method called "Dispensationalism".

An Irish Plymouth Brethren Bible teacher called John Nelson Darby devised this teaching in the nineteenth century. It was made popular in America by the Bible scholar C.I.Scofield. Part of the system is the idea that Biblical prophecies have relevance to current events. So God's promise that the Jews would one day return from exile, reclaim Jerusalem and rebuild the temple is seen to be fulfilled not only in the days of Ezra in the sixth century BC, but also in the 1950s with the establishment of the State of Israel. Many American Evangelicals believe that, as the Jewish return from exile prefaced the coming of the Messiah, so their second return from exile is a miraculous fulfilment of prophecy and a precursor to the second coming of Jesus Christ. They believe such a miraculous fulfilment of prophecy proves that the Jews are specially blessed by God and consequently, Evangelical Christians are almost all pro-Israeli.

Finally, American Jewry has latched on to the fact that Evangelical Christians are not only pro-Israel, but also represent a very powerful block of voters. Along with their own strong political lobby, the Jews have joined forces with the Evangelical Christians and some conservative Catholics to influence American policy on a whole range of issues including the American attitude to Israel. George Bush looks to this alliance for his support and as a result, American foreign policy is Awell-educated Englishman who lives in Dubai said to me in all seriousness, "The Jews have an amazing amount of power behind the scenes. The Jewish lobby in America is unbelievably strong. They can virtually buy any senator they want. Furthermore, they control the American economy, the World Bank and the major banking systems of Europe. They pull the strings."

It may be true that there are Jews in influential positions, but what troubled me was that the speaker was not a National Front skinhead with a swastika tattooed on his hand. He was an ordinary, well educated, liberal English gent. And he was voicing the same kind of anti-semitic conspiracy theories fostered in Germany in the 1930s.

It is fashionable to view the whole situation at a lofty and self-righteous distance. We wish we did not have to choose one side or the other. It is true that the conflict is complex and it is right to pause and consider, but George W Bush is correct: in the end you have to take sides. Those who stay in the middle of the road eventually get run over. Whose side will you be on?

America and Israel are certainly not without their faults, but if you do not side with the USA are you not implicitly supporting those who fly airplanes into skyscrapers and blow themselves up to kill innocent Israeli men, women and children? Will you side with those who wage war with instruments of terror or those who, for all their problems, actually believe there are principles of a just war?

If you condemn Israel totally aren't you playing into the hands of those who suspect a sinister Jewish conspiracy and look (as some Arabs do) for a "final solutiOn"? Will you side with those who are sworn to kill their enemies, even with weapons of unimaginable horror, or will you side with those who are trying to eliminate the terrorist threat with diplomatic pressure combined with firm action, clear objectives and careful military precision?

-It sounds urbane to say, "a plague on both your houses", but can you really choose not to choose? We must remember that in this, as in every battle between good and evil, not to choose is also a choice, because by the very nature of choice, not to choose the right side is to choose the wrong

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