Will MAGA Be the Last Straw for Conservative Jews' Partnership with the Christian Right?Breaking News
tags: Jewish history, Israel, Zionism, religious right, evangelicals, Donald Trump, Jerry Falwell
Eric Alterman is a CUNY distinguished professor of English at Brooklyn College, and the author of 12 books, including We Are Not One: A History of America’s Fight Over Israel, just published by Basic Books.
A cozy dinner at Mar-a-Largo between Donald Trump, and two Hitler admirers, Ye (formerly Kanye West) and Nick Fuentes, coupled with the massive increase of anti-Semitic tweets in recent weeks, (driven in part by Elon Musk’s invitations to formerly banned neo-Nazis like Andrew Anglin to rejoin the site), have sent anti-Semitism back onto America’s front pages. Many American Jews are understandably in a panic over the apparent return of a particularly gruesome version of the traditional “socialism of fools” into mainstream discourse. This recent outburst of attention comes, however, after decades when American Jewish organizations chose to underplay this constant problem among right-wingers in exchange for their rock-solid support for Israel. Today, we are finally witnessing the cost of that cynical calculation
There are two primary aspects to contemporary right-wing anti-Semitism. Millions of evangelical Christians come to their enthusiasm for Israel—and especially its settlement building in the occupied West Bank—via the doctrine of “Premillennial Dispensationalism.” Originally proposed by William Eugene Blackstone (1841–1935), a real estate entrepreneur and best-selling author of religious texts, its popularity exploded in the 1970s and ’80s thanks in part to apocalyptic best-selling books by Hal Lindsey and Tim La Haye. The New York Times judged the former’s (co-authored) 1970 book, The Late Great Planet Earth, to be the single best-selling book of the decade, with more than 28 million copies sold. It also spawned a prime-time television program with an estimated audience of 17,000,000, and LaHaye saw the creation of Israel as the “fuse of Armageddon.” Unfortunately, Jews, being unbelievers, would be “destroyed by the anti-Christ in the time of the seven years of tribulation; a potential dictator waiting in the wings somewhere in Europe who will make Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin look like choirboys.” Together with his wife, Beverly, LaHaye founded a series of powerful political organizations, including Concerned Christians of America, along with the influential think tank Center for National Policy as well as writing (or cowriting) fully 85 books designed to prepare Christians for Armageddon.
Jerry Falwell founded the Moral Majority in 1979 at LaHaye’s suggestion. Soon, he sat atop an empire boasting a television show aired on 373 local stations, a church with 17,000 members and a support staff of over a thousand. In 1980, Falwell published Armageddon and the Coming War with Russia, which featured a mushroom cloud on its cover and argued that the Bible had predicted an imminent “nuclear holocaust” inspired by Israel. At this point, Christ would return in glory, and as the book concludes: “WHAT A DAY THAT WILL BE!”
Though Falwell pretended otherwise before secular and Jewish audiences, he was an enthusiastic Premillennialist. “The Jews are returning to their land of unbelief,” he warned. “They are spiritually blind and desperately in need of their Messiah and Savior.” He predicted, rather matter of factly, that when the Antichrist arrives, “of course, he’ll be Jewish,” Falwell also occasionally gave voice to anti-Semitic attitudes of an earthlier sort. Speaking to a 1979 “I Love America” rally in Richmond, Va., Falwell said, “I know a few of you here today don’t like Jews, and I know why. He can make more money accidentally than you can on purpose.” These comments paled, however, in comparison to the “Elders of Zion” sort of conspiracy theories voiced by Pat Robertson in his 1991 book, The New World Order, and later, the implicit praise for Hitler by John Hagee, founder of Christians United for Israel—the world’s largest “pro-Israel” organization—who described Hitler as a “hunter” sent by God to convince “the Jewish people…to come back to Israel.”
While many Jews found these sentiments discomfiting, Jewish neoconservative pundits and the leaders of pro-Israel organizations suggested ignoring them in light of the Christian Zionist commitment to Israel. Neoconservative “godfather” Irving Kristol, for instance, put the trade-off as follows: “Why should Jews care about the theology of a fundamentalist preacher when they do not for a moment believe that he speaks with any authority” on theological matters?… It is their theology, but it is our Israel.” Commentary editor Norman Podhoretz also offered a pass to Robertson’s Jewish conspiracy theories on the same grounds: that his pro-Israel politics “trumps the anti-Semitic pedigree of his ideas.” “Israel was, after all, the most important issue of Jewish concern,” and here Robertson, Podhoretz insisted, was “on the side of the angels.” As one AIPAC researcher said of the Christian Zionists at the time, “Sure, these guys give me the heebie-jeebies. But until I see Jesus coming over the hill, I’m in favor of all the friends Israel can get.”
Two important trends, however, have altered this calculation. First is the diminishing importance of Israel to American Jewish personal and collective identity as the Jewish state is increasingly seen by large numbers of American Jews as illiberal, theocratic, and committed to the permanent (and often brutal) occupation of the Palestinian people. Then there is the constant embrace of anti-Semitic tropes by mainstream Republican candidates in the wake of Donald Trump’s ascent as leader of the party.
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