by Kathryn Shihadah, If Americans Knew
In Part One of this report, we asked the question, “whose interests will be served when Sam Brownback is approved as Ambassador-at-large for Religious Freedom?” He appears to have strong ties to Israel, and Israel appears to have a special understanding with the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF)–the very entity which Brownback has been nominated to lead.
Recall that important organizations have reached out to USCIRF with complaints of religious discrimination in Israel, and gotten nowhere. The very self-designation of Israel as a “Jewish state,” in spite of the fact that it is 20% non-jewish, is problematic; the fact that this name has persisted for almost seventy years shows a decided detachment from the reality of religious minorities in the land.
Sam Brownback seems to share this disconnect. Spin through his Rolodex to see what kind of company he has been keeping lo these many years, as well as the policies and organizations that he has championed. Ponder the question of what pet projects he might take on as Ambassador-at-large for Religious Freedom.
Brownback’s hardline pro-Israel Jewish friends
BALLABON, JEFF. Ballabon, an influential Jewish friend of conservative politicians, was among the first to cheer the appointment: “Sam Brownback is a truly inspired choice by the President. He’s a man of deep personal faith, conviction, sensitivity, and empathy…On a more parochial level, it is wonderful to have an individual who has such a love for Jews and Judaism take the lead in representing the United States on this issue.” Ballabon is also Chairman of the Iron Dome Alliance, a political action group that has vowed to “set a new standard for support of Israel” in the US and “hold politicians accountable” because “Israel’s very existence is in peril.” Might he look to Brownback to keep Israel’s religious discrimination on the down-low?
HALPERN, CHERYL. Halpern, a Jewish American activist, also gave a thumb’s up to Trump’s appointment: “Brownback has consistently been a friend and champion of the State of Israel.” She spends her time on the executive committee of the New Jersey Regional Advisory Board of the Anti-Defamation League and the New Jersey – Israel Commission. At an “intimate gathering of friends and supporters” in the Halpern home in 2002, Brownback schmoozed with donors and explained, “The problem in the Arab world isn’t Israel. It’s a lack of democracy.” Will Cheryl Halpern invite Ambassador Brownback over again to retell his theory about how Israel is not the problem?
THE KNESSET CHRISTIAN ALLIES CAUCUS. This group is dedicated to encouraging greater cooperation between the State of Israel and Christian leaders—and Brownback is (surprise!) one of those leaders. In 2004, he addressed the caucus: “I came to speak encouragement to a society that generally doesn’t hear an encouraging word from anyone. The people of Israel get beat on a lot, particularly out of Europe,” and, “the bedrock of support for Israel in America today is comprised of Christians, like myself, who were raised on the Bible.” He also emphasized America’s and Israel’s shared interest in “peaceful problem-solving.” KCAC and Brownback make quite a team.
ELON, BENNY. Elon, late Israeli Minister of Tourism and chairman of the right-wing National Union Party, proposed a “peace” plan in 2007: the Israeli Initiative (note the bias inherent even in the name of the plan). Brownback—then a presidential candidate—supported the plan, although it involved annexing the West Bank and Gaza, and transferring Palestinians living there to Jordan. Elon’s spokesman called it “the completion of the transfer of [the Palestinian] population that began in 1948.” To Brownback, it was “a movement forward.” He believes the idea of a Palestinian state should be taken off the table because, in his words, the Israeli Initiative would “work for everybody.” Elan’s other lifelong passion, before his death last May, was to gain international recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s undivided capital. According to his colleague Josh Reinstein, Elan “worked tirelessly to arouse support among over 1,000 members of legislature in some 35 parliaments around the world.” Brownback is highly invested in this vision as well. Elon also participated with Sam Brownback in the Jerusalem Summit (see below). Might Ambassador Brownback carry on Elon’s work?
