I came under fire recently on this blog in response to the use of a letter from former Sephardic Rabbi to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, sent prior to Operation Cast Lead, in which he informed him that all civilians in Gaza are collectively guilty for rocket attacks, so that there is “absolutely no moral prohibition against the indiscriminate killing of civilians during a potential massive military offensive on Gaza aimed at stopping the rocket launchings.” Despite writing nothing to indicate that I believed this letter to be a reflection of the opinion of all the world’s Jews (clearly absurd), nevertheless the respondent used my citing of this letter to imply anti-Semitism.
Predictable response aside (if I had a pound every time someone responded to critical remarks about Israel’s conduct with that accusation I’d be a very rich man), the letter does raise concerns about the role of religious fundamentalism in politics, particularly in the realm of war and conflict. George Bush’s well known association with Christian fundamentalists was, it can be argued, key to the popular support he had for the “War on Terror” after 9/11, reflecting his own self-proclaimed Christian beliefs (although one wonders how genuine this is, given his drunken, cocaine-fuelled youth, his membership of the Skull and Bones secret society and his annual attendance to Bohemian Grove). Indeed, Bush characterised the response to the attacks as a religious matter, referring to the military actions in the Middle East as “a crusade”. Tony Blair, too, came under criticism when he told Michael Parkinson on his chat show that he had sought holy intervention on the issue of invading Iraq. “In the end, there is a judgement that, I think if you have faith about these things, you realise that judgement is made by other people… and if you believe in God, it’s made by God as well.” According to John Burton, Blair’s political agent in his Sedgefield constituency, Blair viewed both Iraq and Kosovo as part of a “Christian battle”.
The relationship between the Christian right and American politics – in particular the Republican party – is nothing new. Since the 1970s, the ideology of “born-again” Evangelical Christian Fundamentalism and politically influential evangelical Pentacostalism has both widened and deepened its influence on American society to the point where political candidates are frequently dependent on the support of the religious right. At the same time, fundamentalist religious groups have been fostered and financed by right-wing politicians in a mutually beneficial arrangement which has seen a rise in the power and influence of both. Many of these religious groups are coordinated by the secretive Council for National Policy, created in the 1980s and described by ABC’s Marc J. Ambinder as “the conservative version of the Council on Foreign Relations.” To some, it is the vital link between defense contractors, Washington and the Christian Right – several notable figures of the Bush administration were former members.
Many of these Christian fundamentalists have formed what some have referred to as an “unholy alliance” with Zionism, offering their full support to Israel’s expansionist, militaristic policies in the Occupied Territories and supporting their belligerent rhetoric against other Middle Eastern states. Here is perhaps a prime example of the political expediency found in the association of two right-leaning ideologies; the apparent contradiction found between the two – Christian fundamentalists, after all, support the state of Israel out of the motivation that the return of Jews to the Holy Land will be a prelude to the return of Christ followed by their physical destruction – is superceded by the mutually beneficial outcome of their alliance. It is only natural that Christian Zionism, preoccupied as it is with apocalyptic rapture teachings and the end times, would manifest itself politically as a belligerent force encouraging conflict in the Middle East.
These religious voices are becoming increasingly dominant within the military, both in the US and Israel. Echoing what Muslim radicals teach their followers, Pastor John Hagee preaches that “death is better than compromise”, the kind of religious message proselytized by the Christian Right in the US military. And on the battlefield beyond the scope of the military, the CEO of the security firm Xe (formerly Blackwater) Erik Prince is alleged by former employees to have viewed himself as a “Christian Crusader” whose task was to eliminate Muslims.
Newsnight recently ran a feature on the rise of Israel’s military rabbis, an issue of great controversy in Israel, where traditionally its army has defined itself as secular. This shift to religious motivation for war is of great concern, not least for General Dagan, who warned of the dangers of turning war into “jihad”.
Given the power of such alliances between extreme religious groups, politicians and the military to sanction and cause death and destruction carried out with a “moral justification” on the part of the perpetrators, it seems counterproductive to say the least to level accusations of anti-Semitism or anti-Christian sentiments against those who raise concerns about the level of power and influence such coalitions have on military policy.