November 26, 2002, 8:30 a.m.
In Defense of Christian Allies
Why Evangelicals support Israel.
By Nissan Ratzlav-Katz
Last Thursday, a delegation of leaders of the conservative American grassroots organization, the Christian Coalition, rode a bus in Jerusalem. A simple act, yet one that symbolized support and commitment to Israel more than the most emphatic declarations made overseas. You see, the bus they rode was no tour bus; it was Egged bus number 20. It was the same line that an Arab suicide bomber rode that very morning, killing eleven people on their way to school and work, and injuring more than 50. The same delegation, led by Coalition president Roberta Combs had also visited Hebron the previous Tuesday, to publicly show their support for the Jewish community in that ancient city following the Friday-night terrorist ambush that claimed 12 Israeli lives. To paraphrase, the Christian Coalition delegates put their bodies where their money has been going.
Unlike among most liberals — even Jewish ones — these supporters of Israel do not distinguish between Jews living in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza and those living on Israel’s Mediterranean coast. Ron Nachman, the mayor of Ariel — in Samaria — once explained to a Jerusalem Post reporter that “groups of evangelical Christians came to Israel expressly to participate in tours of the West Bank, ‘the Land of Promise.’ Many groups, he said, come straight from Ben-Gurion Airport to the Eshel Hashomron Hotel in Ariel.”
As I have personally come to learn, there are a lot of Israeli flags flying beside American flags outside of churches and many pastors sporting “I Stand With Israel” t-shirts, nowadays. As expressed in a letter published in the Jerusalem Post, by Victor Mordecai, an advocate of Jewish-Christian alliance, “I saw Christians, whites, blacks, Hispanics and native Americans crying tears of love and repentance for Israel…. I have visited and spoken in over 300 churches and groups of all denominations. I have hugged and kissed tens of thousands of Christians who sincerely love us.” A Tarrance Group poll recently revealed what many Israeli politicians have long known, conservative Christian support for Israel is overwhelming — almost ten percent stronger than among the general American population.
In addition to general support for Israel, and specific affinity for the Biblical lands of Judea and Samaria, Christian Zionism expresses itself in encouraging aliyah — Jewish immigration to Israel. A group called Christians for Israel is operating a project called Exobus, assisting Jews from the former Soviet Union to come to Israel. As the organization’s website puts it: “It is more than just a humanitarian project — it is a divine calling for the Church to assist the Jewish people in their physical return and restoration of the land of Israel.”
Nor is that all, an organization called the International Christian Chamber of Commerce (ICCC) is active in promoting Israeli businesses and bolstering the Israeli economy. The chamber held its most recent board meeting in Tel Aviv, and Israel Line, a publication of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, reported that in June the organization sponsored “an international business conference in Jerusalem in which 400 businessmen from 40 nations met with representatives of Israeli companies… the Manufacturers Association, the Israeli Export Institute and the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce.” According to the ICCC, more than 1,000 meetings were conducted during the two days of the conference. The ICCC also allows Israeli companies to list their products and services for free on its international online business matching service, reports Globes, an Israeli financial newspaper.
In response to this unbounded support, some Jewish columnists have expressed misgivings, or outright hostility, when it comes to the Christian right’s pro-Israel stance. Their main concern is a supposed “anti-Semitism” ingrained in the very theology that pushes those Christians to support Israel. As Gershom Gorenberg put it in an article in the Jerusalem Report: “conservative evangelicals’ ‘love’ for Israel is rooted in their theology. Following classic Christian anti-Jewish doctrine, it sees Jews as spiritually blind for rejecting Jesus. But it also regards Israel’s existence as heralding the end of days — when Jews will die or at last convert and Jesus will return.” More bluntly, Josh Ruebner, one of the founders of the Washington-based group Jews for Peace in Palestine and Israel (JPPI), called the alliance between Christian evangelicals and American Jews in support of Israel “repugnant,” saying, “Most of the right-wing elements which make up the Christian Coalition are truly anti-Semitic at heart.” They earn that epithet because they “believe that Jewish souls cannot go to heaven and that Jews will have to be converted before the end of days,” Ruebner told a Religion News Service reporter last month.
