During the week covered by this review, we received 17 articles on the following subjects:
Political Issues (& Christian Zionism/Evangelicalism)
The Status of Holy Sites
Political Issues (& Christian Zionism/Evangelicalism)
Articles critical of Israel’s alliance with evangelicalism (7):
Moving the American Embassy to Jerusalem was primarily a political act designed to appease American Evangelicals and to reward them for their avid support of President Trump, it is argued. But the alliance between Israel and American Evangelicals is not an easy one. This became particularly evident with the inclusion of the two controversial pastors in the opening festivities of the Embassy – John Hagee and Robert Jeffress. One commentator notes that Israel ought to be careful in choosing allies, given their ties to other right-wing agendas. In the 1970s and 1980s, American Evangelicals, led by Jerry Falwell, Sr., showed support for the white Apartheid regime in South Africa. Falwell called Bishop Desmond Tutu a hypocrite, and called on his flock to invest in the gold coins issued by the white regime. Like Hagee and Jeffress, Falwell used his support for Israel as a means of shaking off his reputation for being anti-Semitic, as a way of making up for such statements as the following: “I love America; a Jew can earn more money by accident than he can on purpose.”
Falwell’s alliance with Israel made American Jews uncomfortable and angry, and those same dynamics have reemerged lately. American Jews oppose American Evangelicals not only because of their anti-Semitic image, and not only because they desire to make America a Christian nation (whatever that may mean for Jews), but also because of their avid social conservativism. Evangelicals, furthermore, lent support to Trump last year after he claimed moral equivalence between the Charlottesville demonstrators and their neo-Nazi counter-protestors. That Evangelical leaders have a track record of being allied to the alt-right, and a history of supporting Apartheid South Africa, means Israel should tread carefully before embracing Evangelical love too quickly, as the strategy might backfire. Already the comparisons between Israel and Apartheid South Africa abound, and Israel should be careful not to feed the analogy, argues one commentator.
In the same vein, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid has warned that that it is dangerous to be too closely identified with the conservative, Evangelical branch of the Republican Party. Lapid notes that only Republican members of Congress took part in the Embassy’s opening ceremony. Prime Minister Netanyahu should have made sure the list of attendees included bipartisan representation, he argues. Another commentator makes the case that as Israel has drifted rightwards, so has its relationship to US politics changed. Israel no longer leans primarily on the support of American Jews, who have traditionally voted for the Democratic Party, but now lean mostly on right-wing Evangelicals. “This is a double gamble,” argues one commentator; “On the one hand, Israel is shaking off the support of those it might need come the November elections, if the Democrats take over Congress. On the other hand, polls show that young Evangelicals oppose the blind support of the State of Israel. A responsible government would change its policy and extend a hand to those elements it has ignored in order to begin detoxing from its dependence on Messianic Christians.” Another commentator expresses the fear that Israel has potentially sabotaged too severely its relationship with the Democratic Party.
A few commentators note again how uncomfortable the Embassy ceremony really was for a Jewish audience. One religious Jewish attendee is quoted as saying, “I felt like I was at church, in a town in the mid-west. I was glad when it was over.” Another writer states that it seemed that Evangelical Christians took over the ceremony, to the point where Israelis and Jews were portrayed as a minor partner in the whole affair. This, it is argued, connects with the Evangelical instrumentalization of the Jewish people, i.e. that Jews are seen as an instrument in God’s plan – a means of preparing the land for and quickening the return of Jesus. After that, Evangelicals expect a mass conversion of Jews to take place, or else Jews will perish.
Finally, an opinion piece by Fr. James Martin argues that Evangelicals use the bible selectively in order to support President Trump and his agenda. Trump is understood to be the new King Cyrus – the imperfect messenger of God. But not all Christians read the bible in this manner, or seek to interpret it as literally as do Evangelicals. Martin prioritizes an interpretation of the bible that elevates the notion that God is love and calls us to love and care for the poor and marginalized. “The bible should not be weaponized” for political gain, argued Martin.
