Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, August 2007, pages 50-51
Israel and Judaism
Concern Growing About Jewish Groups’ Liaison With Evangelical Israel Supporters
By Allan C. Brownfeld
The growing alliance between Evangelical Christian supporters of Israel and groups such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is stirring a growing debate.
At AIPAC’s national conference in March, Pastor John Hagee, the evangelical minister from San Antonio, Texas who in 2006 founded Christians United for Israel (CUFI), the first Christian pro-Israel lobbying group, addressed the delegates and received a standing ovation.
Hagee is a proponent of the theology known as dispensational premillennialism (see “The Dangerous Potent Elixir of Christian Zionism” by Pat Morrison, April 2007 Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, p. 58). The author of several books setting forth his “end days” theology, Hagee’s latest volume, Jerusalem Countdown, depicts a scenario in which Iran and a coalition of Islamic countries, led by Russia, will unleash a nuclear attack on Israel, leading to the ultimate battle of Armageddon. According to Hagee, this battle between what he terms the “Islamo-fascists” and the Christians and Jews already is upon us.
Evangelical supporters of Israel vigorously oppose all peace efforts which involve territorial adjustments with the Palestinians. At the April 2002 Israel solidarity rally in Washington, DC, evangelical radio host Janet Parshall declared, “We will not give back the Golan.” When Prime Minister Ariel Sharon called for disengagement from Gaza, Christian Zionists opposed the government of Israel. The Rev. Pat Robertson even suggested that Sharon’s subsequent stroke was God’s punishment for abandoning land the Bible declared to be God’s patrimony to the Jews.
Today, however, more and more Jewish voices are being heard expressing concern about the growing liaison between Jewish and evangelical groups.
Writing in the May 2007 issue of Sh’ma, Gershon Gorenberg, author of The Accidental Empire: Israel and the Birth of the Settlements l967-l977 and The End of Days: Fundamentalism and the Struggle for The Temple Mount,described Israel’s Evangelical supporters as follows: “This is the kind of friend your mother should have warned you about when you were young: the one you accept when you are feeling unpopular, who is loud, dares you to do dangerous things, gives you a bad name, drives other people away.”
“Evangelical Christians are antagonistic to any territorial division of the Holy Land.”
The existence of Israel, Gorenberg noted, “proves” that prophecy is coming true. “For that the Jews are loved,” he wrote. “Yet the Jews—says the same theology—live in obstinate error as deniers of Jesus and will pay the price. Radio evangelist Chuck Missler, for instance, has asserted that Auschwitz was ”˜just a little prelude’ to what will happen to Jews in the approaching Last Days...This kind of cheering squad poses two practical risks. The first is that Israeli politicians will be tempted to believe that they can count on support for intransigence—indeed, that American political support will be most firm when they are most unbending. Christian Zionists are encouraging Israel to live dangerously.”
Jews who welcome Christian Zionist support, Gorenberg noted, dismiss the Evangelical theology. “Since they don’t believe in the apocalypse or Second Coming,” he noted, “they regard such predictions as irrelevant. What matters [to them] is here-and-now support. This attitude shows spectacular disrespect for allies who base their lives on theology...The believers look forward to war. Mike Evans, who has built an evangelical ministry on supporting Israel, writes in his book Jerusalem Betrayed that an apocalypse is coming in Israel and urges readers to pray for that to happen.”
“I don’t like that they would not like to see Israel trade land for peace,” said Rabbi Jonathan Biatch of Temple Beth El in Madison, Wisconsin, “because in my view that’s a very important formula. The real bottom line is the fact that this organization [CUFI] would like to exacerbate tensions in the Middle East so it will lead to Armageddon.”
In Sacramento, California, the city’s largest Reform synagogue, Congregation B’nai Israel, declined to participate in the local Christians United for Israel event. Elsewhere, however, Jewish groups have joined with Hagee’s organization. A recent “Night To Honor Israel” held outside Minneapolis raised $l00,000.
David Elcott, executive director of the Israel Policy Forum and former director of Interreligious Affairs for the American Jewish Committee, said this of the Jewish-Evangelical alliance in the May 2007 Sh’ma:
“Christian Zionists, Evangelicals who know God’s will from their biblical insights and offer a literal reading of Scriptures, concern me...In fact, their support may endanger Israel’s future more than our fickle mainline Protestant friends...The last five governments of Israel have called for a Palestinian state living next to a secure, demographically viable Israel. Christian Zionists unequivocally condemn that solution.”
Elcott pointed out that “Israelis support a two-state solution by a two-to-one margin. The last Hebrew University Truman Center study showed that 58 per cent of Israelis would negotiate with Hamas right now. A clear majority of American Jews polled in the latest American Jewish Committee survey also seek a Palestinian state as part of a negotiated settlement. Meanwhile, Evangelical Christians are antagonistic to any territorial division of the Holy Land, even if such an agreement could bring peace.”
Concluded Elcott: “We should embrace in friendship and in dialogue all our Christian brothers and sisters, seek common cause where we can while engaging in respectful dialogue when we disagree...But it is time to unequivocally reframe the Middle East debate and make clear that the greatest defenders of the State of Israel...are those of us who advocate for an end to the conflict and peace for all those who reside in the land that all call holy.”
