When so many citizens and governments of so many countries regularly bathe in an anti-Israel bias, why would Israel ever reject a loving embrace?
Christians United For Israel (CUFI), founded in 2006, is now the largest pro-Israel (see Israel’s pro-Israel definition) group anywhere in the known universe and afterlife — over 500,000 strong and bountifully multiplying. All committed and loyally engaged in their Biblical struggle to defend the home team by enlisting, along with AIPAC, Israel’s much smaller Jewish quarterback, as Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu’s American blocking back and unofficial coalition party member.
Just as Netanyahu feels he speaks for generations of Jews, as he proclaimed before Congress in May, Pastor John Hagee, CUFI’s leader, has proclaimed to speak for all right-thinking evangelical Christians — evangelical Christians who know that Jews are God’s chosen title holders to all of pre-1947 Palestine: In July, while speaking at the sixth annual CUFI summit in Washington, D.C., he said, “The land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people….they own the land of Israel! The boundaries…are given exactly in the Bible.”
It’s God as The Supreme Cartographer.
Presumably, in Hagee’s view, the over 5,000,000 Palestinians now scattered throughout Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza are just eschatological squatters whose presence can only serve to delay the evangelical dream —- the second coming of Jesus, a time when Tim Tebow will win every game with a “Hail Mary,” and Team Judaism will no longer have enough players to field a team.
But, before any of that can happen, more of the Jewish flock needs to fruitfully multiply all over Greater Israel.
While Hagee is based in San Antonio, Texas, due south of Rick Perry, he is clearly Israel’s star television evangelist. He continually beseeches his American Christian Zionist base to give, and then to give some more, to support some of what CUFI supports in Israel — settlements — but not to give to what it doesn’t support — the (abortion-providing) Hadassah Hospital. (Quick aside: “Christian Zionist” should lead any oxymoron examples list, just ahead of “jumbo shrimp,” “open secret” and “larger half:” Consider Zionism’s history as a largely secular movement focused on claiming Palestine for the Jewish people and Christian Zionism’s history as a deeply religious movement that views Jews as God’s chosen people — chosen to live in Israel, but also chosen to eventually convert when Jesus reappears or to depopulate Israel on a very hot journey south.)
Christian Zionists are poised to faithfully defend Israeli positions, attack disagreement with Israel as disloyalty to the Ultimate Power (the one high above, not the one thousands of miles east in the Knesset in Jerusalem), and poised to step in and serve in the vanguard of Israel’s Jewish supporter replacement strategy — a strategy necessitated by Israel’s efforts to disqualify and delegitimize any Jewish defenders that give it too much tsuris.
That includes J Street, an organization with 180,000 primarily Jewish supporters — part of the group of Jews Netanyahu claimed to speak for (but not to) when he spoke before Congress. These supporters include over 600 rabbis and cantors, and prominent Israelis ranging from Knesset members to former IDF chiefs of staff and generals to prior leaders of Israel’s Shin Bet and Mossad, Israel’s version of America’s FBI and CIA.
J Street believes that a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine 44 year old soap opera — 63 years if you include the prequel — is critical to Israel’s survival as the Jewish homeland. That’s hardly an unusual belief within Israel or within the American Jewish community. However, J Street finds itself, along with other center-left Jewish organizations, advocating for a country that largely rejects that advocacy. That’s because the proffered support is perceived to feature too much criticism and too much congressional lobbying for two-state peace efforts that conflict with Israel’s script.
But let’s return to CUFI.
CUFI is led by Pastor Hagee, an organizational and motivational genius. He is sort of a Christian male version of Jennifer Rubin, only much more polished, right-wing and prone to apologize for his bloviations. While Rubin, a Washington Post reporter whose only Palestinian shade is black and blacker, recently wrote a blog post that literally encouraged Palestinian genocide, Hagee has engendered even more controversy: He has called the Holocaust a tactic used by God — see Hagee’s special dispensationalist definition — to force Jewish people to return to Israel. Yet he was also wise enough to apologize and raise lots of money for Israel — reportedly over fifty million dollars and counting — which entitled him to receive absolution from Abe Foxman, head of the Anti-Defamation League’s Get-A-Pass-If-You-Stimulate-The-Economy-In-Israel division.
Hagee has also attacked the Catholic Church on several occasions, once calling it “the whore of Babylon.” But he vowed to cease and desist and expressed his sincere apology for his word choice — after all, calling the church “the great whore” might have been meant as a compliment considering the sexual predilections of some of its priests. Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, was equally gracious in accepting Hagee’s apology. He was probably hoping to minimize the number of times that Donohue, the Catholic Church and Hagee would share a future too-public affiliation in the event of another Mount Hagee explosion — like when Hagee shared his insight into God’s views on gay rights, calling Hurricane Katrina God’s retribution for a planned gay rights parade in New Orleans. (Strangely, Hageee had no explanation for the Saints’ Super Bowl win.)
