Beware of evangelicals who love Israel, loathe Jews

How long will it be before Jews learn that many Christians who are most ardent in their love of Israel don't have much fondness for Jews?

That issue came into focus again last week when the National Archives released a new batch of tapes from Richard Nixon's darkly shadowed White House.

Most news stories focused on Nixon's casual reference to using nuclear weapons in Vietnam, but the Jewish community's attention was captured by something else: anti-Semitic comments by the Rev. Billy Graham, the world's best known evangelical leader and an icon of Christian moderation. (Last week the evangelist issued a statement apologizing for the comments but insisting he did not remember making them).

Graham, friend and adviser to numerous presidents, told Nixon how Jews liked him because he was pro-Israel, even though he didn't think much of them.

The revelations came as the Israeli government is once again cranking up efforts to mobilize backing from conservative Christians here.

But as the Graham tapes illustrate, that support is problematic. Israel, and especially Israeli leaders who see no prospect of peace, fit neatly into the evangelicals' prophetic beliefs. But Jews themselves may be a different story.

The allure of the Christian Zionists for many pro-Israel Jews is understandable, if shortsighted.

Much of the Christian world is hostile to the Jewish state, including mainstream Protestant groups such as the National Council of Churches, which find fault with every Israeli policy but which have a seemingly endless tolerance for violence against Jews.

The Christian Zionists have a different view.

They see Arabs as literally satanic and Israel's existence as a biblical necessity.

Many of them agree with a militant, tiny fringe of Jews that Israel should retain every inch of land captured in 1967 — indeed, that such a greater Israel is biblically mandated. They have no objections to settlements; they demand Jerusalem remain entirely in Israeli hands.

And like the Jewish right, many of them vehemently oppose the land-for-peace negotiations that looked like the answer to the region's seemingly endless woes after 1993.

Most Israeli governments, especially those on the right, have actively courted this segment of American society — for political support and for tourism — and the current government is no exception. Recently it began yet another major outreach to the Christian conservatives.

But motives do matter. And the motives of the Christian Zionists are anything but benign.

To a great extent, their love for Israel stands alongside their dislike of Jews. Jews, in their view, are mere cannon fodder for the Apocalypse.

Much of their support derives from biblical prophecies that — they say — describe the role of Jews in the "end times" before the return of Jesus.

Jerusalem must be in Jewish hands, they argue; Israel will be offered a "false peace," but it will just be a trick by Satan. War is inevitable; the land will be engulfed in flames, great forces will clash on Israeli soil and in the end, all but a remnant of Jews will die in a great new Holocaust.

And that remnant, of course, will see the error of their ways and convert to Christianity. Jerusalem will be saved — not for the Jews but for Jesus, who will use it as the seat of his "millennial kingdom."

This thinking makes the most incredible contradictions perfectly logical to the Christian Zionist.

It is possible to "love" Israel while ardently praying for its fiery demise as an independent, Jewish land.

It is possible to "love" Jews while believing they will march in lockstep to their ultimate destruction or conversion.

It is possible to see terrorism and suffering as welcome birth pangs of the messiah — made even easier by the fact that someone else is doing the suffering.

For years, the Israeli government has chosen to ignore the motives of these supporters. Senior diplomats are posted to Washington to handle relations with them; Israeli government representatives set up booths at evangelical conventions seeking political support, as well as tourism dollars. Some Israeli prime ministers — Benjamin Netanyahu is a good example — developed close personal ties to many Christian Zionist leaders.

Billy Graham's comments shed important light on the subject.

Graham , after complaining about the Jewish "stranglehold" on the media — and offering a chilling suggestion that Nixon might be able to do something about it after his re-election in 1972 — said that "they swarm around me and are friendly to me. Because they know that I am friendly to Israel and so forth. But they don't know how I really feel about what they're doing to this country."

In other words, Jews are chumps who will stand with the people who dislike them, as long as those people publicly support Israel.

That dynamic was operative in 1972, when Graham made his comments to an anti-Semitic president, and they are operative in 2002, when a besieged Israel is once again seeking support from Christian Zionists who love Israel for all the wrong reasons.