October 7, 2004
Should Jews Oppose Evangelical Help?
In Israel this week, televangelist Pat Robertson inveighed against giving territory to the Palestinians, claiming that the goal of Islam is to "destroy Israel and take the land from the Jews and give East Jerusalem to Yasser Arafat. I see that as Satan's plan to prevent the return of Jesus Christ the Lord."
It would be hard to find a more revealing expression of why most Jews continue to feel uneasy about the evangelicals who have become Israel's new, best friends.
However, Robertson's comments also came in a week that saw mainline Protestant groups, for years skewed in their view of the Middle East, move toward a policy of divestment against Israel. That harsh economic penalty is intended to brand Israel as one of the worst human rights abusers in the world.
The Jewish community is caught between Christians who love Israel, but maybe for the wrong reasons, and who vehemently oppose almost every domestic position of the Jewish majority, and Christians who continue to be important partners on the domestic front, while embracing a particularly virulent anti-Zionism.
Balancing those conflicting relationships will be one of the most daunting challenges facing Jewish leaders in the years to come.
Robertson was in Israel for a gathering of Christian pilgrims to express solidarity with the Jewish state -- and, in some cases, to register their opposition to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's Gaza disengagement. According to wire service reports, Robertson said that "only God" can decide whether Israel should cede land to the Palestinians.
Still, it was a veritable love fest as more than 4,000 Christians celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles and heard Robertson and others preach on the biblical imperative to support Israel. They were greeted enthusiastically by Israeli officials.
However, poll after poll suggests U.S. Jews aren't much impressed. Instead, a Jewish majority continues to see the pro-Israel evangelicals as adversaries on the domestic front and as a source of anti-Semitism.
Their support for Israel has been welcomed by single-issue pro-Israel groups, but its prophetic basis remains a source of deep concern for many Jews. Some are justifiably scared that these Christians might wield their considerable political influence to help advance apocalyptic beliefs that insist war is inevitable and peace efforts are a trick of the devil. That's what Robertson seemed to suggest when he said that taking land from the Jews and giving it the Palestinians was "Satan's plan."
It's a reason many of the evangelicals bitterly opposed the Oslo peace process, and why some will oppose any peace process that could throw a monkey wrench in their end-of-days prophecies of an Israel consumed by warfare until the Second Coming.
On the domestic front, these groups and the mainstream Jewish community are on opposite sides on almost every big issue: abortion rights, civil rights, homosexual rights, public funding for religious schools and institutions, social justice, stem cell research and gun control, to name but a few. More to the point, many Jews, probably a majority, see some of the key domestic positions of the religious right as direct threats to Jewish security in this country.
On the other side of the Christian divide are the mainline Protestants who are vital coalition partners for the Jewish community on all of those domestic issues, but who are increasingly harsh critics of Israel and seem utterly deaf to the pleas of their Jewish friends, blind to the reality of Palestinian terror.
They are full of compassion for the Palestinians but refuse to acknowledge how leaders like Arafat have compounded their misery and pushed the goal of Palestinian statehood out of reach. They commit the sin of distorted perspective; they seem to consider Israel's security fence a far greater human rights abuse than mass killings in parts of Africa, deliberate starvation in North Korea or the wholesale deprivation of civil rights in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. How else to explain why Israel alone is singled out for harsh economic sanctions?
When the Presbyterians called for divestment early in the summer, some Jewish groups were quick to demand an end to Jewish-Presbyterian dialogue. The same call is likely to go out if the Episcopalians move down that path.
But we need some balance of our own.
Some of the Jewish leaders who blithely overlook the prophetic foundation of evangelical love for Israel now demand an end to dialogue with the mainline Protestant groups that still want peace, not Armageddon, in the Middle East, however unbalanced their political attacks on Israel.
More and more Jewish groups are welcoming the help of groups with which our community has absolutely nothing in common on the home front, while jeopardizing vital coalitions with groups like the Episcopalians and Presbyterians that affect our futures in this country. Those coalitions, Jewish leaders report, have been unraveling in the last few years, because of justifiable Jewish indignation about their bigoted Mideast positions.
That represents a double loss for the Jewish community. It means we won't have the opportunity to change their distorted Mideast views through hard-hitting dialogue, and it means we are losing vital partners on a host of domestic issues that the Jewish community continues to regard as critical.
For a Jewish majority, the mainline Christians may be outrageously unfair on Israel -- but they remain critical partners on the domestic front. The answer isn't to pull out of coalitions but to redouble efforts to strengthen them, while more aggressively confronting the Christians on the destructive impact they are having in a part of the world they claim they are trying to help.