Laurie Cardoza-Moore, who has spent more than 15 years in pro-Israel work, says she has seen evangelicals rallying to the cause. Photo courtesy of Cardoza-Moore

Evangelicals are ready to speak for Israel in Trump’s Washington


Evangelicals, who have been advocating for Israel for years, have historically let the Jews take the lead.

Laurie Cardoza-Moore, for one, is excited that they are poised to take on a prominent role. An evangelical TV host and activist, Cardoza-Moore backs President Donald Trump’s pick for U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, a supporter of the settlement movement who is deeply skeptical of the two-state solution.

And she is confident Trump will make good on his promise to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv.

“I am excited to see this development. It further illustrates the commitment of this [incoming] administration,” she recently told a Christian news service. “And God willing, Friedman will be the one who helps orchestrate that transition.”

Cardoza-Moore was in Israel last week filming a new episode of “Focus on Israel,” which is widely syndicated on Christian television. In an interview at a Tel Aviv café last week, she said in over 15 years of pro-Israel work as the president of Proclaiming Justice to the Nations, she has seen evangelicals rally to the cause.

“After the 9/11 attacks, a lot of Christians were ready to hear our message,” she said. “Having read the Bible, they felt we were under a curse and the way to change that curse was to make sure we supported Israel. I always knew if we could get the information to the Christians, they would respond and they would stand up.”

But while that support is undeniable and certainly welcomed by a Jewish state that could use all the friends it can get, it still discomfits many in the pro-Israel camp, especially liberals. They worry evangelicals’ Bible-based views are too right wing, both on social issues as well as Israel affairs.

“There’s a real danger because most evangelicals are very hawkish and hard-line on Israel,” said Dov Waxman, a political scientist at Northeastern University who studies American Jews and Israel. “The more they get involved, that risks alienating more liberal Jews from pro-Israel advocacy and from Israel.”

Cardoza-Moore’s commitment to Israel is unquestioned, and often indistinguishable from what mainstream Jewish groups might take on. In 2013, she gained national attention with a campaign against a geography textbook being used in her Tennessee school district that asked students to consider whether a Palestinian suicide bomber who kills “several dozen Israeli teenagers in a Jerusalem restaurant” is acting as a terrorist or as a soldier fighting a war.

Cardoza-Moore spoke at school board meetings, gathered hundreds of signatures and appeared on Fox News to advocate against using the book. The local Jewish federation took her side. In the end, the school board concluded the book was not biased, but the publisher removed the offending line from electronic and future print editions.

Perhaps Cardoza-Moore’s biggest victory came in 2015, when at her urging, the Tennessee legislature passed a resolution condemning the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel, the first of its kind in the nation. Although the resolution took no action against BDS, it labeled the movement “one of the main vehicles for spreading anti-Semitism and advocating the elimination of the Jewish state.”

Since then, Cardoza-Moore has pushed for similar resolutions in other states. Ten states have now passed them, and three more are considering doing so. Governors in 15 states have signed laws that prevent the boycott of Israel.

It likely helps that the Republican Party in recent years has been dominant in state politics. The GOP has increasingly become the pro-Israel party. Evangelicals, who make up more than a quarter of the American population and overwhelmingly vote Republican, have shaped the party’s identity on Israel in many ways.

“If we look at why the Republicans tend to take pro-Israel positions, I think a major reason for that is evangelical Christians,” Waxman said. “In red-state America, it’s the views of evangelicals that really matter when it comes to Israel.”

And with Trump’s victory, red-state America is in control of the executive branch. Christians United for Israel, or CUFI, has been ramping up its activities in Washington, D.C. The Israel lobby claims 3.3 million mostly evangelical members. By contrast, the mostly Jewish AIPAC has approximately 100,000, though it is more experienced and better funded.

After long deferring to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, CUFI founder and board member David Brog said his group planned to get “a little more aggressive” in pushing its policies in the Trump era, when it has clout and connections, including to evangelical Vice President Mike Pence.

“At a time when we have a Republican in the White House and Republicans control the House and Senate, we see CUFI as able to play a leading role in speaking to governing majorities that know they owe their election in large part to our base,” he said.

Brog described CUFI as “within the mainstream” and respectful of AIPAC’s history of bipartisanship. But he acknowledged that CUFI’s members tend to be “right of center” and “skeptical of the two-state solution.” The group, he said, would not necessarily sit out debates or avoid criticizing ideological opponents in an effort to keep them in the pro-Israel camp.

“We need to draw clear lines and be clear about where we stand,” he said. “That does not necessarily damage bipartisanship. Drawing clear lines may help define what it means to be pro-Israel.”

As Bloomberg’s Eli Lake pointed out, CUFI has not taken a position on the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which AIPAC officially supports, and has backed legislation to defund the Palestinian Authority, which AIPAC has not. CUFI has also thrown its weight behind Trump’s pro-settlement pick for ambassador to Israel, David Friedman.

Some Jewish observers have suggested that growing evangelical involvement in Israel advocacy could turn Israel into a right-wing Republican issue. Aside from concerns about the implications for Israel, they say, that could make it less attractive to more liberal Jews, who already are drifting away from the community and are increasingly critical of Israel’s policies.

“It’s like a brand. If Israel is associated with right wing and ‘reactionary’ forces, then it’s going to be a turnoff to younger American Jews,” Waxman said. “It may be superficial, but we’re talking about public perceptions.”

Brog, who is Jewish, argued Israel and its supporters could not afford to apply a “religious test” on the issue.

“I got involved in Christian advocacy because I can count,” he said. “If the pro-Israel community is limited to the Jewish community, it’s too small. The reason the American government is pro-Israel is because the American people are profoundly and overwhelmingly pro-Israel. But we can’t take that for granted.”

A senior official at a dovish Israel advocacy group said he thought American Jews and Israel would ultimately define their own relationship, regardless of who else was in the picture.

“I’d be foolish to say evangelical Christians don’t have an effect. But I don’t really care what they say,” said the official, who asked to remain anonymous. “At the end of the day, it’s a homeland for the Jewish people. So it’s how we choose to express our love for Israel that really matters.”

Evangelicals, Jews and politics


On a Christian radio show last week, former Minnesota Representative and 2012 Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann expressed her opinion that the End Times will soon be upon us, and that:

“We recognize the shortness of the hour, and that's why we as a remnant want to … help bring in as many as we can — even among the Jews — share Jesus Christ with everyone that we possibly can because, again, He's coming soon.”

Bachmann is certainly welcome to her opinion, but during a time when the GOP is making headway into the Jewish vote, her words are fodder for Democrats desperate to show their Jewish base that they can’t trust Republicans, especially regarding Israel.

This is exactly the kind of talk that can give Jews, especially American Jews, the creeps. It speaks directly to our deep-seated fears and insecurities, stemming from the historical relationship between Judaism and Christianity.

The reason Bachmann’s comments are so jarring is that most Jews thought, or hoped, we had left the better part of this behind.  In 1965 Pope John XXIII’s Nostra Aetate stopped blaming me personally for Easter; and later, Cardinal Ratzinger would help to demote evangelizing the Jews significantly in the Church’s priorities. 

In 1967, Israel’s astonishing victory in the Six Day War secured her existence a mere 19 years after independence, forcing many Christians to re-examine their assumptions about Jews and their alleged perpetual exile.  Indeed, Christian Zionists such as Pastor John Hagee, whose Christians United For Israel is the largest pro-Israel organization in America, are solely focused on the safety and security of the Jewish State and the wellbeing of the Jewish people.

For some Jewish liberals who still prioritize the safety and security of Jews in Israel and abroad over progressive issues such as abortion rights and same-sex marriage, comments such as Bachmann’s are what Democrat operatives will use to appeal to Jews disenchanted by the Obama administration’s abandonment of Israel and courtship of Iran.  

The head of the National Jewish Democratic Committee, Greg Rosenbaum, lost no time in calling into question the sincerity of all Christian Zionists:

In the 83 percent that support Israel, what are their motives? Are they supporting Israel as a natural homeland for the Jews and to some extent a reaction to the millennia of persecution? Or are they in support of Israel because it represents the avenue for people who are evangelicals to get to heaven?

I’ve always said, you’ve got Evangelical Republicans supporting Israel because they are building a stairway to heaven on the backs of the Jews in Israel. We don’t get to go with them, unless—as Michelle Bachmann said over the weekend—all of the Israeli Jews convert to Christianity, as soon as possible. So you have to look beyond the numbers to really understand how the parties shake out in support of Israel.

The partisan attack prompted a sharp rebuke from the Jewish Federations of North America, not generally regarded as a bastion of right-wing Christian apologetics: “Federations work closely with pro-Israel churches and church leaders across the continent. We strenuously object to any characterization that calls into question their motives for supporting the state of Israel.”

Christians United For Israel is demanding Mr. Rosenbaum apologize “to the millions of Christians he stereotyped and slandered.”

“Under what rock has this man been living? I simply cannot believe that in 2015 he still publicly professes such smug anti-Christian bigotry. As a people who have suffered so much from lies about our faith, we should be the last to traffic in lies about the faith of others,” David Brog, CUFI board of directors, told the Salomon Center.

Under such fire, Rosenbaum later tried to wriggle out of the comments, claiming he had specifically meant Bachmann herself, but one might be pardoned for questioning the sincerity of the clarification.

Understand, Bachmann neither holds office nor is a candidate for one.  She holds no position of power within the Republican Party.  She heads no PAC of any consequence, and her personal political following is minimal at this point.

At the same time, Al “tell them to pin their yarmulkes back and come over to my house” Sharpton, organizer of an anti-Jewish riot that resulted in the murder of Jewish rabbinical scholar Yankel Rosenbaum, is a regular visitor to the White House, and Hillary was his first guest on his new Sunday morning time slot.  Attempts to get the National Jewish Democratic Committee to comment on that have been to no avail.

So the irony is that the Left will play on this as evidence of the precariousness of the Jewish position in American/Christian society, while Obama has done the most to increase that marginalization.

Joshua Sharf is a Fellow with the Salomon Center for American Jewish Thought and is head of the PERA project at the Independence Institute, a Denver based free-market think tank. Follow him @joshuasharf.

When Jews are bigoted against Conservative Christians


Over the last 20 years, I have probably spent as much time with Evangelical Christians as with fellow Jews — in private settings, speaking at churches, on listener cruises, in my home and in their homes.

I have come to admire and in many cases love these people. 