The Christian belief that Jews will ultimately convert is no different than the Jewish idea that false theologies will ultimately be recognized for what they are. While such beliefs may not sit well with irreligious people of all communities, as long as believers do not coerce others, they remain a theological difference of opinion. As Mr. Mordecai put it in his aforementioned Jerusalem Post letter to the editor, “Do they want us to become Christians? Yes, because they do love us, and it is part of their Christian faith…. Does this make the Christians our enemy? As a Torah loyalist and mitzvah observant Jew, I think not… The Christians are merely loyal to their faith, the faith in the same God of the Jews, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They believe in the same Bible.”
Furthermore, while end-times theology may play a role for many in their support for modern-day Israel, the primary motivating force for such support is the Biblical covenant with the Jews, rather than a future promise of conversion. Evangelist Jerry Falwell, in a videotaped message to last month’s Washington, D.C. Christian Coalition conference, said, “I have believed in and supported the Abrahamic covenant that God blesses those who bless Israel and curses those who curse Israel.” Similarly, material produced by John Hagee Ministries, which donates funds to finance Jewish immigration to Israel, lists seven reasons for Christians to support the Jewish state. First on the list is the verse from Genesis referred to by Falwell: “And I will bless them that bless thee and curse him that curseth thee; and in thee shall all nations of the earth be blessed.” One of many other reasons-all from the same sources: the instruction in Psalm 122, “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem, they shall prosper that love thee.”
Dr. Arthur F. Glasser, Dean Emeritus at the Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, cited another, more secular reason in his own treatise on evangelical support for Israel. He writes, “So then, why should evangelicals particularly support Israel? In the first place, anything that concerns the Jewish people should be their concern. This arises in part from the massive indebtedness of all people everywhere to them. What people anywhere in the earth can honestly say that they are not indebted to the Jews for their contributions to world culture? These contributions touch every aspect of human society and individual enrichment.”
In contrast, there’s the following little tidbit: Jews for Peace in Palestine and Israel was recently in the news when Israeli immigration authorities refused entry to a nine-person U.S. congressional-staff delegation co-sponsored by JPPI and American Muslims for Jerusalem (AMJ). The AMJ is a project sponsored by the American Muslim Alliance (AMA), the American Muslim Council (AMC) and the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), among others. CAIR grew out of the Hamas in 1994 and two of the three founding directors of CAIR occupied senior positions in the Islamic Association for Palestine, a front group for Hamas. In 1998, at a rally in Brooklyn cosponsored by CAIR, one speaker referred to Jews as “descendants of the apes.” Similarly, the AMA held a convention at which Holocaust revisionist literature was circulated. The AMC, meanwhile, spends its time and money routinely declaring that Hamas “is not a terrorist group” and has hosted a speaker who praised suicide bombers, urging support for such “martyrdom operations.” The AMC’s deputy director, Issa Smith, told the Los Angeles Times on January 24, 1991, “Often we say that we are not against Jews, but against Zionists, those who had the goal of creating a state run by Jews.”
All of this, apparently, did not qualify as “repugnant” in the view of JPPI’s Josh Ruebner, unlike the Christian right’s support for Israel. It may be that the JPPI acted hastily, out of ignorance, in allying itself with such organizations, but did they even question their erstwhile allies about the Koranic verse which states (from Sura 5:51), “Believers, take neither the Jews nor the Christians for your friends”? Or about the Moslem teaching (Hadith, Sahih Bukhari, Vol. 4, Book 52, No. 177), “Allah’s apostle (Mohammad) said, ‘The Hour [of the end of time] will not be established until you fight with the Jews, and the stone behind which a Jew will be hiding will say. “O Muslim! There is a Jew hiding behind me, so kill him.”‘”? What of that bit of “end-time theology”? Isn’t that at least a little “repugnant” to Ruebner?
I don’t believe that left-wing groups like JPPI even consider it worth their effort to get worked up over real, visceral anti-Semitism, which is all too prevalent in today’s Moslem world. Rather, what is behind their feigned concern is that, according to the JPPI website, the organization “calls upon Israel to end its brutal military occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem… supports the Palestinian people’s right to exercise self-determination… supports the evacuation of [Jewish] settlements… recognize[s] the [Arab] refugees’ right of return…” All of which is in contradistinction to the firm belief held by many on the Christian right that, in the words of Senator James Inhofe (R., Okla.), “Israel is entitled to that land.”
— Nissan Ratzlav-Katz is opinion editor at www.IsraelNationalNews.com