Abe Foxman, head of the Anti-Defamation League, issued the first call to arms. The Jews, he said, faced an organized, sophisticated coalition of enemies. He described as "openly arrogant" the supposed Evangelical goal: "To Christianize us, to save us!" Within a few weeks, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, leader of the liberal Reform Movement, America's largest Jewish denomination, and Rabbi James Rudin of the ultra-establishment American Jewish Committee, reprised Foxman's complaint.
Never before in U.S. history had Jewish leaders shown such bold hostility toward Evangelical Christians, the largest Protestant community in America and, by most measures, the most philo-Semitic and pro-Israel. In normal times, this would be paradoxical. In an age of jihad it was dangerously perverse.
Let's look at some of the reasons given by Jews who rebuff evangelicals. One is that Evangelicals will proselytize them. Yet Jews are insulated from such blandishments by geography, culture and social class as well as religion. There are probably more ex-Jewish Buddhists than Baptists in America. Then there is the fear that to befriend Evangelicals is to support their project of "Christianizing" the U.S. The idea that Evangelicals want to turn America into a Christian government is both alarmist and mistaken. For one thing, there is no Evangelical legal system like Islamic sharia. Evangelicals have an agenda, but it is largely the restoration of moral and ethical standards that have typified the U.S. since its inception but have been neglected in the last half century. You may disagree with this agenda, but it is not theocratic.
Jewish leaders also fret about a two-part Armageddon scenario. The first part is that, according to Evangelical prophecy, all the Jews are either forcibly converted or killed in the last reel. The second part is that Evangelicals are trying to bring on Armageddon as a necessary condition for the Second Coming of Christ. Yet both parts are red herrings. First of all, we Jews don't believe in the Second Coming. Either we are right about this, or we are wrong, in which case we'll have some 'splainin' to do to Jesus. Either way it's out of our hands. Secondly, almost all premillenialist Christians believe that the End of Days will come in God's time. Humans can't hurry things along. Finally, some Jews are uncomfortable with the heart of Evangelical Zionism. Verse 12:3 in Genesis reads, "I will bless those who bless Israel, and curse those who curse Israel." Since Israel's foundation in 1948, many evangelicals have seen Jews as the chosen people and modern Israel as the embodiment of God's plan. This grates on more secular Jews, who don 't go in for God talk. We know ourselves too well to suppose we are chosen. And some of us (especially us Israelis) have cursed Israel more than once. Thus Evangelical Christians may love us for the wrong reasons.
But love is a lot better than its opposite. Especially in wartime. While American Jewish leaders worry about the mythological Armageddon, the Iranians are building a bomb to drop on the actual, physical Armageddon, a locale an hour and a half from Tel Aviv. The Palestinians have elected a government committed to Israel's destruction. Al-Qaeda has dubbed its jihad a, "holy war against Crusaders and Jews."
In the face of such animus, the unconditional love and approval of American Christians is a great gift. The Democratic party, with its many Jewish activists, has traditionally supported Israel. But the Republicans have no such ethnic affinity. It is the Evangelicals, major stakeholders in the G.O.P., who have made it a bastion of pro-Israel and pro-Jewish sentiment. They make being on Israel's side as American as apple pie.
Israelis appreciate this. Every Israeli prime minister has cultivated their goodwill. Evangelical leaders, in turn, have been content to accept Israeli decisions. If Christian Zionists really were the crazed fanatics of liberal Jewish imaginings, they wouldn't have been so sanguine about Israeli withdrawals from "promised land."
Nor would American Jews feel so secure. They and not just Israelis are primary targets of every radical Islamic movement. To paraphrase Trotsky, the Jews of America may not be interested in the jihad, but the jihad is interested in them. Their security depends on being wrapped in a larger American polity which very much includes 60 or 70 million conservative Evangelicals.
American Jews don't need to adopt Christian beliefs or even join the Republican Party. But they do need to stop slapping away the hand Evangelicals are extending, and learn to disagree without sneering. There is a war going on. And that means saving your declarations of war for the enemy.
Journalist Zev Chafets's new book is A Match Made in Heaven