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defending the First Amendment against the Christian right ...

Jews On First!

... because if Jews don't speak out, they'll think we don't mind

Christian Zionists again in the news

Jewish newspapers write of dissent over cooperation with Pastor Hagee, whose group holds event in Madison; Congresswoman opposes Hagee; Israeli religious authorities ban contact with Christian Zionist group

by, May 8, 2007

Reports in two important Jewish newspapers show that cooperation with Christian Zionist leader Pastor John Hagee remains an unsettled issue among Jewish organizations and congregations.

Hagee's organization, Christians United for Israel (CUFI), has become the most prominent Christian Zionist organization in the country (more here). We have posted links to the two news reports and a related exchange of opposing views on a rabbis' listserv. Click here.

Rep. Betty McCollum, a Democrat of Minnesota, has released a letter expressing strong opposition to cooperating with CUFI. You'll find a link to that right below this summary.

Meanwhile, when CUFI held , "A Night to Honor Israel," the event it holds in successive cities, in Madison, Wisconsin, last weekend, some Jews protested outside the church hosting the event, while other Jews attended. There are links to news reports as well as a Madison rabbi's message to her congregation here.

Lastly, Israel's chief rabbis issued a ban on attending a women's conference under the auspices of the Christian Zionist group Bridges for Peace. The ruling is worth noting because the rabbis' authority is more respected by the settler movement than by mainstream Israelis. Bridges for Peace has supported the settlers, as have other Christian Zionists, in keeping with their opposition to trading land for peace. The rabbis expressed concern that the Christians' real intent was to get Jews to accept Jesus. There are links here.

Churches for Middle East Peace Thanks Rep. Betty McCollum

Representative Betty McCollum, April 30, 2007

Churches for Middle East Peace wrote Rep. Betty McCollum (DFL-MN-4) today thanking her for her April 25th letter to a local Minnesota pastor regarding an event organized by Christians United For Israel (CUFI) and for her work on behalf of Israeli-Palestinian peace. In her letter, Rep. McCollum brought attention to statements by CUFI founder, Pastor John Hagee, that demonstrate "extremism, bigotry and intolerance" and expressed her support, in contrast to Pastor Hagee, for "working for the ‘roadmap for peace’ in the Middle East, Israel living side-by-side in peace and security with an independent Palestinian state." Click here to read the PDF document.

Jewish newspapers report dissension on Christian Zionists

Growing Acceptance Seen Of Fiery Pastor
Jewish mainstream rushing to embrace Hagee and his controversial brand of pro-Israel activism.

James D. Besser, New York Jewish Week, May 4, 2007 This report quotes co-director Haim Dov Beliak

Rabbi Jack Moline is a Jewish centrist in almost every respect. He is leader in the Conservative movement, a crusader against intermarriage and a fierce opponent of the religious right’s growing influence on American life.

And the Washington-area rabbi is on the board of the Interfaith Alliance, a relatively new group that has taken the lead in holding the line on church-state questions. Continue.

As Evangelical Firebrand Hooks Up With Federations, Liberals Speak Out

Rebecca Spence, Forward, May 4, 2007

Pastor John Hagee, the firebrand evangelical Christian minister from San Antonio, Texas, had thousands of pro-Israel activists standing, clapping and chanting at this year’s annual convention of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

Hagee’s virtuoso performance at the conference in March underscored his emergence as a linchpin in the growing political alliance between Jewish and evangelical pro-Israel activists. Less well known is that Hagee, who in February 2006 founded the first Christian pro-Israel lobbying group — Christians United for Israel — is working to extend his influence beyond power centers in Washington, to Jewish and evangelical communities across the country.

In little more than a year since its inception, Hagee’s Christian Zionist group — with an almost entirely volunteer staff of 13 regional directors, 46 state directors and more than 85 city directors — has hosted 40 dinners in cities nationwide, well-attended by Jews and evangelicals alike. To date, the events, billed as “Nights to Honor Israel,” have raised more than $10 million for charitable causes in the Jewish state. Continue.

