Last weekend the Convention Center in Washington, D.C., was packed with 4000 supporters of Israel. They heard from speakers like Sen. Joseph Lieberman; Elliott Abrams, deputy national security adviser to George W. Bush; and Malcolm Hoenlein, executive director of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
Yet this was no Jewish conclave. It was the fifth annual Washington Summit of Christians United for Israel (CUFI), founded in 2006 by Pastor John Hagee and now numbering some 426,000 members. AIPAC, by comparison, claims 100,000. Considering the oft-stated importance of Israel to American Jews, one might expect the Jewish community to embrace these allies who so unequivocally support the Jewish state, financially as well as morally. The reality is that most Jews keep their distance. Why?
One likely reason is simple political differences. CUFI unambiguously supports a conservative agenda, and American Jews are generally liberal. To take one example, a CUFI spokesman summed up its position on one hot-button topic by saying “we don’t believe, recognizing Israel as a sovereign nation, that we can dictate where they can and can’t build.” Advocates of a freeze on new construction in East Jerusalem would naturally disagree.
The discomfort doesn’t end there, however. Given the long history of Christians seeking and sometimes forcing Jews to convert, some Jews have trouble trusting the motives of these new friends of Israel. They wonder if there is some hidden agenda, and since CUFI is a faith-based organization they look for theological explanations.
In particular, some Christians believe that Jews lost the Covenant with God when they rejected Jesus, and that after being gathered in the Land of Israel Jews must convert to Christianity at the End of Days. On the other hand, many don’t, including Pastor Hagee. There are numerous doctrinal disagreements within Christianity. Still, some Jews are afraid that the support of the Christian Zionist movement comes with some strings attached.
On some level this may come from a feeling that evangelical Christians are The Other. The differences in the two communities’ origins, beliefs, and customs have certainly led to mistrust and prejudice over time. Now that CUFI has reached out to Jews by embracing one of our core values—supporting Israel—this may be an opportunity to move beyond our preconceptions, see one another more realistically, and find common ground.
Honest disagreements are part of any political process, and reasonable people can differ on matters of policy. It’s something else entirely to spurn millions of people because we don’t understand them or their religious beliefs. Jews who reject CUFI’s support should ask themselves exactly why they have made that decision. As Hillel said, that which is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor.
Bob Goldfarb is president of the Center for Jewish Culture and Creativity in Los Angeles and Jerusalem. He also blogs at eJewishPhilanthropy.com, and Tweets about Jews, the arts, and Jewish culture at twitter.com/bobgoldfarb.
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