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. raceofvipers

    i just cited a bunch of verses from the Soncino edition of the Babylonian talmud....and of course, they are "awaiting moderation"...we shall see!....lol.

    April 2, 2011 at 4:58 pm |
  2. jmadey

    its sickening when a news anchor or a pundit refers to israel as the only democracy in the middle east. you tell the palestinian farmer whos' olive trees just got uprooted to make way for the great wall of zionist shame to be built, this is the only democracy in the middle east. what a joke.

    April 2, 2011 at 4:51 pm |
  3. raceofvipers

    Have any of you philo-semites ever asked yourself WHY the jews were kicked out of 100+ nations over the course of 1000+ yrs? If a man gets kicked out of 100 different bars over the course of several years, is it really the bartenders? hmmmmm, i think it may be the obnoxious drunk. IT IS JUDAISM that forever keeps them as a hostile, parasitic minority...the talmud has 26 volumes of instructions on how to decieve and rob and murder non-jews....but dont take my word for it....READ IT.

    April 2, 2011 at 4:37 pm |
  4. Dot44

    Huckabee, Palin, & Romney are completely STUPID for going to Israel and being friendly to the greatest threat to world peace ever created. Tea Party hates all three of you idiots.

    April 2, 2011 at 1:20 pm |
  5. Fools Follow me So Saith the Lord your God

    I love Israel and like welfare recipients here in the US I want them to stand proud on their own. I want them to stop accepting the welfare money we (taxpayers not by choice) give to them every single year. I say stand up say no to welfare and make it on your own because you will feel much better and proud in doing so.

    April 2, 2011 at 1:05 pm |
  6. Fools Follow me So Saith the Lord your God

    Fools, simple minded fools who need a god

    April 2, 2011 at 12:59 pm |
  7. Jordan

    LONG LIVE ISRAEL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    April 2, 2011 at 12:13 pm |
  8. TheTruth

    First off its not ALL Jews. It is the Zionist Jews whom hide behind the religion and cause chaos. It's the Zionist who play the anti-semetic card in order to justify their awful behavior. The Bible says "There are those who say they are Jews but are the synagogue of Satan."
    Though I totally agree with most posts that the U.S. should not be influenced by Israel. It embarrasses me to see our leadership bow down to these imposters of Judaism. They influence our Government at ALL levels who in turn send the innocnet Men and Women who wear the uniform into harms way thus coming back in body bags, mental/physical ailments then having our OWN Government via the V.A. tell these brave souls "Sorry I can't help you" or nickel and dime their life long injuries. If you are Veteran you can go to ANY service organization i.e. VFW, DAV, American Legion for help......But if you are NOT a Jew you cannot use the Service Organizations as the Jewish Veterans of America or the Jewish Veterans of Foreign Wars. Simply amazing the things we put up with...simply amazing! Selling this Nation out!

    April 2, 2011 at 11:17 am |
  9. KeithTexas

    If the Jews don't back you there is not much chance of getting elected.

    April 1, 2011 at 11:35 pm |
  10. Manny Pereira

    Even though I have known that America was controlled by Isrealis jews, I have to admit that this article is the scariest, most haunting and dreadful thing I have read since a Stephen King Novel. It is clear that America and the American people have been taken hostage and are oblivious to it, but what they dont know is that real jews cannot live amongst non believers and thus someone has got to go? I hope I am alive to see the blood pour from Isreal when the Arab world comes to free their brothers, its due soon.

    April 1, 2011 at 7:54 pm |
  11. Thomas

    Israel is our friend, not our foe. Although they were the only nation on earth that would kill their God, they will one day repent and return to the Abrahamic covenant. Secularism has done a good job of parting the Red Sea, but in the end times, which is now, His sheep will hear His voice and they will be gathered into one fold, regardless of what's going on in the world. The keys of the Priesthood are now restored to the earth again and as Daniel prophesied the Church of Jesus Christ is the stone cut without hands and will become a great mountain that will fill the whole earthl. Nothing will stop God from keeping his promises to Israel and those who repent and become the covenant people of the Lord. Nothing. Daniel also mentions that God will set up a Kingdom which shall never be destroyed. He who hath ears to hear, hear.

    March 31, 2011 at 7:08 pm |
  12. Greg s

    American soldiers have never spilt a single drop of blood for Israel, And have never been asked too,

    We took Texas from Mexico in a war, Based on the worlds opinion of Israel we should give back Texas, If Mexico starting shooting Missiles and Mortars into Texas would that convince us to give it back. Or, Would America respond in the same way Israel responds when Hamas shoots missiles into Israel. We cant demand Israel give back land they took in war started by the people who lost the land, If we do we are truly hypocrites.

    March 31, 2011 at 5:54 pm |
  13. John

    Why is it when someone says something against the state of Israel they are anti-Semites?

    March 31, 2011 at 5:52 pm |
    • leo

      Ask them.

      April 1, 2011 at 7:15 am |
    • flydog

      They're not, but that's how it looks and feels and there's nothing you can do to change it. Read my post above.

      April 1, 2011 at 5:37 pm |
    • amjp

      flydog – I basically agree with what you've been saying, but what galls me are those, particularly in Israel (increasingly) and in the American Jewish community who malign anyone who criticizes the current Israeli government even though they may criticize a US administration regularly. The current Israeli government is not the state of Israel, but if it continues in the direction it has been headed there may not be a democratic Israeli state for too much longer. The only options may be an Arab majority state because of demographics or an Israeli theocracy. Negotiations and peace are the only paths to the preservation of Israel as a Jewish state.

