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. Arjay

    I figured that Capitol Hill was Isaeli-occupied territory; now they've taken Iowa and moved it to Tel Aviv! Presidential wannabes need Israeli approval – seriously??? Whether or not you support Israel, the Arab cause, the Palestinians, the Second Coming, or a pet rock, American politics should remain American.

    March 31, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
  2. John

    The bedding of Israeli interests and christian fundamentalism is thoroughly obscene. Israel is a worthless stolen nation that leeches off the United States and does nothing in return except further distance us from possible Arabic alliances. The power that Israel wields over our Democracy is evident in the miss-appropriation of wealth, while our children are treated to a public education not worthy of circus animals, Israel has our defense industry pumping out fighter jets at 350 million each, and it's no surprise they have the most powerful military on earth.

    March 31, 2011 at 3:04 pm |
  3. av

    It's quite simple....all you need to is look at the facts, be honest about the situation and then you will know why it's important to support Israel.

    March 31, 2011 at 2:30 am |
  4. Derek

    The Jews are in control of America they own the Fed Reserve Bank, the Media and Jewish AIPAC uns the government even Ariel Sharon the former PM of Israel said "Don't worry about America we tell them what to do!"


    March 31, 2011 at 12:37 am |
  5. John

    Ruth, the only garbage being posted in this forum is the one by unpatriotic americans such as yourself. Seriously, when are you going to stop the lies? "The settlements don't stand in the way of peace". This is a statement by someone who is delusional. Settlements are ticking time bombs. When our politicians go over there to campaign for office we have a serious problem – a) they are indirectly supporting a country that displaces Christians and Muslims and b) what the hell are our candidates doing mining for support in another country when they should be appealing to us by coming up with better policies that help our country. Israel is not needed from a security policy standpoint any more... Just look at the changing tide in Egypt, Tunisia and soon Libya.

    March 31, 2011 at 12:02 am |
  6. Fritz


    Here is Jesus' facebook page

    March 30, 2011 at 10:34 pm |
  7. Ares

    And we're supposed to believe that these lapdogs are going to fix Washington so that it better serves the American people? They're just another group of kosher-approved marionettes, like Obama. America should come first, not Israel or any other country.

    March 30, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
  8. Joe

    Yeah, right! Jews supporting GOP in their un-Holy work!

    March 30, 2011 at 4:05 pm |
  9. PJ

    Old flipflop Romney will do anything for publicity. God help us if he is our international representative. He'll be asking the Chief Bishop for instructions.

    March 30, 2011 at 2:42 pm |
  10. Ruth

    The settlements do not stand in the way of peace. They are used as a talking point by the Palestinians. If the Palestinians wanted peace there would be peace, and no settlements. Palestinians do not want peace.

    March 30, 2011 at 1:52 pm |
    • SD-mouth

      Ruth, thhis is BS and you know it. Israel has been taking away land. if someone cvame into your house and forcible removed you you would not say "take my house, i only want peace". Palestinians have been screwed since the UN gave the land to Isreal. Israel expanded by war and occupation ever since. if it were not for the biggest loby in the US of A, Israel would be where it was in 1948.
      AND I say this as an EX-Jew!!!! but not a Zionist.

      March 30, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
    • toronto fan

      I would disagree in that it is not the Palestinians that don't want peace. It suits the major Arab states to leave them in the camps and use them as 'martyrs' for the cause. There were more jews expelled from the Arab communties in the time shortly after the State of Israel was founded than ran from the war of 1948.

      Where are those people, you say?? Where are THEIR camps?? Oh right, THERE AREN'T ANY. And why is that you ask?

      That's because they were absorbed immediately, at considerable expense to the fledgling state. Yes, and plenty emigrated to the US, Canada, South America. They had their lives, and with life you can start anew. They lost homes, business, bank accounts that they were forced to leave behind without selling. The state appropriated these items and funds. When are they going to give back there money and esates?? Those items were stolen!!

      It is unfortunate that the taunt 'racist' should really apply to the Arabs, as each tribe looks down upon each other. The Alwaites, Sunnis, and Shia all look down on each other and refuse to give fellow co-religionists citizenship. Jordan has a huge Palestinian community yet refuses to give them citizenship. Others allow emigres to live among them but refuses citizenship.

      Israel managed to absorb the Sephardic Jews who were foced to leave Israel, and they have managed to make something of their lives. There is no reason why that could not have happened to the Palestinians, but it's always somebody else's fought, never their's!!

      March 31, 2011 at 1:03 am |
  11. james

    it always strikes me as strange when supposedly Christian GOP leaders support Israeli military action that targets Christians as well as Muslims, such as the air attacks on Christian areas in Beirut in 2006 or against Christian civilians in Palestine. Even stranger considering how the Christian Lebanese groups are one of Israels only arab allies.

