Curiously, one of the experiences that I remember clearly from my stay in East Jerusalem during the first half of 1978 was a conversation on a street corner with three or four American evangelical Protestants. I seem to recall that the conversation occurred on a street corner near the American Colony Hotel; they were probably staying there.
I don’t know how the conversation began. In the course of it, though, one of the people in the Protestant group told me that they were there as members of a delegation of American Evangelicals who intended, while visiting the Holy Land, to demonstrate their support for Israel. “We want Prime Minister [Menachem] Begin to know,” he said, “that all true Christians are behind him one hundred percent.”
I’ve never forgotten that statement. It appalled me.
Presumably, he would not have regarded any of us as being “true Christians.” But, for whatever reason, we never got to that point.
What bothered me about his declaration was its identification of Christianity with a very specific political stance.
I believe that I’ve already made it clear that I wasn’t exactly an uncritical fan of Menachem Begin. (See “A bit more on Yours Truly, vintage 1978, in East Jerusalem.”) So I found it somewhat incongruous for anybody to suggest that his or her theology entailed one hundred percent support for Mr. Begin.
But the fact is that I’ve never been 100% in agreement with any politician. Not with Barry Goldwater. Not even with the great Ronald Reagan. (Perhaps with Margaret Thatcher?)
To put it mildly, Israelis weren’t 100% behind Menachem Begin. His election as prime minister in 1977 inaugurated a period that lasted almost two decades, during which left-wing and right-wing blocs held roughly equal numbers of seats in the Knesset.
I was, it’s true (and as I’ve said), at the absolute apogee of my enthusiasm for Israel and for Zionism. (Menachem Begin as prime minister was a major difficulty for me.) I distinctly recall visiting the Palestinian city of Hebron (חֶבְרוֹן; Arabic الْخَلِيل al-Khalīl) in the southern portion of the occupied West Bank and being so revolted by the omnipresent signs of a deeply resented military occupation that, at one point, walking past a sandbagged Israeli machine gun emplacement, I rather loudly muttered something about “fascists.” Fortunately, the Israeli soldiers didn’t seem to hear me, or else, if they did, they ignored me.
Anyway, it wasn’t my strong sympathy for the Palestinian side in the Arab-Israeli conflict that made me react so negatively to the claim that “all true Christians” were “one hundred percent” behind Menachem Begin and Likud, although that undoubtedly played a role. It was, rather, my conviction that theologically-dictated absolute support for any politician or political party is idolatry.
And, yes, you’re perfectly welcome to apply that notion to contemporary American politics.