AJC: Finding Friends at the Forum
Perhaps the single most interesting sentence this observer heard at the American Jewish Committee’s Global Forum was one said perhaps in jest. “When Messiah comes,” said Gary Bauer, “Christians and Jews will want to know if it’s the first or second time.” An old bit of humor, not a joke, actually, heard in many interfaith discussions, but one that indicates the cooperative approach, not only between American – and international – Evangelicals and Jewish supporters of Israel, but one that indicated the overall problem solving approach of the AJC 2011 Global Forum.
In less than a week since the close of its annual meeting, the international political dynamic has changed dramatically. American forces have killed the world’s most wanted criminal, Osama Bin Laden. In his most recent radio commentary, David Harris, Executive Director of the American Jewish Committee, expressed praise for the American forces and raised specific concerns about the response of Hamas, which has labeled Bin Laden “a holy warrior.” “This is the same Hamas that’s supposed to unite with the Palestinian Authority this week,” (a situation) “that would clearly spell big-time trouble for the U.S., Israel and the region” notes Harris.
AJC, through its spokesman Kenneth Bandler stressed that the while the killing of Bin Laden is “a good thing, it does not end terrorism. We must be mindful of the realities and vigilant about the threats.” “Particular attention must be paid to the Palestinians and their positions regarding Israel.” Of specific concern is what the reconciliation would mean for the future of direct resumption of Israeli Palestinian talks.”
Harris’ comments were made very soon after the recent AJC Global Forum in Washington, DC, where more than 1000 members met with American and international diplomats and political and religious leaders representing a wide spectrum of positions. The Forum brought together an impressive roster of speakers, with the overall unifying factor being support for the democratic State of Israel. In one of its major meetings, Elliot Abrams, Deputy National Security Advisor in the George W. Bush administration and former Chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, asked “what happens now?” as he faced former Congressman Robert Wexler. He characterized the proposed Hamas Fatah agreement as “very troubling,” while noting that the economic well being of the PA administrated area relies almost entirely on Israel (“95%”). (NB: Israel has now suspended payment of tax revenue to the PA: consequences not yet known). “How do you support a state with a terrorist group in the government?” he questioned, calling the proposed agreement a “huge complications for Israel and the United States.”
When Rabbi Julie Schonfeld sat for a dialogue with the Reverend Gary Bauer, President of CUFI (Christians United for Israel) to discuss the “Assault on Israel,” Bauer explained his support of Israel quite simply: “It seems the right thing to do.” Pro Israel Christians have “a sense of the growing danger for Israel” He assured that Jimmy Carter does not speak for the American Evangelicals on Israel, and commented that some “mainline Protestants” are “deeply confused. “The hour is late,” he warned.
While agreeing to disagree on some issue of diversity and social mores, the Rabbi and the Pastor conducted a probing dialogue on the relationship between Evangelicals and Israel. “Israel is a democratic State in a difficult region and needs our support said Bauer. “Not only do we support Israel, but it is also a voting issue (for CUFI members).”
Schonfeld and Bauer agreed that “a rich and open dialogue is possible” while respecting what the Rabbi called “a real diversity of opinion.” Noting that “one in four Americans is an evangelical Christian,” Schonfeld noted that the Jewish community needs to have a more formal structure to work with that community.” Bauer stressed the need for dialogue, also recognizing that there are many who would keep Jewish and Evangelicals apart. “The worshippers of death are looking to bring great sorrows on Christians and Jews,” who, he said, “must work together and pray together.