While some in the organized Jewish community have appreciated the support of evangelical Christians, particularly at moments when other friendships seemed frayed, we remain deeply skeptical of both their motives and the worth of that support.
They do seem to love Israel – and it would be churlish not to be grateful for that love. But Israel does not need evangelizing missionaries or, for example, an interfaith resort celebrating Christianity on the shores of the Galilee – with a planned million-dollar altar for which funds are being solicited from Jews as well as Christians. See jewishisrael.org.
Oddly enough, the resort seems to have gained the endorsement of prominent Jewish Israelis, including Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, the project’s educational adviser. Perhaps they see it as an opportunity for interfaith dialogue – and increased Christian tourism to Israel. We see it as a murky, muddled enterprise, a no-man’s-land for Jews.
Then there is BibleLandTrees.org, a kind of Christian National Fund, which states on its Website, “The Bible tells us that Jesus the Messiah will come only after the Jewish People have returned to the Land of Israel and it is well populated and fruitfulâ€¦. Now you can help fulfill this and many other Bible Prophecies by Planting Trees in Israel, the Holy Land.” (According to jewishisrael.org, a video clip on the site states, “And we plant trees so the land will blossom for his [Jesus’] coming.” Jewishisrael’s comment: “Bubbe would plotz over that one.”)
Which brings us to Tuesday’s New York Times front-page story headed “Tax-Exempt Funds Aiding Settlements in West Bank.” Ho-hum, we thought. What else is new? And then we read further: American evangelicals, believing they are hastening Jesus’ second coming, are among “many groups in the United States using tax-exempt donations to help Jews establish permanence in the Israeli-occupied territories – effectively obstructing the creation of a Palestinian state, widely seen as a necessary condition for Middle East peace.”
Farther down in the story is mention of the fact that in March, just as Vice President Biden was heading “to his Jerusalem hotel to prepare for a weeklong effort to rekindle Middle East peace talks,” Pastor John Hagee was also in town. He reportedly thundered (the Times’ word), to an audience that included Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, “World leaders do not have the authority to tell Israel and the Jewish people what they can and cannot do in the city of Jerusalem.”
Although Hagee and Israeli officials deny causation, we all know what happened to that planned round of peace talks.
Evangelical leaders do not have that authority, either.