POSTED WEDNESDAY, NOV. 4, 6:00 p.m.
An Evangelical leader who believes Jews can accept Jesus without giving up their Jewish identity will be the keynote speaker in two weeks at an event for Birthright Israel alumni, sponsored by Birthright NEXT and the Jewish Enrichment Center.
"You can still be Jewish and believe in Jesus as the messiah," the invited speaker, Gordon Robertson, said on a July 2008 program of the Christian Broadcasting Network, of which he is the CEO.
The network was founded by his father, the Rev. Pat Robertson, a former presidential candidate, who once blamed Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s severe stroke on his willingness to "divide the land" of Israel.
A Birthright NEXT official said the group is aware of Gordon Robertson’s beliefs that a Jew can believe in Jesus, but maintains that his theological views have no impact on his suitability has a speaker.
"We’re not asking him to come and talk about Christianity or Jews trying to get Jews to believe in Christianity. It’s not the topic," said Rebecca Sugar, the New York director of Birthright Israel NEXT NY alumni programming.
Robertson’s Nov. 18 talk to the Birthright alumni – which will attract former participants as young as 18 to a dinner at the Carlton Hotel here – is titled, "Are Evangelical Christians More Fervent Zionists than American Jews?"
"My audience, Birthright Israel alumni, is a sophisticated, intelligent audience," Sugar said. "I hope they’ll read up on Mr. Robertson and use this as an opportunity to ask him their concerns."
During that July 13 CBN program, which announced a rise in Israeli messianic Jews, Robertson goes on to say: "You don’t have to change your culture, you can still observe the Torah, you can still be Jewish and still believe that Jesus is the messiah."
He noted that 30 years ago, just 3,500 Israeli Jews identified themselves as messianic Jews. Today, he said, there are between 10,000 and 15,000 in 120 congregations across the country. On the broadcast, he called this dramatic increase a "real breakthrough."
"It’s marvelous," Robertson said. "It’s incredible what’s going on in our generation. What seemed impossible is happening."
Many Jewish leaders consider messianic Judaism a particularly pernicious form of evangelizing because, in their view, it uses deception to convince vulnerable Jews that they can accept Christian doctrine and still retain their identity as Jews.
The question posed as the title of Robertson’s talk is a fair one, Sugar said, given the huge number of Christian pilgrims who have visited Israel, even during times of intifada. She says, however, that her organization is by no means trying to suggest an answer to that question.
Recently, Birthright Next has come under fire for turning over programming to an Orthodox organization, the Jewish Enrichment Center. Evangelical Christian support for Israel is strongly upheld in the Orthodox community. But many Jewish critics say such support may be based on Christian "end-times" Bible prophecies that predict and welcome new wars that will decimate the state of Israel; those battles, some believe, are the necessary precursors to the coming of the Christian messiah.
The announcement that Robertson is to be the keynote speaker at the Nov. 18 event comes just a week after Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel spoke at a conference in Texas hosted by the controversial Pastor John Hagee and his Christians United for Israel (CUFI). In his remarks to an audience of 6,000, Wiesel said he was overjoyed to see so many Christians gathered in support of Israel.
And Birthright Next hopes to see continued Christian support for Israel as well, despite sharp differences over the concept of the messiah and the legitimacy of messianic Judaism.
"If [Bible prophecy is] the end game for them and we have a different end game, then when the end comes, one of us will be right and one of us will be wrong," Sugar said. "If [Robertson] is writing checks to Israel and he’s helping Jews move there, you have to decide for yourself whether that’s good or bad."