What Jews misunderstand about Christian Zionism.

Religion, spirituality, and sacrilege.
Aug. 24 2010 1:34 PM

The Uncircumcised Israel Lobby

What Jews misunderstand about Christian Zionism.

(Continued from Page 1)

Most Christian Zionists are dispensational premillenialists, who don't think there's a single thing they can do to hasten or delay the Messiah.   These Christians don't think they bring the Messiah, but will simply act when the Messiah comes. (Cutely, as CUFI Executive Director—and Jew—David Brog points out, there is a religious group that does believe getting more Jews to Israel will hasten the arrival of the Messiah: many Jews.) If evangelical Christians can't bring the Messiah and End Times closer through good works, they can't bring them closer through conspiratorial geo-political manipulations to get the Jews in Israel.

All of which begs the question: If they're not doing it for a right-wing agenda, a missionary agenda, or an apocalyptic agenda, just why are Christians uniting for Israel?

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It's because they love Jews. When I went to cover 2008's CUFI Washington Summit, the first person I met shook my hand and told me she loved me for being a Jew. It's happened to me at least dozens of times since. Ask any cross-section of Christian Zionists why they support Israel, and most of the time the first line out of their mouths will be citing Genesis 12:3, in which God says to Abraham, "I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse."

The more you dig into Christian Zionism, the more you realize it's less about Israel than it is about the Jews. There's plenty of talk about current events and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but the repeated mentions of anti-Semitism, the Holocaust, and other episodes of Jewish persecution are often more prominent. In fact, Christian Zionists say they are primarily concerned about Jewish welfare and have tackled Israel advocacy simply because it's the issue on which they feel their political assistance is most valuable.

Jewish readers may be wondering how I could be so credulous. I've thought about that question a lot; there's certainly plenty of history of Jews being told one thing only to get slammed in the other direction. The simple reality of Christian Zionism is that the facts are different from many Jews' assumptions (and then for some Jews aware of the facts, there's still a tendency to resort to extreme conspiracy theories or strained arguments about Jewish continuity). There's no question that they have different politics, rhetoric, and even culture from what we're used to seeing in the Jewish world. But they do seem to express a genuine love and care for Jews. "Being loved" is not something Jews take to easily (or, at least, this Jew doesn't), and it's still pretty awkward for me in personal conversations with Christians—but, awkwardness aside, this palpable sense of concern for Jewish welfare is the first that Jews have felt from such a large religious group in their history.

Christian Zionist theology aside, there's still the controversy over Hagee himself, appropriately summarized by the New Republic's Jonathan Chait. Hagee's said a lot to infuriate Jews: that the Holocaust was God's way of promoting Zionism and that Jews brought anti-Semitism upon themselves through their own faithless actions. I'm not going to defend Hagee's words here, because I don't agree with them and think he should never have said them. As a descendant of survivors of the Holocaust and pogroms—and, more importantly, of many nonsurvivors—I find them offensive.

But people say and believe a great many things I find offensive all the time, from pulpits Jewish and otherwise. What those people don't do, but Hagee does, is transform millions of people into lovers of the Jewish people. While watching Hagee speak live at the CUFI summit, inveighing against anti-Semitism and declaring, to the applause of thousands of Christians, "If a line has to be drawn, then draw it around both Christians and Jews, around Americans and Israelis," I got chills.

Yes, I'm cautious about their plans. I'm also concerned that evangelical Christians could end up dropping the Jews as quickly as they've picked us up. After all, that line in Genesis has been there for thousands of years, through the Holocaust and pogroms. But they say they want to help and have acted in ways that suggest they're sincere; it's not enough to erase thousands of years of persecution, but it's certainly a start in what could be a healing process, if Jews become willing to engage them.

It's enough to make me want to count my blessings.

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Steven I. Weiss is an award-winning religion journalist and director of original programming and new media at the Jewish Channel.

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