Clifford A. Kiracofe, Jr., Ph.D.

Christian Zionism: A Foreign Policy Challenge

By Dr. Clifford A. Kiracofe, Jr., Adjunct Professor Virginia Military Institute and former Senior Professional Staff Member, U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations

Palestine Center, Annual Conference, Washington, D.C. November 21, 2003

During June of last year, I had the good fortune to visit the Middle East.  In Saudi Arabia, I met with officials at our embassy, with American businessmen, and with officials of the Saudi government.  I then went to Egypt where I met with officials at our embassy, including our ambassador, with officials of the Egyptian government including the foreign minister, with the head of the Arab League, and with the Rector of al Azhar. I returned home with a sinking feeling, having concluded that we were headed for a serious crisis in the Middle East as a result of the Bush Administration’s foreign policy and drive to war.

Today, we are in that crisis.

Owing to the Bush Administration’s preventive war against Iraq, and failure to constructively address the Palestine Question, confidence in America has collapsed in the Arab and Muslim world, not to mention in Europe. 

In my view, the “passionate attachment” of American Christian Zionists to the modern State of Israel, and their inveterate antipathy toward the Arab and Muslim world, impairs the United States’ capacity to properly defend our national interests.[1] Christian Zionist influence in the Executive Branch, and in the Congress, poses a serious challenge to the formulation and implementation of American foreign policy.

The Bush Administration’s reckless foreign policy in Middle East -- preventive war against Iraq, blank check for Zionist expansion, and crusade against the Arab and Muslim world – is not the result of any “intelligence failure.”  Rather, it is the result of a national policy failure. And this national policy failure is a direct result of the actions of politicians and their advisors in the Executive Branch and in Congress who are under the influence of Zionist lobbies, “Christian” and Jewish alike. 

That the foreign policy of the Bush Administration is dominated by militant (Revisionist) Zionist Neoconservatives is beyond argument. That this Neoconservative neoimperial, and neocolonial, foreign policy is staunchly supported by the Christian Zionist lobby is also beyond argument. [2

Today I shall first comment on Christian Zionism as a tool of imperialism.  Second, I shall comment on Christian Zionism and the Israeli Right.  Third, I shall comment on Christian Zionism and the Republican Party.

  1. Christian Zionism: Tool of Imperialism

    The use of Christian Zionist support to promote imperial policy in the Middle East is nothing new.  In fact, the technique was developed in early Victorian England by Lord Palmerston.  President Bush’s neoimperial policy today parallels the old British imperial policy of Lord Palmerston.

    Back in 1839 and 1840, Palmerston, as Foreign Secretary, devised a Middle East policy for the British Empire that promoted a Jewish entity in historic Palestine linked to the Ottoman Empire as a counterweight to Egypt and Russia.[3

    Today, taking a page from Palmerston, Bush’s Neoconservative advisors call for a US-Israel-Turkey axis in the Middle East.  Their policy of active destabilization of the Arab world, cloaked under calls for “democratization” and “modernization,” is designed to tighten the US-Israel-Turkey axis as a “stabilizing” regional force.

    In line with the old Palmerston policy, various Christian clerics and movements in England, who supported Palmerston’s imperial policy, obligingly called for the “restoration” of Jews to Palestine. British preachers spread the Christian Zionist ideology in North America as well. Thus, the defrocked Anglican priest, John Nelson Darby, during a series of visits to the United States and Canada between 1859 and 1872, spread the Christian Zionist “Dispensationalist” ideology of the bizarre religious cult he himself created. 

    Today in the United States, pro-Zionist “Christian” clerics and religious movements provide political support, and political cover, for the Neoconservative neoimperial policy in the Middle East.[4] The influential network of Christian Zionist preachers and advocates includes: Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Hal Lindsay, Jimmy Swaggert, Jim Bakker, Tim LaHaye, Kenneth Copeland, Oral Roberts, Herbert Armstrong, John Walvoord, Rex Humbard and Mike Evans.[5]

    Jerry Falwell, for example, says, “Right at the very top of our priorities must be an unswerving commitment and devotion to the State of Israel.”

