Rabbis disagree on cooperation with Christian Zionist group

Debate flourishes on rabbis' listserv on whether to participate in events with Pastor John Hagee's Christians United for Israel

Edited by Haim Dov Beliak, JewsOnFirst, October 31, 2006

Following the gala weekend held earlier this month by Christians United for Israel (CUFI) in San Antonio, a rabbis' listserv became the forum for discussion about the value of participating in such events. CUFI, founded by controversial San Antonio megachurch pastor John Hagee, is led by some of the biggest names on the religious right. It has scheduled similar galas in other cities and rabbis in those cities are being pressed to participate. Some object, as evidenced by the letters below. Others see valid reasons for supporting the CUFI events.

We are posting their letters here, with the permission of their authors.

Rabbi Jordan Parr, Adat Chaverim, Plano-Dallas, Texas

Rabbis' List, October 25, 2006

Chevre (Colleagues):

I have received a number of responses, both public and private, to my query regarding Pastor John Hagee and his group, Christians United for Israel (CUFI). Most of the responders warned me to stay away from him, although a significant minority said that since he was such a staunch supporter of Israel, I should swallow hard and work with him.

I have decided not to attend his function here in the Dallas area. After reading about him and listening to an interview on NPR (just google John Hagee and it pops up on the first page), I find his agenda distasteful at best. While he clearly supports Israel, he does so with an eye on Revelations, the Rapture and the Tribulation. While he claims that he will not evangelize Jews, he also claims that Jews will be given a choice during the seven years of Tribulation: to follow Christ or the anti-Christ. In other words, if we don't convert you now, we'll get you later. Finally, his blatantly racist views regarding gays and lesbians, Muslims and even Reform Jews must be considered. He has insulted our movement in print *, so I'm really not interested in being his friend.

Nonetheless our Federation has gotten into bed with Hagee and the director will be on stage to receive a check, estimated to be half a million dollars, for the Israel emergency campaign. The Israeli Counsel General will also be in attendance. I am sorry that the Federation Board voted to support this event but what is done is done.

In conclusion, I would state that support for Israel, while welcome, should not blind us to the larger agenda of any organization. CUFI will continue to raise substantial amounts of money for Israel, whether we participate or not, since a strong Israel (one able to attack Iran, another key part of their worldview) is essential to their apocalyptic vision.

So why bother with the niceties?

Rabbi Jordan Parr

*Hagee's contempt is expressed in a July interview with the San Antonio Express-News quoted several times in JewsOnFirst. He told the paper: "I think if I could put a dividing line, the Orthodox and Conservatives who have a Torah appreciation give us wholehearted support. The rest who are not driven by the Word of God have a liberal agenda. And the liberal agenda is they are pro-abortion. They're pro-homosexual. They're pro-gay marriage — they want men to marry men and women to marry women — and their difference with me is not really what I'm doing with Israel. Their hostility to me is poisoned by their liberalism." (Ed.)

Rabbi Joseph Black, Congregation Albert, Albuquerque, New Mexico

Rabbis' List, October 29

Chevre (Colleagues),

...Let me add my own 2 cents as well.

Here in Albuquerque, Pastor Hagee is bringing his road show on November 3. Many dignitaries will be present — including the Governor, Senators, representatives and Country Star Randy Travis, I was asked to be a part of the program (I was even asked if I wanted to sing with Randy Travis....).

I politely declined.

CUFI is giving out free tickets to any Jews who want to attend. It is being promoted heavily on local Christian TV and Radio.

The counsel General from Israel will be there. Our federation director will receive the check.

My reasons for declining this invitation were several-fold:

1. While I appreciate the support for the State of Israel — there are so many other areas where I differ from Pastor Hagee: GLBT rights, Church State Separation, Abortion, the list goes on and on.

2. The anti-Muslim rhetoric from CUFI has been shameful

3. I have spent a great deal of time cultivating relationships within the GLBT community and supportive Christian Colleagues who — all too often — are misguided about Israel, but would be greatly dismayed were I to appear on the dais with Hagee.

4. They don’t need me to be there. This point was driven home to me in a staff meeting, shortly after I was asked to attend when I asked input from my staff. Our bookkeeper, herself and Evangelical Christian, told me: "Rabbi, they’re going to support Israel whether you are there or not!" My ego needs (and the desire to meet Randy Travis) aside - she was absolutely right.

