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
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been replaced by an impostor who's lost his foreign-policy bearings," The Journal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
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
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
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
"I was generally for American strength and generally for American support
for democracies around the world," Mr. Kristol said. "Support for Israel was part
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