Monday, March 29, 2004

Richard Clarke's frustrations....

The frustration felt by Dick Clarke during the months peceeding the tragedy of 9/11 lies in the lack or urgency shown by the "principals" in the Administration.

And, his frustration reached a crescendo when he realized that a determination had been made to occupy Iraq, regardless of actions/INactions taken by Saddam.

U.N. Resolutiion 1441 was written in such a manner that it gave the Iraqi leader no "wiggle room" whatsoever in any direction. Even if he had complied with 99% of U.S. demands, members of the "Bush-Sharon Axis" would have found a way to drag our nation into war.

Furthermore, the differences between Sen. Kerry and Bush-Cheney-Sharon-Netanyahu are not about the ultimate objective of U.S. foreign policy, namely, political reform in the Arab world.

The big difference lies in the approach that was taken given that it was clearly counterproductive. The number of terrorist assaults across the globe have increased exponentially since 9/11 and the assertion that we are now living in a "safer world" is worthy of a Nobel Prize for "Chutzpah," if one existed.

The difference between the Administration's approach that Powell, reluctantly, decided to support (after a vacation in the Hamptons) has taken much of the luster off his reputation.

I suspect that Powell would have felt much more comfortable supporting the approach proposed by Sen. Kerry as described by Michael Steinberger in an article about Powell entitled "Overestimated," published in the "American Prospect" (4/01/04) but, as a soldier accustomed to obey orders, he participated in the charade presented to the American people and continues to do so to this day:

Excerpts from the article follow:

"On the most critical issue confronting the United States, the rise of Islamic fundamentalist terrorism, Powell helped Bush implement a course of action conceived by the neocons. What he didn't do -- because he couldn't -- was propose a different course of action that might have led to the same goal of political reform in the Arab world but that wouldn't have involved waging an unpopular war on a trumped-up pretext, a war that has extracted an enormous cost in American lives and American prestige.

Bush, by most accounts, is an impressionable sort -- "malleable," as one Bush family friend uncharitably puts it -- but selling him on an alternative vision would have required actually having one, which Powell plainly did not. That alternative vision -- hardheaded about the dangers facing the U.S. but aware that the war on terrorism can't be won without international cooperation -- will have to wait for a Kerry administration. <<

Sunday, March 28, 2004

When religion sneaks into the political realm....

When organized religion sneaks into the realm of politics....

I, along with millions of others, have always been a strong supporter or Separation of Church and State. In fact, I viewed it as one of the -- if not THE -- major accomplishments of our founding fathers.

While their wise cousel did not eliminate religious discrimination in its entirety, it did go a long way toward achieving that goal.

Presently, however, we are at a crossroads since so-called "religious" individuals with extremists views, both Christians and Jews, have rudely intruded into our private lives and, with a "Crusader for Jesus" sitting in the White House, are slowly but surely attempting to dismantle the WALL between Church and State.

After centuries of bloody conflicts, many triggered by organized religion, most Europeans -- finally -- discarded religious DOGMA and embraced secularism.

Ironically and, amazingly, at the dawn of the 21st century the U.S. is headed in precisely the opposite direction with a predictable result: a nation increasingly divided.

David Brooks, a "conservative" NYTimes columnist writes in an article entitled "One Nation, Enriched by Biblical Wisdom" (March 23, 04):

"For example, it's been painful to watch thoroughly secularized Europeans try to grapple with Al Qaeda. The bombers declare, "You want life, and we want death"— a (fanatical) religious statement par excellence. But thoroughly secularized listeners lack the mental equipment to even begin to understand that statement. They struggle desperately to convert Al Qaeda into a political phenomenon: the bombers must be expressing some grievance. This is the path to permanent bewilderment."

Huh? The path to permanent bewilderment? Since when is secularism tantamount to ignorance or atheism for that matter?

In fact, what I found most encouraging during the past, say, three decades is the secularization of Europeans since it brought with it the realization that using organized religion as a political tool led to bloodshed throughout history.

After all, secularization is not tantamount to ignorance or atheism for that matter. Instead, as millions of individuals were no longer held hostage to religious DOGMA, most rivalries largely dissipated and were replaced by a search for common ground, lacking in the past. Young Europeans are anxious to visit each other's nations and get to know each other.

In short, a new breath of fresh air can be felt throughout Europe that was non-existent in the past.