    Pat Robertson says, “The future of this Nation may be at stake, because God will bless those that bless Israel.  And God will curse those that curse Israel.”

    Oral Roberts says, “What a fulfillment of prophecy…What a future Israel has.”

    Mike Evans says, “For Biblical reasons, first and foremost, we support the State of Israel.”

Ladies and Gentlemen, today we are certainly far from the traditional American approaches to the Arab and Muslim world that reach back into our founding period and our early republic. 

During the 19th century, American foreign policy toward the Middle East was based upon a constructive engagement with the Arab and Muslim world.  Our policy was an implicit rejection of British and European imperialism. The American University of Beirut, the American University in Cairo, and Roberts College in Turkey indicated our constructive cultural engagement.  The development of fair and mutually beneficial commercial relations in the region, with such countries as Morocco and Oman for example, indicated our constructive economic engagement.

American foreign policy traditionally emphasized international law. As John Bassset Moore, a great American authority on international law and Legal Advisor to the Department of State, said almost a century ago:

“…besides exerting an influence in favor of liberty and independence, American diplomacy was also employed in the advancement of the principle of legality.  American statesmen sought to regulate the relations of nations by law, not only as a measure of protection of the weak against the aggressions of the strong, but also as the only means of assuring the peace of the world.”[6]

But during the 20th century, something changed in American policy and we strayed from our traditional path of friendly, and mutually beneficial, engagement with the Arab and Muslim world. The rise of Zionist influence in our polity during World War I, and subsequently, accounts in large measure for this.[7]

Writing just after World War II, in 1947, an American expert on the region warned that “the political divisions which prevail in the Near East today should not blind us to the underlying cultural and psychological unity of the region as a whole.  Unifying forces invariably come to the fore in the Near East when foreign interests are involved…the far-reaching interdependence of the local states and territories imposes on the interested foreign power the obligation to approach the entire region as a unit…any foreign policy in the Near East which is not a comprehensive regional policy is an invitation to bankruptcy….our lack of a considered regional policy, and our single-minded concentration on a given objective without due regard to its potential implications, have left us bewildered and helpless time and again.”[8]

The expert I just quoted was Ephraim A. Speiser, Professor of Semitics at the University of Pennsylvania, and Director of the American School of Oriental Research in Baghdad.  During World War II, Professor Speiser was the head of the Near East Section of the Research and Analysis Branch of the Office of Strategic Services, the OSS, which was the forerunner of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Now let’s take a look at the situation in recent years.

  1. Christian Zionists and the Israeli Right

Christian Zionist ideology is aggressively promoted by “fundamentalists” who are politically allied to the most militant extremist elements of the Israeli political spectrum. Over the past two decades, American Christian Zionists developed complex and close relations with a range of extreme right wing Messianic Jewish circles in Israel including the Gush Emunim, the “Settler’s” movement, and the old-line Jabotinsky right wing nationalists of Begin’s Herut Party.

Let’s go back to the mid-1980’s for a moment.

The Christian Zionist lobby held its first “National Prayer Breakfast for Israel” in Washington, DC on February 6, 1985.  The event attracted many important political personalities and political activists.[9]

The keynote speaker did not pull any punches.  He said, and I quote:

“A sense of history, a sense of poetry, and a sense of morality imbued the Christian Zionists who more than a century ago began to write, and plan, and organize for Israel’s restoration…The writings of Christian Zionists, British and American, directly influenced the thinking of such pivotal leaders as Lloyd George, Arthur Balfour and Woodrow Wilson.”

The keynote speaker was none other than the Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations at the time: Benjamin Netanyahu.

