A couple of weeks ago I noticed a piece in Forward, the New York Jewish weekly, about far right obstruction of proposed US funding of the now Abbas-led Palestinian Authority.
Defying the wishes of the Bush administration, Congress approved a foreign-aid package this week forbidding any direct assistance to the Palestinian Authority and, in a rare snub, denying the president the authority to waive restrictions in the interest of national security.
The legislation was approved 388-to-44 in the House of Representatives and is expected to sail through the Senate. The House approved $200 million in aid, to be channeled to nongovernmental projects outside the control of the P.A., as part of an $81 billion in emergency spending bill to help pay the costs of military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
...Sources also said that the driving force behind the rejection of direct aid was House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, a Texas Republican, who at one point threatened to cut all aid to the Palestinian territories out of the bill.
I don't see where this little legislative passage of arms has been much noticed outside the US Jewish press. As it turns out, the waiver authority is thought to be coming out of the bill in House/Senate negotiations, and Bush has other slush funds to go to if he wants to reward the P.A. and Abbas, but its still an interesting wedge on the right. Condi testified in mid February (see the AP story carried in Ha'aretz dated 2/17) in support of the aid payments. Nita Lowey, the Democratic congresswoman from New York's 18th district for almost 20 years (parts of Westchester and Rockland counties for you homies), helped write the aid langauge from her position as ranking minority member of the appropriations subcommittee on foreign affairs. Judging from her website, specifically here, she wants to appear tough on Palestinians while aligning with the Bushrover's roadmap, including Palestinian aid:
Lowey believes strongly that the U.S. must continue to hold Palestinian leaders accountable for their actions. She has secured provisions in the foreign aid bill restricting U.S. funding for the Palestinian Authority, requiring strict oversight of humanitarian assistance provided to the Palestinian people, and condemning the Arab economic boycott of Israel. Lowey also co-authored a provision included in the most recent foreign aid bill specifying that there will be no financial assistance for a future Palestinian state unless and until the conditions included in the President's roadmap are met.
Lowey, according to one source, was point on the intra-House negotiations on aid for the P.A. But at some point, and operative from Aipac was brought in to try to keep DeLay at bay.
Many Jewish lawmakers with an interest in the bill relied on Lowey to handle the negotiations, said a staffer for one Jewish lawmaker who opposed direct aid.
According to well-positioned sources, members of the appropriations subcommittee tapped Esther Kurz, who directs Aipac's legislative department, to broker compromise language that would satisfy DeLay's demands while allowing the administration to have the money. Aipac, up to that point, had only been marginally involved in the Palestinian aid package. Now it was requested to exert its authority on Israel-related issues and to broker compromise language. The assumption, one source said, was that DeLay would be hard pressed to oppose language that the chief pro-Israel lobby has endorsed.
But perhaps Aipac's involvement was not that simply motivated. Aipac has been involved in an FBI/grand jury investigation for some time---seven months ago Pentagon Iran analyst Larry Franklin was accused of passing government documents to two members of the pro-Israel lobbying firm. Laura Rosen has been following this story solidly in warandpiece.com, including her most recent citation of an Ha'aretz article by Nathan Guttman yesterday. According to Guttman,
AIPAC is considered one of the five most powerful lobbies in Washington, alongside giants like the American Association of Retired Persons and the National Rifle Association, whose budgets dwarf AIPAC's.
...Some in D.C. political circles said that AIPAC's main problem now was not the investigation in which it has become embroiled, but rather the political change going on in Israel. "AIPAC is simply lagging behind developments," said a congressional staffer close to the issue. According to the staffer, the fact that most of the AIPAC board is hawkish on the Israel-Palestinian conflict makes it difficult for the lobby to accommodate itself to Israel's new policies.
The issue of AIPAC getting used to the thawing of Israeli-Palestinian relations was put to the test last month during Congressional deliberations on a bill submitted by President George W. Bush to give $200 million in aid to the Palestinians to strengthen reforms and Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas' government. Congress approved the bill in the end, but only after adding some serious strictures.
Who was behind the failure to pass the bill in its original form? Democratic supporters of the legislation said that AIPAC tried to torpedo it and that its lobbyists were behind the restrictions placed on the aid. AIPAC presented a totally different picture, saying that it was House Majority Leader Tom DeLay who had taken a hard-line on the bill, and that AIPAC had saved the day by suggesting compromises which had allowed the bill to pass.
Not even everyone in Congress knows who put the restrictions in the aid bill. After the vote, someone at a meeting of senior congressional staff asked who had been responsible for the limitations. "I don't feel comfortable discussing it here," a staffer from the allocations committee is said to have replied. Others present at the meeting said they thought he did not want to point a figure at AIPAC.
And there is this pair of grafs from a JTA wire story carried in the Jewish Bulletin of Northern California (from the moment in 2002 when he became Speaker):
While some question DeLay's motives, many Jewish leaders have chosen to embrace his support. After his election as House majority leader last week, most pro-Israel activists were celebrating.
"Tom DeLay is a true leader and has a time-tested record of being a dear and valued friend of the pro-Israel community," said Melvin Dow, a fellow Texan and former president and chairman of the pro-Israel lobby, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
DeLay's possible motivations are probably more bizzare than Aipac's, if they can be at all seperated. According to Ori Nir's Forward article,
DeLay's success in blocking direct aid has some lawmakers and Jewish communal officials worried about the degree to which the Texas Republican, an evangelical Christian who opposes the creation of a Palestinian state, will go to undercut American and Israeli attempts to achieve a two-state solution.
