Bill Berkowitz / WorkingForChange – 2004-06-03 09:35:11
(May 28, 2004) — On May 20, the Israeli Defense Forces brutally killed a number of Palestinian school children and wounded dozens of others peacefully demonstrating at the Rafah refugee camp in the Gaza Strip.
The United Nations Security Council quickly passed a resolution condemning the action, urging Israel to stop demolishing Palestinian homes, and calling for an end to violence. While not vetoing the resolution, as it has done on past occasions, the US abstained from the vote.
Two days earlier, at a high-profile appearance aimed at galvanizing support from Jewish voters, President George W. Bush told the more than 4,000 delegates gathered at the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a major pro-Israel lobbying organization, that “By defending the freedom and prosperity and security of Israel, you’re also serving the cause of America.”
In late March, at a less publicized gathering, the National Security Council’s Near East and North African Affairs director, Elliott Abrams, and other Bush administration officials met for two hours with members of The Apostolic Congress, a politically powerful group of Christian fundamentalists, to reassure them that the administration’s support for Israel was unwavering.
While AIPAC and The Apostolic Congress may appear to have little in common, one overarching concern binds the two groups — the safety and security of Israel. In an election where a small number of votes in a few battleground states could make a big difference, an increase in Jewish votes for Bush, meshing with the always reliable Christian fundamentalist vote, could push him over the top.
Since President Bush came into office, his political strategists have made a priority of going after the Jewish vote, which makes up about 4% of the national electorate. Although historically in the Democratic column, Bush received about 17% of the Jewish vote in 2000. He’s hoping to bump that number up to 30% in November.
Over the past few weeks, Vice President Dick Cheney addressed the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County and national security advisor Condoleezza Rice spoke to the Anti-Defamation League’s annual conference in Washington. Therefore, it wasn’t surprising that Bush would take time off from touring the battleground states and reassuring the public that all was going well in Iraq to drop in at the AIPAC event.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Bush’s 39-minute AIPAC address “was interrupted repeatedly with cheering and applause [and] on two occasions, at least a third of the audience burst into chants of ‘Four more years!’
“The Jewish community is seeing that on the issues that really matter to them, the Republican Party is offering real leadership and clear vision,” Matthew Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, told the Times.
While it’s no longer news that Bush Administration officials meet regularly with Christian fundamentalists, it was surprising to hear about this particular meeting because it was clearly meant to be kept out of the headlines. It came to light only after Village Voice reporter Rick Perlstein received “details” about it from “a confidential memo signed by [Presbyterian minister Robert G. Upton.”
When Perlstein asked Pastor Upton about the email and the meeting, the minister churlishly told him that “Everything that you’re discussing is information you’re not supposed to have,” Not that Pastor Upton, the executive director of The Apostolic Congress, isn’t proud of his easy access to the White House: “We’re in constant contact with the White House,” he told Perlstein. “I’m briefed at least once a week via telephone briefings… I was there about two weeks ago… At that time we met with the president.”
While the conversation between administration officials and the fundamentalists touched on an array of culture war subjects, including the perils of gay marriage, the major issue of concern for the “apocalyptic Christians” was the administration’s policy on Israel and Palestine.
The Apostolic Congress claims on its Web site to be “a Spirit-filled, purpose driven movement representing the heartbeat of the Apostolic Community on a national front.” According to Perlstein, the organization “vociferously oppose[s] the idea of a Palestinian state.
They fear an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza might enable just that, and they object on the grounds that all of Old Testament Israel belongs to the Jews. Until Israel is intact and David’s temple rebuilt, they believe, Christ won’t come back to earth.”
The Apostolic Congress is affiliated with the United Pentecostal Church and “is part of an important and disciplined political constituency courted by recent Republican administrations,” Perlstein writes. “As a subset of the broader Christian Zionist movement, it has a lengthy history of opposition to any proposal that will not result in what it calls a ‘one-state solution’ in Israel.” On its Web site, the group claims it has had access to Republican-occupied White Houses since the early days of the Reagan Administration (1981), when Brother Stan Wachtstetter opened the door for Apostolic Christians.
The thinking of the Apostolic Congress is not new to those following the growth of Christian Zionism in the U.S. Over the past several years, Christian fundamentalists have been revving up their support for Israel by establishing a number of new organizations, sponsoring visits to the US by prominent right-wing Israeli officials, and raising money for favored Israeli charities. Perhaps most importantly, these groups have been actively campaigning against President Bush’s “Road Map” to peace in the Middle East.
Since 2002, several veteran Christian right leaders and Republican Party power brokers joined forces with Jewish leaders to launch pro-Israel organizations: Gary Bauer — the former head of the Family Research Council who now runs a group called American Values — joined forces with Rabbi Daniel Lapin, head of the conservative Jewish organization, Toward Tradition, to form the American Alliance of Jews and Christians; Ralph Reed, former executive director of the Christian Coalition and a major player in Team Bush’s re-election campaign, joined with Rabbi Yehiel Eckstein, president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, to launch “Stand for Israel,” which according to the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz intends to become a “Christian version of the pro-Israel lobby on Capitol Hill, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.”
While there may be political differences between conservative Jews and The Apostolic Congress’ constituents, both are enjoying unusual access to the White House. In February 2003, at an Eisenhower Executive Office Building gathering, Karl Rove, President Bush’s Chief Political Advisor, assured a group of Apostolic leaders that they would have ongoing access to the president. And according to the Los Angeles Times, “Jewish leaders have had extraordinary access to the president, who hosted White House meetings ‘a bunch’ of times with groups of rabbis and other Jewish officials, according to a senior administration official.”
Leaders of AIPAC and the Apostolic Congress might agree to disagree when it comes to the fundamentalist Christian rendering of an End Times scenario that places Israel at the center of an apocalyptic storm. And they might disagree on whether a two-state or one-state solution is the best way to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They appear to agree, however, that unequivocal support for Israel is a primary
consideration in how they will advise their constituents to vote. And they appear to agree that a vote for President Bush is a vote for Israel.
(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)