Illustration by: Matthew Hollister
Michele Bachmann’s Hazardous Love for Israel: Jeffrey Goldberg
Michele Bachmann, the Minnesota congresswoman and Republican candidate for president, is making a muscular showing in the polls. She is telegenic. She is clever. Some of her Republican opponents worry she may be unstoppable.
But never fear, oh Republican opponents of Michele Bachmann: I’ve devised a fail-safe way to bring her to a state of cognitive paralysis. This method will require some travel on her part. Bachmann’s destination: the Tel Aviv gay-pride parade.
Bachmann is unwaveringly opposed to what she refers to as the gay “lifestyle.” Her husband, Marcus, runs a counseling practice devoted in part to the straightening- out of gay people. Bachmann herself told an audience not long ago, “It’s a very sad life. It’s part of Satan, I think, to say this is gay. It’s anything but gay.”
So a gay-pride parade in New York or San Francisco might induce in Bachmann some uncomplicated feelings, such as revulsion and loathing. But Tel Aviv is a different story. Because Tel Aviv is in Israel -- a country that, in Bachmann’s view, was placed on earth by God to fulfill his ultimate purpose.
Bachmann has built her foreign-policy platform on the nuance-free defense of Israel. She does this not because Israel is a strategic ally, or because it’s a democracy, but because the Bible states that God will curse those who betray it.
At a recent meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition, she said, “I am convinced in my heart and in my mind that if the United States fails to stand with Israel, that is the end of the United States.” She went on: “We have to show that we are inextricably entwined, that as a nation we have been blessed because of our relationship with Israel, and if we reject Israel, then there is a curse that comes into play.”
Just imagine, then, Bachmann’s paralysis when confronted by the reality of Tel Aviv, which is home to the largest annual gay-pride parade in the Middle East. The most recent one, held last month, drew about 100,000 people. According to a Guardian reporter, “Every square metre of shade was crammed” and “friends greeted one another with sweaty kisses and hugs.” A man named Amit Margalit, described as a bare-chested 28-year-old, said, “The weather is hot, the guys are hot, it’s a hot city.”
And it’s a city apparently in thrall to Satan. How could Israel, a country that represents to the Christian right proof that history is steered by God’s hand, allow such a thing to happen? This dilemma might be too much for Bachmann to bear.
Of course, Bachmann would not be surprised by Israeli society’s laissez-faire attitude toward gay rights if she knew very much about Israel. But she doesn’t seem to know much at all, apart from what she reads in the Bible.
Vision of Israel
Which brings us to a serious point. Lately, the Christian right in the U.S. has made a fetish of Israel, to a sometimes-disturbing degree. Not Israel in all of its complications and contradictions: The Israel these “Christian Zionists” support is the uncompromising Israel of its most right-wing ideologues.
Republican presidential candidates race to outdo one another in promising to defend a territorially maximalist Israel as they would defend America. Glenn Beck is taking his roadshow to Israel next month for a “Restoring Courage” rally in Jerusalem (no, you can’t make this stuff up). Organizations such as the Rev. John Hagee’s Christians United for Israel lobby in Washington for a particularly right-wing vision of the Middle East, in which Israel would keep every one of its West Bank settlements.
Israel, in the eyes of many of its evangelical supporters, can do no wrong. Its earthly mission, they believe, is to thwart the global jihad; its heavenly mission is to create conditions for the return of Jesus.
Hazards of Love
I’m not making light of sincerely held beliefs. There is, of course, something improbable and mysterious and even miraculous about the rebirth of the Jewish state after 2,000 years of nonexistence. And Israel doesn’t suffer from a surfeit of friends in the world. But there are hazards in this sort of love, both for the U.S. and for Israel.
For the U.S., the first danger is obvious: It’s one thing to say we should support Israel because of shared interests and cultural affinity. It’s another to say that U.S. foreign policy makers should support Israel because God will strike them down if they don’t. As a general rule, theocrats should not make foreign policy.
A second hazard is this: Bachmann, Beck and company defend, on theological and political grounds, Israel’s continued settlement of the West Bank. When President Barack Obama recently suggested that Israel’s 1967 borders should serve as the basis for peace negotiations (along with land swaps), Mitt Romney accused him of throwing “Israel under the bus.”
But what if Obama is right? What if the occupation of the West Bank threatens Israel’s status as a Jewish- majority democracy? The right’s conflation of settlements with the cause of Zionism itself may come back to haunt Israel.
“Betraying” Its Birthright
Which brings us to a third hazard: How will the Christian right feel if Israel does, in fact, make compromises for the sake of peace by “betraying” its biblical birthright? Some pro-Israel evangelical leaders already blame Jewish stiff-neckedness for the phenomenon of anti-Semitism.
In his book “Jerusalem Countdown,” Hagee writes: “It was the disobedience and rebellion of the Jews, God’s chosen people, to their covenantal responsibility to serve only the one true God, Jehovah, that gave rise to the opposition and persecution that they experienced beginning in Canaan and continuing to this very day.” The Jews’ own rebellion, he writes, “had birthed the seed of anti- Semitism.”
I’ve met evangelical leaders who share an unpleasant tic with Israel’s critics on the far left: They all hold Israel to an impossible standard of moral and political behavior. To much of the Christian right, Israel isn’t a real nation-state facing a series of painful choices. It is, instead, a biblical fantasyland, and an instrument of Christian salvation. In Bachmann’s case, it’s a living test of America’s fealty to God.
For Israel’s sake then, if not for America’s, perhaps it’s best that she remain ignorant of Israeli reality. Including the reality of all those sweaty gays.
(Jeffrey Goldberg, a national correspondent for The Atlantic, is a Bloomberg View columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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