A lot of people don’t like Tom DeLay. As the majority whip and, since January 2001, the majority leader of the U.S. House of Representatives, DeLay is the fellow who has been leading the charge for the Republicans on Capitol Hill the last few years. He is a hard-core conservative, and believes in scorched-earth tactics in the bitter partisan warfare that he has helped incite.

Democrats in Washington and Texas, and liberals in general, view him with a distaste that borders on horror. It’s more than the fact that he is unflinchingly conservative on social and fiscal issues; to them, he is the personification of the far right and all its works.

Liberals around the country use the former insect and pest exterminator’s name as a rallying cry to raise funds for Democrats. In particular, fear of DeLay and his Christian conservative allies is still the trump card Democrats can play among predominantly liberal Jewish contributors and voters.


But there is more to the man than opposition to abortion, gerrymandering in Texas and bare-knuckles politics in Washington. He is also a fervent Christian Zionist.

DeLay proved that once again last week by going to Israel and delivering a stirring speech to the Knesset that ought to be seen as the gold standard by which all pro-Israel rhetoric should be judged. [Editor’s Note: Highlights of that speech were featured in last week’s issue of The Jewish Press and can be viewed on our website – www.jewishpress.com – under the title ‘Be Not afraid.’]

Going beyond the usual formula used by American politicians, DeLay told reporters there he was ‘an Israeli of the heart.’ He proclaimed the alliance between Israel and the United States as one between two fellow democracies with a common terrorist enemy, saying that ‘Israel’sfight is our fight.’ He expressed support for President Bush’s effort to empower the Palestinians – but, as in Bush’s now-abandoned June 24, 2002, policy speech, he thinks anything they get should be conditioned on their abandonment of terror and embrace of ‘liberal democracy.’

But while DeLay’s support was warmly welcomed by Israelis, a number of American Jews are distinctly uncomfortable with it.


First, some on the left worry that he and the many American Christians who share his views on Israel are a little too enthusiastic about the government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, and far too skeptical about the Palestinian Authority’s new leader, Mahmoud Abbas, and the road map to peace that he has seen as appeasement of terrorists.

M.J. Rosenberg, spokesperson for the Israel Policy Forum, the dovish group coordinating the campaign to promote Abbas’s image in this country, sent out a special e-mail message to downplay the impact of DeLay’s ardent pro-Zionism. Saying publicly what some other Jewish leaders say in private, Rosenberg dismissed DeLay’s pro-Israel fervor as one that was ‘fueled by apocalyptic religious fundamentalism.’

But that slur and his own strong Christian faith notwithstanding, DeLay has made it clear that his love for Israel is not contingent on a mass Jewish conversion after the second coming of the Christian messiah. Denigrating the sincerity of conservative Christian support for Israel is notnew, but under the current circumstances, it is particularly troubling. After three years of a terrorist war, Israelis are catching their breath as the Palestinian terrorists use a three-month cease-fire to rearm and refit. Like Sharon, most Israelis hope that Abbas will make a difference. But unlike the Israel Policy Forum, they want to judge Abbas by his deeds and not by his soothing rhetoric.


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Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS. He can be followed on Twitter, @jonathans_tobin.