Op-Ed: Should Israel Accept Christian Help?
Giulio MeottiThe writer, an Italian journalist with Il Foglio, writes a twice-weekly...
Twenty years ago, Ariel was a town in the doldrums of Samaria.
Laying the groundwork for making "peace" with the Arabs, then Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin had cut off funding to Jewish settlements. Ariel's residents came to be seen as peace’s spoilers and began to fear for their city's future.
Then came the US Christian groups and Samaria’s capital was “adopted” by Christians of Aurora, Colorado, who took literally verses like Jeremiah 31:5 (“Thou shalt yet plant vines upon the mountains of Samaria”). They ensured that Jewish towns in Judea and Samaria would continue to flourish.
Ariel became a city and you can now see John Hagee building, named for the American preacher whose ministries donated $1.5 million to the city.
During the last few years, US Evangelicals invested million of dollars in school equipment, playgrounds, medical supplies and bulletproof buses to protect the Jews in Judea and Samaria.
Other groups, such as Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein’s International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, played a crucial role in funding a range of humanitarian projects in Israel, like assisting Russian and Ethiopian Jews to make aliya and protecting Sderot’s residents from Hamas’ rockets.
Christian support represents about 3 % of Jewish Agency budget and one in every three American tourists is an Evangelical Christian.
The State of Israel is now living a dilemma about Christian help, after a group of US evangelicals was just allowed to settle near Har Bracha, a Jewish community overlooking Shechem-Nablus.
The Christian arena is now divided in three major groups: the mainline Protestant churches, which are prominently anti-Israel; the Vatican, which is displaying a new aggressiveness against the “chosen people” and Jewish sovereignity; and the US Protestant Evangelicals.
The latter are the best friends of Israel.
On one hand they show a widespread and enthusiastic support of the Jewish state, grounded in a deep attachment to the Bible. Most evangelicals have no problem with understanding the revival of the Jewish people in its land in our day. The horrific events of September 11, when America came under attack from Islamic terrorists, have also reinforced their sense of identification with the Jewish state. They often visited Israeli families who lost relatives under terror attacks.
But on the other hand, the evangelicals didn’t shown a real tendency to curtail their missionary activities among Jews, where such activity has been in evidence in the past.
The question is: should Israel embrace the Christian groups, when their notion of a Second Coming envisages a far less positive role for the Jews and the Jewish state than the current one?
The Jews can’t forget 2,000 years of vicious Christian anti-Semitism - the burning of Jews at the stake and the burning of the Talmud, the disputations and inquisitions, blood libels and pogroms - right up to the Holocaust and through the early years of their statehood.
There is also a midrashic dictum saying: “Esau eternally hates Jacob”.
But for a country short on allies, Israel needs to think twice about rejecting Christians' help. To label all pro-Israel Christians as “missionaries”, as haredim and some leaders are doing, is neither fair nor accurate. It's true that some would like to convert Jews and some want to use the Jews and they make little or no attempt to hide their agenda. But the vast majority simply wants to bless Israel because that is what they believe the Divine Will wants them to do.
Unfortunately, too many Israeli officials and Jewish organizations have come to view the relationship with evangelicals as little more than just another opportunity to solicit funds, rather than to seek a lasting friendship.
Christians belonging to America’s evangelical Protestant churches are among the most outspoken opponents of a U.S.-backed peace plan that would uproot many Jews and establish a Palestinian state. They love Israel passionately and pray for her well-being, and they play a progressively more important role in the formulation of American policy.
So not treating its Christian friends with the respect and admiration they deserve, Israel would do itself a terrible disservice.
Christian Zionism is also not a new phenomenon. There have always been Christians who believed that the biblical prophesies of Israel’s rebirth would be fulfilled. Devout Christians were advocating the restoration of a Jewish state with Jerusalem as its capital long before Herzl and Balfour.
The Puritans who settled in America thought of their new country as the New Jerusalem, their own promised land. But they also taught that the children of Israel would one day return to the Land of Israel. Such sentiments found expression on the political level, too. The American commitment to a Jewish homeland goes back to George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.
It's true that the end-time scenarios offered by some evangelicals are disturbing for Jews (after Jesus’ Second Coming, the Jews will either convert or die). But the hostility toward Israel encouraged by liberal Protestants and by the Vatican poses a much greater near-term threat to Jews than anything the evangelicals espouse.
If the evangelicals want to help and support the tiny Jewish outpost, their efforts should be welcomed as a rare gift. But if they want to blend Judaism with Christianity and playing a deadly game, they should be rejected as suspicious. The “Judeo-Christian agenda” theologically fuses Jews and Christians together without protecting the Jewish faith and mantaining Israel as an independent single-faith-Jewish community.
The Christian friends should remember that the culture of hate and the misunderstanding of the Bible, represented by the tale of Jewish rejection, almost destroyed Christianity and the horrors of the Holocaust are the fruit of a theology that deemed Jews irrelevant at best.
It’s time for Israel’s authorities and the Jewish religious leadership to transform this friendship into an honest and permissible alliance, complete with guidelines and legislation. The emphasis should be placed on justice and morality without the religious trappings.
A strong relationship between the Jewish people and righteous gentiles is a noble endeavor and it may be the key for Israel's survival. They are natural friends in a dangerous world.
But the Jews should be on alert. They are the weaker part of this alliance.
An earlier account says the “Wandering Jew” is a Roman gate-keeper named Cartaphilus who struck Jesus as he went out the door and mocked, “Go quicker, Jesus; why do you loiter?”. Jesus looked back on him saying, “I am going, and you shall wait forever till I return”.