Unfortunately, this is likely to strike many American Jews as foolish, naïve, politically driven or all three. After all, these people are overwhelmingly conservative both politically and religiously, precisely the group — the “religious right” — that many American Jews fear and even disdain.

In 1994, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) released a famous report, “The Religious Right: The Assault on Tolerance and Pluralism in America,” whose title summed up the Jewish organization’s — and much of the Jewish community’s — view of Christian conservatives. Commentary Magazine wrote at the time that the ADL “has become guilty of the one bigotry that seems to be acceptable these days — bigotry against conservative Christians.”

In 2005, Rabbi James Rudin of the American Jewish Committee published a book titled “The Baptizing of America: The Religious Right’s Plans for the Rest of Us,” an attack on the Christian right, which he described as an “immediate and profound threat to our republic.”

“The campaign to permanently transform America into a faith-based nation where one particular form of Christianity is legally dominant over all other religious communities constitutes a clear and present danger,” Rudin wrote.

That same year, at the Union for Reform Judaism’s (URJ) biennial conference in Houston, its then-head, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, in the words of the URJ press release of Nov. 19, 2005, “criticized the Religious Right for its exclusionary beliefs and statements that say ‘unless you attend my church, accept my God, and study my sacred text, you cannot be a moral person.’ ” 

I could cite similar prominent American Jews’ irresponsible attacks on conservative Christians for pages. The most accurate word that describes these and other American Jews’ views is “bigoted.”

Take Yoffie’s statement. It is a textbook example of bigotry in that it imputes to a group dark actions or beliefs that are not true — just what Jews have too often been subjected to when accused of saying or doing things they do not and have not said or done. I have never met nor read nor heard one Christian conservative who has said, “Unless you attend my church, accept my God and study my sacred text, you cannot be a moral person.”

Assuming the rabbi’s organization quoted him correctly, Yoffie simply made it all up.

Likewise, Rudin’s charge that conservative Christians seek “to permanently transform America into a faith-based nation where one particular form of Christianity is legally dominant over all other religious communities constitutes a clear and present danger.”

What is he talking about? 

For one thing, as regards transforming America into a faith-based nation, count this Jew as among those who wish to see this occur. It is not, however, a “transformation.” America was founded as a faith-based nation by faith-based people (including those often and erroneously called “deists”). Not one founder foresaw America as anything but a faith-based nation. What they opposed was establishing a state religion. 

If anyone is engaged in a “transformation” of America, it is those who wish to make America a non-faith-based nation, a secular or even an atheist nation. They project their attempt to transform America onto their opponents.

And what is this about conservative Christians seeking to make “one particular form of Christianity legally dominant over all other religious communities”?

Name one example. Making most abortions illegal? Are there no Orthodox Jews who seek this? Or religious Muslims? Or even some secular individuals who deem abortions on viable fetuses immoral? Keeping marriage defined as between one man and one woman? Likewise, millions of non-Christians believe in that.

Too many American Jews — primarily because they politically oppose the conservative positions held by Evangelicals — fear 50 million of their fellow Americans. Fifty million people, most of whom are particularly decent, particularly charitable, disproportionately involved in charitable volunteer work, and who form the bulk of America’s support for Israel.

It is a shame. And it is a shame on the Jewish community. American Evangelical support, and often even love, of the Jewish people and Israel is the most unrequited love I have ever seen on a large scale.

I know that Evangelicals believe that those who do not accept Jesus as their savior will not be saved. Obviously I don’t share this view, or I would be a Christian. But so what? Why would Jews lie about these people and fear them just because we reject their theology? Aren’t we Jews supposed to judge others by their behavior, not their religious beliefs?

Muslims are beheading innocent human beings in the name of Allah, exterminating Christian communities, rendering tens of thousands of kidnapped women forced wives and/or sex slaves, murdering tens of thousands of people, seeking to mass-murder Americans and destroy Israel. Yet the very Jews who fear the American religious right, the greatest American supporters of Israel and Jewry, label anyone who says a critical word about the contemporary Islamic world “Islamophobic” bigots.

It is perfectly acceptable to oppose the positions of the religious right. It is bigotry to lie about and demonize it.

At least one Jewish organization seems to have come to this conclusion. Although it did not apologize for its 1994 report, eight years later the ADL issued this statement:

“American Jews [should be] highly appreciative of the incredible support that the State of Israel gets from a significant group of Americans — the Evangelical Christian Right. In many ways, the Christian Right stands out as the most consistently supportive group of Israel in America. … In sum, American Jews should not be apologetic or defensive about cultivating Evangelical support for Israel. The need for support of an Israel under siege is great. Fortunately, Evangelical support is overwhelming, consistent and unconditional.”

It’s time for all Jews to rethink their attitude toward America’s conservative Christians. So here’s an invitation to Jews who still fear the religious right. Attend just one of the many “Salute to Israel” events that churches and organizations, such as Christians United for Israel, put on each year. Listen to these Evangelicals speak, and talk to them privately. You may still oppose them politically, but as a Jew and as a human being with a heart, you will no longer demonize them.

Local minister, dressed as High Priest, stages Yom Kippur service for evangelicals


On Sunday morning, while Jews are preparing for Kol Nidre, a group of Christians in Simi Valley will be participating in a Yom Kippur service of their own.

For the fifth year in a row, Kevin Dieckilman, senior pastor of the evangelical Simi Hills Christian Church, will lead a High Holiday service designed to teach Christians their Jewish roots.

Christians have been known to host Passover seders, portraying Jesus as the paschal lamb, but rarely — if ever before — have Christians observed the Jewish Day of Atonement.

For Dieckilman, 56, acknowledging the day only makes sense. “If it’s the highest holy day for the people of God, then Christians should not overlook it,” he said.

On the morning before Yom Kippur, which begins at sundown on Sunday, Dieckilman will don a high priest costume. He will wear a blue robe and white hat, affixed with a golden crown.

Over the robe, he will put on a breastplate with colorful glittered ovals, representing the 12 tribes of Israel.

Bells on the costume will jingle when he walks, because in the time of the Temples, “the high priest never walked in the presence of God without the sound of worship,” Dieckilman said.
For the service, Dieckilman will create a replica of the biblical tabernacle, or “Tent of Meeting,” which the Israelites used as a sanctuary while wandering the desert after fleeing Egypt.

An ark, containing a Torah, a jar filled with “manna” (bread) and a rod representing Aaron’s staff, will stand on stage, as will a sacrificial altar. Red drapes embroidered with golden guardian angels will create a backdrop.

In his sermon, Dieckilman will explain the meaning of these biblical symbols. He will also talk about Jesus.

Dieckilman said the primary goal of the service was to help Christians understand their Jewish heritage. Too often, Christian churches ignore the Torah and focus only on the New Testament, he said. They forget that the Christian religion owes a lot to Judaism.

Christians have a shameful past when it comes to Jews, he added.

“What the history of the Christian church has done to the Jews is despicable,” he said. “We can only come humbly and honestly to the Jewish community to ask forgiveness and offer our apologies.”

Dieckilman has studied Torah, learned Hebrew and been to Israel. In fact, he takes a group of Christians to Israel each year. On Sukkot, Dieckilman builds booths at the back of his church. He has hosted Passover seders. And on Yom Kippur, he fasts.

In his office, Dieckilman displays a Star of David, a shofar and a kippah — but no cross. (“Now that you mention it,” he said with a smile, “I better get one.”)

The way Dieckilman sees it, Jews are God’s Chosen People and Christians are simply “grafted on” to that group.

“There’s no question Jews are the people blessed by God and chosen by God to bring redemption to earth,” he said.

David N. Myers, professor of Jewish history and director of the Center for Jewish Studies at UCLA, said, “A Christian church seeking out its Jewish roots without attempting to uproot them is historically significant.”

“Christianity spent a lot of time — centuries — denying its explicitly Jewish foundation,” he said.

Since the conclusion in 1965 of Vatican II, which denied the claim that Jews killed Jesus, many Christians have come to assume more sympathetic attitudes toward Jews, Myers said. Christian scholars have recast Jesus as a Jew, and Jews are typically no longer held responsible for Jesus’ death.

Shimon Erem, president of Israel-Christian Nexus, a nonprofit group that brings together Christians and Jews in support of Israel, has been to the service twice. He went because Dieckilman, a member of the group’s advisory board, invited him.

Erem, an 84-year-old former Israeli military general, said he was “very impressed.” What moved him was the attitude of “great respect and awe” displayed by the Christians attending the ceremony.

Erem praised the service as “only one part of the effort of the evangelical community to respond to the Jewish community with outstretched arms.”

Still, some Jews are troubled by the idea of a group of Christians observing Yom Kippur.
“I just feel that it’s our day, and these are our rituals,” said Rabbi Brian Schuldenfrei of the Conservative Sinai Temple in Westwood.

“While I’m sure his intentions are good,” Schuldenfrei added, “I think that … just to look at Yom Kippur in a biblical vacuum doesn’t quite capture the essence of Yom Kippur today.”
Jews do recollect the way Yom Kippur was observed in Temple times, he said. “But we relive it through our words and not through dressing up or creating physical structures. It’s in our poems, in our songs, in our prayers.”

Local Christian Leaders Maintain Support for Israel


Even in the face of recent international criticism of Israel’s war tactics, American Christians, especially Evangelicals, have remained steadfast in support of Jews and the Jewish state. Whereas vicious anti-Zionist attacks in much of Europe and the Arab world have lately bled into rank anti-Semitism, even those American Christians critical of Israel’s recent actions have gone to great lengths to stress their support for the nation’s right to exist.

As a tenuous cease-fire takes hold in Lebanon, local Christian leaders, like the majority of Americans, appear largely supportive of Israel’s military campaigns, according to Board of Rabbis of Southern California Executive Vice President Rabbi Mark S. Diamond. He says that for the most part they believe that Israel has acted properly to ensure its security and bring about a lasting peace.

Simply put, as David Brog pointed out in his recent book “Standing With Israel” (Front Line, 2006), American Christians have a more favorable view of Israel than Christians almost anywhere else in the world, and that sentiment has not abated in the face of the recent embattlements.

The Rev. Lorraine Coconato of the Leaves of Healing Tabernacle in Northridge considers herself among Israel’s staunchest supporters. She said the 70 members of her new Evangelical congregation pray often and passionately for Israel.

Coconato, has visited the Jewish state twice, including a nine-day mission in 2005; she said she has a special relationship with the country.

“To me, Israel is a home away from home,” Coconato said. “The Bible comes alive in Israel.”

