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My Take: Israel is the new Iowa for GOP presidential hopefuls
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in January.
March 18th, 2011
06:00 AM ET

My Take: Israel is the new Iowa for GOP presidential hopefuls

Editor's Note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.

By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN

American politicians used to travel to Iowa and New Hampshire, home to the first presidential caucuses and primary, to test the waters for a White House bid. In this election cycle, however, Israel is the place to tip your toe in those waters, at least for Republican hopefuls.

In recent months, Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, Haley Barbour and Rudy Giuliani have all visited the Holy Land. Yesterday, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin announced that she will be traveling to Israel over the weekend to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Palin, who was attacked during her 2008 vice-presidential bid for lacking foreign policy experience, has beefed up her travel resume over the last couple years. In 2009 she visited U.S. troops in Kosovo and Germany and addressed a conference of investors in Hong Kong.

Last year she traveled with the Rev. Franklin Graham to Haiti.

She is slated to speak in New Delhi this weekend, stopping in Israel on Sunday and Monday on her way home. In addition to meeting with Netanyahu, she is scheduled to make a pilgrimage to the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem and to Nazareth, the home of Jesus. (No word yet on whether she will be able to see the Temple Mount from her hotel room.)

The trip may be penance of sorts for Palin’s use of the term “blood libel” to describe commentators, like myself, who placed some  blame for the Arizona shootings on the hateful rhetoric of right-wing pundits. The phrase is freighted with painful meaning for Jews, who'd been accused for centuries of murdering non-Jews and drinking their blood for ritual purposes.

But Palin's trip is also an effort to demonstrate her bona fides as a yet another conservative Christian lover of Israel.

Israel is of course a longstanding U.S. ally. But it also plays a special place in the end times theological visions of American fundamentalists. Many conservative Christians in the United States read the founding of the state of Israel in 1948 as paving the way for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. And today many are convinced on the basis of various passages in the biblical book of Genesis  that all nations will be judged in accordance with how they treat Israel.

These theological visions come from many sources, including: apocalyptic books of the Bible from Daniel to Revelation; a nineteenth-century viewpoint on the end of times known as dispensational premillennialism; and images of the so-called “rapture” popularized in novels such as Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth (1970) and the more recent Left Behind series.

Christian Zionism has been denounced as unbiblical and even unchristian by some Christian groups, including the National Council of Churches, but it has become an orthodoxy of sorts among Republican social conservatives. “To stand against Israel is to stand against God,” the Rev. Jerry Falwell wrote in 1981, and today Republicans angling for the Oval Office are racking up frequent flyer miles to Israel to prove that they stand with God.

Supporting Israel no longer seems to be enough, however. After all, Democrats do that, too. It is now essential for Republican politicians to stand for Israeli settlements, even if those settlements stand in the way of peace.

Precisely where God comes out for the building of Israeli settlements on land formerly controlled by Palestinians is not clear to me, but the Republican parade to the Holy Land seems united in its view that Obama’s efforts to curtail those settlements are wrongheaded at best and sinful at worst.

During one of his many visits to Israel, Huckabee actually referred to bans on settlements as “apartheid.” “To tell Jewish people, ‘You cannot live here, you cannot raise your children here,’ this is the true racism, this is apartheid,” Huckabee said. In her own show of support for settlements, Palin is scheduled to meet with Danny Danon, a pro-settlements Knesset member.

It should be noted that Palin and Huckabee are taking up positions here far to the right of Ronald Reagan, who saw settlements as a roadblock to peace, and George W. Bush, whose compromise position was to build existing settlements up but not out.

American political junkies have been frustrated with Republican presidential hopefuls playing hard to get. Why don't Romney and Palin and everyone else just announce they're running for president and be done with it?

For now, if you want to know which Republicans have their eyes on the White House prize, don't look to Iowa or New Hampshire. Look to Israel. And listen to what they say about settlements.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: Church and state • Israel • Mike Huckabee • Mitt Romney • Opinion • Politics • Sarah Palin

soundoff (193 Responses)
  1. Apotropoxy

    Sub-head: "Israel is the new Iowa for GOP presidential hopefuls"
    ______________________________________________________________________________________________

    Nah... Israel has far more influence on American politics than any US state.

    March 19, 2011 at 9:56 am |
  2. Frederica

    America was blessed because it defended Israel. But its immorality is bring it down anyway. A real tragic story on a polluted planet. Chinese Christians will accomplish the Founding Father's dream hopefully.

    March 19, 2011 at 1:58 am |
    • Reality

      Frederica,

      Another day in the life of "bible boxed" Justina.

      March 19, 2011 at 8:01 am |
    • Frederica

      Reality, your kinds did filthiest things with my user name Justina. Shame on you and your friends.

