Mosaic Magazine

Response to: "Evangelicals and Israel"October 2013

Two Words

It's time for American Jews to say thank-you to evangelicals—and to act accordingly.

Two Words
  

Robert Nicholson’s Evangelicals and Israel should worry any Jewish supporter of Israel, for three major reasons.

The first is that ingratitude is a great sin—though one with deep roots in Jewish history. The story of the Jews in the Bible is replete with incidents of their ingratitude to God for His gifts to them: incidents that just as repeatedly merit and receive punishment. Here we go again: today’s American Jews are spectacularly ungrateful toward a huge community of evangelicals whose enthusiasm for Israel may become critical to its very survival and certainly to America’s continuing support of the Jewish state. The American Jewish population is dwindling, from a height of nearly 4 percent of the U.S. population to under 2 percent now. As Nicholson explains, Christian support, already enormously important, will become only more so.

The second reason for worry is the anti-Israel trend in the evangelical world: as Nicholson puts it, evangelical support for Israel may already have peaked. This shouldn’t come as a surprise: powerful currents in American culture, including the control of most university faculties (even in some evangelical colleges) and of the mass media by the voices of the liberal Left, are pushing young evangelicals away from the beliefs of their parents. Yet few American Jews know much about the evangelical community, let alone about the swings Nicholson lists and analyzes. Most will never have heard of the Palestinian Christian groups whose anti-Israel activities he describes, and are unaware of their growing influence among American evangelicals. For this reason alone, his article, providing new and valuable information, is an important wake-up call.

And then there is the third reason: namely, the American Jewish mainstream’s continuing resistance to close collaboration with evangelicals. I differ with Nicholson’s attribution of this resistance to the legacy of Christian anti-Semitism; I think it is the product of politics. We see this in the voting patterns of American Jews, who in most elections overwhelmingly cast their ballots for liberal candidates regardless of those candidates’ position on Israel. That the rabbi of a leading Conservative synagogue in the Washington, DC suburbs has just resigned his pulpit to head the National Jewish Democratic Council is but one instance of the interpenetration of religion and liberal politics in so much of the non-Orthodox Jewish world.

By contrast, when it comes to the evangelicals, liberal Jewish leaders rank their disagreements with this community on issues like “gay marriage” or “abortion rights” as of greater weight than the need to seek and cement alliances in support of Israel. Indeed, they remain far more comfortable consorting with liberal “mainline” Protestant groups, with whom they share a common political outlook, despite the latter’s pervasive and deep hostility to the Jewish state. Which leads one to wonder: if evangelicals themselves become more liberal—as Nicholson and mainstream evangelical leaders fear—will liberal Jews find them more to their taste? That would certainly be an ironic outcome. But what if the evangelicals, in becoming politically and culturally more liberal, also adopt the Protestant establishment’s anti-Israel prejudice? Then the irony will turn dark indeed. Jews will find that their newfound cooperation with this formerly scorned community has been bought at the price of support for Israel.

 

For Jewish supporters of Israel, in short, there are more than enough reasons to worry. The question is, how should the Jewish community react? In particular, what can be done to help reinforce and to sustain the still powerful pro-Israel activism of millions of evangelical Christians?

Nicholson’s basic advice is very sound: provide information, and provide opportunities. Information: for example, films that can be shown in churches and that are as well made as the anti-Israel With God on Our Side, whose pernicious propaganda needs to be counteracted. Opportunities: preeminently, visits to Israel.

Many of the vast numbers of evangelicals who tour Israel every year are already fully committed supporters; but, as Nicholson notes, they tend to be older and they are likely to visit only biblical sites—ignoring modern Israel, and never gaining the insights or the experiences that would allow them to understand the errors, distortions, and lies coming from anti-Israel Palestinian Christian groups. The government of Israel should make an effort to provide each such group with something more: a chance to get beyond Bethlehem and Nazareth and see how Israel confronts the security and political challenges that it faces. Christian tourism must be understood as far more than a business opportunity.

