Back in the old days of those old-fashioned, red-blooded Christian missionaries, there were missions to just about every land and faith imaginable: mission to the heathen, mission to the Jews and even a mission to the world. Now, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, who largely deserves credit for the incredibly exploitative alliance forged by right-wing Israelis and American Jews with Christian evangelicals, has created his very own Mission to the Evangelicals. The difference being that Eckstein doesn’t want to make them Jews. He wants to make them Christian Zionists and he wants to use their money to support the Greater Land of Israel phenomenon represented by the settler movement. See this previous post I wrote about Eckstein.
Ze’ev Chafets wrote an illuminating profile of Rabbi Eckstein and his work with the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews in last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine. I came away from reading it thinking of him as the Jimmy Swaggart of the Jewish people.
Chafets story chronicles Eckstein’s evolution from an Anti-Defamation League staffer who came to believe that the ADL was missing the boat in refusing to consider evangelicals as a source of political and financial support for Israel; to the leader of a philanthropic powerhouse which has raised $250 million in the past eight years and is the second largest charity registered in the State of Israel. Eckstein has gone from a pariah within the ADL to a major power broker courted by the likes of Ariel Sharon.
The rabbi calls himself a “nonevangelical defender of evangelicals.” But after Chafets describes a few typical interactions between the Jew and his evangelical friends, you wonder why they are so dear to his heart. In the profile’s first paragraph Eckstein is described by a Midwestern, Harley-riding (into his own church service no less) evangelical minister as “a kingdom guy.” We get the idea, but the Rev. Steve Munsey has to explain himself (unfortunately for him): ”What do I mean by kingdom guy?” he said. ”Like a godfather in the Mafia, it’s a term of respect.” Yeah, with that kind of “respect” who needs enemies?
Not to be outdone, the good reverend shows Eckstein even more ‘respect’ when he introduces him to the 5,000 parisioners gathered in the sanctuary hall (as described by Chafets):
‘Yek-eel Epstein is a powerful giant,” he said, butchering the name. ”He rates right up there. You’ve seen him on TV. He was a rabbi, and he became a born-again Christian!”
Lucky for the rabbi, he gets to clear up that little misunderstanding by explaining to the crowd that he isn’t an evangelical. He does that just before he collects his $5,000 check from the minister handed out in the “humble, modest” surroundings of the Church’s sanctuary. I guess neither Eckstein nor Munsey have lately read Rambam’s eight levels of charity, the highest level of course being anonymous giving.
It also makes you wonder whether all this kissing up to evangelicals is worthwhile when all you come away with is a measly 5,000 bucks.
The rabbi also has a most untraditional view of tzedakah. I call it proprietary fundraising as opposed to Clal Yisrael fundraising. In other words, Eckstein views his relationship with the evangelical movement as proprietary. He owns it. Traditional Jewish fundraising, however, is performed for the benefit of Clal Yisrael (or “all Israel”). If one fundraiser has success in raising funds he or she usually would feel an obligation to share that knowledge for the greater good of the Jewish people so that others might also succeed in raising funds to support those in need. But not Yechiel Eckstein:
In April, Eckstein attended a conference of major Jewish philanthropies in Las Vegas, but when fund-raisers there asked him to share his strategies, he tactfully demured.
In other words, he believes that the evangelicals are his own little cash cow reserved for his own pet charitable Israeli projects. A most unconventional and selfish view of Jewish fundraising.
In order to justify his danse macabre with the evangelical movement, he has to do some heavy theological revisionism regarding the nasty habit that they seem to have of wanting to convert Jews. Here’s his reply to that one:
‘Jews have such a cynical, negative view of these people. There are all sorts of crazy conspiracy theories out there about how evangelicals only support Israel to bring on Armageddon or because they want to convert the Jews to Christianity. That’s just not true.
But of course it certainly is true and Eckstein seems to believe by categorically denying the existence of these well-known ideas that this somehow will make them disappear.
One of the most telling incidents in Chafets’ story occurs during a conference call with Gary Bauer (ardent right-wing ideologue) involving Eckstein, a staff member named Sandy Rios and Chafets. Here’s how the latter recounts it:
”Jews tend to demonize evangelicals,” Eckstein said sadly.
”And not the other way around?” I asked.
Eckstein shrugged. ”Not really. No.”
Throughout this conversation, Rios was clearly eager to join in. And as soon as there was a pause in the discussion, she did. ”You know,” she said, ”the truth is, Christians do want to convert Jews.”
Eckstein and Mamo exchanged glances. ”Not by some bait-and-switch trick,” she said. ”But we believe it’s part of God’s plan.” Eckstein winced the way he had when Pastor Munsey called him a born-again Christian.
