Spoiler alert: No one with a hair’s breadth chance of being elected president in 2016, with the possible exception of Bernie Sanders, offers anything but status quo, or worse, when it comes to a just vision on Israel/Palestine.
Hillary Clinton’s legendary fealty, like the fallen Marco Rubio before her, can be traced in large part to a billionaire with longstanding ties to Israeli politics. Donald Trump, despite his wish to be “sort of a neutral guy” on the issue, later flipped and adopted the standard Likudnik call to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. John Kasich, for all his “likeable guy” rhetoric, offers up a standard blame-the-victim narrative driven largely by hard right Reagan-era advisers and neocon engineers of the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Yet, in this analysis of the GOP candidate pool, no one compares with Cruz. For Cruz, as virulently pro-Israel as any candidate, it is not about the traditional AIPAC alliance. Of course, he loves AIPAC, but for Cruz, Christian Zionism is the key. This belief holds that Israel must maintain full control of the Holy Land to facilitate the Second Coming of Jesus. It is a fundamental tenet of the core religious right. In one poll, fully 59 percent of white Evangelicals, and an astonishing 41 percent of all Americans – tens of millions of voters – believe Jesus Christ will return to Earth by 2050. A lot of them believe that can only happen with a strong Israel in place.
Cruz’s base is evangelicals and their leaders, many of whom gathered with Cruz late last year at the Texas ranch house of billionaire Ferris Wilks. Ferrris and his fellow billionaire brother, Dan, are bankrolling Cruz’s 2016 run. Of the evangelicals who gathered on that cold December day, the most important was John Hagee, the influential firebrand preacher, founder of the Cornerstone megachurch in San Antonio, and of Christians United for Israel, an organization that now rivals AIPAC in its American political influence. Hagee is a fervent supporter of Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel’s settler colonization of the West Bank. He and other Republican candidates have appeared many times in Ariel, a settlement of 20,000 in the heart of the West Bank and one of the singles biggest obstacles to a peace deal with the Palestinians. Cruz, whose own expressed views hew closely to Christian Zionism, calls Hagee “my dear friend.”
Hagee once claimed the Holocaust was part of God’s plan to drive surviving Jews out of Europe toward Palestine. The remarks led John McCain to reject the Texas preacher’s 2008 presidential endorsement. (Hagee, ever the tolerant Christian, also declared that Hurricane Katrina was part of God’s plan to punish New Orleans for a gay parade.) Yet Hagee’s Holocaust remarks were part of a larger Christian Zionist worldview that sees modern Israel as part of Divine destiny. In this belief, God’s will made Israel, and Christians now must protect that covenant, and keep Jerusalem “united” under Israel’s control, in order for Jesus to return to Earth. In his book Jerusalem Countdown, which sold more than 700,000 copies, Hagee pushed for a confrontation with Iran to hasten global conflagration and Christ’s return. “From this moment forward, for the rest of our lives, until Christ comes, Jerusalem is the center of the universe,” Hagee declared from the pulpit.
The Second Coming is at the heart of Hagee’s theology, outlined in his best-seller, The Four Blood Moons. The title refers to a lunar oddity which Hagee claimed historically coincided with major events in Israel’s history, including the 1948 War and the Six Day War of 1967. The rare appearance of four blood moons in 2014-15, Hagee argued, would signal the End Times. “What is the prophetic significance of the four blood moons?” Hagee asked in promoting his book. “Is this the end of the age?”
Unfortunately for Hagee’s prophecies, the blood moons came and went and our age continued. Nevertheless, he and other Christian Zionists believe, global Armageddon will soon be at hand.
Compared to this chilling vision, Donald Trump looks like a regular heretic on Israel and Palestine. For a time, it appeared that Trump would be the flaming red of the GOP, when he stated to Joe Scarborough, “Let me be sort of a neutral guy” on the issue. In December, he doubled down in the lion’s den – at a meeting of the hard-right, Bibi Netanyahu-loving Republican Jewish Coalition – when he indicated, to loud boos, that he did not necessarily support Israel’s dominion over Jerusalem as an “undivided capital.” This is a litmus test for the Republican right, which for years has demanded the U.S. move its embassy to Jerusalem to cement that reality, Palestinians be damned.
