Is Christian Evangelical Support for Israel Kosher?

Some Christians embrace Jews and Israel for the right reasons while others do not.

Matthew M. Hausman, J.D.

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Matthew Hausman

Support for Israel among evangelical Christians is a growing phenomenon that has many American Jews scratching their heads and asking questions. Is Christian support sincere or is it merely subterfuge to facilitate the missionary impulse? Do Christian “love offerings” for Israel come with theological strings or are they presented free and clear?

These questions are understandable given the long history of Christian anti-Semitism and missionary excess. However, an alarming number of secular Jews today are so divorced from Jewish tradition and practice that these questions are devoid of historical context. Skepticism regarding evangelical support is often informed by liberal political sensibilities, and suspicion of evangelicals’ motivations is more likely influenced by distrust of their social and political conservatism than by any collective memory of the horrors suffered by the Jews in Europe.

Ironically, those who marginalize Christian Zionists are often the same people who naively sit with Islamist groups in the name of interfaith dialogue, who excuse the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (“BDS”) movement because of its progressive roots, and who preach acceptance of a revisionist Palestinian narrative that denies historical Jewish claims.

Many Christians today believe in Israel’s right to exist. Conversely, few Muslims do, if any.
Whereas Muslim groups with whom liberals seek discourse often believe as a matter of faith that the Jews were subjugated and have no right to sovereignty in their homeland, many Christians support Jewish historical claims and are not afraid to back up their words with actions. Regardless of their motivations, many Christians today believe in Israel’s right to exist. Conversely, few Muslims do, if any.

Such words and actions were on display on May 19th at the “United Jerusalem Day Celebration” sponsored by the Victory Assembly of G-d Church in Sharon, Massachusetts. The program featured a diverse array of speakers, including: Shai Bazak, Israel’s Consul General to New England; Colonel Amnon Meir, the IDF’s Liaison Officer to TRADOC; Cathy Lanyard, Executive Director of American Friends of ALYN Hospital-Jerusalem; and Rabbi Jonathan Hausman, an American congregational rabbi who speaks internationally on Islam, Sharia and free speech issues and who serves on the board of American Friends of ALYN.

The keynote address was delivered by Dr. Pat Robertson, Chairman of the Christian Broadcasting Network, and affecting words were offered by Pastor Joe Green, of Rabbis and Ministers for Israel, Dick Ingram, Senior Pastor of Victory Church, and Rev. Fumio Taku, President of Christians and Jews United for Israel.

The program was billed as “a non-partisan event for all friends of Israel,” and indeed it seemed to be. There was no hint of replacement theology in the remarks offered by any of the Christian clergy, and there were no religious displays that would have offended Jewish sensibilities. Instead of crucifixes, the auditorium was draped in American and Israeli flags. And instead of taking a collection to support church or missionary activities, all donations from the crowd were dedicated to ALYN, consistent with promotional literature stating that all proceeds of “a freewill love offering . . . will be given to benefit the physically disabled children of ALYN Hospital in Jerusalem.” The evangelical community is proving to be a fertile ground for fundraising by Jewish institutions.

The Christian audience gave warm applause as the Jewish speakers offered their insights on Israel, her relationship with the United States, and her future as a safe and secure Jewish nation. Yet, one could not help but wonder whether the crowd was clapping for the right reasons. Were these displays of support for Israel based on a theology that demands the Jews’ return and ultimate conversion, or on the acceptance of Jewish text and history on their own terms without the need to inject Christological meaning where it neither exists nor belongs?

The answer is somewhat complicated and requires analysis of both perspectives. Some Christians clearly support Israel only because they believe that the ingathering and conversion of the Jews is necessary to usher in the “Rapture” as prophesied in Christian scripture. However, others appear to support Israel because they accept the validity of Jewish belief, practice and history.

Some evangelical communities accept Tanach without the need to torture the language and Christianize the message, and many are familiar with Jewish history. Indeed, many evangelicals understand that the Jews originated in ancient Israel and continued to have a presence there after the Dispersion, that their religious and national identity is organically intertwined with their homeland, and that they are connected by descent as well as belief wherever they live.