News reports on Hagee prompt rabbis' statements

The article in the Forward prompted Rabbi Jeff Kahn of Temple Har Shalom of Warren, New Jersey to write the following letter to the editor. He also posted the letter on a rabbis' listserv. Rabbi Jonathan Biatch of Temple Beth El in Madison, Wisconsin, posted a message expressing opposition to Kahn's position on the listserv. It follows Kahn's letter. We are posting both letters here with the permission of the authors.

May 4, 2007
Rabbi Jeff Kahn
Christian Zionists

Dear Editor:

Rebecca Spence's article ("As Evangelical Firebrand Hooks Up With Federations, Liberals Speak Out," May 4) makes it clear: too few American Jews embrace and encourage Christian support for Israel. Most Jews, rabbis included, misunderstand Christian Zionism. They harbor preconceived notions of Christianity and ill-conceived impressions of Evangelical Christians. They fail to realize the significance of the Evangelical-Israel connection. They think their own political agenda precludes them from dialogue and solidarity with those who think differently. They have a lot to learn.

The American Jewish community has engaged in productive dialogue and worked in harmony successfully with nearly every segment of the broad spectrum of American life. We've created important coalitions built on common values with other groups and individuals with whom we disagree theologically or socially. So, too, can a mature relationship between Jews and Christian Zionists be established; one based on shared beliefs and goals, understanding and respect. It will be very difficult in the many sectors of the mainstream Jewish community in which Christian Zionism is misunderstood and disregarded. But it can and must be done.

We have an obligation to pursue this relationship for we, too, are supporters of Israel and seekers of common ground in our own society. We must cultivate and nourish this alliance and develop the material, expertise, and programming required to help Jews join with Christians in support of Israel more successfully, specifically addressing issues of comfort, trust, religion and politics. We need to assist pastors, churches and Christian Zionist organizations so that they can construct programs and events more easily embraced by mainstream American Jews. And we must create a culture of appreciation for Christian Zionism and its leaders in our communities, our synagogues and institutions. They are deserving of our thanks, honor, blessing and praise.

I know that we can stand shoulder to shoulder with Christian Zionists in support of Israel despite our theological and political differences. I'm an American Reform congregational rabbi, proudly collaborating with Christian Zionists - and many others - with whom I don't totally agree for nearly thirty years.

Rabbi Jeffrey A. Kahn
Temple Har Shalom of Warren, NJ

Date: Sun, 6 May 2007
From: Rabbi Jonathan Biatch
Subject: Christian Zionists

Dear Jeff and others,

I wanted to respond to your recent posting about Christian Zionists and the ability of American Jews, 'Rabbis included', to appreciate them. As one of the persons quoted in the Forward article (and not entirely correctly, in my recollection), I am puzzled, and I feel a little offended, by Jeff's assertion that we "have a lot to learn." I might suggest that we have a healthy disagreement about what is the better path for the Jewish community and Israel.

Since I was speaking about one particular group led by one particular pastor, I will continue to refer to him: John Hagee and the Christians United for Israel (CUFI). I have no trouble searching for and finding the "shared belief and goals, understanding and respect" that Jeff knows is present. However, some of the unshared beliefs that Hagee expresses are so repugnant that I cannot hold my nose and act as if they are our best friend simply because they claim to support Israel in the ways they do.

His beliefs that the presence of homosexuals caused the destruction of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina; that Islam (and not only radical Islam) is a force that must be defeated and is not - and cannot be - a religion of peace; that Israel must never trade land for peace; and that he can force the arrival of Armageddon by prodding us to war against Iran all frighten me. These are the reasons for my inability to support this organization.

What I think is missing is the debate within the Jewish community, of the benefits or liabilities of being associated with Hagee and CUFI.

One recent article described Hagee's appointment as an honorary chairman of last summer's UJC Lebanon war emergency campaign. This kind of appointment is certainly within the purview of the United Jewish Committees, but it provides a certain legitimacy that other segments of the Jewish community have not been consulted about.

When AIPAC provides him a forum, as it did at its recent national meeting, this increases the pressure to accept him despite the absence of a nationally arrived at consensus.

