The world is a wonderful, various place. Grow up in Pittsburgh and do college in the empty middle of Ohio, and then do graduate school in the South – if North Carolina counts as the South – then teach English at a progressive prep school in upstate New York, and then chuck it all and move to the beach in Southern California and work in aerospace, and then find yourself running the systems shop at a locomotive factory just west of Toronto, and then find yourself settled here in Hollywood just off the Sunset Strip – with a lot of long trips to Paris on the side – and of course the world will seem full of glorious ambiguities, where nothing is ever black and white. There are all sorts of ways of looking at things. They’re all out there, and then there’s Texas, where there are no ambiguities about anything. What you see is what you get. The business trips to Plano, on systems issues, were odd – women with big hair and men in elegant expensive business suits, but wearing bolo ties and cowboy boots, and pick-up trucks with gun racks everywhere, with guns, and bumper stickers that warned the world that you Don’t Mess with Texas. There was nothing subtle about any of that, and that weekend in El Paso, visiting Fort Bliss to see the nephew get his first battalion command, was just as odd. El Paso is the baked and dry end of the world, with Juarez just across the river, with a murder a minute, and the White Sands desert stretching endlessly out to forever to the north, out to Alamogordo, where they tested the very first atomic bomb. It worked.
There’s something unapologetically apocalyptic about that part of the world, and unapologetic Texas, where they don’t do nuance, seems to be at the center of it all. The second George Bush, the one who decided he was thoroughly Texan, no matter what his family’s antecedents, told us that he didn’t do nuance. He actually may not have known the meaning of word, given his scorn for anything that had anything to do with fancy words and subtlety. That’s how he ran things for eight years. There were good guys and bad guys. That was it – nothing in between – and you were with us or you were with the terrorists, and thus as bad as them, and thus our enemy. It was simple. It was Texan. And it was apocalyptic. It was time to settle things, once and for all.
That didn’t work out. The world wouldn’t cooperate with that Texan denial of the possibility of even a little ambiguity here and there. Look at the Middle East exploding now, from Libya through Egypt through Syria on into Iraq with ISIS taking over half the place, and then to the mess that is Afghanistan and on to Iran and its efforts to develop nuclear weapons, with Israel rolling into Gaza again. Bush took care of “the bad guy” and nothing was settled. Saddam Hussein wasn’t the problem. Obama finally took care of the real bad guy, Osama bin Laden, and still nothing was settled. There is no Texas Solution to the woes of the world.
Don’t tell Texans that. Cowboys don’t believe it, and don’t tell that other iconic Texan, the apocalyptic evangelical world-famous leader of one of those sprawling megachurches, who preaches about good and evil and nothing in between. The state is full of guys like John Hagee:
Hagee is the President and CEO of John Hagee Ministries, which telecasts his national radio and television ministry carried in the United States on ten television networks, including 62 high-power stations aired to more than 150 million households. He is shown on networks around the globe, including The Inspiration Network (INSP), Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN), and Inspiration Now TV. John Hagee Ministries is in Canada on the Miracle Channel and CTS and can be seen in places including Africa, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. Hagee is the founder and National Chairman of the Christian-Zionist organization Christians United for Israel, incorporated on February 7, 2006.
He’s a San Antonio guy, and in 2008, John McCain had his problems with the guy:
In the face of mounting controversy over headline-grabbing statements from the Rev. John Hagee, CNN has learned that presumptive Republican nominee John McCain decided Thursday to reject his endorsement.
McCain later also repudiated the support of Rod Parsley, an Ohio preacher who has called Islam an inherently violent religion.
McCain told CNN’s Brian Todd that he rejected Hagee’s endorsement after Todd brought to his attention Hagee’s comments that Adolf Hitler had been fulfilling God’s will by hastening the desire of Jews to return to Israel in accordance with biblical prophecy.
“God says in Jeremiah 16: ‘Behold, I will bring them the Jewish people again unto their land that I gave to their fathers. … Behold, I will send for many fishers, and after will I send for many hunters. And they the hunters shall hunt them.’ That would be the Jews. … Then God sent a hunter. A hunter is someone who comes with a gun and he forces you. Hitler was a hunter,” Hagee said, according to a transcript of his sermon.
In a statement to CNN on Thursday, McCain said “Obviously, I find these remarks and others deeply offensive and indefensible, and I repudiate them. I did not know of them before Rev. Hagee’s endorsement, and I feel I must reject his endorsement as well.”
