This week’s Israel Christian Nexus gathering at Stephen S. Wise Temple was intended to rally support for Israel. Its advertised list of speakers included John Fishel, president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, and a fair number of prominent local rabbis.
While we share these speakers’ deep concern for the well-being of Israel, we are astonished that our Jewish colleagues have not inquired more carefully into the words and deeds of their Christian co-sponsors.
Are Jews or Israel really well-served, as James Besser asked in these pages this month, by joining forces with the likes of the Rev. Pat Robertson, who not only called disengagement from the occupied territories “Satan’s plan” but had the audacity to urge Jews to accept Jesus as their messiah on his recent trip to Jerusalem?
Before addressing this question in our local Los Angeles setting, we must make clear that we are not blind to attempts by Christians of a different political persuasion to harm Israel by calling for divestment. The Middle East conflict is complex, and both Israelis and Palestinians bear a measure of responsibility for the current dire state of affairs.
Despite the obvious power imbalance between the two sides, the Palestinian reliance on terror, stoked by irresponsible leadership, makes it unfair to hold only Israel accountable in this conflict. We also reject the notion that Israel, in a world tragically full of bad state actors, is the only one worthy of the kind of sanctions being proposed by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and some Anglicans.
Finally, we doubt the efficacy of the tactic of divestment, which we fear will only serve to force most Israelis, including the millions who support a peaceful, two-state resolution to the conflict, into a defensive posture that encourages stasis rather than change.
But our concern over divestment does not and cannot lead us into the arms of those who embrace Jews in order to eradicate Judaism. Our community leaders must wake up and realize that their apparent allies may not, at the end of the day, be their friends.
One need go no further for evidence than the Israel Christian Nexus event, which, remarkably enough, was funded in part by the Jewish Community Foundation. This meeting featured, among others, Christian dispensationalist fundamentalists whose view of Jews, Judaism and Israel causes us great concern.
For example, the event’s honorary co-chair and a featured speaker was Dr. Jack Hayford, president of the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel. Earlier this month, Hayford served as the co-chairman of the International Day of Prayer for the Peace of Jerusalem. It was at that event that Robertson offered his unique view of territorial compromise as “Satan’s plan.”
We wonder if Hayford shares Robertson’s view that decisions of Israel’s elected governments — and the state’s very democratic character — are violations of a grand divine plan that will end with the Second Coming of Jesus.
Would that this were our only question about Hayford. In fact, he and other Israel Christian Nexus leaders are unabashed advocates of converting Jews. This is not wild speculation.
As J. Shawn Landres, a research fellow at the University of Judaism’s Sigi Ziering Institute and expert on American Protestantism, reported, Hayford has endorsed Jews for Jesus materials, one of which “guides Christians to the heart of the issues that keep Jewish people from accepting Jesus as their messiah, and shows how to develop a faithful, effective and loving witness to them.” Hayford, who founded King’s College & Seminary, lists Jews for Jesus as one of the organizations at which it places its graduates.
But this is not our sole concern about the Christian sponsors of the Israel Christian Nexus. We are also disturbed by the following:
• Simi Hills Christian Church and its pastor, Israel Christian Nexus featured speaker Kevin Dieckilman, were profiled in an October 2003 Ventura County Star article describing Dieckilman’s controversial Yom Kippur service, whose purpose, he admitted, was to “reveal” Jesus to Jews.
• Faith Christian Church’s Web site includes both Jews for Jesus and Chosen People Ministries (a self-described “ministry of evangelism to the Jewish people”) among the missions it supports.
• Shepherd of the Hills Church supports a ministry that targeted vulnerable Russian Jewish refugees for conversion as they migrated through Italy to Israel. It now supports Jewish converts to Christianity in Israel.
• Together for Israel links directly to sites that target Jews for evangelism, including one called Supernatural Ministries to the Jew.
We cannot prevent Christians from actively seeking converts. But we can oppose Christian groups that actively target Jews for conversion. We are disappointed, but not surprised, that the Jewish organizers behind the Israel Christian Nexus project would be willing to work with Christian partners who profess strong support for Israel, but who can hardly be described as pro-Jewish.
Accordingly, we think it is inadvisable and irresponsible for our Jewish community leaders to embrace precisely those Christian groups who not only spin theological fantasies about our disappearance as Jews in the future but actively seek it in the present.
We call upon our esteemed rabbis and community leaders, including our Federation president, to look more carefully at their Christian partners in the Israel Christian Nexus and repudiate their dangerous views.
We count as friends and work closely with Christian leaders who reject the extremes of divestment on the one hand and apocalyptic visions of Jews and Israel on the other. We believe, along with these Christian friends, that there is a middle path, one in which a secure Israel exists along side a viable Palestinian state, and in which American Jews and Christians of good will walk together in peace and respect.
Professor David N. Myers is a member of the Progressive Jewish Alliance board.
Daniel Sokatch is the executive director of the Progressive Jewish Alliance.