Bombing is backed by most American voters

From Tom Baldwin in Washington

08/04/06 "
The Times" -- -- ISRAEL’s military campaign in southern Lebanon is still being backed by most American voters, according to a survey published yesterday that shows public opinion in the US once again sharply at odds with views in Europe.

The Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll found that 59 per cent believed that Israel’s actions were “justified”, although a quarter of this group stated that the military had behaved in an “excessively harsh” fashion.

In contrast, a recent YouGov/Telegraph poll in Britain showed that only 17 per cent of those surveyed believed that Israel had made an “appropriate and proportional” response to the kidnapping of its soldiers. A Forsa/Stern poll has indicated that 75 per cent of Germans believe that Israel’s actions are “disproportionate” and only 12 per cent approved of the attacks on Palestinian or Lebanese settlements. Such a division across the Atlantic in Western public opinion is similar to that which opened up over whether there should be an invasion of Iraq.

This is, in part, a reflection of the more aggressive stance adopted by American voters after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. John McCain, the Republican senator, spoke for many this week when he suggested that America would respond in a similar fashion to Israel if it faced missile attacks from the other side of the Mexican border.

But support for Israel, which extends to billions of dollars in military aid, has deeper roots within American politics, where there is a long-established and influential Jewish lobby. This emphasises Israel’s post-Holocaust origins, its staunch support for the US during the Cold War and its role as a democracy in a region prone to dictatorship and extremism.

Last week 20 Democrat congressmen reacted furiously when Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi Prime Minister, criticised Israel and failed to condemn Hezbollah as terrorists. They called for the withdrawal of his invitation to address Congress and some boycotted his speech.

The bipartisan pro-Israel lobby has, in recent years, been further strengthened by the fervour of millions of right-wing evangelical Christians, at least some of whom believe that the Middle East conflict is the fulfilment of the Bible’s prophecy of Armageddon.

Last month the Reverend John Hagee, a Pentecostal television evangelist from Texas, convened a meeting in Washington of 3,500 members of Christians Unified for Israel. The organisation is dedicated to building support for Israel, even in states where there are few Jewish voters.

Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas, a Republican presidential hopeful, attended the rally, as did Senator Rick Santorum, of Pennsylvania, Ken Mehlman, the Republican National Committee chairman, and Daniel Ayalon, the Israeli Ambassador.

Mr Hagee called the Israeli attacks on Lebanon a “miracle of God” and suggested that a ceasefire would violate “God’s foreign policy statement” towards Jews. The evangelist is a leading figure in the so-called Christian-Zionist movement, rooted in a literal interpretation of the Book of Revelations, which predicts a final battle between good and evil in Israel, where two billion people will die before Christ’s return ushers in a 1,000-year period of grace.

“The end of the world as we know it is rapidly approaching . . . Rejoice and be exceeding glad — the best is yet to be,” Mr Hagee has written in a book that has sold 700,000 copies.

President Bush sent a message to the gathering praising Mr Hagee and his supporters for “spreading the hope of God’s love and the universal gift of freedom”. He is said to have added: “God bless and stand by the people of Israel and God bless the United States.”

The support for Israel of 50 million American evangelicals chimes with the reality of the Administration’s foreign policy, which refuses to tolerate terrorist organisations — or the Middle Eastern regimes linked to them. Dennis Ross, a Middle East envoy in the administrations of the first President Bush and Bill Clinton, said recently that evangelical supporters of Israel were now an “important part of the landscape”.


43 per cent thinks Israel’s actions justified, not excessively harsh

28 per cent thinks Israel’s action is unjustifed

13 per cent thinks the US should call for an immediate ceasefire

50 per cent thinks the US should continue to align itself with Israel

Copyright 2006 Times Newspapers Ltd.

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