      March 20, 2011 at 2:56 am |
  3. Tony

    Thanks ScottK

    March 18, 2011 at 8:19 pm |
  4. Mr. Sniffles

    I think it is really wonderful that the conservatives of this country keep liberalizing their opinions on what other ethnic groups are acceptable. Not that long ago they hated Jews and Catholics, and before that it was Italians and Irish. Now all those groups are accepted inmainstream conservatism.

    Really, all a group needs to become accepted by American bigots is to have a new group come along that will be the Boogey-Man-du-jour. One day, when a new "enemy" arises, Mexicans, gays, and even Islamics will be accepted.

    March 18, 2011 at 1:53 pm |
  5. more reason I can't stand conservatives

    I understand that Israel has problems but the GOP only does this to win votes from the evangelicals, who don't understand they don't they are just being taken for a ride, ironically more ways then 1. If you are so easily dupped into only beliving in the bible, why would you let the republicans dup you some more. Isn't the government supposed to be in with the devil. It should be America first before anything. If the GOP wants votes by going to Israel, then get the hell out of the United States.

    March 18, 2011 at 1:33 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      God is in control.

      Amen.

      March 18, 2011 at 1:51 pm |
    • Nonimus

      @HeavenSent,
      "God is in control."
      It's never really clear is it?
      God in control.
      You are free to choose God or sin.

      March 18, 2011 at 2:08 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Nominus,

      For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth. (Colossians 1:16).

      You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and by Your will they exist and were created. (Revelation 4:11).

      Amen.

      March 20, 2011 at 11:26 pm |
    • Sean

      Heavensent, prove it. With something more than a fairytale book. Show me, where is this imaginary friend of yours who controls everything?

      March 29, 2011 at 8:00 am |
  6. achepotle

    I wonder if Ben ordered Sarah to pack her cheerleader outfit?

    March 18, 2011 at 1:10 pm |
  7. b4bigbang

    How does Huckabee justify being a politician when he was called to be a minister of the Gospel? Has he publicly renounced his ministerial calling?

    March 18, 2011 at 11:03 am |
    • Ron

      Probably not. For Neo-Cons and such conservative Christian groups, it is viewed as their 'divine right' to control and rule.
      In their view, politics is simply a religious extension of rule and law, much like Iran and the Taliban.

      March 18, 2011 at 12:00 pm |
    • Mark from Middle River

      Yeah we all know that the Divine Right to lead comes from graduating from a Ivory League school.

      March 18, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
    • x

      @Mark from Middle River,
      "...a Ivory League school."
      Are those schools in Africa?

      March 18, 2011 at 1:45 pm |
  8. Tamerlame

    Israel destabliizes the middle east, that's why we llove them soooo much. If all the Muslim countries killed each other off, Israel would not get much money from us at all.
    Plus they got hot chicks.

    March 18, 2011 at 9:33 am |
    • x

      "Plus they got hot chicks."
      I don't know... Burqas turn me on.

      March 18, 2011 at 10:53 am |
  9. Don

    Neo-cons and dispensastionalists just use Israel for their warmongering ends.

    March 18, 2011 at 9:11 am |
    • ScottK

      Don, I agree.

      Heres how the Neo-con brain works:
      "Well the bible says there will be wars & reports of wars at the time of the end, so if we don't keep all the wars going by making weapons & selling them to our soon to be enemies then there won't be enough war for that prophecy to be true so us good Christians won't get to be raptured, dang it... so support your local warmonger, who is likely white, male, friends with Isreal (still need the middle east for the battle of Megido) and Republican..." Neat-o Neo-con

      Or...you can put asside your prophecies of doom & gloom, praying and hoping for God to smite all the yellow, black & brown people who don't believe the way you do anyway, and attempt to make peace with your neighbors, not by converting them at swordpoint, but accepting them and learning about their cultures and traditions and give them as much respect as you want them to show you.

      March 18, 2011 at 12:56 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      I can't believe this bad fig hasn't fallen from the branches already. Must be all that hot air spewing it afloat.

      Amen.

      March 18, 2011 at 1:49 pm |
  10. The Bobinator

    > Palin, who was attacked during her 2008 vice-presidential bid for lacking foreign policy experience,

    Pailin, who was attacked during her 2008 vice-presidential bid for being a complete and total twit.

    Fixed it for you.

    March 18, 2011 at 8:51 am |
    • wow

      Palin is fixing her idiotic image by creating policy with Israel. No she's trying to win votes from the most brainwashed folks here in America because Israel is the centerpiece of the apocalypse in prophecy. In an outdated book that defies logic, modern scientific discoveries and says unicorns exist. She is still a dumba**.

      March 18, 2011 at 1:48 pm |
  11. JohnR

    These Republicans want to take us back down the primrose path.

    March 18, 2011 at 8:49 am |
    • ScottK

      If by Primrose path you mean run backwards through a corn field naked, then yes, they do.

