Jer. Post Ed: Oh Lord. It's Lieberman

J4JP New Senator Lieberman Series - January 16, 2003

J4JP Preface:

Senator Joseph Lieberman's (D-Connecticut) uninformed, unprincipled, politically-motivated position on Jonathan Pollard reveals a man who who has placed himself in opposition to Israel and his own community, refused to advocate for equal justice for one of his own, and ignored the rulings of his own religious leadership on the matter. J4JP presents a new series of articles that corroborate the morally deficient character of this man who aims to be the next president of the United States. The following article was written by Bret Stephens, the Editor-in-chief of the Jerusalem Post.

Oh Lord. It's Lieberman

Bret Stephens - Jerusalem Post - December 20, 2002

CHARLESTON, South Carolina

- Boiled peanuts, Stars and Bars, shrimp 'n' grits, the Piggly Wiggly and church on Sunday; can every cliché about the Old South really be true? Here's a place where Jews are considered God's Chosen People. And where evangelical Christians see it as their divinely ordained duty to love us as such: "And I will bless them that bless thee, and him that curseth thee will I curse; and in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed." Genesis 12. Down here, they take this stuff seriously.

I'm in town for a week, speaking mostly to Christian audiences, generally being met by a chorus of Amens and Hallelujahs and Yes Lords and Thank You Jesuses. The sincerity is abundant, transparent, and absolute; the warmth intense and unnerving. At a prayer meeting held in the Salem Baptist Church, I join hands in a darkened room with five grown men as they ask Jesus, in insistent whispers, that I be shielded and protected from harm and that true words - His words - flow from my mouth.

Later that evening, at Pastor Fred Denham's Abundant Life Church, a member of the congregation tells me she saw a halo of light form around me as I spoke. I don't know whether to be flattered, amused or spooked. What I do know is that places like Abundant Life and Salem Baptist are the bedrock of American support for Israel.

Meeting with a delegation of Christian evangelicals during his 2000 presidential run, George W. Bush was asked where he stood on Israel. "I know my Bible," candidate Bush is reported to have said, "and I know what God demands of me as a Christian."

Earl Cox, an erstwhile GOP operative and the sponsor of my trip, has been spending big bucks on various pro-Israel projects: billboards, a radio show, money for terror victims, awareness-raising trips to Israel - all from his own pocket. "It's just the right thing to do," he says. For Cox, that's reason enough.

Sherard Cowper-Coles, the British ambassador to Israel, may think that "moral clarity is not an intelligent guide" in the war on terrorism. But in South Carolina, moral clarity, whether intelligent or not, seems to be the only guide. And for now, at least, that clarity is working miracles for the Jews.

Which brings me to the subject of Joe Lieberman. The announcement by Al Gore on Sunday that he will not seek the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004 has thrust America's best-known Jewish senator (there are 10 others) into pole position. This has Republicans - who had hoped for a Bush-Gore rematch - somewhat unsettled. Lieberman, goes an editorial in The Wall Street Journal, "remains that rarest of species: a genuine Democratic hawk, arguably the party's first since Scoop Jackson. And now would seem to be his moment."

Adds Fred Barnes in the Weekly Standard: "His Democratic opponents will have to try to rebut his pro-war arguments." But Lieberman's biggest asset - what makes him so dangerous to Bush - is the moral clarity factor. Lieberman's hawkishness on Iraq is part of it, but it's of a piece with his denouncing Hollywood for its graphic depictions of violence. Or denouncing Clinton for his lurid acts of sex. Or keeping the Sabbath holy. Or breaking ranks with fellow Democrats on Social Security reform and racial quotas. Or generally being smart, square and assertively religious.

Put simply, by all appearances, Lieberman's got a moral compass to steer his political beliefs. As for the rest of the Democratic field, they have the opposite: a political compass to steer their moral values. Lieberman's got something else as well: conspicuous Jewishness. If Gore won 81 percent of the Jewish vote last time around, Lieberman would likely dramatically increase that share, reversing Bush's efforts to pick up Jewish votes through his support for Israel. As the Jewish vote counts for about 5% of the voting electorate (double the Jewish fraction of the US population and more in critical swing states such as Florida), a heavy Jewish turnout for Lieberman could cost Bush the election in a tight race. So the question is: Should Jews vote for Lieberman, at least in so far as the welfare of Israel is their paramount political concern? I think not.

There's no doubting the virtues of Lieberman's positions. In 1999, for instance, he warned the Clinton administration against failing to move the US embassy in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, as required by US law. "Non-fulfilment of the law does no good to the US-Israeli relationship or to the prospects for Arab-Israeli peace," he said then. In the late 1980s, he co-sponsored the PLO Commitments Compliance Act (Plocca), intended to hold Yasser Arafat to strict account on his pledge to abandon terrorism.

