(JNS) Earlier this year, The Guardian quoted the policy director at J Street, Debra Shushan, as saying, “Christian Zionism, particularly of the variety that has become predominant among American evangelical Christians in recent decades, which sees Jewish control and settlement in the entire land of Israel as a requirement for fulfilling their end-times prophecies, has been extremely detrimental to US politics, and US policy toward Israel.” To emphasize the seriousness of this alleged threat, Ms. Shushan went on to note that in America, Christian Zionists outnumber Jews.
It’s unfortunate that a group billing itself as “pro-Israel” would take such a position.
Today, Israel’s legitimacy is under unremitting attack. As Susie Linfield has written in The Atlantic, “Seventy years after its founding, Israel is regarded (by Jews and non-Jews, right and left, West and East) as a cause, a tragedy, a miracle, a nightmare, a project—one that is highly provisional and should perhaps be canceled.” Linfield asks: “Is there any other sovereign nation, from the most miserable failed states to those that are flourishing, of which the same can be said?”
In other words, is there any other country whose very legitimacy—whose very right to exist—is publicly challenged?
The challenges take several forms. Leftists in the United States and Europe, along with Palestinian writers, try to delegitimize Israel with charges of “imperialism” and “settler colonialism.” At a recent rally, a member of the Irish parliament, Richard Boyd Barrett, told the crowd: “We must demand the dismantling of the Israeli state.” Prominent anti-Zionists like Peter Beinart argue that while Jews have a right of self-determination, they do not have the right to a sovereign Jewish state. Beinart has said that Israelis should seek repentance for the Nakba by forfeiting Jewish sovereignty and allowing five million Palestinian refugees to exercise their “right of return” to the land inside the Green Line. Thus, he maintains, the very existence of the Jewish state is an injustice, and the only proper solution is to dismantle it. To end the conflict, there must be an end to Zionism.
Israel’s legitimacy is also under attack in the United Nations. No less than three UN entities—the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (CEIRPP), the Division for Palestinian Rights (DPR), and the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories (SCIIHRP)—devote themselves to undermining Israel’s security and economy, and delegitimizing the Jewish state. A fourth office—the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA)—strongly promotes the “right of return” and runs hundreds of schools that teach Palestinian children that the Jewish state is illegitimate. Thus, an entire UN agency is largely devoted to advocating the dissolution of a member state.
American evangelicals provide a crucial counterweight to these efforts. But American Jews have given evangelical support for Israel a mixed reception. On the positive side, the American Jewish Committee (AJC) has welcomed and encouraged the support of evangelicals. Similarly, the American Jewish International Relations Institute (AJIRI) allies itself with faith-based leaders to help further its mission of reversing discrimination against Israel at the United Nations.
But unfortunately, many moderate and left-leaning American Jews tend to discount the support of evangelicals. They denigrate the evangelical alliance with American conservatives and the Israeli right. And they reject the support of evangelicals because they don’t like the brand of Christian theology it’s based on. New Israel Fund CEO Daniel Sokatch provides a good example of this in his recent book, Can We Talk About Israel? There, he devotes a whole chapter to a dismissive take on evangelical support for the Jewish state.
Sokatch’s attitude is all too common among American Jews. Writing in City Journal, James Q. Wilson noted that “despite their support for a Jewish state, evangelical and fundamentalist Christians are disliked by many Jews.” Indeed, “in one Pew survey, 42% of Jewish respondents expressed hostility to evangelicals and fundamentalists.” Evangelicals have a high regard for Jews and the Jewish state. But as Wilson put it, “Jews don’t return the favor.”
Jews with this mindset ignore an important rule of coalition building: Coalition partners don’t have to agree on everything. They just need to agree on one thing; in this case, the legitimacy of Israel as the sovereign nation-state of the Jewish people.
Jewish rejection of evangelical support is shortsighted and self-defeating. As Wilson said: “Whatever the reason for Jewish distrust of evangelicals, it may be a high price to pay when Israel’s future, its very existence, is in question.”
Thus, he concluded: “When it comes to helping secure Israel’s survival, the tiny Jewish minority in America should not reject the help offered by a group that is ten times larger and whose views on the central propositions of a democratic society are much like everybody else’s.”
Jewish leaders like Ms. Shushan would do well to keep that in mind.
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