• July 17, 2002
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    Is this good for the Jews?
Is this good for the Jews? Fundamentalist Christian activists in America are setting up a campaign called "Stand With Israel" that is intended to work in concert with AIPAC, the main pro-Israeli lobby in the U.S.

B'nai B'rith in Canada has formed an alliance with Christians for Israel to encourage the Ottawa government's support for Israel. And the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews is poised to allocate a significant share of its $30 million annual budget toward a pro-Israeli publicity blitz and provision of financial aid to Jews wishing to immigrate to Israel. Fundamentalist circles claim that George Bush's pro-Israel stand derives from his being a born-again Christian.

This bustle of activity by fundamentalist Christians has been garnering increased expressions of gratitude from Jewish organizational leaders. But, if truth be told, they are also to some extent embarrassed by the support. Most Jewish organizations in America have always been somewhat uneasy about the enthusiastic support for Zionism and Israel by the evangelist Christian right. The worldview of the fundamentalist churches, most of which are in the South, is right-wing conservatism, whereas the large Jewish organizations, which are concentrated in the Northeast and Southwest, support liberal ideologies and politicians. Most of the liberal Protestant churches (which constitute the majority in the U.S.) come down in favor of the Third World, a category that generally includes Palestinians and especially Palestinian refugees.

Added to this is the guarded relationship with the Catholic Church, which in the Jewish mind still conjures up memories of inquisition and persecution. In modern America, most Jewish and Christian immigrants, the latter primarily from Ireland and Italy, have found themselves under the political umbrella of the Democratic Party, which is also shared by liberals and progressives, including the Protestants among them. Few Jewish leaders supported the Republican Party, which is considered a bastion of the Protestant elite.

Toward the end of the 20th century, exceptions broke the traditional mold. Jews, especially those in the higher social brackets, began joining the Republican Party. Points of contention between the Vatican and Jews (especially concerning the actions of Pope Pius XII during the Holocaust, and discoveries of how the Church helped Nazi war criminals escape after the war) began leaving their mark on the relationship between Jews and the Catholic establishment in America.

The trend toward closer links between fundamentalist Protestants and Jews was greatly reinforced during the two intifadas and the political assault on Israel from Muslim and Western European countries. Fundamentalist leader Earl Cox recently announced in Jerusalem the start of an advertising campaign on Israeli television that is meant to cheer up Israelis and let them know that "the vast majority of Christians in America sees in Israel a friend and ally."

Ralph Reed, chairman of the Republican party in Georgia (and a former Democrat), who founded the conservative Christian Coalition has now initiated, along with Rabbi Yehiel Eckstein, a movement called Stand With Israel. Reed claims the organization is capable of enlisting, in a demonstration of support for Israel, the majority of members of tens of thousands of churches across America. At last month's annual conference of the Southern Baptist Convention - the largest church group in America, with 16 million members- Reverend Jerry Vines launched a venomous attack on Islam, a faith, he said, that impels its believers to commit acts of terror. He described the Prophet Mohammed as "a demon-possessed pedophile who had 12 wives, and his last one was a nine-year-old girl."

The remarks by Vines, a former president of the SBC, caused a public storm in America, and pointed up one of the problematic aspects of fundamentalist support for Israel. At the most recent conference of AIPAC, the pro-Israel Jewish lobby in Washington, Jewish-Protestant cooperation was a major point of contention among participants.

The AIPAC spokeswoman welcomed, in general fashion, "the support of the Christian public" for Israel's struggle. But Abe Foxman, the national director of B'nai B'rith's Anti-Defamation League, stridently denounced the statement of Reverend Vines and other SBC spokesmen.

Some Jewish leaders are concerned that support for Israel will in turn lead to missionary activity among the Jews. They recall that in 1980 a fundamentalist Christian leader declared that, "God does not hear the prayers of the Jews." In 1988, the annual SBC conference declared that redemption was only possible through Jesus the Christian, and in 1999, promulgated a new prayer "for the conversion of Muslims, Hindus and Jews."

Many fundamentalist preachers view the return of Jews to their land as a precondition for the second coming of Jesus Christ.

On the other hand, liberal Jewish circles are especially concerned about the repercussions of forging an alliance with the pro-Israel fundamentalist right wing. For instance, Reform leader Rabbi David Saperstein is afraid that fundamentalists - out of their own theological considerations - might oppose any Israeli-Palestinian compromise; others fears that the fundamentalists will, for religious reasons, oppose any return of the territories to the Muslim Palestinians.

Meanwhile, Jewish right-wing advocates have been saying that mere expressions of appreciation to Christian fundamentalist supporters are not enough. They say that Jews should be willing to give in kind for this support. Rabbi Daniel Lapin, president of the Jewish organization Toward Tradition, wrote two weeks ago in a New York Jewish weekly that Jews owe a moral debt to the Christian religious right, and must hold back their criticism of anti-Semitic statements by preacher Billy Graham, and overzealously Christian statements by preachers such as Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and others, because they are all "devotedly pro-Israel." Lapin and other Jewish conservatives also call on Jews to end their "automatic trusteeship" with the Democratic Party. The Chicago branch of the Zionist Organization of America even decided to honor Robertson for his pro-Israeli broadcasts. Morton Klein, president of the Likud-leaning Zionist Organizatin of America, says he isn't disturbed by the religious niceties. "I want their support now," he said, "and I don't care what their theology says down the line."