DMITRY RADYSHEVSKY. Radyshevsky, a Russian Israeli, has crossed paths with Brownback on several occasions as executive director of the Jerusalem Summit (see below). Radyshevsky’s (downloadable) book, Universal Zionism, postulates, “Israel was not rebuilt to become the happy Holland of the Middle East, but to become the spiritual center of the world…This is exactly why Israel must retain control over the entire Holy Land…Resolving this conflict [with the Palestinians] peaceably by reaching a compromise with Evil and agreeing to co-exist with it, is equally impossible as co-existing with Nazism was.” He believes that, as paraphrased in cnsnews.com, “the free world must unite to defend and fortify Israel and make Jerusalem the center of a coalition that would confront totalitarianism and bring moral clarity, replacing the United Nations, which has failed in that task.” As Radyshevsky rubbed elbows with Brownback, did his theory of universal Zionism rub off?
Brownback’s NAR friends and friends of NAR friends
New Apostolic Reformation (NAR), is a fairly recent nondenominational movement within Christianity which teaches that “Christians must infiltrate and take control of government and other worldly institutions to pave the way for Jesus’ return.” The group espouses dominionism (“Christians have a God-given right to rule all earthly institutions”) and tend to be strongly anti-gay, pro-life, and pro-Israel. For example, one prominent NARite, Robert Stearns, leads an annual “Day of Prayer for the Peace of Jerusalem,” an event involving hundreds of millions of people around the world–the largest Israel-focused prayer event in history. Stearns’ ministry has been endorsed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Knesset Christian Allies Caucus (see above).
PERRY, RICK. Perry, an outspoken Christian, joined the presidential race briefly in 2015. He announced his candidacy a week after he held a Christians-only prayer rally, “The Response,” at Houston’s Reliant Stadium. Brownback was asked to pray and read from the Bible for the audience of 30,000. For the event, Perry partnered with top “apostles” the NAR movement. Bottom line: Rick Perry runs with an aggressively Christian Zionist crowd, and Sam Brownback runs with Rick Perry.
PALIN, SARAH. Palin, who frequented NAR churches in Alaska, is unsurprisingly pro-Israel. During a recent visit to the Jewish state, she stated that she had Israeli flags “on my desk, in my home, all over the place.” Palin is confident: “I’m confused as to why anyone could tell me that I’m wrong.” Sam Brownback is a fan, and would no doubt share her confusion.
BACHMANN, MICHELE. Bachman is also a dominionist and Christian Zionist. In 2011, she was guest speaker at the annual dinner of the Zionist Organization of America, hobnobbing—via video—with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. She gushed, “we have been singularly blessed in the United States because of the way the United States has blessed Israel over and over from 1948 until recent times.” Referring to President Obama’s lukewarm support of Israel, she added, “And I believe what the Bible says [that because of Obama’s policy] our nation and the people of our nation will reap a whirlwind, and we could see economic disasters, natural disasters.” Sam Brownback would say, “Amen!”
GINGRICH, NEWT. A practicing Catholic, Gingrich is, like Palin and Bachmann were, supported by NAR. He has famously declared that Palestinians are “an invented people.” Gingrich appointed self-proclaimed apostle and leading NAR figure Dutch Sheets to co-chair his Faith Leaders Coalition–“the group charged with rallying the faithful behind his candidacy”–during his presidential bid in 2012. Sheets’ fellow apostles hosted rallies for candidate Gingrich as a “wide-ranging effort to forge ties with dominionist leaders who believe America was founded as a Christian nation and that our government should be rooted in biblical law.” Sam Brownback is up to his armpits in NAR.
Brownback’s Jerusalem Summit friends
The Jerusalem Summit, which started in 2003, was an annual, global event with smaller regional events. It drew leading thinkers and politicians from Israel and the West into “an alliance of prominent intellectuals, public and spiritual leaders…The immediate goal…is to establish an international alliance of Israel’s friends with a center in Jerusalem that will generate innovative public and information campaigns to benefit Israel.” Sam Brownback was an attendee and is still listed among the “Presidium” of the organization. At the 2008 Summit, Brownback spoke of the need to give up on the Roadmap to Peace—the principle of “Israel giving up land held under its authority in exchange for peace.” He elaborated, “I don’t think it’s the right way to go. [We need to] deal with some of the bigger issues at the very outset…It should be resolved that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.” Jerusalem Summit’s Facebook page is active, but no news is available about the group since 2010, and the website has not been updated since that time.
