WASHINGTON (JTA) — In recent weeks it has come to light that John Hagee Ministries has — along with the schools, hospitals and charities in Israel that it funds — provided support to Im Tirtzu, the group responsible for a reprehensible ad campaign attacking Naomi Chazan, the New Israel Fund and Israeli democracy itself.
J Street and other organizations, in decrying the campaign, have pointed out that Im Tirtzu receives funds from John Hagee and his Christian Zionist movement, among other sources. True, we mistakenly attributed the funding to Christians United for Israel, not the John Hagee Ministries, but in fairness CUFI highlights the news release announcing the grant on its Web site and the grant was announced at a CUFI Night to Honor Israel.
In a recent opinion piece for Jewish newspapers, David Brog, CUFI’s executive director, distanced CUFI from the Hagee Ministries’ funding for Im Tirtzu while also accusing J Street of seeking to stifle debate in the Jewish community over Israel.
Kudos to Brog for calling the ads offensive and clarifying that CUFI has never itself supported Im Tirtzu. Yet surely Brog will acknowledge that the distinction between the John Hagee Ministries and CUFI is blurry in the public eye at best. Clearly distancing the Christian Zionist movement that Hagee and Brog lead from this nasty campaign would require Pastor Hagee and the Ministries to speak out against the ads and to agree to withhold future support for the group.
There can be little debate that Pastor Hagee’s funding of Im Tirtzu is part of a pattern of support from the Hagee family of organizations for right-wing, pro-settler organizations — information publicly on their Web site.
To point all this out is not to suggest that Hagee or the Christian Zionist community have no right to their viewpoint. Of course they do. I’ve met with David Brog, and there’s no question in my mind that he promotes his view of what’s best for Israel out of deep personal love of the land. We just disagree on what is best for Israel’s future, for America’s interests and for addressing the challenges facing the American Jewish community.
So let’s put aside the name calling and attacks (yes, David, saying that we are not "adults" does constitute name-calling) and engage openly and publicly in substantive debate.
Two good places to start are discussing what policies are likely to ensure the survival of a democratic Israel as the national home of the Jewish people and whether allying with dispensationalist Christian Zionists is actually in the best interests of Israel and the broader Jewish community.
On the question of policy, I do not believe that the Hagee Ministries or CUFI are helping the future of Israel by providing financial and other support to Israeli settlements over the Green Line. The many American individuals and organizations (from Irving Moskowitz to the Central Fund of Israel) that provide funding over the Green Line are helping to deepen an occupation that is strangling Israel’s hope for the future.
If there is an argument to be made for deepening and perpetuating the 42-year-old occupation, let’s hear it. If not, let’s join together to stop further funding of this self-defeating enterprise.
When it comes to policy, I’m also happy to debate whether it makes sense for Israel’s best friends in the world, the American Jewish community and the U.S. government, to help Israel avoid the long-run destructive consequences of occupation — even if that leads to some friendly tension between Washington and Jerusalem.
What would be preferable, that Israel’s friends stand back silently as its future slips away? That’s another substantive question for legitimate debate.
Let’s also start to discuss openly and directly whether it’s in the long-term interests of the Jewish people and the State of Israel to be in a close alliance with those, like Pastor Hagee, who are adherents of dispensationalist theology.
I and many American Jews cannot help but find it difficult to accept that it benefits Israel or our community to forge a deep alliance with those who believe in a theology that, at its apocalyptic core, seeks to precipitate the biblical Battle of Armageddon so that all Jews will either be killed or converted to Christianity in advance of Jesus’ return.
I appreciate that Pastor Hagee has apologized for the hurt and anger that his remarks about God and Hitler have caused. And, yes, some Jewish leaders have generously accepted those apologies and also set aside their disagreements with him on just about every other issue under the sun, from women’s rights to gay rights to the cause of Hurricane Katrina.
To David Brog and to those in the Jewish community who are comfortable with this alliance, you are welcome to your views. This is a free country and the American Jewish community should be — as you say — open to a vigorous and enlightening debate about Israel, the Middle East and American foreign policy.
That doesn’t equal a need for silence in pointing out where we disagree or to refrain from pointing out where the funding comes from for scurrilous campaigns such as Im Tirtzu’s.
You may think J Street has taken a wrong turn. We think CUFI’s views represent a dead end for Israel and the Jewish people. Let the debate begin.
(Jeremy Ben-Ami is the founder and executive director of J Street.)