CUFI: New Voices is ‘bigoted’


Editor’s note: This is a Christians United for Israel response to a June 14 New Voices op-ed. New Voices presents it without any edits.

Gabriel Erbs’ June 14th column “Unholy alliance: evangelicals and pro-Israel campus groups” is a vicious attack on Christianity for which the author and publication ought to be ashamed.  The piece is dishonest, bigoted, and preys upon people’s prejudice towards other faiths.

In the piece, Erbs seeks to delegitimize the now strong relationship between Christian and Jewish Zionists, because he disdains the former’s faith and politics. In truth however, he seems to know little about either.

Erbs focuses his theological condemnation on his perception of Christian beliefs about the “end of days.” What he either doesn’t know, or doesn’t care to acknowledge, is that the elements of Christian eschatology he seems to find most objectionable – known commonly as the birth pangs of the Messiah – are neither exclusively Evangelical, nor exclusively Christian. In fact, those beliefs, like much of Christian theology, have a Jewish foundation.

There are of course key differences. Jews traditionally believe that when the Messiah comes this will be the first time He appears; Christians believe Jesus is the Messiah and that when he arrives it will be His second appearance. In addition, many Jews believe that the coming of the Messiah can be expedited by through human agency – if Jews return to Israel or keep the Sabbath, the Messiah will come sooner.  Most Evangelical Christians disagree – they believe that human action cannot speed the Second Coming by so much as a second.  Thus a critique that Christian Zionists support Israel to hasten the End of Days is a mistaken projection of Jewish eschatology onto Christians who do not share it.

In addition to demonizing our faith, Erbs lies about our politics. He asserts that Christians United for Israel (CUFI) lobbies on behalf of settlements. We do not.  Our action alerts and Capitol Hill talking points are freely available to the public. We have petitioned our leaders many times over the years.  While we oppose American pressure on Israel to take risks for peace the Israelis themselves don’t wish to make, we’ve never once presumed to dictate policy to Israel on the West Bank or elsewhere.

Our members, including our founder Pastor John Hagee, certainly hold opinions about what we think is in Israel’s best interests and many are skeptical about the prospect of land-for-peace; but we recognize that we have no right to impose our beliefs on Israel’s democratically elected government.

In a 2010 op-ed published in The Jewish Daily Forward Hagee noted “…from our founding four years ago, we decided that CUFI would never presume to tell Jerusalem how to conduct its foreign or domestic affairs. We have never, and will never, oppose Israeli efforts to advance peace. Our involvement in the peace process will continue to be restricted to defending Israel’s right to make decisions free of international interference or pressure — including U.S. pressure.”

Misunderstanding CUFI’s policy agenda is not the sole political gripe Erbs’ raises. Erbs notes that he has difficulty shaking hands with any Christian, but notes that his pain is alleviated when he knows they are from denominations that traditionally hold liberal social values. So, according to Erbs, it’s almost ok to be a Christian as long as you’re politically progressive. 

CUFI has more than a million members. We have grown to be the largest pro-Israel group in the nation. Many of our members are politically conservative. Some are not – Erbs may be surprised to learn that a quarter of Evangelicals supported President Obama in 2008. But it shouldn’t matter either way. CUFI is a single-issue organization. We exist because we believe Israel has a right to exist, and a right to self-defense. We address no other issues.

Yet, Erbs argues that working with America’s 50 million Evangelical Christians will “alienate potential allies on the left.” Setting aside the “tactical” mistake of choosing potential allies over committed ones, Erbs’ is presenting a false dichotomy. As he acknowledges, in politics groups need not agree on every issue to work together to advance a common agenda. If support for Israel’s democratically government is Erbs’ goal, he should see CUFI as an ally. Other – especially domestic policy – issues have no bearing on the relationship because they are unrelated to CUFI’s agenda.

Interacting with people of different faiths is one of the great joys of my work. I find faith in God beautiful. But I believe that mine is the true faith. Is that so terrible or out of the ordinary? Do Jews, Hindus, Muslims and so forth not feel the same way? 

Erbs chooses to single-out Evangelical Christians for our beliefs, but interfaith relations do not demand the abandonment of one’s own religious beliefs. It merely demands tolerance of the other’s religious beliefs. CUFI prides itself on this tolerance – Erbs clearly does not.

Jeremiah Nasiatka is the National Campus Coordinator for Christians United for Israel.


6 Older Responses to “CUFI: New Voices is ‘bigoted’”

  1. Ira Erbs
    June 21, 2012 at 12:42 pm #

    Mr. Nasiatka,
    What article did you read? Your personal attacks of the author hold no place in a discourse of ideas.I know personally that Gabe holds other faiths in high regard, our home is open to friends of all beliefs and we have had many great conversations and debates over our diner table. I think you need to re-read his piece as it makes no comments about a dislike of believers of other faiths, just a concern for Evangelicals and their consistent statements of End Times prophecy. This is hard to walk back from. Your statement “But I believe that mine is the true faith.” is the issue for me. Jews do not proselytize, and trust others to decide for themselves what faith resonates for them. This belief in conversion is the main issue for concern about aligning with Evangelical groups. This was in fact the focus of the Op-Ed piece. Not a castigation of other religions. It was focused on this concern. A point you seem to have missed. Jews have a millennium’s long experience with trusting our Christian brothers and sisters to do right by us. My reading of history tells me that more often that not you have fallen short of this trust. To be cautious of your motives should be easily understood by all. Personal attacks on the author without recognizing this history provides more concern for this reader.

