Links to Christian Zionists Pose Peril

People are judged by the friends they keep. And for the Jewish right, some friends are unsavory, indeed.

Take the Rev. Pat Robertson, who was back in the news last week for statements that were both buffoonish and chilling. For some on the Jewish right, the televangelist/politician/businessman is mishpachah, thanks to his vocal opposition to Israel’s recent Gaza withdrawal.

But that connection is also having an impact on the broader Jewish community, most of which regards the more extreme members of the religious right as a little wacky and a lot dangerous.

The perception of a Jewish alliance with some of the most polarizing forces in American society threatens the broad-based, bipartisan support that has always been the goal of the pro-Israel movement. It has also been one of many factors driving the current effort by mainline Protestant denominations to “divest” from Israel.

Recently, Robertson warmed the hearts of Jewish right-wingers when he expressed rage at Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza and suggested God’s probable response: “‘I am going to judge the nations who have parted my land.’ He said ‘I am going to bring judgment against them.'”

Robertson is big on providential retribution. He once suggested America could face terrorists, tornadoes, earthquakes and “possibly a meteor” because of its tolerance of homosexuality. He also produced headlines when he seemed to agree with the Rev. Jerry Falwell, another big Israel supporter, that Sept. 11 was God’s way of chastising the nation for abortion, feminism and the ACLU.

That illustrates one of the biggest problems of linking pro-Israel efforts to the Christian Zionists: Robertson and his evangelical colleagues are among the nation’s most polarizing figures.

Robertson’s views resonate for millions of viewers of his “700 Club” broadcasts, but many others suspect he is just this side of a padded cell.

Although all evangelicals are not as colorful as the Christian Coalition founder, as a group, the ardent Christian Zionists tend to come from the most radical segments of American Christianity, with views on a range of subjects that are far outside the American mainstream and a self-righteous attitude that equates compromise with surrender.

That represents a direct threat to a pro-Israel movement that has always tried to bridge political and ideological gaps. There may be short-term benefits to allying pro-Israel activism to this rising force in American politics, but the long-term political costs could be enormous, as the nation’s bitter divisions widen.

The Christian Zionist connection is already affecting Jewish relations with other important groups. Mainline Protestant churches are waging economic warfare against Israel for a variety of reasons, but a contributing factor is rage over what is seen as a blanket Jewish endorsement of the Christian right, because of its support for Israel.

Only a small minority of Jews actively seek links to the religious right, but the reluctance of mainstream Jewish leaders to criticize their efforts reinforces the view that the community is cozying up to the pro-Israel evangelicals.

These new best friends of Israel also have a growing potential for influencing U.S. policy in destructive ways.

The theology of many Christian Zionists states there can be no peace for Israel until the longed-for “second coming” of Jesus, and that, in fact, the “end times” will include efforts to deceive the world with false promises of peace. That theology would be a matter of scant interest for most Jews, except for this concern: If the evangelicals’ new political power helps them prevent new peace efforts because they view all peacemaking in the here-and-now as literally satanic, the costs could be paid in Israeli blood.

In the Gaza debate, their Bible-based view that Israel shouldn’t give up an inch of land — some claim Israel’s holy birthright is “50 times” the size of the current Israel — encouraged the most radical elements in Israel, adding to the pressures that threaten to tear Israeli society apart.

Some Jewish leaders correctly point out that you don’t have to share a theology with groups to work with them on important public policy issues, and that with the Protestant mainline churches increasingly hostile, Israel needs all the friends it can get.

“We’ve agreed that when the Messiah comes, we’ll know who was right,” has become the mantra of Jewish defenders of the emerging relationship, when asked about the Christian prophecies. That misses the point that extreme theology and political power is a dangerous mix.

And mainstream Jewish leaders who keep quiet about the alliance miss the point that silence, in this case, is a form of approval.