We’re at war with a crazy religion. They want to destroy our country as we know it, impose their religious laws as surely as the Taliban, disrespect our Judaism, and do away with the Constitution.
No, not Islam but Evangelical Christianity, warn many Jewish leaders. Interfaith leader Rabbi James Rudin said, “there is a specter haunting America … the specter of our nation ruled by the extreme Christian right… where their version of God’s law supersedes all human law — including the Constitution.”
“There’s a war going on, in case you haven’t noticed,” Rabbi Rudin has said.
Indeed there is. The World Trade Center is in ruins; Jews are beheaded; “Mein Kampf” is a Middle Eastern best seller; Hamas is ascendant; Iran threatens to nuke Israel; and American
Jews are being shot by men — who just happen to be Muslim — on the top of the Empire State Building, in Seattle’s Jewish Federation offices, on the Brooklyn Bridge, and at the Los Angeles Airport.
But “the war Rudin and his fellow Jewish liberals” are energized by, writes Zev Chafets, is the one “against Christian fundamentalism and the Republican Party.”
Chafets’ new book, “A Match Made in Heaven: American Jews, Christian Zionists, and One Man’s Exploration of the Weird and Wonderful Judeo-Evangelical Alliance,” sums up his enlistment in this war — the one in defense of Israel — and his defense and acceptance of Evangelicals as a key ally. Yes, there are some weird and quirky personalities along the way, and his book is often quite funny — but we’re at war, a deadly one, and the Evangelical Christians, he writes, “like them or not, are on our side.”
Chafets at times reminds us of Randy Newman, both in voice and in his relaxed but wry observations, but he can also be as tough and unafraid of darkness as befits a son of Devil’s Night in Detroit, his home turf before making aliyah, quickly becoming director of Prime Minister Begin’s press office. He was in Begin’s inner sanctum in 1981 when Begin knocked out Iraq’s nuclear reactor—back when everyone agreed that Iraq was developing weapons of mass destruction.
According to Chafets, Evangelicals are offering an alliance with Israel but liberal Jews say no because it would mean tolerating the Evangelical domestic agenda.
It’s like a dilemma posited by the bullies in “Mean Girls.” Israeli supporters, bullied everywhere from international forums to colleges, are supposed to avoid their nerdy religious friend because that friend is conservative. But last year, when an Evangelical mega-church opened in Houston, among those present and applauding was Nancy Pelosi, now speaker of the House. Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean went on Pat Robertson’s “700 Club,” saying that Democrats “have an enormous amount in common… particularly with the Evangelical Christian community,” though Dean, like Pelosi, don’t share the evangelical agenda. When the Evangelical Climate Initiative called for reforms to combat global warming, no one on the left rejected ECI because the ECI people were also against abortion. Somehow, only when the evangelicals make common cause with Israel is the alliance supposed to be rejected because of other things on the Evangelical agenda.
If the Evangelicals have any agenda, says Chafets, it is the restoration of moral and ethical standards that were once considered basic and hardly theocratic. It is an agenda that so far has been all cloud, no rain. Once there was prayer in the schools, laws against homosexuality and alcohol; laws against baseball and shopping on Sundays; taboos against married couples on sitcoms sleeping in the same bed; taboos against open discussion of sexuality on the airwaves; all extinct, vanquished by “militant secularization.” Where are judicial decisions on behalf of the Evangelical agenda comparable to the judicial fiats for abortion and gay marriage?
Chafets isn’t concerned that some Evangelicals — about 35 percent — see Israel as part of an End of Days scenario. Most evangelicals, he discovers, support Israel because God said that he will bless those who bless Israel; because Israel is seen to be on our side while the Palestinians cheered our misfortune; and let the End of Days be for God to sort out. Anyway, writes Chafets, if Jews don’t believe the Christian End of Days will ever happen, “what difference does it make?”
Pat Robertson did say, at the time of Sharon’s stroke, that Sharon was being punished for “dividing God’s land.” He apologized. But Chafets quotes Jerry Falwell: “I personally had a problem with trading land for peace but that’s not our business. If Sharon wanted to say no to a withdrawal, OK, we would have supported him. And if he wanted to say yes, well, that’s OK with me, too. I trust Israeli leaders to know what they’re doing.”
At his Westchester home (he lives part of the year in Israel), Chafets admits he is an unlikely defender of Evangelicals. “Socially, you can say I’m left-wing,” he says. “I’m not religious in any way. And journalism, of course, is a left wing profession.” He was a founding editor of the Jerusalem Report and has been a presence on New York op-ed pages.
The Jewish discomfort with Evangelicals and Israel, he says, stems from the fact that liberal Jews traditionally haven’t put Jewish concerns ahead of liberal ones. “I was raised a Reform Jew,” says Chafets, 59. “I was president of the National Federation of Temple Youth in 1966.” Right up until a last minute rally on the eve of the 1967 war, “there was absolutely no mention ever, ever, of Israel in the Reform movement that I was aware of, other than raising money for a Reform school in Haifa. The entire focus for the Reform movement, in those days, was on civil rights and peace activism. There was no discussion of the Holocaust, of Soviet Jewry, or of Israel.”
In his native liberal Judaism, says Chafets, the three civil rights workers murdered in Mississippi by Klansmen in 1964, “are names embossed on our memories.” Now, he asks, who knows the name of the captives or of Pam Waechter, murdered for being Jewish in Seattle, or other Jews killed for being Jews, “names that haven’t become household names even in Jewish households?”
There’s a “huge amount of anti-Christian bigotry in the Jewish community,” writes Chafets. “Jews don’t want to be connected to people they regard as rednecks or too dumb to get into the right college, or the kind of people who wouldn’t know what to do in Paris. It’s a Jewish snobbery.”
Evangelicals respond remarkably to the Jews who’ve been willing to positively engage them, such as Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, Orthodox founder of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. In the last eight years, writes Chafets, “approximately a half-million born-again donors have sent Eckstein about a quarter of a billion dollars for Jewish causes of his personal choosing.”
What would happen, Chafets says, if an American government – as is already being suggested by some on the right and left, and even some in the evangelical movement – decided that Israel is more of a burden than a blessing, that supporting a few million Israelis isn’t worth alienating a few billion Moslems? “Do American Jews really want to make the case for Israel all by themselves, without the support of Christian Zionists? And do they really believe that [Jews] can continue to count on this support as they position themselves as the chief adversaries of evangelical cultural and political aspirations?”
The Judeo-Christian bargain, concludes Chafets, “doesn’t require Jews to become Republicans, much less Christians. It simply requires a change in attitude and tone.” They are “not the enemy. They are the enemy of the enemy and they want to be accepted and appreciated. In return they are offering a wartime alliance and full partnership in a Judeo-Christian America. It is an offer the Jews of America should consider while it is still on the table.”