  2. Elke Weiss
    June 21, 2012 at 2:20 pm #

    Christianity, and many friends in CUFI understand that 2000 years of “Christian love” as Benjamin Disraeli put it, have made Jews nervous. But must we Jews condemn Christians for crimes they did not commit themselves?
    I believe my faith is the true faith. That is a Jewish belief. Believing others to be wrong isn’t offensive, it’s forcing another to agree that is wrong. I believe I can both believe the Messiah has not come and that I have a lot to learn from Christians and much friendship to be gained.

  3. David Olesker
    June 21, 2012 at 3:11 pm #

    Ira, would I be right in guessing that you are Gabriel’s father? If so, as a father myself, I can identify with you leaping to your son’s defense. I’d repeat to you the advice I offered to Gabriel in my comment on the original article; read David Brog’s book, “Standing With Israel”.
    We Jews do have lot’s of historical baggage with Christians, but we owe them — just like we owe everyone else — a chance for redemption, or at the very least a hearing. With all due respect to Gabriel, I don’t think his article gave them one.
    If I were a Christian supporter of Israel like Jeremiah I would have been offended by an article that opens by portraying me as an ungrateful viper in one’s bosom. If such a metaphor were used about Jews I think most of us would find it offensive, and we must allow Christian’s that same right. Jeremiah expresses his offense and he’s got every right to do so. He goes on to raise several substantive points of fact about Gabriel’s article.
    You, however, raise a new point. Jeremiah’s profession of his belief that his is “the true faith” bothers you, since it suggests to you the logical consequence that he must be out to proselytize. But he makes the point that belief in the rightness of one’s own faith is not unique to him, but common to many believers. That, I think is the real sticking point for Jews confronted with religious Christians who support Israel; they are disconcerted by a religious fever that few contemporary American Jews feel for their own faith. An obvious display of trenchant belief makes them fear being proselytized.
    (BTW, I re-read Gabriel’s article, and it’s hard for me to see “the focus of the Op-Ed piece” as being on conversion, it’s barely mentioned and Gabriel’s main concern seems to be what he perceives as a right wing slant to CUFI’s politics. But Gabriel can speak for himself.)
    Bob Horenstein’s response to the original article is a fair and balanced one, as befits a professional who works in community relations, “we also disagree with Catholics and, to a large extent, Muslims (who tend to be conservative on social issues). Should we refrain from partnering or dialoguing with those groups, too?”
    I’d add that I’ve met many Christian supporters of Israel who are true friends. Are we Jews so replete with friends that we can spurn them?

  4. David Z
    June 21, 2012 at 6:05 pm #

    Isn’t it sad that Mr. Nasiatka knows more about Judaism than Gabe Erbs? See my comments on that article.
    Ira — I understand that you are concerned about personal attacks, but I did read the same article as Nasiatka and came the exact same conclusion. And I’m a Jew. Perhaps Gabe espouses that he is open to friends of all faiths, but I don’t think he’s had much to do with Evangelicals. They aren’t scary and don’t bite. Yes, they want to convert you. That’s what their religion tells them. But it doesn’t let them use force or other kinds of immoral pressure. They might ask you a few times — if you show no interest in converting the smart ones drop and the mentally ill one are annoying, as they are in every religion. I currently have two Evangelical friends. And while they can sometimes on a bit about their beliefs, I’m sure I do the same thing.

  5. David Olesker
    June 24, 2012 at 4:46 am #

    If I was a Christian supporter of Israel I’d be offended by Gabriel’s characterization of me of me as an ungrateful serpent nestling in the Jew’s bosom. It’s a very strong metaphor, but Gabriel at least tries to justify it in his article by making a number of factual assertions that Jeremiah disputes in his reply (lobbying for settlements, that they refuse to accept the two-state proposal). I don’t think Gabriel succeeds in his assertion.
    Ira, you raise an entirely different issue (one that is barely alluded to in Gabriel’s original piece) that of proselytizing. It’s certainly an issue any Jew who feels his “is the true faith” would be sensitive to, but CUFI (at least on an organizational level) does not engage in it.
    Ira, would I be right in guessing that you are Gabriel’s father? If so, as a father myself, I empathize with your defense of your son, but his issues are not yours; he is concerned about CUFI’s (perceived) right wing politics and the fact that (according to the survey he quotes) most American Jews are against an alliance with it.
    CUFI has been willing to take a stand in support of Israel; are we Jews so replete with friends that we can afford to spurn them? Could “80%” of American Jews be wrong? We are not going to find out if the discussion is not well informed and rigorous. I’d offer you the same advice I offered Gabriel, read “Standing With Israel” by David Brog.
    The least we can do for those who want to help us is to give them a fair hearing.

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