In his book In Defense of Israel, Christian Zionist minister John Hagee asserts that those who provide aid, comfort, or support to Israel may expect to receive divine blessings in return. Central to his thesis is Genesis 12:3 in which God tells the patriarch Abraham, “I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse.”
It is an undeniable fact that the man or nation that has blessed Israel has been blessed of God, and to the man or nation that cursed Israel the judgment of God came in spades. (1)
In the past four decades U.S. aid to Israel has averaged over $2.6 billion per year, according to a report compiled by the Congressional Research Service. In 2007, the Bush Administration announced it would increase the level of military assistance by $6 billion over the following decade. Built into that agreement are incremental increases expected to reach $3 billion by fiscal year 2012. In December 2009, President Obama signed on to the Bush agreement, and if left in place by succeeding administrations, the aid package will eventually result in a cumulative total of $30 billion going to Israel over the entire ten years. According to the web site If Americans Knew, our country is now estimated handing over to this small, Middle Eastern state a phenomenal $7 million per day.
But in addition to this direct aid, U.S. leaders continue to provide “indirect assistance” in a variety of forms, often to the detriment of the United States, including diplomatic cover at the U.N. In November of last year, for instance, the House of Representatives passed a resolution condemning the Goldstone Report, which had found the Jewish state complicit in war crimes, while just last month, in his speech before the U.N General Assembly, President Obama vowed “unshakeable opposition” to any efforts to “chip away at Israel’s legitimacy.” Given the magnitude of all this kindness and bounty, America should be positively rolling in blessings, but our support for Israel has brought us wars and terrorist attacks; the wars in turn have resulted in unprecedented budget deficits; and the deficits have contributed to a major economic crisis, leaving a record number of Americans now living below the poverty line.
The collapse of the housing market and the hemorrhaging of American prosperity, coupled with mounting war casualties, bad as these things may be, aren’t the only things to be considered, however. The current year, 2010, gave rise to an environmental catastrophe of staggering proportions off the Gulf Coast of the United States, the full effects of which may have yet to be seen. The BP oil spill triggered widespread wildlife die-offs, along with an upsurge in mental and physical health problems for area residents, while additionally raising questions about BP- government collusion in the violation of the constitutional rights of American citizens .
Though all of the above factors would naturally be deemed pertinent, an honest evaluation of Hagee’s theology—should one be performed—needs to do more than simply weigh the matter of “blessings” or “curses,” as the case may be. Ideally it would equally be carried out within the context of the historical research of Shlomo Sand. In his book, The Invention of the Jewish People, Sand builds a strong case that the majority of those who today call themselves Jews are descended not from the biblical Jews, but rather trace back to the medieval-era Khazars. Located in what is today southern Russia, Khazaria arose in the fourth century ce, grew into a powerful kingdom, and at one stage in its history—probably between the mid eighth to mid ninth centuries—adopted Judaism as its religion. Russian and European Jews by and large are descended from its inhabitants, says Sand. But the Israeli writer doesn’t leave it at that. If the world’s 14 million Jews come largely from the Khazars, then where, he asks, might we look for the original direct descendants of Abraham? The possible answer to that is an historical irony so consummate it could only have been turned upon the aged wheel of Chronos. Sand cites scholarly evidence pointing to the conclusion that today’s Palestinians, rather than being infinity’s latecomers, are quite possibly in fact descended from they who remained on the land after the destruction of the Temple in 70 ce—in other words, the original Judeans.
It would be prudent for the followers of Hagee and other Christian Zionist leaders to ponder these matters, and perhaps start to consider as well the possibility that in aiding and abetting Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, America, rather than drawing down God’s blessings, may in reality be on the receiving end of his curses.
America Then and Now
The first American president to give support to Israel was Harry S. Truman, who extended official recognition just eleven minutes after the Jewish state was proclaimed on May 14, 1948, doing so over the public opposition of his own secretary of state, George C. Marshall.
|Above left: In gratitude for his timely recognition of the state of Israel, Harry Truman was presented with a Menorah by Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion and Abba Eban, Israel’s ambassador to the U.S. Above right: Gen. George C. Marshall, Truman’s secretary of state, who opposed extending recognition to Israel|
But Truman was followed by Eisenhower, who pressured Israel to withdraw from the Sinai Peninsula, the Egyptian territory it had invaded in 1956 along with Britain and France; after Eisenhower came Kennedy, who demanded the Israelis allow inspections of their nuclear facility at Dimona, advising in a letter to then-Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol that, “this government’s commitment to and support of Israel could be seriously jeopardized if it should be thought that we were unable to obtain reliable information on a subject as vital to peace as the question of Israel’s effort in the nuclear field.” That communication from Kennedy was delivered to Eshkol on July 5, 1963. Four months and seventeen days later, JFK was assassinated.
