Ronald Reagan, the Republican Party and the Rise of Militant Zionism in America: Part 1

One of the points made by Jewish supporters of the Palestinians is that there at more Christian than Jewish Zionists in America. Indeed, Prof. Norman Finkelstein has pointed out that support for Israel amongst Jewish Americans was marginal until the late 1960s, when Conservative activists worked hard to engineer support for the country after its victories against the surrounding Arab nations. Mike made a similar point in his defence of himself and his commenter, Paul Mabbo, against the accusations of anti-Semitism flung by the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism. Not everyone making the accusations was necessarily Jewish.

In fact there has been an alliance between right-wing American Christian groups and militant Zionists since before the election of Ronald Reagan as president in 1980s. Reagan’s election was partly due to his support from these right-wing Christian groups, brought about by the fundraisers and PR men Richard Viguerie, Terry Dolan, Howard Phillips and Ed McAteer. These men founded, led or advised a slew of conservative Christian organisations such as Conservative Caucus, Religious Roundtable, National Conservative Political Action Committee, Committee for the Survival of a Free Congress, Christian Voice, Young Americans for Freedom and the Moral Majority. The term ‘Moral Majority’ was coined by either Weyrich or Phillips when McAteer arranged for them to meet Jerry Falwell. McAteer was then the head of the Christian Freedom Foundation, which was funded by money from the Pew and DeVos families, who owned Sunoco and AmWay respectively. It isn’t surprising that Betsy DeVos has now popped up as Trump’s Education Secretary, with a militant right-wing plan to privatise all American public schools into Charter Schools with an explicitly right-wing Christian curriculum. Weyrich was also a member of the right-wing Heritage Foundation, which was financed by money from the Coors and Richard Scaiffe. As well as being a member of Young Americans for Freedom, Phillips had also been a minor member of Nixon’s administration. They chose Falwell because he had helped Anita Bryant defeat the Dade County Gays Rights Bill in 1977.

Falwell was one of the most notorious of the right-wing televangelists of the 1980s. He was actually the least popular of them, became the most influential through his contacts with Ronald Reagan. He first came to public attention for his 1965 speech denouncing Martin Luther King. However, it was the series of rallies he conducted in 1976 and ’77 which brought him to the attention of the leaders of the American Christian right. In 1983 Reagan allowed Fallwell to attend National Security briefings on the possibility of nuclear war with Russia, and discussed theology and nuclear war with him in his presidential limousine. Fallwell was also active establishing links with the Israeli leadership to the point where he became the most influential gentile lobbyist for Israel and Israeli expansionism.

As part of this, Falwell began arranging tours to the Holy Land. One of these was attended by a journalist, Grace Halsell, in 1983. She noted the prominent role apocalypticism played in the tours, with many of her fellow tourists believing that Christ’s return, and the end of the world were imminent. These tours also had an explicit agenda in drumming up support for Israel. The Israeli guide referred to Palestinians as Arabs, following the official Israeli line set by Golda Meir that there were no Palestinians. He then went on to state that the ‘Arabs’ preferred to live in poverty, had repeatedly refused Israeli friendship and bluntly stated that ‘all Muslims were terrorists’. When the tour bus stopped at Nazareth, it was only to use the toilets there. Halsell suspected that they were being prevented from speaking to any Palestinians or Christians living in Israel. This is not unlikely. One of the ministers at our church said that if you go to Israel, you will be kept from meeting Palestinians, including Palestinian Christians. The tour finally met Falwell at a hotel in Jerusalem, where they were treated to a speech by the Israeli defence minister, Moshe Arens, boast about Israeli victories in the invasion of Lebanon.

Falwell was richly rewarded by the Israelis for his services to them. A forest was named after him, he was showered with free trips to the country, and was also given a private jet by the Israeli government. He became the only gentile to receive the Jabotinsky medal, named after the Zionist leader, who advocated waging a war of extermination against the Palestinians in order to set up an Israeli empire that straddled both sides of the Jordan. It was Falwell who turned Jesse Helms, another prominent Reaganite, from a militant anti-Zionist into an enthusiastic supporter of Israel.

Falwell also visited the West Bank, where he had his photo taken with a Jewish American family, who had recently immigrated there. He set up a convention in Annapolis in 1983 to organise support for the Israeli invasion of Lebanon. This was attended by James Watt and Richard Allen, two members of Reagan’s administration; Yehuda Hellman and other Jewish leaders; Viguerie, Phillips and Weyrich; and former presidential sleazebag Richard M. Nixon. Falwell also told a Texan newspaper that same year that Israel had a divine mandate, through the covenant between the Lord and the patriarch Abraham, to parts of Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Sudan, and that the whole of Lebanon, Jordan and Kuwait should also belong to Israel. This would have to be achieved through force. Falwell stated that ‘good intentions are acts of stupidity’.

Extremist American Christian groups have also given support to Jewish terrorists, such as Gush Emunim, who have attempted to blow up the Dome of the Rock mosque in Jerusalem in order to restore Solomon’s Temple, whose site they believe the mosque occupies. In 1984 18 members of the terrorist group were convicted of trying to blow up the mosque, with the covert support of the Shin Bet and other members of the Israeli army and police. The group also attacked three Palestinian mayor, wounding them.

The terrorists were received as popular heroes in Israel, including by the judge who sentenced them. There were pleas for mercy from Yitzhak Shamir, and American right-wing Christians and Jews began sending money to finance their defence. Wealth American Jews also fund Gush Emunim and Meir Kahane’s extreme right-wing Kach party. Gush Emunim is also funded by Marcus Katz, a Mexican arms salesman, who made immense profits from selling guns and other armaments to Iran and various South American countries. Ruben Mattus, the head of the ice cream firm Haagen-Dazs, is one of the major backers of Kahane’s Kach party in Israel and his Jewish Defence League in the US.

The foremost Christian supporter of Israeli terrorism, at least in the 1980s, was the Jerusalem Temple Foundation, headed by the self-declared new Nehemiah, Terry Reisenhoover. Reisenhoover’s an Oklahoma speculator in oil and land, and styles himself after the Biblical Nehemiah, who was the first governor of Jerusalem after the return of the Jewish exiles from Babylon. The land Reisenhoover has speculated on, along with his Israeli partner, Shony Braun, includes land taken from Palestinians on the West Bank. Reisenhoover appointed as secretary Stanley Goldfoot, once implicated in the Stern gang’s 1946 bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem.

The Jerusalem Temple Foundation aimed to raise $100 million annually to rebuild the Temple and establish a yeshiva to teach the future priests the correct way to sacrifice animals there. They also supplied funds to Gush Emunim’s defence lawyers after the 1983 attack.

Another right-wing Christian group funding Israeli terrorism is the International Christian Embassy, who lobbied their governments to move their embassies from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. This group were also financed by South Africa.

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