    March 30, 2011 at 5:41 am |
    • Ruth

      You need to learn some history. Israel and Christian Lebanese have been allies for decades. They are fighting Hizbollah together. Get your facts before you post garbage.

      March 30, 2011 at 1:53 pm |
    • Ares

      Israel totally controls America. Nothing is done without their approval. That's why this nation is in the toilet.

      March 30, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
  12. Blair

    It is simple. It is for votes and votes alone. What a scam. How long are we going to fall for this? Wake up!

    March 29, 2011 at 10:29 pm |
    • Scott

      You are right, Blair .... The Dems have never done anything for the sole purpose of getting votes.

      March 29, 2011 at 11:28 pm |
    • james

      Scott, in fact the dems are about as pro-Israel as the GOP

      March 30, 2011 at 5:43 am |
    • SD-mouth

      Maybe they are all getting their foreign policy resumes upgraded so they "can see Israel" from anywhere. these are shallow inexperienced and not very smart people with an agenda that uses religion as a fear tool. typical religionous practice over the centuries no matter which one it is.

      March 30, 2011 at 4:31 pm |
  13. annieLD

    A very dangerous mix of religion and poliitics.

    March 29, 2011 at 6:12 pm |
  14. Iqbal Khan

    Check this...

    March 29, 2011 at 5:20 pm |

    Ms. Powers in white House is pushing Obama against Israel for Palestinians

    March 29, 2011 at 5:14 pm |

    where is Obama on Israel, looks like the USA is putting Israel in a position to be attacked

    March 29, 2011 at 5:10 pm |
  17. Cadmus

    The Jews people are great people, but what the Zionist are doing in the region is a complete hijacking to the good spirit of the ancient people.
    1- The Zionist nuclear project and campaign under the table in a very narrow region.
    2- The Zionist political conspiracy, triple face standard.
    3- The Zionist lies about the real threats in the middle East, generating a blind support to their violations.
    4- The Zionist deportation for millions of Palestinians, almost 500,000 only to Lebanon and using air force to eleminate them.
    5- The Zionist continues air space violation and occupation to Lebanese land.
    6- The Zionist provocative policy against the hard work of more than 30,000 UN and Lebanese forces to secure the northern borders of Israel, which is much safer than many locations inside Israel.

    March 29, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
    • Ruth

      Love the way you started that off with "the Jews are great people". That doesn't make any less of aJew hater.

      1. How many nuclear bombs has Israel used?
      2. Who was deported? Convicted terrorists?
      3. Northern Israel is safe? Have you ever been there? They live in bomb shelters half the time.
      4. What lies about threats?
      5. How about Hizbollah's invasion of Lebanon and massacering of Christian Lebanese?
      I suspect you are an Al Quaeda representative trying to throw smoke in peoples eyes.

      March 30, 2011 at 1:58 pm |
  18. Futon Torpedo

    Huckabee giving his opinion about settlement issues in Palestine is as responsible as smoking in a kerosene factory.

    March 29, 2011 at 10:08 am |
    • toronto fan

      and about as useful! We don't live there, and until you have you have no idea what it is live under the constant threat of rockets, war and suicide terrorists. I do not like saying this, but it will take more events like 811 to make the US wake up. Israel faces threats like that every day.

      March 31, 2011 at 12:47 am |
  19. Beka

    WOW do they realize there needs to be 7 years of world wide peace before the AntiChrist and Second/First coming of the Messiah comes to save them from having to live on the beautiful Earth that they are destroying? That will never happen, so its such a waste of time to cater to the Israelis because Jerusalem being united is a moot point...I wonder if the republicans or whatever lable they are using these days know that Israel isnt a state in our union?

    March 29, 2011 at 9:37 am |
    • truesoy

      ..or maybe they are not aware that the U.S. is not an state of Isreal?

      March 29, 2011 at 10:27 am |
  20. JJ

    So now the GOP considers that a TERRORIST GOVERNMENT that slaughters children and toddlers in cold blood is their "Iowa" for getting into the White House? That is just DISGUSTING.

    March 29, 2011 at 8:42 am |
    • lol

      The last time I heard some news about cold murder of children it was perpetuated against an Israeli family that was murdered with a knife in their house, 4 or 5 of them, including a baby and a young child.

      March 29, 2011 at 7:46 pm |
    • james

      lol, while those recent murders of the settler family were indeed barbaric, the current ratio of Palestinian civilian deaths to Israeli civilian deaths over the last decade is close to 100 to 1.

      I just wish the murderers from both sides could be neutralized, as happened in Northern Ireland.

      March 30, 2011 at 5:46 am |
    • Robert maksoud

      the Jews have to do what it takes in order to live in the mid east Arabs can not be trusted look what they did to the Christians in Lebanon. you do what it takes to survive.

      March 31, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
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