Sophia B. Rich for JewsOnFirst.org, March 6, 2011
Two months after local Jewish protest prompted Denver's Jewish Federation to "disinvite" Christian Zionist leader John Hagee, the Jewish Federation of New Mexico joined with Hagee's organization, Christians United for Israel (CUFI), in a public event featuring the controversial televangelist and his high profile friend and supporter in the Jewish community, talk show host Dennis Prager.
CUFI's Night to Honor Israel, billed as "the annual demonstration of solidarity for Israel and the Jewish people," took place Tuesday, January 11, at the Albuquerque Convention Center. It was the third such event to be held in Albuquerque and the first attended personally by Pastor Hagee.
Among the speakers were Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry, New Mexico Jewish Federation President Hank Crane and Past President Robert Efroymson, and Chabad Jewish Center of Santa Fe Rabbi Beryl Levertov.
Also taking the podium, against a backdrop of six alternating Israeli and American flags, were CUFI New Mexico State Director Annette Garcia, local CUFI On Campus Student President Jenelle Moya, CUFI City Directors Pastor Barney Carbajal (Belen) and Pastor Rick Ketterling (Carlsbad), and other CUFI officials.
The convention center's Kiva Auditorium, with a capacity of 2,338 seats, appeared one-third full with about 800 in attendance. In a January 19 phone interview, a representative at Son Broadcasting, cosponsor of the event with CUFI and the New Mexico Jewish Federation, estimated the attendance at 1,100 to 1,300. Son Broadcasting (KDAZ) operates a Christian radio station that syndicates Pastor Hagee's weekday morning programming throughout New Mexico.
Mainline Jews Avoid Event
Notably absent at the Night to Honor Israel were representatives of New Mexico's mainline congregations and organizations from the roster of speakers and the audience. New Mexico is home to more than 10,000 Jews, with as many as ten rabbis, three cantors, and numerous prayer and musical leaders. Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Taos, Las Cruces, and Carlsbad all boast reform and conservative congregations.
The absence of Jews at the CUFI event was noteworthy because of the recent growth of friendly relationships between local evangelical Christians and the Jewish community. Events including a joint visit to Israel have been sponsored by Yad B' Yad (Hand in Hand), a Christian evangelical group.
Yad B'Yad's website describes the group as dedicated to building non-proselytizing relationships of trust with New Mexico's Jews through education and dialogue. Its partners have included the Jewish Community Center of Albuquerque and a couple of Albuquerque's mainline congregations.
Mainline Albuquerque Rabbi Voices Discomfort with CUFI
Rabbi Art Flicker, leader of Albuquerque's conservative Jewish Congregation B'nai Israel, said he was not surprised at the absence of mainline rabbis and their congregations at the January 11 CUFI event.
In a phone interview on January 20, Rabbi Flicker commented: "You can say something to the effect that we certainly support Israel and the Jewish Federation,"
Flicker, who has participated in the past in Yad B'Yad events, noted: "I happen to have concerns about this particular group, Christians United for Israel, and its ultimate goal."
"I do not support the Night to Honor Israel because of Reverend Hagee's ‘End of Time' perspective regarding Jews, that some of us will be converted and the rest of us . . . ." The rabbi paused to find the right words. "The rest of us will die."
"I also feel very uncomfortable with Hagee's perspective on gays, lesbians and transsexuals," Rabbi Flicker stated. "His views are very different from what we believe as conservative Jews, that there need to be equal rights, equal opportunities, and justice."
About the event itself, he said, "I don't go and I don't support it. But I didn't tell anyone not to go. The Federation is its own entity. We've talked to them and respectfully decided to differ on this issue."
Dennis Prager's Epistle to the Gentiles
Dennis Prager is self-described on his website and in a press release issued by Christians United for Israel and the Jewish Federation of Albuquerque as "one of America's most respected radio talk show hosts." Prager started broadcasting on station KRLA in Los Angeles in 1982. His show has been nationally syndicated since 1999.
