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Jews welcome Falwell’s apology; ready to put the matter ‘behind us

NEW YORK, Feb. 3 (JTA) — The Rev. Jerry Falwell’s apology for recently saying that the Antichrist is a Jewish man alive today is being welcomed by the Jewish community. On Tuesday the influential Pentacostal minister apologized not for the substance of his remarks, but for what he called “my lack of tact and judgment in making a statement that served no purpose whatsoever.” That apology “puts the matter behind us,” said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. “Now we have to move forward in the dialogue” between evangelical Christians and Jews, said Foxman. “This was a wake-up call that there may be problems ahead that we need to deal with. “There need to be conversations with Christian leaders to make sure that the coming of the millennium does not bring back some problems of Christian-Jewish history.” The president of B’nai B’rith International, Richard Heideman, also welcomed the apology, saying in a statement that “it was the right thing to do.” Falwell’s original statement, made to a Christian audience last month, raised the hackles of leaders of Jewish groups and of experts in interreligious affairs, many of whom deemed it anti-Semitic. At the time Falwell told a Nashville audience of some 1,500 Christians that Jesus will return within a decade, an event that in his theological view must be preceded by the arrival of an opponent known as the Antichrist. The Antichrist will arise and spread universal evil, but be conquered at the Second Coming of the Christian messiah, he believes. But according to Orthodox Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, that is not a universally accepted belief among all Christians, or even among all evangelicals. “It was careless for him to say,” Eckstein said. But “what was wrong about his statement was its absoluteness, his saying it with definitiveness publicly without any awareness of the historical baggage which that kind of phrase carries. “It was not malicious or intentional. It does not even come close to being anti-Semitic,” said Eckstein. Eckstein, whose organization raised more than $11 million in 1997 to help fund Jewish emigration from the former Soviet Union to Israel, said that while he has at times disagreed with Falwell, the minister is also someone “I know I can always count on to be a voice from the evangelical community that is pro-Israel and denounces anti-Semitism.”