Waking Up to the Right

Be honest: ever wake up in a cold sweat these days after dreaming that Al Gore and Joe Lieberman had indeed been elected, after all? Ever look around, while driving to
or from work, to see if anyone can tell you’re listening to Rush Limbaugh on the radio — and loving what he says about Israel? Ever given any thought, however fleeting, to voting for Alan Keyes, the vigorously pro-Israel Fox TV host, next time he runs for president?

They say politics makes strange bedfellows, but the sudden discovery, and embrace (however hesitant), of outspoken conservative Republicans by lifelong liberal Democrats has been extraordinary. As Israel finds itself increasingly isolated in diplomatic and political circles around the world, we are starting to realize that not only do we supporters of the Jewish state have few friends, but that many of the ones we have are the very ones we ignored, feared and/or disliked until yesterday, it seems.

Take the Evangelicals, from Jerry Falwell to Pat Robertson, who are singing from the same hymn book (you should excuse the expression) as Ariel Sharon. Conservative Christian support has been strong, vocal and sincere. Its motivation is not politically calculated as much as ideologically and religiously inspired. So does that make me nervous, knowing that millions of American Evangelicals are praying for Israel as a phase in the fulfillment of a scriptural belief that speaks of the conversion of the Jews, the final return of Jesus and the end of days?

Yes, but not as nervous as knowing that millions of mainline Protestants are, at best, remaining neutral on the Mideast conflict or more likely following their church leaders and supporting the Palestinian cause — a twisted moral compass, given that the Palestinians threaten and abuse Christians and their holy places in the Mideast while Israel has upheld every commitment to maintaining religious freedom.

But you don’t see the pope or most other Christian leaders pointing out the deeply sinful behavior of the Palestinians, who preach pure hatred of the Jews, encourage and praise their young people for homicide bombings of Israeli women and children, and sanctify death over life. These religious leaders wear moral blinders, speaking of their concern for Christian holy sites while remaining mum when Palestinians seize, desecrate or attack Jewish sacred places like Joseph’s Tomb and Rachel’s Tomb.

Where was the outcry against Palestinian gunmen for violating the sanctity of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, using it as sanctuary while holding innocents hostage, and where was praise for Israel for showing great military restraint and religious sensitivity throughout the crisis?

Without the luxury of choosing my friends, I have become far more pragmatic over the last few months, recognizing and appreciating those with the moral courage to speak out in behalf of a beleaguered Israel, and caring less about their views on less pressing issues. According to several experts I spoke with, I’m not alone.

Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, says he recently spotted Christian conservative Gary Bauer in Washington and went over to thank him for his support for Israel. “I told him we will continue to disagree on other issues but I appreciate his voice on Israel,” Foxman related, adding that “we [Jews] are not giving up our values on issues like social justice, but we need to adjust to reality. First we adjusted to the need for larger U.S. military budgets, recognizing that if America isn’t strong it can’t support and defend Israel. Now we realize we need all the friends we can get,” including those in the Christian right community.

The ADL’s reprinting in large newspaper ads of an opinion column by Ralph Reed, former executive director of the Christian Coalition, on “why people of faith support Israel,” raised plenty of eyebrows in the Jewish community. But Foxman says it’s important to get the message out and show appreciation for those who take a stand for the Jewish state.

Martin Raffel of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs notes that “there is always tension for American Jews” in assessing their relationship with Evangelical Christians. “Our community is still queasy” about the vision of America as a Christian country, he says. “But this crisis has pulled down some of the walls that existed between us, and many welcome their suppzort for Israel, while insisting there is no quid pro quo for us.”

Steven Bayme of the American Jewish Committee says Jews are putting their own self-interests first now, and that’s fine. Perhaps that will translate into our being less predictably liberal in the voting booth in future elections, but that will depend on whether Israel — our priority issue — is in crisis. Bayme sees “a sober realism setting in” among American Jews that will not go away anytime soon.

For me, that realism is tinged with plenty of irony as I try to focus on feelings of sincere gratitude for the Mideast views of my newly discovered allies on the political and Christian right (not that they haven’t been supportive all along) while trying not to think about where they stand on a range of domestic issues. I guess that makes me either a skittish friend or a political pragmatist. Either way, I’m learning to seek out, appreciate and support Israel’s friends, near and far — sometimes very far.

Just recently, while speaking at a Hadassah conference, I was asked by a woman where she and her husband should go on vacation. It was more a query about politics than travel, though, because she said that while she wanted to go to Israel, her husband was fearful, so he bought tickets to Paris — but she refuses to support the French economy. So where should they go, she asked.

“Micronesia,” I suggested, mostly in jest, since even those of us who appreciate the tiny country’s support for Israel in the United Nations don’t quite know where it is. (Last month, in another shameful U.N. vote, Israel was condemned for its April incursion into the West Bank — with no mention made of the Palestinian terrorism that precipitated the military move. The vote was 74-4, with 54 abstentions, and the only countries voting “no” were the United States, Israel, the Marshall Islands and its speck of a Pacific neighbor, Micronesia.)

All of which reminds us to show hakarat ha’tov, gratitude and honor, to those few friends — all too few — willing to step up for Israel in its time of need.