Enough, already. This dalliance with right-wing Christian groups has passed from the disagreeable fringe into the absurd and even ominous center. It is not at all clear who is using whom, but it is an unnatural and distinctly unholy alliance, one that will surely leave us weaker rather than stronger.
There was a time when Jews and Christians made appropriate common cause on Israel’s behalf, in ways that added real strength to Israel. During the 1940s and 1950s, the American Christian Palestine Committee helped mobilize mainstream Christian clergy in support of Israel’s creation and for some years thereafter. In the main, these were liberal Christians whose domestic political orientation was roughly the same as that of most Jews.
American Jews — and Israel — have long since branched out. The beginning of the current and rapidly escalating embrace can easily be specified: a celebratory dinner in mid-November 1980, when then-prime minister Menachem Begin conferred upon Reverend Jerry Falwell the Jabotinsky Award for his “distinguished service to the State of Israel and to the Jewish people.” Twenty-three years later, the event still seems bizarre: Falwell’s service to the Jewish people? But these days, Falwell is the least of it.
I fear I must leave aside here the whole Armageddon thing, the role we are assigned in what is called “dispensationalist” theory. Whatever one makes of it, even without it the by-now two-way embrace would be an embarrassment and a menace. We are only too ready to kiss the bride, but we dare not lift her veil. For when we do, what do we see?
“The feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women,” Pat Robertson said in 1992. “It is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism, and become lesbians.”
And more: “Just like what Nazi Germany did to the Jews, so liberal America is now doing to the Evangelical Christians,” Robertson has said. “More terrible than anything suffered by any minority in history.”
Who is Pat Robertson? Why, he is co-chair of the “Jerusalem Prayer Team,” founded by then-mayor of Jerusalem and now Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. He is the man who was invited just last week to speak at Temple Beth Shalom, a Conservative synagogue in Framingham, Mass., and was greeted by a standing ovation.
What message to mainstream America — or, for that matter, to our own people — do we thereby convey? That Israel blinds us to all other concerns — including our concern for the welfare of America? Nor is Robertson alone in his outlandish views.
Gary Bauer tells a delirious crowd at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee national conference a few weeks ago that the day will come when “the Israeli flag will fly over Jerusalem and the land from the river to the sea will still be home to the Jewish people,” that “God owns the land and He has deeded it to the Jewish people, a deed that cannot be canceled by Yasser Arafat and cannot be amended — even by a president.”
Nor, presumably, by a prime minister or even by the Israeli people. So much for territorial compromise, so much for United Nations Resolution 242, so much for Israel’s legitimacy. Or, if you like, check the Web site of the Mission Valley Christian Fellowship — the church that sponsored Olmert last fall at an evening that raised $500,000 for Israeli victims of terrorism — where you’ll find that America was established as “a born-again Christian nation,” and that our task is to return it to Christ.
Or check out the Jerusalem Temple Foundation, founded by James DeLoach, pastor of Houston’s Second Baptist Church, whose stated goal is to aid those who would destroy the mosques on the Temple Mount and there restore the Temple. And on, and on, all the way to the “Road to Victory” rally of the Christian Coalition in Washington, D.C., last October. Olmert was there; so was Robertson. So too were the endless denunciations of the “myth” of separation of church and state, of a woman’s right to choose, of the independence of our courts, of so many of the key ingredients in our love of this land.
Back in 1980, Senator Frank Church was slated to receive a Jabotinsky medal along with Falwell. He refused the “honor.” “While I greatly appreciate the award you have conferred upon me,” he cabled the evening’s sponsors, “I regret that I cannot accept the honor at the same time that you are citing Jerry Falwell. Mr. Falwell has attempted to distort the American political process by imposing his views of morality as a political litmus test of a man’s fitness to hold office.… Our political and religious freedoms are cornerstones of our system and should not be undermined. Israel’s security and America’s freedom are inextricably bound together. I shall continue to fight for both.”
Have we no shame? When we make common cause, however limited, with these people, we add to their strength — and we diminish this nation. More and more, we cut ourselves away from the American mainstream; we accelerate the deterioration of our traditional coalition partnerships. The evangelicals are doubtless warmed by our embrace. When they are warmed, I am chilled.
Leonard Fein’s most recent book is “Against the Dying of the Light: A Father’s Story of Love, Loss, and Hope” (Jewish Lights, 2001).