There is no more controversial issue for Jews in the US today than their relationship to Christian Zionists — and in particular to Dr. John Hagee.
Before you dismiss this movement as unimportant or peripheral, remember that the Balfour Declaration, without which there probably would not be a state of Israel, was in great measure a product of Christian Zionism. Keep in mind that by far most Christians in the US identify themselves as evangelical or “born-again”: estimates of their number range from 50 million to over 100 million! In any case, there are far more of them than there are Jews in the world, by any estimate. If a significant number of these can be called ‘zionist’ or even mildly pro-Israel, this has enormous significance.
Recently, the Christian Zionist movement has been given great impetus by Dr. John Hagee, an evangelical pastor who has established an organization called Christians United for Israel (CUFI). Dr. Hagee’s organization is engaged in a very extensive campaign to garner support for Israel in the Christian community, which includes events throughout the nation, a planned rally in Washington, etc. The Christian Zionist message has always been there, but Hagee has put a political and financial powerhouse behind it.
Some are treating this development positively. Hagee got a standing ovation at the AIPAC convention. The Knesset has a Christian Allies Caucus. And the United Jewish Communities (formerly the United Jewish Appeal) is establishing a relationship with CUFI. Last year Hagee presented a check for $1.5 million for Israel-related causes to UJC (at an event in San Antonio keynoted by former House speaker Tom DeLay).
Ah, there’s the rub.
Most American Jews are liberals. And they find Dr. Hagee’s positions on many issues objectionable. He is opposed to abortion and gay marriage; he called for a ‘preventive strike’ against Iran’s nuclear capability, he believes that Muslims are commanded by the Koran to kill Jews (this is considered seriously intolerant, although true), and he consorts with such as Tom DeLay.
And there’s something else: many secular and even Reform Jews find the idea of a political stance that is based on religious ideas disreputable, although it is quite ordinary for Orthodox Jews, fundamentalist Christians, most Muslims, Catholics, etc.
What does Hagee want from Jews? Not money; he raises plenty of it from Christians. Unlike some other evangelical Christian organizations (e.g., Jews for Jesus), his enterprise is not aimed at converting Jews to Christianity.
What he wants is legitimacy as a pro-Israel voice. Who would support a pro-Israel organization if the Jews themselves don’t? Jewish support for CUFI is needed to make it viable as a pro-Israel enterprise. Nothing else.
So the moral question faced by liberal pro-Israel Jews is not “should one help John Hagee fight gay marriage and abortion rights?”, because their help is not relevant to that. The real question is “should one help John Hagee help Israel, despite the fact that he holds objectionable views in other areas, and despite his (religious) motivations?”.
Put this way, the answer is obvious: if and only if CUFI’s activities are good for Israel. Other issues and motivations are irrelevant.
CUFI’s goals are to support Israel financially through such mechanisms as donations to Jewish Federations, and to build up support for Israel among Christians (and incidentally, the US government). And there is no question that their positions are based on their reading of ‘biblical mandates’.
Here’s a sample of their point of view on one very contentious issue — that of territorial concessions — as explained in an interview by David Brog, the (Jewish) Executive director of CUFI (more by Brog here):
Personally, most Christian Zionists opposed the Oslo process on the grounds that they did not trust Arafat as a partner for peace. Their concerns, of course, were eventually validated. They now tend to oppose relinquishing more of the West Bank to a Hamas-run government that would view such concessions as a victory for terror and likely use such land as a base from which to further attack Israel. In addition, a biblical basis for opposing such concessions no doubt bolsters such practical concerns.
Yet despite their opposition and private criticism, most Christian Zionists have also recognized that it is inappropriate to sit here in America and actively oppose decisions made by a democratically-elected Israeli government. They understand that you must stand by your friends even when you disagree with the choices your friends make. And they realize that there must be due deference towards the Israelis who live in Israel and who pay with their blood and the blood of their families when there is a war or terrorist attacks…
This would probably not pass muster at a Peace Now meeting, but it’s also not the voice of a right-wing extremist. The whole article is worth reading.
Brog will be speaking in Fresno at a “Night to Honor Israel” on September 9.