PIPES, DANIEL. Pipes has participated with Brownback in the Jerusalem Summit. Pipes, a prolific writer and affiliated professor at the University of Haifa in Israel, is president of the Middle East Forum—their mission statement includes “to work for Palestinian acceptance of Israel.” In one of his website’s articles entitled “Palestinian Statehood is Acceptable Eventually,” he opines: “The solution to the Palestinian-Israeli confrontation lies not in more painful concessions by Israel but, to the contrary, in Israel imposing its will on its enemy and crushing the Palestinian dream to eliminate the Jewish state. Washington should encourage its Israeli ally in this.” Pipes has organized the Congressional Israel Victory Caucus to that end. Will Pipes’ and Brownback’s paths cross again?
BAUER, GARY. Bauer also worked with Brownback at the Jerusalem Summit. Bauer is on the board of the Emergency Committee for Israel, which works to “educate the public about the serious challenges to Israel’s security and what elected officials…should do in order to meet those challenges.” When asked why he stands with Israel, he replied, “Well my goodness, why would we not stand with Israel?…Why would we not stand with the nation about which God says, ‘If you bless it I will bless you, and if you curse it I will curse you’? That’s good enough for me. I don’t need anything else.” Brownback is on Bauer’s radar. They could conceivably pick up where the Jerusalem Summit left off.
Brownback’s Congressional friends
INHOFE, SENATOR JAMES, ET AL (Pro-Israel senators c. 2009). Brownback joined Senator Inhofe (R-OK) and 5 other senators in 2009 to introduce HR 1006, the Jerusalem Embassy Relocation Act, which proposed relocating the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. (This has been an ongoing issue since 1995.) The bill called on the US State Department to de-fund all its embassies around the world until the embassy in Tel Aviv was moved to Jerusalem. Brownback recognized that the move would spark widespread protest, but believed it needed to be done: “It is long overdue for America to recognize the sovereign right of Israel to choose Jerusalem as its capital city.” Cosponsor Inhofe went even further: “That land belongs to Israel – period.” The bill did not survive, but the Senators’ support for Israel remains intact.
In a category all his own:
JOHN HAGEE. Hagee crossed paths with Sam Brownback in 2006, when Hagee formed the now-powerful lobby, Christians United for Israel (CUFI). The CUFI kickoff event featured several conservative Republican heavyweights including one Sam Brownback. (President Bush couldn’t make it, but sent his greetings.) In the event, Hagee proclaimed the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians a “war of good versus evil.” Elsewhere, he declared, “To all Bible believers, let us UNITE to stand up and speak up for the State of Israel. God is watching!” Hagee suggested in 2014 that the ebola outbreak in the US may be the visitation of God’s judgment on America because President Obama “has been fighting to divide Jerusalem.”
The many trails of bread crumbs converge: clearly they lead to Israel–or more specifically, to Jerusalem. Many of Sam Brownback’s friends and colleagues have a burning mission to unify Jerusalem as the capital of the “Jewish State.” Others feel the state is on the brink of extinction and needs to be rescued. Several have created plans to expel or pulverize the remaining Palestinians; at least one doesn’t even think Palestinians exist.
Given the reputation the USCIRF already has for letting Israel off the hook, we should not expect a change in the direction of greater accountability with Brownback at the helm. Rather, we may see at best, continued whitewashing of Israel’s religious intolerance. At worst, he may make the “reunification” of Jerusalem his legacy of choice, unleashing the anger of a people who have been near their tipping point for too long.
Justice-minded progressives need to keep an eye on this appointment.
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