The Age (Australia), Tuesday, February 4, 2003
FINDING FRIENDS WHEREVER WE CAN
By Rabbi Steven A.Weil and Avi Davis
One of the more unusual characters in Jewish literature appears in the Book of Esther. The palace guard Charbonah originally plays a role in Haman's conspiracy to slaughter the Jews and dispossess them of their property. But somewhere along the way he experiences a change of heart, turns double agent and informs on his co-conspirators. We remember Charbonah today in a piyut (prayer)as a man to be remembered for his righteousness. Rav Joseph Soloveitchik explains that Charbonah deserves his status because even those with initially suspect intentions can produce good deeds.
What the great rabbi might also have added is that in times of grave crisis, the Jewish people must accept help whenever it is offered. For many years the Jews inclined toward causes natural to our temperament, forming alliances with American blacks, environmentalists and human rights groups. Ever since the days of FDR and the New Deal, Jews have consistently supported those they considered either the underdog or the downtrodden. But has there been a payback? When Jews felt their own cherished causes under assault, have the groups we once joined in a spirit of brotherhood, responded in kind?
The record is not comforting. Black leaders such as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton have used their platforms to launch ugly attacks against Jews and Israel. The Democratic left has been less than enthusiastic in its support of Israel over the past two and half years and their record in Congress is nothing if not middling. Human rights groups regularly identify Israel as the perpetrator of massive abuses, while ignoring the far worse crimes of the country's enemies. As anti -semitism has risen world-wide, fewer and fewer of our supposed natural allies have chosen to speak out on our behalf.
Contrarily, it has been the Christian right that has proven itself to be in the vanguard of protecting Jewish interests. The outpouring of support for Israel from this community has been extraordinary. Yet a constant stream of warnings, issued within our own community, cautions us to avoid these same Christians because of an agenda that is unconnected to Israel's welfare.
That proselytism is an item on the Christian right's agenda is something no one in the evangelical Christian community denies. Certainly we cannot and will not tolerate missionaries in our communities attempting to convert our youth. This must be made clear. But does it mean we turn our backs on 70 to 80 million Americans whose commitment to Israel's survival is not only unimpeachable but vital to its welfare? These representatives of the American right, after- all, form the core constituency of the most favorable American administration and president Israel has ever experienced.
This was clearly demonstrated on April 15, 2002 , the day 200,000 people descended on Washington in a display of overwhelming support for Israel. Among those multitudes were thousands of Black Christians from the East Coast, white Christians from the South and evangelical Christians from the West. All came voluntarily. All paid for their own transportation.
The failure of the Jewish community to embrace the Christian right is all the more troubling when we remember the great lengths we have gone to cultivate such organizations as CAIR and the Muslim Alliance, Moslems whom we convinced ourselves were moderates. It has been a grave disappointment. Instead of vigorously condemning suicide bombing and terrorism, both groups have become apologists for these acts of base inhumanity. Even more troubling is evidence, produced by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, revealing that 80% of the mosques in this country are controlled by the Wahaabi sect - most of whom receive direct financial support from Saudia Arabia.
For eight years the most venomous among these Islamist leaders, a number of whom have even been recorded a calling for Jihad against America, were invited to the Clinton White House to celebrate the end of Ramadan. This, despite the warnings and protestations of well known terrorist experts such as Steve Emerson, Danile Pipes and others. The Bush Administration, while maintaining the Ramadan Feast, has at least been more circumspect in who it invites.
Isn't it now then appropriate to be asking the question why we give legitimacy to those groups who don't deserve our support and shun those that do?
Shouldn't those who share a common enemy and a common cause be able to find common ground?
This is particulalrly so, when we remember that the same scourge of radical Islam that has been visited on Israel, has been felt among many other Christian communities around the world.
Today 36 of the 39 of the world's conflagrations are related to the incursions of radical Islam.
Christian churches were almost wiped out in a single weekend in Indonesia.
In Lebanon, the Christians are under relentless pressure and every day there are killings of Maronite Christian soldiers, political figures and judicial appointees.
In the Middle East, the heartland of Christianity itself, towns such as Bethlehem, Nazareth and Beit Jala are being progressively emptied of Christians through Palestinian intimidation, rape and murder- some 40,000 having fled Bethlehem since 1993. Former Bethlehem mayor Elias Freij's prediction "that if Arafat is ever allowed to return, Bethlehem will end up becoming a Christian town without any Christians," is proving surprisingly accurate.
In the meantime the Catholic Church is silent. The Pope, cowed by intimidation, embroiled in issues related to the misconduct of his own clergy, could barely utter a word of protest when, last April, several dozen Palestinian terrorists commandeered his institutions's holiest site and used it to hold dozens of Christians hostage.
It should therefore be obvious to us that Jews and Christians are facing a common enemy - an enemy that rejects democracy, western cultural values and the Judeo-Christian ethics we have striven valiantly to instill in our own societies. We are faced, in Samuel P. Huntington's inimitable words, with a genuine clash of civilizations that has nothing to do with borders or territory but a great deal to do with the very survival of our own way of life.
Who else can the Jewish people rely upon in this struggle? The Europeans have been frozen into paralysis, frightened by the rapid, uncontrollable growth of their own Muslim communities. In France there are neighborhoods where the French police fear to enter because they are controlled by militant Muslims. Holland ten years ago had 10 mosques. Today it has 1,000. When the prime minister of Hungary recently met with Jewish leaders he warned that both Poland and Hungary will soon become the next frontier in radical Islam's inexorable encroachment.
All over Europe this mobile, expansionist culture is advancing on a weakened western culture that has lost its own moral bearings and its will to resist coercion.
In the United States, we also have reason for intense concern.
The FBI reports that powerful Muslim criminal networks, specializing in illegal cigarette importation, credit card fraud and drug running, are actually bigger and stronger than the Mafia.
Unfortunately our own intelligence services are still unequipped to deal with all the information they receive because of a lack of translators. Among the 47 boxes of documents removed from the apartment of El Sayyid Nosair, the killer of Rabbi Meir Kahane, were complete details of the planned attack on the World Trade Center in 1993. The FBI overlooked the documents, designating them simply as 'insignificant religious materials'.
In the end we have a common cause and a common enemy and together can make a difference. Why then hang back from embracing those whose welfare is our own?
Have we forgotten that among the hundreds of delegates at the first Zionist Congresses at the turn of the 20th century were dozens of evangelical Christians, including major philanthropists and well known politicians? Have we forgotten how British protestant evangelicalism combined with the intense 19th Century activism of such men as Lord Shaftesbury and Sir Laurence Oliphant drove the eventual promulgation of Britain's Balfour Declaration?
Those who argue against aligning ourselves with the Christian community should also remember the dual attitudes of Harry Truman. Here was a man whose decision to support Partition in 1947 and then immediately recognize the fledgling Jewish state in 1948 transformed him into a Jewish folk hero. But he was not always a lover of the Jews. According to a recent book by the Presidential biographer Michael Benschloss, he would often refer to New York as "kike town" and once when the expression 'Chosen People' was uttered, snapped, "I think G-d has better judgment."
We can therefore never forget that men and women who once were suspected as enemies can transform into allies and even into trusted partners. We are too few in number and have too many enemies to reject a hand offered in friendship. When we recognize that the owner of that hand must also endure the same struggles and ordeals as ourselves, there should no longer be any doubt in our minds.
Rabbi Steven A. Weil is the senior rabbi of Beth Jacob Congregation in Beverly Hills, the largest Orthodox congregation on the West Coast. Avi Davis is the senior fellow of the Freeman Center for Strategic Studies in Los Angeles.