In 1991, he was one of only 10 Democratic senators to vote for war against Iraq; he supports it again today, calling Saddam's overthrow "an opportunity to show the world's moderate, law-abiding Muslim majority... that as we oppose tyranny and terror, we will actively support them in their fight for freedom and a better life."

All this is to the good, or would be if I could credit Lieberman's sincerity. I don't. He flip-flopped on Clinton, on Hollywood, on racial quotas, on Social Security. If in 1999 he'd have moved the US embassy to Jerusalem, in 2000 he would not. If in 1997 he poured scorn on Arafat for doing nothing to rein in terrorists, in 1999 he welcomed Arafat at the National Prayer Breakfast. And while I'm all for Lieberman's strongly-felt Judaism, just why was he moved to say of Louis Farrakhan, America's anti-Semite par excellence, that "I have respect for him. I'd be open to sitting and talking to Minister Farrakhan"? Granted, having "respect" doesn't exactly mean "admiration." But the very Clintonianism of his word choice - signalling one thing to black voters, another to Jewish lawyers - fits the overall Lieberman pattern.

"He has plotted every aspect of his persona as carefully as the best cartographer," writes Tunku Varadarajan of The Wall Street Journal, "measuring precisely how much of a Jew he can be, and as a Jew how Orthodox, and as an Orthodox Jew how flexible, and as a flexible Orthodox Jew how credible, and as a credibly flexible Orthodox Jew how electable."

Of course, all politicians create personas, just as all politicians reverse themselves. Bush also backed down on his pledge to move the embassy, and recently refused to enforce Plocca's punitive provisions. Then too, sometimes it's a good thing to reverse yourself. It's just that for my taste all of Lieberman's reversals go in the wrong direction: on the rhetorical level, from moralizing to pandering; on the policy level, from strength to weakness; on the political level, from independence to conformity.

To his credit, Lieberman has been consistent on Iraq. But face it: Even if the rest of the Democrats didn't quite cotton on, being tough on Saddam was always the politically shrewd thing to do. And, if nothing else, Lieberman is very shrewd.

Now back to South Carolina. It's probably instinctive for Jews to feel uncomfortable around committed Christians, especially committed Christians who love Jews, and most especially those committed Christians who love Jews so much they can hardly wait until we, too, commit to Jesus and hasten the redemption of mankind. In South Carolina, there were plenty such Christians.

"I don't call it 'replacement theology,'" says Pastor Denham, referring to the idea that Christianity replaced or superseded Judaism. Instead, he says, "I call it 'fulfilment theology.'" Earl Cox doesn't share the sentiment, but he's frank about the phenomenon. Jews who suspect evangelical Christians of having ulterior motives in their support for Israel are not entirely off the mark, he acknowledges. But that's not all I hear in Charleston. "I can't make you come to Jesus," sermonizes Pastor Robert Rivers. "Only the Holy Spirit can make you do that." That sounds pretty good to me.

At a meeting with local clergy, I pick up on the theme: "Your support for Israel is essential," I say. You are standing with a little people that has given greatly - in religion, culture, science - yet is widely despised today, as we have been for centuries. You are standing with a country that has nothing to offer by way of natural resources against 22 countries that dominate the world's oil supply. You are standing with us even as sophisticated opinion everywhere tells you to sympathize with our persecutors. You are doing what's right, even if it may not be so smart. And you - more so than organized American Jewry - are the reason the US has stood by Israel for decades. For your friendship, American Jewry has basically repaid you with suspicion and condescension. Yet in all frankness, we're reluctant to requite the friendship because we have reason to doubt the purity of your love.

We are people with a long memory; we remember how Martin Luther's sympathy turned to fury when we would not accept his version of Christianity. If you, as Christians, can accept that only the Holy Spirit can make me, as a Jew, come to Jesus, then we can find common ground and move forward together. Maybe the Holy Spirit will come to me tonight, maybe next year, maybe never. It is not, nor will it ever be, up to you to do the Spirit's work on our Jewish souls. But you can do the Christian thing by standing up for the State of Israel against the terrorists, tyrants, appeasers and opportunists who would see us fail. To which the audience answers: Amen!

I sometimes wonder how long evangelical Christians - some 60 million strong in the US - will be willing to extend their hand in friendship without American Jews grasping it. If they let it drop, Israel will be in worse trouble. If American Jews grasp it, they're going to have to make certain terms and conditions clear. Judging by the reaction I got here, there's a deal to be struck.

American Jews will also have to weigh whether their political interests lie in cultivating potential friends in the GOP and the Christian community, or maintaining traditional allegiances to the Democratic Party and the Jewish leadership. If the choice comes down to George Bush or Joe Lieberman - between an ally and a brother - who's it going to be? One thing to consider: Brothers is given. Friendship ain't.

Bret Stephens is the Editor-in-chief of the Jerusalem Post.

See Also: