Elie Wiesel Needs New Friends

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November 2, 2009

My colleague, Bruce Wilson, and I wrote an open letter, as a plea to Elie Wiesel to reconsider his participation in Pastor John Hagee’s Christians United for Israel (CUFI) event. The decision to write the letter was motivated by years of immersion in the primary source media of Hagee and other Christian Zionists. Ironically, while Wiesel was delivering his speech this past Sunday, the first national conference of J Street was holding its opening session. As I sat in the hotel ballroom with hundreds of participants, all carrying conference bags stamped “Pro Israel Pro Peace,” I thought of the stark contrast between the goals of J Street and those of John Hagee’s CUFI. The contrast would become more pronounced as I listened to American, Israeli, and Palestinian speakers over the next two days.

The stated purpose of J Street is to broaden the meaning of “pro-Israel” to include those who believe that a peaceful resolution in the Middle East is in Israel’s best interests. This requires reclaiming the definition of “pro-Israel” from the extreme religious right entities which have been most vocal in recent years, voices like that of John Hagee.

I have been told many times by Jewish leaders that since we don’t believe that Hagee’s end time scenario will take place, it should be of no concern. Meanwhile, what harm can there be in accepting the “pro-Israel” support of Hagee and other Christian Zionists? Even at the J Street conference I received this response more than once from well regarded Jewish leaders and journalists. Perhaps more shocking was the response of a U.S. Congressman, who told me that I must be mistaken about Hagee’s anti-Jewish conspiracy theories. “He is pro-Israel,” I was told, as if that meant Hagee is immune from doing anything harmful to the future of Jews and Israelis. The Congressman went on to say I must be thinking of someone else. Actually, the shelves of books and videos in my research library are by the very same John Hagee.

Besides the thinly veiled anti-Semitism broadcast around the globe by Christian Zionists, their elaborate and supernatural prophecies manifest themselves in real world lobbying to help move the hands of the prophetic clock. For Hagee, this includes financial support for the West Bank settlements, endorsement of Messianic ministries, and lobbying for real wars against flesh and blood human beings, many of whom he portrays as slated for destruction due to their biblical genealogy.

In 2003 Hagee claimed, prior to the invasion of Iraq, that it would be the “gateway to the apocalypse” and produce an “Islamic army of millions, willing to fight to the death, in a massive all out Holy War.” The three part sermon series continued with graphic descriptions of the coming “New World Order” led by the anti-Christ who Hagee states is “partially Jewish” and most certainly gay. Hagee clearly relishes this imminent conflagration because of the revenge that will be taken on those viewed as the enemies of the divine plan for Israel, including those he describes as “half-breed” Jews. According to Hagee, this is a plan in which the end of the religion of Judaism is a prerequisite for the 1000 year reign of Christ, headquartered in a greater Israel which will spread from the Mediterranean to the Euphrates.

Christian Zionist events feature shofar blowing, singing in Hebrew, and other rituals that are Jewish in appearance, but the underlying narrative behind these expressions of their “Hebrew Roots” is one of Christian supremacism. Hagee’s CUFI Summits have been characterized by statements like that of 2007 speaker Brigitte Gabriel, who shouted that Arabic peoples “have no soul,” to the applause of her audience. A CUFI member interviewed at the summit in 2008 stated into the microphone that “because the hardcore Jews do not want what is presented to them now, they will get exactly what they deserve, and that is the anti-Christ.” Hagee and CUFI demonstrate that some definitions of “pro-Israel” are not synonymous, or even compatible with a human peace for future generations of Jewish children.

Catering to Hagee and other millennial extremists has alienated many American Jews, who have been raised with strong beliefs in religious pluralism, social justice, and tolerance. Repeatedly throughout the J Street conference, Jewish parents stated with great sadness that their children felt alienated from Israel and horrified by “pro-Israel” activism that is characterized by xenophobia and religious supremacism. J Street has finally provided a venue that refuses to cater to the worst of religious extremism of all types, and the event clearly emphasized the more noble qualities of our Abrahamic beliefs. The conference centered on the hope that, however difficult the path may be, we must support a path to peaceful coexistence of Israelis and Palestinians.

Sadly, Elie Wiesel has now added his name to the list of Jewish leaders who provide legitimacy to John Hagee, and a very different vision of the future.

Rachel Tabachnick is part of the research team which published the May 2008 Bruce Wilson video of John Hagee’s sermon quote about Hitler being sent from God as a hunter, taken from a 2005 sermon series titled Jerusalem Countdown.

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