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Jewish World Review Oct. 14, 2002 / 8 Mar-Cheshvan, 5763

Jonathan Tobin

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Is there anything dumber than repudiating Christians who support Israel? | A "peace protest" in New York's Central Park was the scene of vicious anti-Israel epithets uttered from both the podium and the Palestinian flag-waving audience.

It was organized by a group called "Not in Our Name," which previously sponsored a full-page ad in The New York Times opposing war with Iraq, and also denouncing Israeli policies but not Arab terrorism. It was supported by Hollywood leftists like Susan Sarandon, Ed Asner, feminist guru Gloria Steinhem and the Jewish far-left's Tikkun Community impresario Michael Lerner.

Last Friday, Oct. 11, the Christian Coalition rallied for Israel and voice its support for the Jewish state in front of the White House. There were speeches from American and Israeli political leaders, including the Rev. Pat Robertson, U.S. House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) and Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert.

Guess which of these events is setting off alarm bells for many mainstream liberal American Jews?

You got it - the latter one.

Yes, the prospect of American Christians gathering in Washington to express their devotion to Israel and to demand that the administration do nothing to harm its interests is very scary to many Jews.


It is so scary that according to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, a feminist Jewish group called Jewish Women Watching has launched a mailing in which prospective funders will be sent an envelope with a condom. The appeal asks why the Jewish community is "in bed" with leaders of the Christian right, such as Robertson, Jerry Falwell and Ralph Reed.

For such people, Christian support for Israel is not nearly as important as the fact that most Jews disagree with them about issues like abortion or school prayer. Fearing Jewish gratitude will spill over into other issues, some liberals are doing their best to discredit the evangelical Zionists.

An example of this was on display on Oct. 7, when the CBS "Sixty Minutes" program did a feature on the issue. Yossi Alpher, the American Jewish Committee's representative in Israel, and Jerusalem Report editor Gershom Gorenberg used the show to urge American Jews to repudiate Christian Zionists.

The piece claimed the reason for Christian support for Israel was their apocalyptic belief in a coming battle of Armageddon, which will leave two-thirds of the world's Jews dead, with the remaining third converting to Christianity. All this would, of course, take place after Jesus' second coming.

The mere mention of such ideas is enough to give some American Jews the creeps. The experience of pre-Hitler Europe, where anti-Semites were more likely to be found among religious Christians than among nonbelievers, has conditioned many of us to see any religious Christian as a potential foe.

But this is no longer the case. Religious Christians have been the Jewish people's No. 1 ally on issues affecting the survival of Israel. Nothing better illustrated this fact than what happened last spring when the Bush administration debated how harshly it would respond to Israel's post-Passover massacre response to Palestinian terrorism.

When the administration appeared to be tilting against Israel, it was overwhelmed with criticism from President Bush's political base: conservative Christians. Most observers credit the full court press from this group with having a far greater impact on Bush's ultimate tilt back toward Israel than anything that the divided American Jewish community did.

Surprisingly, it was Abe Foxman, the national head of the Anti-Defamation League, who was the one Jewish voice of reason on the "Sixty Minutes" segment. He rightly explained that agreement on Israel Wouldn't mean that Jewish groups will roll over on other issues where they disagree.

Foxman's stand is significant because it was the ADL that issued an over-the-top, book-length report denouncing Christian conservatives in 1994. At the time, he was criticized by some Jewish observers (including this writer), who thought ADL was making a strategic mistake. But give Foxman credit for understanding that when the chips are down, Jews need to embrace all available allies, whether or not they support abortion rights.

As for the motives of the Christians, Foxman explained that there were a variety of motives at play, including a genuine affection for the Jewish people and the State of Israel on the part of many Evangelicals. He also took a philosophical tone, saying that while Christians were expecting the second coming of the Messiah, he, as an observant Jew, was still waiting for the first. Without explicitly saying so, Foxman seemed to be telling us that post-Messianic era questions should be sorted out then, not now.

He's right. Indeed, even if all Christian support for Israel were based on the expectation that after the second coming, Jews will convert, why should Jews who don't believe Jesus is coming back at any time worry much about the eventuality?

Silence from Hollywood Jews As Foxman appears to have learned, the notion that American Jews can do without Christian conservative support on Israel makes little sense today. After two years of a Palestinian terror war that followed a generous Israeli peace offer, anti-Semitism disguised as anti-Zionism is on the rise in Europe and on American college campuses. Anti-Israel rhetoric seems to have increased in direct proportion to the growing toll of Jewish casualties from Arab terrorism.

While most rank-and-file American Jews have rallied around an embattled Jewish state, some of our liberal elite have not found their voice on the issue. Most conspicuous by their silence on the issue have been the Jews of Hollywood. Few of the numerous Jews who sit in positions of power in the entertainment industry have used their bully pulpit or their access to political power to voice their support for Israel during the current crisis. Iconic Hollywood Jews, such as Rob Reiner or Barbra Streisand, can be found beating the drums for a host of liberal causes, but not an Israel that is under attack.

The juxtaposition of their silence with the vocal support for Israel coming from Evangelicals whom many American Jews still wrongly assume are Jew-haters sounds more like science fiction than political reality, but it is true nevertheless. But rather than getting angry about the anti-Israel rhetoric from the left, there are still too many Jews who are more worried about right-wing Christians.

Do feminists really think Jews have more to fear from Falwell than Yasser Arafat? If so, they need to take a moment to read the list of Jewish women and children who were murdered by Arafat's henchmen and their allies this year. Disagree all you want with Robertson, but how many Jews have the Christian Coalition killed lately? They have been better friends to Israel than many Jews.

If the main source of anti-Semitism in this country is currently located on the political left, why are some of us foolishly still fixated on the pro-Israel right? Telling our friends from our foes isn't really so hard. Though the answer may still surprise some of us, just look at who is demonstrating for Israel and who is against it these days.

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JWR contributor Jonathan S. Tobin is executive editor of the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent. Let him know what you think by clicking here.

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