Some Jews 'Uneasy' With High-Profile Christian Allies
by Omar Sacirbey
Religion News Service
Mike Ghouse ; Rabbi Yoffie should stick to his words, associating with extremists of any kind will cause injustice and injustice will ruin sustainability of peace and will constantly prick the peace. His call to McCain to disassociate from Hagee must be heeded. The neocons of Fox and CNN banged Obama for Jeremiah Wright's comments while letting McCain go scot free.
In recent years, conservative Christians have emerged as some of the most vocal supporters of the state of Israel -- support that many Jewish groups have welcomed at a time when they feel Israel is under siege.
One of the loudest voices has been John Hagee, the San Antonio megachurch pastor who recently endorsed John McCain's White House bid and raised the ire of Catholic groups with statements that even some Jews called vicious and inflammatory.
The Catholic flap has sparked a new round of questions among Jewish groups over the support from Christian Zionists like Hagee and the Rev. Pat Robertson. Where is the line between embracing their support and keeping their politics at arm's length?
"On the one hand, there's a desire to have as strong a support for Israel as possible," said Rabbi Joel Meyers, who heads the Rabbinical Assembly, an umbrella group of Conservative rabbis. "On the other hand, there's concern that no one wants to back any religious extremist. And some of the comments coming from some of the leaders of the evangelical movement are certainly extreme when they talk about other faiths.
"That makes a lot of people, including myself, very uneasy."
Christian Zionism has various interpretations, but the central belief is that ancient Israel must be restored to bring about Armageddon and the Second Coming of Christ. Most Christian Zionists believe that during the Second Coming, Jews will ether convert to Christianity or perish.
That theology alone is enough to give many Jews pause.
While Israel's birth in 1948 seemed to fulfill biblical prophecy, Christian Zionists believe an intact Israel must also include Judea and Samaria -- the predominantly Palestinian West Bank captured by Israel in 1967. As such, they have resisted returning any land to the Palestinians as part of a peace deal. And a war with Iran, some say, could usher in Armageddon.
Estimates on the number of Christian Zionists in the U.S. range from 20 million to 40 million. The movement is mostly evangelical, and its most potent force is Christians United For Israel, established two years ago by Hagee, the pastor of the 18,000-member Cornerstone Church in San Antonio. The group's executive board includes Gary Bauer, Jonathan Falwell and other evangelical leaders.
Hagee, in an interview, said he can "understand" why some Jews would "shy away from Christian support," but blamed that reluctance on 2,000 years of anti-Semitism, not political or social differences.
"We have made a clean break with the past replacement theology and have embraced the Jewish people for whom the Bible says they are -- the apple of God's eye," Hagee said. "And we would say to our critics you need to take a closer look at 26 years of unconditional support of the Jewish people."
Many Jewish leaders have been turned off by some of the statements that leaders of the religious right have made about Catholics, Muslims, gays and lesbians and other minorities.
Hagee has stepped away from previous comments that called the Catholic Church "the whore of Babylon" and that seemed to blame Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans' willingness to host a gay parade.
"I am not now, nor have I ever been, an anti-Catholic," Hagee said, arguing the media have misconstrued his statements. "I have never called the (Catholic) church the Antichrist or a false cult system." And Katrina, he said, was either a blessing or a curse, and "it was not a blessing, I can tell you that."
One of the directors for Christians United for Israel, Ohio megachurch pastor Rod Parsley, has said "Islam must be destroyed" and issued a "lock and load" call against spiritual enemies. Hagee has been equally critical of Islam, but said that "my remarks about Islam are always ... about radical Islam."
Still, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, said such bombastic rhetoric is bound to raise eyebrows -- and concerns.
"I think we need to be very, very reluctant to partner with anyone who isn't fundamentally respectful towards other religious traditions," Yoffie said. "His comments on Islam are a legitimate and important factor here when Jewish groups consider whether they should join with him."
Some Jews have even compared Hagee with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, whose anti-Semitic rhetoric and recent campaign endorsement has caused headaches for Sen. Barack Obama.
"Jews and other people of good will should demand that John McCain renounce and reject the endorsement of Pastor John Hagee because of his vicious and inflammatory anti-Catholicism," Rabbi Irwin Kula, president of the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, wrote in a statement last month.
Some Jewish groups have tried to draw a line between Hagee's views on Israel and his views on practically everything else. They've also distinguished between his political views on Israel and an End Times theology that some say uses Jews as pawns to usher in the Second Coming.
"Will I welcome Hagee's support? Absolutely," said Rabbi Jerome Epstein, executive vice president of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. "Would I want his endorsement, or would I appear with him? No, because I don't want to be associated with his positions."
Some Jewish leaders said they welcome the support of Christian Zionists -- but reserve the right to openly and publicly disagree.
"I don't have to agree with anybody 100 percent in order to welcome their support, as long as their support is not conditioned on my agreeing with them on everything or accepting them 100 percent," said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League.
But Yoffie, who leads the nation's largest Jewish movement, worries that young American Jews' attachment to Israel has frayed because of an "increasingly right-wing and even reactionary tone" on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"The conclusion that our young people are most likely to draw from this arrangement," Yoffie wrote last year in The Forward, a Jewish newspaper, "is that we are simply selling our souls."
"The only way I would see selling my soul is accepting Christianity," he said. "It's nonsense. We're not selling our souls for anything. I will fight Hagee in court on issues of church-state. I will criticize Hagee on issues that we disagree on. I haven't sold anything."