Shmuel Rosner
April 3, 2008 - 5:38pm

"No, we cannot." We cannot cooperate with the Christian Zionists, Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie, President of the Union for Reform Judaism, told the annual conference of the movement's rabbis Wednesday night in Cincinnati, Ohio, according to copies of the speech distributed ahead of time to the press.

Not an easy thing to say, considering their powerful numbers and the depth of the Evangelicals' support for Israel. But Yoffie thinks it is important - not because of their stance on abortion, their policies against homosexuals or the fact they do not respect members of other religions.

These elements certainly add to the argument, particularly the last factor, but they are not the main reasons. "What they mean by support of Israel and what we mean by support of Israel are two very different things," Yoffie says, highlighting the real reason.

No one familiar with Yoffie's record and his positions on Israel would question his commitment to the state. He is one of the main proponents within the URJ for tightening the movement's bond with Israel, a bond that has not always been self-evident. This gives Yoffie's declaration special importance.

This isn't the first time the issue has come up among American Jews, but in the past most of the focus was on domestic issues. To put it simply, the question was: What's more important - fighting the Evangelicals over the image of America, or allying ourselves with them for Israel's sake? Two and a half years ago, Yoffie himself slammed the Evangelicals' attitudes to homosexuality.

In his speech Wednesday night, however, Yoffie declared that an alliance with Christian Zionists must be rejected for the sake of Israel. Christian Zionist support for Israel is harmful, he said. It's not "unconditional support for the Jewish state," but rather support for certain leaders, certain parties, for a political agenda that is unacceptable to Yoffie and, he believes, to a majority of Israelis. The Evangelicals reject a two-state solution and oppose Israeli territorial concessions, and for that reason the Reform Movement cannot cooperate with them.

Yoffie's speech focused on one man: John Hagee, founder of the Christians United for Israel lobby group. That in itself is notable, since Hagee ostensible received the stamp of approval when he was invited to speak to an AIPAC policy conference last year.

The facts are also under dispute with regard to Hagee, who says he will continue to support Israel whether or not it chooses to relinquish territory. About two years ago, in an interview to Haaretz at his church in San Antonio, Texas, Hagee said he would not lend a hand to returning territory but would not stand in the way if Israel chose that path. However, in that event, he said, he would shift his support from the political arena to other ones, such as Israeli hospitals and orphanages. Yoffie, it would appear, doesn't believe him.

Yoffie knows his rejection of the Christian Zionists will not be embraced in Israel. But he asks: "By what right do we expect others to walk away from those who make anti-Jewish or anti-Israel statements when we will not walk away from those who make anti-Islam or anti-Catholic statements?"

The Reform leader stresses he isn't rejecting support from the Evangelicals per se, but rather only those whose political goals he sees as unacceptable. Yoffie's aggressive speech may surprise many in his audience, since he has been a proponent of dialogue between Jews and Evangelicals for some years and even gave a speech at preacher Jerry Falwell's Liberty University in 2006.

Yoffie knows his own movement well. When it comes to Israel he is sometimes to the right of most of its more liberal members. In Wednesday night's speech, too, he did not hesitate to say a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict may not be achievable in the near future. However, he said, "there is a huge difference between those who ask Israel to work patiently for a two-state solution that may be a long time in coming, and those who ask that the principle of such a solution be replaced by the vision of an apartheid state."


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017