Other signs emerged of Trump’s apparent independence. In interviews and statements earlier this year, the billionaire has gone further than simply aspiring to be “sort of a neutral guy.” In a December interview with the AP, he questioned “if Israel has the commitment” to a lasting peace deal: “I have a real question as to whether or not both sides want to make it. A lot will have to do with Israel and whether or not Israel wants to make the deal — whether or not Israel’s willing to sacrifice certain things.”
So, at least for a fleeting moment, here was the strangest sight: A nativist who would ban Muslim visitors to the U.S., close American mosques, enter U.S. Muslims in a national database, and enshrine waterboarding as at the core of American foreign policy – and yet, compared to nearly every one of his rivals, a “progressive” voice on the Holy Land.
Only in America.
But then Trump backtracked, advocating the litmus test position on moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. That would be a death blow to Palestinian dreams of establishing an independent state with East Jerusalem as its capital. Indeed, for the Likudniks and their allies, that’s part of the point: not only to end Palestinian statehood dreams, but undermine the official U.S. position in peace negotiations for more than two decades.
So much for Trump the “neutral sort of guy.” Rather, he proved he’s more of a conventional politician after all.
Which brings us to the stale, conventional Cold War politics of John Kasich, the alleged grownup in the room – never mind his antic, weirdly entertaining karate-chop debate performances. Kasich projects himself the father figure, the calming force, the guy with the reasonable tone. Which is fine until you actually examine his policies. On Israel and Palestine, Kasich advances standard hate and fear mongering: garden-variety, AIPAC-safe policy. Among his statements in the 2016 campaign:
- The distorted, racist, “culture of hate” statements against Palestinians, including the inaccurate trope about Palestinian textbooks, all of which conveniently ignore Israelis’ genocidal calls against Palestinians.
- The tired, lockstep pledge to honor Jerusalem as Israel’s “eternal capital” – predictable fealty to Netanyahu, Likud, and the rest of the lunatic Israeli/American alliance, no matter the terrible consequences.
- The pledge to “fight the scourge” of “attacks on Israel.” It might sound like Kasich meant bombs, but he was referring to words, part of his attempt to silence legitimate, constitutionally-protected criticism of Israel. In this Kasich sounds like a clone of Clinton, whose billionaire, one-issue backer, Haim Saban, induced her to launch her own anti-democratic campaign.
- The myth of the “generous Israel” that has “given a lot of stuff back” and only wants peace. This willfully disregards the tripling of Israel’s West Bank settler population, its exclusive settler- and VIP-only roads, and its half-century military occupation reminiscent of the Jim Crow American South.
- The defense of the settlements themselves, which Kasich euphemistically calls “apartments” and defends as “security,” when in fact Israel’s colonization of Palestinian land has deeply enflamed militant groups and therefore eroded Israel’s security in the region, not to mention U.S. national security.
But while Kasich doesn’t have fervently pro-Israel forces bankrolling his campaign (the biggest contributor to his Superpac is instead big into warming the planet), his Reagan-era foreign policy advisers, and their calcified policies on the Middle East, invite flashbacks to the bad old days when American officials sold weapons to the Iranians to finance their proxy cold war in Nicaragua.
These advisors include Bud McFarlane of Iran-Contra infamy, who resigned during the scandal and later attempted suicide. In 2013 McFarlane was investigated by the FBI after accepting $1.3 million in lobbying money arranged by a Sudanese government accused of genocide and trying to wash its bloody hands.
Then there is the torture apologist, friend of Bibi, enemy of the Iran deal, and superspook Michael Hayden, the general and former NSA director who, among other things, recently likened U.S. airstrikes against ISIS to “casual sex” and compared journalist and whistle-blower Glenn Greenwald to “the devil.”
It’s really quite a team Gov. Kasich has put together in his long-shot GOP campaign.
