Remembering the Rabbi Who Brought Jews and Christians Together

Feb. 14 2019

Yechiel Eckstein, an American-born rabbi who did much to foster Jewish cooperation with evangelical Christians, died in Jerusalem last week at the age of sixty-seven. In 1991, his outreach to Christian groups led him to create the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, which remains one of Israel’s largest charities and has raised millions of dollars for needy Jews. While much of Eckstein’s public activities focused on Israel, he came to the idea of a Jewish-evangelical alliance when confronting American anti-Semitism, as Jonathan Tobin writes:

Eckstein was ordained as an Orthodox rabbi . . . and then joined the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), where he worked on interfaith-dialogue projects. But it was only after he journeyed to the Chicago suburb of Skokie in 1977 to resist the plan of American Nazis to march through a neighborhood populated by Holocaust survivors that he was struck by an insight that eluded the organized Jewish world.

While the ADL and the rest of the Jewish establishment were used to looking for allies among the mainstream liberal Protestant denominations, the people who were most willing to join with the Jews were evangelical Christians. They were the last people most Jews thought would stand with them in a time of need; the overwhelming majority of American Jews and their leaders were largely convinced that conservative Christians either sympathized with the Nazis or were hopelessly anti-Semitic. . . .

[But] Eckstein was right. The majority of conservative Christians were not only instinctively Zionist, but also philo-Semitic. . . . When Eckstein launched a drive to collect funds to aid the hundreds of thousands of Jews arriving in Israel from the former Soviet Union, the response from these Christians was overwhelming. . . . He proved that religious Christians were willing to back Jewish causes with a fervor and generosity that sometimes dwarfed that of Jews. And he made it clear that, political differences notwithstanding, American Jews should regard their evangelical neighbors as faithful and sincere allies against anti-Semites of all stripes.

That’s a lesson that many American Jews, who are steeped in a prejudice against evangelicals that is largely driven by cultural elitism and partisan politics, still have a hard time understanding. Yet Rabbi Eckstein forged an alliance that will stand the test of time.

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More about: ADL, Christian Zionism, Evangelical Christianity, Israel & Zionism, Jewish-Christian relations, Religion & Holidays

The Impossibility of Unilateral Withdrawal from the West Bank

Feb. 19 2019

Since throwing his hat into the ring for the Israeli premiership, the former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz has been reticent about his policy plans. Nonetheless, he has made clear his openness to unilateral disengagement from the West Bank along the lines of the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza, stating the necessity of finding “a way in which we’re not controlling other people.” Gershon Hacohen argues that any such plan would be ill-advised:

The political and strategic precepts underlying the Oslo “peace” process, which Gantz echoes, vanished long ago. The PLO has unequivocally revealed its true colors: its total lack of interest in peace, unyielding rejection of the idea of Jewish statehood, and incessant propensity for violence and terrorism. . . . Tehran is rapidly emerging as regional hegemon, with its tentacles spreading from Yemen and Iraq to the Mediterranean Sea and its dogged quest for nuclear weapons continuing apace under the international radar. Even the terror groups Hizballah and Hamas pose a far greater threat to Israel’s national security than they did a decade ago. Under these circumstances, Israel’s withdrawal from the West Bank’s Area C, [the only part still under direct Israeli control], would constitute nothing short of an existential threat.

Nor does Israel need to find a way to stop “controlling other people,” as Gantz put it, for the simple reason that its control of the Palestinians ended some two decades ago. In May 1994 the IDF withdrew from all Palestinian population centers in the Gaza Strip. In January 1996 it vacated the West Bank’s populated areas (the Oslo Accords’ Areas A and B), comprising over 90 percent of the West Bank’s Palestinian residents, and handed control of that population to the Palestinian Authority (PA). . . .

This in turn means that the real dispute between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as within Israel itself, no longer revolves around the end of “occupation” but around the future of eastern Jerusalem and Area C. And since Area C (which is home to only 100,000 Palestinians) includes all the Jewish West Bank localities, IDF bases, transportation arteries, vital topographic sites, and habitable empty spaces between the Jordan Valley and the Jerusalem metropolis, its continued retention by Israel is a vital national interest. Why? Because its surrender to a potentially hostile Palestinian state would make the defense of the Israeli hinterland virtually impossible—and because these highly strategic and sparsely populated lands are of immense economic, infrastructural, communal, ecological, and cultural importance, not to mention their historical significance as the bedrock of the Jewish ancestral homeland

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More about: Benny Gantz, Israel & Zionism, Two-State Solution, West Bank