September 25, 2003
Should We Shun 80 Million Friends of Israel?
One of the more unusual characters in Jewish literature appears in the Book of Esther. The palace guard Charbonah originally plays a part inHaman's conspiracy to slaughter the Jews and dispossess 0them of their property. But somewhere along the way, he experiences a change of heart, turns double agent and informs on his co-conspirators.
We remember Charbonah today in a piyut (prayer) as a man to be remembered for his righteousness. Rav Joseph Soloveitchik explains that Charbonah deserves his status, because even those with initially suspect intentions can produce good deeds.
What the great rabbi might also have added is that in times of grave crisis, the Jewish people must accept help whenever it is offered. For many years, the Jews inclined toward causes natural to our temperament, forming alliances with American blacks, environmentalists and human rights groups.
But has there been a payback? When Jews felt their own cherished causes under assault, have the groups we once joined in a spirit of brotherhood responded in kind?
The record is not comforting. Black leaders, such as the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, have used their platforms to launch ugly attacks against Jews and Israel. The Democratic left has been less than enthusiastic in its support of Israel over the past two and half years, and its record in Congress is nothing if not middling.
Human rights groups regularly castigate Israel but pay scant attention to the deplorable state of human rights in the countries ringing Israel. The recent humiliation suffered by Michael Lerner -- a doyen of the Jewish far left -- who was prohibited from addressing an anti-war demonstration in San Francisico, because of his pro-Israel leanings, represents only the tip of a very real and deep-seated anti-Semitism in radical circles.
Conversely, it has been the Christian right that has proven itself to be in the vanguard of protecting Jewish interests. The outpouring of support for Israel from the Christian right has been extraordinary. Yet a constant stream of warnings issued within our own community cautions us to avoid these same Christians, because of an agenda that is unconnected to Israel's welfare.
That proselytism is an item on the Christian right's agenda is something no one in the evangelical Christian community denies. Certainly, we cannot and will not tolerate missionaries in our communities attempting to convert our youth. This must be made clear.
But does it mean we turn our backs on 70 million to 80 million Americans whose commitment to Israel's survival is not only unimpeachable but vital to its welfare? These representatives of the American right, after all, form the core constituency of the most favorable American administration Israel has ever experienced.
This was clearly demonstrated on April 15, 2002, the day 200,000 people descended on Washington in a display of overwhelming support for Israel. Among those multitudes were thousands of Black Christians from the East Coast, white Christians from the South and evangelical Christians from the West. All came voluntarily. All paid for their own transportation.
The failure of the Jewish community to embrace the Christian right is all the more troubling when we remember the great lengths we have gone to cultivate such organizations as the Council on American Islamic Relations and the Muslim Alliance, Muslims whom we convinced ourselves were moderates. It has been a grave disappointment.
Instead of vigorously condemning suicide bombings and terrorism, both groups have become apologists for these acts of base inhumanity. Even more troubling is evidence provided by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations showing that 80 percent of the mosques in this country are controlled by the Wahaabi sect - most of which receive direct financial support from Saudi Arabia.
Christians all over the world are feeling the same brunt of radical Islam. In the Sudan, Lebanon, Indonesia and in the historical heartland of Christianity itself, murder, arson, rape and intimidation are the tools used by Islamists to eradicate or ethnic cleanse Christian communities that have, in many cases, lived side by side with Muslim communities for 1,000 years.
Isn't it now then appropriate to be asking the question why we give legitimacy to those groups which don't deserve our support and shun those that do?
Have we forgotten that among the hundreds of delegates at the first Zionist Congresses at the turn of the 20th century were dozens of evangelical Christians, including major philanthropists and well-known politicians? Have we forgotten how British Protestant evangelicalism and the 19th century activism of such men as Lord Shaftesbury and Sir Laurence Oliphant combined to drive the eventual promulgation of Britain's Balfour Declaration in 1917?
We should never forget that during our long history, men and women whom we once suspected as adversaries often transformed into allies and even into trusted partners. We are too few in number and have too many enemies to reject a hand offered in friendship. When we recognize that the owner of that hand must also endure the same struggles and ordeals as ourselves, there should no longer be any doubt in our minds.
Rabbi Steven A. Weil is the senior rabbi of Beth Jacob Congregation in Beverly Hills. Avi Davis is the senior fellow of the Freeman Center for Strategic Studies in Los Angeles