It is often said that ridiculing Christians and their beliefs is the last acceptable form of bigotry. Ultra-secular critics on the left, of course, usually scoff at this notion. But sometimes an example of anti-Christian bile comes along that is so blatant, misleading and littered with judgmental smugness, that I find it difficult to remain silent. Consider the left-wing organization J Street, which claims to be a pro-Israel advocacy group, but which, oddly enough, never misses a chance to slam Israeli policies, particularly when the Jewish State dares defend itself against Islamic terrorism. J Street released a bordering-on-hysteria press release last month to coincide with the annual Christians United for Israel (CUFI) conference in Washington, D.C. Here is the most relevant excerpt:
…J Street opposes an unholy alliance between right-wing Christian Zionist evangelicals and pro-Israel organizations. Besides being out of step with fundamental Jewish American values, Hagee’s so-called support for Israel is actually a means to an apocalyptic end of destruction or conversion for the Jewish people.
In our search for allies in the fight to keep Israel secure, American Jews should neither compromise our core Jewish values of tolerance and justice, nor gloss over the reality of the damage the settlement enterprise causes to Israel and the prospects for peace.
Where to begin? First off, let’s try a little experiment. Substitute “devout, Koran-believing Muslims” or “Torah-believing Jews” for “right-wing Christian Zionists.” The outcry from leftist groups like J Street would undoubtedly be loud and intense. But slander Christian evangelicals as J Street does in this outrageously bigoted press release, and it registers nary a blip on the radar of the mainstream media or most civil rights groups.
Indeed, J Street’s statement goes far beyond criticizing the views of Pastor John Hagee, who organized the CUFI conference. The group is, of course, perfectly free to criticize Hagee if it disagrees with his personal viewpoints. This is a free country. But by tarring all evangelical Christian supporters of Israel as part of some sinister movement that is “unholy,” “apocalyptic” and destructive for the Jewish people, J Street descends into stereotyping and demonization of the worst kind.
Since I spent two full days covering the CUFI conference at the Washington Convention Center on July 21 and 22 (watch my report on the event here and read my blog entry here), let me give some personal observations on what I saw and heard--and what J Street is so contemptuous of.
Not once--in the course of some 20 hours of coverage and countless conversations with conference-goers—did I hear the terms “apocalypse,” “Armageddon,” ‘Antichrist,” or “End Times,” mentioned. Nor did I hear any discussion of the Book of Revelation or of converting Jews. I realize this may come as a shock to J Street, which apparently views such events as fire-and-brimstone hatefests complete with snake taming and calls to nuke Mecca. What I witnessed instead were thousands of attendees, Christian, Jewish and secular, expressing a genuine, deep and heartfelt love for the Land of Israel--its history, beauty and legacy—and especially, its people. As you can see from my report, the place was literally a sea of Israeli and American flags: a true celebration of the Jewish State. There were Hebrew prayers, Hebrew songs, shofars, Torah readings and passionate speeches by Jewish leaders, lawmakers and religious figures. There were also some tears shed. I know it may all sound very “kumbaya,” but I have covered countless manufactured, shallow mega-events in DC over the past six years and let me tell you: what I saw at CUFI was 100 percent genuine.
If this was the kind of doom-and-gloom affair that J Street alludes to, I must have missed it. So must have Senator Joe Lieberman, Rep. Shelley Berkley and talk radio hosts Dennis Prager and Michael Medved: all prominent, proud Jews who spoke at the CUFI gala.
Since the folks at J Street obviously have a very narrow view of what it means to be a Christian supporter of Israel, let me enlighten them a bit by sharing my own personal story. I was raised in a heavily Catholic area of working class Philadelphia by a father who was a veteran of the U.S. 101st Airborne Division. Not surprisingly, my Dad was a big military history buff and a close follower of current events. He passed those passions on to my brother and me. By the time I reached my teen years, we would stay up, sometimes into the wee hours, discussing history’s great empires, battles and military leaders.
Maybe it was the fact that we Philly guys always love an underdog. But my dad was one tough dude, and there was no country he admired more for its grit and determination than Israel. “That tiny sliver of land,” he used to marvel. “They’re surrounded by enemies on all sides. And yet still they pull off victory after victory. Those are some tough Jews!” From Moshe Dayan to Entebbe, from King David to Camp David, through my father, I became well acquainted with Israeli history in my formative years and developed a lasting admiration for the Land and its people. As I reached high school, I was also fortunate enough to develop great friendships with Jewish teammates, teachers and coaches.
Nowhere did my religious beliefs factor into those friendships. As a matter of fact, all of this happened years before I even picked up a Bible or began taking my Christianity seriously. Interestingly enough, I found that my buddies from the neighborhood in Philly shared my positive view of Israel. They may not have been big observers of geopolitics, but they were hugely patriotic. common sense told them that the Israelis were fighting the good fight and were kindred spirits: a free, democratic people who were loyal allies of the United States.
When I finally did get around to picking up a Bible about seven years ago, I discovered a startling thing: this Book was essentially a history of Israel and the Jewish people up until the first century AD. Even more jarring to my senses was the realization that Jesus was a Jewish rabbi who fiercely loved his fellow Jews. His mother, Mary, was also a Jew. So were all twelve apostles. In fact, Christianity was founded by—you guessed it—Jews. In addition, Abraham, Moses, Joseph, King David and all the Old Testament heroes who I had grown to love and admire so much were Israeli Jews. I began to realize that Christianity owed a huge debt to Israel and the Jewish people. It may sound crazy to some, but let’s face it: this is both a historically and biblically undeniable fact, and--apologies to J Street--has nothing to do with the “end of the world.”
Bringing it back to the secular level, the friendships I have developed with Israeli colleagues over the past six years, and especially my trip to Israel last November, have solidified my support for the country. As if I didn’t realize it before, walking through the besieged city of Sderot and seeing Hamas missiles literally stamped “Made in Iran” truly brought home the fact that Israel’s enemies are America’s enemies. We share a common radical Islamic foe that seeks our destruction. That alone is reason enough for mutual understanding and support.
I strongly suspect that the vast majority of attendees at the CUFI conference view Israel in a similar way. Or as JTA’s Eric Fingerhut—who also covered the event—puts it:
“I've talked to enough Christian Zionists over the past few years to believe that for the vast majority of them, their support for the Jewish state is genuinely motivated by Genesis's admonitition that God will bless those who bless the Jewish people, as well as their respect for Judaism as a foundation for Christianity or even their general beliefs about U.S. foriegn policy.”
In closing, if J Steet truly has Israel’s best interests at heart, why on earth would it seek to alienate an estimated 70 million American evangelical Christians who are strongly inclined towards Israel during a time of great need? What is really going on here? And when will J Street issue an apology to evangelicals for its inflammatory CUFI press release?
Erick Stackelbeck is a correspondent and terrorism analyst at the Christian Broadcasting Network.