Conversely, religious extremism based on narrow-minded dogma is front and center in our nation these days as keen interest in Gilmore's movie "The Passion" and renewed interest in the Bible clearly reveals.

That the Bible was written by mortals, most white males (not by God) is largely ignored, particularly by those who use it to justify their prejudices.

Furthermore, the UNholy alliance of right-wing Christians and right-wing Jews has fueled the cultural differences that existed in Israel for decades and are now present in the U.S. courtesy of the "Evangelical-Isaeli Connection."

The question then becomes: Do we really want to support the right-wing, "religious" "Israelization" of the U.S. presently in progress?

Or, would the moderate, secular "Americanization" of Israel be more likely to lead to peaceful coexistence?

In short, right-wing extremists prevail or will moderate, decent, rational Christians, Jews and other religious and/or non-religious individuals win this battle?

Needless to say...I fall into the latter camp.

I strongly support Separation of Church and State and find the direction in which we are presently headed, led by religious right-wing extremists, both in the U.S. and Israel, to be a major threat to world peace.

The Washington Post - March 27, 2004

The Evangelical-Israeli Connection; Scripture Inspires Many Christians to Support Zionism Politically, Financially by Bill Broadway

The much-publicized controversy over Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" might give the impression that Jews and evangelical Christians have little in common, theologically or otherwise. Nothing could be further from the truth.

While some evangelical and Jewish leaders sparred publicly for months over the film's depiction of Jesus's last hours, especially its potential to incite anti-Semitism, thousands of evangelicals were donating millions of dollars to support the state of Israel and its people. And Jews, most notably the Israeli government, welcomed their contributions.

"We get 2,000 to 2,500 pieces of mail a day, most of them with checks," said Yechiel Eckstein, president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, founded 21 years ago to foster better relations between the two religions. Since then, Eckstein, an Orthodox rabbi, has broadened the organization's mission and in the last decade has collected more than $100 million in financial support for Israel. Last year, the fellowship contributed $20 million from a donor base of 365,000 individuals and groups, most -- if not all -- of them evangelical Christians, Eckstein said. About half of the money was used to help Jews relocate to Israel from different parts of the world; the remainder provided food, medical care and other assistance to poor and elderly Jews in Israel, the former Soviet Union and other countries.

On Monday, the fellowship announced a campaign to raise $7.2 million to provide security for the 1,000 highest-risk public bus routes in Israel, including bomb-detection devices and equipment for screening passengers and baggage, and sent a $2 million check to begin the process.

The fellowship, the largest and one of the oldest evangelical organizations providing support for Israel, has been joined in recent years by at least a half-dozen others with such names as Bridges for Peace, Christians for Israel, International Christian Embassy Jerusalem and Chosen People Ministries. Although no one tracks all evangelical contributions to Israel, Eckstein believes the figure could exceed $25 million annually.

Evangelical support for Israel dates to the 19th century, when Christian Zionists called for the return of Jewish exiles to Palestine to fulfill biblical prophecies. If the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 seemed the answer to the Christian Zionists' prayers -- not to mention those of the Jewish people -- the extraordinary victory of Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War seemed to them a sure sign of divine will.

Evangelical leaders such as the Rev. Jerry Falwell began lobbying for greater political support of Israel from the U.S. government and urging financial support from the rapidly growing evangelical movement. And the relationship between evangelical leaders and the Israeli government began to flower, slowly at first because many Israeli leaders hesitated to accept money from people who might want to convert them.

The 1977 election of Likud Party leader Menachem Begin as prime minister marked a new era in evangelical-Israeli relations. Begin was so pleased with Falwell's pro-Israel activities that in 1979 he gave the evangelical leader a Lear jet.

Today, the connection is even stronger. Likud Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has met with evangelical leaders on numerous occasions, most recently in Jerusalem last month to ask their help in countering a rise in anti-Semitic incidents in Europe and other parts of the world.

In January, the Israeli parliament created a Christian Allies Caucus to coordinate activities with its Christian friends. About the same time, former Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky, Israeli minister to the Diaspora and for Jerusalem affairs, met with evangelical leaders at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis to thank them for their "steadfast support for the state of Israel."

Those in attendance included John Hagee, pastor of the 17,000-member Cornerstone Church in San Antonio; Adrian Rogers, past president of the Southern Baptist Convention; and Edward E. McAteer, friend of President Bush and chairman of the Religious Roundtable, a coalition of religious, military and civic leaders committed to infusing Christian principles in public policy.

