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WASHINGTON, DC—Rabbi Shlomo Riskin first met Pastor John Hagee when he attended a rabbinic installation in San Antonio, Texas. At the time, Riskin was planning to develop a center for the study of Christian-Jewish relations in Efrat, Israel, where he is now the chief rabbi.
Riskin recalls his first impression of Hagee as “a big voice in a big room.” He remembers Hagee’s greeting: “I love you, rabbi. I love all the Jews.” Riskin admits he wondered, “Do you love us to death, to convert us?” He was reassured of Hagee’s genuine affection by the pastor’s reference to Genesis (“I will bless those who love thee; those who curse you shall be cursed”).
“Hagee takes the [Hebrew] Bible literally,” Riskin said in a July 16 interview with JNS.org from Washington, DC, during the annual conference of Christians United for Israel (CUFI), founded by Hagee. “He acknowledges the Jews are the chosen people, recognizing that the Bible gives Christians a mandate to convert only the pagans, not the Jews. Jews have a standing relationship with God that remains.”
As the CUFI conference began, Hagee declared that the Bible “is a Zionist text.” He welcomed more than 5,000 delegates to the event, and cautioned that “it’s not a matter of if, but when there will be a war in the Middle East.” CUFI, he said, “can give national voice and unity on behalf of Israel now and Israel forever.”
Acknowledging that love and spirituality are important, Hagee stressed that “until you immediately impact the lives of those who shape public policy, you are wasting your time.” For six years, CUFI—which has increased its membership from 400 to 1,123,400—has dedicated itself to supporting Israel’s right to exist, to have secure borders, and to have the right and ability to defend itself against its enemies. CUFI bases its position on the Biblical covenant between God and Abraham, a covenant Hagee said cannot “be replaced by the President of the United States or the United Nations.”
“Any Bible-believing Christian,” said Hagee, “has a Bible mandate to support Israel. This is not a political position. The Bible is a Zionist text. Israel does not occupy the land; it owns the land.”
Riskin believes cooperation with Christian Zionists can make a “tremendous difference” for Israel. Christians and Jews have “basic shared values,” including the mutual theological concept of “a God of love and absolute morality,” he told JNS.org.
In contrast, Islam has the concept of a “God of power who seeks world domination and death to the infidel,” Riskin said.
“Jews are a people of 13 million; to have the friendship of 2 billion Christians is critical,” Riskin said. “There are a billion Muslims. The Palestinians and Israel are just part of the larger picture.”
“Having the Christians on our side has tremendous political importance,” he added. “It is wonderful that we are not alone.”
The “rapprochement with Christianity,” said Riskin, begins with the Catholic Church and the earthquake of change initiated by Pope John Paul II and continuing under the current Pope. The elimination of the Christian concept of “replacement theology,” says Riskin, is of critical importance among the Evangelical community in America.
Riskin called “religious Zionist” a “compound noun” that can be to describe Christians, not just Jews.
“One cannot be truly religious and not be a Zionist,” he said. “The concept also applies to Christians who take the Bible seriously.”
Evangelicals, Riskin said, are “very sincere, very smart people.” But is he concerned about attempts at proselytizing (converting Jews to Christianity)?
“I cannot dialogue with anyone who wants to convert me, who doesn’t respect me as I am,” Riskin said. “If Christians believe they have the more perfect revelation, and that Jews will convert, that is their right.”