      March 18, 2011 at 12:45 pm |
  12. P

    This is a lobbying effort by certain factions within Israel's government. They are just trying to make sure the money will continue to fill their pockets and the weapons will always be the best we can supply. Because Jesus was a Jew and there are too many Christians that want to see Muslims get it in the rear from Jews. The Bible makes them do it, you see.

    March 18, 2011 at 8:40 am |
  13. Reality

    What these presidential "wannabees" should tell the leaders and people of Israel:

    Israel should honor the original UN 1948 agreement and live within the described borders. Considering the hate generated by passages in the koran and torah, erecting dividing walls between Muslims and Jews should continue and UN forces should "man" these walls.

    And Jerusalem should be made into an international city under the control and protection of the UN.

    March 18, 2011 at 7:55 am |
    • HeavenSent

      Reality. God is in control. It has all been written for those that have eyes to see and ears to hear.

      Amen.

      March 18, 2011 at 1:44 pm |
  14. Tony

    All Governments are destined to fail and collapse, is just a probable and predictable course

    March 18, 2011 at 7:15 am |
  15. Tony

    Yeap concur and rule till it will collapse...and collapse it will...its simple math... time will be up some time.

    March 18, 2011 at 7:13 am |
    • ScottK

      I would do alot more research Tony if you want to make any points here. There are so many things wrong with the history of your posts it will take too long to point them all out and correct them than I have available at the moment.
      I do love this last comment of your's though "its simple math... time will be up some time."
      In the context of any human civilization I would say you are almost correct, though not all civilizations just disapear, many just change and evolve into the next cultural habitat. But in the context of the universe, time will never be up as long as there are any moving particles left, and even then its debatable.

      March 18, 2011 at 12:43 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Oh, we should listen to one that has no eyes to see, nor ears to hear, believing propaganda hand fed.

      Amen.

      March 18, 2011 at 1:42 pm |
    • Smite Me

      @HeavenSent,

      "believing propaganda hand fed."

      Yeah, like the Bible... and the Watchmen and Darwin Fish and a few others like them.

      March 18, 2011 at 2:01 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      Ghee spite me, you're forgetting great sites like Larry Fox's and many more for Christians to sharpen their knowledge on the Lord. You're slipping (LOL).

      Amen.

      March 20, 2011 at 11:08 pm |
  16. Tony

    Yuts you are correct

    March 18, 2011 at 7:08 am |
  17. Tony

    The Gaddafi situation should have been taking care years ago when Gaddafi the murder took down Pan Am Flight 103, under President Reagan he received a hot warning, but he managed to survive till now. The Lebanese society is divided and fragmented because that is the way the Gaddafi regime managed kept it and the west allowed it. Remember that all Governments work secretly.

    March 18, 2011 at 7:07 am |
  18. Tony

    The Diaspora of the the Jews has been around since biblical times, in Russia Theodore Herzel the founder of the Zionism organized, the Zionists with the support of the Ottoman Empire settled in Palestine, then the Jews claimed independence from the ottoman empire and retained control of that part od Palestine which is now Israel, juts like the US did from England in the USA occupying the the Land from the Native Americans winch are the Indians. Israel does not belong to the Jews it never did just like America never belonged to the Europeans, theretofore the Jews will always occupy a land that Moses only was insight from afar, Jews will always be the wandering people of the world searching Moses for answers. The Jews history to manipulate and to achieve their objectives has not chanced, in fact by analyzing the State of Israel today, we see that they are a closed in society prisoners within their own castle, surrounded by a concrete wall. The Arab Israel conflicts in the middle east will never end, anyone believing that it will is an asinine.

    March 18, 2011 at 6:50 am |
    • yutz

      The concept of land ownership can only be a blind spot for those trying to negotiate. They have it now. Either land ownership means nothing or it means something. And how do you get ownership? You possess it and defend it successfully? Is that the criteria we want to use? All we have to do is invade and win and we can rule the world? Is it that simple for a simple-minded species like the human race? There is no other way to ownership? If you support an untenable position that advocates only violence, then you shouldn't be allowed at any peaceful negotiations.
      But many think that "might makes right". They could not be more wrong.

      March 18, 2011 at 6:59 am |
    • Nonimus

      "...the Zionists with the support of the Ottoman Empire settled in Palestine, then the Jews claimed independence from the ottoman empire and retained control of that part od Palestine which is now Israel..."
      My understanding was that the Allies took control of Palestinian lands after they defeated the Central Powers, including the Ottoman Empire, in WWI. Israel was formed by a declaration of independence, in 1948, from essentially the League of Nations, which had given administrative control of Palestine to the British in the British Mandate (or maybe the Balfour Declaration).
      I don't think the Ottoman Empire, which lost control of the Palestine in 1918(?) and itself dissolved in 1922, had anything to do with it.