5. The fact that this rally is taking place shortly before the Election is no accident, my friends..... To think that Hagee has no domestic agenda is hogwash.

All of the Rabbis in Albuquerque have politely declined the invitation. Our Federation Director has assured us that he will accept the check and say thank you — nothing more.

Jordan — you should stay away.


Name withheld

Rabbis' Listserv, October 29, 2006

Dear Friends,

You ask about CUFI and the so-called 'night to honor Israel.'

I, too, am suspicious about the motivations of this group, and other churches around the country that have joined forces to hold similar 'nights' in other cities. Such a night has been proposed here by a local 'wanabee mega church' (not so big now, but hope to grow), and the local Federation director informed the local rabbis of his intention to give assistance and to speak at this gathering planned for the Spring, probably coinciding with Yom Ha'atzmaut.

In August, when I learned of this alliance, I wrote to our Federation director stating my concerns, and I am attaching below the central part of my communication to him. I do not know what will come of this situation, but the Federation director here, as have many Federation directors across the country, have provided some kinds of aid and advice. I believe this is very ill advised for the reasons you will read below. The arguments I presented, if you find them salient, are certainly yours for your consideration.

Name withheld

Portions of a letter to our Federation director responding to his informing us of his participation in a local church's "night to honor Israel:

Please know that I recognize the importance of special coalitions that, from time to time, Jews might form with organizations with which we share certain discrete objectives, even though we might be on opposite sides on other matters.

In this particular instance, our association with a fundamentalist church that represents a philosophy with which we have so many differences of opinion poses great risk to the ... Jewish community.

Here are my specific concerns about our connection to them:

1. Regarding the local church: We should not conflate the purposes and approach of Christians United for Israel (CUFI) with the goals and objectives of this particular church. Even if we assume for a moment that the mission of CUFI with regard to Israel is a pure and noble one (which you will see below that I do not), we cannot be certain that [the local church] will behave in the same manner. To be specific, I am not convinced that the [the local Church] would behave in the same way as CUFI regarding its pledge to avoid anti-missionary activity. I think you should challenge the [the local church] pastors as to whether they will loudly and clearly articulate the same anti-missionary statements as CUFI does in their foundational documents.

Further, I think it would be crucial to ask the pastors at [the local church] to explain, and you should be satisfied with the justification for at least one questionable statement that they make on the church's official website. On a page whereon they describe their long-term vision (web site withheld), they state that "Being on the [Shemini Atzeret] City Board" would be one of their priorities. It is unclear what board they refer to, but the statement is frightening. Would they intend to officially insinuate their religious values and ideals into city business? Do they wish to have direct and religiously based influence on the board of education? Even if this presumptuous desire remains, practically speaking, far beyond their grasp, the fact that they state this intention publicly strongly suggests that their view of church/state separation is completely contrary to what we promote.

(A small but connected digression: For professional reasons I receive mail from "Focus on the Family." The week I received your note, their latest mailing arrived that promoted voter registration. One panel of the tri-fold brochure prominently displays these words superimposed on a photograph of smiling, flag-waving Americans: "Imagine the Impact that Americans of faith could have on the future of our nation, the character of its leadership, and the moral health of its people if we all applied biblical principles to every aspect of our lives - including our participation in the democratic process." (emphasis theirs!) So I am particularly attuned right now to the evangelical right's hope to influence our government and our society.)

I believe that we must be on guard to protect our community and our country from those who desire to turn this country into a Christian nation, and I feel that an association with [the local church] would provide legitimacy to this dangerous agenda of the Christian religious right.

2. With respect, I disagree that a discussion of their theology is only appropriate for "another time" [a statement the Federation director made with regard to interacting with this church] L'havdil - to the contrary: This is the most crucial time to examine the theologies of those with whom we seek to create alliances.

During this summer's conflict in Israel and Lebanon, we witnessed Christian fundamentalists prodding the West's military engagement of Islamist terrorists in Lebanon, the Occupied Territories, Syria, and Iran. Why was this Christian support so manifest? In the July 27 edition of the Wall Street Journal, there appears an article that CUFI not only links to, but also places their logo above ( Click here). In this article, CUFI and similar organizations are described as having an "evangelical political philosophy [that] is rooted in biblical prophecies and a belief that Israel's struggles signal a prelude to Armageddon." They believe that encouraging this 'inevitable' course of history would hasten their anticipated 'Second Coming.' It would be incredible for us to lend support to a community of people who don't mind if the world explodes. That they act robustly to influence our nation's foreign policy because of the belief that they will achieve paradise while we disintegrate into oblivion is reason alone to deny them any support.

