‘Christians are hearing the message’: An interview with David Brog
By Tzvee Zahavy | Published 08/31/2006 | Cover Story |
Jewish Standard: The Rev. John Hagee wrote the foreword to your book. He assured people last week that there would be no proselytizing or missionizing associated with his organization, Christians United for Israel. Do you believe he is sincere?
David Brog: I do believe that he is sincere. He has believed as a core principle for over 25 years that his work should not lead to any efforts at converting Jews. When he first tried to organize Christians for support of Israel 25 years ago, he met with uniform resistance from Christian pastors on this issue. When he spoke recently to several hundred Christian pastors in San Antonio Texas in an effort to enlist their support for Israel, all of them agreed to refrain from using these activities as a means of converting Jews.
I work now for Hagee as the executive director of Christians United for Israel. It’s interesting that a nice Jewish kid like me would take such a position. But that is because I do believe he and his people are sincere.
When I speak to groups within our organization I review with them 2,000 years of anti-Semitism. I want them to understand why Jews are suspicious of their motives. Most Jews don’t realize that these people that I deal with have no heritage of anti-Semitism. Christians are hearing the message. The people I work with are the least likely to try to convert Jews.
JS: You write that Christians who follow the dispensationalist theology are most likely to support Zionism. Why is that?
DB: The best way to explain this is to look at how Christians interpret the biblical concept of "Israel." Traditionally the church preached that it was true "Israel," that it replaced the Jews. Dispensationalists on the other hand believe that "Israel" is still the Jews.
In their worldview, the biblical book of Genesis remains a Zionist document. The Bible is a philo-Semitic document. The verse in Genesis 12:3 is central to this thinking. God says he will bless those who bless Israel and curse those who curse them. This is a constant refrain in the faith systems of the Christian Zionists.
JS: You say that some powerful world leaders such as Balfour, Wilson, and Truman supported Israel as a matter of faith. Do you have solid evidence for that?
DB: I’m sure their faith was a contributing factor. Take the case of Truman, who immediately recognized the State of Israel when it was declared. Conventional wisdom has it that he did this for political reasons — for the Jewish vote. Clark Clifford, however, describes how Truman kept a famous memo in his top drawer. It declared that supporting Zionism was a neutral factor in attracting the Jewish vote. Hence it said that Truman should play down ethnic appeals and focus on social issues in general. In the election, Truman lost the three biggest Jewish states.
Secretary of State [George] Marshall advised Truman not to recognize Israel, yet he went ahead. Truman cried several times in public when speaking about his recognition of Israel. So yes, it was close to his faith.
JS: Abe Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, disagrees with you. He is suspicious of the Christian Zionists. What makes you think he is wrong?
DB: The greatest threats to the Jews today are related to the existential dangers to the State of Israel and to the dangers associated with the war on terror. I sense that Foxman’s rhetoric exaggerates Christian aims. He is too rigid on what the First Amendment means. Supreme Court decisions on this are all over the map, not as simple as Foxman portrays them.
JS: Many Jews have a knee-jerk reaction against anything that is supported by the likes of Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson. Yet you say they are staunch Christian Zionists. How do you rationalize that liberals ought to work with them?
DB: I spent seven and a half years on Capitol Hill and saw coalitions come and go. We need to agree and work with them on one issue. We can disagree with them on other issues. If you ask me whether there are some coalition partners that are not acceptable, I would say sure there are. But these folks are acceptable and we ought to have respect for them. We ought to have open minds. Christian conservatives are thoughtful people of good faith. We should partner with them in support of our aims.
JS: Do you find that the Christian Zionists understand the dramatic impact of the suffering of the Holocaust and the salvation of modern Israel?
DB: No people understand the cosmic implications of the Holocaust better than the Christians who support Israel. To them the Holocaust represents the evil that humans are capable of. If you ask me, they are the most sensitive about such attacks as the recent threats made by the Iranian leader to wipe Israel off the map. They understand it best and reject it most clearly.
JS: Is the Rev. Hagee in this fight for the long haul?
DB: Yes. Hagee has a burning mission. He works 24 by 7 for Israel. In a way it reminds me of the kind of dedication that people attributed to Herzl. After the Dreyfus trial he was utterly dedicated to his mission — so much so that he literally worked himself to death. Hagee is in this struggle to build a sustained constituency for a broad agenda of issues.
JS: Is George Bush a Christian Zionist?
DB: Bush is a Christian Zionist in the same way that Truman and Balfour were. He does not overtly phrase his support of Israel in Zionist terms. He does resort to a kind of biblical rhetoric about the powers of good and of evil. You can see from his decisions that his faith is a factor in his policy-making. As our Christian members say, when they push the White House on their agendas, it is like pushing on an unlocked door.
JS: In light of recent events in Israel, what kind of impact do you expect Christian Zionists to have on public policy?
DB: At our recent D.C. summit on July 18 and 19, we filled the D.C. Hilton with 3,500 attendees. We achieved this level of support after six months of organized activity. Remember that it took the AIPAC organization 50 years to reach their current level — and they draw just 2,000 attendees at their summits.
At the critical juncture of the beginning of the Lebanon conflict, which coincided with our summit, we sent our members up the hill to talk to Congress. They told their representatives that the U.S. should let Israel fight. Let Israel defend itself. I believe this lobbying by Christians on behalf of Israel had a real impact. In the future this support can help to influence and sway debates on key issues.
Our activities also influence the rhetoric of public issues. Rick Santorum and others spoke at our summit about the evils of Islamo-fascism. A few days later President Bush started talking forcefully using these terms. I am sure there is an influence.