Washington-- In a think-tank office here sits the mastermind of a crusade againstforeign regimes that persecute Christians, an issue that is galvanizingevangelical churchgoers across America.
He is Michael J.Horowitz, a top budget official during the Reagan administration, now asenior fellow at the Hudson Institute -- and, as his name suggests, amember of a different religious group from those whose cause he ischampioning.
Why a man who calls himself "rootedly Jewish" wouldjoin forces with the Christian right is a question he gets asked often."Jews will call me and say, 'What are you doing consorting with theenemy?' " the 59-year-old Horowitz chortles. "Then I'll get a call fromthe Jews for Jesus saying, 'When can we sign you up?' " In a town fullof power brokers ad policy wonks promoting issues and mobilizingcoalitions, this onetime yeshiva student from the Bronx stands out asan advocate for an unlikely cause. Not only has Horowitz stirred up thewrath of Christian groups over reports that their foreign brethren arebeing tortured and jailed for practicing their faith, he is also thebrains behind a hotly contested legislative proposal to impose economicsanctions on countries such as China and Saudi Arabia where suchpersecution allegedly takes place.
The legislation, sponsored byRep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., and Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., is viewed bysome Republican strategists as an ideal vehicle for boosting supportamong the Christian right, and both House and Senate GOP leaders haveput a priority on its passage in some form.
The rationale behindWolf-Specter, summed up by Horowitz with characteristic verve: "They'repulling fingernails out of preachers? And you want us to subsidizethese guys with aid? What, are you kidding?" With his often-profane witand easily aroused sense of outrage, Horowitz doesn't exactly blend inwith allies who feel bound by the New Testament injunction to loveone's enemies. Yet he says he has developed a powerful feeling ofaffinity toward evangelicals, whom he calls "the Jews of the 21stcentury, the scapegoats of choice for many of the world's thugregimes." His approach is arousing fierce opposition in theforeign-policy establishment and in the business community, whoserepresentatives argue that economic sanctions rarely accomplishanything other than causing U.S. companies to lose sales to foreigncompetitors.
"It's not going to work, and it has the potentialto do tremendous harm to this country both economically andmilitarily," says J. Daniel O'Flaherty, a vice president at theNational Foreign Trade Council. "You're talking about sanctioningEgypt, China, Turkey, Saudi Arabia - come on!" The reaction to Horowitzis particularly acidic among some mainstream human-rights advocates,who are furious over his accusation that their elitist attitudes havecaused them to ignore the plight of oppressed Christians.
"Under theguise of religious tolerance, he spreads divisiveness wherever hegoes," says Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch.
Rothadds that while he applauds Horowitz for helping to rally the Christianright behind the human-rights banner, he doesn't think religiouspersecution should take priority over other human- rights violationssuch as the jailing of political dissidents. Similar objections havebeen raised by the State Department.
Nobody disputes, however,that the campaign against overseas religious persecution of Christiansand other peoples of faith (such as Tibetan Buddhists) has gatheredpolitical momentum, and that Horowitz is its prime mover.
SaysWolf: "Mike has probably done more than anyone else in the country tosensitize the religious community" to the persecution abroad.
"Byforce of personality, intimidation or moral suasion, he usually getshis way," says Richard Cizik, a policy analyst at the NationalAssociation of Evangelicals, who admits that Horowitz's bare-knuckletactics often disturb him. "I know people who disagree with Mike whofeel that they're the persecuted; they call me up and say, 'How can youassign this man this role?' And I say, 'I didn't. He took it, as anobligation of conscience.' " Whatever his stylistic flaws, "it tookMichael to wake people up," says Faith McDonnell, an associate at theInstitute on Religion and Democracy. "I always compare him to SaintMichael the Archangel, and say that he's defending the faith the waySaint Michael did." Quite a tribute for a guy who grew up hearingstories from his immigrant grandparents about bloody pogroms againstJews in Poland, and who vividly recalls the taunt "You killed ourChrist!" from the bullies who beat him up on the way home from schoolin the Bronx.
The incongruity is not as great as it might seem,Horowitz contends. He believes that Jews, as the victims of the mosthorrific religious persecution in history, ought to be particularlyappalled by the stories he has seen documented - Chinese clergymen inunauthorized "house churches" being sent to prison camps, for example;or Filipino guest workers in Saudi Arabia being jailed for holdingBible study groups; or Egyptian Christians being kidnapped by radicalMoslims for forcible conversion without interference from the police.
