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May 29, 2003

A Very Mixed Marriage

"Evangelical Christians lining up to fight for Israel may be an unmovable obstacle to Bush’s ‘road map’ "
MIXING CHURCHILL AND THE BIBLE, DeLay talked of a destiny shared by America and Israel. He asked for “divine assistance” in protecting both. In closing, to the astonishment of his audience, he recited—in Hebrew—the last lines of the Jewish prayer for the dead. The crowd, many in tears, joined in. (DeLay had been coached by a Jewish former staffer.) “It was quite a moment,” said Jack Abramoff, a lobbyist.
Quite an understatement. Though they welcomed him as an ardent supporter of Israel, many in the audience at the Republican Jewish Coalition conference were wary of DeLay’s view on a host of social issues—he’s pro-life, anti-gay-rights, pro-voucher, pro-gun, pro-school-prayer. Nor are they fond of his occasional declaration that what America needs most is more Christians in office. “Some would argue that it’s a mistake for Jews to get into bed with the religious right,” said Jess Hordes of the Anti-Defamation League.
Too late. Indeed, these bedfellows aren’t strangers anymore, which presents George W. Bush with a new opportunity—and a new risk. Opening another front in his war on terror, the president has launched an effort to coax Israelis and Palestinians toward peace. As Bush prepares for his trip to the G8 summit in France, there is talk he’ll tack on a trip to the Middle East. But the “Roadmap” he wants to pursue there runs not only through the Byzantine byways of the Levant, but along the political freeways of America. If he is at all serious, Bush eventually will hit a potentially impenetrable roadblock at home: the deepening alliance between Jewish supporters of Israel and the growing ranks of Christian Zionists.
Simply put, the administration won’t be able to lean hard on Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon without being attacked by two blocs it cares very much about as the 2004 election approaches. Eager to capitalize on Bush’s standing as a war commander and a friend of Israel’s, White House strategists hope to double the size of Bush’s Jewish vote. Still, the numbers there, however pivotal in places such as Florida, are small. Much more is at stake among the nation’s 50 million evangelicals. Pressuring the Israelis also risks incurring the wrath—perhaps expressed in thundering, Biblical terms—of activists who claim to speak for that constituency, which the White House hopes will turn out in record numbers next year. “We are going to watch the Road-map very carefully,” Jerry Falwell told NEWSWEEK.
In April 2002, Christian Zionists were infuriated when the president, in a Rose Garden speech after a particularly heinous suicide bombing in Israel, seemed to equate Palestinian terrorism with the Israeli Army’s actions on the West Bank. Not only did he not call for the ouster of Yasir Arafat (a goal of hard-liners for years), Bush sent Secretary of State Colin Powell to the region to meet with the Palestinian. “That was more than those of us who support Israel could take,” said Gary Bauer, a leading Christian Zionist [more]