For the eight years of the Bush-II administration, a key behind-the-scenes architect of U.S. strategy in the Middle East was Elliott Abrams, a neoconservative whose devotion to Israel is hard to overstate and who is now engaged in what looks like a PR campaign to bend Barack Obama's Mideast policies in the direction favored by Israel's hard-line Likud government.
However, unlike many neocons, Abrams has been surprisingly frank about his devotion to Israel as a Jewish state. He has even expressed resentment toward Christians who hold nuanced views about Israel or who show sympathy for the Palestinians uprooted from their ancestral homes.
In 1997, Abrams published a book entitled, Fear or Faith: How Jews Can Survive in a Christian America, which explained his strong commitment to Zionism; chastised Jews who marry Christians; and lashed out at American Christians for what he regarded as their insufficient support for Israel.
"Where Catholics and mainline Protestants still fall short is in their failure to understand the relationship of most Jews to Israel," Abrams wrote. He singled out a 1990 statement by the United Church of Christ that Abrams asserted "was remarkably ungenerous when it came to Israel."
Abrams cited a passage in the statement in which the Protestant church expressed sympathy for Jews who had suffered centuries of persecution but also noted disagreement among its members about whether Jews had a special claim on the Holy Land because of the supposed covenant with God described in the Jewish Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament).
"We appreciate the compelling moral argument for the creation of modern Israel as a vehicle for self-determination and as a haven for a victimized people," the United Church of Christ statement said, before tempering that sentiment with sympathy for Palestinians.
"We also recognize that this event has entailed the dispossession of Palestinians from their homes and the denial of human rights," the church statement said.
Abrams objected to this placing of Israeli and Palestinian concerns in the same passage, what neoconservatives often decry as "moral equivalence."
"Indeed," Abrams wrote, "at some points the statement referred to "the State of Israel-Palestine' and used the term "uprising' to refer to Arab activities most Israelis see as terrorist violence against them. This was at best a dry even handedness and conveyed no sense of joy at contemplating Israel restored."
Abrams also criticized the Lutherans and the Presbyterians. "In fact, one can search very long among mainline Protestants statements to find a sympathetic word about Israel," he wrote. By contrast, he cited favorably a comment by Rabbi Mordecai Waxman, who declared:
"The existence, significance, and meaning of the State of Israel to the Jewish people cannot be overestimated. In the Jewish theological and religious assessment the State represents a fulfillment of Jewish history, a validation of the ongoing covenant [with God], and the major creative response to the Holocaust. "
"Christians apparently cannot share this vision nor the psychology and history which have created it."
Another key point of Fear or Faith is Abrams's concern that the survival of the Jewish community in the United States is threatened by intermarriage with non-Jews. He admonished American Jews who marry outside the faith, a criticism that has angered some American Jews who have non-Jewish spouses.
Abrams' surprisingly frank statements about how his Jewish religion and his ardent support of Israel color his opinions and his attitudes toward Christians invite questions about his objectivity as a senior U.S. government policymaker dealing with the Middle East and now a prominent analyst at the influential Council on Foreign Relations.
Since the end of George W. Bush's administration, Abrams and other neocons have been fighting a spirited rear-guard battle against any Obama initiative that seeks major concessions from Israel to promote a peace deal with the Palestinians. Indeed, the neocons appear to be especially eager to divert Obama's attention onto Iran and away from Israel.
Rather than continued pressure on Israel's hard-line Likud Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Abrams is urging "a new approach" that would remove the emphasis on Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and instead focus on "countering the designs of spoilers of the peace efforts."