Non-christians like me who travel in Israel may be surprised to see large tour groups of American Evangelicals at Israeli and Jewish (as opposed to the obvious Christian) sightseeing venues. In fact, there are people called Christian Zionists. See this article of unknown provenance but apparent comprehension, or the Wikipedia entry. In the latter, we read
Christian Zionism is the belief among some denominations of Protestant Christians, mainly in the United States, that the return of the Jews to the Holy Land, through the estabishment of the State of Israel in 1948, is in accordance with Biblical prophecy, and is a necessary precondition for the return of Jesus to reign on Earth.
This belief should be distinguished from a general political belief that the Jews have a right to a national homeland in Israel. [...] Indeed since Christian Zionists believe that the Jews must eventually accept Jesus as the Messiah for Biblical prophecy to be fulfilled, some Jews see Christian Zionism as a form of anti-Semitism.
...American Christian Zionist theology was developed by the 19th century evangelical Cyrus Scofield (1843-1921), who popularised the doctrine that Jesus could not return to reign on Earth until certain events occurred: The return of the Jews to the Holy Land and particularly to Jerusalem, where they would destroy the Islamic holy places in the city and rebuild the Temple, the battle of Armageddon, in which millions of people would be killed, and the conversion of the Jews to Christianity.
According to Hal Lindsey, a prominent American Christian Zionist, "the valley from Galilee to Eilat (a town in southern Israel) will flow with blood and 144,000 Jews would bow down before Jesus and be saved". According to Lindsey, the rest of the Jews, and presumably all non-Christians, will perish in "the mother of all Holocausts".
Christian Zionism appears to have grown out of the older vein of evangelical eschatology known as premillennial dispensationalism. Premillennialism is the belief, long held as a basic tenet of Christianity, that Jesus will return to earth before establishing and reigning over a millenial kingdom. John Nelson Darby, an early proponent, defined periods of historical "dispensation", as milestones along the path that could be understood through the predictive power of scripture.
Again, from the Wikipedia:
Dispensationalism teaches that the Second Coming of Jesus Christ will be a physical event, by which a world-wide kingdom will be established in human history, geographically centered in Jerusalem. Many, but not all, dispensationalists teach that the Second Coming will be a two step process. In the first step, Christ returns to resurrect the blessed dead and rapture the living believers from the Earth. After this, a seven year period of tribulation occurs, climaxing in the Battle of Armageddon. In the second step, Christ intervenes at the Battle of Armageddon and establishes his kingdom on earth. As such, dispensationalism is associated with the circulation of end times prophecy, which professes to read omens of the Second Coming in current events.
Can it be that DeLay, and other pro-Israel evangelicals like him, are trying the hasten the day?
There is no question that 9/11 and the subsequent so-called war on terrorism have greatly heighten the sense of apocalypse amongst those leaning that way, and have appeared as a milestone on the way to the End of Days. On that roadmap, the forces of righteousness will destroy the Islamic holy places and establish the Third Temple. This kind of "faith"-based decision making and motivation at the top of our government is not something we can look at any more as aberrant.
In July, 2002, the "D. James Kennedy Center for Christian Statesmanship" (self-described as "a spiritually based outreach to men and
women in positions of influence and authority in our
nation's capital") awarded DeLay its Distinguished Christian Stateman award for 2002. This interesting vignette is part of the news item on its web site.
On the day following the 9/11 attacks on America, Rep. DeLay called his Washington staff together. At this unscheduled meeting, the Texas congressman very deliberately shared the Gospel with his staff. He told them how he knew that he would spend eternity with God in Heaven and how they could know that too. “In light of what happened up this way yesterday, we all need to be sure of that,” he said.
What I can tell is that DeLay is a Baptist. I don't know about his personal orientation to Christian Zionism or premillenarial dispensationism. But his many statements on matters of Christian belief make it clear that he is pretty sure how things should go. Americans United for Seperation of Church and State reports on a DeLay speech from a 300-person "Worldview Weekend" meeting at the First Baptist Church in Pearland, Texas, just before his ascension to the Speaker's chair. In his kickoff, DeLay
noted that he got interested in running for state office in Texas because he was fed up with government interference in his pest extermination business. His wife prodded him to attend a local Republican Party meeting, where someone suggested he run for the legislature.
"It was the first time the Lord talked to me in very meaningful terms," DeLay said. He said he became "obsessed" with running for the office and worked so hard he successfully defeated a Democrat at a time when Republicans were weak in Texas.
DeLay, a Baptist, spent six years in the Texas legislature and ran for Congress successfully in 1984. Despite the divine intervention in his earlier campaigns, DeLay told the crowd that he was still not a committed believer when he went to Washington.
"I was into the other worldview like you wouldn't believe," he said, noting that in the nation's capital he drank too much, stayed out late and ignored his family.
Invited to a Bible study by U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), DeLay soon "found Christ again." [...]
"He [God] has been walking me through an incredible journey, and it all comes down to worldview," DeLay told the crowd. "He is using me, all the time, everywhere, to stand up for biblical worldview in everything that I do and everywhere I am. He is training me, He is working with me."
A Christian as muscular, and a politician as anti-pluralist and anti-democratic as DeLay cannot be a real friend of Israel. There is something behind that agenda. How could a born-again American Christian be more anti-Palestinian than Ariel Sharon, who stood by as his Lebanese Christian allies butchered Muslims in the camps of southern Lebanon during the Israeli invasion twenty years ago? Why would an exterminator from Sugarland, Texas (want to figure out how many Jews live there?) care so much about the same things that the hard-right Gaza and West Bank settlers with the funny clothes and hairdos care about?
I suspect it is a marriage of convenience, a means to an end (in fact, to The End). I suspect that for a number of devout evangelicals in this administration and its legislature, the driving motivation for Middle Eastern policy is their sure knowledge that for those Jews who won't bow down and be saved, its gonna be "the mother of all holocausts".