Max Blumenthal and I share something: a fraught encounter with John Hagee’s Christians United for Israel.
The difference is that Max, a guerrilla videographer, likes to battle evangelicals on their own eschatological turf, while I prefer my battles in the real world.
First, my encounter with CUFI: A couple of years ago, I noticed that the Dome of the Rock had been shopped out of the Western Wall photo gracing their web page. Lots of back and forth, angry phone calls, petulant emails, and then I came up with proof of something I immediately knew, having seen the Western Wall from precisely that perspective hundreds of times. I found photos taken from the same spot, I tracked down the photographer, a grandfatherly type sipping coffee on the pedestrian mall when I called him: Yes, he had photoshopped out the mosque — he didn’t like it. Finally, CUFI removed the photo.
I also confirmed CUFI’s point that it was unplanned; the photo was picked from a portfolio that existed before CUFI was established. Perhaps, subliminally, whoever chose the photo did not want a reminder that Jerusalem includes Muslims, but reading minds is way above my paygrade. The point is, my CUFI interlocutor had been telling the truth when he said CUFI had nothing to do with the photoshopping, and it was my duty to report that as well.
Now, for Max: He made a tasteless joke during a bloggers panel that took place on the margins of this week’s J Street conference about Elie Wiesel, who spoke last weekend at a "Night for Israel" at Pastor Hagee’s San Antonio church. "The last person Elie Wiesel trusted this much was Bernie Madoff."
Because Madoff robbed Wiesel, and his charities blind. Ha.
A couple of folks said this was kind of gross, and Max, apparently wounded a little, now says he was making a Jewish joke (I missed the "Zingers for Penniless Survivors" collection, but, okay). He also says his critics eschew facts for ideology.
The problem with Blumenthal making this argument is that he’s not so careful with the facts himself:
(John McCain, who accepted and then renounced Hagee’s endorsement) may have been completely unaware of Hagee’s sermon declaring the Holocaust to be a divinely ordained incident orchestrated by God to fulfill biblical prophecy; Hagee’s accusation that the Jews’ rejection of Jesus was the root of anti-Semitism; or his prediction that when the Antichrist returned, he would be homosexual and "partially Jewish, as was Adolph Hitler, as was Karl Marx." Unlike McCain, (Israeli ambassador Michael) Oren and Wiesel cannot claim innocence of Hagee’s anti-Semitic remarks precisely because of the clamor over McCain’s disassociation.
When Hagee’s anti-Semitic ravings surfaced on blogs like Talk2Action.org and eventually gained national notoriety, McCain renounced the preacher’s endorsement.Why is Wiesel palling around with Hagee? Why did I "mock" Wiesel? Both (Michael) Goldfarb and (Jeffrey) Goldberg refused to address these questions and neglected to quote the facts I offered on Hagee. While Goldfarb assailed a J Street donor for controversial statements on Israel, they have never addressed Hagee’s anti-Semitic rants. Goldberg has not addressed the issue of Hagee either. The two present their opinions conveniently without the facts.
Max’s formulation also leaves out a salient point: Hagee has retreated from and apologized for his controversial remarks:
“I know how sensitive the issue of the Holocaust is and should be to the Jewish community, and I regret if my Jewish friends felt any pain as a result,” Hagee wrote. “I have always believed that the Holocaust was a tragedy unique in its evil and horror.”
Now, Max may believe this apology to the ADL was disingenuous, was pandering, whatever, but he needs to include it if he’s going to make an issue of the earlier remarks — and then he can add his caveats. This is what is sometimes casually known in our biz as "journalism."
More to the point, though, I just don’t get the obsession with Hagee’s religious beliefs:
Perhaps Wiesel is not unaware of Hagee’s appalling theology in which the violent destruction of the Jews is essential to bring about the Second Coming; or perhaps he doesn’t take it seriously and feels such nonsense should not get in the way of Hagee’s financial and propaganda support for the settlement movement on the West Bank that is now at the heart of difficulty in the U.S.-Israel relationship.
That is, I get the second part of that statement — and I’ve addressed it in every interview I’ve had with Hagee and CUFI folks: How do you reconcile support for Israel and the U.S.-Israel relationship when you’ve funded settlements despite consistent U.S. opposition and even during those periods when Israeli governments sought to contain settlements? (The response, which I’ve never found satisfactory, is that Hagee directs his funds where there is human need — for education, for hospitals. There are plenty such needs within the Green Line.)
The first part of Blumenthal’s "appalled" affect — at the "violent destruction of the Jews" at Armageddon is well, first of all, not even accurate — the fate of the Jews is kind of vague in Hagee’s End Times.
But more to the point, who gives a damn? I mean, unless you believe Hagee and then imagine he has some control over the events he describes (the two are mutually exclusive, by the way, but as long as we’re diving into this pool of insanity…) Honestly, Hagee and whoever else can prattle on all they want about Armageddon, and the rest of us can do whatever we want (I favor tired puns, like "Armageddon mighty tired of all this End Times talk") because it ain’t gonna happen.
It’s a fantasy — yes, a sacred fantasy, but I’m talking real world interactions here — to everyone but those who believe in it, and apparently, Max. Were Max, star videographer, to burst into the bedroom of a Republican pol and interrupt him in an intimate moment wearing a Huckleberry Hound mask, would Max demand that Hanna-Barbera sue? Would he call PETA? It would make just as much sense.
No eschatology makes sense. They all look a little nutty in the light of curbside conversation, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, and to the extent that one exists, Jewish. I have yet to hear a version of Christian End Times that involves Jesus in a suit conducting probing, sensitive interviews with applicants to Heaven, but that’s apparently what Max wants Christians to believe.
What matters is what happens in the real world. That’s why photoshopped Temple Mount shots and money for the West Bank interest me, as a journalist, more than End Times imaginings.