(photo credit: Courtesy)
As 1,000 Christians tour Israel with Christians United for Israel, the head of the Union for Reform Judaism called Wednesday night on the union to reject alliances with the group, which - he said - "advances their theology at the expense of Israel's security and well-being."
Addressing the annual convention of the Central Conference of American Rabbis in Cincinnati, Ohio, Rabbi Eric Yoffie addressed his disagreement with colleagues who say that the connection with Christians United for Israel is needed in a time where Israel needs all the support it can get.
"The concerns expressed here are reasonable," said Yoffie, "but I would draw precisely the opposite conclusion."
At the heart of Yoffie's criticism is Christians United for Israel founder Pastor John Hagee, an evangelical Christian Zionist minister from San Antonio, Texas, who has long courted controversy among Jews and non-Jews alike. Since founding CUFI two years ago, Hagee has run "Night to Honor Israel" events across the US, where he has been warmly received by Federation audiences.
But Hagee has also come under harsh criticism from Jews who are at odds with his positions on a range of issues such as homosexuality, immigration and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Last month some Jews called on Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain to reject Hagee's endorsement, as Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama did when he received an endorsement from Louis Farrakhan.
While Yoffie told The Jerusalem Post that "Hagee is not Farrakhan," and that such analogies were "not helpful," at the Central Conference of American Rabbis convention he criticized Hagee in the harshest terms for comments he has made about Muslims and Christians, and, more importantly, for his stance on Israel.
"What [Hagee and his allies] mean by 'support of Israel' and what we mean by 'support of Israel' are two very different things," Yoffie said. "Their vision of Israel rejects a two-state solution, rejects the possibility of a democratic Israel, and supports the permanent occupation of all Arab lands now controlled by Israel."
"If implemented, in fact, these views would mean disaster for Israel, and would lead to diplomatic isolation, increased violence, and the loss of Israel's Jewish majority," Yoffie said.
Yoffie suggested that Hagee's brand of evangelicalism was losing popularity in favor of a more moderate approach. His and his followers' approach to Israel was "extremist" and did not represent that of most evangelicals, Yoffie said.
"The notion that Hagee represents the future of American evangelicalism is a misreading of the political map," Yoffie told the Post. "Who in their right mind thinks Israel benefits from this, particularly now when America is worried about overseas commitments? This is not the time for us to be identifying with a hard-line, no compromise approach which separates us from allies around the world and our own government."
Speaking from Israel, David Brog, executive director of CUFI, said Yoffie's comments misrepresented the organization and its leader.
"I am very disappointed that Rabbi Yoffie, who knows the Jewish concept of the danger of speech and false accusations, did not do more thorough research of Hagee's record," Brog said. "If he would have bothered to do research, he would have seen that Pastor Hagee never made the anti-Catholic comments he is accused of having made."
Recently, Hagee met with Catholic leaders to discuss what he considers to be misrepresentations of his comments. And Deal W. Hudson, director of InsideCatholic.com and the author of Onward, Christian Soldiers: The Growing Political Power of Catholics and Evangelicals in the United States, wrote a piece on Wednesday for Catholic Online detailing a recent meeting with Hagee to discuss the anti-Catholicism charge. The article paints the pastor in positive terms.
Hagee is accused of having called the Catholic Church "the great whore." Hagee's use of the biblical imagery did not refer to the Catholic Church, according to Brog, but rather to an "entity of all Christians who reject the gospel."
Brog also sought to correct Yoffie on CUFI's position on Israel. Brog said Christians United for Israel has "never sought to pressure Israel."
"CUFI doesn't presume to dictate to the government what they should do about a two-state solution, or land for peace," said Brog. "The Israelis and they alone need to make these existential choices without outside pressure."
"If Yoffie wants America to pressure Israel to trade land for peace, than yes, he [differs] from us," continued Brog. "He should phrase it as it is. We are not trying to block the peace process, it's that he is seeking to impose the peace process."
Yoffie is not planning to launch a campaign against Hagee or CUFI, but he urged Reform congregations not to participate in the group's events, including "Nights to Honor Israel."
"[These events] will reduce our political clout and drive away our allies," said Yoffie. "And it is important to remember that Israel's greatest friends and most important defenders are not the fundamentalists and extremists and those who take their orders directly from God, but those who work for an end to this terrible conflict, and who pray for peace for all who live in the land that we all call holy."