3. There are local matters that do touch on theology. If this church's theology led them to support the 'one-man/one-woman marriage amendment (which I presume it would), our association with them could be viewed as Jewish support for a wider range of their fundamentalist religious positions. We know that nothing would be farther from the truth, but this impression would be generated regardless of the issue, from equal rights for homosexuals and lesbians to church/state separation and women's rights.

4. Given other circumstances, we might overlook theology if we're worried about Israel's security and the need for supporting her. But there are other matters that emanate from the theology of CUFI and the mind of its Reverend Hagee that we cannot avoid.

I refer to his statements hostile to Islam as a religious worldview. Not only does his disparaging of Islam retard our progress on the pathway toward true inter-religious understanding. It moreover creates enemies that we should avoid.

In sermons that Hagee has given, he has questioned the patriotism of American Muslims (time stamp 6:18 and following on the "Allah and America" link at www.islameyat.com/english/audio/John_Hagee/John_Hagee.htm. He asserts that 82% of them [American Muslims] did not support the first war with Iraq, and therefore were disloyal. If a similar poll were taken of American Jews regarding the current war in Iraq, I do not doubt that a majority of American Jews would express very similar attitudes. Would that cause Hagee to label us Jews as disloyal Americans as well? I would not wish to be associated with the viewpoint that dissent is equivalent to treason. Hagee also questions whether Islam is a religion of peace (time stamp 8:13 at www.islameyat.com/english/audio/John_Hagee/John_Hagee.htm. He notes that vicious broadcast statements against American made by the World Trade Center terrorists, as well as by Osama bin Laden, were punctuated by citations from the Koran. His conclusion: Islam and the Koran supports acts of terror, and therefore is not a religion of peace.

Would that mean that an Israeli rabbi's statement denouncing the practices of Reform Judaism, punctuated with statements from the parashah of Korah [Numbers 16 - 18] to justify violence against "religious blasphemers" (as has happened in recent years), justify the labeling Judaism as a violent and vicious religious expression, and not a religion of peace? None of us would agree with this sentiment. Rev. Hagee's spoken words reveal him as intolerant of one of the three Abrahamic religions. In our world today, we should distance ourselves, both in fact and in philosophy, with this kind of religious extremism.

5. Establishing ties with [the local church] and CUFI could hinder our ability to maintain constructive dialogue with mainline Christian groups. It is sadly true that the agendas of those mainline Protestant denominations are not always in consonance with our own with regard to Israel. God knows that we have been trying to reverse many of the efforts at so-called divestment - and we as an American Jewish community have been somewhat successful. But for the most part, the humanitarian activities and social gospel work of the mainline movements are more closely aligned with our philosophy of tikkun olam, and I believe that we should spend more of our efforts at changing their minds on Israel rather than rewarding a fundamentalist group that has none of our real goals at heart. * * * You stated that "every one" of your colleagues has accepted their invitations. To me this does not necessarily imply that every other community who has yet to receive a similar invitation should do so. We are an independent Jewish community, with unique goals and purposes. I suggest we focus on local concerns and opinions of local leaders to determine what's best for us.

As you can tell, I feel quite passionately about this subject, and I could see myself working quite actively to separate myself and others from the activities of [the local church] and CUFI. I recommend that we kindly back away from these associations. Our contact and support of their work is likely to hinder our Jewish communal agenda on many fronts, and I would never want to see this for our community.

Support for Israel is crucial, and we have to establish more education and advocacy among Jews who do not yet understand this. But our provision of aid, whether material or emotional, to those who so often act against our interests, is a true danger and should be avoided.

Name Withheld

Rabbi Phil Cohen, Temple Beth Zion, Buffalo, New York

Rabbis' List, October 30

How many Evangelical Christians do I have as good friends? Well, at most two. One is a minister and the other the Director of Christians for Israel, Canada. Both of these are decent people - both have availed themselves of opportunities to study with me, and both express a support for Israel that is without any equivocation.

So why don't we like these guys?

We don't like them, as best as I can tell, for two reasons: 1. We believe that they have millenarian expectations that would have the Jews convert to Christianity, or, at the very least, look forward to the onset of the Rapture. They all went to see Mel's movie, and are just, too, too, Christian — for our tastes. 2. Evangelicals oppose gay rights, abortion, and wish to see religion better represented in government. These go against the grain of liberal Jewish views.