I appreciate Jeff's suggestion to create a dialogue here. Frankly, I do not mind being in the minority about CUFI and Hagee. If the majority is ultimately correct, then -- as always -- we will still have some top-notch leaders, 'Rabbis included,' among his friends. But I do hope that we -- and not just us Rabbis -- can have that civil conversation.

Jonathan Biatch

Protest greets CUFI event in Madison

A Night to Honor Israel?: Christian Zionism and Jewish Community

by Rabbi Laurie Zimmerman, Congregation Shaarei Shamayim (Madison, Wisconsin) , May, 2007. Rabbi Zimmerman wrote the following for the congregation's newsletter.

On Sunday, May 6, Christians United for Israel (CUFI) will host A Night to Honor Israel, which will take place at the Overture Center at 6:30pm. CUFI is a national Christian evangelical organization whose mission is to build Christian support for Israel and to lobby the U.S. government on security and land issues concerning Israel. A Night to Honor Israel is part of their effort to create alliances with the Jewish community and promote their political positions.

CUFI is a leading Christian Zionist organization. Christian Zionists are Protestant fundamentalists who believe that the modern State of Israel is the fulfillment of a Biblical mandate and that the land from the Euphrates to the Nile belongs exclusively and eternally to the Jews. They support the extreme right-wing in Israel who wish to reclaim all of Biblical Israel by driving several million Palestinians from their homes. Please click here to read this PDF document.

Israel event draws protest

Brittany Schoepp And Chris Martell, Wisconsin State Journal, May 7, 2007

A national Christian group founded to support Israel held an event in that nation's honor Sunday night in Madison, drawing protesters who argue the group is taking advantage of Jewish people and aims to hasten the apocalypse.

But David Brog, executive director of Christians United for Israel, who came to speak Sunday at "An Evening to Honor Israel," said he is surprised by the level of misunderstanding his organization generates, especially in places such as Madison and Berkeley, Calif.

"There is mistrust of conservative Christians, especially in places where there are a lot of liberal activists who jump to conclusions and don't have open minds," he said. Continue

Pro-Israel, and pro-Armageddon
Upcoming Overture Center event divides local Jews

Esty Dinur, The Daily Paper (Madison, Wisconsin), April 26, 2007

For the past several months, full-color ads have run in the Madison Jewish News announcing the 'Night to Honor Israel' at the Overture Center. The May 6 event, part of a national campaign by a Zionist group called Christians United for Israel, has drawn a sharply critical response from some local rabbis and progressive Jews.

'My concern is that Christians United for Israel love Israel, but for their own purposes, which are at odds with many of the values of the progressive Jewish community,' says Rabbi Jonathan Biatch of Temple Beth El. Continue

Madison’s ‘Night to Honor Israel’ provokes dispute

By Leon Cohen, Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle, May 10, 2007

Madison — In 1981, Pastor John C. Hagee — head of an evangelical church in San Antonio, Texas, and a Christian Zionist — felt powerfully disturbed by the widespread negative reaction to the Israeli air raid that destroyed the Iraqi nuclear reactor.

So he organized the first “Night to Honor Israel” to both celebrate Israel’s existence and raise funds to help support it.

Not only have numerous such events been held in Texas since then; but about two years ago, Hagee helped create a national organization, Christians United for Israel, that has been organizing events like it all across the country. Some 40 are scheduled for 2007 — including the first in Wisconsin.

It is being organized by Pastor Joel Kitsemble. Head of Madison’s 300-member Spirit of Faith Church, he is also director of the new Wisconsin chapter of Christians United for Israel. Continue.

Christian Zionists raise hackles over fundraiser

Judith Davidoff, The Capital Times via Western Voices World News, April 24, 2007

An influential group of evangelical Christian Zionists that has rented the Capitol Theater to honor and raise money for Israel is getting an icy reception from some in the Madison Jewish community.

