Is Evangelical Group a Useful Ally in BDS Fight — or Bigoted Albatross?
Laurie Cardoza-Moore is responsible for one of the signal achievements in the battle against attempts to boycott Israel: a bill passed in the Tennessee state legislature condemning boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel as anti-Semitic, before any other such measure reached the capitals of other states.
But search Cardoza-Moore’s name, and one of the first results will take you to a 2010 video clip from the Daily Show in which she claims, citing “the Internet” as her source, that in America’s Muslim community, “30% are terrorists” and that they maintain “35 training camps across the United States.”
These convictions catapulted Cardoza-Moore into leadership of a movement to stop the expansion of a mosque in Murfeesboro, Tennessee, where it had existed peacefully for 30 years, claiming it was part of a plot targeting Middle Tennessee because it is the heart of the Bible Belt.
Through the organization she has founded, Proclaiming Justice to the Nations, and her own public statements, Cardoza-Moore has became a key player on two fields that many American Jewish leaders say they want to keep strictly separate: a staunch pro-Israel evangelical out to recruit fellow Christians, and a fierce crusader out to eradicate what she views as Islamic indoctrination in America’s heartland but who is often accused of deep-seated Islamophobia.
Nevertheless, with her clear message to Christians across the world via documentaries and web videos, Cardoza-Moore and her organization have become the darlings of American Jewish donors committed to fighting BDS.
“The Jewish community is starting to acknowledge that their only friends on earth right now are Bible believing Christians,” Cardoza-Moore said in an October 25 interview. “I constantly call on Christians to speak out against the tremendous atrocities that are going on. It is our responsibility as Christians to defend the Jewish people.”
Locally, Jewish organizations have bonded with PJTN strongly. “Energy and dynamism are very important in making the case for supporting Israel,” said Mark Freedman, executive director of the Jewish Federation of Nashville, which partners with PJTN on pro-Israel advocacy campaigns. “Our community appreciates the evangelical support for the state of Israel, and in terms of advocacy we consider them great partners.”
PJTN was founded in Nashville, Tennessee in 2001, in what Cardoza-Moore describes as a response to the 9/11 terror attacks. “Together with our Bible in hand, we came to understand 9/11 through the prism of ‘good vs. evil’ and we made a plan to answer God’s call,” the group states on its website. Its mission is to battle anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiments using TV and radio interviews, and movies that the group says reach millions of Christians worldwide. The media outreach, it claims, educates them “on their responsibilities as Christians to uphold the protection and welfare of our Jewish brethren.”
The group also strongly opposes a two-state solution to Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians, defending Israel’s permanent retention of the occupied West Bank and isolation of Gaza.
The pro-Israel evangelical advocacy scene has been dominated for the past decade by Pastor John Hagee’s Christians United for Israel, a national organization which boasts more than 2 million members and draws thousands to pro-Israel nights in Washington and across the country. PJTN is much smaller, with an annual budget of $559,000 in 2013 and only three full time staffers. But the group’s stress on media and its recent foray into anti-BDS activism have made the small Nashville organization a growing presence in pro-Israel circles. Cardoza-Moore, who grew up Catholic, discovered after visiting Israel’s Diaspora Museum in 2003 that she may be a descendant of Portuguese Jews forced to convert during the Inquisition. She began inquiring among family members, and heard that her great grandfather, on his deathbed, told his children about the Cardoza family’s Jewish roots.
Last April PJTN was the driving force behind a resolution in the Tennessee state legislature that condemned BDS as a form of anti-Semitism.
Though only declarative, the resolution, which passed easily, was the first such action taken by any state legislature. It was followed by legislation in South Carolina and Illinois that barred businesses involved with BDS from doing business with those state governments.
Cardoza-Moore recently presented a framed copy of the Tennessee bill to Yuli Edelstein, speaker of Israel’s Knesset, during a three-week visit to Israel. While in Israel, she filmed her latest documentary, titled “Victims of Peace,” which, she said, will “expose BDS” as anti-Semitic. In the film, now in production, two Palestinians, one from Gaza and the other from the West Bank, tell Cardoza-Moore they are grateful to Israeli employers who hired them and that boycotting Israel will cause them to lose their jobs.
