Breaking News & Views for the Progressive Community
We Can't Do It Without You!  
     
Home | About Us | Donate | Signup | Archives | Search
   
 
   Headlines  
 

Printer Friendly Version E-Mail This Article
 
 
Israel Winning Broad Support From U.S. Right
Published on Sunday, April 21, 2002 in the New York Times
Israel Winning Broad Support From U.S. Right
by Alison Mitchell
 
WASHINGTON — Gary L. Bauer, the Christian conservative who grew up as a janitor's son in Kentucky, and William Kristol, the scion of New York Jewish intellectuals, long ago forged an unlikely but close friendship as warriors of the right.

They have fought together on issues like promoting family values and the Supreme Court nomination of Clarence Thomas. But the cause that now rivets them both is Israel, and their joint, consuming devotion to it illustrates the deep pro-Israel sentiment in the conservative movement.

The support comes from a broad band of people, from the national security-minded hawks who view Israel as the only democratic and dependable United States ally in the Middle East to religious conservatives who believe Israel is the covenant land promised to Jews by God.

Many of the conservative thinkers who influence the part of the party that President Bush considers his base have become loudly critical of his efforts at Middle East peace-making, calling them a muddled mission that undercuts his post-Sept. 11 antiterrorist doctrine.

The strongly pro-Israel sentiment marks a profound and telling shift inside the Republican Party, political strategists say.

With Jews mostly voting Democratic, Republican presidents for decades had been freer to break with Israel. Dwight D. Eisenhower refused to back a British, French and Israeli attack on Egypt after it nationalized the Suez Canal. Mr. Bush's father's administration repeatedly clashed with Israel.

But now, Mr. Bauer, 55, the president of a research organization called American Values, often presses Israel's case in a daily e-mail message that makes its way to about 100,000 Christian conservatives. Mr. Kristol, 49, who edits The Weekly Standard, has criticized Mr. Bush's Middle East policy in his magazine and in memorandums fired off by the Project for the American Century, a foreign policy group that he heads.

"We think you can't have a peace process in which one of the partners is a sponsor of terrorism," Mr. Kristol said. "Not if you're engaged in a serious war on terrorism."

They are far from alone. From Jewish neoconservatives like Mr. Kristol to Christian and social conservatives like Mr. Bauer, from the free-market conservatives of The Wall Street Journal editorial page to the talk radio host Rush Limbaugh, has come the same sharp message.

"Suddenly the president who soared by standing on principle seems to have been replaced by an impostor who's lost his foreign-policy bearings," The Journal said in its lead editorial earlier this week as Secretary of State Colin L. Powell came home from the Middle East empty-handed.

National Review, another keeper of the conservative flame, in its May 6 issue says "the administration has leaked away prestige and credibility with nearly every statement."

The seeds for the new Republican thinking were planted under Ronald Reagan when his robust anticommunism and advocacy of a strong missile defense drew to his side a group of influential, pro-Israel neoconservatives from the Democratic Party like Jeane J. Kirkpatrick, his United Nations ambassador, and Richard Perle, an assistant secretary of defense.

Mr. Reagan, who was strongly pro-Israel, also paved the way for the ascendancy of the Christian right in the Republican Party. In what is now considered a seminal moment in the building of the Republican coalition, Mr. Reagan gave religious conservatives an honored place in the party by declaring before a convention of evangelical preachers, "You can't endorse me, but I endorse you."

The trends Mr. Reagan set in motion have only escalated, and Mr. Bush now has to contend with an even more dramatically altered Republican Party.

"For the first time in probably the history of the Republican Party a significantly pro-Israel constituency has to catch the eye of the White House," said Marshall Wittmann, who has an unusual perspective as a Jewish conservative who was once a lobbyist for the Christian Coalition.

Republicans attribute the conservative support for Israel to many factors, including the influence of largely Jewish neoconservatives and the rise of the Christian right, with its belief that the Bible mandates support for Israel. The Likud Party in Israel also built ties to conservatives. After the Sept. 11 attacks, other conservatives who embrace a hawkish foreign policy came to see a stand with Israel as important strategy in the war against terrorism.