The white-haired, husky 62 year old radio personality began with lavish praise for Pastor Hagee and Christians United for Israel. "In the life of a speaker," he said, addressing an audience marked by a strong presence of evangelical Hispanics and Native Americans, including self-identified Navajos, "the greatest is to be at a CUFI event as a Jew and as an American."
"As I put on my kippah," he continued, in a display of Jewish credentials, "I open with a bracha, a blessing in Hebrew . . . if the Jews will recite with me . . . the Shehechiyanu."
The prayer expresses thanks for being sustained by God to experience a joyous occasion. Voices throughout the auditorium joined in. At the prayer's conclusion Prager asserted, "If Jews and Christians are united, we become the most powerful force for good in the world . . . if we really affirm the value of the Torah."
"We have been waiting two thousand years to unite. Too many Christians have abandoned Christianity. Too many Jews have amalgamated Judaism with some happy-go-lucky ‘ism.'"
Prager asserted that he would first address the audience as Americans, and then offer distinct messages for Jews and for Christians. In his long career, Prager said, he has met everyone he thought was of any importance. "I've met no one of greater significance than John Hagee."
Prager's Epistle to the Americans
In a message that he said was addressed to the audience as Americans, Prager asserted that most Jews have been secularized, a phenomenon that he called "a long story beyond tonight."
Nevertheless it remains a challenge, he said, to explain "the centrality of the Jews today and in the last three thousand years."
"The United Nations has spent more time debating about Israel, a country the size of El Salvador or New Jersey, than any other issue," Prager alleged. "It only makes sense for 13 million to carry such significance in a world of seven billion," he argued, "that this is Divine, that this IS the Chosen People."
"I would like to see a group formed of Rational Secular Jews for Chosenness," he joked. In a comment that drew loud applause, he continued, "You don't have to be Jewish to believe in Jewish Chosenness. In fact, more Christians believe it than Jews."
"I know of no other explanation for Jewish history than Chosenness."
"Why did the Nazis kill Jews—women, men, children--where there was competition between war needs and extermination?" Prager queried, citing historian Lucy Davidowicz's book, The War Against the Jews.
No one yawns when you say, ‘What do you think of Jews?' I am utterly convinced of the Divine in Jewish history."
Praeger's Christian Apologetics: The Four Questions
Claiming next to direct his remarks to Jews in the audience, Prager offered to account for what he called the elephant in the room: "Why any Jew in Albuquerque would not be here tonight and could be opposed to an evening that is good for Jews."
Prager offered four apologetics to explain away Jewish aversion to Christian Zionist events. The reason, he said, is: "They want to convert us."
"If that's true," Prager joked to appreciative laughter, "the track record is not encouraging."
"I've never met a Jew who converted because of attending a Night to Honor Israel. That is so silly. That you are gathering to support Israel so that Jews will convert. . . . Christians want to bring the world to Christ. But that's not the reason for this."
"It is our task to keep Jews Jewish. Not Christians'."
Prager offered a second reason for Jewish suspicions of CUFI: "How can we support them if they think we're not saved."
"I am troubled by this," Prager asserted. He said that he concerns himself with "how Group A treats me" not with what it believes will happen theologically. "And no one treats Jews as well as CUFI. No one."
Prager's third reason for Jews keeping their distance concerns CUFI's apocalyptic vision: "The Jews will go back to Israel and bad things will happen."
To Jews who say this, Prager responds by challenging them to name the four Gospels. If they can't, he derides them for having a superficial understanding: "You know Christian theology from the New York Times!"
"There is nothing a Christian can do to hasten the coming of Christ. That's something God will do in his own time!"
Prager's fourth reason why Jews avoid CUFI: "They don't agree with our politics."
CUFI's politics is the same as most Orthodox Jews, Prager asserted: "For example, marriage should remain male-female."
Claiming to address Jews, Prager commented: "If you wouldn't boycott an Orthodox Jewish event, why would you boycott a CUFI event? Just because you don't agree on A or B, when Israel is in an existential dilemma?"
Prager's Prophecy: Christians Support Israel (Or Else)
Prager said that he intended his remaining remarks for the Christians in the audience. Implying his authority as a Jew to share the truth of Torah, Prager began by asserting: "I just want you to know, you are RIGHT about Genesis!"