First a brief story. Back in the day I accompanied a group of teens to D.C. where the RAC (Religious Action Center of the Reform Movement) arranged a terrific week for us (this was before L'taken). One of the pieces of politics that I took with me from that, hold on, politics makes strange bedfellows. In the case of the RAC, it was pointed out that the RAC had forged alliances with Catholic groups at one time and Orthodox Jews at another, over issues they had in common, this despite the fact of the many other issues over which they disagreed.

Of course, we Jews have so many allies in American society. For example the Presbyterians, or, in Canada, the United Church, or the Nation of Islam, or the Episcopalians. Ha ha. None of these groups institutionally gives Israel the time of day, do they?

But there is a group out there that loves Israel more than many Jews, that gives generously, travels often, lobbies hard, and supports Israel without question. You won't find an Evangelical group advocating divestment, or inviting Noam Chomsky or Michael Lerner to lecture.

So if we find their theology too conservative and fundamentalist for our taste, we don't have to lie to them. We can tell them we don't like their views on abortion or gay rights. We don't have to agree to a greater role for religion in government. We only have to agree with them on Israel. And if we find their Israel agenda too right wing for our taste, we can tell them that, too. Meanwhile, who are we to reject allies because their Israel view doesn't parallel our own?

Democracy demands a regard for pluralism, which at least is an implicit agreement to live in peace with people we may not otherwise wish to live with. At most, democracy enjoins us to live with our neighbors and love them as we love ourselves. That's harder, but ultimately worthwhile.


Cantor Steve Puzarne, Breeyah, Los Angeles, California

Rabbis' List, November 1, 2006

Dear Colleagues,

Whether one believes that Rev. Hagee’s ideology and actions on non-Israel issues are reprehensible, benign or wonderful, I believe that it is grievously irresponsible for leaders of our movement to provide boundless PR benefits, coupled with the unavoidable appearance of heksher to one who at best, is an unknown entity, at worst someone heavily laden with blazing red flags.

The simple truth is that Hagee and his ilk represent a relatively new breed of preacher, who have publicly and unabashedly aligned themselves with some of the most radical right wing corporate, political and economic forces in America. They have also advocated a dizzying array of ideologies and beliefs that, at the very least, should raise serious concerns for Jews in general, nagging doubts for Reform Jews in particular.

Rather than delineating the significant areas of concern that would lead us to proceed with utmost caution, many on these pages have glibly glossed over them, adopting instead a kind of "see no evil", "don’t ask don’t tell" philosophy. By implication this means that what Hagee and company do when not fundraising for Israel, should, at the end of the day (or at the end of days) be exempted from any real level of rigor and scrutiny, the likes of which would surely be applied if we were in pursuit of something as benign as the appropriate architect to design our sanctuary.

Some on this listserve have even gone so far as to facilely and publicly anoint Hagee the moral equivalent of the Catholic Church, with whom we have shared a decades- long relationship of discourse, scholarship and rock solid commitment to core values of economic and social justice born of our respective reading of Torah, Prophets and the Gospels. I defy anyone to produce a shred of evidence that would justify elevating this Johnny-come-lately, one-issue Charley to such an honored place, a place attained and seasoned over thousands of hours of successful encounter.

And devoid of such evidence, upon what basis do community leaders justify blindly leading our constituency into a fool’s paradise, offering glib and unsupported reassurances that there is not now, nor will there ever be, a grievous price to pay for making alliance with forces who may well turn out to be nothing but Sabbatian-like purveyors of "strange fire"...fire that could burn us as surely as the day is long. Like it or not the jury is still out, and to pretend to more knowledge than we could possibly have at this point, is both deceptive and potentially destructive to those who look to us for advise and counsel.

As regards to Israel, the one and only issue around which most could claim common cause, a cautionary note is required even here. And I quote:

Gershom Gorenberg, a leading Israeli expert on Christian Zionism, recently explained how Christian Zionists' positions on Israel and the Middle East (Hagee advocates a U.S. attack on Iran) place them "at the far edge of the radical right within Israeli politics." Speaking on the public radio program "Fresh Air," Gorenberg said the Christian Zionists "tend to support military action over diplomacy. It's worth stressing that this puts them far from the mainstream of Israeli politics."

