With all the sincerity of that recent box-office superstar, Chicken Little, Abraham D. Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith came out swinging against so-called evangelical Christians who support Israel. The tolerant sky, he says, is falling!
These largely conservative, Bible-oriented believers who want to "Christianize" America, Mr. Foxman asserts are bent on "converting" Jews by any means necessary.
Mr. Foxman is entitled to his opinion, of course, but several critics have noted that his viewpoint is a bit removed from the facts. Thundering that groups such as Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council, and the American Family Association "had built infrastructures throughout the country" through which they "intend to 'Christianize' all aspects of American life," he ignores an inspiring point about this very nation: In America, we have what is known as the "public square." In it, we each and we all have a right to advocate for our viewpoints, which may be accepted—or rejected—by the majority.
In fact, it can be argued that Mr. Foxman has constructed his own "infrastructure": his 40-year career with the Anti-Defamation League has seen him emerge as a major spokesman on Jewish issues, as well as interfaith relations. He has spearheaded educational projects on tolerance, most recently one where clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch have cosponsored a diversity program called "A Campus of Difference."
But while Mr. Foxman is happy to preach his own message, it would seem that woe betides the evangelicals who want to preach theirs. That's unfortunate, but it's not unusual: Mr. Foxman's interfaith harmony seems to begin and end with those Christians willing to ignore Jesus' own mandate to "preach the gospel to every creature," which is amplified by Paul, who said the good news should go "to the Jew first."
In 2001 a group of Jewish believers in Jesus ran newspaper ads and offered a video that each highlighted the stories of Holocaust survivors, Jews, who found Jesus to be their Messiah. The ADL was quick to condemn this freely expressed speech, with Mr. Foxman himself a Holocaust survivor whose life was hidden by a "righteous Gentile," leading the charge.
"Jews for Jesus is trying to distort Jewish identity as part of their deceptive and offensive campaign to impose Christian beliefs on Jews. By emphasizing the Holocaust, Jews for Jesus is using the darkest chapter in the history of Judaism—the persecution and annihilation of European Jews—to attempt to mislead survivors and their children about their history and faith. It is impossible for a person who is Jewish to worship Jesus Christ. That is the fundamental distinction that sets these faith systems apart."
I'm not quite sure who made Mr. Foxman the arbiter of what is and isn't possible for a Jew to do or believe in, but his statement suggests a narrow-mindedness that far outstrips anything Focus on the Family chief James Dobson has been accused of promoting. In a secularized American Jewish community where Jews are "free" to follow any free-form Judaism they prefer, from ultra-orthodox to ultra-liberal, Mr. Foxman has decreed Messianic belief off limits—if the Messiah in question is Jesus.
It would be nice if Mr. Foxman would remind his audiences of his position when tub-thumping against the so-called "Christian Right." Such context would help his hearers place such comments in perspective: Mr. Foxman is not particularly separationist; he seems to be anti-evangelism, and particularly "anti" Jewish evangelism.
As a Jew who believes that Jesus is the Messiah, that gives me some pause, as it should anyone who believes the gospel is for all humanity, and who cherishes the notion that such a message should be freely preached to all willing to hear.
In all my witnessing to others, including Jews, I've never—not once, not ever—tried to compel anyone to believe anything. In observing the evangelistic outreaches of many people, in my own denomination as well as in other churches, I've never seen even a hint of compulsion. Mr. Foxman's argument that either Jewish or Gentile believers in Jesus want to "impose" or "mislead" anyone into anything is very difficult to accept—it just doesn't square with what I've seen.
There's another, even more concerning, side to Mr. Foxman's denunciation of groups on the so-called "Christian Right." The people he demonizes also happen to be among the most fervent supporters of the state of Israel and its right to exist. Seeing that support ignored in a debate over moral issues may not be the way to win friends and influence people.
"If you keep bullying your friends, pretty soon you won't have any," Tom Minnery, Focus on the Family vice president of government and public policy, told the Forward, a national Jewish weekly newspaper, on November 11, 2005.
During a season when the elected president of a United Nations member country, Iran, calls for the "elimination" of Israel, it would seem irresponsible—even foolish—to lash out against your political allies. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is, I believe, deserving of condemnation for his call to "wipe Israel off the map." America, which was the first nation to recognize the State of Israel in 1948, should be honored for those among its citizens who support Israel, not attacked.
But support of Israel—a concept that should be key to Mr. Foxman's beliefs—is not enough where evangelical Christians are concerned, or so it seems. If a Christian wants to support Israel and advance a moral agenda in a free society, watch out!
I'm not suggesting Mr. Foxman is amoral or immoral—far from it. But his concern over the legitimate actions of free people in a free society to advocate for their principles seems a bit
overstated, as many, including some Jewish leaders, felt about his earlier alarm over Mel Gibson's film,
The Passion of the Christ.
So what's a believer in religious liberty to do?
Believe in religious liberty!
Personally, I like this formulation: "Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance."
Sound familiar? It's Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Those who support Israel, I believe, are most consistently in support of Article 18. To belittle or ignore their goodness because we may disagree with their political stance doesn't augur well for those wanting to retain their freedoms.
Mark A. Kellner is a freelance writer and newspaper columnist currently based in Rockville, Maryland.
This opinion piece by Mark Kellner is his response to the article "Jews and the Christian Right," by Clifford Goldstein, writing in our March/April 2006, issue. Both Mark and Clifford look at the topic from a Jewish perspective—yet they come to very different conclusions. What seems inescapable however is that the escatology of many in the Christian Right influences U.S. policy toward Israel. Editor.
1 The opinions expressed in this article are his alone and are not intended to speak for any organization or publication.
2 Press release, "ADL & Abercrombie & Fitch Join to Bring Innovative Anti-Bias Programs to Campus this Fall," August 9, 2005, accessed at http://www.adl.org/PresRele/Education_01/4772_01.htm on November 14, 2005.
3 Jesus, as quoted in Mark 16:15, Authorized Version.
4 Paul, Romans 1:16, Authorized Version
5 Press release, "ADL Says Jews for Jesus Ads are Deceptive and Offensive," April 27, 2001, accessed at http://www.adl.org/PresRele/Rel_ChStSep_90/3817_90.asp on November 14, 2005.
6 Minnery, quoted in E.J. Kessler, "ADL Urges Joint Effort Against Right," Forward, Nov. 11, 2005, accessed at http://www.forward.com/articles/6856 on November 14, 2005.
7 As noted in Kessler, op. cit.
8 United Nations, "Universal Declaration of Human Rights," accessed at http://www.un.org/Overview/rights.html on November 14, 2005.