Then there is Hagee’s not so warm and fuzzy messaging on behalf of Israel, and how that messaging can affect the views of progressive Jews, the dissed Jewish majority that votes reliably Democratic in national elections, but are increasingly marking their ballots as “uninterested” when it comes to Israel and predominately Jewish causes and organizations. (As a national election issue, Israel doesn’t make any pollster’s top five list of Jewish voting concerns. In addition, not only are Jewish Federation contributions reportedly half of what they were ten years ago, contributions to mainstream Jewish organizations, like the Anti-Defamation League and American Jewish Committee, are off 30% to 40% just in the last three years. Some of that could, of course, be related to the economy, but then that is also the same period of time that J Street was founded and has experienced meteoric growth.) Hagee has divined that “President Obama is not pro-Israel,” which of course means that progressive Jews need to start watching more Republican party commercials, just so they’re prepared to back the right Palestinians-aren’t-a-people-Jerusalem-can’t-be-divided-I-worked-on-a-Kibbutz-I-went-to-the-Wall-I-bought-a -Jewish-tchotchke-I-know-some-Hebrew-words candidates in the upcoming elections. (If you click no other link, click this one.)
But first Jews have to figure out their own path to November 2012 since, as recently as 2006, Hagee expressed his certainty that anyone who failed to accept Jesus as their savior was condemned to Hell. (Of course, Hagee’s near-term vision of Hell — Obama as President — is less than otherworldly.)
Hagee also wants all to know that he has intimate knowledge of God’s views on Israel’s borders and His range of punishments: “God will bring this nation into judgment” (if the Obama administration pressures Israel to give up land). And God shared his thoughts on Jerusalem with Hagee, too : “If our government forces Israel to divide Jerusalem, you can mark that day as the day God will turn His back on the United States of America….”
But I come not to gratuitously slam Hagee or his acolytes. (His actual statements seem to offer enough fuel for his own self-immolation.)
It’s not that Israel and so many traditional pro-Israel supporters have lovingly embraced Hagee, or that Glenn Beck and Hagee are aligned in a sort of J Edgar Hoover-Clyde Tolson philosophical embrace. It’s that every invitation sends a message. And it’s who has and hasn’t been invited to this selective pro-Israel party and who gets to define what is and isn’t pro-Israel.
Certainly, as an Israeli official once told me in explaining Israel’s Christian Zionist love affair, and I paraphrase because I am not yet established enough to make up unsourced quotes on background: If a ship is sinking you can’t be picky about who gets to throw you a life preserver. You take what you can get. Israel is smart enough to know that the evangelicals are supporting us primarily because of their religious beliefs. Many of them think that when Jesus comes they can convert us, but we don’t worry about motivations. We worry about tapping into 50,000,000 Christians that can influence America to keep supporting us. Without America, where would Israel be?
The real question, however, should be this: Without more Jews actively supporting Israel, what will Israel grow to be?
Will an Israel without stronger and consistent Jewish support from all of its Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, Reconstructionist, unaffiliated and even secular flanks, still preserve the founding vision of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state that “ensures complete equality of social and political rights to all of its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex?”
Or will Israel become a Jewish state only in the same sense that the designer knock-offs sold on lower Broadway are the same clothes as the ones sold in Macy’s? At a distance, it may be hard to tell the difference. But move in closer and the differences soon become more apparent.
The growing ultra-Orthodox and ultra-nationalist influence over Israel’s politics and economy, the de facto discrimination against Arab citizens and Palestinians, and now Israel’s decision to align with Israels’ newest BFF’s — its Christian Zionist supporters — while simultaneously rejecting a large segment of its Jewish base, risks permanently damaging Israel: Current and future Jewish generations will increasingly choose to remain on the sidelines and America’s strong support, which is based at least as much on a values connection as a strategic political connection — which Stratfor, a leading private intelligence service, feels that Turkey will increasingly fill — will inexorably fade.
Israel needs to recapture the Jews who no longer feel welcome if they express concern over what they perceive as Israel’s drift away from its founding vision. These people aren’t disloyal simply because they fail to always toe the Israeli line. They are actually providing an advocacy mitzvah by relentlessly fighting through Israel’s rejection — all in an effort to refocus Israel on its raison d’etre before Israel becomes a country Jews no longer recognize or feel the need to support.
Let’s stipulate the obvious: Israel needs more supporters. It’s understandable that Israel would feel compelled to accept whatever support it can get and to reject those who are truly not supportive. But Israel’s definition of support is too short-sighted. Israel is who it chooses to associate with and who it chooses to disassociate from.
If Israel truly wants a two state solution, have broader support within the Jewish Diaspora, and remain steadfast in adhering to its founding ideals, then an alliance with CUFI is likely to prove strategically counterproductive in achieving any of that. This is especially true if Israel continues to reject loyal and engaged Jewish supporters who may not live in Israel — a silly and irrelevant criticism used to attack Diaspora criticism — but still want Israel to be a country they would want to live in.
Unrequited support, as with unrequited love, normally results in reduced interest. Israel can’t afford to operate as if Christian Zionists are a Jewish Diaspora replacement strategy any more than it can (continue to) allow Israel’s ultra-Orthodox and ultra-nationalists to increasingly influence Israeli society and its economic and political policies.
An Israel that chooses to follow policies that no longer represent the beliefs of the majority of the Jewish Diaspora, and an Israel that finds it has Christian Zionists as both its largest and most fervent supporters, will lead to an ersatz Israel — one that has sadly and unnecessarily lost its way.
There is still time to change. But it will take recognition that there is a severe problem. That recognition is not yet widely shared, which is why it is so critical for Israel’s traditional and non-traditional supporters to start working together building new roads to Jewish engagement, Israel advocacy and support. That’s why it is so critical to stop rejecting Jews who advocate for the types of changes that will reduce Israel’s need to embrace an unnatural CUFI affair of convenience over what should be Israel’s long-term marriage to its fellow Jews.