This bears watching.
Donald E. Wildmon, founder and chairman of the American Family Association (AFA), used the occasion of the December 5 broadcast (audio link) of AFA Report, his daily program on AFA-operated American Family Radio (AFR), to suggest that some members of the religious right would withdraw support for Israel if a prominent activist against anti-Semitism did not cease his criticism of it.
During the broadcast, Wildmon stated that Anti-Defamation League (ADL) President Abraham H. Foxman "got himself kind of in a bind" by criticizing the religious right. "[T]he strongest supporters Israel has are members of the religious right -- the people he's fighting," Wildmon said. "[T]he more he says that 'you people are destroying this country,' you know, some people are going to begin to get fed up with this and say, 'Well, all right then. If that's the way you feel, then we just won't support Israel anymore.'"
There is a lot of background that goes with this. Let's start with the players:
Abraham Foxman is the president and chief spokesman for the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), a venerable old Jewish advocacy group. The ADL holds an analogous position to that of the NAACP in the African-American community. There are other advocacy groups, but the ADL and the NAACP are the oldest and most sought-after when the press needs someone to speak for the whole demographic group.
According to their Web site, the American Family Association (AFA) "represents and stands for traditional family values, focusing primarily on the influence of television and other media—including pornography—on our society." That is to say, they are able to find pornography and a secret "homosexual agenda" even on Animal Planet. They are one of the loudest voices currently sounding the alarm over the bogus Global War on Christmas (GWOC). Their main tool is to organize mass boycotts of corporations that they feel support "immorality." They have had mixed success in their boycotts, but just last week they got Ford Motor Company to agree to stop advertising in gay magazines.
Donald Wildmon's threat over supporting Israel refers to something called Christian Zionism. Christian Zionism is one of the uglier side effects of the current premillenial craze among American Evangelicals.
Most Americans have a vague familiarity with the premillenial narrative of rapture and tribulation made famous by Hal Lindsey and Tim LeHaye. According to the premillenial reading of Biblical prophecy and apocalypse literature, several preconditions must be met. The most important of these is the reestablishment of the state of Israel within certain Biblical borders (usually similar to the empire of Solomon) and the gathering of all the world's Jews into that Israel. Because the legal borders of Israel fall short of those borders, Christian Zionists support the most extreme advocates of Israeli expansion--those who would like to ethnically cleanse the West Bank and Gaza to provide living space for European and American Jews to immigrate. Once the borders have been reestablished and the Jews gathered, the rapture happens and the count-down to the second coming of Christ begins.
The ugly side of this narrative is that the main role of the Jews in the second coming, after starting the clock, is to die in the battle of Armageddon and be condemned to hell. According to many premillenial writers, only 155,000 Jews will survive. And they will survive by converting to the right form of Christianity at the right moment. The many Christian Zionists who congratulate themselves for "supporting" Israel of the Jews, actually believe that they are sending the majority of the Jews to their deaths so that these nice Christian Zionists can meet Jesus sooner. The irony of Christian Zionist "support for Israel" is not lost Israeli politicians.
In recent years, American Christian Zionists have become a significant force in Israeli politics. They provide significant financial and propaganda support for the Likud Party. Their tourism has become a very important sector in the Israeli economy, one that no government can ignore. Christian Zionists are a powerful pro-Israel and anti-Palestine lobbying force in American politics. If Wildmon could actually deliver on his threat to end support for Israel among the American religious right, it would have a significant impact in Israel. While I don't believe Wildmon has that power, I think his threat is very revealing.
What ignited Wildmon's wrath? Foxman, as the head of an American organization has expressed concern with certain trends in American politics. Specifically in a November 3 address to the ADL, Foxman mentioned the AFA as one of the conservative religious organizations whose "goal is to implement their Christian worldview. To Christianize America." Michelle Goldberg reported on this in Salon.
Throughout the last five years, as the Christian right has assumed ever greater power and prominence in America, the organized Jewish community has been remarkably quiescent. Traditionally, Jewish leaders have been among the most vigilant guardians of American secularism, seeing the separation of church and state as key to Jewish equality. But faced with an evangelical president who seemed inviolable and an alliance of convenience with the religious right over Israel, Jewish leaders didn't raise much of an outcry when billions of taxpayer dollars were diverted toward religious charities through Bush's faith-based initiative. They didn't make a fuss when the administration filled the bureaucracy with veterans of groups like the Family Research Council and the Christian Coalition. As leaders of the religious right and their allies in the Republican Party trumpeted plans to "take America back," observers detected growing anxiety among ordinary American Jews, but there was little response from organized Jewry.