Both of these efforts should concentrate even more intensively on evangelical youth. Where Israel is concerned, a Birthright-like program is, as Nicholson suggests, part of the answer; I would start by targeting student-body presidents from evangelical colleges and others whose activities suggest they have the makings of future leaders. Young pastors are another obvious target group. Organizations like Pastor John Hagee’s Christians United for Israel and the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, led by Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, should be partners in this effort and can help identify candidates.

I am not sanguine about the willingness of most American Jews to understand and express gratitude for evangelical support, or to seek more and closer cooperation with evangelicals in Israel’s cause. Nor am I sanguine about the willingness of most Jews to reach out to individual evangelicals or to their churches (another path suggested by Nicholson). But that doesn’t mean the effort is doomed. It may fail at one level but succeed on a much larger scale if a few key Jewish organizations—with adequate funding—step up to the plate.

 ___________________

Elliott Abrams is a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, where he maintains a blog, Pressure Points. He is the author of Faith or Fear: How Jews Can Survive in a Christian America and, most recently, Tested by Zion: The Bush Administration and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.

Comments

  • Edward Cohen

    Most of Europe and the developing world are strongly biased against Israel. Jews do not have the luxury of choosing our friends. We should accept Evangelical friends with open arms.
    Mr. Abrams makes the point very well.

  • Beatix17

    Thank you for coming up with some practical solutions for reaching out to Israel’s Evangelical supporters. So many Jewish organizations are liberal, but I’d like to see a large organization like AIPAC forming a community with Evangelicals, although some people have suggested that a large part of AIPAC’S following consists of Christians, probably Evangelical, already.

  • Phil Cohen

    I can understand the general American Jewish resistance to working with evangelicals.

    There is the resistance to working with Christians out of some historical matrix having to do with anti-Semitism in the past. This, however, does not appear to be an impediment to partnerships between Liberal Jews and Liberal Christians. Unfortunately, on an institutional level, many of those partnerships have dissipated.

    Then there is the political: Liberal Jews are, well, liberal on abortion and homosexuality, and cannot find common cause on these matters with evangelical Christians, who almost universally are on the other end of that particular political spectrum.

    Then there is the suspicion that all of this pro-Israel work has something to do with provoking the End of Days and the return of Jesus. And it seems to me that no matter how much work this group has done to eliminate this as their theological teleology, some of it has to creep in; it’s too central to that world view. But so what? If that entire theological structure is irrelevant to Jews and even a source of some amusement (we don’t believe this stuff, after all), then let ‘em. The totality of motives that compels a significant portion of the evangelical community to advocate for Israel (and visit by the many thousands). This is a gift, and we ought to say ‘thank you’.

    Then there is their language. My extensive experience with evangelicals means having heard a great deal of theological language about God’s immanence couched in terminology that Liberal Jews simply do not use. This is before the issue of Jesus, who for evangelicals is a living presence.

    On the other hand, evangelicals who are engaged in advocating for Israel generally understand aspects of what is necessary to communicate effectively with Jews, and they are quite capable of doing it. Evangelicals in the Israel advocacy camp not only know something about Israel’s history, they know something about Judaism, often far more than most congregants.

    Finally, of course, we do owe that community a debt of gratitude for their increasingly tireless work on behalf of the Jewish state, which seems to emerge from a combination genuine respect even love of Jews (based on Genesis 12 among other sources), and a politics that sees deep truth in the Israel narrative.

  • Yochanan Hardisty

    The sad thing is that on Christian TV channels,they openly ask their viewers for money for spreading their Christian faith to the Jews. I gladly accept their political support of Israel. But I am strongly against their goals of converting Jews.

    • republicc

      There very well may be rare instances of what you are saying, who knows? However, over the years I have on occasion watched Christian shows that seemed interesting. I have never once seen what you are talking about and I suspect you have either made this up out of whole cloth or you have minimal evidence for what you are saying.

      • elisheva

        Daystar, TBN , CBN, God-TV, INSP, GLC, etc…. are all running programs which a focus on bringing Jews to faith in Jesus. That is what evangelists do.
        I think everyone is missing the boat here. The Jewish community’s innate aversion to evangelistic overtures may have little to do with politics or anti-Semitism.

