By Vic Rosenthal (updated for clarity on 21 May)
Rabbi Eric Yoffie, head of the Union of Reform Judaism (URJ) is disturbed by the relationship between some elements of the US Jewish community and Christian Zionist Pastor John Hagee.
In an article entitled “When We Let John Hagee Speak for Us” published in the Forward and widely distributed in the URJ’s Ten Minutes of Torah series, Yoffie argues that liberal young Jews — the type targeted by the successful Birthright program which provides funding for young people’s trips to Israel — will be turned off by Jewish ‘endorsement’ of Hagee:
We know a great deal about Jewish young adults. We have learned from extensive research that these young people are often more socially liberal than their baby-boomer parents. They are pluralistic in their thinking, and they are tolerant of difference, especially differences in gender and sexual orientation.
They respond negatively to those who disparage other religious traditions and who make exclusivist religious claims. They are insistently 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.
I think Rabbi Yoffie overstates the commitment that we make by accepting Pastor Hagee’s support for Israel.
Rabbi Yoffie suggests that an alliance with him on the issue of Israel would involve some kind of quid pro quo on social issues. But there’s no evidence for this.
Actually, it’s not about us. Their ministry is aimed at Christians. The ‘endorsement’ that they seek is simply an affirmation from us, as Jews, that we approve of their enterprise. Because if even the Jews don’t support them, someone will be sure to ask, why should anyone else?
Alliances between groups with very different constituencies who share a common issue are not out of the ordinary. Why should we reject this one?
Does this constitute ‘offering him as a spokesman for Israel’? I don’t see how. He is speaking for himself and for the Christian Zionist movement. If he doesn’t speak to Christians about Israel, who will? Jimmy Carter?
Rabbi Yoffie mentions Hagee’s opposition to a two-state solution. Many commentators, myself included, think that the Palestinian leadership is not a realistic partner for negotiations to bring about such a solution, and that negotiating with them could only result in Israel being forced to make concessions that are highly dangerous to her security, and indeed reduce the likelihood of peace rather than promoting it. As a signatory to “Arab-Israeli-Palestinian Peace: From Crisis to Hope“, Rabbi Yoffie calls for the US to ‘encourage’ Israel to make such concessions. I find much in this document disturbing, remarkably naive and dangerous.
This position places much of the blame for the violence in the region upon Israel, ‘the occupation’, the security fence, etc. It emphasizes the discussion of the morality of particular Israeli actions while it deemphasizes or even denies the fundamental source of the conflict, which is the ongoing struggle by the Arab nations and the Palestinian leadership to destroy the Jewish state and even to perpetrate another genocide against the Jewish people.
Young people are particularly attracted to moral issues and underdogs. By presenting the conflict as morally ambiguous — which it is not — and primarily as a struggle between powerful Israel and powerless Palestinians, rather than the entire Arab world — this point of view has done far more to drive Jewish youth away from Israel and into the arms of the extreme anti-Israel Left than any association with Christian Zionism could possibly do.
While Rabbi Yoffie uses his influential pulpit to warn about the threat of allowing Pastor Hagee to help Israel, Birthright Unplugged is taking Birthright grant recipients to the West Bank for indoctrination in the Palestinian cause, Jewish Voice for Peace (jewishvoiceforpeace.org) urges young people to march on Washington to “End the occupation” and Pro-Palestinian campus groups continue to attract young Jews with their focus on context-free Palestinian human rights issues. Why isn’t Rabbi Yoffie writing about these organizations, which I am sure he opposes?
Rabbi Yoffie criticizes Jewish Federations for in effect “selling our souls” for contributions from Hagee:
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 fundraising campaigns.
But Hagee normally makes his contributions directly to Israeli causes. The only contribution to a local Federation that I’ve been able to document is a $1 million contribution to the Jewish Federation of Greater Houston’s Israel Emergency campaign. But as a local Federation board member, I know that the emergency campaigns (during last summer’s war) were conducted on the basis that all money raised went directly to Israel. This is hardly selling our souls.