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Jewish World Review May 2, 2002/ 20 Iyar, 5762

Don Feder

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Bush risks losing Evangelicals over Israel

http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | So, President George W. Bush bonded with Crown Prince Abdullah when the Saudi ruler visited his Texas ranch last week?

That's nice. But if the president heeds the prince's advice on the Middle East, resentment on the Christian right could become an open revolt.

The Saudis -- who are largely AWOL in the war on terrorism -- want America to (as The New York Times put it) "temper its support for Israel or face grave consequences throughout the Arab world."

But this administration is notorious for modifying its support for the Jewish state -- treating a loyal ally and Yasser Arafat's cutthroat gang evenhandedly, demanding that Jerusalem end its defensive operations in the territories.

When it comes to fighting the scourge of civilization, Israel is the sole exception to the Bush doctrine. A strange dichotomy has evolved here. When the United States goes after terrorists in Afghanistan, it's preserving the peace. When Prime Minister Ariel Sharon targets suicide bombers on the West Bank, he's endangering the peace.

By risking Israel's survival, the president also risks alienating his core constituency.

Former Education Secretary William Bennett recently told CNN that Bush was angering "his entire political base" with his muddled Middle East policy. Nowhere is that more true than among the religious right.

Evangelical Christians represent 26 percent of voters. In 2000, 84 percent of them voted for Bush. Had he lost just a fraction of this vote, George W. would have been one of history's also-rans.

No issue touches this community more deeply than Israel. Christian Coalition President Roberta Combs comments, "In some instances, Christian support for Israel seems to exceed that of Jewish supporters in America."

At last month's pro-Israel rally in Washington, D.C., popular Christian talk show host Janet Parshall thundered: "We will never give up the Golan. We will never divide Jerusalem. And we will call Yasser Arafat what Yasser Arafat is: a terrorist."

In a recent poll, 86 percent of evangelicals said the administration should not "back away from America's traditional pro-Israel stance in light of the hatred it engenders in the Islamic community."

Why are these Christians so passionately committed to the Jewish state? Well, for one thing, they take the Bible (the Torah as well as the Christian) quite seriously.

Religious right leader Gary Bauer explains, "The Bible is pretty clear that the land is what is called covenant land, that G-d made a covenant with the Jews that that would be their land forever." A Palestinian state on the West Bank, East Bank or anywhere in between, is mentioned nowhere in Scriptures.

When G-d says of Abraham and his descendants, "I will bless those that bless you, and curse those that curse you," evangelicals don't ask the duration of that promise, or whether it's conditioned on the requirements of U.S. foreign policy.

They are also mindful of persecution of their fellow Christians in the Islamic world -- the genocide in the Sudan, riots in Nigeria, attacks on church services in Pakistan, forced conversions in Indonesia and other manifestations of the international jihad. This makes it easier for them to relate to Jewish suffering in the Holy Land.

When 100,000 Jews assembled at the D.C. rally on April 16, Bush advisers probably shrugged it off with the observation attributed to James Baker, chief of staff for Bush Sr. -- "Bleep 'em (or words to that effect). They don't vote for us anyway."

If 100,000 evangelicals went to Washington to protest George W.'s vacillation and Secretary of State Colin Powell's blundering, what would their response be then?

The White House political team assumes that because evangelicals like the president's policies on abortion and cloning, they'll fall in line in 2004. In 1992, Bush Sr. believed conservatives had no place else to go. (But they did -- they stayed home.) Costly miscalculations seem to be a Bush family trait.

Prince Abdullah will not be voting in the next presidential election. But millions of Christian friends of Israel will.

JWR contributing columnist Don Feder's latest books are Who is afraid of the Religious Right? ($15.95) and A Jewish conservative looks at pagan America ($9.95). To receive an autographed copy, send a check or money order to: Don Feder, The Boston Herald, 1 Herald Sq., Boston, Mass. 02106. Doing so will help fund JWR, if so noted. He is also available as a guest speaker. To comment on this column please click here.


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© 2002, Creators Syndicate