Jews should be as troubled by Christian Zionism as they are by Christian anti-Zionism, according to a prominent Jewish intellectual. I doubt he will find many in the Jewish community who concur with that kind of shallow thinking.
Dr. Yehuda Kurtzer, president of the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America, advanced his unconvincing argument in the online magazine Tablet on April 14. Recounting his experience as a guest at a recent Episcopal Church national event, Kurtzer described a scene that has been repeated at liberal Christian church conferences again and again for many years: lots of anti-Israel resolutions combined with plenty of self-righteous insistence that hatred of Israel is not anti-Semitic.
None of this is particularly new or interesting. What is interesting, however, is Kurtzer’s attempt to “balance” Jewish resentment of Christian anti-Zionism by claiming that Christian Zionism is a big problem, too.
Just as we are troubled by the anti-Semitism of Christian anti-Zionists, “we should also be troubled by the philo-Semitic expressions [of] Christian Zionism,” declares Kurtzer.
Those “troubling expressions” include “reading the Bible literally and then rendering service and kindness to contemporary Jews as a means of enacting divine promises … often accompanied by political support and philanthropy for the State of Israel.” Why, exactly, should that trouble us?
According to Kurtzer, the problem is theological. Many Christian Zionists are motivated to help Israel by their belief in “the imagined Jew of the evangelical prosperity gospel” (here he is referring to the Torah passage that states G-d will bless those who bless the Jews). He is uncomfortable with Christian Zionist beliefs that “displace actual Jews with a theological function that Jews are meant to serve.”
But that’s the point—it’s just their belief. It doesn’t have any negative practical consequences. If evangelicals want to believe that helping Jews is the prelude to a mass Jewish conversion at the end of days—as many evangelicals believe—why should that bother us? It’s their belief, not ours. Their private thoughts don’t affect us.
By contrast, the beliefs of Christian anti-Zionists affect us very much because Christian anti-Zionists put them into practice in very specific, harmful ways. Liberal churches promote the BDS movement against Israel; lobby against U.S. aid to Israel; and incite hatred by accusing Israel of apartheid, oppression and war crimes, as Kurtzer himself shows in his account of the recent Episcopal gathering.
Kurtzer’s “both-sides-are-bad” argument may seem like evenhandedness, but it ultimately undermines Israel’s cause. It softens justified criticism of Israel’s enemies while unjustifiably chastising tens of millions of pro-Israel Christians. Consider that the organization Christians United for Israel (CUFI) alone has more than 10 million members, according to its website.
Kurtzer makes the same mistake later in his article, in his characterization of the Arab-Israeli conflict. He calls the region “Israel-Palestine.” He says “Israelis and Palestinians will continue to seek permanence and peace in their shared promised land.” He refers to what he calls “the Palestinians’ struggle for justice and reconciliation with their Jewish neighbors.”
But it’s not “Israel-Palestine.” Throughout history, there has never been a state of “Palestine.” The concept is nothing more than a device to injure and ultimately destroy Israel.
And the Palestinian Arabs are not “seeking peace” in a “shared promised land.” They are seeking the destruction of Israel and the expulsion of the Jews from our land. Palestinian Arab leaders make these remarks every day in the Palestinian Authority’s official news media, as well as in the school textbooks that the P.A. uses to educate the next generation. And, of course, the Hamas rulers of Gaza have no interest in peace at all.
The Palestinian Arabs are not “struggling for justice and reconciliation.” They are struggling to achieve the injustice of eradicating Israel. Their idea of “reconciliation” is to return the Jews to their status in the Muslim world from the seventh century C.E. until 1948: stateless, persecuted, third-class dhimmis.
World Jewry should welcome the support of any Christians, regardless of their private theological beliefs. Showing gratitude for such support will not “make the Israeli-Palestinian conflict more of a holy war than it needs to be,” as Kurtzer claims. It is a “holy war”—an “unholy war” would be more accurate—because the Palestinian Arabs and their millions of Muslim supporters see it that way. Fortunately, millions of Christians see the defense of Israel as their own holy war.
Moshe Phillips is a commentator on Jewish affairs whose writings appear regularly in the American and Israeli press. He was a U.S. delegate to the 38th World Zionist Congress in 2020.