”Anyway,” Rios said, ”we love Jews, notwithstanding their rudeness and hatred for us.”
Poor Sandy, she picked the wrong place in which to announce her anti-Semitic views. But it makes you wonder who’s great idea was it to hire her in the first place?
Eckstein later calls Chafets back to let him know they fired Rios basically explaining–it’s so hard to find good help these days: “”Hiring staff is a problem. Truthfully, it’s extremely hard to find people who understand exactly what we’re doing here.”
But Rios isn’t the only one having trouble understanding what Eckstein’s “doing here.” Or I should say, I don’t have trouble understanding WHAT he’s doing. I just don’t understand WHY he’s doing it.
I’m not going to go over the incredibly pernicious effect that Eckstein and his work is having in promoting a partisan Bush-focussed Jewish agenda domestically and a partisan Likud-focussed agenda within Israel. You can read that in my earlier post linked above.
I just read that some Jews think Christians support Israel because that would bring forth Armageddon. However, the whole new testament is full of references to the jews as God’s chosen people and states the fact that the promises in the old testament (the jewish bible) is true today. We love Israel and the Jews because it says that the one who bless Abrahams children will themself be blessed. We also love the jews because they have contributed immensely to the world. The jews are .3 percent of world population but has received 18.9 percent of the nobel prices. We love the jews for this and many other reasons. By the way, Christians believe in something called the rapture, this is that the Christians will be taken away from earth long time before Armageddon. So why should we then seek Armageddon?
This is just a big ‘misunderstanding.’ Indeed according to our beliefes If we didn’t support Israel Armageddon and end times would be here faster because Israels enemy’s wouldmore easily succeed in gathering forces and strength and attacking the country. Love and faith in the bible is the only reason Christians have of supporting Jews and Israel, nothing else
H. Ross says
I read the same piece and asked myself if Rabbi Eckstien has been hiding under a rock or suffers from memory problems.
It was Baily Smith, then head of the Southern Baptist Convention who said, “With all due respect to those dear people, my friend, God Almighty does not hear the prayer of a Jew.” And it is still the position of the SBC that Jews must become Christians which is why they financially support the Messianic Jewish movement. It has been less than a decade since the resolution passed that said,
“BE IT RESOLVED, That we, the messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention, meeting in New Orleans, Louisiana, June 11-13, 1996, reaffirm that we are not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek (Rom. 1:16); and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, That we recommit ourselves to prayer, especially for the salvation of the Jewish people as well as for the salvation of every kindred and tongue and people and nation (Rev. 5:9); and
BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED, That we direct our energies and resources toward the proclamation of the gospel to the Jewish people.”
We must remember that an enemy of our enemy (terrorism by anyone) is not necessarily our friend.
fred lapides says
If such “mixing” sand closeness helps bring forth brotherhood and understanding, I am all for it. I note that evangelicals, for whatever reason, seem much more supportice of Israel than does the outfit posting this piece, which seems all to often condemning Israel for this and that but seldom if every addressing Arab terrorism. Yes: terrorisjm.
Richard Silverstein says
Welcome back, Fred to the comments section…do you really feel that what you read of Rabbi Eckstein’s wanderings in evangelical land showed brotherhood & understanding bet. Jews & Christians?? What about Sandy Rios’ anti-Semitism & the pastor’s inability to remember Eckstein’s name and his willingness to absorb Eckstein all too readily into the ranks of the converted? Does that sound like brotherhood and understanding?
There’s no “outfit” involved in this blog. Just your truly. So don’t make me into a corporate megalith or a blog conglomerate.
Evangelical support for Israel is of the most uneducated, simplistic variety. They know nothing about Israeli society nor of the Israeli Palestinian conflict. Their support is knee jerk & unidimensional. If evangelicals bothered to learn anything about Israel and its environs I’d feel much more comfortable with their support. As it is, their support does more harm than good as its largely directed toward the settler movement & the Israeli hard right since–in the evangelical view–those are the Israeli views that are closest to the Bible’s.
Larry Caplan says
Just awhile ago I was channel surfing and caught Pat Boone urging contributions in the amount of 350.00 which will “save one Jew,” bring them to Israel to a new life free from the repressive life they would leave behind from wherever. Then I saw some pathetic couple for whom this so-called, life saving gesture was no longer available, the woman was crying. I was disgusted and enraged at the same time, just wanted to puke. It was obvious I had landed on some Christian channel (Pat Boone, that was a no brainer.) At the bottom of the screen was a constantly displayed web address, wingsofeagles.tv. So with the same morbid curiousity that one might have in witnessing freeway carnage, I checked it out and found the name of this so-called, embarrassment to our faith, rabbi. From there I put in a search for him, and came across this site.