        Even if the Christians had been kind to us for 2000 years, the Jewish people are obligated to remain a separate nation with unique obligations and absolute allegiance to the absolute Oneness of G-d .

        Evangelicals are driven by a christ-centered and conversionary agenda and fully committed to breaking the theological partition between faiths.

        So a complete no-holds-barred embrace and wholehearted expression of gratutude to “Christian Zionists” is impossible for any self-respecting Jew.
        However a deep appreciation for those Gentiles who take a moral stand with Israel, support her politically and who respect Judaism’s boundaries is certainly possible.

      • Shy Guy .

        Ignorance is bliss:

        http://www.jewishisrael.com/

        They’re all over the place here and its getting worse by the day.

  • Isaac

    It is appropriate to stress that both the State of Israel (or at least the 70% that favor a Likud type approach to Israel’s security) and the overwhelming majority of the Orthodox in the U.S. are friendly and politically sympathetic to evangelicalism. That is a sizable minority of the total Jewish population–perhaps as much as 50% of the total Jewish population. It seems right to say that almost 50% of the world Jewish population are political allies with the evangelicals over and against politically liberal Jews.

  • Grantman

    Amen. An important article that American Jews need to take to heart. Keep in mind that in many cases Liberalism is more important to these Jews than Judaism is.

  • Edward eliahu Weinstein

    Elliott Abrams is correct. The evangelicals are our allies. On their visits to Israel, I invite them to visit us in Kefar Adumim. If our boys are home on leave from the IDF they enjoy meeting them.

  • CAPT_Mike2

    While I agree it is in Israel’s best interest to welcome the support of evangelical Christians, it appears to me that you are underestimating the simple goodwill felt towards Israel by the larger majority of nominally Christian Americans that recognize that we share fundamental values.
    Nixon was a ‘nominal’ (secular?) Quaker, yet he wound up (finally) providing the requisite support. I’m guessing that he did so not out of *any* related religion loyalty; it was just that Nixon recognized that allowing a fellow democracy that shares most of our values (perhaps better said that Christians share the values of the older Judeo culture) and would be appalled at seeing our gov’t fail to support the underdog against far more numerous adversaries.
    While there probably is newfound fervent support by evangelical Christians for Israel based on Biblical and/or religious views, when I look around I see the vast majority of Americans that support Israel do so for mostly secular philosophical reasons; we share fundamental values.
    Respectfully,

  • DF

    Another article worrying about the left. If the American right wing learned to ignore the left and its media, as the left ignores the right and its media, conservatives would be in a far better shape.
    Someone below claims most of Europe and the developing world is against Israel. Not true at all. Israel has excellent relations with most of the world, who flock to Israel for its technology, consumer products, expertise, stability, and more. The American public, still the most important country in the world, are pro-Israel. Israel feels strong enough today to run for a seat on the security council, something it never would have dreamed about even 15 years ago.
    In business you can’t get better worrying about the competitor, you have to focus on your own product. Same with politics. It’s useless to point out the hypocrisies and stupidities of the left, there are far too many. We have to promote our own causes without worrying what “the other” will say about us.
    DF

  • Anne

    What we really need are brief, punchy Youtube responses, with edgy production values, to the many anti-Israel speakers and items circulating among evangelicals as God’s truth. Films such as “Little Town of Bethlehem” present such a distorted view of the conflict, that it would be simple to produce a 10-point response.

  • Jacob Alperin-Sheriff

    According to halakhah Orthodox Jews may not enter a church sanctuary for any reason (they can enter other parts in order to vote but not much else), so good luck finding Orthodox Jews to reach out …

  • Richard Watt

    I agree. Without their support, and respect for the Jews and Israel, we would be much worse off. I heard Rev. Hagee speak at AIPAC several years ago. It was a rousing defense of the Jews and Israel. Whereas elsewhere in the U.S. we often hear at best lukewarm support or even hostility. Thank G-d for the Evangelicals.

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