A few months after the first National Prayer Breakfast for Israel I just mentioned, the first “International Christian Zionist Congress” was held at Basel, Switzerland, in August 1985.  The meeting was held, symbolically, in the same hall Theodor Herzl used for his own first Zionist Congress at the end of the 19th century.

The 1985 Christian Zionist Congress in Basel declared “that Judaea and Samaria are…and by Biblical right…ought to be part of Israel.”  The Congress also called for the censure and punishment of “any incidents of anti-semitism in any form including anti-Zionism and anti-Israel activity…”[10]

For our purposes today, the relevant background on the Israeli link to contemporary American Christian Zionists dates to the 1967 war.  In the wake of the war, extremist elements in Israel formed the “Movement for Greater Israel,” and the “settler” movement that established Kiryat Arba near Hebron.  The extremist Gush Emunim settler organization grew out of this environment.[11]

In the years after 1967, the Gush Emunim became the leading edge of the Israeli New Right.  The components of this New Right were three: Labor party factions supporting the “Movement for Greater Israel,” the new religious-nationalist activists, and the old-line Jabotinsky nationalist right converted into the Begin-led Herut party.

From 1974 to 1977, three Labor Party leaders vied for supremacy, and each had his Gush Emunim supporter within his ministry.  Prime Minister Rabin had General Ariel Sharon as his special advisor.  Defense Minister Shimon Peres had Yuval Ne’eman, later leader of the pro-Gush Emunim Hatechiyah party.  Foreign Minister Yigal Allon was the patron of the fanatic settler network behind Kiryat Arba.

By the time that the Likud came into power in 1977, the power of the Gush Emunim over the government was complete because Begin was a long-time supporter of the settler movement.

Given the Begin government coming to power in Israel, it is not surprising that U.S. Christian Zionists then were easily led to interface with leading extremist political and religious circles in Israel.

Indeed, Christian Zionist clergy in the United States assimilated the theological-political views of the most extreme Israeli religious nationalist leaders. A peculiar Christian Zionist literalist emphasis on the Old Testament, paralleling extremist Israeli Jewish messianism, is characteristic of this mindset.[12] In this sense, Christian Zionists have rejected the Good News of the New Testament, and the New Covenant mediated by Jesus Christ and so are not authentic Christians within the traditional understanding of the faith as expounded by Saint Paul, for example. 

In 1979, Jerry Falwell made an important visit to Israel which advanced the political alliance between the Christian Zionists in the United States and the Likud in Israel. This Falwell visit to Israel spurred the development of the Christian Zionist-Israeli Right political alignment in the early 1980s. This political alignment between the Israeli New Right and the Christian Zionists would, of course, enhance the position and influence of the Jewish (Revisionist) Zionist Neoconservative policy network in Washington during the Reagan years.[13]

It is, therefore, not surprising that high level coordination between Christian Zionist leaders in the United States and extremist political leaders in Israel is an on-going process, and has been for two decades.

Several weeks ago, for example, Israeli Tourism Minister Benny Elon, who is linked to the most extreme political elements in Israeli society, such as the Moledet party, made a special trip to the United States to interface with key Christian Zionist circles.  In Memphis, Tennessee he met with the well-known evangelical leader Ed McAteer, and a number of key Christian Zionist leaders McAteer had organized for the visit.[14] McAteer was a co-founder of the Moral Majority with Jerry Falwell and the founder of the Christian Roundtable organization which has branches in all 50 states.  The Elon-McAteer political partnership plays a key role in lining up Christian Zionist support in the United States for the extremist proponents of Greater Israel in Congress and in the Executive Branch.

The alliance between the Christian Zionists and hardline (Revisionist) Zionist Neoconservatives, on the one hand, and the Israeli Likud, and other extremist Israeli political parties such as Moledet, on the other hand, has not gone unnoticed around the world.