Yeah, you probably don’t want the endorsement of someone who says Hitler was actually doing God’s work – that sounds like something Sarah Palin would say – so McCain walked away from him. Hagee then said he never wanted to endorse McCain anyway, so THERE! It was a mess, but McCain dodged a bullet. It wasn’t just the Hitler thing. Hagee calls the Catholic Church the Great Whore and succinctly dismissed what Catholicism has done for the world – “A Godless theology of hate that no one dared try to stop for a thousand years produced a harvest of hate.”
Hagee doesn’t much care for those folks, and he likes to keep it simple – no nuance, no ambiguity. He’s as Texan as George Bush pretended to be.
John Hagee was the leader of the charismatic San Antonio megachurch Trinity Church in the 1970s and is the father of two children with his first wife, Martha Downing. In 1975, Hagee was involved in a personal scandal in which he admitted in a letter to his congregation that he had been guilty of “immorality.” He subsequently divorced his wife of 15 years and, one year later on April 12, 1976, married 24-year old Diana Castro, his current wife. Castro was a member of the Trinity Church congregation at the time of Hagee’s confession.
Well, these things happen, but Catholics are still evil, and say what you will, Hitler did a lot of good, and he loves Israel. In fact, his Christians United for Israel is the largest pro-Israel organization in the United States, and given this third week of Israel’s invasion of Gaza, they just had to have a big meeting. They did, in Jerusalem, and Slate’s David Weigel was there:
On the morning of July 21, as they trickled into the annual Christians United for Israel conference, the mostly American supporters of the Jewish state walked past muted TVs blaring out the latest damage reports from this-or-that foreign correspondent. More than 100 Palestinians died in one day; more than 445 Palestinians since the operation started.
The supporters of CUFI moved up the convention center escalators and took their seats for a plenary session. Onstage were the first guests, all recognizable from Fox News – Weekly Standard editor-in-chief Bill Kristol, onetime CIA director James Woolsey, and the Council on Foreign Relations fellow Elliott Abrams, a presidentially pardoned veteran of foreign policy disasters on two continents. Sitting right next to them was John Hagee, the burly Christian Zionist pastor who founded CUFI in 2006 He leaned into a microphone, passionately explaining why supporters of Israel should not be tricked by casualty reports.
“Since July 8, more than 1,000 rockets have been launched into Israel by Hamas from Gaza,” said Hagee, who speaks with a captivating rumble that could make a brunch order sound like a lost gospel. “Two-thirds of Israel’s population has had to run to bomb shelters, having 90 seconds to save their lives.”
The objective of Hamas, said Hagee, “is to win the media war with dead civilians. We’ve come to Washington to ask our government to stop demanding for Israel to show restraint.”
It was a kill-them-all sort of thing:
More than 4,800 evangelicals and Jews broke into applause. Some raised their arms and turned up their palms; a shofar-maker from New Jersey blew on one of his horns.
They all thought they were in Texas, but there was a plan to all this:
This year’s CUFI conference, followed by its members’ lobbying trips to Congress, would pressure the Obama administration not to broker an early cease-fire in Israel. The people of Israel would not suffer so that “John Kerry could win his Nobel Peace prize.”
There really is something unapologetically apocalyptic about all this:
In 2007, after CUFI started to gain momentum, Hagee published a book laying out how the apocalypse would happen – the Antichrist, if you were wondering, would be “the head of the European Union” – and in 2008 John McCain’s presidential campaign was cowed into denouncing him. Progressive journalist Max Blumenthal reported on the 2007 Christians for United Israel conference and asked the faithful if they were looking forward to the rapture. After getting a few yeses – and after asking Hagee pointed questions about Scripture – Blumenthal was sent to the exits and CUFI got more gingerly and careful in its approach to the media.
How careful? The reporters who showed up – many from conservative or pro-Israel media- were guided through a metal detector to a filing center, away from the main conference. At the appropriate times, we were guided from the first floor hideaway to the third-floor ballroom where the plenary sessions were being held. When the sessions ended, we were given time to wrap up, and then politely guided back downstairs.
