The chief rabbinate is wrong about Evangelicals

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I was astonished to learn that by a majority vote, the Chief Rabbinate recently promulgated a ban against Jews participating in a Christian women’s conference “to promote the status of women based on biblical values” under the auspices of the Knesset Christian Allies caucus in Jerusalem.

The alleged grounds for the ban were that the two Christian evangelical groups involved – Bridges for Peace and the International Christian Embassy – were engaged in missionary activity.

Having been directly involved with these groups, I can confidently state that the accusation is absolutely false. The rabbis supporting the ban were influenced by a few misguided zealots who for years have been conducting an ongoing campaign based on the outrageously false allegation that our closest allies, the Christian Evangelicals, have merely created a facade of friendship with Jews in order to convert them.

There are Orthodox Jews closely associated with these bodies who would not countenance transgressing Jewish law. They uphold the position of Rav Joseph Soloveichik who opposed theological dialogue with other denominations, but endorsed joint activities with Christians to promote the Judeo Christian heritage in the broadest social sense, including support for Israel.

It is gratifying that the Jewish organizers immediately rebuffed the boycott call and a highly successful conference took place. But having formally issued a boycott call based on false premises, against any association with these groups, the Chief Rabbinate must now unequivocally retract. This outburst is, incidentally, only one of a series of bizarre rulings by the Chief Rabbinate which of late have been undermining the standing of religion in the nation and bringing into question the utility of maintaining a state-sponsored Chief Rabbinate.

OUR CHIEF Rabbinate is possibly unaware that, in contrast to other Protestant denominations, Evangelicals vigorously reject replacement theology and regard Judaism as the foundation for Christianity rather than being replaced by it. That explains why many Protestant groups tend to display hostility toward Israel and have frequently even indulged in actions to demonize and delegitimize the Jewish state.

However that should not be seen as suggesting that 100 million Evangelicals throughout the world are all philo-semites. They are in fact no more monolithic than Jews. Yes, many of them believe that the return of their Messiah will be hastened by the Jewish ingathering of the exiles. But this surely should not be of concern to us.

Some undoubtedly may be obsessed with the wish to convert Jews and others may even be anti-Semitic. But the overwhelming majority are unquestionably decent men and women seeking to promote Christian ethical values – many of which mirror the Judeo-Christian heritage.

They are concerned with the breakdown of public morality and family values, and strongly oppose abortion. They believe that in our world, humanity is confronted by a struggle between good and evil – terms alas, which many Jewish liberals regard as outmoded and have even purged from their lexicon.

Evangelicals also reject the moral relativism currently dominating Western liberal thought. They share with Israelis an unwillingness to endorse moral equivalency between killers and their victims. They also avoid prattling on about “cycles of violence” which avoids apportioning blame on those responsible for initiating conflicts sustaining the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

EVANGELICALS have today become the most fervent supporters of Israel in the Western world.

Paradoxically, in recent years, when many of our traditional allies have been forsaking us, Evangelicals are intensifying and upgrading their political support for Israel. Today this has in fact escalated to one of their highest priorities.

As genuine Christian Zionists whose faith is based on the Bible they believe that God gave Eretz Israel to the Jewish people. They pray for our welfare and most of them unconditionally love Jews as God’s chosen people. I often wish that some of our more aloof Diaspora kinsmen could display similar passion and commitment for our cause.

Many rank-and-file evangelical church goers donate generously to social welfare and other projects designed to strengthening Israel. For example, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews played a crucial role in launching the Nefesh B’Nefesh in its early days, providing millions of dollars necessary to subsidize olim to Israel.

After the Lebanon war they also donated large sums to assist Israelis in the North who were all but forsaken by their own government. In addition increasing numbers visit Israel on pilgrimage tours.

Today Evangelicals are undoubtedly one of the greatest sources of political support for Israel in the US. They represent the core of Republican backing for the pro-Israeli policy of President George W. Bush and their representatives in Congress constitute solid support for Israel.

Recently they even created a Christian counterpart of AIPAC with evangelical groups lobbying Congressmen to support Israel and organizing their supporters to vote against legislators hostile to Israel.

Whereas Evangelicals are usually sensitive and avoid publicly challenging Israel government policies, many liberal Jews regard their stance on Israel as right-wing. But that surely does not invalidate the enormous benefit their backing provides Israel. Mounting Jewish appreciation of Evangelical support was reflected by the incredible standing ovation received by Evangelical leader John Hagee at AIPAC after providing an exemplary address, calling on Americans and all people of goodwill to support Israel and resist Islamic fundamentalism.

It is also clear that had Evangelical influence in Europe been greater the extent of the prevailing European hostility against Israel would undoubtedly have been substantially lessened.

Of course we unquestionably differ from Evangelicals on many other issues. But today, it is unbecoming to insult our friends and painful to witness ignorant Jews biting the hand that feeds us – especially at a time when we so desperately seek allies. As an observant Jew I am comfortable, enthusiastic and grateful for the support we receive from Christian Evangelicals.

At a time when even many Jewish liberals are finally beginning to appreciate the importance of Evangelical support, the Chief Rabbinate must act quickly to repair the damage they have created. If not, it is time for responsible religious Jews to speak up and dissociate themselves from such bigoted outbursts.

May the Almighty bless our Christian supporters for their good will and friendship and may He also provide wisdom to misguided rabbis.

The writer chairs the Diaspora-Israel relations committee of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, and is a veteran international Jewish leader. ileibler@netvision.net.il

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