On Feb. 15, Israeli Tourism Minister Benny Elon honored Pat Robertson at the National Association of Broadcasters Convention in Charlotte. He praised Robertson's leadership of a movement that has "saved Israel's tourism from bankruptcy" by promoting pilgrimages to the Holy Land despite U.S. government travel warnings after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and renewed hostilities between Israelis and Palestinians.

Elon, who estimated that 400,000 evangelicals traveled to Israel last year and contributed millions of dollars to its economy, is scheduled to address a conference tomorrow at Faith Bible Chapel in Arvada, Colo., a Denver suburb. Each year, the church contributes $100,000 to welfare projects in Israel, with most of the money going to a center for children with disabilities in the West Bank settlement of Ariel.

Faith Bible Chapel's association with Ariel is one of numerous partnerships promoted by Christian Friends for Israeli Communities, founded in 1995 after Israel transferred territories to the Palestinian Authority as a result of the Oslo Accords.

Sondra Oster Baras, an Orthodox Jew from Cleveland who heads the group's Israeli office, said the organization funds programs in one-third of the 150 or so Jewish settlements in Gaza and on the West Bank.

About 2,000 donors make contributions "in the low hundreds of thousands of dollars" annually for medical equipment, school computers, playgrounds and subsistence for unemployed families, Baras said. Christian Friends also assists thousands of Christian tourists, helping them plan trips to biblical sites on bullet-proof buses.

"These are deeply religious people who read the Bible, take it literally and enjoy seeing the Bible coming alive," Baras said by phone from the northern West Bank (Samarian) settlement of Karnei Shomron. "They are very connected to prophecy and understand events happening today in fulfillment of prophecy."

Baras said none of the Christian support organizations she knows in Israel allow donors or workers to evangelize -- despite the fact that those who come are the most ardent believers in end-time prophecies predicating the second coming of Jesus on the return of Jews to Israel.

Because of their massive and increasing support for Israel, many evangelicals were confused by Jewish concerns that "The Passion" would provoke violent acts of anti-Semitism.

"The churches in the past have helped to foster an image of Jews as the sole enemies of Christ, which has contributed to anti-Semitism in the secular world," Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, said in a statement last month at the Simon Wiesenthal Center Museum in Los Angeles. "We are proud that in the last 50 years, churches have done much to change these attitudes, and to loudly proclaim a message of love and tolerance."

Jews appreciate such religious sensitivity, but they also are well aware that Christian proclamations of love include a hope that Jews eventually will accept Jesus as the Messiah, said David A. Harris, executive director of the American Jewish Committee. On the other hand, Jews accept financial and political support from evangelicals because evangelicals are about the only friends Israel has left, he and other leaders said.

On such issues as civil rights, prayer in schools and abortion, American Jews have found solidarity with mainline Protestants, including Lutherans, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Methodists and members of the United Church of Christ. But many Protestants have parted ways with Jews on Israeli policies, pressing for Palestinian rights, calling for withdrawal of settlements from the West Bank and Gaza and condemning retaliatory attacks after suicide bombings.

Evangelicals, meanwhile, have been very supportive of Israel's policies, especially military actions against radical Palestinian groups. In an online survey of U.S. evangelicals after Monday's attack on Sheik Ahmed Yassin, 89 percent of the 1,630 respondents supported the killing of the Hamas leader -- compared with the 61 percent of Israelis who supported the attack in a survey by the newspaper Maariv.

Eckstein, whose organization conducted the informal survey of evangelicals, said most people who contribute to the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews do so for religious reasons but also want to show their political solidarity with Israel. They oppose any withdrawal of Jewish settlers and "are very distrustful of Palestinians, of [Yasser] Arafat. They would make good Likudniks," he said.

Most Jewish leaders don't ignore the religious reasons many evangelicals support Israel. But they prefer not to dwell on theological differences, wanting to avoid the kind of heated arguments that erupted over Gibson's film.

"Many Jews and many Israelis are very open-eyed about the driving religious philosophy of the evangelicals and why they want Israel to exist," said Harris, whose organization helped start Christian-Jewish dialogues a half-century ago. But Jews are practical, he said. "The end of time may come tomorrow, but Israel hangs in the balance today."

Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League and a primary Gibson antagonist in the "Passion" debate, agreed with Harris. "Israel is fighting for security, isolated in a hypocritical world," he said. "It's no time to say [to evangelicals], 'You're not a perfect friend.' "