Rabbi Jonathan Biatch of Temple Beth El denounced the group, Christians United for Israel, in a March 23 sermon for its aggressive stand toward Iran and its conservative stances on social issues. The local chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, a national grass-roots group, is planning to protest outside the theater in the Overture Center during the May 6 event.

Rabbi Laurie Zimmerman of Shaarei Shamayim is also not a fan, but Steve Morrison, executive director of the Madison Jewish Community Center, is not bothered by the controversy. Continue

Israeli religious authorities ban contact with Christian Zionist organization

Background: Arutz Sheva is a right-wing radio station representing the settler movment in Israel and their funders in the United States. The article and the subseqent radio program are noteworthy for their backing away from a close connection to Christian Zionism as embodied in Bridges for Peace. Rabbi Simcha Kook is a scion of the family that includes Rabbi Zvi Yehudah Kook (1891-1982), considered by many to be the ideological grandfather of the religious settler movement. Rabbi Zvi Yehudah's father, Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook (1865-1935) is the founder of the most important religious Zionist Yeshivah, Merkaz HaRav. Rav Simcha Kook's claim that Bridges for Peace's efforts are part of "a long-running campaign to bring Israeli-Jews to believe in Jesus" has for some time been the centrist view in Israel.

Chief Rabbinate Nixes Christian-Jewish Conference

Hillel Fendel, Arutz Sheva, May 7, 2007

The Chief Rabbinate has banned participation in the Bridges for Peace women's conference scheduled for next week in Jerusalem.

Participation in the "Woman to Woman" Conference in Jerusalem next week, sponsored by the Christian "Bridges for Peace" organization, has been banned by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. The event is set to coincide with the celebrations commemorating the 40th anniversary of Jerusalem's re-unification in the Six Day War.

A special Rabbinate committee, headed by Rabbi Simcha Kook of Rechovot, ruled on Thursday that concentration on "Judeo-Christian values" and the study of "the Jewish foundations of Christianity" are forbidden. The rabbis ruled that these efforts are actually part of a long-running campaign to bring Israeli-Jews to believe in Jesus.

Promotional literature for the Woman to Woman conference, to take place in Jerusalem from May 16-19, describes it as "Jewish and Christian women together, studying the Word [italics added] and working together to build bonds of friendship and bring comfort to the people of Israel." Each Conference day will begin with "praise and worship... in preparation for an exciting series of visits and speakers, focusing on the roles, experiences, and opportunities for Women in Israel." Continue

Bridges for Peace, Women to Women Event 2007
May 15-19, 2007

Website set up by Bridges for Peace for Israeli women

Bridges For Peace presents a special, intimate encounter for women. Join women from around the world and be a part of changing the face of Jewish-Christian relations as you meet Jewish women from various spheres of influence in Jewish society. Jewish and Christian guest speakers will be covering topics such as the Holocaust, Jewish Shabbat practice, aliyah, the media, current events, and the Hebraic roots of the Christian faith. Continue

Women to Women Event 2007

Bridges for Peace website aimed at Christian women

Bridges for Peace presents our first conference from women, for women. Join women from around the world in Jerusalem and be a part of changing the face of Jewish -- Christian relations as you meet Jewish women from various spheres of influence in Jewish society, one-on-one.

These invited guest speakers will be covering topics such as the Holocaust, Jewish Sabbath practice, immigration, the media, current events, and the Hebraic roots of the Christian faith. Continue

Prominent evangelical backs out of pro-Israel event over proselytizing disclaimer

Jim Brown, via, March 28, 2007

Christian radio talk-show host Janet Parshall, a high-profile American evangelical known for her strong support of Israel, has dropped out of a Jerusalem conference sponsored by a Christian caucus of the Israeli Parliament. Parshall says she decided not to speak at the conference after she learned that the Knesset Christian Allies Caucus "condemns" and does not associate with groups that share the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Parshall says she is also troubled that the strict religious political party Shas has yet again introduced legislation in the Knesset that would give up to a one-year prison sentence for people who share the gospel in Israel. "I thought, wait a minute: we can't just blindly support Israel," she observes. "We have to be able to tell them, as a friend, [that] you can't do that. You can't silence us." Continue