But the big star among Kasich’s foreign policy advisors is 80-year-old Richard V. Allen, Ronald Reagan’s first National Security Advisor, who with 30-some other members of the Committee on the Present Danger took power under Reagan to push a militaristic, hard-right agenda. He later worked with Richard Perle and neocons in and around Bush II. Allen helped launch the neocon Project for a New American Century, a group of Bush-era hawks who beat the drums for war in Iraq under false pretense, in part to weaken Iraq and make it less of a threat to Israel.
There’s something here for everyone, really: torture-mongering, blind and kneejerk defense of Israel, and a neocon love for the dark side.
‘Allies for Armegeddon’: The Wilks brothers and Ted Cruz
And yet – I know, it’s completely depressing – even this “vision” pales before the dark forces of Ted Cruz, and his end-of-days believers.
“They’re counting down the hours now, eagerly expecting the implementation of the remaining items on their biblical prophecy agenda, anticipating the thrilling climax of the cosmic story,” writes Victoria Clark in her 2006 book, Allies for Armegeddon: The Rise of Christian Zionism. According to this belief, Jerusalem’s Haram al-Sharif, the third holiest site in Islam, will “be destroyed, and replaced with a new Jewish temple. The completion of that temple… will herald the appearance of an Antichrist who might be a European diplomat or the head of the United Nations.” Eventually, Clark writes, this “will trigger the battle of Armageddon…all non-born again Christians – including two-thirds of all Jews – who refuse to accept Jesus as their personal saviour…will be slain in the conflagration.”
But true Christians, according to this belief, need not worry about their own destruction, for they will be saved by the Rapture. “Jesus will come in the air, catch up the Church from the earth, and then return to heaven with the Church,” declares the evangelical Website, raptureready.info, which cites the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians (1 Thess, 4:16-18): “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel… Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air…”
Rev. John Hagee, from the pulpit, leaves nothing to the imagination:
Neighbors are going to be standing in the streets and they’re going to be having conversations like this: “I was standing here talking to Mr. Jones and suddenly he started rising into the air, over the house past the tree tops, gone, gone, GONE! He’s vanished in the clouds right before my eyes.” Headlines will be screaming, “Millions Are Missing Without a Trace!” Cars are going to be parked out here beside Loop 1604 and every highway in the world, the motors are still running, with the drivers and the occupants of the car sailing for mansions on high. I’m saying to you, pray up, pack up, LOOK up, we’re going up!
For this Rapture to happen, Christian Zionists believe, Israel must be in full control of the Holy Land – including the occupation and military rule of Palestinians in the West Bank. Yet end-of-days belief only partly explains Hagee’s repeated visits to one of Israel’s biggest and most problematic settlements, Ariel, where he his poured millions in donations and where a recreation center bears his name. By strengthening Israel and the settlements, Hagee is also building a political powerhouse for as long as we’re all still here.
Hagee’s Christians United for Israel, with 2.5 million members, is now the largest pro-Israel group in the country, in line with his goal to build a “Christian AIPAC.” CUFI has put on more than 2000 pro-Israel events in the U.S., brought some 300 U.S. pastors in more than a dozen trips to Israel, and built a presence on more than 300 U.S. college campuses. CUFI holds an annual conference featuring the luminaries of the American political right, including Ted Cruz.
Hagee’s message thus resonates both among the grass roots with his talk of Armageddon, and in pro-Israeli circles and Congressional offices with his more carefully-chosen words about defending the Jewish state. On both levels, more than that of any other single religious figure, Hagee embodies Ted Cruz’s appeal to white evangelical voters. While Cruz himself is smooth enough to avoid overt endorsements of Hagee’s end times prophecies, he does embrace a core belief of Christian Zionists: That Israel must remain strong because the Bible says so. In the Book of Genesis, after God promises to build Abraham “a great nation,” He says: “I will bless those who bless you and I will curse those who curse you and in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” Cruz says that Biblical verse, Genesis 12:3, “honors God’s promise” and underscores why he “leads the fight for Israel.”