      March 18, 2011 at 10:50 am |
  19. HeavenSent

    My question to Stephen Prothero is he a faithful servant of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ?

    Amen.

    March 18, 2011 at 6:36 am |
    • urnutz

      Aren't you supposed to be torturing him on the rack when you ask him that question?

      March 18, 2011 at 6:40 am |
    • Luke

      urnutz

      High five to you, sir.

      March 18, 2011 at 8:40 am |
    • HeavenSent

      I do believe I'll wait for the source to answer my question.

      March 18, 2011 at 1:34 pm |
    • MajorPane

      There are other ways of contacting the big troll named Prothero. He rarely posts anything under his own name.
      At least Prothero exists. That means there's an actual possibility he will respond to your silly post. Unlike Jesus, who cannot respond to your unworthy prayers. Prothero actually exists, I think. His picture says it all.

      March 18, 2011 at 2:34 pm |
    • HeavenSent

      What an appropriate handle you have there pane. I don't care to converse with a man who has no eyes to see, nor ears to hear, hence that's why he's a professor instead of a believer. I've heard many nonsensical folks in my days with their big egos arriving through the doors of their classrooms a half hour before they enter... thank you very much.

      Amen.

      March 19, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
    • I Ching

      You say you don't care to converse with a man who has no eyes and no ears, yet you can show nothing worth seeing and you say nothing worth listening to.

      March 20, 2011 at 4:57 am |
    • Nobody N. Particular

      HeavenSent,

      You show the classic blasphemy of Christians, the equating of Joshua (his real name) with God. There is only one God; the creation of the holy trinity is a fabrication of the ancient Roman Catholic Church to mirror the triumvirat of ancient Rome. Joshua was the Messiah, that is true, but that only means he was choosen by God to be a messenger. Joshua was a man, knew man’s weakness, and his strength, but ultimately believed in the potential of Mankind to be a force for good. Also, as a side note, Joshua didn’t die on the cross; he was given a solution of Mandrake and vinager which acted like a paralytic; the Roman centurian who pierced him with his spear, only did it to see if he would move, not to kill him. Remember, crusifiction was supposed to cause DAYS of suffering, yet Joshua didn’t last an afternoon. A little logic to shot down your resurrection myth, but that does not dimminsh the existance of God. Instead of serving a dead man, why not serve the one true God?

      March 21, 2011 at 2:19 pm |
    • Sean

      Why would you be a servant of some dude who's been dead for 2000 years? it makes no sense.

      March 29, 2011 at 7:52 am |
  20. Frederica

    The Jews went through such ordeals. Why can't you just be plain nice to them, you self-smart pagan Americans?

    March 18, 2011 at 6:20 am |
    • Frederica

      This is addressed to Americans who are not "conservative Christian lovers of Israel."

      March 18, 2011 at 6:27 am |
    • Mr. Sniffles

      Troll

      March 18, 2011 at 11:07 am |
    • Ron

      There is no reason one can not be friends with Israel. However, I've found that most conservative Christians support Israel, not so much because they want to be friends but because Israel is central to their "Apocalypse" beliefs. Yah can't have an ending without Israel.

      March 18, 2011 at 11:53 am |
    • Frederica

      Ron, you are wrong. We love Israel because salvation came from them( Jesus was a Jew) and they went through so much, although they are slow to recognize their Messiah. Their well-being is our happiness as God will establish against all odds.

      March 19, 2011 at 1:54 am |
    • Ron

      Frederica,
      I beg to differ. Robertson and Dobson, two of the biggest evangel leaders, have, at many times, spoken to how Israel is so important to the end "plan" of god. Perhaps you're not Evangel/Baptist but for those of these sects, it fits their mythology.

      March 19, 2011 at 7:55 am |
    • Frederica

      Ron, you will never understand the motives of Christians unless you become one. The Bible-literate Christians love the Jews and everyone else. Period. Read the Pauline Epistles in the New Testament Bible.

      March 20, 2011 at 2:59 am |
    • Nobody N. Particular

      Frederica,

      All of the world has suffered, to say the Jews suffering is greater just due to the numbers ignores the truth, there were more Russians, Roma, gay, and mentally ill killed by the Nazis than Jews. We should have welcomed them into our countries (Allied) as a displace child of God, but not take from other children of God and give it to them. That says that their value is more, which is the GREAT LIE, in the eyes of God we are all equal both in our glory and in our shame. We each face judgement based on our actions, not the actions of our parents or ancestors, we need to stop compounding our errors by refusing to see the truth when it is plainly put before us. Israel was taken from the Jews 2000 years ago because the Jews and their priests broke their convenant with God, so God withdrew his protection of Israel and that allowed the Romans to destroy the temple and scatter the people.

      March 21, 2011 at 1:56 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.