      April 2, 2011 at 1:17 pm |
  14. Thurman

    I have NOTHING against friendship with Israel, or ANY OTHER
    country that wants to be friendly with us. But this butt kissing
    of israeli politicians by the spineless wannabes in this country is

    I'd prefer that they kissed Brazilian butts - the women are
    MUCH prettier.

    March 31, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
    • flydog

      Israel has turned into a scapegoat that apparently legitimizes anti-semitism and jew hatred. The world has forgotten that the Jews were the most hated nation for centuries. And if the world sees in Israel a legit case for criticism that bears a nasty odor of something else, I have to open your eyes. Jewish people didn't forget (unlike the others) the last 2000 years of persecution, oppression, eviction and mass murder in the name of God, national pride or whatever. So you know what? Nothing's gonna help, the more you criticize and judge Israel, the more rigid and proud it will endure. The needed change for Israel and Israelis will have to come from within. I don't like this current Israeli government, I don't like the settlements expansion, I don't like the way Palestinians are treated, and I don’t like Sarah Palin, but I also believe that the state of Israel is a necessity, I believe in its future and in its strength, I believe it's an essential for the survival of the Jewish nation worldwide. And whatever dirt you people spill on Israel doesn't matter a bit – it just proves my point.

      April 1, 2011 at 5:31 pm |
    • flydog

      And dude – it had nothing to do with your post. Though i must disagree – brazilian butts are overrated, and Israeli chicks are super hot!

      April 1, 2011 at 5:35 pm |
  15. Anonymous

    I'm sick of all you anti-semites posting on CNN. Why don't you all crawl back into the ugly hole you came from.

    March 31, 2011 at 5:35 pm |
    • muslim

      I am also all the muslim hatred that is expressed day after day, month after month, year after year

      April 1, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
    • amjp

      That's not anti-Semitism, it's anti the current Israeli government which is ridiculously intransigent. It's the same vicious smear used against all the "pro-peace, pro-Israel" organizations I support, such as Americans for Peace Now, Rabbis for Human Rights, J Street, etc. What the AIPAC lovers won't admit is that the majority of American Jews support a peaceful solution and are against the settlements. What Palin et al. don't realize is that Netanyahu is and always has been a secular – not a religious – Jew. He's just in bed with the ultra-Orthodox for political reasons. It's all opportunism par excellence. Shabbat Shalom!

      April 2, 2011 at 1:08 pm |
  16. Brian

    Washington is controlled from Tel Aviv

    March 31, 2011 at 5:32 pm |
    • Dave

      That's odd, since Israel's government is in Jerusalem.

      April 1, 2011 at 1:15 pm |
    • Lior

      That's funny, Israeli's are convinced the Washington controls Jerusalem.

      April 1, 2011 at 2:41 pm |
    • Heem

      Glad to see Americans finally waking up, if Romney is elected President the world will collapse. If you let israel do what it wants America will continue to decline. How come we continue to fund terrorists like the israli and saudi's?

      April 2, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
  17. MCR5

    Memo to Israel and the GOP. I will not die for Israel.

    March 31, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
  18. los angeles

    it is a shame, America has no capable and able true leader/statesmen. American wanna be leaders have no back bone and their actions especialy towards Israel are contrarious to the very core of our democracy. The second sad part of it all are the ignorant masses that vote for these morans and bigots. I guess in a quirky way the elected do represent their masses. Unfortunately, America is slipping down an ugly slide and headed towrds an isolated future, thanks to the Christian american zionists.

    March 31, 2011 at 4:35 pm |
  19. Al

    Its pathetic how a "state" in the Middle East has to hold an American political party in check. More than Christian Zionism, its an effective way to raise money through American Jewish Lobbyists to provide for a viable candidacy. The mess that country has created.

    March 31, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
    • NightLynx

      Yeah, Stn, the "people who surround" Israel are clearly ingrates who don't "appreciate" it when Israel ethnically cleanses them, imposes apartheid on them, steals their land and homes, builds Jewish-only roads and colonies on their land, destroys their crops and livelihoods, builds 30-foot walls around their towns, bombs them, starves them, kidnaps them, humiliate them, and tortures them. If only they would accept all this from Israel, then there would be peace.

      April 1, 2011 at 3:23 pm |
    • flydog

      NightLynx – you use premeditated slogans that carry a lot of weight but i'm afraid you don't really understand what you are saying. You hear what the media feeds you, you're based on propaganda, but you're not aware of any real facts, you cannot provide any real data. There's a measurement for everything and when you lose the perspective – you lose the benefit of an open mind.

      April 1, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
    • Erwin

      I agree with with Nightlynx and Al. Flydog is the one who is confused. Propaganda has hit Flydog so hard that he is completely blind now.

      April 1, 2011 at 6:33 pm |
  20. danel

    Any presidential wanabee wants to flaunts their Israeli fonafides are not worth the paper it's written on. People this is United States of America not United States of Israel. If they are getting their marching orders over there that means American's interest is doomed.

    March 31, 2011 at 3:45 pm |
    • standingwave

      Gotta wonder who these American politicians are really loyal to.I believe atheists would be more likely to represent all Americans than a Christian would,if a situation occured where the choice would have to be made.

      March 31, 2011 at 9:41 pm |
    • Dot44

      As a Tea Party supporter I will vote for Obama any day over these Israel shills. They are completely out of their minds if they think they represent the Tea Party and its values. Rand Paul for president.

      April 2, 2011 at 1:25 pm |
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