The panel “Standing with Israel: A Moral and Strategic Imperative” at Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition conference last week in Washington featured an odd combination of speakers. Brock and Bodie Thoene, self-described authors of 65 works of “very accurate” historical fiction about Israel, were included on the panel alongside Brad Gordon, the Director of Policy and Government Affairs for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
Conservative Christian political conferences often host a panel discussion on Israel, but the Israel discussion at FFC’s “Road to Majority” conference was the first I’d seen pairing novelists masquerading as historians alongside the policy head of one of Washington’s most powerful political advocacy groups. Gordon sat by as the Thoenes compared Israel to the battle of the Alamo and contemporary America to the Weimar Republic.
Moderated by Jordan Sekulow, the executive director of the American Center for Law and Justice, Pat Robertson’s conservative Christian answer to the ACLU, the panel was designed to persuade Christian activists why they should support Israel. (ACLJ also has an office in Israel.) Sekulow, a blogger for the Washington Post, is regular provocateur in the conservative press against Islam. The third panelist was Ashley Bell, a former advisor to Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign.
Gordon recited a litany of threats to Israel from Egypt, Hamas, Lebanon, Hezbollah, Syria, and especially Iran. Bell, the former Romney advisor, exhorted “people of faith” to “do more” for Israel. But Bodie Thoene, the wife of the husband-and-wife fiction team, painted a far more dire picture than the others. “We know the facts,” she said, “and it’s horrifying.”
She recounted how, as a young writer for John Wayne, the Duke encouraged her to write about the 1948 “rebirth of the state of Israel” because “it’s the Jewish Alamo.”
Thoene, who repeatedly describes herself as a historian, segued from this odd historical comparison to another. “What we are seeing in this country, right now," she said, is “very uncomfortably similar to the Weimar Republic of Germany, 1932.” (The audience murmured knowingly, as if this were a familiar, yet still frightening observation.) She claimed to be a “studier of human body language,” and that she was watching Gordon as he spoke. “I see in his mind, he’s saying I know it’s 10 million times more than I just told you, and it’s a million times scarier than what I just said.”
Gordon didn’t contest this, but in response to an audience question about whether it was safe to travel in Israel, he tacitly countered Thoene’s contention that “bombs are coming over the walls every day.”
“Israel is a very normal country to walk around in,” Gordon said.
Still, for anyone listening to Thoene, that description would be hard to believe. I caught up with the Thoenes later at their book signing, where Bodie expanded on some of her theories as an “historian.” Bodie, whose father was Jewish but said she became a Christian as an adult, professed to be fascinated with the “miracle” of Israel and that “God had to be behind it.”
Thoene repeated well-worn myths that are commonplace in certain conservative circles about Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem during the British Mandate period. In particular, these myths tie al-Husseini’s anti-Semitism and pro-Nazism as one continuous line to present day Palestinians, or as Thoene put it, “You can trace the DNA.”
Indeed al-Husseini supported Hitler, but many promoters of the continuous line theory overstate their case, and add details based on thin or no historical evidence. (Thoene, for example, told me the grand mufti “was given a bulletproof vest by Hitler himself.”) As Israel historian Tom Segev noted in a 2008 review of the book, Icon of Evil: Hitler’s Mufti and the Rise of Radical Islam, by David G. Dalin and John F. Rothmann, such claims “tend to blur the terms radical Islam, anti-Semitism and Nazism, and numerous Arab and Muslim leaders are grouped together as disciples of the mufti.”
Thoene told me, “The same spirit of, of the same people who hated the Jews so much that they herded six million into the ovens in Europe still exists among the Arab leadership, the Muslim Islamic radical Islamic leadership.” I pressed her about who, exactly, she meant by that. She said she meant the “terrorists” who “have not only taken on the original training of the SS” but “have the same goal, which is to drive the Jews into the sea.”
Dalin and Rothman’s book, Segev argued, “belongs to a genre of popular Arab-bashing that is often believed to be ‘good for Israel.’” But “[t]he suggestion that Israel’s enemies are Nazis, or the Nazis’ heirs, is apt to discourage any fair compromise with the Palestinians, and that is bad for Israel.”
I asked Thoene what she thought of Secretary of State John Kerry’s efforts to revive the peace process, something she appeared to have spent little time assessing. “I’ll stick with the history and say there is an agenda to drive the Jews into the sea, and that goes all the way back to the '30s.” The agenda, she added, “goes all the way back and has never changed. The war has never ended.”