Cruz’s fundamentalist stance is thus not simply politically expedient loyalty to a preacher with a mega-following. It’s far more deeply rooted. His father Rafael Cruz, a born-again preacher, would read Bible stories to his son starting when Ted was four years old. Ted memorized scripture “and act[ed] out scenes from the Old Testament,” the candidate recalled while campaigning in Iowa.
As a preacher, Rafael Cruz advocates not only an erosion of the line between church and state, but a full Christian takeover of American society. For years the elder Cruz has traveled the land to spread the “dominionist” Christian Zionist theology of the New Apostolic Reformation, rooted in end times theology. This belief calls for religious control of central aspects of America: essentially, a Christian state. “Go forth, multiply, take dominion over all my creation,” Cruz preached (here, at one hour 12 minutes) to a Portland Sunday service in 2012, quoting Genesis 1:28. “That dominion is not just in the church. That dominion is over every area: society, education, government, economics.”
As for Israel, the father of Ted Cruz invokes the familiar Genesis 12:3, declaring: “This current administration has cursed the Jewish people, has cursed the nation of Israel more than any other administration in history. I believe the only reason judgment has not fallen on America is because of the faithful remnant that is standing in the gap. But it is about time that we stand for righteousness.”
Also standing for righteousness, right behind Ted Cruz, are the billionaire Wilks brothers, including Farris, who hosted the gathering of the faithful at his Texas ranch. Farris and Dan Wilks bankrolled Cruz with $15 million to his superpac. They are also major donors to Pastors and Pews, whose goal is to elect 1000 conservative preachers to public office. Ted Cruz was a recent headliner at a Pastors and Pews conference. The group’s leader, David Lane, believes the Bible should be the primary textbook in public schools. Even more directly than Rafael Cruz, he advocates that “Christians must be retrained for war for the Soul of America.” He predicted that because of abortion rights and “homosexuals at the Inauguration,” God would show his “mercy” with “car bombs in Los Angeles, Washington D.C., and Des Moines.”
Lane has also led Republican elected officials on all-expense-paid “spiritual, historic” trips to Israel – part of a series of Republican journeys in which “pioneering Jews in Judea and Samaria [Likud-speak for the West Bank] and Christian Zionist leaders in the US and elsewhere learn to trust each other…seeking common political ground.”
Farris Wilks, who made his billions from fracking and who, with his brother, owns several hundred thousand acres in Montana, Idaho, and Texas, not only funds such political philosophy in action; as the head of his Assembly of Yahweh church, he preaches it. The church, near his Cisco Texas ranch, “considers being gay a serious crime, the Bible to be historically and scientifically accurate in every detail and abortion to be murder, including in cases of rape or incest,” according to a Reuters investigation. Assembly of Yahweh congregants do not observe “the religious holidays of the Gentiles,” and, like adherents to Kosher diets, they don’t eat pork or shellfish. As for Israel: Like other Christian Zionists, Wilks and his followers believe the Jewish state to be God’s miracle: “God is “bringing the Jewish people (Israel) back to its homeland in order to purify and bless them.”
And now Wilks, Hagee, David Lane, Rafael Cruz and scores of other leaders of the religious right have set out to purify and bless Ted Cruz’s campaign for president. In Iowa, Lane, Rafael Cruz, and pastors of the religious right laid hands on Ted Cruz’s shoulders, anointing him, in the views of some, as God’s candidate. The millions of dollars Cruz has received from the Wilks brothers, said Lane, is “God’s money.” And Cruz’s most influential evangelical friend, John Hagee, connects the candidate’s support for Israel to his own Armageddon prophecy.
The extreme edge of this theology will never escape Ted Cruz’s lips on Meet the Press or even during a Republican debate. In the “secular” world, the language is linked to “acceptable” foreign policy views, to pledges of the U.S. friendship with Israel, and to our shared “Judeo-Christian” tradition.
But for Cruz and his powerful Christian Zionist backers, extremist views lie just below the surface.
Portions of this story ran previously on Truthdig, as part of Sandy Tolan’s BEHOLDEN series.