The first of many posts to come about my experiences at the annual Christians United for Israel conference.
“There ain’t never gonna peace no peace in Israel, I can tell you that for a fact because my pastor told me so. The Jews in Israel are fighting against the sons of Ishmael, and there just can’t never be no peace in Israel. “ It wasn’t accompanied by an apology, there was no sense of acknowledgement about the fact that he was talking about my life and my family, but most of all there was no doubt, no hesitation – it was a religious conviction. There will never be peace in Israel because his pastor, his church, his rural life in Shelby, North Carolina had delivered this celestial message to him through Christ himself. And who was I to argue with Christ, especially when his emissary here on earth just happened to also be a state trooper and had just summoned me to court for a speeding violation. At that moment I was to him the representative of a holy people, a transcendental force that will hasten the return of his lord and savior, and he was to me a representative of the earthly law that I respected and was bound by. Trooper Horton was the judge, jury and executioner of a divine trial that I had unknowingly partaken, and I was found guilty. My sentence was eternal strife in the holy land and 250 dollars. I wasn’t sure which one I resented more.
Maybe I had brought it upon myself by trying to play a card that should not be dealt out so easily as I had tried in rural North Carolina. I had resided in Asheville, NC for a year before this incident, but the liberal Hippie gem of the South is apparently far from being a genuine representative of the true Evangelical South. I had tried to explain to Trooper Horton that the reason I was speeding was because I had just been stuck at the airport in New York City for the past 36 hours after an eleven hour flight from Israel and all I wanted was to get home. I saw the sudden glaze in his eyes when I had spoken the word Israel to him as if I had at once become both an object of admiration and detest. He instinctively asked me if he could ask me a question about the conflict in Israel and what my opinion was on it. The question was designed to test to which of the two I should be deemed – am I a self loathing hippie liberal which obviously fit my seemingly neglected appearance or whether I was a proud Jew adequate of fulfilling his hope of retrieving his lord and savior from his self inflicted exile until my people returned to the holy land. Obviously I made the mistake of attempting to be politically correct and stating that both Israel and the Palestinians had wronged each other and that I hope for peace. My sheer lack of aptitude in reading the situation and understanding who I was dealing with and where I was earned me a grave fine and everlasting damnation. I had never thought that peace could be the wrong answer, but on this issue, apparently, peace was not an option.
After he returned to his vehicle and I was left awe stricken, I attempted to process the experience and label it. Had I just experienced anti-Semitism? He had spoken to me in a paternalistic tone as if he was trying to protect me from the mistake of hoping for peace, it had no hint of hatred but rather genuine concern. I also wondered why such a person had taken such interest in my homeland, which was the size of Connecticut and far across the ocean, when he had probably never left Shelby County in his life. Why had I become the object of such interest and how could Israel invoke such emotion from a man whose stated goal in life was to feed his family, get home safe and maybe one day afford a vacation? The encounter did not fit any of the classic paradigms I had learned about in school.
A year later, after completing my scholarly obligations to UNC Asheville, on my annual visit home to Israel I decided that I must finally delve into this issue and understand it. I purchased all the books Amazon had to offer that included in their title both the words evangelism and Israel. I sat down and adamantly read through every title I could get a hold of and started to map out where theology and politics meet. Although it was clear that the theoretic knowledge I had gained through my readings was invaluable, I felt a strong urge to complement it with yet another firsthand experience. After just a short time reading it became clear, Christian support of Israel was located primarily under the umbrella of an organization called CUFI – Christians United for Israel. Pastor John Hagee of Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas founded the organization in order to promote financial and political support of Israel. Today it is the largest pro-Israel organization in the US and claims to be able to garner support from hundreds of thousands of Americans. The readings had taught me about pre-millennial dispensationalists, a hideous term that describes a brand of Christianity that believes in Old and New Testament prophecies about the imminent return of Christ in our days. I learned how the Six-Day War in Israel was part of that prophecy and that end times were nigh. I learned that 41 percent of Americans today believe in the Rapture- a violent event popularized by the Left Behind series which has sold over 65 million copies. Of course I assumed immediately that Evangelical support of Israel was targeted towards bringing the battle of Armageddon upon us, at the trivial cost of two thirds of the Jews dying in this terrible war and the remaining third converting to Christianity. But it was too simplistic, and I knew that the “all powerful Jewish Lobby” would never allow such blatant anti-Semitism to garner such support in America, in particular because the looming past of the Holocaust and its crystallized message Pastor Hagee often repeats – “never again”.
I could no longer write off the phenomena of Christian Zionism as a fringe brand of Christianity, because its political and financial influence had made it the biggest pro-Israel organization in the US, but I could also not longer write it off as anti-Semitic. Its ties to Jewish organizations who gladly accepted both their money and their theology, resolving the prophecies for literally the end of times, and when (not if) the Messiah returns “we’ll just ask him if it’s his first or second time to Jerusalem.” But where was the money going? What does support of Israel mean in times of almost consecutive right wing “pro-land, pro-defense” governments in Israel since the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Itzchak Rabin? Were the millions of dollars that CUFI raises annually going toward support of democratic Israel or non democratic Israel, as Peter Beinart has recently labeled the Israel’s regime in the Occupied Territories. Was it funding the resurrection of the third temple on the temple mount, the most contested 40 acres of land in the world, or was it funding the return of Jews from the Soviet Union and Ethiopia? Although hesitantly, for the latter I would agree to such an unholy alliance, but an alliance to resurrect the temple in the current political climate is an alarming attempt to bring Armageddon upon us.
Too many questions were left unanswered through the books I had been reading. They all focused on the United States and were oblivious to Israeli politics, and to what Evangelical support of Israel really amounted to in the realpolitik of Israel’s existence. The conclusion was that I must see this for myself, with my own two eyes. I applied for a scholarship to the annual CUFI conference in DC. On the application form I told them I was Jewish, I was Israeli; I had served in the IDF and wanted to support Israel on my campus this coming year. I didn’t mention that I was a liberal Zionist, that I believe in a two state solution, and that I believe that Israel is committing horrible crimes against humanity in the occupied territories. I did not share my belief that the continued occupation was an act of national suicide resulting in an Israel that was either non-democratic or non-Jewish; both are realities I refuse to accept. I was reluctant to reveal that I would much rather prefer a viable peace agreement in which I know that my future in Israel is safe rather than Israeli control of East Jerusalem and the Dome of the Rock. Trooper Horton had taught me an extremely valuable lesson – share only what people will agree with. I was granted a full scholarship to the conference.
Tomorrow I leave for Washington DC, to hang out for five days with evangelical Christians from all over the US. I’m still not sure what I’m going to do there, and what my place is in a conference titled – Christians United for Israel. But I already bought a suit at the local Goodwill for eleven dollars, so I guess I’m going to find out soon enough.
I think I’ll end with a valuable quote from one of my favorite artists “yah yah yay, it’s a party in the USA”.
I will sign off with my pseudo gonzo name, on my way to another pseudo gonzo adventure