Prager paused to own "my chutzpah" in making such a remark. He just wanted to add, he said, "a Jew's confirmation that. . . in fact, God DOES bless those who bless the Jews."
The talk show host stepped up the rally for militant Zionism to follow with a flattering portrait of Christian America's treatment of Jews.
"This country is the most blessed on earth," he continued. The country that has most blessed the Jews is the U.S. of A. If you think it is a coincidence, I am certain it is not a coincidence."
"The day that the United States abandons Israel will be the start of the decline of the United States," he warned prophetically, to a burst of applause.
"We back the right of the Jewish people to its homeland," he said, as the cheering crowd rose to its feet. "I don't want to be like France, Sweden, China, Russia, Paraguay or Uruguay!"
"Let me explain in full," Prager went on. "Jews have a very long memory. really long. We have an event [the Passover seder] commemorating something that took place in happened in 1,200 BC."
Repeating a centuries-old view held by the Plymouth Rock Puritans, Prager endorsed an identification between the ancient Israelites and contemporary America.
"I'd like Americans to commemorate 1776 like we Jews commemorate the seder. Jews can teach the world about memory, but memories come with baggage."
"Christian history has not been a blessed one for the Jews. But Jews have to understand that American Christians are not European Christians."
"The United States was founded by Christians and we have been blessed here. There was no American Inquisition."
"For three thousand years, we Jews have been waiting for fans. Let's go Jews! Give me a J, give me an E, give me a W!"
"I'm a Jew fan."
"I love the Jews."
"Some Jews are a little paranoid. It's too hard for some Jews to believe. Some Jews simply fear religious people, Jewish or Christian."
"Please understand why Jews are the way they are. The Jews are the miner's canary. The death of Jews is the warning that non-Jews are next. You're next. They start with Jews."
"Disarming Ahmadinejad is not the just the Jews' problem. It's everyone's problem. First the death of the Jews. Then your death."
Prager's Denigration of Jews and Secular Learning
Perhaps the oddest and most disturbing element of Prager's talk was his broadside on intellectualism and the relationship of Jews in the United States to secular higher education.
"I want to say something about American Jews," Prager continued, "that may not be known to non-Jews. Jews venerate the university, education, and titles."
Adopting a sing-song inflection, Mr. Prager served up a slice of Borscht Belt humor: "Mr. and Mrs. Milton Goldman are pleased to announce the birth of their son, Dr. Ira Goldman."
"When people come up to talk with me at events" Prager said, "I never know if it's a Jew or a non-Jew. If the person tells me what college his kid goes to, I know it's a Jew."
"This is a form of what we called when I went to Yeshiva, avodah zarah. Idol worship," he asserted. "The university has none of my values. Nothing good. You'll be taught in self-centeredness, feelings, and lack of wisdom."
"Only in the university was it ever taught that men and women are basically the same. You have to go to university to learn what a crappy country Israel is."
"You also learn that about America," he added.
In his sweeping condemnation of secular higher education, Prager did not note the contradictions of his own biography. On his website, the talk show host takes credit for having taught Russian and Jewish history at Brooklyn College, his honorary doctorate of laws degree from Pepperdine University, and the popular books he has published.
Prager offered a parting word about America. Holding up his cell phone, he read verbatim a message that he had earlier texted his wife and kids,as the sing-song intonation crept back into his voice: "Speaking to Christians supporting Israel in New Mexico. Only in America!"
"That's the truth," Prager emphasized. "The founders said that this is going to be the second Israel. I have the chills when people ask me. . . . I am unbelievably blessed to have two fathers: Abraham and George Washington."
"God bless you. God bless Israel. And God bless America."
Standing ovation. Cheers and whistles.
Hagee's Militant Christian Zionism: No Middle Ground
Pastor Hagee, the multimillionaire evangelical entrepreneur and onetime college football player, took the podium with ease. Praising Dennis Prager as his friend, "a bright light," and "a man of courage and integrity," Hagee spoke more briefly than Prager but with no less confident authority.