She also serves as vice president of the Israel-Christian Nexus, a pro-Israel group.

“When I was there, I felt like this is God’s land; these are God’s people, and I’m connected to them by faith in the one, true living God,” she said.

David Hocking leads weekly Bible classes in Orange County and believes God made an unbreakable covenant with Israel and the Jewish people. Hocking also runs a national radio ministry called “Hope for Today,” and he said he regularly speaks out in support of Israel and encourages all Christians to do the same.

“You know, the biggest subject in the Bible next to God himself is Israel. It’s mentioned 2,655 times,” Hocking said. “Whether we like it or not, God chose [Israel] above all nations of the world to show his love and faithfulness. His covenant is everlasting.”

If Evangelical Christians base their support for Israel and the Jews largely on theological grounds, at least one African American Israel partisan would add the shared histories of Jews and blacks to that equation.

The Rev. Sherman Gordon of the New Philadelphia African Methodist Episcopal Church in Rancho Dominguez said Jews and African Americans have both experienced brutal repression — the Jews with the Holocaust and African Americans with slavery. Both groups also have survived — not always comfortably he added — in diasporas far from their original homelands.

Given those commonalities, Jews and blacks should “come together and sit down at the table of brotherhood,” Gordon said.

Mormons have long felt an affinity for Israel and the Jews, said Mark Paredes director of Jewish relations for the Mormon Church in Southern California. As a reflection of that affinity, he said, the Mormon church recently contributed $50,000 to Magen David Adom, the Israeli affiliate of the International Red Cross, to help with ambulance response, among other needs. The church also sent aid to Lebanon.

On a personal note, Israel has held a special place in Paredes’ soul since childhood. Growing up in Michigan, he said he felt “at home” visiting synagogues. Later, Paredes had several “marvelous spiritual experiences” while posted in the mid-1990s as a U.S. Foreign Service officer in Tel Aviv.

“My support for Israel in this conflict is unconditional,” Paredes said. “I really think they are battling for their survival, and I think all decent peoples need to side with those who are battling terrorism.”

Peter Laarman’s support of Israel is anything but unqualified. As the executive director of Progressive Christians Uniting sees it, Israel’s military campaign in Lebanon went too far and only succeeded in galvanizing support for Hezbollah.

Still, Laarman described himself as a “reluctant critic” and stressed his support for a two-state solution. He said he condemned the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers by Hamas and Hezbollah, as well as the latter’s rocket attacks on the Israeli city of Haifa.

“I would never vilify Israel as a bad actor here,” Laarman said. “But I would say I have serious questions about proportionality and where this is leading for Israel and for the region.”

The Rev. Gwynne Guibord also said he has no interest in vilifying Israel or any of the other combatants in the Middle East. Assigning blame, said the officer of ecumenical and inter-religious concerns for the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, does nothing but waste time. Instead, everybody, whether Christian, Muslim or Jew, should push to end the fighting throughout the region, she said.
“Everybody lay down your arms!” Guibord said. “Take off your shoes! The ground on which you stand is holy: Palestine, Israel, Iraq and Lebanon. At some point, as the family of humanity, we need to say enough is enough.”

Evangelicals Slate Pro-Israel Lobbying


Some 2,000 extremely pro-Israel community and religious leaders will meet in Washington on July 19, fan out across Capitol Hill and, in effect, tell their legislators: If you want our political backing, you must support the Jewish state — no ifs or buts.

There won’t be a single Jew among the citizen lobbyists. They will all be evangelical Christians, mainly ordained and lay pastors, embarking on the first major public action of the newly formed Christians United for Israel (CUFI).

The founder and leader of the group is the Rev. John C. Hagee of the 19,000-member Cornerstone Church of San Antonio, Texas, and a televangelist whose broadcasts reach millions in the United States and 120 other countries.

In 1978, in the first of his 21 trips to Israel, “I went as a tourist and returned as a Zionist,” Hagee said.

Last week, Hagee visited Sacramento, Los Angeles and San Diego to enlist support for his 4-month-old organization –both among fellow evangelicals and in front of generally enthusiastic, but occasionally skeptical, Jewish audiences.

Addressing the Board of Rabbis of Southern California at the L.A. Jewish Community Building, Hagee outlined two major projects, in addition to the July summit in Washington:

  • Expand the existing “rapid response network” of 12,000 pastors, who can mobilize their congregations instantly to flood the White House and Congress with e-mails on any legislation affecting Israel’s security and well-being.
  • Institute an annual “Night to Honor Israel” in every major American city to assure Israel and Jews everywhere that “you do not stand alone.” The emotional event is already a fixture in large Texas cities and in other Southern states.

Hagee and his followers have given a total of $8.5 million to Israeli causes, including an orphanage and for absorption of Russian immigrants, he said, but the major impact of CUFI is likely to be on the political scene.

The pastor didn’t spell it out, but his associates made clear that they view CUFI as a kind of super American Israel Public Affairs Committee, representing some 50 million evangelical Christians. This constituency, in sharp contrast to the Jewish community, shares the conservative social outlook of the present administration and represents its hardcore political base.

This kind of influence cannot be ignored by U.S. Jews, said Shimon Erem, founding president of the Israel-Christian Nexus, who introduced Hagee.

“We don’t have too many friends; we cannot prevail without them,” said Erem.

CUFI’s purpose, according to its official brochure, is “to provide a national association through which every pro-Israel church, parachurch organization, ministry or individual in America can speak and act with one voice in support of Israel in matters related to biblical issues.”

The last six words may sound vague, but they are key to the evangelicals’ deeply rooted advocacy for Israel. As unquestioning believers in the inerrant truth of Scripture, Hagee and his followers are convinced that every inch of the God-given land belongs to the Jews alone and forever.

Hagee insists that he never interferes in the decisions of the Israeli government, but his opposition to the withdrawals in Gaza and the West Bank, for instance, gives concern to liberal Jewish organizations.

However, it is mainly Orthodox spokesmen, who otherwise agree with Hagee’s social and biblical views, who have publicly questioned whether the pastor’s underlying motive is the conversion of Jews in Israel and the Diaspora.

The Rabbinical Council of America, representing Orthodox rabbis and congregations, has officially protested the Israeli government’s license to Daystar, the second largest Christian network in the United States, to broadcast 24/7 over an Israeli satellite network.

Hagee, a major Daystar supporter and on-air personality, has consistently affirmed that he will not proselytize Jews, although the network’s lineup also includes “messianic” Jews with long pro-conversion records.

When Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz, head of the anti-cult Jews for Judaism, raised this issue with Hagee at the Los Angeles meeting, the pastor did not respond directly, but his genial Southern folksiness took on a harder edge.

“If rabbis would put more emphasis on putting Jewish kids into Jewish schools, young Jews would never want to become Christians,” Hagee said.

 

ADL Stokes Fear as Ploy to Raise Funds


Devoted to fighting anti-Jewish bigotry, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) is America’s most influential Jewish group. So what are we to make of the weird air of unreality in the ADL’s public statements about Christians?

Consider the recent address by Abraham Foxman, the ADL’s national director, to the group’s annual meeting, in which he called for a communitywide response to a growing threat.

Foxman spoke Nov. 3 in New York during a week when disturbing news stories were unfolding around the world. The riots across France by immigrant Muslim youths were building to a climax. These are the same youths who have been terrorizing French Jews for the past five years — assaulting individuals, firebombing synagogues and desecrating Jewish cemeteries.

The same week, Iran’s president was refusing to back down from his call to fellow Muslims to “wipe Israel off the map.” Meanwhile, TV viewers in Egypt had just spent Ramadan enjoying a new drama series based on “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” the notorious anti-Semitic hoax.

If there is one religion that poses a danger to Jewish interests, it’s worldwide Islam. How strange, then, that Foxman held up the terrifying specter of, um — American Christianity.

“Today,” Foxman said, “we face a better financed, more sophisticated, coordinated, unified, energized and organized coalition of groups in opposition to our policy positions on church-state separation than ever before. Their goal is to implement their Christian worldview. To save us!”

Foxman warned that mainstream evangelical groups have “built infrastructures throughout the country … intend[ing] to ‘Christianize’ all aspects of American life, from the halls of government to the libraries, to the movies, to recording studios, to the playing fields and locker rooms of professional, collegiate and amateur sports, from the military to SpongeBob SquarePants.”

“‘Christianize’ all aspects of American life?” This must mean that evangelical leaders want to Christianize us either by legal coercion or by inspiration and moral example.

If Foxman means by legal coercion, his accusation is ludicrous. To take a controversial illustration that’s in the news, intelligent design (ID) has drawn support from Christians, as well as others, and condemnation from the ADL. One may disapprove of letting teachers acquaint public school students with a scientific critique of Darwinism, but ID in biology class is an entirely different thing from Christianizing American life — a phrase that calls to mind the Spanish Inquisition.

If Foxman means that evangelicals would Christianize by inspiration and example, he’s right — but so what? By definition, to be an evangelical means to wish to influence the culture in what Christians regard as a spiritually healthful direction. Good for them.

Broadly speaking, that direction is one that we Jews likewise traditionally have regarded as healthy and positive. Many classical Jewish sources — the Talmud, Midrash, Maimonides and other authorities — speak of the need to bring humanity closer to the values of the One God.

There is nothing exclusively Christian about favoring traditional marriage, lamenting the abortion culture or defending a helpless woman like Terri Schiavo. Christians are only doing what we Jews ought to do.

So why vilify them? Historical Christian anti-Semitic persecution cannot fully explain modern Jewish attitudes. Surely, Jews are rational enough to appreciate that we don’t live in medieval Europe but rather in a time of unprecedented Christian philo-Semitism, especially among conservative Christians.

For the needlessly heightened state of Jewish concern about evangelicals, we can’t blame the ADL entirely. Yet the group has done much to exacerbate Jewish worries. What drives the ADL to stoke our fears?

Let’s be realistic. Naturally, a crusading nonprofit organization needs a bad guy to give a sense of urgency to its fundraising campaigns. The ADL has more than $52 million in yearly expenses, including Foxman’s $412,000 in salary and other compensation (according to publicly available 2003 tax information). Not bad for a nonprofit.

The anti-defamation professionals of the Jewish community are no dummies. Nor, I believe, are they paranoid. Or cynical.

True, if these well-meaning folks are directing so much attention to the wildly exaggerated menace of Christian evangelicals, I don’t see an alternative explanation to a financial one. But this doesn’t mean the ADL leadership is corrupt.

