America’s Israel lobby made up of Christians
Jesus for Jews
By Shmuel Rosner, blog, NY Times
JERUSALEM — Last week on Monday morning, in the busy dining room of the Inbal hotel, Tim Burt, an associate pastor at Living Word Christian Center in Minneapolis, told me a story of mistrust.
Several years ago, his church held its first “Night to Honor Israel” — an opportunity, said Burt, for Christians “to demonstrate their love and support for Israel and the Jewish people.”
But three local Jewish leaders came to him and asked, “Why are you doing it? What’s the real agenda? What’s the story behind the story?” They were having a hard time believing there was no other motivation but love for Israel behind this, Burt explained.
How things have changed.
The night before I saw Burt last week, he and a group of 130 evangelicals from Minnesota and Texas spent a very special evening with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel. “Thank you for standing up for Israel,” the prime minister told the 800 people who had gathered for this year’s Jerusalem conference of Christians United for Israel, an American pro-Israel evangelical association.
Six years ago, CUFI was just being created. Today, with its one million members, it is by far the largest pro-Israel advocacy group in the United States. There are now 50 million Christian evangelicals in the United States, many also very pro-Israel. In a Pew Research Center survey published earlier this month, 40 percent of white evangelicals claimed that the United States is “not supportive enough” of Israel (only 17 percent of white mainstream Protestants and 14 percent of Catholics agreed).
But is all support good support? Though Netanyahu has long welcomed backing from Christian groups without much agitation, not all Israelis are so sanguine. Some question the religious motives of CUFI members — “When will they start proselytizing?” — or are uneasy about their politics, especially their resistance to compromise regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
It’s true that John Hagee, the founder and leader of CUFI, is not a man of nuance. Four years ago, he called Hitler a “hunter” who had been sent by God to chase the Jews out of Europe and “back to the land of Israel.” (This statement caused John McCain, then a candidate for the presidency, to reject Hagee’s endorsement.) Based on his reading of the Scriptures, Hagee opposes a two-state solution. He does not want Israel to give up land — the Holy Land — for peace.
Hagee says he supports Israel. But could he also support a left-leaning Israeli government? To this, his answer is always: Israel is free to make its own decisions. Should he ever be at odds with the country’s policies, he once told me, he would find other ways of expressing his support. He would, for example, give to hospitals or needy communities in Israel.
Some remain skeptical and say there’s a price to be paid for associating with evangelicals. Yossi Sarid, a left-wing Israeli commentator and a former leader of the Meretz Party, wrote last year that Hagee, Glenn Beck and “their swarm” are “anti-Semites, who are not even aware of their anti-Semitism and the extent of its ugliness.”
The founders of CUFI seem unfazed. “After two thousand years of Christian anti-Semitism, it is very hard for Jews to believe that Christians have suddenly embraced philo-Semitism in an honest and sincere way,” David Brog, CUFI’s executive director, explained to me in 2006, when the organization was founded. (He essentially told me the same thing again last week in Jerusalem.) And “if they have changed, what is to prevent them from changing back?”
That’s a good question, and CUFI’s doggedness in the face of constant suspicion may the best answer to it. If Hagee loves us this much, maybe we should find a way to love him back.
Shmuel Rosner, an editor and columnist based in Tel Aviv, is senior political editor for The Jewish Journal.
For previous note on CUFI and Pastor Hagee