The departure from Republican ranks of Patrick J. Buchanan and his followers also muted the voices of conservatives who were more critical of Israel.

"That was the part of the movement most skeptical of Israel and most pro-Arab," said Richard Lowry, the editor of National Review. "They are effectively out of the picture.'

Mr. Buchanan advocated closer ties between the United States and Iraq and Iran, and his past writings were criticized by some as anti-Semitic, a charge he vehemently denied. In the 1960's and earlier, the conservative movement included elements, like the John Birch Society, that were viewed as anti-Jewish.

These elements, too, have waned. Still, at times there are tensions in the pro-Israel alliance over issues like the proselytizing of Jews by fundamentalist Christians. In a recently released tape of a 1972 conversation, the Rev. Billy Graham agreed with President Richard M. Nixon that left-wing Jews dominated the news media. In an apology, Mr. Graham, now 83, said he should have disagreed with Mr. Nixon.

The pro-Israel constituency in Congress is now so broad that it transcends both party and ideology, with Representative Tom DeLay of Texas, the staunchly conservative House majority whip teaming up with Representative Tom Lantos, a Democrat of California, to introduce a resolution of solidarity with Israel.

"You have one of the most interesting political marriages of all times between the largely Jewish neoconservatives and the religious right in firm support for Israel, embodied by Bill Kristol and Gary Bauer," Mr. Wittmann said.

In fact the trajectory of the two says a lot about how the conservative movement came to support Israel.

Well before Mr. Kristol became one of Washington's most prodigious merchants of conservative ideas, his father, Irving, was an intellectual warrior from perches at journals and magazines like Commentary, Encounter and The Public Interest. He was the prototypical neoconservative who shifted from left to right as the Democratic Party moved from Hubert H. Humphrey to George McGovern.

Mr. Kristol followed in his father's footsteps. In 1972, as a student at Harvard College, he says, he handed out leaflets for Senator Henry M. Jackson's 1972 presidential run. But Mr. Jackson, a Democrat devoted to a strong military, suffered a string of defeats.

"I was generally for American strength and generally for American support for democracies around the world," Mr. Kristol said. "Support for Israel was part of that."

But soon his views led him to migrate to the Republican Party, where he eventually was chief of staff to Vice President Dan Quayle.

Mr. Kristol met Mr. Bauer when the two worked under William J. Bennett, in the Reagan Education Department, and fought together for ideas like bringing traditional family values into the classroom. They became such fast friends that for more than a decade their families have vacationed together at the Delaware shore.

Mr. Bauer, who ran unsuccessfully for the Republican presidential nomination in 2000, came to support of Israel from a different route than Mr. Kristol and represents a different strand of conservatism. "I'm a little different than some of my Republican friends," Mr. Bauer says, "in the sense that I know what it's like to grow up in a family where the paycheck lasts until about Wednesday and the bills last until Friday."

He became a Reaganite in high school when he saw Mr. Reagan's speech in 1964 for Barry Goldwater.

Mr. Bauer's support for Israel, he says, stems from both theology and ideology. "As an evangelical," he said, "I do believe the Bible is pretty clear that the land is what is called covenant land, that God made a covenant with the Jews that that would be their land."

But he also calls the United States and Israel "mutual allies" in a cold-war-style struggle between radical Islam and Western democracies.

For all their many long talks over the years, Mr. Kristol and Mr. Bauer cannot recall when they discovered their mutual commitment to Israel. But Mr. Kristol remembers asking his friend what kind of reaction his e-mail messages on the Middle East drew from his followers.

"He said, `They agree with me, and they are actually quite impassioned about it,' " Mr. Kristol recalled. "It was the first tipoff to me that it wasn't just that a lot of religious conservatives are pro-Israel, but that it was an important issue for them."

Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company

###

Printer Friendly Version E-Mail This Article

 
     
 
 

CommonDreams.org is an Internet-based progressive news and grassroots activism organization, founded in 1997.
We are a nonprofit, progressive, independent and nonpartisan organization.

Home | About Us | Donate | Signup | Archives | Search

To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good.

Copyrighted 1997-2011