Rather, don’t dismiss the Marxist insight that money can shape consciousness. For whatever reason, hyperventilating about Christians makes Jews open their wallets. Very possibly, a dynamic inherent in the nonprofit business molds the attitudes of those who work in this curious industry.

Not cynics at all, they sincerely come to believe those things they must say to raise money — money, I would add, that would be far better spent on other communal needs, such as Jewish education, which is the best assurance of a flourishing communal life.

In more ways than one, the ADL’s success is our loss.

For Foxman’s response to Klinghoffer’s critcicisms, visit

AIPAC Will Focus on Policy at Gathering


Inside the massive Washington Convention Center, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will be talking about the Gaza Strip withdrawal and the Iranian nuclear threat.

However, in the hallways and the social gatherings of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s (AIPAC) annual policy conference next week, talk is likely to focus on the investigation into two former AIPAC staffers and the effect it could have on AIPAC’s ability to lobby for Israel.

AIPAC will be tasked with keeping its members focused on the important issues facing Israel and maintaining support in Congress if the Gaza pullout, planned for this summer, goes awry. The effort to keep attention focused on Iran’s presumed drive for nuclear weapons is also high on its agenda.

The organization is still perceived as a “behemoth,” congressional officials say, and will be taken seriously when it meets May 22-24 — but a cloud will linger over the proceedings.

“You deal with them as you would normally deal with them,” one congressional staffer said. He compared it to a friend who has a health problem: You don’t talk about the problem, and you hope that it resolves itself quickly.

There are two traditional success markers to an AIPAC policy conference. One is a roll call of members of Congress, diplomats and administration officials attending the Monday night dinner — last year there were nearly 200, including more than 40 senators — and the other is a lobbying day Tuesday, when thousands of AIPAC members descend on Capitol Hill.

How many lawmakers turn up Monday night and how the lobbyists fare Tuesday will be closely watched by the organization, its supporters and its critics. Some insiders, who asked not to be identified, say there may be apprehension about working with AIPAC, because of the FBI probe.

“I think most members of Congress and staffers who are invited to meet with AIPAC constituents and go to the dinner will still go,” a congressional aide said. “But I’m convinced, in the back of everybody’s mind, there is a kernel of concern and doubt that maybe we shouldn’t be playing ball with AIPAC the way we always have.”

AIPAC’s problems stem from an FBI investigation into Lawrence Franklin, a Pentagon analyst arrested earlier this month and accused of verbally passing classified information to Steve Rosen, AIPAC’s research director, and Keith Weissman, a top Iran analyst at AIPAC.

AIPAC fired both men last month, and Rosen associates tell JTA he expects to be indicted. AIPAC officials claim that they have been assured the probe is not targeting the organization or any other staffers.

“Nobody knows what the implications of this legal situation are,” a congressional staffer said. “It could be a blip, and AIPAC has had blips before.”

AIPAC has gone to great lengths to stress its bona fides, publicizing Rice, Sharon and other scheduled speakers, including leaders of both congressional chambers from both parties. Sharon’s presence is considered particularly significant. Israeli prime ministers rarely travel to the United States if they don’t have an audience with the president.

Sharon is expected to meet with the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in New York before heading to Washington, but has planned no political meetings, a spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Washington said. Sharon also is expected to be welcomed in New York at a rally Sunday, a measure of American Jewish support for the disengagement plan.

“Prime Minister Sharon is coming to stand with the American pro-Israel community at a crucial moment in the history of the U.S.-Israel relationship,” AIPAC spokesman Andrew Schwartz said.

AIPAC also is boasting about attendance at the conference, which is expected to top 5,000 people, including nearly 1,000 students.

Such self-promotion is unusual for the organization, which generally feels it can be most effective if it keeps its achievements behind the scenes. In the past, major speakers have not been confirmed until the week before the conference, and officials play down the expected attendance, instead of talking it up.

AIPAC officials insist that this year’s conference is business as usual, though they referred questions to Patrick Dorton, a Washington publicist whose experience in scandal management includes shepherding accounting giant Arthur Andersen.

“We’re promoting the policy conference the same way we’ve done it in years past,” Dorton said. “AIPAC continues to be proud of the work it does on behalf of its membership.”

A source close to AIPAC said Howard Kohr, the group’s executive director, will touch on the investigation briefly in a speech to delegates Sunday, but mostly will focus on AIPAC’s policy agenda.

The organization has real work to do. Topping its agenda will be preparing Congress for the Israeli withdrawal. The lobby is preparing a letter for lawmakers to send to President Bush, underscoring how the United States should support the peace process. Bush already has expressed interest in assisting Israel in the development of the Negev Desert and the Galilee, the regions likeliest to absorb some 9,000 settlers from Gaza and the northern West Bank. Israel has suggested that resettlement costs could run as high as $3.5 billion.

AIPAC will be charged with laying the groundwork for pushing through any additional aid packages. In addition to direct aid, that could mean new U.S. loan guarantees for Israel.

It will be important for AIPAC to show that it backs the disengagement plan, especially since it has a hawkish reputation in Washington. A draft of the group’s action agenda, which will be debated in executive committee at the conference, calls for supporting the “U.S. government’s backing” of the plan, rather than the plan itself. Officials said that was in keeping with the group’s philosophy of lobbying the U.S. government, not trying to influence Israeli policy.

In a twist, the disengagement plan could soon pit AIPAC against a traditional ally — Christian evangelicals, including several prominent lawmakers, who believe the disengagement violates biblical precepts and offers Palestinian terrorists a triumph. Dovish groups welcomed the tilt.

“It’s very significant that AIPAC intends to adopt formal policy language that embraces disengagement, and specifically the Bush administration’s endorsement of disengagement,” said Lewis Roth, assistant executive director of Americans for Peace Now.

Disengagement opponents said they won’t try to scuttle AIPAC’s support for the plan, which they believe is inevitable. Instead, they’ll try to ensure that any resolutions reflect the trauma it will impose on settlers.

Morton Klein, Zionist Organization of America president, said language should refer to the evacuation of thousands of “women and children from Gaza” and the northern West Bank “by force if necessary, and abandoning Jewish homes, schools and synagogues where Jews have been living for 35 years.”

Klein plans to continue protesting the plan but has pledged not to lobby against U.S. funding related to it.

As usual, the conference will see some protests. A coalition of right-wing Jewish groups are coordinating buses from New York to Washington, and plan to sleep outside the Convention Center in tents, simulating Gaza settlers who will be expelled from their homes under the withdrawal plan. The Council for National Interest, a pro-Arab group, also will protest, claiming undue Israeli influence in American foreign policy.

AIPAC is not shutting out disengagement dissenters. Natan Sharansky, who resigned recently from Israel’s Cabinet because he believes the time is not ripe for the withdrawal, will speak Sunday night. The former Soviet dissident was expected to speak of democratic ideals, not disengagement.

Another crucial plank at the conference is backing for the Iran Freedom Support bill, a measure to strengthen sanctions against Iran by penalizing foreign countries that invest in Iran’s energy sector and to provide funding to democratic groups in the Islamic republic.

The legislation, introduced by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), codifies much of what already is in the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act, but includes a provision that would notify investors if a fund they own has shares in a company that is subject to sanctions. The goal is to create an investor backlash against companies that deal with Iran.

AIPAC also will focus on the Iranian nuclear threat. Delegates will learn about the nuclear fuel cycle and how Iran appears to be seeking a nuclear bomb.

The lobby will continue to stress the annual passage of foreign aid. This year’s aid package includes $2.28 billion in military aid for Israel and $240 million in economic assistance, as well as $150 million for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

 

A Question of Morality


We have been bombarded with the phrase “moral values” ever since it was announced that 22 percent of voters cited it as the single

most important consideration in the 2004 election. Not Iraq, not terrorism, not the economy.

Moral values. It is also reported that 23 percent of voters described themselves as born-again or evangelical Christians, and that a whopping 80 percent of these “values” voters cast their ballots for President Bush. This “moral values” theme has become so dominant that the 2004 election has been called the “God, guns and gays” election.

Bush administration officials have stated explicitly that far-right evangelicals turned out in record numbers to support the president and played a decisive role in his re-election.

It is interesting to note that while the religious far-right uniformly supported Bush, the Jewish community overwhelmingly voted for Kerry. Nationwide, Jews voted for Kerry over Bush by a 74-25 margin.

But just what are these “moral values” that so motivated the evangelicals, but apparently proved less than persuasive to the Jewish community? Put simply — and we like our moral values simple in America these days — they would include the following proscriptions:

1. No right of choice for women.

2. No civil unions for gays.

3. No gun control.

4. No embryonic stem cell research.

5. No separation of church and state.

And already the bellicose demands of the far right are dominating the national discourse. “We delivered the election to Bush” they seem to be crying “now Bush must deliver the country to us.” The brouhaha over the remarks of Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) about anti-choice judges is just the beginning. We can expect a great deal more muscle-flexing from the far right and, I fear, significant implementation of its social agenda. Jerry Falwell is already announcing an “evangelical revolution” and I believe we will see an all-out assault on the judiciary, the one branch of government the far right believes it does not control.

While the Jewish community’s rejection of Bush cannot be attributed to a single issue, implicit in our vote is the understanding that the dogmatic dictates of the far right are not moral values at all, but rather a set of regressive social directives, hung on the hook of theology.

We must ask: Where is the morality in dooming innocent women to back-alley abortions, or in denying gays the basic dignity of civil unions? Where is the morality in flooding our streets with assault weapons, or depriving the sick of the bright hope afforded by stem cell research? Where is the morality in imposing a “Christian nation” on the rest of us, or in eviscerating the bedrock principle of the separation of church and state, which guarantees our freedom of worship?

Moderate and progressive Christians are raising their voices to agree that to dignify such policies of intolerance and ignorance as “moral values” is abhorrent.

Additionally, for the Bush administration to don the mantle of morality is repugnant. Poverty, health care, fair taxation, environmental protection, public education and fiscal prudence are all issues of morality. Yet Bush’s record in these areas is one of abject failure. Throughout the presidential campaign, it was Kerry, not Bush, who stood for decency, equality, tolerance and compassion. Someone should remind the evangelicals that these are the true moral values taught by Jesus — not lifting the ban on assault weapons.

But if there is one universal moral value, it is respect for the truth. And here, the Bush administration’s penchant for spin and distortion comes into sharp focus. Here are some examples: In the face of the debacle in Iraq, the administration boasts “a remarkable success story”; in the face of this country’s first net job loss in 70 years, the administration proclaims “the strongest economy in 20 years”; in the face of an abysmal environmental record, Bush claims to be “a good steward of the land.” This is not so much an administration, as it is a spin factory — a perpetual myth-making machine.