Articles in support of the alliance with evangelicalism (5):
Other articles argue that we ought to embrace the support of Evangelicals. It was not that long ago that Christians persecuted Jews and blamed them for killing the Son of God, says one writer. But now Jews can see this new relationship with Christianity as a beacon of hope: “Anyone who thinks that there is no room for dialogue, that Islam will never recognize us… should listen to Jeffress in order to believe that there is hope. Let them say that [Jeffress] is anti-Semitic… but it’s time for us to say instead: thanks be to God.” Another commentator agrees. Yes, Evangelicals have an eschatology that instrumentalizes Jews, but “any support is welcome.” One rabbi is even quoted as having said, “Trump is God’s messenger, and his daughter Ivanka who converted, is like Queen Esther. The Evangelicals don’t bother me. They took over the ceremony. So what? God uses whatever messengers he pleases.”
Other columnists attack the idea that Jews are just instruments in Evangelical eschatology. One writer says there has been much uproar about Evangelical ulterior motives, “but rest assured – what really guides them is a clean faith that the people of Israel are God’s chosen and that the State of Israel is a phase on the path to redemption.” He goes on to say, “Evangelicals are the best thing that has happened to the people of Israel in the Christian world… We should simply say thank you.” Others note that the alliance is strategic since the Evangelical movement is growing throughout the world, including 100 million in China alone, and hundreds of millions in Latin America and the Far East. Those countries that are considering moving their embassies to Jerusalem have something in common: They all have strong Evangelical Christian communities.
Maariv, May 23, 2018; The Jerusalem Post, May 24, 2018
A new Jewish-Christian political party – the first of its kind – by the name of “The Bible Bloc Party,” will contend during the next Knesset elections. The party was founded by Dennis Avi Lipkin, a man who lives in the settlement of Kedar, and who describes himself as an Evangelical Jewish Zionist. Lipkin has lectured on Christian-Jewish issues throughout Evangelical communities in the US. He says the party will attempt to draw support from Christians who have emigrated from the former Soviet Union, Christian Arabs, and the millions of western immigrants Lipkin expects will move to Israel in the near future. The party will seek to protect Jewish and Christian populations from “ethnic cleansing,” and to uphold the values of “democratic Christian-Euro culture” against Muslim extremism. The second in command on the party list is a Christian Arab woman from the Druze town of Usfiya.
Yehuda Bessaron, May 16, 2018; Kol Rehovot, May 15, 2018
The first article reports that Christian missionaries have been active throughout the city of Netanya, going from door to door in pairs, and handing out a booklet entitled, What is a Jew? Yad L’Achim claims this is an “attack” by the “Messianic cult,” purposefully taking place during Matan Torah (Editor’s note: another name for Shavuot, which, according to Jewish tradition, also commemorates the giving of the Torah).
The second article reports that a group of Jehovah’s Witnesses has been attempting to convert Jews in the city of Rehovot. Yad L’Achim has warned the public that the cult is dangerous and works in deceitful ways.
The Status of Holy Sites
Yom LeYom, May 17, 2018
This is a lengthy article that reports an alleged battle between the State of Israel and the Vatican over control of the Tomb of King David. The author reports that more Christians go to the tomb to pray than do Jews, and that they do so precisely in order to “prevent the redemption of Israel.” Christians, it is said, spend millions to encourage “crusaders” to arrive as tourists to the holy site. It is forbidden to display the cross at the tomb, but the author says that while he was in the tomb a pastor came in with a cross peeking out of his pocket. Immediately a man named Rabbi Berger, who watches over the tomb, began to pray the Shema out loud, and in response the pastor and his Christian group scattered and fled. Rabbi Berger says that this is what he does when a group comes with a cross. “Apparently the powers of impurity cannot stand to be in the presence of these verses,” says the rabbi, “they always hurry to leave the area.” It is reported that in the past, the Pope visited the tomb, and in response many Jewish students chained themselves to the tomb to prevent evacuation of Jews.