Jews and Evangelicals: Support for Israel Isn't Everything

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At a time when Israel is once again under siege — physically from terrorists and Iran's nuclear threat, and psychologically from Islamic extremists and other anti-Israel forces around the world — the pro-Israel perspective of Evangelical Christians is much appreciated. The theological reasons for why they stand with Israel, as a precursor to the Second Coming and Armageddon, take a backseat to current realities. The support comes voluntarily, and we welcome it, as long as it comes without a quid pro quo.

Still, none of this obscures our concerns about certain views among the religious right. Unfortunately, there are elements in the Evangelical community who would like to impose Christianity by government edict. Some openly call for the Christianization of America, claiming that America has always been a Christian nation and that all institutions should be Christianized. Others, less dramatically, are calling for policies that would amount to religious coercion.

When we challenge those efforts or take a position that many Evangelicals differ with, some play the Israel card. They say, "We are the best friends of Israel, how could you?" Some have even threatened that their support of Israel could be removed if we continue on the issue with which they disagree.

A case in point was the controversy surrounding Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ.

When we challenged the U.S. Air Force Academy, situated in Colorado Springs, a bastion of Evangelical activity, to address religious intolerance in its institution, we were again bombarded with the threat that Evangelical support of Israel could hang in the balance.

So here is the challenge: how to deal with the reality that Evangelical Christians have been among Israel's best friends, especially in difficult times, while many of the same Evangelicals have a view of America that is contrary to what the Founding Fathers intended and to what has made religious life here uniquely positive for all.

Our approach to this dilemma has been consistent. We welcome and encourage Evangelical support for Israel, particularly at a time when there are serious threats to the Jewish State. However, we have always said that we would not abandon our principles of keeping America the kind of society in which Jews and other minorities do not feel excluded in any way.

We will continue to raise issues where we strongly disagree with their approach—most especially on a Christian America and the entangling of religion and government. We will not be silent or cower to threats on the issue of separation of church and state. This principle, embodied in the First Amendment, has not only sustained America as the most religious country in the Western world, but has produced a society where non-majority religious groups have been able to feel comfortable as equal citizens.

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, in one of her last decisions on the Supreme Court regarding the placement of the Ten Commandments on government property said, "Those who would renegotiate the boundaries between church and state must therefore answer a difficult question: Why would we trade a system that has served us so well for one that has served others so poorly?"

In the final analysis, despite the differences we have on the domestic agenda and the kind of society we want for America, we hope that Evangelicals will continue to support Israel for Israel's sake.

Abraham H. Foxman is National Director of the Anti-Defamation League