Of particular interest are the claims made by Bush surrogates on Israel. Bush’s true record on Israel has been one of omission and abdication, rather than leadership and engagement (we’ll see if Arafat’s departure will change things). Yet during the campaign, Bush’s emissaries hailed Bush as the best president for Israel since Harry S. Truman, and shamelessly denigrated Kerry’s solid 20-year pro-Israel record. Fortunately, the Jewish community did not buy these fabrications.

Clearly, the Bush administration failed, despite enormous efforts, to make meaningful gains in the Jewish community. But I am sure that they will try to spin even this demoralizing defeat into a glorious triumph.

In a recent article in this paper, Paul Kujawsky stated that the Jewish community could take cold comfort in having voted “correctly” given Kerry’s ultimate loss. Perhaps. But it means something to me that we voted correctly, that we voted for real moral values. And I, for one, am proud that we did so.

H. David Nahai is a real estate attorney and former chair of the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board.

Letters to the Editor


Causing Harm

Rabbi David Rue, the head of an Orthodox beit din, admits that of the 1,500 people who contacted the beit din last year because they were interested in becoming Jewish, he or the beit din managed to discourage more than 95 percent. This is a shondah and should be condemned (“A Retreat to Comfort Converts,” Oct. 8).

The Talmud tells us (Sanhedrin 99b) that the Jewish people were attacked by Amalek, a descendant of a woman who was turned away when she desired to become Jewish. If she had been welcomed, her descendants would have been pro-Jewish rather than anti-Semites.

This is not an isolated opinion. Rabbi Johanan (Talmud Nedarim 32a) even criticized Abraham for not acting strongly enough to encourage non-Jews to become Jewish. Indeed, the rabbi taught that Abraham’s descendants were enslaved in Egypt because Abraham didn’t make a stronger attempt to encourage conversion to Judaism.

I taught Introduction to Judaism classes for more than 30 years, and I know hundreds of potential and actual converts. While some potential converts have mixed motives, there is no doubt that the majority is sincere and will make a wonderful contribution to the Jewish community.

Any beit din that rejects a majority of those interested in becoming Jews is harming the Jewish people and sinning against God.

Rabbi Allen S. Maller
Temple Akiba
Culver City

Evangelical Help

In response to James D. Besser’s article on the evangelicals and Israel, after all these years, I find it odd that Jews still live in the past as victims (“Should Jews Oppose Evangelical Help?” Oct. 8).

The bigotry is so strong among Jews that they are blinded by the fact that it shouldn’t matter why Christians support Jews or Israel, as long as you have their respect and support. The assumption is Christians only support Israel for the return of Jesus. So what?

If your house was on fire and a neighbor saved your house by putting out the fire only because he was concerned the fire would travel to his house, would you not still be thankful?

The Christians are taught “those who bring harm to the Jews will have to answer to God later.”

You don’t have to believe in their beliefs to appreciate their help. Get over your bigotry and start thinking rationally.

Oh, by the way, they aren’t out to convert every Jew, since they believe it is already written that the Jews must first return to Israel before Jesus returns, at that time he is to reveal himself to the Jews and let them have a second chance to decide on his deity classification.

Steven Feiles
via e-mail

Looking Beyond

In response to Bill Boyarsky’s column urging readers to “look beyond Israel” when voting and assuring them that [George] Bush and [John] Kerry are “not only in the same ballpark on Israel, they are in the same seat” (“Look Beyond Israel,” Oct. 1).

Boyarsky gives no evidence (even if only verbal) to back this statement. Then he urges Jews not to be one-issue voters.

Unfortunately, not making Israel a priority is not easy for those of us old enough to remember when Europe was a gigantic graveyard and seeing it erupt into a hotbed of anti-Semitism right now. We hope nothing like that can happen again here, but we can’t rest easy.

Bush, because he is a born-again Christian, is a staunch supporter of Israel. It’s the right posture for the wrong reason, but, as an Israel friend has said to us, “We’ll deal with the second coming and the conversion of the Jews when it happens. In the meantime, we are not in a position to choose our friends.”

I have yet to hear Kerry make any strong positive statements about Israel (but then, the only strong statements I have heard him make are how Bush has botched everything).

Looking beyond Israel is a luxury no Jew (American or otherwise) can afford. A lifelong Democrat, I am now one of the many “undecideds” on this presidential race, mostly because I just don’t trust Kerry on Israel and Boyarsky has not made me change my mind.

Dina Adler
Westlake Village

Not Alone

Dahlia Scheindlin (“Kerry Offers Hope for Israel,” Oct. 8) should not feel alone in expressing her support for John Kerry.

On Oct. 5, the Arab American Political Action Committee overwhelmingly endorsed the Kerry-Edwards ticket. Thus Jewish voters who support Kerry can feel comfortable when they step into the voting booth, knowing that most Arabs in America will be joining them in voting for the Kerry-Edwards ticket.

Myrna Strapp
Los Angeles

Dahlia Scheindlin wrote, “During the worst four years in Israel’s history, George W. Bush has done a resounding nothing.”

Let me remind Dahlia that Israelis no longer have to worry about Saddam firing Scud missiles with chemical weapon warheads at Israel, nor do they have to worry about Saddam paying large sums of money to the families of homicide bombers, because President Bush removed him from power.

And the U.S. military is now sitting on Iran’s doorstep, which just might make the Iranians think twice about launching any attacks on Israel.

Steve Stillman
Redondo Beach

Not a Friend

I’ve got news for Dan Cohen (“Why George W. Bush?” Sept. 14). Bush is not a friend of the Jews.

He is supported by the Christian right and the evangelicals who are big on converting nonbelievers. They are also anti-abortion, anti-gay and anti-stem-cell research.

Bush has breached the wall that separates church and state, the very foundation of our democracy and principal protection for minorities. Public money is now being used to fund religious schools, and it is acceptable to refuse to hire Jews for publicly funded positions.

Regarding that old canard that Bush is good for Israel, he is only doing what every president has done – and maybe less. Clinton acted personally as a mediator; Bush stands on the sidelines. The “road map” to peace was a political ploy that led to nowhere and has since been forgotten.

His unprovoked invasion of Iraq has created turbulence in the Arab world and increased the threat of terrorism everywhere – including Israel.

Bush has made this election a referendum on religion, and Jews have never fared well in a religious-dominated state.

Edward Koblitz,
Los Angeles

Pet Peeve

Your article, “The Shabbos After” (Sept. 17), regarding getting synagogue members back for regular Shabbat services after they have crowded into the High Holiday services, goes directly to one of my pet peeves.

The twice-a-year Jews come to services for the High Holidays, find them long and heavy and think, “I’m glad that’s over for another year.” Thus, they never sample the typically uplifting, inspiring and warm weekly service.

My solution would be to require members to attend at least four regular Shabbat services a year to qualify for High Holiday attendance.

Martin Brower
Corona del Mar

Jamie Court

It is hard to imagine a better example of puff-piece journalism intended to advance the anti-business, pro-Kerry agenda than the simplistic article by Marc Ballon relating his interview with Jamie Court.

How about some questions that actually challenge the assumptions of Court, such as the role of personal responsibility in the supposed takeover of popular culture? Isn’t the role of free choice something that Court learned in Hebrew school?

Cola companies don’t become official soft drink companies of school districts by adopting districts by force. They offer compensation, and the districts accept it. It is the role of the school boards to “just say no.”

To compound the problem, the interviewer proceeds to accept without question the argument that an election of John Kerry will solve all the problems of corporate accountability, while a George Bush election will lead to more excess.

Your interviewer doesn’t feel it necessary to mention that all the actions of the corporate scandals that came to light during the last few years actually took place during the eight years of the Clinton administration, or that it was President Bush who signed the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which actually does hold corporate executives accountable in a way that never existed before.

Roy Glickman
Sherman Oaks

Seder With Brando

It might interest your readers that the shul where “My Seder With Brando” (Oct. 8) event took place was Temple Israel of Hollywood, and Louie Kemp’s description matches very much one that I gave in a letter to a friend of mine.

The rabbi conducting the seder was Rabbi Haskell Bernat, successor to my husband, Rabbi Max Nussbaum, who had passed away the year before in 1974.

Ruth Nussbaum
Sherman Oaks

Bergen-Belsen Survivors

The Simon Wiesenthal Center and its Museum of Tolerance library and archives has been asked by the director of the Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp Museum and Memorial to assist in compiling a database of the more than 100,000 Jews who were deported to Bergen-Belsen. This database includes both those who perished and those who survived.

On Sunday, Oct. 31, we will pay tribute to the victims and survivors of Bergen-Belsen.

If you are a Bergen-Belsen survivor or know someone who is a survivor from there, please contact Adaire Klein of the center’s library and archives at (310) 772-7605.

Adaire J. Klein
Director of Library & Archival Services
Simon Wiesenthal Center-
Museum of Tolerance

Should Jews Oppose Evangelical Help?


In Israel this week, televangelist Pat Robertson inveighed against giving territory to the Palestinians, claiming that the goal of Islam is to “destroy Israel and take the land from the Jews and give East Jerusalem to Yasser Arafat. I see that as Satan’s plan to prevent the return of Jesus Christ the Lord.”

It would be hard to find a more revealing expression of why most Jews continue to feel uneasy about the evangelicals who have become Israel’s new, best friends.

However, Robertson’s comments also came in a week that saw mainline Protestant groups, for years skewed in their view of the Middle East, move toward a policy of divestment against Israel. That harsh economic penalty is intended to brand Israel as one of the worst human rights abusers in the world.

The Jewish community is caught between Christians who love Israel, but maybe for the wrong reasons, and who vehemently oppose almost every domestic position of the Jewish majority, and Christians who continue to be important partners on the domestic front, while embracing a particularly virulent anti-Zionism.

Balancing those conflicting relationships will be one of the most daunting challenges facing Jewish leaders in the years to come.

Robertson was in Israel for a gathering of Christian pilgrims to express solidarity with the Jewish state — and, in some cases, to register their opposition to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s Gaza disengagement. According to wire service reports, Robertson said that “only God” can decide whether Israel should cede land to the Palestinians.

Still, it was a veritable love fest as more than 4,000 Christians celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles and heard Robertson and others preach on the biblical imperative to support Israel. They were greeted enthusiastically by Israeli officials.

