Christian conservatives in Florida are all het up over remarks made by Mark Alan Siegel, the Palm Beach County chairman of the Democratic Party. Siegel, it appears, was not happy with his party's decision to reinsert the word "God" into the platform. Evangelical Republicans had spent a good 24 hours damning the godless Democrats for eliminating both an entirely bland and pointless reference to the Creator and a statement that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.
My own Senator, Dick Durbin, when he tried to explain away his party's gaffe, only dug the hole deeper. The Democratic leadership, understanding the price they were going to have to pay for their party's militant atheists, orchestrated the reinsertion of God and Jerusalem--though the rank-and-file did their party little good when they booed the proposal. They actually booed God!
Some Democrats apparently do not yet understand that hypocrisy, not Christianity, is the American religion. We are happy to elect godless sinners who only go to Church for weddings and funerals, so long as they make the usual noises, as the deist Lincoln did, about "the author of our being," etc. If Cardinal Dolan understood the reality of American religion, he might not have wasted breath at either convention and spared us a Christian prayer in which Christ and Abraham are put, rhetorically at least, on the same level.
Mr. Siegel is more candid. Caught off guard he responded to a reporter's question, by saying the obvious, “I’m Jewish, I’m not a fan of any other religion than Judaism.” Pressed about Christian support for Israel, he went on to declare: “The worst possible allies for the Jewish state are the fundamentalist Christians who want Jews to die and convert so they can bring on the second coming of their Lord,” and added, for good measure, the observation that Christian Zionists in the US had exerted an unwholesome pressure on the Israelis to pursue hardline policies that are antithetical to the security and existence of the Jewish state.
When the perky reporter suggested that Siegel was anti-Christian, he calmly replied that he did not believe that Fundamentalist Christians were true friends of Israel. This is a classic case of a political gaffe, so clearly defined decades ago by Michael Kinsley of The New Republic. Whenever a politician inadvertently says what he thinks or lets the truth slip out, it is called a gaffe.
The response of the Christian Right was entirely predictable: ANTI-CHRISTIAN HATE SPEECH SPEWS FROM THE PALM BEACH DEM CHAIR, screamed the headline of the website Blaze, whose editors are apparently unaware that "spew" is a transitive verb meaning something like eject.
Siegel has inevitably taken a leave of absence and apologised, but for what? For saying that as a Jew he cares about his own religion? I take my hat off to a man who prefers his own religion to any other and has the guts to admit it. He did not say he hated other religions, only that he cared only for his own. Bravo!
He obviously did not intend to attack Christians per se, only the Fundamentalists who, he claimed, only support Israel to bring on the end times, when all Jews will either convert to Christianity or die as prelude to the reign of Christ on earth. Obviously, Siegel was painting with a broad political brush. Not all Fundamentalists believe in the pre-millennialist theory of the end times, and not all pre-millennnialists are Fundamentalists. On the whole, however, his characterization is as accurate as his assessment of the impact of Christian Zionists on Israeli policy. Many Israelis agree with his assessment, and I am not sure they are wrong,
This episode brought to mind a dinner party in Tel Aviv I attended not too many years ago. The hosts were the Serbian ambassador and her husband, a distinguished Serbian writer. Among the guests were several veteran Israeli journalists, a distinguished American Jewish policy analyst and editor, and a leader of a major American Jewish Zionist organization. The trouble started when I described a trip I had made to a Jewish settlement in occupied territory.
"Occupied territory?" shouted the Zionist leader, "You mean Samaria-Galilee." This was not my fight, and I said I was happy to call the region whatever was most acceptable, but the journalists broke in to tell the American that they did not appreciate his long-distance militancy. All he wanted to do, they argued, was to create trouble in Israel, while keeping his family safely in California. They had both served in the IDF, and so did their sons. They were not at all amused by the posturing of American Zionists, whether Jewish or Christian.
The subject then turned to the American's strongest allies, Evangelical Christians. I pointed out delicately to him that the very people he so counted on for support were hoping and praying for the day when all Jews were either Christian or dead. "With friends like these...." I left the rest to his imagination. He was an intelligent man, and he confessed he did not know much about his allies' theology and would look into it.
Poor Mark Alan Siegel, in disgrace for loving his own religion and caring so much about his other homeland, Israel, that he did not much like the people who were leading it down the path to destruction. Many Israelis feel the same way, a majority if we can believe some of the more doveish policy experts I have spoken with.
The debate between ultra-Zionist hawks and pragmatic doves is carried out every day in Israel, where there is far more freedom of speech on this subject than exists in the United States. Whether the Israeli left (a term that only has relevance for the Palestinian question) is correct, it is not up to me to say. I simply do not know.
What I do know is that the flames of hatred in the Middle East are kept hot by the religious tales told by Muslims, Jews, and Christians. Christian Zionists only pour gasoline on the fire.
The Democrats were right in the first place when they took God out of their godless party's platform, but an even better idea is to take God out of the politics of Israel.
Thomas Fleming is the former editor of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is the author of The Politics of Human Nature, Montenegro: The Divided Land, and The Morality of Everyday Life, named Editors' Choice in philosophy by Booklist in 2005. He is the coauthor of The Conservative Movement and the editor of Immigration and the American Identity. He holds a Ph.D. in classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Before joining the Rockford Institute, he taught classics at the University of Miami of Ohio, served as an advisor to the U.S. Department of Education, and was headmaster at the Archibald Rutledge Academy. He has been published in, among others, The Spectator (London), Independent on Sunday (London), Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, USA Today, Chicago Sun-Times, National Review, Classical Journal, Telos, and Modern Age. He and his wife, Gail, have four children and four grandchildren.