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Benjamin Netanyahu, John Boehner and Americas Evangelicals - NYT...

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http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/08/opinion/sunday/frank-bruni-benjam...

HE was almost lost in the whirl of lawmakers, pundits, plutocrats and other boldface
names who showed up for Benjamin Netanyahus speech to Congress last week. But
the presence of Pat Boone was a key to understanding why John Boehner was playing
a smart game of party politics to stand so solidly with the Israeli prime minister.
Im referring to Boone the singer. But I really mean Boone the churchman. Hes
a prominent figure among, and megaphone for, Americans evangelical Christians,
who listened to Netanyahus remarks as closely and adoringly as any constituency in
this country.
For the speech, Boone wore a tie on which the flag of Israel, with its Star of
David, was conspicuous. Just afterward, he told David Weigel of Bloomberg Politics
that hed known Netanyahu personally for years and had held some hope that the
prime minister would give him a special shout-out during the remarks.
And days earlier, on a radio show, Boone described Netanyahu as a friend who
was well aware that evangelical Christians constitute some of Israels most staunch
supporters, numbering in the tens of millions in the United States.
Hes correct in that analysis, which was strangely missing from much of the
media coverage of and commentary about the Netanyahu-Boehner alliance.

3/7/2015 9:55 AM

Benjamin Netanyahu, John Boehner and Americas Evangelicals - NYT...

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http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/08/opinion/sunday/frank-bruni-benjam...

Yes, Boehners invitation to Netanyahu, rendered independently of the White


House, was a way to get under President Obamas skin and in President Obamas
way. And, yes, that provocation was manna to the most conservative House
Republicans, who sometimes chafe under Boehners leadership.
But they loved what Boehner did for an additional reason: It catered to the
evangelical Christians who are an integral part of the partys base, especially for
lawmakers from the reddest states or districts. In fact, as Ashley Parker reported in
The Times, Boehners caucus gave him a standing ovation last week even though he
was bucking them by linking arms with Nancy Pelosi to pass a bill to fund the
Department of Homeland Security.
The prompt for all that clapping? Representative Doug Lamborn, a Colorado
Republican, spoke up to thank Boehner for weathering attacks from the White House
in order to make Netanyahus speech happen.
What part of Colorado does Lamborn represent? Colorado Springs, which is a
Republican stronghold, famous for its concentration of evangelical Christians.
JEWS in the Democratic Party are more divided on the actions that conservative
Israeli leaders like Netanyahu have taken in defense of Israel than evangelical
Christians in the Republican Party are.
And that helps to explain the tightened bond between Israel and Republicans
over the last few decades.
We in the media often look past that to focus on the influence of a handful of rich
Jewish Republican donors for whom Israel is a priority. Foremost among them is
Sheldon Adelson, the casino magnate. He almost single-handedly kept Newt
Gingrichs 2012 campaign for the Republican presidential nomination financed and
alive.
And a year ago, when Chris Christie joined other potential Republican
presidential candidates to give speeches to the Republican Jewish Coalition, he had
to ask Adelsons forgiveness after using the phrase occupied territories in reference
to land where Palestinians live but Israel maintains a military presence.
But the bigger story is Israels importance to evangelical Christians.
Christian Zionism as a sentiment is not new, said Dan Senor, a Republican
foreign policy adviser who has traveled to Israel with Mitt Romney, Chris Christie
and other Republican candidates. But as a movement, it has grown exponentially in
size and political sophistication over the past 15 years.

3/7/2015 9:55 AM

Benjamin Netanyahu, John Boehner and Americas Evangelicals - NYT...

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http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/08/opinion/sunday/frank-bruni-benjam...

In early 2013, when Obama nominated Chuck Hagel, a Republican, to become


the next defense secretary, and Hagels support for Israel was called into question,
one of the groups lobbying against him in greatest number and at greatest volume
was Christians United for Israel.
Its founder and chairman, John Hagee, was in Washington, D.C., with his wife
last week at Netanyahus speech. They were Adelsons guests.
Senor told me that in 2009, when he was promoting a book that he co-wrote,
Start-Up Nation, about the modern Israeli economy, Christian radio shows
extended as many invitations to him as Jewish groups did.
Some evangelical Christians interest in Israel reflects an interpretation of the
Bibles prophetic passages thats known as premillennial dispensationalism. It
maintains that the End of Days can play out as God intends only if Jews govern Israel
and have reconstructed a temple on the Temple Mount, where theres now a mosque.
But just a subset of evangelicals subscribe to that. Others are motivated by their
belief, rooted in scripture, that God always intended Israel for Jews and that
honoring that and keeping Israel safe is a way of honoring God. Gods blessing of
America, they feel, cannot be divorced from Americas backing of Israel.
The conservative Christian television preacher Pat Robertson once publicly
suggested that Ariel Sharon had suffered a stroke and that Yitzhak Rabin had been
assassinated because both of these former Israeli prime ministers had pursued
policies of dividing Gods land.
There are evangelical connections to the land, said Russell Moore, the
president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist
Convention.
Its common for large evangelical congregations in the United States to organize
tours of Israel for their members. Mike Huckabee, a Baptist pastor and probable
candidate for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, has been running
something of a side business as a guide for American evangelicals with Galilee and
the Garden of Gethsemane in their sights. The man is just nuts about Israel,
William Booth wrote in a Washington Post story two weeks ago about Huckabees
tours. Huckabee told Booth that he visits Israel as often as four times a year.
The attacks of 9/11 and the spreading threat of Islamic extremists have further
strengthened American evangelicals sense of kinship with Jews in Israel, whom they
see as crucial partners in fighting butchers who have recently singled out Christians

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Benjamin Netanyahu, John Boehner and Americas Evangelicals - NYT...

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http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/08/opinion/sunday/frank-bruni-benjam...

for slaughter.
Moore told me that American evangelical leaders are routinely trying to get
American lawmakers to focus on anti-Semitism around the globe. He said that when
he joined the prominent evangelical pastor Rick Warren and the lawyer (and Clinton
adversary) Ken Starr last week on a panel at Georgetown University to discuss
religious issues, anti-Semitism came up immediately.
Thats a climate and a context that are essential to understanding fully the bear
hug in which Boehner wrapped Bibi. He wasnt merely welcoming a world leader. He
was doing in the arena of foreign policy what he tries and sometimes fails to do with
domestic issues: keeping the base in buoyant spirits.
I invite you to follow me on Twitter at twitter.com/frankbruni and join me on Facebook.

3/7/2015 9:55 AM