Texas Governor and aspiring Republican Presidential nominee Rick Perry has repeatedly attracted attention with a series of pronouncements on foreign policy pertaining to Israel. This behavior stems from Perry’s affinity for Christian Zionism, a highly influential strain of thought within large swaths of the conservative Protestant population in the United States. They see Israel as fulfilling crucial elements of the end-times scenario as depicted in the Biblical book of Revelations. Christian Zionism has steadily gained the support of many influential members of the clergy, who donate large amounts of money and other efforts to support the Zionist cause, and perhaps more importantly, place political pressure on the U.S. government to support the agenda of right-wing elements within Israel. Perry in particular is known to be close to pastor John Hagee, who rose to prominence primarily due to his Zionist activism.
Christian Zionism has a great many critics, but rarely does anyone point out the cognitive dissonance the Christian Zionists are ignoring, namely that Zionism kills, injures, and displaces Christians. Though their communities have dwindled in size, tens of thousands of Christians live in the Palestinian territories. When Israel’s “security barrier” seizes Palestinian land, and Israeli settlers divert water supplies for their own use, this harms Christian well-being. When Israeli authorities prevent Palestinians from travelling, Christians cannot go to work, school, or religious sites. When Israel launches air strikes into the Gaza Strip, this kills, maims, and impoverishes Christians. Unsurprisingly, in December of 2009 leaders of the Palestinian Christian community issued a statement known as the “Kairos Palestine Document,” in which they called Israel’s policies a “sin against God,” and asked for an international boycott of Israel.
Similarly, Christian Zionists unfailingly endorse Israel’s wars, despite the damage to the sizable Christian communities in Israel’s opponents. Christians were participants on both sides of the Lebanese Civil War, in which Israel intervened by invading in 1982. In the 2006 war, Lebanon’s Christians suffered heavy casualties due to Israeli attacks. The Christian communities of Jordan and Syria are well-integrated into their societies, and while Egypt’s Christians are in a precarious position with the Muslim majority, the fact remains that any conflict with these countries would likely cause serious harm to their Christian populations, as has happened before.
Furthermore, Israel’s own Christians, numbering over 100,000, are essentially second-class citizens. While they may be better off in some ways than the Arabs of neighboring countries, the fact remains that they are treated worse than Israeli Jews in matters of education, the rule of law, immigration, housing, and other elements of civil rights. Surveys indicate a toxic environment of racist attitudes, manifesting itself in substantially worse economic indicators for Israel’s Arab citizens, Christian and Muslim alike.
The same question arose when evangelical American Christians were the staunchest supporters of the invasion of Iraq, a war which dealt severe, possibly catastrophic, damage to that country’s Christian community: Why do so many American Christians support, for religious reasons, policies that are devastating to the Christians of the Middle East?
Scott Charney is an intern at Foreign Policy in Focus.