A Knight in Shining Armour or Trojan Horse?
Rabbi Michael Skobac, Jews for Judaism’s Education Director, clarified the nature of the “double-edged sword” relationship the Jewish community has with the Christian right today. In a world that has grown increasingly hostile towards Jews and Israel, evangelical Christians have emerged as the solitary supportive group.
This group, which represents 25-40% of the American population, and 10% in Canada, is itself a very diverse group. The PEW forum on Religious and Public Life conducted two important surveys in 2004 which revealed that only 50-60% of evangelicals expressed their support of Israel over the Palestinians in the current conflict. Nonetheless, as many have expressed, America’s Bible belt is Israel’s safety belt.
These Christians have organized tremendous political support for Israel through their lobbying and activism and have conducted ongoing rallies and prayer meetings on behalf of the Jewish state. In addition, they have provided significant financial aid to Israel, have been very supportive of projects to encourage and facilitate Aliyah to Israel and have themselves been very loyal tourists, even throughout the most dangerous times during the Intifadas.
Rabbi Skobac outlined some of the many reasons that Evangelicals tend to be very supportive of Jewish interests in the world today. These include the conviction that the Bible is the Jewish people’s deed to the land of Israel, identification with Israel as the Middle East’s only real democracy, a sense of remorse over their treatment of the Jews in the past and a belief in the Bible’s promise that G-d will bless those who bless the Jewish people.
Even though every Israeli government for the past 25 years has actively courted Evangelicals for their vital help, many Jews have areas of concern with this relationship. Some American Jews have been concerned with the broader political and social agenda of the Christian right and fear that some are seeking to overturn the historic separation of church and state. Mainstream North American Jewry which tends to fall on the liberal end of most social issues is uncomfortable with the right’s lack of tolerance for these values. In addition, many Jews are uncomfortable with some of the extremist positions some evangelicals take regarding the situation in Israel itself – positions often far right of the most rightwing groups in Israel.
Certainly, there is some suspicion of lingering anti-Semitism among Evangelicals. This was raised when Bailey Smith, head of the Southern Baptist Convention, proclaimed that G-d does not hear the prayers of a Jew. The lack of empathy in the Evangelical world over Jewish concerns about the potential fallout from Mel Gibson’s “Passion” film was another telling moment. This incident also demonstrated the delicate nature of Christian support for Israel when Ted Haggard, an evangelical leader frustrated by Jewish protests over the film, raised the prospect of withdrawing support for Israel.
Finally, Rabbi Skobac explained that it is precisely those Christian denominations that are most supportive of Israel that stand in the forefront of movements targeting the Jewish community for conversion. Some Christian groups use their pro-Israel stance as a way to lubricate the conversion process and proclaim, among themselves, that the key to Jewish hearts is showing them unconditional love. Clearly, it is vital to carefully investigate any organization that seeks to work closely with the Jewish community on behalf of Israel to avoid assisting those with a hidden agenda.