The leader of America’s largest synagogue movement called on Jewish groups to stay away from the Christian-sponsored “Nights to Honor Israel” that have raised millions for the Jewish state, citing what he said are the extreme views of the pastor who founded the events.
Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, was certain to roil Jewish communities across the country who in recent years have increasingly embraced Pastor John Hagee and Christians United for Israel, the movement he founded.
“We should refrain from participating in the ‘Night to Honor Israel’ road shows that Pastor Hagee sponsors,” Yoffie said Wednesday at a convention of Reform rabbis in Cincinnati.
Christians United, which says it has raised more than $30 million for Israel, has held 75 such events across the United States since its founding two years ago. The organization reaches out to local Jewish communities to help organize the events; the Jews who attend invariably report being bathed in good wishes and support.
Yoffie acknowledged the feel-good aspect of such events, but said negatives deriving from Hagee’s outspoken opposition to a two-state solution and his reported bromides against Muslims and Roman Catholics made such alliances dangerous.
“I have listened to my colleagues who have chosen to do otherwise and have tried to understand,” he said. “But my view is that most of the time, these evenings will not increase our political clout. They will reduce our political clout and drive away our allies. And I cannot accept the argument from Jewish leaders that they can endorse CUFI events, appear as speakers at these events, accept CUFI money and still distance themselves from the positions that CUFI embraces.”
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, the founder of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, also appeared at the Reform convention. Eckstein told JTA in a telephone interview that he agreed with much of what Yoffie said, particularly how the Reform leader framed the speech by emphasizing that Hagee represented a minority view among pro-Israel evangelical Christians, who increasingly trend moderate on political hot-button issues.
“I think he was very deliberate and careful and correct in distinguishing between the broad pro-Israel evangelical community, which we should nurture and dialogue with and accept support,” Eckstein said.
Speaking of Hagee, Eckstein said, “Where I disagree with Eric is that we shouldn’t work with him. The Jewish community should accept his support but make known its opposition to those dimensions” it finds offensive, including Hagee’s reported attacks on other faiths and his opposition to a two-state solution.
Hagee has said that the Koran instructs Muslims to kill Jews and Christians, and has described the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 as divine retribution for a gay parade in New Orleans. In recent weeks he had labored to rebut claims that he is anti-Catholic, and backtracked from his remarks about gays and Katrina.
“Cooperate whenever possible, oppose whenever necessary, and teach and sensitize at all times,” Eckstein said.
In his speech, Yoffie said Jewish groups have not shown a willingness to take on offensive comments.
“Rarely if ever do Jewish friends and allies make public statements critical of ” Hagee’s offensive statements, he said. “But the contradiction is obvious: When anti-Jewish statements are uttered, we expect public responses from communal leaders and will settle for nothing less. In short, no more double standards, please.”
Eckstein said such public rebukes are appropriate, but do not necessitate a wholesale repudiation of the offending cleric. He referred to the recent controversy surrounding the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr., the former pastor to U.S. Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), whose past fiery statements have dogged the Democratic candidate’s presidential campaign.
“Obama satisfied the sensibilities of the Jewish community by saying such views are not morally correct,” Eckstein said. “But that doesnâ€™t mean that he shouldn’t meet with his pastor.”
Yoffie also had harsh words for the Palestinians, noting that while Israel was “not blameless” in the conflict, the Palestinians have responded only with terror.
“Surely the Palestinian national movement, in its various manifestations, is one of the ugliest and stupidest national movements in modern history,” Yoffie said.