"You cannot be all things to all people," Hagee asserted "There are only two kinds of people. Those who stand for Israel. Or those who don't stand for Israel. There's nothing in between."
He told a joke roughly as follows: A woman meets a man on a plane and he asks her, 'What kind of man do you like?' She tells him: 'Well, I like American Indian Men. I like them tall, dark, and handsome. And I like Jewish men. . . . And, well, I also like rednecks . . . .'
‘Then let me introduce myself,' the man replies. 'My name is Geronimo Goldberg, but my friends call me Bubba.'
"You can't be all things to all people!" Pastor Hagee warned, as the laughter faded. "This is a dangerous juncture in world history. Israel is in the worst danger it has ever faced."
"Jews nervously look for friends. Anti-semitism is rising in newspapers and universities where Israel is vilified by professors holding chairs paid for by Saudi Arabia."
"There are efforts to divest from Israel. But not boycotting North Korea. This is supremely stupid."
Taking a swipe at the peace efforts of Jimmy Carter, Hagee also denounced books published "with slanderous titles by the former president." Carter is author of the 2007 book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid.
Pastor Hagee hit home the message of battle and victory in which Christians must commit themselves. He challenged "any university students tape recording his lecture" with, he said, the following facts: "Sixty-seven percent of Americans lovie Israel," he baited. "Only one sixth of Americans like the U.S. Congress. Israel is four times more popular than the U.S. Congress."
Addressing the nation of Israel, Hagee flexed muscle in a series of unequivocal assertions: "There are 60 million evangelicals who see you as cherished by God. With an eternal covenant that will stand forever. Valid for all eternity."
"The sleeping giant of Christian Zionism has awakened. Christians and Jews are united. Indivisible. What we have in common are far greater than the things we've allowed to keep us apart."
"You are not alone. The Christians of America stand beside you. we will win this fight!"
Hagee Issues Biblical Threat to Ahmadinejad
Invoking the memory of the Holocaust, Pastor Hagee turned to the threat to Israel posed by a nuclear ready Iran.
Mentioning a story on Fox News concerning Christians arrested in Iran for proselytizing, Hagee addressed his next remarks directly to the Iranian head of state.
"Mr. Ahmadinejad. Do not threaten the United States of America. Do not threaten Israel. In the Bible, when the Pharoah threatened Israel he became fish food."
"Mr. Ahmadinejad. The God of Israel. . . the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is watching you. The Christians will not stand by in silence."
Referring to the United Nations as "a political brothel" and to moderates as "appeasers," Hagge insisted: "There will not be another Holocaust. Not on our watch. Never again."
Quoting U.S. Senator Joseph Lieberman, an Israel hawk, Hagee agreed that "if all other options fail, the military option against Iran should be considered." Hagee is on record in 2006 as favoring a preemptive strike on Iran.
A Warning to the President: Israel is not the Problem
Pastor Hagee also had a warning for the president of the United States: "Every solution offered is that Israel should give up more land.
"Let me be clear." Hagee declaimed" Israel is not the problem."
"The problem is the Arabs. Israel has no partner for peace. The silence is deafening"
Chastising President Barack Obama, Hagee stated: "The U.S. should not ever pressure the Israelis to divide Jerusalem. The president of the United States has no authority to tell the Jewish people what they can and cannot do."
"Jerusalem is Israel's capital for over three thousand years. Mr. President, go tell the Russians."
"Israel is free to grow, build, develop. To become the greatest nation on the earth."
"Don't even think of dividing Jerusalem. The Anti-Christ wants to do that."
"Truth is what the Torah says. There's the Torah way and the wrong way."
"Genesis. I will curse those that curse you."
"Where are the Pharoah, the Babylonians, the Greeks, the Nazi hordes. All are historical footnotes."
"Where are the Jewish people?"
"Alive and well. Prospering. In the face of adversity."
"Just as in God's prophecy: Israel Lives."
"Let every Islamic terrorist hear: Israel Lives."
"Let it be heard in the United Nations: Israel Lives. Israel Lives! Israel Lives!"
Hagee's revivalism brought the audience to its feet. Outstretched arms shot into the air to receive the Pastor's charismatic message.