The era of America’s unqualified support, for seemingly anything and everything Israel does, commenced under Kennedy’s successor, Lyndon Johnson. This became most glaringly apparent in 1967, when Israel bombed and torpedoed the USS Liberty in what is now known to have been a deliberate attack . The response of the Johnson administration was to orchestrate a cover-up that absolved Israel of any wrongdoing, establishing a pattern of U.S. subservience that has continued on through the years—to the point where we now see U.S. politicians, including our current president, presenting themselves at AIPAC conferences and breaking “all records for obsequiousness and fawning,” in the words of the Israeli writer Uri Avneri.
Given, then, that 1967 and the attack on the Liberty (2) was such a watershed point in the power dynamic developing between the two countries, it would be relevant to ask how the ensuing years have treated America, and whether or not life for the average American over this period has improved or worsened. While we can certainly point to advances in areas like medicine or computers and internet technology as life-enhancing enrichments, there are a number of key areas, such as wealth disparity or the erosion of constitutionally protected freedoms, where conditions in America have changed decidedly for the worse.
In 2009, the income gap between the richest and poorest Americans grew to its widest ever on record, according to recently released Census figures. The top-earning 20 percent of Americans received 49.4 percent of all income generated nationally. That figure compares to just 3.4 percent earned by the 46.3 million Americans (approximately 1 in 7 of the population) who live below the poverty level. Doing the math, this makes for an income disparity ratio between the richest and poorest income earners of 14.5 to 1. The Census report went on to compare that ratio to previous years. In 2008 it had stood at 13.6 to 1, but 42 years ago in 1968—one year after the bombing of the USS Liberty—it rested at just 7.69 to 1. In other words, since 1968, the income gap between rich and poor has nearly doubled.
The same period has seen a roughly comparable rise in the power of the Israeli lobby. The aforementioned report by the Congressional Research Service informs us that up until 1968, U.S. aid to Israel had been “modest,” consisting mostly of loans. But starting in 1968 it took off.
U.S. government assistance to Israel began in 1949 with a $100 million Export-Import Bank Loan. For the next two decades, U.S. aid to Israel was modest and was far less than in later years. Although the United States provided moderate amounts of economic aid (mostly loans), Israel’s main early patron was France, which provided Israel with advanced military equipment and technology. In 1962, Israel purchased its first advanced weapons system from the United States (Hawk antiaircraft missiles). In 1968, a year after Israel’s victory in the Six Day War in June 1967, the Johnson Administration, with strong support from Congress, approved the sale of Phantom aircraft to Israel, establishing the precedent for U.S. support for what later came to be referred to as Israel’s qualitative military edge over its neighbors.(3)
The report, perhaps not surprisingly, makes no mention of the attack on the Liberty, asserting instead that the increased aid was “supported by broad U.S. public opinion,” a true enough statement given that the Liberty assault, which even included Israeli gunfire upon American lifeboats, received little attention in the U.S. media—and despite the killing of 34 Americans and wounding of 174 others, American tax dollars to Israel began to flow in buckets.
Again from the Congressional Research report:
In 1971, the United States provided Israel with military loans of $545 million, up from $30 million in 1970. Also in 1971, Congress first designated a specific amount of aid for Israel in legislation (an “earmark”). Economic assistance changed from project aid, such as support for agricultural development work, to a Commodity Import Program (CIP) for the purchase of U.S. goods…Israel became the largest recipient of U.S. foreign assistance in 1974. From 1971 to the present, U.S. aid to Israel has averaged $2.6 billion per year, two-thirds of which has been military assistance. (4)
Just because the increase in aid to Israel…and the increase in income inequality… both occurred over the same time period, it does not necessarily follow that a “scientific” correlation between the two can be established. What is undeniable, however, is that American presidents and Congress members have done more than simply set our lopsided foreign policy; the very same people, so carefully vetted by AIPAC and other Zionist lobbying organizations for their fealty to Israel, have also molded our domestic programs and policies. It is also undeniable that the economic disparities created by these policies are very real and continue to the present moment. In April of this year, Businessinsider.com published what it referred to as “15 mind-blowing facts about wealth and inequality in America.” The information is presented in a series of 15 graphic charts that can be found here, but among the findings are:
- The richest 1 percent of the population now controls 33.8 percent of the nation’s wealth
- The next wealthiest segment of society, those who fall into the 90-99 percentile range, hold an additional 37.7 percent of the wealth, making for a staggering 71.5 percent of the nation’s wealth in the hands of just 10 percent of the population