A generation ago, evangelical supporters of Israel were more likely to believe that the return of the Jews was a prerequisite for Armageddon, and such views were based in part on the corruption or misperception of Tanach and rabbinic literature. However, the understanding of Judaism began to evolve for many evangelicals as their knowledge of Jewish text and history began to improve; and since the 1980s many of them have become staunch supporters of Israel and Jewish institutions. Clearly, many Christians today respect the integrity of Jewish religion and national identity.

Many of them admire the Hebrew canon and are acutely aware of the affinity between the values it contains and American constitutional principles. Moreover, many Christians today have renounced evangelization of the Jews as they have come to appreciate the contextual relationship between the Jewish and Christian traditions. It is not lost on many of them that Christianity could not exist without Judaism, but that its existence is irrelevant to the continuity of Jewish belief, practice and identity.

For some, the frame of reference has changed as they’ve come to learn how Judaism differs from Christianity in certain fundamental respects; for example, in the absence of a missionary imperative. The Rabbis long ago recognized that Jewish observance is incumbent only upon the Jews because of their unique ancestry and covenant with the Almighty, but that other peoples can come to know G-d through their own belief systems and by acceptance of the seven Noahide commandments. Accordingly, some Christians reject replacement theology because they believe that the covenant between G-d and
Those Jews who intuitively suspect the motivations of Christian Zionists are not wrong for questioning their intent.
Abraham remains unbroken and, consequently, that there is no need to “save” Jews through conversion to Christianity. Then again, there are still denominations, like the Southern Baptist Convention, that continue to target Jews for conversionary harassment.

Those Jews who intuitively suspect the motivations of Christian Zionists are not wrong for questioning their intent. In light of Christendom’s traditionally poor treatment of Jews since the days of Constantine, the burden is on pro-Israel Christians to show that their motives are genuine. However, it cannot be ignored that many of those who distrust Christian intent are secular progressives who seem more offended by the evangelical stance on social issues than by the history of the pogroms, Crusades, expulsions and genocides. Interestingly, these same critics generally have no problem dialoguing with Arab-Muslim groups that reject Israel’s right to exist and whose theological outlook has exuded anti-Semitism since the rise of Islam.

Secular westerners often buy into the myth of Muslim tolerance though they have little understanding of Islamic doctrine or the history of Jews in Muslim society. As those of Sephardic, Mizrachi or Yemeni ancestry can attest, Jewish life in the Arab-Muslim world was precarious at best; and the stark realities of that life characterized Islamic culture long before the rebirth of the Jewish State in 1948. Indeed, Maimonides in his Epistle to Yemen in 1172 addressed the issue of Muslim persecution during a period when the Jews of Yemen were suffering horribly at the hands of the Shiite Arabs. That this persecution preceded the modern State of Israel by eight centuries should debunk the revisionist claim that Muslim anti-Semitism is the result of alleged Israeli aggression and is not endemic to Islamic society.

Those familiar with the Quran know that its blueprint for dealing with Jews is far from tolerant, as illustrated by the account of Mohammed’s slaughter of the Jews of Yathrib (al-Medina). Traditionally, Jews in Muslim society were degraded, segregated, and denied equal rights. Since the early Islamic period, when Jews were forced to wear distinctive clothing and were often physically branded, they have been subjected to all forms of harassment. In many Arab countries, Jews were required to live in ghettos and were not permitted to use the same public bathhouses as Muslims.

Throughout the Mideast and North Africa, Jews were subjected to pogroms, massacres and forced conversions much as they were in Europe. There was little benevolence shown to Jews living under Muslim rule during Spain’s “Golden Age,” when Maimonides and his family fled their native Cordoba after the conquering Almohads gave the Jewish community the choice of conversion to Islam or death.

As a people of dhimmi (i.e., subjugated) status, Jews had few substantive rights, and their survival hinged on the mercurial indulgence of the Muslim majority. Although many in the West believe that Jewish life was more tolerable in Muslim lands, the general treatment of Jews was often not much different than in Christian Europe. In fact, some of the most emblematic symbols of European anti-Semitism, such as laws requiring Jews to wear distinctive badges and clothing, were innovations brought back from the Muslim world by the Crusaders. But as secular, democratic society evolved, Jews in much of the West tended to fare better than they did under Islam. Not surprisingly, the only place in the Mideast where Christians have always enjoyed equal rights and religious freedom is Israel.

