Evangelicals, Jews, and Coalition Politics
Lately, Evangelicals love Israel. And lately, Madonna digs Kabbalah and writes songs about Hasidic rebbes in Tzfat. And in the midst of this non-Jewish ‘Jew-centricity,’ there are Jewish parents out there nominally waspifying their children by giving them names like Mackenzie and Madison.
Let’s start with the Evangelicals. Is it bothersome that Reverend John Hagee of San Antonio recently appeared in Washington with 3,500 Evangelicals for the first annual conference of his newly founded organization, Christians United for Israel? Is it strange that he hosted an “Israel Ball” at his San Antonio congregation, an event that was almost exclusively attended by Christians?
The rhetoric surrounding Evangelical support for Israel is loaded with morally-charged language. Israel is described as “good” and “holy” while Arabs are described as “evil.” Clearly, these words reflect xenophobic attitudes; attitudes that Jews themselves encountered as immigrants in the United States not so long ago. And yet, many leading Jewish lobbying groups have been quick to embrace Evangelical support. Jewish individuals (mostly men), like Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, the founder of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, couldn’t be happier with the Christian-right’s alliance to Israel.
Are we being co-opted? Is this at all dangerous? Or should we be flattered?
In reading about Evangelicals, I was reminded of a panel discussion that I attended in college. What began as a conversation about the Jewish vote in the 2004 presidential election evolved into a larger discussion about political coalitions, social justice, and self-interest. One panelist suggested that liberal Jews -- particularly liberal Jewish women -- cringe at the idea of Evangelicals partnering with Jews to defend Israel but wouldn’t bat an eye (I certainly wouldn’t) in helping the Black community or other minorities fight for equality even though these groups don’t always show unified support for Jewish causes. Many of us take great pride in Jewish women’s efforts to form coalitions with women of color and other minority groups. Jewish women were deeply involved in the Civil Rights Movement. Women including Jan Goodman, Barbara Jacobs Haber, and June Finer. And, of course, Lillian Wald who helped found the NAACP in the early 20th century and actively worked toward achieving racial justice.
Personally, the Jewish-Evangelical partnership concerns me because Evangelicals’ incentives are often self-serving -- they see Israel’s existence as a necessary precursor for Armageddon and the second coming of Christ, visions which do not include a place for Jews.
But here’s a question to consider: if so many of us are willing to form coalitions to fight for causes that aren’t exclusively ours (like ending racial segregation in the deep south), why are we often so resistant to engage with those who are not on the fringe but who fervently wish to be our advocates? Are we demonstrating some kind of double-standard? Is a double-standard justifiable? What do you think?