That’s both spooky and comic. They are certain that the end of the world is coming and they don’t want reporters to report why they’re saying that? That’s odd, but Andrew Sullivan – a Catholic (evil) and gay (beyond evil) – has had enough of this nonsense:
Every now and again, the absurd that is familiar can become fresh again. What’s absurd is the lockstep support for anything Israel might do in the United States. It’s the only country which, in a conflict with a US administration, will have Congressional Republicans and Democrats backing a foreign government over their own – and being rewarded for it in terms of money and votes. It’s the only country in which a foreign leader can address the US Congress as a rebuke to the US president – and get a standing ovation. It’s the only foreign country that receives $3 billion in aid and still gets to dress down the US president in the White House itself.
And the most important reason why is Christianism – the commitment of America’s evangelicals to the maximalist claims of Greater Israel has only intensified over the last couple of decades. The leader of this movement is a crackpot – a man who believes that the end-times are imminent, that the anti-Christ will be the head of the EU, and that Russia will invade Israel as a harbinger of the Apocalypse. He was once famous for intensely anti-Catholic bigotry, arguing that “a Godless theology of hate that no one dared try to stop for a thousand years produced a harvest of hate.” He’s bonkers, but he’s fanatically pro-Israel, which is why his annual conference of Christians United for Israel attracts the likes of Bill Kristol and Charles Krauthammer…
Sullivan then cites this passage from the Weigel report on the conference:
American evangelicals needed to imagine themselves as Israelis, praise the “miracle” of the Iron Dome missile defense system, and understand that the Jews had a biblical mandate to the entire Holy Land. “I’ll bless those that bless you and I’ll curse those that curse you,” said Hagee, quoting from the book of Genesis. “That’s God’s foreign policy statement, and it has not changed.” …
Speaker after speaker gave the evangelicals ammunition for the next time someone criticized the Gaza operation, or shamed Israel over the body count. “Here’s a message for America: Don’t ever turn your back on Israel, because God will turn his back on us,” said South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham. “More Germans died in World War II than American soldiers. That didn’t make the Germans right.”
So we’re talking about God’s foreign policy here, as Sullivan sees it, and he noted this too, the testimony of IDF Sergeant Benjamin Anthony:
What the IDF needed was a total victory. “Rocket factories can be destroyed,” said Anthony. “Weapon factories can be destroyed. Terrorists can be eliminated. Tunnels can be dug out.” But it could only happen if America resisted the temptation to criticize Israel or to stop the operation. “Hamas started this war,” said Anthony. “The soldiers of Israel must smash their skulls and break their spines.”
When he said that, a standing-room crowd of pastors and activists and politicians rose to its feet, waving the twin flags of the countries God loved.
If there were ever the spirit of Jesus, there it is.
And yet wry humor at this point doesn’t quite capture the bizarreness of this entire enterprise. These belligerent fanatics take Greater Israel as a non-negotiable; they exercise enormous power in the Republican coalition; they foment a foreign policy that is based not on a prudent weighing of America’s national interests, but on reflexive aggressive support for a foreign country based on Biblical texts. In any sane polity, they would be treated as dangerous kooks. And yet they are addressed by Senators as a badge of honor.
Sullivan should just get over it. Americans, even many Democrats, are crazy for Israel, or they’re just crazy, although Sullivan notes this:
You can see some of the effects in the latest CNN poll on the subject. Among Democrats, 49 percent say they have mostly or very favorable views of the Jewish state; but 48 percent have mostly or very unfavorable views – it’s split down the middle. On the question of whether Israel was justified “in taking military action against Hamas and the Palestinians in the area known as Gaza”, Democrats are also split 45 to 42 percent. There’s also a generation gap: among those over 50, an overwhelming majority – 65 to 26 – believe the Gaza campaign is justified; among the under 35, it’s an even split: 47 to 45. I’d say this is a problem for the Greater Israel lobby. The differential between their lock-step Democratic support in the Congress and the real divisions in the party at large may soon become much harder to disguise.
At least on the Democratic side, things may shift, and meanwhile in Gaza:
Gazan authorities said Israeli forces shelled a shelter at a U.N.-run school, killing at least 15 people, as the Palestinian death toll in the conflict reached 796 and attempts at a truce remained elusive.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed horror at the Thursday attack on the school at Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza strip. “Many have been killed – including women and children, as well as U.N. staff,” he said in a statement. “Circumstances are still unclear. I strongly condemn this act.”
Ban later arrived at Cairo where he was expected to meet U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who has been working the telephones to try to broker a truce.