However, poll after poll suggests U.S. Jews aren’t much impressed. Instead, a Jewish majority continues to see the pro-Israel evangelicals as adversaries on the domestic front and as a source of anti-Semitism.

Their support for Israel has been welcomed by single-issue pro-Israel groups, but its prophetic basis remains a source of deep concern for many Jews. Some are justifiably scared that these Christians might wield their considerable political influence to help advance apocalyptic beliefs that insist war is inevitable and peace efforts are a trick of the devil. That’s what Robertson seemed to suggest when he said that taking land from the Jews and giving it the Palestinians was “Satan’s plan.”

It’s a reason many of the evangelicals bitterly opposed the Oslo peace process, and why some will oppose any peace process that could throw a monkey wrench in their end-of-days prophecies of an Israel consumed by warfare until the Second Coming.

On the domestic front, these groups and the mainstream Jewish community are on opposite sides on almost every big issue: abortion rights, civil rights, homosexual rights, public funding for religious schools and institutions, social justice, stem cell research and gun control, to name but a few. More to the point, many Jews, probably a majority, see some of the key domestic positions of the religious right as direct threats to Jewish security in this country.

On the other side of the Christian divide are the mainline Protestants who are vital coalition partners for the Jewish community on all of those domestic issues, but who are increasingly harsh critics of Israel and seem utterly deaf to the pleas of their Jewish friends, blind to the reality of Palestinian terror.

They are full of compassion for the Palestinians but refuse to acknowledge how leaders like Arafat have compounded their misery and pushed the goal of Palestinian statehood out of reach. They commit the sin of distorted perspective; they seem to consider Israel’s security fence a far greater human rights abuse than mass killings in parts of Africa, deliberate starvation in North Korea or the wholesale deprivation of civil rights in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. How else to explain why Israel alone is singled out for harsh economic sanctions?

When the Presbyterians called for divestment early in the summer, some Jewish groups were quick to demand an end to Jewish-Presbyterian dialogue. The same call is likely to go out if the Episcopalians move down that path.

But we need some balance of our own.

Some of the Jewish leaders who blithely overlook the prophetic foundation of evangelical love for Israel now demand an end to dialogue with the mainline Protestant groups that still want peace, not Armageddon, in the Middle East, however unbalanced their political attacks on Israel.

More and more Jewish groups are welcoming the help of groups with which our community has absolutely nothing in common on the home front, while jeopardizing vital coalitions with groups like the Episcopalians and Presbyterians that affect our futures in this country. Those coalitions, Jewish leaders report, have been unraveling in the last few years, because of justifiable Jewish indignation about their bigoted Mideast positions.

That represents a double loss for the Jewish community. It means we won’t have the opportunity to change their distorted Mideast views through hard-hitting dialogue, and it means we are losing vital partners on a host of domestic issues that the Jewish community continues to regard as critical.

For a Jewish majority, the mainline Christians may be outrageously unfair on Israel — but they remain critical partners on the domestic front. The answer isn’t to pull out of coalitions but to redouble efforts to strengthen them, while more aggressively confronting the Christians on the destructive impact they are having in a part of the world they claim they are trying to help.

A Quick Trip to Evangelical ‘Hell’


Born-again Christian youth pastor Shari Putney is standing at the top of a stairway outside a theater in Hollywood presiding over a group of young adults, decked out in a sequined, pale-blue mother-of-the-bride dress and a huge diamond cross. Clearly subscribing to the theory that the higher the hair, the closer to God, Putney pats her silver bouffant wig and sings a hymn about loving Jesus. A voice from the crowd waiting on the stairs calls out: “Very funny, Jill.” Putney stops and turns on her heel. “I am not Jill!” she announces. “Jill Soloway is a Jew!”

Actually, Putney is Soloway, a writer on the HBO show “Six Feet Under” and one of the creative forces behind a biting new parody of evangelical Christianity called “Hollywood Hell House,” which will be playing at the Steve Allen Theater through Oct. 31.

You may be feeling guilty contemplating your bad deeds from the past year as Yom Kippur approaches, but things could be worse. You could be an evangelical Christian teen who’s taught about the horrors of sin through what’s known as a Hell House. Finding traditional Halloween ghosts and goblins too satanic, thousands of Christian teens and young adults participate in a haunted house that, instead of featuring witches and zombies, depicts the horrors of living a sinful life and not accepting Jesus as your savior.

Begun in the 1970s by the Rev. Jerry Falwell, there are now some 3,000 Hell Houses across the country every year. Visitors are led through a series of rooms where skits are performed about school shootings, people dying of AIDS, the horrors of abortion and performing human sacrifices, among other topics. They are then lead into hell, where they find the tormented souls of suicide victims, Satan worshippers, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists and other nonbelievers of Jesus. Visitors are then asked if they accept Jesus. If they do, they are let into a party. If not, they are booted out into the street.

With the help of Jewish actors and comedians like Richard Belzer, Sarah Silverman and David Cross, Soloway and her co-director, Maggie Rowe, are parodying the phenomenon, using the actual scripts provided in Hell House how-to kits created by the Rev. Keenan Roberts of the Destiny Church of the Assemblies of God, located in Broomfield, Colo. In using evangelicals’ own words to lampoon the evangelical Christians, Soloway and Rowe hope to give a much-needed kick in the tuchis to a phenomenon they see as narrow minded and moralistic.

To procure the scripts, Rowe called Roberts directly and told him she was using them for a teen ministry in Los Angeles.

“I had heard about Hell Houses for years, and then I saw a documentary about them,” Rowe said, referring to the 2001 film “Hell House,” which was released by 7th Art Releasing. “I felt Hell Houses crystallized in such a theatric, visceral way what is wrong with fundamentalism, and I thought the scenes were just so damn funny in their awful absurdity.”

Some Jewish cast members were reticent to poke fun at a religion not their own, Rowe said, but her response always was that the parody was aimed “not at Christianity, but at fundamentalism of all stripes.”

Soloway also felt the skits — including one in which an abortion is being performed on a fully conscious woman who is nine months’ pregnant while the doctor screams at her: “Shut up, Christy! You pay the money. I do the killing and the talking!” — were so outrageous they begged to be mocked.

“You would never think you could watch a rape scene or an abortion scene and laugh, but when you realize you’re watching the creative output of some very closed-minded people, it becomes funny,” Soloway said.

And, Soloway argued, the plays border on the anti-Semitic. “When you get down to hell, there is a Jew [saying], ‘I was stupid enough to wait for my messiah. I wish I had known. Get me out of here!'”

While crowds eager to join in the parody of evangelical morality will no doubt flock to the play, Soloway hopes it does inspire something other than laughs.

“I would at the very least love for it to open a conversation about religion,” she said. “Some of the lapsed born-again Christians in our production tell me that as children, at 6 or 7 years old, they were told in Bible class to imagine the very worst thing they could think of — perhaps their parents dying — and to imagine that over and over again with it never ending, and that is what hell feels like. And that’s what’s in store for them if they don’t ‘love God enough.’ This seems pretty cruel to me, so I would be happy if even within the Christian community, some started to question the concept of presenting hell as a literal reality instead of a metaphor.”

The threat of a literal hell was one that actor and writer Andy Corren, who plays a demonic tour guide in the spoof, said he had to face growing up gay and Jewish in a small North Carolina town.

“It was the age of Jesse Helms, and we were a Jewish family surrounded by extremely fundamentalist Christians,” Corren told The Forward. “As a child I was kidnapped by my neighbors and sent to Bible camp and told if I didn’t repent for being a Jew, and accept Jesus as my savior, I was damned for all eternity. Participating in this parody is my personal act of revenge.”

For more information about

“Hollywood Hell House,” visit www.hollywoodhellhouse.com .

Evangelicals Back Israel at RNC


"Well, umm, it’s interesting," Air America radio talk show star Al Franken opined on the future of the growing coalition between Jews and evangelical Christians who support Israel.

We’re at the Republican National Convention, walking across the overhead bridge linking Madison Square Garden and the U.S. Post Office’s James A. Farley Building, where the media are encamped.

"Evangelical Christians support Israel because according to prophecy, Jews have to be in Israel in order for the apocalypse to happen, and the messiah and all that stuff," he said.

"And when that happens, of course, Jews will all burn in hell," Franken said. "And so I think at that point the coalition will break up."

Hades humor aside, the evangelical Christian support that the Jewish community’s position on a secure, safe Israel is becoming more prominent. The phrase "Christian Zionism" in the past few years has entered the lexicons of Israel’s Jewish American supporters as well as liberal Protestants, who usually ally themselves with liberals on issues like abortion and gay rights and are opposed to evangelicals’ alliances with Jews.

This week’s Republican National Convention continued to press the case for Israel and continued Jewish-evangelical Christian fraternization. On Aug. 29, a pre-convention Chelsea Piers party hosted by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the main draw was U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, the Tennessee Republican who is popular with evangelicals.

"Look, they’re not traditional allies on some social justice issues," said Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi, founder and president of The Israel Project, a public awareness campaign that spent a combined $1 million on pro-Israel advertising during the Republican and Democratic conventions. "That doesn’t mean that we can’t be a big tent and work together on issues that are near and dear to our hearts."

Dan Israel, a Jewish telecommunications executive and a GOP alternate delegate from Georgia, said Christians’ love of Israel is not predicated on converting Jews or wishing them hellfire.

"They don’t want to convert all the Jews, because they feel there has to be Jews in the land of Israel for the messiah to come," Israel said. "They don’t feel that every single Jew has to be converted because if that ever happened, the messiah wouldn’t come because there’d be no Jews left in the land of Israel."

Much Christian support for Zionism is often more personal than biblical.

"I had a tremendous experience when I was serving in the Middle East, and certainly recognize the importance of Israel’s security," said Geoff Davis, a former 82nd Airborne commander and a conservative Christian running for Congress in the open seat in the Northern Kentucky’s suburbs of Cincinnati, where his Democratic opponent is Nick Clooney, George Clooney’s dad.

"People are motivated by many different perspectives," Davis said. "I’ve seen it from a wide variety of perspectives. I think what opened my eyes the most was running U.S. Army flight operations on the ground in a multinational force, and the importance of seeking a peaceful solution that preserves the only democratic government in the Middle East. Israel has to have a right to defend itself."

When Franken’s fellow Minnesotan, U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman, took to the podium at the Plaza Hotel this week near Manhattan’s Central Park, the freshman Republican made it plain to the mostly Jewish audience of 1,500: "I wouldn’t be in the United States Senate without the strong support of the Republican Jewish Coalition," he said.

