MAY 5, 2003
Martin E. Marty
Now that the U.S. proposal, or "road map," for Israel-Palestine futures is unfolding, most columnists, when they discuss American Jews, concentrate on highly-placed figures in the Bush administration. Some Jewish columnists also talk about the nature of the support the administration gets from one element of the Christian right, a "core constituency" of our governmental leaders.
Many muffle their criticism and hold their fire because it is hard for Israelis to deny any kind of support. But now and then a columnist holds his nose and takes up the issue. Thus Leonard Fein, in his column (April 25) for the Jewish weekly Forward, unloads. "Enough, already. This dalliance with right-wing Christian groups has passed from the disagreeable fringe into the absurd and even ominous center. It is not at all clear who is using whom, but it is an unnatural and distinctly unholy alliance, one that will surely leave us weaker rather than stronger." There's no doubt about where Fein stands on this issue.
Fein dates the who's-using-whom beginnings to November 1980, when Menachem Begin awarded Jerry Falwell an honor "for his distinguished service to the State of Israel and the Jewish people." But things have gotten worse now that the "dispensationalist" school of Christian evangelicals has positioned itself so well in the Republican Party and within the current administration.
Fein quotes a leader of the school, Pat Robertson, who wrote that "just like what Nazi Germany did to the Jews, so liberal America is now doing to the Evangelical Christians." And Fein is not a little disturbed that peculiar interpretations of biblical stories guide policy. He cites Gary Bauer speaking to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee national conference recently: "the land from the river to the sea will still be home to the Jewish people; ... God owns the land and He has deeded it to the Jewish people, a deed that cannot be canceled ... and cannot be amended -- even by a president." That's a dispensationalist block on the road map.
Fein ends: "Have we no shame? When we make common cause, however limited, with these people, we add to their strength -- and we diminish this nation ... The evangelicals are doubtless warmed by our embrace. When they are warmed, I am chilled." For Fein's comfort let it be said that most evangelicals and pentecostals and African-American Protestants and mainline Protestants and Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Christians do not agree with the dispensationalists. For his discomfort let it be said, however, that none of them have the ear of the administration as it begins to unfold that "road map."
Any detours ahead?