The Goy Who Cried Wolf
Stay up to date with the latest headlines via email.
This article is reprinted from the American Prospect.
Delegates at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference were treated to an air-brushed John Hagee last night, primed with his most innocuous talking points and stripped of his most outlandish Armageddon rhetoric. Hagee, the founder of the America's leading Christian Zionist lobby, Christians United for Israel, left his clumsy exegeses of Biblical prophecy back home in San Antonio. He is well-versed in bringing an audience of several thousand people to its feet, and he knew he didn't need his slide show of mushroom clouds and world-ending wars to work this crowd.
Hagee's set-up man was the historian Michael Oren, who recited the history of restorationism, a Protestant movement dating back to the first settlers at Plymouth Rock that sought to return the Jews to Palestine and create a Jewish state. In Oren's telling, you would have thought that before Mearsheimer, Walt, and Carter came along, Jews and American Christians had spent the last several centuries in an idyllic, carefree frolic together, and that George W. Bush's forebearers were Jew-loving Zionists rather than arms-dealing tycoons so intent on consolidating power that they were willing to transact business with the Nazis. The placement of Oren's speech laid the groundwork for Hagee by insinuating that the war-mongering fundamentalist is nothing more than an innocuous heir to a quintessentially American love-fest between apocalyptic Christians and displaced Jews.
In anticipation of Hagee's appearance at AIPAC's conference, there has been much discussion about whether Hagee is actually an anti-Semite who blames Jews for the Holocaust yet anticipates their conversion at the Second Coming -- and another debate over whether it's actually good for Israel or the world's Jews when groups like AIPAC ally themselves with him. But judging from the crowd's reaction, and that of delegates I spoke with afterwards, none of that mattered. Like other Jewish leaders I've talked to about Hagee, the attitude is simply that Israel has very few friends, and it needs all the friends it can get. If Hagee is willing to mobilize hundreds of thousands, perhaps even millions of conservative Christians to the cause, then they're willing to overlook his eagerness for the Second Coming (when we'll all become Christians), because it's just a silly fantasy that won't come to pass, anyway.
Had Hagee come to Washington with his usual spiel, perhaps these delegates would have been mortified to learn that Hagee calls the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah "the Prophecy of the Trumpets," and says it represents the regathering of the church in anticipation of the Second Coming. He says the feast of Sukkot is significant because it will be the time of the Second Coming, and that the tallis, the Jewish prayer shawl, is a clear indication that there will be a Second Coming. You see, says Hagee, Jesus would not have left his tallis neatly folded up when he went off to his crucifixion if he didn't have plans to come back.
Perhaps the AIPAC crowd would have dismissed all these strange distortions of their faith as an amusing but largely irrelevant sideshow to their single-minded mission of making more friends. But they never had to confront the issue because Hagee's speech was stripped of the most damning details.
Whether Hagee is good for Israel is beside the point. The real problem is that he represents a catastrophe for the United States and its standing in the world -- not because he might love the Jews too much, or might in fact secretly hate them, but because he is leading a growing political movement completely lacking in a substantive understanding of world affairs. At a time when the Middle East faces seemingly intractable conflicts with dire geopolitical consequences, the notion that Hagee -- whose status is only elevated by invitations like AIPAC's -- is leading a political movement based on nothing more than a supposedly literal reading of his Bible only reinforces the view that the United States is being led by messianic forces at odds with world peace and stability. Young Americans should have a deeper understanding of Middle East politics in order to fully participate in civic discourse as American troops are fighting a seemingly unending war. But Hagee worries not about troop deployments, instead focusing on teaching the Bible in public schools. While religious fundamentalism is causing untold bloodshed around the world, Hagee frets about secularists who are "destroying America."
When he does speak to actual Middle East politics, it's only to encourage the further destabilization of the region. Hagee has been agitating for a war with Iran for well over a year now, certainly not a single-handed effort on his part, nor one for which he would deserve sole blame should it happen. But if it does happen (and some think it already has begun), Hagee most certainly should be blamed for something else: convincing his minions that war is not only palatable, but required by God.
Hagee's speech, laced with charged comparisons of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to men like Pharaoh, Haman, and Hilter, as well as countless Churchillian references, brought the crowd to its feet. "He's A-OK," said one AIPAC delegate who had never heard of Hagee before, adding that he wanted to get one of Hagee's DVDs for his grandchildren to watch. "I love him," enthused another delegate, a woman who had already learned of CUFI through conservative talk radio and had donated money to the cause. "Who else cares about Israel?"
Sarah Posner has covered the religious right for The American Prospect and AlterNet. She is at work on a book about televangelists in politics.