Andeven though many of history's most brutal acts of antisemitism havebeen carried out by people invoking Jesus's name, the American Jewishcommunity has a self-interest in joining forces with fundamentalistChristians, according to Horowitz.
Citing an article by aretired Washington rabbi titled "The Bible Belt Is Our Safety Belt," heargues that Jews are safest from the world's Hitlers when the populaceis worshiping a God of faith rather than a God of politics.
"Thefact of the matter is, the Holocaust really began after religious faithdeclined in Europe," he says, noting that his family was able to avoidthe gas chambers and the ovens because it immigrated to a country wheretotalitarianism never caught on.
"I would be a bar of soap, alampshade," Horowitz declares, " were it not for the rooted faith ofchurchgoing Americans." His introduction to the religious-persecutionissue came in 1994 when he and his wife, Devra Marcus, hired a devoutChristian Ethiopian, Getaneh Metafria Getaneh, as a live-in domestichelper.
Horowitz was horrified when, in response to his probing,Getaneh disclosed that while in Ethiopia he had been imprisoned severaltimes for preaching, and tortured by having boiling oil poured on thesoles of his feet while being whipped by metal cables.
Outragedwhen he learned it might be impossible to secure asylum for Getaneh,Horowitz became acquainted with a small network of activists and clergyinvolved in fighting persecution. The more he learned about the issue,the more incensed he grew over how little notice it was getting, whichhe blamed on the same sort of indifference and contempt that EuropeanJewry had once encountered from Western elites.
"I came to seethe blindness and bigotry of the establishment about Christians," hesays. Together with Nina Shea, founder of the Puebla Institute, aconservative Catholic human-rights organization, he organized aconference in January 1996 that was aimed at jolting Christianorganizations into action. It worked.
A "Statement ofConscience," drafted by Horowitz, was adopted by the NationalAssociation of Evangelicals and several other organizations withmillions of followers. Christian broadcasters began talking up thesubject, generating a prairie fire of agitation, as did columnist A.M.Rosenthal in The New York Times who wrote that Horowitz had "screamedme awake." Not that Horowitz won over the entire Christianestablishment; far from it. A number of religious groups, including themainstream National Council of Churches, oppose his confrontationalapproach as counterproductive and likely to endanger missionaries.
Othersargue that persecution is abating in many countries. William McGurn, anAsia-based journalist whose family has helped build two churches inChina, wrote recently in Slate magazine that "much criticism nowleveled by American Christian activists seems less a snapshot of Chinain the late 1990s than a caricature drawn from the high days of Maoisma generation ago." Horowitz rebuts such claims by citing a recentlypublished book, Their Blood Cries Out, which estimates that 200 millionChristians are being systematically persecuted worldwide, mostly inMoslem and communist countries.
Horowitz's bigger headache hasbeen to craft an effective bill for dealing with persecution. Heacknowledges that imposing punitive barriers against imports fromoffending countries would be a bad idea, because trade often helpsfoster the growth of middle classes and democratic tendencies indeveloping nations.
Trouble is, critics of Wolf-Specter pointout, the bill suffers from a "shooting yourself in the foot" problem --namely, that the punishment it would supposedly inflict on the Chinese,Saudis and others would arguably hurt the US a lot more. For example,banning the US Export-Import Bank from financing a deal to selltelephone equipment to the Chinese might simply mean that the Japaneseor French would get the contract instead.
Retorts Horowitz: "Hereare countries which are found to be involved in widespread and ongoingacts of murder, torture, starvation, even crucifixion - why in theworld should taxpayers be providing direct or indirect subsidies toregimes of that kind?" The sanctions in the bill are "mild," he admits,and that's precisely why the bill's opponents ought to accept its basicapproach rather than kill it as they are trying to do now, because thealternative will be a battle royal over the issue during next year'smidterm election.
"This is not a movement that's going to go away," he says.
"There'sgoing to be a Day of Prayer on November 16 in which a lot of churchesare going to be participating. I don't know why people think they canwage war on the religious community, and I don't think it's in theinterest of the administration, or the Democratic Party, or thebusiness community, to do so. If we end up having a great debate in anelection year, so be it."