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Real Friends and Real Enemies

Real Friends and Real Enemies

Presbyterian Israel-bashing shows how Jews are clueless about Christian groups.


Two years ago, American Jewish community relations groups were busy patting themselves on the back for achieving a signal victory in turning back the attempt by anti-Israel radicals to hijack the Presbyterian Church USA.

After the Presbyterians became the first Protestant church to embrace divestment from companies doing business in Israel in 2004, Jewish groups worked hard to overturn the decision. When the church voted to back away from this stand in 2006, it was rightly seen as a triumph not just for friends of Israel, but for the tactic of outreach itself as years of tenacious diplomacy paid off.

The celebrations seem to have been premature.

The release of a document by the church last month titled "Vigilance Against Anti-Jewish Bias in the Pursuit of Israeli-Palestinian Peace" was supposed to help its members guard against anti-Semitic rhetoric when discussing the Middle East.

Church's Betrayal

Rather than serve as a warning against bias, it serves as a justification for anti-Israel invective.

Instead, it is a compendium of charges aimed at deligimitizing the Jewish State. The church release avoids discussing Arab support for terrorism and, rather than serve as a warning against bias, it serves as a justification for anti-Israel invective since it places the sole blame for the conflict on Israel, rather than on those attempting to destroy it. If anything, it should serve to reinvigorate those who have been pushing for divestment, which is nothing less than a declaration of economic war on Israel and the Jewish people.

In itself, this should justify the outrage and the feelings of betrayal that have been voiced by a wide spectrum of centrist and liberal Jewish denominations and organizations that worked to reverse the previous Presbyterian stand on Israel.

But also buried in the document is a strand of thought that is relevant not only to this battle for the soul of a powerful mainline liberal Protestant church, but to the mindset of American Jews themselves.

Amid a laundry list of anti-Israel measures in the Presbyterian statement — including opposition to the security fence that effectively ended the Palestinian suicide bombing campaign — was the assertion that "Christian faithfulness, as well as the policies of our church, demands that we maintain our commitments … to criticize forms of Christian Zionism."

That meant that in the same document in which they urged its members to avoid couching their attacks on Israel in ways that could be labeled anti-Semitic, the Presbyterians specifically attack fellow Christians who have lent their support to the idea that the Jewish people have a right to sovereignty over their historic homeland.

In particular, they singled out Evangelicals such as Pastor John Hagee, who was flogged out of the camp of Republican presidential candidate John McCain for saying the Holocaust was caused by the Jewish sin of failing to make aliyah.

To support the contention that Christian Zionists are wrongheaded, the Presbyterian document cited Rabbi Eric Yoffie, the leader of the Union for Reform Judaism, who in a December 2007 speech warned Jews to avoid alliances with the pro-Israel Christian right.

Yoffie, whose Reform movement joined the coalition of Jewish groups that condemned the Presbyterian reversal, is not happy about this. He told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that he is "infuriated" about the Presbyterians "embedding" his words in a "doctrine that is so hostile to Israel."

While some of Yoffie's criticisms of Hagee are not completely off-target, the Reform leader is right to be embarrassed.

But rather than merely being annoyed by the church's chutzpah, he ought to be rethinking his own bashing of right-wing Christian Zionists.

Indeed, the Presbyterians' renewed flirtation with anti-Zionism should serve as a wake-up call for the vast number of American Jews who have clung to their prejudices about Evangelicals, despite the sea change in the Protestant world that has occurred in the last generation.

In the past, Jews instinctively looked to mainline liberal Protestant churches, like the Presbyterians, the Methodists, Lutherans and Anglicans, who have all been debating divestment measures against Israel in recent years, as allies. At the same time, Jews generally assumed that Evangelicals, who generally lived outside the coastal urban enclaves where Jewish life has thrived in America, were liable to be anti-Semitic.

When it comes to the life-and-death questions of Israeli survival, it is the people who look to the Hagees of the world for leadership who stand with Israel.

But in the America of 2008, it is precisely the Evangelicals of the Christian right who are instinctively supportive of Israel, while our traditional allies on the Christian left are flirting with a theology that demonizes Israel and the Jews.

Though the gap between the Christian right and most Jews on domestic issues is still vast, when it comes to the life-and-death questions of Israeli survival and opposition to terror, it is the people who look to the Hagees of the world for leadership, rather than to the Presbyterians, who stand with Israel.

Unfortunately, that isn't good enough for many Jews who never tire of making unsupported and utterly false accusations that the Evangelicals actually hate Jews and want to destroy us. It is little surprise that this has only encouraged the Presbyterians to use this issue to bolster their own attempt to isolate Israel.

The point here is not to claim that the Christian right has become Israel's only American friends, though they are among the most active and effective.

