Jewish Leader Malcolm Hoenlein Lauds Christian Support for Israel, Warns Against Missionizing (INTERVIEW)
Back in 1977, Mike Evans was the director of Bnei Yeshua, an openly messianic congregation he founded in Texas and moved to Stony Brook, NY. According to press reports, the group held Friday night services with a pulpit adorned with a star of David, holding prayers and singing songs in Hebrew, all dedicated to Jesus.
When Bnei Yeshua started to proselytize on the streets and on nearby college campuses promoting Evan’s message that the goal was “to see every Jewish person in the world come to a greater relationship with the God of Israel through the acceptance of Jesus as the messiah,” Jewish organizations began to get concerned.
One of the first Jewish leaders to take action was Malcolm Hoenlein, then executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of New York. Hoenlein created the Task Force on Missionary Activity in June 1977, specifically targeting the summer campaign of Jews for Jesus and Evans’ Bnei Yeshua.
Today Hoenlein is Executive Vice Chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, and Evans is a leading TV evangelist and prominent “Christian Zionist.” Evans heads up the Jerusalem Prayer Team, a multi-million-dollar operation whose latest project is the Friends of Zion Museum (FOZ) located in the center of Jerusalem, a short walk from the Old City.
This past week, Hoenlein led an official delegation from the Conference of Presidents on a visit to the FOZ. The Jewish leaders were accompanied by more than 20 senior diplomats stationed in Israel. For Hoenlein, the visit was not an endorsement of Evans or the Jerusalem Prayer Team. “We don’t issue endorsements; all we did was show people this new museum,” Hoenlein said.
Nevertheless, within 12 hours of the visit by the Jewish group, the FOZ issued a news release announcing that Hoenlein had been presented with a leadership award. The PRnewswire release included a photo of Hoenlein and Stephen M. Greenberg, chairman of the Conference of Presidents, looking uncomfortable, next to a grinning Mike Evans Jr., son of the televangelist, who currently heads the FOZ.
In an interview with The Algemeiner, Hoenlein expressed surprise at the publicity over the award, and said he thought he had just received a simple certificate from the Christian group.
The FOZ PR gesture is typical of deceptive missionary tactics, said Shannon Nuszen, a former evangelical missionary from Texas, who works for Jewish Israel, an Israeli group dedicated to raising awareness of missionary activity. Nuszen converted to Orthodox Judaism and now lives in Israel.
Nuszen said the Jewish umbrella group was “used in a deceptive way to boost the legitimacy of Evans and to show off the extent of his foothold in Israel.”
She warned that most Jews don’t recognize the subtle messages at the FOZ museum. She pointed to a scene in the IMAX film screened for visitors, in which Evans climbs atop a mountain and proclaims, ‘Hineni! Here am I.’
“This term is used throughout the missionary world as a call to evangelize and save the Jews,” she claimed. “It’s understood that this means ‘I am here’ with 100 percent commitment to save God’s people by whatever means necessary.”
Hoenlein is convinced that the FOZ museum is designed to target Christian visitors, not Jews. Before agreeing to visit, he consulted with “people I trust who are involved” who assured him Evans has not engaged in missionary activity, and “there’s no sign of any kind of effort at conversion or proselytization at the museum. We have no evidence that he’s engaged in that kind of activity there,” Hoenlein said. “But it’s something that has to be watched and we must be assured that continues to be the case. To have an institution that can be attractive to Christians to come and learn about Israel is a valuable addition to the city.”
Nevertheless, Hoenlein is very concerned and aware about the extent of missionary activity in the Jewish state. “Today there are many more of them operating in Israel, which is a matter of concern to me. I have tried to be careful with whom we associate. I do believe evangelicals are great friends and we work with those who disavow proselytizing. I have a history in efforts to counter deception,” he noted, adding that many mainline Christian organizations and ministers support that approach.”
According to Hoenlein, an important principle in relating to Christians is, “You don’t blur lines” between Christianity and Judaism.
“We have to be alert and careful,” he cautioned. “We can only judge their activities, not their intent. I was in battle with Evans in the past, but saw no reason not to be open to hearing him now, if in fact there was a change.”
Hoenlein mentioned a few specific cases of concern that relate to his red lines regarding working with Christian groups. Those Christian organizations that target “vulnerable populations,” (i.e. the poor, elderly, immigrants, Holocaust survivors, lone soldiers) should be “exposed and dealt with,” he said, but not by government regulation, because of concerns about freedom of religion and freedom of speech.
“I was appalled here recently when I saw a group of Israelis watching a TV show with a guy in a black suit wearing a kippah, talking about the weekly Torah portion and it was about Jesus!” Hoenlein exclaimed.
Hoenlein said the Conference of Presidents works closely with Pastor John Hagee of Christians United for Israel (CUFI), whom he “trusts explicitly,” but the Conference of Presidents does not cooperate with the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, “because people sent me enough compelling information for me to have very serious doubts and questions about their activities.”
He acknowledged the sensitivity of maintaining relations with the Christian community. “You don’t want to alienate friends, and evangelicals are among our biggest supporters.”
Enemies in 1977; friends in 2016? Perhaps it’s time for a more discerning look at whom we consider “friends” these days.