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Alliance Between Conservative US Christians and Israel Worries Muslim Leaders - 2002-10-16

A growing alliance between conservative Christians in the United States and Israel is sparking concern among Muslim leaders, who fear what they see as a campaign against Islam. American Christian Zionists say they are strengthening their support for the Jewish state because of the fight against terrorism.

Thousands of enthusiastic evangelical Christians, waving Israeli and American flags and carrying large banners proclaiming Christ as the King of Kings and the Lion of Judah, poured into the Washington Convention Center last week for a rally to support the state of Israel.

The demonstration was organized by the Christian Coalition, a group which says it has two million supporters and calls itself "the largest and most active conservative grassroots political organization in America."

The founder of the Christian Coalition, Pat Robertson, says his group is Israel's strongest supporter. "The evangelical Christians make up, other than the Jewish community, the strongest support for the Jewish causes in the world and for the nation of Israel of all the people in the world," he said.

Since the September 11 terrorist attacks last year in the United States the bond between conservative American Christians and Israel has grown stronger.

Many evangelical Christians interpret the Bible literally, and believe the return of the Jews to their ancient homeland is a precondition for the Second Coming of Christ.

According to the New Testament's Book of Revelations, the final battle in the history of the earth will be fought at Armageddon, in northern Israel.

Evangelical leaders like Pat Robertson do not mince words when they preach about the dangers to the Jewish state. "The radical fundamentalists in the Islamic world wish to destroy Israel and wipe it off the face of the earth and drive the Jews into the sea and we are not going to let that happen," he said. "The Palestinian Authority right now, in my opinion, are a group of mafia-like thugs that have been imported from Tunisia and really Palestine has been occupied by Yasser Arafat and his thugs. We can not turn that nation over to them."

Conservative Jewish leaders like Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert embrace the evangelicals' support. "We are partners," said Ehud Olmert. "We are friends. We share a common ground of belief in the destiny of our city [Jerusalem]. We share a common ground of belief in the history of our city. We will continue to work together with all the power that we possess, both here in America and in the state of Israel to defeat the forces of evil and to triumph over them in order to save our country, in order to build the future that we all pray for."

Many American Muslims are alarmed. Ibrahim Hooper, the spokesman for the Washington based Council on American-Islamic Relations, calls the strengthening relationship between evangelical Christians and Israel an "unholy alliance." "When these two groups get together, one of their main agenda items is to marginalize and disenfranchise the American Muslim community," he said. "To do that they have to demonize Muslims and Islam and I think that is what we are seeing, with a concerted campaign coming from evangelical leaders like Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and Franklin Graham."

The Reverend Jerry Falwell, a conservative Baptist minister, recently called Islam's founder, the Prophet Mohammed, a terrorist.

Mr. Falwell later apologized for the remark, but Ibrahim Hooper says there is a growing trend by some Christian leaders to use vitriolic language when describing the Muslim faith. "One thing that we have seen recently is that there is no longer a prohibition on attacking the faith of Islam itself," said Ibrahim Hooper. "It used to be that these people would have to couch their attacks in terms of criticism of Muslim fundamentalism or militancy or extremism. Now the gloves are off and they feel free to attack the faith of Islam in the most derogatory and defamatory terms. I think that is encouraged by the silence of elected officials and other opinion leaders in the society."

Shortly after the September 11 attacks, President Bush visited a mosque and called Islam a "religion of peace." He also said the U.S. led war against international terrorism is not a war against Muslims.

Many evangelical Christians agree with the president. But despite the apology by Mr. Falwell following his recent comments, many Muslims remain wary about the growing relationship between conservative Christians and Israel.