The fact is, most of the rank-and-file members of the mainline churches who are dabbling in anti-Zionist rhetoric and considering divestment don't support the campaign against Israel. Indeed, it is doubtful even after all of the controversy of the past few years, that most are even aware of the fact that their spiritual home is being hijacked by radical left-wing elements.

Outreach Must Continue

As frustrated as many Jews are with the Presbyterian betrayal, the outreach campaign carried out by Jewish community relations councils across the country must continue.

Most American Protestants rightly see Israel as sharing common democratic values with the United States and want nothing to do with the sort of anti-Zionism that has won a foothold among mainline church activists. They need to understand that their silence will be taken as complicity with the actions of these radicals. They must understand that their churches cannot pretend to be friends with their Jewish neighbors while supporting an economic war on the Jewish state. And they must be prodded to take action to rescind such measures enacted in their names.

But, at the same time, American Jews must cease living in the past when it comes to understanding the contemporary religious and political landscape of America. At a time when Hamas, Hezbollah and their Iranian sponsors are plotting a new Holocaust for Israel and its six million Jews, treating those Protestants who actually love Israel as hateful pariahs is a strategy devoid of truth or sense.

June 28, 2008

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Visitor Comments: 29

(29) diana, December 20, 2008 12:11 PM

don't harden your heart against Christians

I just submit a post as a faithful reader (and Christian)to this website. My support to Israel is unconditional as it has a right to be a democratic nation. I find it ridiculous that people still think Christians support Israel due to some "dispensational theology". Most Christians don't even know what that is and two they support Israel for their political rights. I find some comments on this site, very say, Daniela: "lowly people" will "straight them out..". Wow...its from your Torah that we Christians even know to love your neighbor. I certainly understand your point but open your heart to those of us who are willing to sit and read and listen to the millenia of wisdom from rabbis. God Bless and I will continue reading this website, I am educated everyday by something here.

(28) daniela, July 6, 2008 2:19 AM

do we really want their support?

Are we sure we want to seek their support? Are we sure we want to associate with them? Are we sure we wont be embarrassed by having been so close to them, the day Moshiach comes?
Do some xians bless us? Fine, let us accept their blessings and thank them - we are taught even the blessing of lowly people are not to be taken lightly. Do some xians offer money? Fine, let us thank them and use this money for, lets say, magen adom david, that cares for people of all religions or lack thereof. Do some xians support jewish issues in congress or whatever other parliament? Fine, let us thank them for their vote. But there is quite a difference from suggesting that we get out of our way in order to supposedly secure those people's support of israel. We would do better by seeking support of israel from jews, all of us, each and every single one. Instead of labeling them "self-hating jews" perhaps we should talk to them about the injustices they invariably witnessed or experienced, tell them that the jewish way is to straighten them out, and proceed to do so.

(27) Lawrence, July 3, 2008 5:12 PM

Support for Israel is based on common, Bibilcally based values

I consider myself to be a friend to Israel, but I am not Jewish, being a member of a Reformed church. There are obviously profound theological differences between historically Reformed Churches and Judaism. However, the Reformed churches and more conservative movements in Judaism both study the Old Testament as authoritative and relevant. Views of ethics, morality, and values, are very similar. For that reason we find ourselves, on the same side of many of the fundamental issues of our time. Israel, with all of its debate and internal argumentation, essentially holds those standards that have led to freedom and progress in the Western World. Israel's enemies do not, and they are opposed to both of us. Israel is the only free and democratic nation in the region. That is the basis of my support for Israel. It is NOT based on dispensational theology that has been so common in many Christian churches during the past century. Jewish friends in or outside of Israel or should not be so quick to dismiss Christian friends and supporters of Israel. Jonathan S. Tobin has said some profound and true things in his column.

(26) Peter, July 2, 2008 6:46 PM

In reply to "Consider their motives..."

Eliyahu, has it occured to you that maybe some Christians feel love for their Jewish brothers and sisters because as comanded they simply love their neighbour...

Is it not possible that not only a number of Christians but also Athiests, Agnostics, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, dare I say it even Muslims dare I even go so far as to say some Palistinians, actually feel that it is right that Israel should be a Jewish state. Regardless of race or religion there are many who feel just as strongly as any Jew that Israel should be a Jewish state. Including many Christians whom have no thaught, no underlying insentive at all, related to an armageddon prophesy but instead feel a deep loving support for Israel.

(25) Anonymous, July 2, 2008 4:46 AM

In regards to the comment titled, "consider their motives first" even if a Christian does hold to this theology that DOES NOT mean that they don't love their Jewish friends. Getting the Jews out of the way is not at all the kind of view of the Christians I know.

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