The disparate way secular progressives regard Christians and Muslims reflects the misguided endorsement of political Islam as a natural reaction against western chauvinism. This view, however, ignores the history of Islamist supremacism and the expansionist aims of jihad, which instigated Arab-Muslim conquests in Europe and Eurasia long before the first Crusader ever set foot in the Mideast. The clash of civilizations caused by these jihadist incursions continues to fuel tensions and unrest in the Balkans and the Caucasus today.

Those who question whether Christian Zionists should be embraced or rebuffed need to look inward and address how support for Israel and Jewish institutions has dissipated among secular Jews and the nontraditional movements in recent years.

They need to ask why only 25% of American Jews have ever visited Israel and why so many liberal Jews support organizations like J Street and the New Israel Fund, which claim to support Israel and Jewish values, but which in reality promote and enable those who flout those values and seek Israel’s destruction.

They need to ask why so many progressive Jews, including many Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist rabbis, advocate a Palestinian narrative that is fundamentally anti-Semitic and premised on a denial of Jewish history. Finally, they need to ask why so many of their numbers actively support the BDS movement and Israel Apartheid Week, and why they falsely promote the progressive agenda as inherently consistent with Jewish values even when it conflicts with traditional Jewish law.

Secular Jews also need to analyze whether certain establishment organizations, such as the Anti-Defamation League, still represent Jewish values and interests or if political correctness has rendered them irrelevant. Jewish advocates should be troubled by the ADL’s preoccupation with “Islamophobia” when law enforcement statistics actually show that anti-Muslim discrimination occurs very rarely in the United States. Though the ADL worries about the dramatic increase in anti-Semitism, it ironically ignores the role that doctrinal Islam plays in spreading Jew-hatred. Instead, it persists in exhorting against an anti-Muslim bias that statistically seems not to exist, and in cooperating with Muslim advocacy groups to lobby against legislative efforts (as in Florida) seeking to prevent the intrusion of foreign laws, including Sharia, into state judicial systems.

A sad reality of American life is that support for Jewish causes – not just for Israel – has fallen dramatically among secular and liberal Jews and in the nontraditional movements. Although there is nothing inherently wrong with Jews supporting non-Jewish institutions such as universities and hospitals, it should not divert their attention from Jewish philanthropies. Those who choose instead to support organizations that promote BDS activities, accuse Israel of apartheid, and oppose her continuity as a Jewish state have no standing to criticize Jewish institutions that accept Christian donations.

If giving to philanthropies and institutions that support Israel or promote traditional Jewish values is no longer a priority for secular and progressive Jews – many of whom instead support organizations that challenge Israel’s legitimacy – then Christian contributions should not be rejected out of hand. However, accepting evangelical support does not obviate the obligation to scrutinize the motivations behind it. Christian supporters should be vetted and screened for conversionary agendas, and their donations should be rejected if they intend to proselytize or enable messianic Judaism in any way.

Because so many aspects of Christian doctrine are antithetical to Jewish belief and practice, any movement claiming to integrate both belief systems is internally flawed and incongruent.
In fact, evangelicals’ regard for “Jewish Christians” may provide a measure of their intentions. Messianic Judaism is simply Christianity with a superficial overlay of Jewish customs and traditions, and a large percentage of its constituency is not halakhically Jewish. Moreover, messianic “rabbi ministers” are missionaries with no rabbinical authority, whose understanding of messianic redemption is Christian rather than Jewish and whose theology is incompatible with normative Judaism. Because so many aspects of Christian doctrine are antithetical to Jewish belief and practice, any movement claiming to integrate both belief systems is internally flawed and incongruent. Those evangelicals who insist on bringing messianic Jews to the table should be regarded with suspicion.

Nevertheless, at a time when support for Israel among secular, liberal and nontraditional segments of the Jewish population is waning, other resources must be marshaled to fill the void. Some Christian Zionists have pure intentions; but even those with surreptitious agendas may well have the capacity to learn and grow. If anything, the warm reception and expressions of good will at the United Jerusalem Day Celebration in Massachusetts seemed to evidence the ability to mature in understanding.

The bottom line is that some Christians embrace Jews and Israel for the right reasons while others do not. Therefore, evangelical donations should be viewed with a healthy sense of caveat emptor until the givers’ true intentions can be determined. But with secular and liberal giving to Israel and Jewish institutions on the decline, and in light of Israel’s need to cultivate allies abroad, it may not be wise to reject all offers of Christian support automatically without first evaluating its purpose.