The Zionist Conspiracy
Monday, July 25, 2005
I'm not going to rehash the very interesting feature in the New York Times Magazine by Zev Chafets about Yechiel Eckstein.
For those who aren't familiar with Eckstein, he heads the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. The group has raised a significant amount of money for Israel-related causes from Evangelical Christians and other Christian supporters of Israel. One such cause is Nefesh B'Nefesh, which provides financial and social support to North American Jews who immigrate to Israel, and in just a few years has almost single-handedly achieved a very significant increase in the amount of such aliyah.
Here are a few of my thoughts about the article and its subject matter:
1. I have no doubt that on a theological level, religious Christians (and perhaps even many rather secular ones), want Jews to convert to Christianity.
2. Many of the people who give money to Eckstein's organization also donate to organizations that conduct missionary activity targeted toward Jews, including blatantly misleading ones like Jews for Jesus.
3. The average evangelical Christian does not donate money for Jews and/or Israel because he or she believes that the Armageddon is imminent, or because putting more Jews in Israel makes the prospects better for mass conversion. The financial and political support is sincere, and we should acknowledge and appreciate it.
4. This does not mean that these individuals do not believe in Armageddon or that Jews would be better off accepting Jesus. It simply means that in their day-to-day lives, not everything they do is motivated by a desire to convert Jews. Nor does this mean that on some level - likely a significant one - the checks written to Eckstein's group is not based at least in part on Christianity's traditional view toward Jews, albeit put in a more positive light.
5. Similarly, most observant Jews would prefer if secular Jews became more religiously observant. Many, including me, donate money to charitable causes such as NCSY and NJOP that are involved in outreach toward the non-observant. That does not mean that our routine day-to-day interaction and friendships with non-observant Jews are based solely upon our support for such outreach.
6. In case anyone objects, I do not wish to compare observant Jewish outreach toward non-observant Jews to Christian targeting of Jews for conversion. There is a big difference between outreach and education toward members of one's own religion, and aiming to convert members of another religion. Furthermore, Christian missionary activity targeted at Jews is particularly offensive given Christianity's history of hatred and violence toward Jews.
7. In principle, I don't have a problem with Eckstein or what he does. (In many ways, Joe Lieberman's stump speeches in the 2000 election campaign were quite similar, albeit for a different purpose.) At times, however, Eckstein has been way too eager to support his Christian allies who have made offensive statements, and I hated his 'On Wings of Eagles' infomercials, which struck me as filled with literally neutral, but obvious buzzwords, meant to attract Christian viewers, such as "please donate so that together we can 'save' Russian Jews." While this may not say much, overall Eckstein's record in that regard is far better than people like Daniel Lapin, who has made a career out of supporting any Christian action, speech or cause that Jews (legitimately or illegitimately) are critical of.
8. It is noteworthy that many Christians are quite critical of Eckstein. Indeed, one anti-Eckstein web page on a Christian site argues that:
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein says that it is spiritual genocide to preach the gospel to Jewish people! Do I need to say anymore? Should this not be enough to stop you from supporting this man no matter how noble his intentions may appear? What is more important to you, obeying Jesus Christ to preach the gospel to every creature or to bring Jewish people back to Israel? Should you give your money to a man or organization that calls the Great Commission "spiritual genocide?"
I believe the answer is a resounding no! ... If you truly love the Jewish people you would want the gospel preached to them above anything else, even more than bringing them back to Israel. What good is it for a Jewish person to get a flight back to Israel if they die in their sins? Why not support an organization like Jews For Jesus that are on the frontlines preaching the gospel and handing out tracts to Jewish people around the world?
9. Those who criticize Eckstein and his work may have a point, but they must recognize that full termination of such efforts will result in reduction of funds available to organizations like Nefesh B'Nefesh. Ultimately, the question is whether Christian theology relating to non-believers in Jesus makes efforts to create an alliance with believing Christians an absolute non-starter.
My feeling is that the answer is no, that such an alliance can be beneficial, so long as the Jews involved are not willfully naive, and do not sell out their dignity or compromise their values in the process. Does Eckstein cross the line? I think that he at times does. In a way, the harsh criticism of Eckstein by some Orthodox Jews may be just what is needed to put Eckstein back in place and force him to tone down his pandering to evangelicals, while continuing his efforts.