In May, a typical “Night To Honor Israel” took place in Alexandria, Virginia. It was sponsored by The Jerusalem Connection International (JCI), under the auspices of CUFI. The Rev. Jim Hutchens, president of JCI and regional director of CUFI, was emphatic in his belief that Israel should not make any kind of territorial compromise with her neighbors. One of the speakers, the Rev. Jan Willem van der Hoeven, director of the International Christian Zionist Center in Jeru salem, received a standing ovation after urging President George W. Bush: “Do not divide the land and give the terrorists a base.”
Another speaker, WorldNetDaily.com founder and writer Joseph Farah, called the 2005 Gaza disengagement “ethnic cleansing” by the Israeli government that was an “invitation to another genocide.” Republican presidential candidate Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) said that it was on a trip to Israel a number of years ago that he decided he would “never...support the giving up of one inch of the state of Israel. That will always be my position.”
Jewish participants in this meeting included Rabbi Marvin Bash, rabbi emeritus of Congregation Etz Hayim in Arlington, Virginia and chaplain at Fort Belvoir Jewish Military Congregation, and Rabbi Jack Moline of Agudas Achim Congregation in Alexandria. Rabbi Bash acknowledged that Jews who are more liberal about territorial compromise might have been uncomfortable with the program, but said he himself took a hard-line position and was not bothered by the opposition to giving back West Bank territory. Rabbi Moline thanked the group in his invocation for its “love of the Jewish people” and “enduring love for the land of Israel and the state of Israel.”
Also attending the meeting was Martin Peled-Flax, minister-counselor for domestic affairs at the Embassy of Israel. Thanking those in attendance for “their past support for Israel,” the Israeli diplomat urged them to continue to “speak up and not be silent.”
Challenging those rabbis who agreed to participate in this “Night To Honor Israel,” Rabbi Gerald Serotta of Temple Shalom in Chevy Chase, Maryland, declared that, “Most of us believe that Israel as a Jewish and democratic state cannot survive while controlling the entire Land of Israel. This is the most pressing reason not to give support to Christians United For Israel, and in fact to oppose their political impact.” Serotta suggested that the rabbis should have told the audience that “Kedushat Haam [survival of the Jewish people] is more important thanKedushat Haaretz [sanctity of the land].”
There is, of course, a certain irony in Jewish groups, which call for strict separation of church and state within the American political arena and sharply challenge the political role played by evangelical groups, to embrace—together with those very groups—a policy toward Israel based on an interpretation of biblical law. Philip Weiss, writing in the June 4, 2007 issue of The American Conservative, noted that, “Many Jews with strong feelings about Israel—many of whom...have never been there—are helping to shape public perceptions. Almost all these opinion-makers are self-described secular Jews who get worked up about separating church and state when it’s evangelical Christians trying to change laws on stem-cell research, abortion and gay marriage. Yet these seculars are often invested themselves, without being aware of it, in a religious ideology—a Jewish nationalist claim on the Holy Land inscribed in the Old Testament.”
Jerry Falwell’s Role
The role of the late Jerry Falwell in forging the alliance between Christian fundamentalism and right-wing Zionism cannot be overestimated. In 1978, Falwell traveled to Israel on a trip sponsored for and by the Israeli government. In 1979, when Prime Minister Menachem Begin was building Jewish settlements throughout the West Bank, the Israelis extended another free trip. Falwell traveled the road toward the Palestinian town of Nablus, turned off the highway and stood at a cluster of prefabricated houses built by Jewish settlers. At the time, Falwell declared that God was kind to America only because “America has been kind to the Jews.” At a gala dinner in New York in 1980, Prime Minister Begin bestowed upon Falwell a medal named for Vladimir Jabotinsky, the right-wing Zionist leader. In 1981, when Israel bombed Iraq’s nuclear reactor, Begin immediately called Jerry Falwell for support.
Expressing this mindset in Congress, Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-OK) stated on March 4, 2002 on the Senate floor, “I believe very strongly that we ought to support Israel...because God said so...Look it up in the Book of Genesis...This is not a political battle at all. It is a contest over whether or not the word of God is true.”
Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, believes that inviting John Hagee to address AIPAC, and the growing alliance between Jewish and evangelical groups, may be alienating Jewish young people. As he wrote in the May 18 Forward: “We have learned from extensive research that these young people are more socially liberal than their baby-boomer parents. They are pluralistic in their thinking and they are tolerant of difference...They respond negatively to those who disparage other religious traditions and who make exclusivist religious claims. They are inherently centrist in their political views on the Middle East. And they are suspicious of a Jewish establishment that they see as too focused on money and insufficiently focused on values. And so whom do we offer to these young people as a spokesman for Israel? John Hagee, who is contemptuous of Muslims, dismissive of gays, possesses a triumphalist theology and opposes a two-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. If our intention was to distance our young adults from the Jewish state, we could not have made a better choice.”
Beyond this, Yoffie wrote, “Even worse, a primary motive here seems to be that we see Hagee and his Christians United for Israel as a source of dollars for federation coffers. The pattern has been that in return for federation sponsorship of dinners hosted by the lobbying group, contributions are made by Christians United for Israel to our federation fund-raising campaigns. The conclusion that our young people are most likely to draw from this arrangement is that we are simply selling our souls.” ❑
Allan C. Brownfeld is a syndicated columnist and associate editor of the Lincoln Review, a journal published by theLincoln Institute for Research and Education, and editor of Issues, the quarterly journal of the American Council for Judaism.