03 February 2008

03 February 2008 - Yes to evangelicals

Yechiel Eckstein, my former rabbi--former in the sense that he was the rabbi at Skokie Valley Traditional Synagogue, where I went as a kid--heads the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ). The IFCJ has been instrumental in nurturing support among evangelical Christians for Israel. Recently, it received a seat on the board of the Jewish Agency, Israel's official arm for immigration and Diaspora affairs.

Rabbi Eckstein has written an op-ed in Haaretz defending the appointment, which gives evangelican Christians an indirect say in Jewish affairs. I have to say I agree with him, especially this paragraph:

In my experience, the view that in supporting Israel Christians are furthering their own "end times" scenario is usually held by those who know nothing about real Christians and their theology, and who are, frankly, prejudiced against them. In fact, most of IFCJ's donors base their support upon the biblical call to bless Israel and support the Jewish people in their time of need.

That's been my experience, too. I also think evangelicals are, generally speaking, true friends of Israel who have rallied to her cause in a time of need. I don't agree with everything evangelicals want Israel to do, and of course there are religious differences that aren't going to go away, but on balance evangelical Christianity is a force for human rights and democracy in the Middle East. Those are values worth sharing, and defending.


At 3:43 PM, Anonymous Adam said...

The problem with evangelical Christians (EC) receiving a seat in the Jewish agency (JA), in my opinion, has nothing to do with Christian teachings about doomsday etc. I could care less about that. The biggest problem lies in the extreme right wing positions the evangelicals endorse.

Now, even if, Like the oped says, it's not a "right wing" seat, still, the importance of the sybolism should not be understated. The EC have played a critical role in supporting and perpetuating Israeli expansionism beyond the Green Line, and their support of the settlement enterprise is second only to Avigdor Liberman and Moledet et. al. The JA, of course, has also been complicit in the same deeds.

Funny how Israel, with a 20% Palestinian minority prefers EC over giving a seat on its board to a largely unrepresented group in Israel. Although I think there is an Israeli Palestinian occupying a seat in the JA (or maybe it's Kakal, I can't remember now), that appointment was very controversial and barely passed (if it passed at all).

At any rate, even if one does not support the apointment of a Palestinian for a seat on the JA, the involvement of EC in determining Israeli policy is troubling, especially since they espouse views that the majority of Israelis have since relinquished in favor of a more equitable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Why they should get any say at all is beyond me.

At 5:39 AM, Blogger Calev said...

At the risk of sounding like Tevye, you're both right!
Yes, many Christian supporters of Israel do so because they recognise the blood guilt on their church and want to make a "tikkun" by blessing Avraham and his descendents.
However, there is also a significant proportion (how many exactly who can possibly say?) who believe that by bringing all the Jews together in Eretz Yisrael they'll bring Joschka back. While I don't feel comfortable being party to their end-of-the-world fantasies, the fact is that they're free to believe what they will. What will happen will happen not because a bunch of Bible belters with a superficial, literalist and simplistic reading of the Scriptures think it will but because Hashem wills it. So if the Evangelicals want to give money to support Jews making aliyah and to support the State of Israel that's fine by me - as long as they keep their beliefs to themselves and don't try to proselytise.
Alas, some of them can't resist the temptation to do just that. Wary of alienating the Jewish Agency and other partners, "Christian Zionist" organisations don't actively try to convert Jews. But they know that by bringing material and emotional support to marginalised, impoverished Jews in the Former Sovet Union and elsewhere that they can hook a fair number of them. Indeed, the spokeswoman for one Christian organisation boasted to me that some 80% of the people they helped to make aliyah from the FSU ended up in Messianic congregations in Israel.
Not only that, as Adam writes, some of the Evangelical activists/decision makers/polemicists hold fantastical right-wing positions. My politics would be considered by many people to be fairly hawkish on Israel but the positions held by some Evangelicals are, frankly, scary. I was at one meeting where the guest Christian speaker was basically urging us Jews to start a war as soon as possible. And when I countered that it was not for him to instruct us on the spilling of Jewish blood he started waving around his belief in God. I then had to remind him whose God it was that he believed in. Not a successful meeting.
In short, let's accept the Evangelicals' material support - no reason not to. But let's do it on our terms.
Our primary and ultimate support is Hakadosh Baruch Hu - it's up to us to ensure that we merit His support. Everything else should be just the icing on the cake. The real worry is that the weakness within the Jewish People (assimilation etc) means that we are in danger of becoming dependent on Christian aid. Heaven help us.

At 10:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Adam is under a misapprehension. The JA is not the Israeli government. Better to be in the main tent than supporting the settlers from the outside.

At 9:47 AM, Anonymous Calev said...

Anonymous is also right! (It's been ages since I agreed with so many people so often!) Adam is, in terms of his comments concerning Arab representation on the JA, under a misapprehension. That's putting it politely.


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