We desperately need friends

There are real areas of dispute between the Jewish and Evangelical communities. But since when did friendship necessitate agreement on all things?

pro israel rally in la 2 (photo credit: AP)
pro israel rally in la 2
(photo credit: AP)
Extraordinary times bring extraordinary challenges. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s many of us believed that the greatest threat to Israel had vanished. It seemed inevitable that without their principal sponsor Israel's Arab neighbors would finally make peace with the Jewish state. And yet here we are, just 10 years later, with peace a mirage and Israel's existential threats as near as ever. Iran, whose president dreams of a world without Zionism, is intent on gaining nuclear weapons. Islamic extremists have brought the American military to a standstill in Iraq. Palestinians, in free and open elections, voted in a terrorist government sworn to Israel's destruction. It's time the world Jewish community took notice. I have been involved in American Jewish life for decades, and never have I been as concerned for Israel's future as I am now. With anti-Semitism on the rise in Europe and militant Islam making its weight felt everywhere, the Jewish community must understand just how desperately it needs friends. It surprises me, therefore, that many in Jewish circles question the validity of Evangelical support for Israel, given the unwavering commitment Evangelicals have shown Israel now, in its greatest hour of need. THE AMERICAN Jewish community has long been suspicious of Evangelical Christians. We fear that their true desire is to establish a theocratic Christian regime in America that has no place for the Jewish people or religion. Granted, our history with theocracies, particularly in Christian Europe, brings back horrible memories. And so we cringe at the thought of prayer in public schools because, in our minds, it means Jewish children may be forced to utter Christian prayers. We fear Creationism, recently rechristened "intelligent design," because it smacks of a type of simplistic thought control that runs in opposition to Jewish traditions of inquiry. We oppose the Evangelicals' desire to outlaw abortion as infringing on a woman's right to choose. We resist their activism on social issues, including the dehumanization of gays. In general, we reject their moral sanctimoniousness, particularly when their beliefs are anathema to our own. Thus, in the end, we have even become suspicious of Evangelicals' support for Israel, in the belief that they have a hidden religious agenda - an end-of-days eschatology in which Jesus can return only when the Jews control the Holy Land. For the Jewish people, this last dispute might be the costliest of them all. I AM surprised that an intelligent and educated community like ours cannot distinguish between areas of agreement and disagreement. To be sure, there are real areas of dispute between the Jewish and Evangelical communities. But since when did friendship necessitate agreement on all things? The Jewish reluctance to embrace Evangelical Christians' financial and moral support of the State of Israel borders on irrational hysteria. At this juncture in history, are we truly so arrogant as to reject the love and friendship of approximately 80 million Americans because we find invisible, sinister motives for that friendship? At a time of unremitting anti-Israel hysteria throughout the globe, is such a posture reasonable or even sane? And what are the Evangelicals, who send tens of millions of dollars to Israel and visit in their hundreds of thousands, to think when an ungrateful Jewish community shows them hostility rather than gratitude? In the end, does such ingratitude truly reflect Jewish values? In our times, it is more important than ever that we recognize and appreciate those who support the State of Israel. Indeed, while the financial support is greatly needed, even more important is the need for friends who will stand with us in the face of international opprobrium. I RECENTLY met Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, founder and president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. Eckstein raises and distributes more than $70 million annually for Israel and Jews. I was impressed by the sheer magnitude of his projects, all funded by religious Christians across America. In total, there are over 200 projects in approximately 110 cities across Israel alone. In addition, they feed and clothe elderly Jews in the former Soviet Union, airlift immigrants from dangerous locales to live in Israel, and fund an endless number of social-welfare projects like soup kitchens and shelters for battered women. Eckstein has a rightful claim to being one of the foremost funders of Jewish programs in the world. And it's all Christian money! If that isn't friendship, we would have a hard time defining what is. Are we to refuse these acts of lovingkindness from Evangelicals merely because we disagree with their religious beliefs? What would that say about us as a people? I co-founded birthright israel because I believed that Israel was our greatest resource for Jewish identity enrichment and inspiration. Let us not be so haughty to say that Israel cannot also inspire non-Jews to acts of love, charity and support. By most measures, they are truly our friends. The writer is Chairman of Jewish Life Network/Steinhardt Foundation.