Coleman was one several senators praising the RJC at the growing Jewish GOP group’s swank afternoon party, with police keeping about 120 loud and animated, but nonviolent protesters across the street from the Plaza. Like many senators, Coleman also counts evangelical and fundamentalist Christians as part of his political core. But while Jews and conservative Christians find common ground in supporting Israel’s right to exist, how the Jewish state will exist can at times divide liberal and centrist Jews and evangelical Christians.

"Where it becomes complicated is when many of them oppose the idea of territorial compromise," said David Bernstein, Washington, D.C., chapter director for the American Jewish Committee (AJC), which this week in New York held not only a forum on Jewish Republicans plus talks on the Sudanese crisis and anti-Americanism, but also four separate discussions on Jewish American relations with Latinos, Korean Americans, Indian Americans and Turkish Americans.

"There is no Jewish-evangelical alliance," said Bernstein, explaining the frustrations that can occur between some Jews and some Christians. "There’s an illusion of alliance because both evangelical Christians and Jews [support Israel]. That doesn’t mean that they’re coordinating in any way, shape of form. Their support is valuable, but that doesn’t mean there’s coordination."

Bernstein said that some evangelical and fundamentalist Christians he knows feel more comfortable with more conservative Jewish-oriented Israel advocacy groups that present tough, no-compromise policy scenarios which may appeal to Christians with Bible-driven views of what modern Israel should be.

Republican National Committee Chairman and former Montana Gov. Mark Racicot downplayed any Evangelical-Jewish rift on policy specifics, saying that the party has, "bridges built to virtually all of the faiths."

Washington pundit Norman Ornstein said policy disagreements between Jews and Christians are found in abortion and gay marriage, so therefore Israel should not be an exception just because evangelicals support Jews with a basic, upfront Christian Zionist support for Israel’s right to exist.

"Friends in a broad issue may not be friends in the specifics," Ornstein said. "Some evangelical organizations are going to have clashes, with the more centrist and liberal Jewish organizations that are pro-Israel because they ally themselves with very tough-minded positions. But it’s not true of all evangelicals, and a lot of evangelicals who support Israel don’t necessarily adhere to a no-compromise position. So you’re going to find shifting alliances."

Other Jewish political activists are unfazed by policy differences with Christians and welcome not only their U.S. support but also how their religious tourism dollars have been a bulwark keeping alive Israel’s tourism industry, which has suffered due to terrorism, which has kept many Jewish American tourists away in large numbers in the past few years.

Stanley Treitel, an L.A. Jewish community activist who attends Young Israel of Hancock Park, dismissed AJC concerns about the influence that more conservative Zionist groups may have on Christians, such as the Zionist Organization of America.

"I think that’s internal Jewish fighting," Treitel said. "I don’t think that anybody can control any one group. They [evangelical Christians] see that the right step to be taken with Israel is on the right side of the aisle, not on the left side, as we see with the AJC or the American Jewish Congress; they’re on the left side of the aisle."

Watergate legend and radio talk show host G. Gordon Liddy also understands why Jews and Christians break bread together on Israel.

"People who are religiously observant, as Christian evangelicals are, are respectful of other people who are religiously observant, as are so many Jews," said Liddy, whose GOP "Radio Row" microphone table was about 15 yards away from Al Franken’s Air America table. "Both religions have strong senses of good and evil, right and wrong. And so I would suggest that they are natural allies."

Evangelicals Are Not Our ‘Natural Allies’


A few years ago, a few moderate American Jewish leaders tried to allay Jewish fears that the Christian right was a threat.

American Jews had it wrong, they said — former Christian Coalition leader Ralph Reed, the Rev. Pat Robertson and their ilk really were quite nice, even open-minded fellows and strongly pro-Israel to boot. They were our friends.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) publicly praised Reed’s pro-Israel stance and invited Christian conservatives to ADL banquets. Christians, in turn, organized nationwide prayer vigils and lobbying campaigns to support Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s vision of a greater Israel.

Basking in the glow of this newfound friendship, Reed proclaimed that the Jewish-Christian alliance for Israel was as important as the black-Jewish coalition for civil rights in the 1960s.

Then, a Hollywood film star produced, directed and bankrolled a cinematic portrayal of Jesus’ final hours that depicted Jews as Jesus’ killers, promoting an age-old anti-Semitic theme. Fearing that the film would stoke new anti-Semitism, ADL National Director Abraham Foxman pleaded that Gibson alter the film, the pope disavow it and the Christian evangelicals that had become Foxman’s allies sermonize against it — to no avail.

Foxman should have seen it coming.

For all their talk of loving Jews and Israel, conservative Christians’ No. 1 priority always has been to expand their influence and numbers at home and abroad.

Several years ago, I interviewed dozens of Christian activists for a book I was writing about a campaign against gay rights that bitterly divided many Oregon communities, where I was living at the time.

When I disclosed my Jewishness to the evangelicals I met in the course of my research, they responded with boundless curiosity and kindness. A few asked if they could accompany me to synagogue, professing their great affection for the Jewish people. Several spoke excitedly of their trips to Israel or their desire to visit there.

I found it all disarming and even a little flattering.

But then the invitations to attend their churches arrived, along with offers to pray for me. I declined them graciously and heard little else until my book, a critical but empathetic account of conservative Christian activists, was published.

The messages then began to get meaner and were often tinged with anti-Semitism.

“How could a Jew possibly write an unbiased account?” one asked.

Another told me to “go back to New York, where you belong.”

Today, some of those activists have gone on to mobilize support for Israel, working to insure that the Holy Land stays in Jewish hands so that “saved Christians” like themselves can enjoy their final rapture out of harm’s way.

Ever since Sept. 11, 2001, these Christians have felt further justified for their alliance with Israel by the conviction that Judeo-Christian culture must protect itself against the followers of Mohammed, in preparation for the coming “clash of civilizations.”

My travels in evangelical America tell me that despite the claims of Jewish conservatives, and even moderate leaders like Foxman, conservative Christians are not our “natural allies.” In fact, most American Jews find themselves deeply at odds with the Christian right over a host of issues.

Witness the overwhelming support that the American Jewish community has given to the issue of gay marriage. In Massachusetts, a near unanimity of Jewish communal leaders support gay marital rights, and opinion polls nationally show Jews to be the most solidly in favor of gay marriage of any religious group.

Christian conservatives, needless to say, are champing at the bit to make gay marriage the next major battle in the “culture war.”

Even when it comes to Israel, evangelicals are out of step with American Jews and Israelis — most of whom would agree to trade land for peace if a viable peace plan were proposed. Evangelicals, by contrast, support the maximalist ideology of the most fundamentalist Jewish settlers, who view territorial concessions as suicidal.

The Jewish-Christian alliance was based on the idea that Israel needs as many friends as it can get. But it needs good friends — friends who believe in the importance of a democratic Jewish homeland, not those whose support for Israel is based on inflexible theological explanations for Israel’s right to exist.

The rift over “The Passion” should be a wake-up call to American Jewish leaders: The Jewish-Christian evangelical honeymoon is over. It may even be time to file for divorce.

Arlene Stein is a professor of sociology at Rutgers University and the author of “The Stranger Next Door: The Story of a Small Community’s Battle Over Sex, Faith, and
Civil Rights.”

We Should Not Reject Evangelical Alliance


The lesson to be learned from recent differences between many American Jews and conservative Christians — on Mel Gibson’s film, “The Passion of the Christ,” and on equal rights for gays — is not to walk away from relationships with evangelicals.

It is not to reject evangelical support for Israel. It is not to view the evangelical community in a simplistic way. It is not the lesson Arlene Stein offers in her op-ed piece (see above).

It is, rather, to reinforce a dual approach: working for and welcoming conservative Christian support for Israel at a particularly difficult time for the Jewish state, and, at the same time, never backing off or toning down our principled positions on social issues about which we vehemently disagree with evangelical approaches.

One of the fascinating manifestations of the turmoil over Gibson’s film has been to observe many on the left in the Jewish community saying, “We told you how bad evangelicals are,” while many on the Jewish right, in a foolhardy effort to placate the religious right, defend a film with the potential to set back Christian-Jewish relations and to generate anti-Semitism.

There is too much at stake — Israel’s security and the well-being of Jewish life in America — to be blinded by narrow ideological approaches.

Israel needs the support of America today more than ever. The threats to the Jewish state from Islamic extremists, the bias of the international community and the poisoning of young people’s minds have never been greater.

The role of the United States is critical not only in standing with Israel, but also in influencing others — particularly the Europeans — toward some fairness vis-a-vis Israel.

American support for Israel rests on many pillars. Most importantly, it is bipartisan.

There is no doubt, however, that evangelical activity on behalf of Israel is among the most significant elements in that support, not least because of that community’s influence with President Bush. Whether it is in congressional initiatives, administration positions or public opinion polls, evangelicals matter. It behooves us to act accordingly.

On the other hand, for many of us, conservative Christian perspectives on social issues that are critical to a healthy American society and Jewish life within that society are disturbing. Whether it is church-state separation, which is at the heart of the comfort level that Jews enjoy in this country, or opposition to any religious group imposing its views on society — as seen in the struggles to maintain choice on abortion and equal rights for gays — we are deeply concerned about conservative Christian views and policy initiatives.

And we don’t pull any punches in our opposition. We engage fully to prevent those religious-right policies from predominating in legislation, in the courts and in executive decision making. Moreover, when some evangelical leaders articulate prejudicial views toward any religious group, as several did in anti-Muslim stereotyping, we speak up.

During the current controversy about the Gibson movie, we have been unhappy that more evangelical leaders have not acknowledged Jewish pain, the history of anti-Semitism associated with the deicide charge and the potential for recurring hatred of Jews.

But we shouldn’t rush to judgment on the impact of the film on evangelical Christians. We need to be clear where we stand and encourage sensitivity and education about Jews and Jewish history.

The bottom line remains what it has always been: Evangelical Christians have never demanded a quid pro quo from American Jews for their support of

Israel.

If they were to say that they would only work on Israel’s behalf if American Jews halt their activity in opposition to them on social issues, would say, “Sorry, no thanks for your support.”

That has not happened.

They stand with Israel for theological reasons and because, as Christian activist Gary Bauer has said, the United States and Israel are on the front line together in the current struggle for freedom and democracy.

That’s good enough for us.

Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, is the author of “Never Again? The Threat of the New Anti-Semitism.”

Educators Tackle Evangelical Passion


David Neal didn’t expect to get his nose broken when he tried to opt out of attending a production of “Godspell.”