During the past year, a raft of articles appeared in prominent European newspapers and magazines detailing this international strategic political alignment.  European journalists, and politicians, regularly refer with reason to what they call the “Likud wing” of the Republican Party, the “Likudniks” in the Bush Administration, and the “Christian Right.”[15] Detailed analysis of the Neoconservative influence on the Bush Administration has now appeared in the press all the way from Europe to Japan.

  1. Christian Zionists and the Republican Party

Over the past two decades, the Republican Party has come increasingly under pressure from Christian Zionism.[16] Organizations such as the so-called “Christian Embassy” and the “National Unity Coalition for Israel” play a key role in pressuring Congress and political leaders to adopt pro-Israel policies.  The foreign policy positions of these Christian Zionist organizations are those advanced by the Neoconservative policy network.

Will the current Middle East crisis – the Iraq War and occupation, and the unresolved Palestine Question – force “Main Street” Republicans to question and to rethink their party’s foreign policy? Will “Main Street” Republicans come to resist the extremism of the Christian Zionists? Will moderate Republican leaders take effective steps to bring balance into their party’s foreign policy and to suppress Christian Zionist and Neoconservative influence?

Time will tell. But any doubt about the pervasive influence of Christian Zionist ideology in the US Congress was erased by the former leader of the Republican Party in the House of Representatives.  On May 1, 2002, Texas Congressman Richard Armey, on national television, bluntly told MSNBC talk show host Chris Mathews that he supported the mass expulsion of Palestinians from Israeli-occupied Palestine. [17]

Dick Armey’s protégé, and now House Majority Leader, Tom DeLay, openly espouses Christian Zionist ideology using such coded terms as “Judaea and Samaria” to describe a portion of today’s occupied Palestine.  Speaking to the Israeli Knesset on July 30 of this year, DeLay emphasized that, “The common destiny of the United States and Israel is not an artificial alliance dictated by our leaders.” DeLay was reportedly hosted by the Christian Embassy on his visit.

Christian Zionist influence over Republican Congressman and Senators has reached such a level that Republicans in Congress routinely introduce and vote for inflammatory, and irresponsible, resolutions and bills opposed to US national interests and security requirements in the Middle East. The recent passage of the “Syria Accountability Act” is a case in point.  Activity relating to Sudan is another example.

Prior the 1980 elections in the US, the Israeli New Right made careful preparations to form political relationships with the Christian fundamentalist groups in the United States.  The plan was that these Christian Zionists would form an activist political base to penetrate the Republican Party and lobby Congress and the White House in support of the right wing Likud’s expansionist “Eretz Israel” (Greater Israel) policy.

The vector of an extremist pro-Likud foreign policy in the Republican Party is, of course, the Neoconservative policy network.[18] The Neoconservatives piggybacked on the staunchly pro-Israel “Conservative Movement,” which for decades aimed to take over the Republican Party.  Of this so-called “Conservative Movement,” we should not forget, for example, that Bill Buckley and the National Review crowd attacked President Eisenhower’s Suez policy and defended the British, French, and Israeli aggression against Egypt.

Now, just a few weeks before the 1980 elections in the United States, one of the leading international Christian Zionist organizations, called the “International Christian Embassy-Jerusalem (ICEJ),” established an office in Jerusalem.  The idea was that Christian Zionists needed an “embassy” in Jerusalem to organize their activities while awaiting the return of Jesus. On September 20, 1980, Mayor Teddy Kollek hosted the opening ceremony, and this organization became a pivotal international Christian Zionist support mechanism for the Likud’s “Eretz Israel” (“Greater Israel”) policy.

During the 1980s, the Christian Embassy’s Washington, DC office established itself as a focal point for Christian Zionist political and lobbying activity in the United States. 

During the 1990s, the so-called “National Unity Coalition for Israel” (NUCI) emerged as an important lobbying arm of the American Christian Zionists.  It is not surprising that this organization has close links to the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, to Neoconservatives in Washington think tanks, and to highly-placed Neoconservative operatives and sympathizers inside the Bush Administration.

