Ariel Sharon prides himself on being a pioneer, Israel’s human bulldozer, the man who is always out in front, who achieves the impossible, who breaks through all barriers. Well, chalk up yet another first to this stubbornly audacious man, for Sharon is the first Israeli prime minister in Israel’s history to have caused Israel’s staunchest allies, America’s evangelical Christians, to come out against the Israeli government.
It is indeed a singular achievement to take your greatest friends and make them into enemies. Sharon has now done this twice. First, with the settler community, who were hoodwinked into believing that Sharon was their ally. But the loss of the settler community is of little concern to Sharon, who, judging from his contemptuous treatment of them, he couldn’t care less for. But when it’s 80 million American evangelicals who Sharon has alienated, maybe he should begin paying attention.
The news that CIPAC, the Christian Israel Public Affairs Committee, is now pressuring Congress to reject an Israeli government financial aid request, worth $2.2 billion, to fund the Israeli retreat from Gaza, is a grave embarrassment to the Jewish state.
Consider, if you will, an enormous group of Christian Americans, patriotic in the extreme, who have tied America’s future to Israel’s; who believe that the foremost foreign policy of the world’s foremost superpower should be to protect a small and vulnerable nation halfway across the world from the United States; who believe in Israel’s blessed place among the nations; and who believe that when the United States is not squarely behind Israel it is acting immorally. Can anyone ask for more stalwart allies than these?
But then along comes Ariel Sharon pursuing a policy that American evangelicals consider doubly blasphemous. First, they are incredulous that any Jewish government could willfully uproot Jews from their homes with army troops. Is this what the United States gives Israel billions of dollars per year in military aid for, to be used not against the terrorists, but against those who peacefully grow lettuce and tomatoes?
Second, they are astonished at Israel’s retreat before terrorism. And they see in the cowardly retreat from Gush Katif not only a sinful action against God’s chosen people, but a willful abrogation of the American-Israel alliance. Isn’t America also fully engaged in the war against terrorists? Hasn’t the United States made it clear that it will never retreat in the face of terror, that it will never withdraw from Iraq under fire, that it will “smoke out” the terrorists wherever they are? And then, along comes the Israeli government forcing its Jewish citizens to leave their homes of many decades because Hamas has taken over the surrounding area.
America’s evangelicals are smart enough to see through Ariel Sharon’s deceitful use of language. Yes, he calls this a disengagement. But who is he kidding? Does anyone seriously believe that after Israel’s flight from Gaza Israel will suddenly be disengaged from the Palestinians? That Israel will never hear from the Palestinians again? Does anyone in their right mind believe that this unilateral retreat – which is what it should really be called – will bring even a small measure of closure to the Arab-Israeli conflict, or even a diminishment of terror on the part of the Palestinians?
To be sure, while some Jews have talked themselves into the highly improbable scenario of capitulation to terror leading to a lessening of terror, America’s evangelical community has not. And now we see the sorrowful reaping of that which Sharon has so painfully sown in the form of Israel’s staunchest allies actively opposing funding to the Jewish state.
Here we have the complete reversal of the last great rupture in the America-Israel relationship which took place so memorably during the presidency of George Bush Sr. when he famously refused to grant Israel $10 billion dollars in loan guarantees to help settle hundreds of thousands of immigrants from the former Soviet Union unless Israel guaranteed that they would not be settled in Gaza, Judea or Samaria. On that occasion, Israel’s American friends were flabbergasted that an American administration could so capitulate to Arab pressure, and Bush 41 paid an enormous price in evangelical support because of his obstinacy. His abandonment by his evangelical base led in no small measure to his defeat in the polls in the 1992 presidential race.
Look now at how Sharon has completely reversed the circumstances. Now we see how Israel’s friends are pressuring the United States to refuse Israel’s request for aid in order that Israel itself be prevented from closing off these areas to Jewish settlement. Who would have believed that Ariel Sharon would one day be cast in the role of George Walker Bush, and that the American Christian community would be the ones coming to the rescue of Israel’s brave settlers.
Sharon has succeeded not only in the alienation of our foremost allies, but in completely confusing who the good guys and who the bad guys are in the eyes of the global community. People around the world are watching the forced retreat from Gaza and are concluding that these stubborn extremist settler Jews are the obstacles to peace, rather than the Palestinian gunmen who fire on them even as they are forcibly removed from their homes.
I remember that in the wake of the Jonathan Pollard spy affair the allegiance of the American Jewish community was called into question. American Jewry were puzzled that the Israeli government could have been so cavalier in having a Jewish U.S. Navy intelligence officer gather information for it, when that would reflect badly on all other Jewish personnel privy to classified information.
But this is peanuts compared to the conflicting allegiances that Ariel Sharon has now forced on all of us American Jews. Who are we supposed to support in this tragic retreat? The Israeli government, which is asking the American taxpayer for billions of dollars, or the brave settlers for whom that money will be used to throw them out of their homes?
I, for one, have no sense of conflict. While I am the proudest American and the proudest Jew, my first allegiance is neither to the United States, nor to the state of Israel, but to morality and justice. The reason I so love both the United States and Israel is because they are staunchly moral countries firmly committed to doing the right thing. And when the policies of either is wrong, we must oppose the policy and do what is right.
Israel’s humiliating and discriminatory treatment of the Jewish residents of Gaza is a moral abomination and, as such, I, as an American citizen, deplore and condemn any use of American taxpayer money to be put to this corrupt end. If Israel had requested billions of dollars to deport peaceful and patriotic Arab citizens from any part of Israel, I would fight it. The same is no less true when it seeks to uproot its most patriotic Jewish citizens. Honest Americans, committed to justice and righteousness, must combat such aberrant policies.
How tragic that Israel’s highest government official has succeeded in turning tens of millions of American Christians and Jews against Israel’s government. This is the magnitude of Sharon’s failure.