March 1, 2007
Book review: Are Christian Zionists good for the Jews?
"A Match Made in Heaven: American Jews, Christian Zionists, and One Man's Exploration of the Weird and Wonderful Judeo-Evangelical Alliance" by Zev Chafets. (HarperCollins, $24.95)
A book about the serious matters of religion and nationalism and politics and war is not usually laugh-out-loud funny. "A Match Made in Heaven" shatters that stereotype.
The author, Zev Chafets, shatters stereotypes with his life choices, not just his prose. Reared in Pontiac, Mich., Chafets moved to Israel after graduating from the University of Michigan. By then, he had gotten over the idea held by so many Jews that evangelical Christians are devils in disguise. In fact, Chavets exhibited outright curiosity about Christians, so he asked questions of his acquaintances uninhibitedly, the way children often do.
He remained in Israel for 33 years, becoming a well-known journalist as well as communications director for Prime Minister Menachem Begin and then, eventually, moved back to the United States.
Without his expert grounding in American and Middle Eastern culture, combined with his irreverence, Chafets would lack the credibility, the raw material and the attitude to write such a mind-shattering book.
First, the serious message: War in the Middle East could wipe out the nation of Israel any time, and its Jewish-hating enemies are unlikely to relent.
That means Israel needs all the assistance it can get, Chafets says, including the support of American evangelical Christians who otherwise seem incompatible with Jewish values.
Jews doubt the sincerity of evangelical Christians' support for Israeli survival, Chafets contends, worriedly. "Many believe that evangelicals want to convert them, or use them as cannon fodder in some End of Days Armageddon battle. They suspect that behind the warm, toothy smiles of the evangelicals is a cold-hearted desire to establish a Christian theocracy in the United States."
Jews who care about the survival of Israel should welcome the faith, the influence with Republican White House occupants, and the money supplied by the likes of preachers Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, rather than turn it away, Chafets says.
He is not hopeful, though, because Jewish history is filled with misjudgments. "The Jewish impulse to deny danger, misread political reality, and choose the wrong enemies isn't unique to this generation. The ancient Hebrews were out of Egyptian bondage for about 10 minutes before they began clamoring to go back. Jews wandered around the world homeless for two thousand years while every other nation got itself a state (even the Belgians figured out nationalism faster)."
"In Eastern Europe, Jews defended themselves by praying to a God who didn't listen or building grandiose political theories about the brotherhood of man that pissed everyone off."
As for today, Chafets worries that American Jews too easily conclude "it is more satisfying to fight the Falwells than to join them." That attitude is perhaps easy to understand intellectually, but difficult for Chafets to grasp emotionally when a war to the death is a daily reality.
In Israel, Chafets learned during his 33 years living there, Jews see nothing unusual about evangelical Christians supporting their right to exist in Ground Zero of multiple world faiths. It is the American Jews who find the match strange. So what if Pat Robertson exhibits a skewed view of kingdom come from a Jewish viewpoint?: "The simple fact is that, nuts or not, Robertson is a man with his own university, an army of lawyers, and a million viewers a day. In short, he's a good man to have on your side."
Chafets shows the warmth exhibited by Israeli leaders toward visiting Christian Zionists: "One day [celebrity American singer-songwriters] Johnny Cash and June Carter came by for a photo op" with Begin.
"Cash was a lover of biblical history and came to see Begin directly from a visit to Masada, the mountain fortress where Jewish zealots had, 2,000 years earlier, staged a sort of kosher Alamo in their futile rebellion against the Roman conquerors of Palestine. The early Zionists adopted Masada as a symbol of steadfastness and courage.
When Cash told Begin he had been there, the prime minister slammed his hand down on his desk and proclaimed, 'Masada will never fall again!' The Man in Black was so startled he nearly jumped out of his cowboy boots."
The phrase "kosher Alamo" is a classic example of Chafets' irreverence and humor.
There is nothing irreverent or humorous about Chafets' final message, though: "I looked hard for evidence that the evangelicals are insincere, cynical, or devious in their attitude toward Israel and the Jews, and I didn't find it. They may love Jews too much. They may love Jews for the wrong reasons. They may, in the future, not love Jews at all. But for now, the evangelical Christians of America are not the enemy. They are the enemy of the enemy and they want to be accepted and appreciated. In return they are offering a wartime alliance and free partnerhip in a Judeo-Christian America. It is an offer the Jews of America should accept while it is still on the table."