On Capitol Hill, the National Unity Coalition for Israel works in parallel with the well-established and influential American Israel Political Affairs Committee (AIPAC), and Religious Right organizations such as the Christian Coalition, to dominate Congress when it comes to legislation and policy relating to the Middle East.

Conclusion

So, ladies and gentlemen, “What is to be done?”

Quite simply, we as a Nation must return to our traditional principles of foreign policy. We must begin to rebuild our international position on the basis of “good faith and justice toward all nations” to use George Washington’s phrase.

The Bush 43 Administration has led the Republican Party far from its general post-World War II foreign policy orientation ranging from the moderate internationalism of Eisenhower to the conservative internationalism of Nixon. 

Even the conservative US Senator Robert A. Taft, back in 1951, rejected preventive war and supported international cooperation.  As he said then, “I do not think this moral leadership ideal justifies our engaging in any preventive war.”  Senator Taft also rejected the neoimperialism of those who “want to force on these foreign peoples through the use of American money and even, perhaps, American arms the policies which moral leadership is able to advance only through the sound strength of its principles and force of persuasion.”

The Republican Party can certainly return to honorable foreign policy principles as outlined in its own 1944 platform which called for the “attainment of peace and freedom based upon justice and security.”  Specifically, the Republican Party platform of that day emphasized achieving such goals through “organized international cooperation” and the “responsible participation by the United States in postwar cooperative organization among sovereign nations to prevent military aggression and to attain permanent peace with organized justice in a free world.”

The Republican Party must come to its senses, and moderate Republican leaders must insist on changes in the Bush Administration: principally the elimination of Christian Zionist and Neoconservative influence on our Nation’s foreign policy.

Republicans, Democrats, and Independents – Christians, Moslems, Jews, and all persons of good will -- who oppose the extremist policies of the Christian Zionists and Neoconservatives can work together in a broad front.  We must support a non-partisan foreign policy that promotes peace and justice in today’s world through international cooperation and the rule of law, not the rule of force.  We must insist on a just solution to the Palestine Question, and we must insist on a halt our own neoimperial occupation of Iraq.

Thank you for your kind attention.


[1] For background on Christian Zionism, see: Regina Sharif, “Christians For Zion, 1600-1919,” Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. V, Nos. 3-4, Spring/Summer 1976, pp. 123-141; Mayir Vereté, “The Restoration of the Jews in English Protestant Thought 1790-1840,” Middle Eastern Studies, Volume Eight, Number One, January 1972, pp. 3-50; Mohammed Taleb, “Visages du sionisme chretien,” Revue d’études Palestiniennes, nouvelle série, 21, automne 1999, pp 46-57 and 22, hiver 2000, pp. 65-83.

[2] President Bush’s own speeches are often laced with Biblical and religious references as he promotes an image of sanctimonious piety to appeal to his Christian Right voter base. The President’s chief speechwriter is conveniently inclined toward Christian Zionism. See, Mike Allen, “For Bush’s Speechwriter, Job Grows Beyond Words,” Washington Post, October 11, 2002, p. A35. 

[3] See, Frederick Stanley Rodkey, “Lord Palmerston and the Rejuvenation of Turkey, 1830-1841, Part I, 1830-39,” The Journal of Modern History, Vol. I No. 4, December 1929, pp. 570-593 and “Part II, 1839-1841,” The Journal of Modern History, Vol. II, No. 2, June 1930, pp. 193-225.  See also, Albert M. Hyamson, “British Projects for the Restoration of Jews to Palestine,” Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society, Number 26, 1918, pp. 127-164 and Alexander Schölch, “Britain in Palestine, 1838-1882: The Roots of the Balfour Policy,” Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. XXII, No. 1, Autumn 1992, pp. 39-56. For a concise survey of later British policy see, James Parkes, The Emergence of the Jewish Problem, 1879-1839, London: Oxford University Press, 1946.