Good luck with that. It sure looks like the Israelis tell the women and children that they’re going to blow up this building or that, so get out quick and go someplace safe, someplace designated as safe, because they really don’t want to blow up women and children, and then they blow up that place. That’s pretty clever, but they say that’s not so:
Israel Defense Forces spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Lerner told Reuters TV: “It could be errant fire from the IDF or rockets landing from Gaza terrorists but we still don’t know, there’s still a question mark.”
A spokesman for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency said it had tried in vain to arrange an evacuation of civilians from the school with the Israeli army, and noted reports of Hamas rockets falling in the area at the same time.
There’s some ambiguity for you. The Israeli army wouldn’t let them leave the building, but Hamas rockets were falling in the neighborhood too. Still, this was inevitable:
Israel may have committed war crimes by killing civilians and shelling houses and hospitals during its two-week-old offensive in the Gaza Strip, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said on Wednesday. Pillay, opening an emergency debate at the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, also condemned the indiscriminate firing of rockets and mortars by Palestinian militants into Israel.
Citing cases Israeli air strikes and shelling hitting houses and hospitals in the coastal enclave, she said: “These are just a few examples where there seems to be a strong possibility that international humanitarian law has been violated, in a manner that could amount to war crimes. Every one of these incidents must be properly and independently investigated.” Israel, which accuses the Council of bias, boycotted the Geneva forum for 20 months, resuming cooperation in October. Its main ally the United States, a member state, has also said Israel is unfairly singled out.
We will stand with Israel here. We’re crazy about Israel, or just crazy, but this too was inevitable:
Israeli soldiers have shot and killed three Palestinian protesters and wounded about 100 on Thursday in confrontations with several thousand people demonstrating in the occupied West Bank against a 17-day-old Israeli offensive in Gaza, Palestinian medical officials said. …
The Israeli military confirmed troops had used “riot dispersal means” – a term used to cover weapons such as rubber bullets and tear gas – against protesters who threw rocks and firebombs at them and blocked a road with burning tires. …
The protest erupted after allies of Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah movement marched from the West Bank city of Ramallah to the edges of Jerusalem in protest against Israel’s war against Hamas militants in Gaza, where the Palestinian death toll has topped 760.
Off to the northeast, in the other Israeli occupied Palestinian territory, the West Bank not Gaza, the “moderate” Palestinians crowd ain’t gonna be moderate one minute longer. Abbas and his boring Palestinian Authority will do the Hamas thing that is being done down in the Gaza Strip. Smash their skulls and break their spines? Yeah, that’ll work. That just turned the Palestinian Authority into a branch of Hamas.
That was a Texas Solution, a John Hagee or George Bush sort of answer to everything bad, enthusiastically embraced by the Israelis, but there are other ways to think of this, and the Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson offers this:
I support Israel. I abhor Hamas. But unleashing such devastating firepower on a tiny, densely crowded enclave in which civilians are trapped – and thus destined to become casualties – is wrong by any reasonable moral standard.
The Israeli government’s motivations in Gaza deserve to be taken seriously. But they do not justify the onslaught that is now in its third week. For Israeli military action to be justifiable, it must be proportionate. What we’re witnessing is not.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday that Hamas is “targeting civilians and hiding behind civilians,” which he called a “double war crime.” He was referring to the fact that Hamas targets Israeli civilians with its rocket attacks and positions its military installations in residential neighborhoods or near schools and hospitals.
Netanyahu is right that these practices are reprehensible and that Israel has every right to respond. But none of this absolves Israel from its own moral responsibility. A civilized nation does not repay every heinous act in kind.
That’s another way to look at this, and of course Robinson is not from Texas – he grew up in South Carolina and headed off to the University of Michigan, and then was off to the Washington Post and his Pulitzer Prize and all that. It pays to get around. It makes the denial of the possibility of even a little ambiguity here and there seem kind of stupid.
It happens. Seeing the world has that odd effect. Stay in Texas, or perhaps in Pittsburgh, and you run the risk of deciding that what you see is what is good and what is evil, and that there’s nothing in between, and then deciding that the apocalypse is coming any day now. It isn’t, but the Israelis may have an excuse here. When you displace millions of people, and marginalize them and then try to starve them into submission, and they come to hate you for that and start to launch hundreds of crude rockets your way, it can seem like the end of the world where there’s no ambiguity at all. Smash their skulls and break their spines, or, alternatively, refuse to be a Texan. Go visit. You’ll see. They’re crazy for Israel down there, or just crazy.