Held at Bakersfield’s Centennial High School in spring 2003, attendance for the musical — based on the life of Jesus — was mandatory, and David, a rabbi’s son, was offended that his public school would stage it. He wanted no part of the event.

“My son asked to get up and leave, and [school officials] said, ‘You will stay here,'” said Rabbi Bruce Neal. The production was organized by an instructor who is also a church choir director, the rabbi said.

The incident led to heated religious arguments between David and other students, which degenerated a few days later into an after-school brawl involving 30 fundamentalist students that left David with a broken nose and a five-day suspension. The disciplinary action was later dropped following an appeal from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).

“I attribute the majority of the difficulties to this play,” Neal said. “There is no place in the public school for ‘Godspell,’ period.”

While the high school production of a Christian musical might seem innocuous to some, the evangelical and fundamentalist push to get more Christian programs, events and clubs into public schools, especially in rural areas, is gathering momentum on a national level. Many blame the recent release of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” for spurring on these groups and providing them with publicity they might never have achieved on their own.

Like David Neal, Jews are fighting back.

Jews for Judaism, a Los Angeles-based countermissionary group, is opposing these efforts with its local educators’ summit on March 21. The one-day event at the Luxe Hotel Bel Air, “They Get Them — Why Can’t We?,” hopes to teach how Christian evangelicals and missionaries target Jewish students. Co-sponsored by the Bureau of Jewish Education (BJE), the Los Angeles Hillel Council and the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, the summit will offer an overview of methods used by evangelicals to hard-sell Christianity to students and provide Hebrew and day school teachers with techniques to help students respond when confronted by evangelicals.

“Hopefully, this will be the catalyst for the creation of a curriculum … to prepare kids before they get inundated,” said Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz, Jews for Judaism’s founder and West Coast director. “Whether they go to Hebrew school and public school or whether they go to a Jewish day school, they’re all vulnerable.”

According to BJE, Los Angeles is home to more than 31,000 Jewish students attending day schools and Hebrew schools. The Federation’s 1997 Los Angeles Jewish Population Survey found 73,650 school-age Jewish children in the Southland.

With evangelicals accounting for one-quarter of all U.S. Christians, according to a recent ABC Poll, Kravitz said that at some point, they’re going to have interaction with a Jewish student.

“They’re becoming more brazen in their willingness to share since ‘The Passion,'” he said.

The ADL, which helped mediate David’s case with the Bakersfield City School District, is tracking the efforts of evangelical projects in public schools around the country.

The Fellowship of Christian Athletes, Campus Revolution’s FiSH and flagpole prayer meetings are a few campus efforts gaining ground in middle and high schools. Recently, the ADL uncovered a new brand of witnessing in public schools it calls “stealth evangelism.”

Bait-and-switch events like 2002’s “Rage Against Destruction,” a traveling musical extravaganza that put on public school assemblies with an anti-violence message, are a prime example. Sponsored by Joyce Meyer Ministries in St. Louis, “Rage” was a nationwide youth ministry that held clandestine assemblies at schools in New York City and New Jersey, featuring Sony PlayStation giveaways and concert-quality performances.

“They were marketing to kids,” said Amanda Susskind, the ADL’s Pacific Southwest regional director. “And people didn’t realize they were signing up for an evangelical experience.”

“Rage” was outed by the ADL in November 2002 and the ministry discontinued the program just before it hit Los Angeles on Jan. 4, 2003.

The ADL said the Los Angeles Unified School District and other districts around Los Angeles County have programs in place to deal with the threat posed by organized evangelism on campus. “It’s not really so much of a problem here,” Susskind said.

Kravitz, who disagrees with ADL’s threat assessment, said his organization conducted a survey of 266 local Hebrew and day school students and found 69 percent of respondents have been approached by someone trying to convert them to another religion.

“It doesn’t have to be missionaries standing on street corners handing out brochures,” Kravitz said.

Rebecca Litt, a ninth-grader at Wayzata High School in Plymouth, Minn., didn’t know what to say when her Christian classmates who saw “The Passion” confronted her about her faith.

“You could feel the tension,” she told The Journal. “I can’t just sit there and say, ‘I believe in God.’ That’s not enough for them.”

Shimon Cagan, an adult volunteer for National Conference of Synagogue Youth who works to establish Jewish Student Union chapters in area public high schools, said that the release of “The Passion” has changed the mood on campus.

He said that in the weeks leading up to the film’s release Jewish students expressed concern about anti-Semitism. Since the controversy has quieted down, the students are more relaxed, but “at the same time they still feel that maybe not now, but in the future, this movie will have a roll to play in something that wouldn’t be so good for the Jews,” he said.

Jews for Jesus’ Los Angeles office is currently distributing two cartoon-illustrated pamphlets that build on the popularity of “The Passion.” Both are written in language clearly geared toward youth.

Jews for Jesus says that it does not do outreach to minors.

“It’s not like we’re standing outside of Beverly Hills High School preying on kids,” said Tuvya Zaretsky, who heads up Jews for Jesus’ Los Angeles office.

But Noah Mendelsohn, a 16-year-old Shalhevet student, said he was visiting UCLA with his brother when he was approached by a Jews for Jesus representative.

“He saw that my brother was wearing a kippah and I was walking with him,” he said. “He was trying to get our attention, but we just walked away.”

Mendelsohn’s reaction is not unusual. Based on Jews for Judaism’s survey, 46 percent of students did nothing in response to being approached. In addition, 34 percent spoke to a parent and 10 percent of students talked with peers, compared with 6 percent who talked with a teacher and 4 percent who approached a rabbi.

Jews for Judaism acknowledges that its survey sample is small, but organizers expect similar results when they hire an independent agency to conduct a more professional survey of Jewish students.

While the scope of the organization’s summit does not include an outreach to public schools, Jews for Judaism hopes Hebrew school instructors will be able to pass on what they’ve learned to their students who attend public schools. Once those students are educated, Kavitz said, they can look out for follow Jewish students who are unaffiliated.

“We need to empower as many students as possible … so that maybe they can help someone else,” he said.

Jews for Judaism’s Educators’ Summit “They Get Them —
Why Can’t We?” will be held at the Luxe Hotel Bel Air, 11461 Sunset Blvd., Los
Angeles. Sunday, March 21, 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. For more information, call (310)
556-3344 or visit www.jewsforjudaism.org .

Unorthodox Alliance


The idea is supposed to make me tingle warmly: While I sit in my home here in Jerusalem enjoying

the Friday evening calm, thousands of Christian Coalition supporters will be gathering at the Ellipse in Washington to proclaim solidarity with Israel. According to pre-rally PR, my prime minister will speak by satellite hookup, pleased to have the backing of an American constituency more hawkish than most of his Israeli voters. At least some American Jews, including leaders who once wanted nothing to do with the Christian right, may point to the rally as proof of an important new political alliance. With Israel facing a danger to its existence — so they argue — Jews should welcome the help of a group that loudly proclaims its love for the Jewish state.

I’m not tingling.

Having spent years researching the Christian right’s tie to Israel — listening to leading "Christian Zionists," reading their sermons and examining the links of some to Israeli extremists — I have to conclude that this is a strangely exploitative relationship. Accepting the embrace of conservative evangelicals poses problems of principle for Jews and Israel, in return for an illusory short-term payoff. Jews would do better to follow the Hebrew maxim, "Respect him and suspect him," maintaining a polite distance and publicly delineating their differences from the Christian right, even while at times supporting the same policy steps.

The Christian right’s view of Israel derives largely from a double-edged theological position: Following a classic anti-Jewish stance, it regards the Jewish people as spiritually blind for rejecting Jesus. Yet it says that divine promises to Jews — to bless those who bless them, to return them to their land — remain intact. Indeed, it regards Israel’s existence as proof that biblical prophecies are coming true — heralding an apocalypse in which Jews will either die or accept Jesus. Israel is loved as confirmation of fundamentalist Christian doctrine. "The most dramatic evidence for His imminent return," the Rev. Jerry Falwell has stated, is "the rebirth of the nation of Israel." Evangelist Chuck Missler once told me that Israel gets more support in America from Christian fundamentalists than from "ethnic Jews" — yet he has asserted that Auschwitz was "just a prelude" to what will happen to Jews in the approaching Last Days.

Jews who advocate working more closely with the Christian right say this is irrelevant. "These religious beliefs … speak to an unknown future," while evangelicals are providing support right now, Anti-Defamation League director Abraham Foxman wrote recently. This answer misreads millennial belief. To long for the end is to assert that our world is deeply flawed. One whose millennial vision is, "Gonna lay down my sword and shield" says one thing about what’s wrong today. Those who look forward to the Jews’ converting or dying proclaim another, very different "flaw" in our world. It’s no accident that evangelical support for Israel often comes bundled with efforts to proselytize to the Jews.

By ignoring this theology, Jews both demean themselves and condescend to conservative evangelicals. They also risk undermining decades of dialogue with Catholics and mainstream Protestants who have undertaken the difficult task of reassessing Christianity’s attitude toward Jews. It will be hard for Jews to affirm that reassessment if prominent Jewish groups are working closely with Christian groups that negate Judaism.

Does Israel’s current crisis justify ignoring such long-term considerations in order to ensure immediate, tactical backing, as some argue? Living in Jerusalem, I don’t underestimate today’s dangers. But as frightening as Palestinian terror is, it does not threaten Israel’s existence. Palestinian demographics do threaten Israel, as long as it holds all the land from the Mediterranean to the Jordan. Within a few years, there will be a Palestinian majority in that land, and Israel will either cease being a Jewish state or cease being a democracy. No wonder a recent poll showed a majority of Israel’s Jews favoring a Palestinian state. The Christian right’s position, on the other hand, is exemplified by Sen. James Inhofe’s (R-Okla.) statement last March on the Senate floor that Israel should keep the West Bank "because God said so." Rather than support for Israel, this is support for hard-line policies that endanger Israel in the name of fundamentalist theology.

Jews have every reason to speak with conservative evangelicals — in forthright interfaith dialogue, plainly stating differences as well as points of agreement. In the political realm, however, Israeli and Jewish interests are better served by working with politicians and religious groups that champion renewed American diplomatic efforts to end bloodletting in the Holy Land. Seeing negotiators sit down again to talk peace — now that would give me a warm tingle.


Gershom Gorenberg is the author of “The End of Days: Fundamentalism and the Struggle for the Temple Mount” (Oxford University Press, 2002).