[4] See, for example: Mathew Engel, “Meet the new Zionists,” Guardian (London), October 28, 2002.

[5] Isa Nakhleh, Encyclopedia of the Palestine Problem, New York: Intercontinental Books, 1991, Vol. 2, pp. 976.

[6] John Basset Moore, American Diplomacy, New York: Harper and Brothers, 1913, p. 251-252.

[7] For background see, Kathleen Christison, Perceptions of Palestine, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999; Stuart E. Knee, The Concept of Zionist Dissent in the American Mind 1917-1941, New York: Robert Speller and Sons, 1979.  For an early expression of American Christian Zionism see, A.A. Berle, D.D., The World Significance of a Jewish State, New York: Mitchell Kennerley, 1918.

[8] Ephraim A. Speiser, The United States and the Near East, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1947, pp. 226-227, 230-231.

[9] For background on the political network behind the prayer breakfast movement see, Jeffrey Sharlet, “Jesus Plus Nothing,” Harpers, March 2003,

[10] Nakleh, op. cit., p. 976.

[11] For background, see: Amnon Rubinstein, The Zionist Dream Revisited, From Herzl to Gush Emunim and Back, New York: Schocken Books, 1984; Janet Aviad, “The Messiansim of the Gush Emunim,” in Jonathan Frankel, Jews and Messianism in the Modern Era, Metaphor and Meaning, Studies in Contemporary Jewry, Institute of Contemporary Jewry, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Volume VII, New York: Oxford University Press, 1991, pp. 197-216.

[12] For an excellent overview of Jewish Messianism see, Jonathan Frankel, ed., op. cit.  In 1978, a key Israeli operational guide for targeting and manipulating Christian Zionists in the United States appeared.  Entitled, American Fundamentalism and Israel: The Relation of Fundamentalist Churches to Zionism and the State of Israel, it was written by the late Israeli scholar, Yonah Malachy, and published by the Institute of Contemporary Jewry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.  Malachy presents a detailed analysis of the Dispensationalist Fundamentalists, the Adventists, and the Pentacostalists, all of whom embrace the Zionist concept of the restoration of Jews to the Holy Land in the form of Greater Israel (“Eretz Israel”).

[13] For background on the Jewish Zionist lobby see, for example, Paul Findley, They Dare to Speak Out, Chicago: Lawrence Hill Books, 1985; Seth P. Tillman, The United States in the Middle East, Bloomington: University of Indiana Press, 1982.

[14] Nathan Guttman, “We can’t lose Jerusalem,” Ha’aretz, October 4, 2003

[15] See, for example, the opinion piece by a former British Minister of Defense, Peter Kilfoyle, “Defending Ourselves, Only a united Europe can counterbalance an increasingly paranoid and hawkish America,” Guardian  (London), September 23, 2002.

[16] See, for example, Larry Witham, “Religious vote credited in GOP wins,” The Washington Times, November 7, 2002.

[17] On the Israeli policy of mass expulsion or  “transfer,” see: Israel Shahak, “L’Idée du “transfert” dans la doctrine sioniste,” Revue d’Études Palestiniennes (Institute for Palestine Studies, Washington, DC), No. 29, Autumne, 1988, pp. 103-132 and his “A History of the Concept of “Transfer in Zionism,” Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. XVIII, No. 3, Spring 1989, pp. 22-37.  For background on the problem of West Bank “settlers,” see: Merle Thorpe, Jr., Prescription for Conflict, Israel’s West Bank Settlement Policy, Washington, DC: Foundation for Middle East Peace, 1984.

[18] Because the Carter Administration attempted to pursue a more evenhanded policy in the Middle East in the face of an omnipotent domestic pro-Israel Zionist lobby, hardline Jewish Zionist policy intellectuals, formerly associated with the Democratic Party as “’Scoop Jackson Democrats,” repackaged themselves in order to penetrate the Republican Party.