On the day after Jews’ holiest day of the year (Yom Kippur), a mostly Christian throng of zealous pro-Zionist Christians held a “Stand with Israel” rally on Capitol Hill on Sunday. For two hours plus, they sang, they prayed, they cheered and they spoke in defense of Israel. The rally was co-sponsored by Concerned Women for America (over half-a-million religious women voters who adopted Israel as a core issue) and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee. Both CWA president Penny Nance and Huckabee repeatedly delivered the message: America — and Christians in particular — must stand with Israel. Implicitly and sometimes explicitly mentioned was the argument that the administration is insufficiently supportive of Israel and clueless about the enormity of the jihadist threat.
In essence preaching to his flock, Huckabee made clear how central Israel and the defeat of radical Islam are to their faith. He declared, “There is no other nation that reflects the United States as Israel does.” Arguing that both nations value religious liberty he proclaimed that the United States can only be understood in the context of “God’s providence.” They fervently believe that if they break faith with Israel, God will break faith with them.(“If America doesn’t stand with Israel God will remove his hand from us,” Huckabee told them.)
This is the largest and most politically active “Israel Lobby” in the country. (Attendees came from as far away as North Dakota.) If the theology is not quite comprehensible to all Americans, then the geopolitical arguments the speakers made may sound familiar. These Zionists understand Israel and the U.S. are up against the same Islamist fundamentalists who want to cleanse Christians, Jews and non-fundamentalist Muslims from their midst. Journalist Eric Stackelbeck, reviewing the persecution first of Jews in the Middle East and then of Christians, reminded the crowd of mindset of radical Islamists who first go after Jews and then Christians. (“First the Saturday people, then the Sunday people,” he explained is their outlook.)
Huckabee and other speakers were emphatic that even if Americans don’t see this in theological terms, our shared enemies do. “Israel isn’t the ultimate target. We are,” Huckabee said. When the deputy ambassador from Israel spoke to express his appreciation for the support, he reminded the crowd that in the Middle East it is only Israel which allows women full participation in all facets of society, has a free press and allows Christians to practice freely. But what brought a rousing cheer from the crowd was his declaration, “We are proud to be the Islamic Republic of Iran’s little Satan.”
Several aspects of the gathering are worthy highlighting.
First, the evangelical Zionists are acutely aware of the uptick in anti-Israel and anti-Semitic rhetoric in Europe and on American campuses. Nance and Huckabee both spoke about it directly, warning of the danger of passivity. (A large student contingent from Liberty University was present.) Beyond support for the Jewish state, this group much more so than the administration or the MSM is following this development closely and sees the passivity of elites in the West as nothing less than a repeat of the 1930’s.
Second, Huckabee speaks to these kind of voters in a way that few other politicians do. It stems from his faith, not from a political agenda. He embodies their values and world view, and they know this. He speaks with the passion of a preacher, not with the anger of a politician bent on inflaming the crowd. If he chooses to run in 2016, other candidates will have their work cut out for them if they want to poach voters from Huckabee’s base. The question is whether since his 2008 run and with the benefit of years of Fox News hosting he now has developed the range to appeal beyond this core group.
Third, this crowd sees themselves engaged in an existential threat against radical Islam. These people do not separate Israel from that fight; they are one and the same. A politician who labels himself as pro-Israel but is less than fully committed to the fight against jihadists is unlikely to find much support here. In that sense, they are looking not merely for a pro-Israel leader but an anti-jihadist warrior who understands the stakes if jihadists are not defeated. And for many, this issue ranks right up there with abortion and marriage.