Christian Right Leader Warns Foxman on Israel

By Jennifer Siegel

Published December 23, 2005, issue of December 23, 2005.
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According to one prominent Christian evangelical, support for Israel may go on the chopping block if Jewish leaders persist in publicly criticizing the religious right.

Don Wildmon, president of the evangelical American Family Association, had sharp words for the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, Abraham Foxman, during the December 5 broadcast of his daily radio program: “The more [Foxman] says that ‘you people are destroying this country,’ [the more] some people are going to begin to get fed up with this and say, ‘Well, all right then. If that’s the way you feel, then we just won’t support Israel anymore.’ ”

Wildmon’s comment is the latest thrust in an ongoing duel between liberal Jewish leaders and the religious right after Foxman condemned what he called a campaign “to Christianize America” in a November 3 speech at the ADL’s national commission meeting. Foxman specifically mentioned reports of alleged religious coercion at the U.S. Air Force Academy and continued pressure for federal funding of faith-based initiatives as sources of concern.

On November 19, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, condemned “zealots” on the “religious right” who spend more time fueling “anti-gay bigotry” than fighting poverty and other social ills.

In recent weeks, cultural conservatives have struck back, in particular by launching a public campaign, led by Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly, in opposition to an alleged “war on Christmas.” Religious activists threatened to boycott major retailers such as Macy’s and Wal-Mart for allegedly removing the word “Christmas” from store greetings and decorations.

In the U.S. House of Representatives last week, Virginia Republican Jo Ann Davis introduced a resolution that “strongly disapproves of attempts to ban references to Christmas,” which passed 401-22 — and the “yeas” included votes by 17 Jewish legislators.

In contrast to Wildmon’s reaction to the ADL’s criticism, other religious right leaders said that evangelical support for Israel was not linked to harmony on domestic issues.

“Our support for Israel relies on our understanding of biblical truth and that’s a strong foundation that can’t be shaken by Abe Foxman’s fantasies,” Gary L. Bauer, president of the American Values organization, told the Forward. “I think we’d be much better off to spend our energy on how we can continue to work for Christian and Jewish reconciliation, rather than to fall into the trap of getting into a mud-wrestling match with Mr. Foxman, who has a lot of experience in that venue.”

David Neff, editor of Christianity Today magazine, told the Forward that he believes Bauer’s view predominates among evangelicals, who have traditionally supported Israel for both political and theological reasons. Certain evangelicals believe that the return of Jesus will be preceded by the homecoming of Jews to Israel.

The ADL’s associate national director, Ken Jacobson, said his organization did not believe that members of the religious right would respond to criticism with a “quid pro quo” attitude, but even if they do, a vital interest is at stake.

“Obviously, we strongly disagree with many in the religious right on a whole series of issues that we think are critical to the kind of society we have in America, that has made Jewish life so palatable, so comfortable,” Jacobson told the Forward.

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