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Brit Tzedek v'Shalom

Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace

Progressive Zionism and Christians United for Israel

The Jewish Review

June 11, 2009

By Yitzhak Husbands-Hankin and Maurice Harris

Recently we, the rabbis of Temple Beth Israel in Eugene, declined an invitation to participate in an event entitled "A Night to Honor Israel" sponsored by Christians United for Israel, which leads the Christian Zionist movement.

This was a painful decision for us, as some members of our community felt the event was an important opportunity for local Jews to experience a powerful expression of love and support for Israel from Christian neighbors.

Moreover, the Eugene CUFI chapter chose to use the event to raise money for a worthy Israeli charity that we support.

The biblical basis for CUFI's support for Israel comes from a passage in Genesis: "Those who bless you [the Jewish people] will be blessed..." This offer of support is extremely attractive to some in the Jewish community in a world that is so often hostile to Israel. We understand those feelings, yet we had serious concerns.

Unfortunately, there are several disturbing factors in Israel's relationship with Christian Zionists that are often dismissed as irrelevant or insignificant, and this troubles us.

CUFI has strong associations with far right politics in Israel. Its founder and leader, the Rev. John Hagee, and many CUFI members, promote fundamentalist scriptural interpretations that assign ownership of all of the ancient land of Israel to the Jews alone, thus precluding any two-state solution.

Also popular within CUFI is the belief in a "rapture" prophecy in which Jews all move back to Israel, ushering in the 2nd coming of Jesus and cataclysmic warfare. Then, Jews will finally convert to Christianity or suffer eternal damnation.

CUFI presents itself as refraining from taking positions on Israeli politics, but its leaders' public actions contradict this. CUFI's magazine is a showcase of far right voices. Citing biblical injunctions, the Rev. Hagee, who has 90 million TV viewers, has publicly opposed any Israeli territorial withdrawal whatsoever.

Supporting CUFI strengthens the Greater Israel/settler movement, which we and many other Zionists feel is unjust and harmful to Israel's long-term viability as a Jewish, democratic state.

Finally, Hagee has expressed some abhorrent views, such as saying Hurricane Katrina was God's punishment of gays and lesbians.

For all these reasons, and despite pressure from within the Jewish community, we declined CUFI's invitation.

This CUFI event sharply divided our community. We found it painful to be in conflict with some in our community who wanted us to support it. Others were outraged at the thought of partnering with CUFI. In the end, instead of attending CUFI's event, we reached out to the local minister who organized it and asked him to dialogue with us, so he can get to know the Jewish community in its true colors. We've already had a constructive first meeting and look forward to further conversation.

CUFI's events are presented as generically pro-Israel rallies, and many Jews and Christians participate on that assumption.

We appreciate that many Christian Zionists have a sincere love for Israel, yet we believe that that love is misdirected in important ways.

Ultimately, we feel that CUFI's kind of support hurts Israel more than it helps. These "Nights to Honor Israel" are organizing tools for a growing political movement that will be working to counter the Obama administration's efforts towards a two-state solution. If they succeed, it is Israel that will be the ultimate loser.

We think it is important that Jews understand this and ask themselves whether CUFI represents the kind of Zionism they want to support. Many prominent Jewish leaders and rabbinic colleagues here and in Israel have similar concerns about CUFI.

In truth, CUFI is part of a larger story in the Jewish community.

The Obama administration now seeks a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and a comprehensive regional peace agreement that will cement Israel's permanence in the Middle East. As that effort continues, strong political forces will try to block it, seeking to play on our shared fears about Israel's security.

And yet, it's a two-state solution and a regional peace agreement that is most likely to enhance Israel's security and reduce Iran's chances of dominating the region.

As Obama pushes on, there's going to be increasing pressure on progressive Zionists to fall into line behind obstructionist politics supported by Jewish leaders opposed to two-states and groups like CUFI. And yet, these voices speak for a minority of Jews in Israel and the United States, where polls show majority support for a two-state solution.

There is an alternative. Groups such as Brit Tzedek v'Shalom and J Street speak for a Zionism that embraces values most Jews share: co-existence, justice for Jews and Palestinians, Israeli security and protecting Israel's long-term viability as a Jewish-majority democracy.

We urge our fellow Jews to recognize that this is an historic moment, when Israel has a chance to live in peace and security.

Progressive Zionism must find its voice now.

Rabbi Yitzhak Husbands-Hankin and Rabbi Maurice Harris serve Temple Beth Israel in Eugene. They are both on the Rabbinic Cabinet of Brit Tzedek v'Shalom--The Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace.

 

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