Christian Zionism focuses on "end times" scenarios that involve "ingathering" all the world's Jews in Israel against a backdrop of major international warfare. Jewish leaders correctly dismiss this as an irrelevant rationale for the political support of CUFI's leaders and the millions of Christians whom they represent.

Gorenberg, however, points out the contradiction in the use of the term Zionism by these Christian leaders, who, he says, are "seeing the Jews as actors in a Christian drama leading toward the end of days." By contrast, says Gorenberg, "real Zionism, as a Jewish movement, is a movement aimed at taking Jews out of the mythological realm and making them into normal actors in history, controlling their fate and acting for pragmatic reasons connected to the here and now. So what's called Christian Zionism is actually very distant from Zionism."

It is interesting how many who uniformly condemn American Jews’ meddling into internal Israel government affairs, (particularly when those meddlers appear to be "Peaceniks") seem to perceive no such meddling when they make common cause with militants pushing that government far to the right of where it’s ever been. I would also point out, that none of those advocates, be they Christian Zionists or American Jews, will be directly or mortally impacted as apocalyptic visions, buttressed by disciplined and influential Capitol Hill lobbying, ignites the entire Middle East into a killing field reserved for Muslim and Israeli Jew.

And how clever indeed. For little more than the cost of a rubber chicken dinner and a fat check, Hagee and company have successfully turned some in our leadership into quiescent co-conspirators in their passion play, as they seek to transform our Israeli brothers and sisters into front line troops clearing the way for the glorious realization of bizarre and homicidal visions (the heavenly benefits of which neither Jew nor Muslim can realize). It really makes me question who should be apologizing to whom. [A reference to a colleague who offered to apologize to Hagee for the bad behavior of Jews who did appreciate his support of Israel.]

Cantor Steve Puzarne

Rabbi Haim Dov Beliak, Beth Shalom of Whittier, Whittier, California

Rabbis' List, October 27, 2006. (Rabbi Beliak is co-director of JewsOnFirst)

Dear Colleagues,

On www.JewsOnFirst.org we just posted the latest collection from October 19th-22nd of Hagee's "Nights to Honor Israel" including our editorial from the San Antonio Express-News. Thanks to colleagues who are grappling with these issues. We will ask each of them to share with us their posting for JewsOnFirst.org.

I did not write — either on our web site or in the editorial this past weekend — some of things that weigh heavy on my heart regarding the threat of CUFI. I will allow myself that freedom with you, colleagues.

There is an argument that in a time of extreme isolation Israel must take all the help it can get — one colleague writes: "the Christian Zionists are friends in need and therefore friends in-deed!"

First, the Jewish emergence from powerlessness over the last 130 to 200 years or so, has accustomed us to think in terms of "politics."

Some adages appear to justify expediency: "politics makes strange bedfellows."

I think in politics this is a persuasive argument. But in religion, "bedfellows" are not temporary. "Bedfellows" become the permanent and unforgivable stamp of cosmic betrayal and disloyalty.

Consider Hagee's future attitude and his revised perceptions of Israel if they (Israelis, American Jews, or American presidents) do anything to thwart his hopes for the "end times" — such as, peace?!

I imagine that a good deal of the unrealistic "love" of the Jewish people will revert to unconditional hate. Can you hear "the word" then?

"They have murdered the prophets and subverted Your will...." There is so much "love with a catch" ( Pirke Avot) but also the idealistic hate and the idealistic love removes boundaries, proportionality, and restraints — Nazis could kill Jews to make a better world (Dr. Emil Fackenheim et.al). I imagine a "Christian Zionist" expressing disappointment over the "rapture" that did not happen — blaming The Jews for subverting God's will!

The classical rabbis believed in the end times. But they framed the main thrust in the seventh blessing of the wedding ceremony as "normative" i.e. the world "end" is a celebration of love; while the other perceptions of catastrophe in Zechariah et.al. remained marginal.

We dare not make 'sport' of wacky ideas in other people's theology but if you read Barbara R. Rossing's book ( The Rapture Exposed: The Message of Hope in the Book of Revelation,Westview) on the rapture you soon discover that "Rapture ideology" is a modern idea invented — whole cloth, in the 19th Century. For these Evangelical Christians "the time of tribulations" is a spectator sport with no pain — like watching television.

Enough for now. I would not recommend a policy of "political expediency" around the 'end days' because that is bound to offend and sure to create the potential great(er) hate of the Jewish people.


TOPIC: Christian Zionists