- By contrast, the bottom 50 percent of the population possesses only 2.5 percent of the wealth (5)
But economic disparity isn’t the only unpleasant change to come about over the past four decades. The same span of years has seen the passage of draconian laws and damaging Supreme Court decisions that have eroded the constitutional freedoms of the American people. These would include the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 , a measure which provided for physical and electronic surveillance to be carried out without oversight from a standard court of law, instead setting up a special FISA Court to hold secret, ex parte meetings for purpose of considering requests for surveillance warrants. In 1996 came the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, limiting circumstances under which a writ of habeas corpus could be filed, followed by the Patriot Act in 2001, under which law enforcement agencies were given greater powers to monitor telephone, email, medical, financial and other records of private citizens. The trying of “enemy combatants” in special military courts was provided for under the Military Commissions Act of 2006 , further eroding habeas corpus rights of individuals, including American citizens, while the following year, 2007, saw passage of the Protect America Act , which amended the FISA Act of 1978, allowing for even greater government surveillance powers. The list could go on. Even the scant protections offered by the secret FISA Court went out the window when former President George W. Bush signed an executive order authorizing the National Security Agency to conduct surveillance of certain phone calls without obtaining warrants, while the Obama Administration, following in the path of its predecessor, has favored granting immunity to AT&T and other telecommunications companies against lawsuits filed over the affair.
More recently we have seen the Supreme Court decision in Wilner vs. National Security Agency in which the court overruled the release of information concerning surveillance carried out against 23 attorneys representing prisoners at Guantanamo, while just last month in Minneapolis and Chicago FBI agents raided the homes of antiwar activists. The raids were carried out on September 24—just one day after Obama made his speech at the UN vowing “unshakeable opposition” to any efforts to “chip away at Israel’s legitimacy.” Agents went through personal belongings, carrying off items such as computers, books, papers, and phones. Most of the activists seemed to have organized, or at least attended, protests at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul in 2008, while at least two were long-time Palestine solidarity activists. The raids prompted Antiwar.com contributor Paul Craig Roberts to write a column entitled“It is official: the US is a police state.” Under current law, even the activities of nonviolent activists may be equated with providing “material support of terrorism,” says Roberts, who adds: “America, as people of my generation knew it, no longer exists.”
The inescapable truth of Roberts’ observation is probably nowhere more apparent than in attitudes toward torture. A poll taken by the Pew Research Center in April 2009 found that nearly half of all Americans think torture is either often (15%) or sometimes (34%) justified. This compares to those who responded that torture could rarely (22%) or never (25%) be justified. (6) Such numbers would have been unthinkable in the JFK years. Yet even more striking is a separate Pew study, entitled “The Religious Dimensions of the Torture Debate,” that examined views on torture held by a) white evangelical protestants, b) white non-Hispanic Catholics, c) white mainline Protestants, and, d) the “religiously unaffiliated.” (The study did not look at views on torture held by American Jews, which may or may not reveal a bias on Pew’s part). Among the findings: 62 percent of group a, the white evangelical protestants, held that torture can often (18%) or sometimes (44%) be justified, compared to those who said it could rarely (17%) or never (16%) be justified. Support for torture was second highest among white Catholics (19% often, 32% sometimes, 27% rarely, and 20% never), followed by mainline Protestants (15% often, 31% sometimes, 22% rarely, and 31% never), and lastly the unaffiliated group (15% often, 25% sometimes, 29% rarely, and 26% never). (7)
The vanished America once known by Roberts’ generation is evident in other ways as well. It was the year 2004 that news broke of U.S. soldiers using torture against prisoners, giving rise to what Pew referred to as “the torture debate.” But it wasn’t until last year we discovered—by means of a leaked International Committee of the Red Cross report—that American doctors had rendered assistance in the torture sessions. The role of the doctors seems to have been to keep the prisoners alive at least long enough to extract information, a facilitation that was described as “a gross breach of medical ethics.” Much of this took place at the Guantanamo prison camp in Cuba.
Prisons have also become an issue here at home. Not surprisingly (given passage of the draconian slate of legislation outlined above) the years 1967 to the present have seen a dramatic increase in numbers of Americans incarcerated. The U.S. now holds the dubious distinction of topping all other countries on earth in numbers of people it imprisons. According to a study released in June by the Center for Economic and Policy Research, we not only have the highest national percentage of population incarcerated, but the highest ever recorded even in our own history.
