Are they your friends?

By Tzvee Zahavy | Published 08/31/2006 | Cover Story |

Assessing Christian Zionists’ support of Israel

They are growing more solid each year in their support of Israel, a friendship that is based on their conservative religious faith. In one night to honor Israel in 2004, these people turned over $2.5 million to Jewish organizations supporting Israeli immigration and orphans. So just who are these folks?

["Standing With Israel: Why Christians Support the Jewish State," by David Brog, FrontLine, Lake Mary, Fla., 285 pp., $19.99]

Ironically, this is not the Jewish community we are talking about. These folks are the members of fundamentalist Christian groups who fervently embrace the Zionist mission and the modern State of Israel.

"Standing With Israel" is a new book by David Brog that analyzes Christian Zionism, a trend that has been growing within Christianity for more than a century. Brog’s book is clearly written and well researched, and documented. The case he makes at the core of the book is compelling. He convinces this reader that Christians in the United States who support Zionism and Israel are sincere and bear no hidden agenda. Contrary to popular opinion, Brog argues, they are not making their positive overtures so that they can convert the Jews and bring on the second coming of Jesus. He says that Jews who still hold a bias against Christian altruism toward Jews are living in the past and fighting the ghosts of past generations.

A big part of Brog’s case relies on his analysis of theological changes in American Christianity. He explains clearly and without pretension the so-called anti-Israel replacement theology that many contemporary Christians have abandoned in favor of their more Israel-friendly dispensationalism. Essentially, early Christians believed that there was one plan for the history of Israel. They concluded that the followers of Jesus were the new Israel who replaced the old. A shift came in the 19th century, when some theologians proposed that this reading of history was wrong. There really were two plans for history. The first biblical plan held firm for physical Israel, the Jews, including the modern Jews. The other plan was yet to be activated. It would take place in the next paradigm of time, the coming dispensation, after the rapture.

For now, Christians who believe in the Bible are supposed to help the Jews fulfill the present plan. That includes supporting their dominion in the earthly land of Israel. This assistance brings two benefits to the Christians. First, it helps along God’s specific biblical intentions for the Jews and for the land. Second, it provides a way for Christians to generally benefit from God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:3: "I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you." In any event, Brog explains that contrary to popular belief, the dispensationalist supporters of Israel never act out of a desire to hasten the second coming. They hold firmly that no matter what they do, humans cannot change God’s timetable.

While waiting for the ultimate timetable to kick in, as we know, these Christians by and large foster a conservative political and social agenda. As Brog sees it, this is prominent, but incidental to their beliefs, not essential.

Brog makes numerous other assertions in this book that bear up well under scrutiny. For instance, he says that when Republicans are in power in Washington, as they have been for the past six years, the Evangelical Christians are "the most powerful pro-Israel force in America." He backs this claim with examples from the activities of Christian Zionists, among whom he mentions with praise Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Gary Bauer, John Hagee, and others.

In cataloguing the good works of Christian Zionism, Brog reminds us in particular about the impressive fund-raising by the organization of Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein and of the frequent pilgrimages of Christian supporters to Israel, a tangible boon to the economy of the modern state.

This book is most controversial in its last chapters, where it addresses the less-than-enthusiastic Jewish reactions to the fervent spiritual Christian support of modern Israel. Brog calls the suspicions that some Jews have "The Martin Luther Syndrome." This recalls the fear that a theological friend of Israel may change his mind, as did the founder of Protestant Christianity. Martin Luther began his life as a friend of the Jews and concluded it preaching rabid anti-Semitism. Accordingly Jews learn from this radical reversal of the past the pointed lesson that Christian friends cannot be trusted.

Brog also notes that Jews have a healthy fear that Christian friends may really be out to find new converts. And lastly he invokes the disquiet that many Jewish liberals have with those friendly overtures from the firmly conservative Christians.

Brog raises his rhetoric in his final two discussions. He spends a full chapter defending Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson from charges of anti-Semitism. Regardless of the accuracy of his justifications of these two men and their motives, many Jews will remain suspicious of them.

This book’s last claim is its most fanciful. Brog believes that today’s Christian Zionists are the direct heirs of the righteous gentiles who saved Jews during the Holocaust. While the outcomes may be the same, the motivations of these two groups of friends — according to most assessments — are not shared.

I agree more with Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, who told me that he believes that the Christian Zionists of our day represent the fruits of a true paradigm shift within Christianity. I conclude that it may be poetic to link as descendants diverse Christian supporters from one generation to the friends of Israel in the next. But I think Brog here exaggerates both the relevant historical facts and the related theological beliefs.