Christian Zionism: An Egregious Threat to Middle East Understanding

Inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City of Jerusalem (Maureen Clare Murphy)


Christian Zionism, a belief that paradise for Christians can only be achieved once Jews are in control of the Holy Land, is gathering strength in the United States and forging alliances that are giving increasingly weird shape to American policy toward the Middle East. The nature of the movement and its detrimental impact on policy was the subject of the 22nd Capitol Hill public hearing presented by the Council for the National Interest yesterday.

A new Zogby International poll commissioned by the CNI Foundation shows that 31 percent of those surveyed in the national poll strongly believe or somewhat believe in the ideas behind Christian Zionism, defined as “the belief that Jews must have all of the promised land, including all of Jerusalem, to facilitate the second coming of the messiah.” Other polls bear similar messages, that 53 percent of Americans believe that Israel was given by God to the Jews (Pew), and that 59 percent of the American public believes the prophecies contained in the Book of Revelations will come true (CNN/Time).

The international implications of such beliefs are profound, as an increasing number of Americans believe that God sets foreign policy goals. Rev. Robert O. Smith, Lutheran pastor at the University of Chicago, one of the speakers at the hearing, discussed the development of this belief that dates to the 19th century and how it has received a powerful new impetus with the founding this year of a new group of the Christian right called Christians United for Israel (CUFI). And yet while it works closely with Jewish Zionist organizations in the US, including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, to promote the continued occupation of Palestine by the Israel (land God has given the Jews), it works just as effectively in dehumanizing the original inhabitants of the Holy Land, both Muslims and Christians.

Another speaker, Rammy Haija, who teaches at Radford University, drew attention to the necessity in the Christian Zionist dogma for the Israelis to retain control not only of the whole of the occupied territory but also all of Jerusalem. Christian Zionists have pushed the militarist policies of both Israel and the U.S. in an effort to secure the Holy Land in preparation for the coming of the “promised land.” As part of this strategy, the U.S. occupation of Iraq is deemed absolutely necessary.

The irony of the alliance between Christian Zionists and Jewish Zionists is that the one ideology promotes the ultimate destruction of the other. As Smith pointed out, the “Christians United for Israel” is all about Israel, not about the Israelis, and only a little surface digging into Christian Zionism shows how anti-Semitic it really is. So much so that Abraham Foxman, the head of the Anti-Defamation League, one of the ceaseless champions of Zionism in this country, has called the Christian right one of the direst threats to American Jews. This has not prevented top Israeli officials from paying homage to the Christian right, including Ariel Sharon (before he descended into a comatose state brought on by the withdrawal of the settlers from Gaza, Pat Robertson opined), the Israeli ambassador Daniel Ayalon, and Benjamin Netanyahu, and a host of others. The ability of CUFI and other far right Christian religious leaders like Jerry Farwell and Pat Robertson to raise money for Israel, including Israeli settlements, is well documented.

Christian Zionism, Smith concluded, has a fundamental lack of earthly concerns, is divorced from reality, and undermines the work of politics. Its practical impact is the killing of people in the Holy Land. The recent statement by the Christian religious leaders of Jerusalem that warned against Christian Zionism’s policies of racist intolerance and perpetual war was much needed, but it should have come from America’s religious leaders.

The Council for the National Interest is a non-profit, non-partisan grassroots organization advocating a new direction for U.S. Middle East policy.