This month, that started to change. Two major Jewish figures -- Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, and Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism -- have taken on the religious right and, by extension, the Republican Party. By doing so, they have enraged some evangelicals and opened a fissure in the larger Jewish community. Some leaders are worried about provoking a conservative backlash and ushering in a new era of anti-Semitism. Others rejoice that someone has finally articulated what so many ordinary American Jews have been thinking. Either way, the culture wars have suddenly taken on an overtly sectarian cast.
On Nov. 3, Abraham Foxman gave a speech to an ADL meeting, calling attacks on church-state separation the "key domestic challenge to the American Jewish community and to our democratic values." "[T]oday we face a better financed, more sophisticated, coordinated, unified, energized, and organized coalition of groups in opposition to our policy positions on church-state separation than ever before," he said. "Their goal is to implement their Christian worldview. To Christianize America. To save us!" Among the major players in this campaign, Foxman listed Focus on the Family, the Alliance Defense Fund, the American Family Association and the Family Research Council.
With the America that Jews have prospered in threatening to disappear, Foxman called for a meeting of Jewish leadership to plan a coordinated strategy.
One person who plans to be there is Rabbi Eric Yoffie, whose group is the largest Jewish organization in the country, representing more than 900 congregations. Two weeks after Foxman's broadside, Yoffie blasted the religious right in a sermon delivered to around 5,000 people at the Union's biannual convention in Houston. Yoffie says he hadn't coordinated with Foxman, but the two share some of the same concerns -- though Yoffie approaches the issue from a religious rather than a political perspective.
"We are particularly offended by the suggestion that the opposite of the religious right is the voice of atheism," he told his audience. "We are appalled when 'people of faith' is used in such a way that it excludes us, as well as most Jews, Catholics and Muslims. What could be more bigoted than to claim that you have a monopoly on God and that anyone who disagrees with you is not a person of faith?"
In an earlier post (here or here), I talked about John Gibson's ugly interpretation of the idea of "tolerance" as shown in his statement that "as long as they're civil and behave, we tolerate the presence of other religions around us." Gibson's version of toleration is an unpleasant burden, yet one that ennobles the bearer for doing so. The tolerator is fully aware of the disparity in power between them and the tolerated, and they approve that disparity. This form of toleration does not accept the tolerated as equals. The follow up to this attitude is that it can quickly turn to anger and violence if they feel the tolerated are not recognizing their nobility with the proper expression of gratitude. Wildmon is expressing this same type of irritable nobility.
In addition, Wildmon shares another sub-text with Gibson. Wildmon implies that Jews are not an authentic American constituency. Gibson was much more explicit in claiming that only his sect were real Americans and all others were interlopers whose presence was barely tolerated. However, Wildmon is reading from the same page page when he threatens to punish Israel for Foxman's lack of support. He is directly saying that Israel is Foxman's country, not America. Gibson and Wildmon are busily dividing the world in religious turfs. In their view, America belongs to conservative Evangelical Protestants and tolerated minorities who agree to play by their rules and say "thank you" for being allowed to exist here.
Michelle Goldberg's Salon article discussed the Jewish-American aspect of the breakdown of their alliance of convenience with the religious right. In Israel, the main beneficiary of Christian Zionism, the Likud Party, appears to be falling apart. In the States, the main beneficiary of the religious right, the Republican Party, is rapidly loosing strength. Both of these developments have the effect of causing the religious right to lose influence. Now they are lashing out.
I seriously doubt that Wildmon will call a boycott of Israel in order to punish Foxman. If he does, how many Christian Zionists will choose to delay the second coming and follow him? The balance between earthly power and yearning for the next world is a delicate one for many evangelicals. At the very least, Wildmon's threats have to be making some on the religious right very uncomfortable.
The triumphal march of the religious right is encountering some significant interruptions. It will be interesting to see how this plays out. For those of us who don't share their goals, this might be the beginning of a period of opportunity.