by JewsOnFirst.org, May 21, 2007
In a major development in the debate raging over participating in Christian Zionist "Nights to Honor Israel," the leader of Reform Judaism, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, has sharply criticized the involvement of local Jewish federations in the events. Yoffie, the president of the Union of Reform Judaism, wrote in the national Jewish weekly Forward that the federations' cooperation with Christians United for Israel (CUFI) is alienating the upcoming generation of Jewish community leaders.
Yoffie's op-ed appeared the Friday before two Conservative movement rabbis took part in a May 20th CUFI "Night to Honor Israel" in the Washington DC area. One of those rabbis told JewsOnFirst that he was participating despite his disagreement with the organizers' politics, because of their support of Israel.
CUFI and other Christian Zionist organizations support Israel because of a non-mainstream biblical interpretation that the end-times battle of Armageddon will take place in Israel and presage the return of Jesus.
The religious right positions of CUFI leader John Hagee, a televangelist and San Antonio megachurch pastor, are at odds with the tolerance and pluralism of young Jews who involve themselves in Jewish communal activities, Yoffie wrote in his Forward op-ed.
We know a great deal about Jewish young adults. We have learned from extensive research that these young people are often more socially liberal than their baby-boomer parents. They are pluralistic in their thinking, and they are tolerant of difference, especially differences in gender and sexual orientation.
They respond negatively to those who disparage other religious traditions and who make exclusivist religious claims. They are insistently centrist in their political views on the Middle East. And they are suspicious of a Jewish establishment that they see as too focused on money and insufficiently focused on values.
And so whom do we offer to these young people as a spokesman for Israel? John Hagee, who is contemptuous of Muslims, dismissive of gays, possesses a triumphalist theology and opposes a two-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. If our intention was to distance our young adults from the Jewish state, we could not have made a better choice.
Yoffie said the decision of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee to give Hagee a forum at its recent convention (more here) signified a stamp of approval to local Jewish federations. The federations' participation in CUFI's Nights to Honor Israel, usually held at a church, is rewarded with contributions from the Christian attendees (see sidebar on the upcoming Night to Honor Israel in Phoenix). This, wrote Yoffie, is likely to give young Jews the impression that "we are simply selling our souls."
Yoffie's op-ed is likely to encourage Reform movement rabbis who have been reluctant to participate in CUFI events. Local federations have in some cases pressured rabbis to participate in CUFI Nights to Honor Israel.
In March, Rabbi Jonathan Biatch of Temple Beth El in Madison gave a sermon explaining why he would not participate in the Night to Honor Israel in that city.
In the Washington DC area, two rabbis affiliated with the Conservative movement participated in a CUFI Night to Honor Israel on May 20th: Rabbi Jack Moline of Agudas Achim Congregation in Alexandria, Virginia, where the event was held, and Rabbi Marvin Bash, who is chaplain at Fort Belvoir, a military installation in Virginia.
Moline's participation was the lead of a May 4th report by the New York Jewish Week on Jewish organizations' increasing acceptance of Hagee and CUFI. The paper reported:
Rabbi Moline’s participation marks the growing — if uneasy — acceptance of Rev. Hagee’s brand of pro-Israel activism across the Jewish community. Mainstream Jewish leaders are rushing to embrace him, despite continuing concerns about his apocalyptic views about Israel’s future, his open advocacy of war with Iran and his harsh domestic views, and critics are being pressured into silence.
Unlike CUFI events which raise money for local Jewish federations, the beneficiary of the May 20th event was a charity connected with Shiloh, an extremist Jewish settlement in the West Bank; Shiloh's ex-mayor was a speaker. The event's keynote speaker was Joseph Farah, editor of WorldNetDaily.com, which has long been a platform for the far right, the religious right and the Israeli settler movement.
Because of the political character of this event -- and because Rabbi Moline is the chair of the Interfaith Alliance, which was founded to oppose the religious right -- JewsOnFirst asked both rabbis to comment on their participation in the Night to Honor Israel.
Moline said he was participating because the event was at a facility near his congregation in Alexandria. "As the local Conservative rabbi, my physical presence anywhere that evening would give a message," he said. "If the issue is support for Israel's security, I want to offer encouragement. I certainly do not want to be outside protesting, nor do I want to ignore them. They love Israel and the Jewish people. So do I."
Moline said he had made clear his political and theological differences with with CUFI to the event organizers and that he does not support Shiloh ex-Mayor David Rubin's "politics or militant stance."
As to the Interfaith Alliance, which explicitly opposes the religious right and states a commitment to oppose "political religious extremism," Moline said he was participating in his personal capacity. Major leaders of the religious right are on CUFI's leadership bodies.
Moline provided the text of his invocation at the Night to Honor Israel In it, Moline appears to chide the exclusivist Christian audience with a reminder that Jews and Christians who love them are only a small part of the world's people.
I know that many of you identify strongly with Ruth. You are not Moabites and you are not my sons- and daughters-in-law, but you have sought God’s voice in your sacred silence and you cling to my suspicious people and their land with professions of love. I admire that love. I bask in that love. I love that love, and love you right back. And in that love I remind you that we are but two of the seventy, and there are sixty-eight more voices, sixty-eight more peoples who are needed to make this world complete.
Moline does not critically address the source of that love — the role of Israel in the Armageddon end-times scenario which is the core of Christian Zionism. In that non-mainstream biblical interpretation, Jews ultimately are forced to choose between conversion to Christianity and damnation.
On Friday, Rabbi Marvin Bash requested that questions about his participation in the CUFI event be emailed to him, which we did. He has not yet responded to them.
An email sent out by the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix, May 17, 2007
The Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix has been asked to invite members of the Jewish community as guests to "A Night to Honor Israel" presented by Christians United for Israel, on June 24, 2007 at 6:30 pm at the Phoenix Symphony Hall.
If you are interested, please let us know as soon as possible and we will reserve two tickets for you. Contact Penny at 480-634-4900 ext. 1120 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The evening, which is non-conversionary in nature, will feature Pastor John Hagee as keynote speaker. Pastor Hagee recently delivered a stirring and inspirational speech at the AIPAC Policy Conference. The event will also include festive music and a special presentation of a gift to the Nation of Israel through the Federation.
"A Night to Honor Israel" is a tribute to the nation of Israel and the Jewish people of the world. Its purpose is to promote esteem and understanding between Christians and Jews and to emphasize that the beliefs we hold in common are far greater than the differences we have allowed to separate us.
In February, 2006, Pastor John Hagee, the recipient of the Humanitarian of the Year Award by B'nai B'rith and various other Jewish honors, decided the time had come to create a national grassroots movement focused on the support of Israel. He called upon Christian leaders from across America to join him in launching this new initiative. Over 400 Christian leaders each representing a denomination, mega- church, media ministry, publishing company, or Christian university answered the call* and Christians United for Israel was born. To date, they have held more than 50 such events across the US in just over a year and have raised more than $10 million on behalf of Israel.
Director of Community Relations
Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix
12701 N. Scottsdale Road, Ste 201
Scottsdale, AZ 85254
*These Christian leaders include the major leaders of the domestic religious right.