In 2008, over 2.3 million Americans were in prison or jail, and one of every 48 working-age men was behind bars. These rates are not just far above those of the rest of the world, they are also substantially higher than our own long-standing historical experience. (8)
The study found that from 1880 to 1970 incarceration rates in America ranged roughly between 100 and 200 per 100,000 of population. But with the year 1980 a steep rise began to be seen, the prison and jail population growing much more rapidly than the overall population. In 1980, the incarceration rate stood at about 220 per 100,000. By 1990 the figure had grown to 458 per 100,000, and in 2000 had reached 683 per 100,000. In 2008, the latest year for which figures are available, the number was 753 per 100,000, the highest rate in the world—higher than Russia and Rwanda, which ranked second and third respectively, and more than three times higher than any other western democracy.
In 1948 when Harry Truman extended recognition to Israel, the United States, despite its many flaws (and there indeed were many), was one of the most respected and admired nations in the world. Today, as we have witnessed, it is now possible for a U.S. president to visit a foreign country and have shoes hurled at him in anger—with the thrower of the shoes elevated to the status of international folk hero by consequence. I am not suggesting that Israel is responsible for every single one of America’s problems to arise in the past four decades. We obviously would have faced a variety of troubles and difficulties, such as environmental concerns, either with or without our Israeli entanglement. But how the history of the past 40-plus years would have been different had AIPAC never gained such political clout, and what the country would look like today, are questions that certainly bear careful reflection. Would 911 have happened? Would we now be at war in Iraq and Afghanistan? Where America will find itself in another 40 years if the “special relationship” continues is another aspect to be considered, though here even more extensive speculation would have to be employed.
If, however, our purpose is strictly an appraisal of the “blessings” promised in Christian Zionist theology, then clearly it can be stated we don’t seem to be accumulating many. On the other hand, the “curses” do seem to be mounting up.
Coming in part 2 of this series: a closer look at Genesis 12:3, Shlomo Sand’s The Invention of the Jewish People, and Hagee’s leadership role in the Christian Zionist movement.
1. John Hagee, In Defense of Israel: The Bible’s Mandate for Supporting the Jewish State, FrontLine, 2007, p. 111.
2. Web sites with excellent information on the attack, including timelines of events, are If Americans Knew, The USS Liberty Memorial site , and The USS Liberty Memorial Database and Historic site
3. Jeremy M. Sharp, “U.S. Foreign Aid to Israel,” Congressional Research Service, Sept. 16, 2010, p. 21. Available here
4. Ibid, p. 21-22
5. Gus Lubin, “15 Mind-Blowing Facts About Wealth and Inequality in America,”Business Insider, April 9, 2010
6. “Public Remains Divided Over Use of Torture,” Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, April 23, 2009
7. “The Religious Dimensions of the Torture Debate,” The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, May 7, 2009. The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life is affiliated with the Pew Research Center and describes itself as offering a “neutral venue” for discussions and research on “important aspects of religion and public life in the U.S. and around the world.”
8. John Schmitt, Kris Warner, and Sarika Gupta, “The High Budgetary Cost of Incarceration,” Center for Economic and Policy Research, June 2010. A summary of the report can be found here. A full PDF may be viewed here
Udate: I received a response to the above article from a reader, which I will reproduce below. I do not agree with everything he writes, although his comment about Abraham having been a Gentile at the time of the covenant in Genesis is technically correct (since there was no established Jewish religion in that day).
Mr. Hagee exemplifies the fruits of the foundational flaws of Protestantism, that heresies take root because of the insidious Protestant concept that every man is his own little Pope. This has, as one may readily observe, resulted in a surfeit of sects with mutually exclusive doctrines while, with a straight face, the proud Protestant squabblers still claim to be, not Pharisaical defectors, but “the Church.”“I will bless them that bless thee, and curse them that curse thee, and in thee shall all the kindred of the earth be blessed” Genesis 12:3
“As it is written: Abraham believed God, and it was reputed to him unto justice. Know ye therefore, that they who are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham. And the scripture, foreseeing, that God justifieth the Gentiles by faith, told unto Abraham before: In thee shall all nations be blessed.”
St. Paul further elaborates on the justification of and covenant with Abraham before he was a Jew in Romans chapter 4. As recorded in both the Old and New Testaments, God pronounced his judgment that the guilty Israelites, Scribes, and Pharisees had defected from Mosaic Law, rejected their Messiah, crucified Him, and brought upon themselves and their generations not only the temporal punishments God promised in Deuteronomy 28 and Leviticus 26 (and also: Leviticus 18:28; Numbers 14:23; Deuteronomy 4:26-27; 6:18; 7:12; Deuteronomy 30; Ezekiel 13:9; Jeremias 7:15; 29:13-14), but also the judgment of Hell.