Her work on behalf of Israel and taking on supporters of BDS have landed Cardoza-Moore and her organization financial backing from many Jewish donors known for their aggressive, uncritical support for the Jewish state.
The Irving Moskowitz Foundation, which backs exclusively Jewish settlements in the Palestinian sectors of Jerusalem, provided PJTN with a $70,000 donation in 2013. Other donors include Chicago’s Larry Hochberg, the former chair of Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, a board member of the Zionist Organization of America and a major donor to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee; conservative talk radio host Dennis Prager, and Israeli-American businessman Adam Milstein.
PJTN was among the groups invited by Sheldon Adelson and other Jewish funders to attend the Las Vegas kickoff of what is shaping up to be the Jewish community’s most heavily funded anti-BDS operation, known as the Maccabees Task Force. PJTN, like other participants, is now expected to pitch the Adelson-led initiative with programs for funding.
But while the group’s pro-Israel activity has been widely welcomed by the Jewish community, its anti-Islamic actions do not win broad support.
The Nashville Jewish Federation made clear its cooperation with PJTN is limited to common interest areas concerning Israel and not to other activities of the group aimed at Muslim Americans.
“It’s tragic when you see Jewish organizations join forces with anti-Muslim extremists, not only because of the obvious history of discrimination, but also because it is counter-productive on many levels,” said Ibrahim Hooper, national communications director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
In 2010, the Anti-Defamation League filed an amicus brief against PJTN’s attempt to block building of the new Islamic center in Murfreesboro. ADL claimed that attempts by Cardoza-Moore and others to stop the Islamic center project and investigate alleged ties with extremists in Somalia and Gaza violated religious freedom.
The group’s legal actions to stop the mosque’s expansion were ultimately dismissed by a federal appeals court in 2014 after a years-long battle.
Organized opposition to the Murfreesboro mosque, said Hooper, “was seen as a watershed moment for Muslims facing Islamophobia in America.” This was also the event that prompted comedian and former host of the Daily Show Jon Stewart to dispatch his “senior Muslim correspondent” Aasif Mandvi to Tennessee, for a report centering on an interview with Cardoza-Moore, in which she said her campaign is “about stopping the advance of radical Islam in America.”
Mandvi turned to Cardoza-Moore and asks: “You do know I’m Muslim, right?” to which she answers, without missing a beat: “Nobody’s perfect.” “It was comedy,” she told the Forward, adding that she is constantly invited to United Nations discussions on women’s rights in the Muslim world. “If I’m such an Islamophobe, then why do they invite me to these panels?”
But speaking at an August 2010 rally in New York against the intention to build an Islamic Center in the vicinity of Ground Zero, Cardoza-Moore suggested she viewed the emergence of Muslims in American as an alien phenomenon, at best. “How many Muslims signed the Declaration of Independence?” she asked. “Or the constitution?” The audience roared: “None.” “How many Muslims fought in our revolutionary war?” she then asked and responded: “Zero.”
PJTN’s next project will be focused on what the group views as the threat of extremist Islamic content in school textbooks. “They’re indoctrinating our children with pro-Islamic rhetoric that violates the Establishment Clause,” Cardoza-Moore said. She pointed to a mention of Palestinian terror attacks against Israeli teens in a pizza parlor as raising the question of the whether terror can be justified.
While PJTN’s main focus now is on BDS, it holds strong views opposing a two-state solution to Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians. In 2013 Cardoza-Moore produced the film “Israel Indivisible: The Case for the Ancient Homeland,” which argues against division of the land into two states.
“Israel has the right for the entire land,” Cardoza-Moore said. “There’s no reason Israel cannot hang on to their land and continue allowing free life to the Christians and Muslims in its territory.”
This stance did not seem to prevent a group of five members of Congress, including California Jewish Democrat Alan Lowenthal, from going on a PJTN-sponsored trip to Israel in mid-October. Both Republican and Democratic administrations have publicly supported a two-state solution.
Lowenthal is endorsed by J Street PAC, a dovish group whose main issue is promoting a peace agreement based on the division of the land. Contact Nathan Guttman at [email protected] or on Twitter, @nathanguttman