I of course in my life, and still on occasion, have come across the bible thumping Evangelical, who when finding out I was Jewish, practically salivated at the notion that they might bring me “into the fold.” I always joke that should they actually succeed in bringing me over (fat chance,) they think they’ll receive double bonus points, or an “upgrade” on their journey to wherever ot is they think they’re going. While I may joke, and humor is sometimes required in dealing with matters such as these, the overall situation is far from a joke. I’m truly concerned that with the re-election of this guy, due primarily in part to these people, who I saw quoted as saying that his re-election was a “blessing,” (interesting how they co-opt alot of words and phrases to bring a Christian “twist” to it,) that this trend of Evangelicalism will only continue to the degree that their so-called agenda may in time actually succeed. Jewish or not, I make no bones about the fact these people disgust me. As a Jew, I don’t want or need their misguided “love” or “respect.” From THEM, I can do without it entirely!!
Richard Silverstein wrote: “Evangelical support for Israel is of the most uneducated, simplistic variety. They know nothing about Israeli society nor of the Israeli Palestinian conflict. Their support is knee jerk & unidimensional. If evangelicals bothered to learn anything about Israel and its environs I’d feel much more comfortable with their support.”
Many of these evangelical church make annual pilgrimages to Israel. It is probably at a higher percentage than the overall US Jewish population. They support Israel and Jews economically AND politically. True, some want to convert us, while others seek to do us physical and/or spiritual harm. Still others are pro-palestinian and are pushing hard for divestment. As Jews are not a monolith, neither are Christians. There are many that truly support Israel for our benefit, not theirs. Let’s face it, we don’t have many friends in the world. What’s wrong with embracing the few that do support us?
Jerry James says
I guess that I am one of these people that Richard Silverstein wrote about on September 1, 2005 at 9:31 AM
Richard Silverstein wrote:
“the most uneducated, simplistic variety. They know nothing about Israeli society nor of the Israeli Palestinian conflict. Their support is knee jerk & unidimensional. If evangelicals bothered to learn anything about Israel and its environs I’d feel much more comfortable with their support.”
I received an email this morning from the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews
Asking for a donation to help the poor Jews.
I watched the video showing poor Jews receiving food boxes and then I felt compelled to send a donation.
However; I performed a Google Search on Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein to try to determine if he and his organization are actually helping the poor among the Jews.
I confess that I really am an uneducated Christian when it pertains to the modern day Jew and modern day Israel.
I have only been to Israel once and that was in the spring of 2009.
I (along with about three hundred other simplistic Christians) was housed in a very nice hotel inside Bethlehem during our trip to Israel.
I had the opportunity to meet two of the hotel staff and to learn a little of their perspective regarding their relationship with Israel.
They asked me this question: “who do you like most—the Jews or the Palestinians”?
My first impulse was to say the Jews because as Christians we are taught that the Jews are “Gods’ Chosen People”.
I tried to explain to these two staff members that Christians are to love all the people of the world even if they are not always lovable.
I failed in my attempt to explain my view because I cannot explain the hatred and division that different groups have toward one another.
On my plane trip back to the United States I sat beside a very religious Jewish businessman.
He informed me that I should be reading the Jewish Law more. He told me that The Law was the most important thing and that I should never attempt to “convert” any Jew.
Prior to this experience; I never realized that my sharing my belief in Jesus was an attempt to convert anyone.
I personally find it very difficult to understand how anyone could hate a Jew, Christian, or an American just because of their place of birth or the religion of their ancestors.
I do believe that God loves all of His creation and that God’s saving power is available now, in the present day, to all who call on Him in faith.
I do believe that I should give my donations to the poor here in my own home town.
Richard Silverstein says
Yes, they make evangelical pilgramages to Israel. But what do they see? They essentially see the ancient Holy Land. They go to BIblical & New Testament sites, the Kotel, etc. They probably visit some settlements & maybe an IDF base. After that, what do they see? Do they visit any of Israel’s working poor? Do they visit women’s shelters? Do they get any realistic perspective on what life is like for the average Israeli? Do they ever learn anything about Israeli-Palestinian relations or the peace process? Or is the only message they hear that Israel cannot afford to compromise with the Palestinians, God granted the entire Land of Israel to the Children of Israel & returning a millimeter would violate God’s will, etc.?
When you say evangelicals support Israel politically, I reply that is precisely the problem. Within the U.S. the political line they espouse is Tom DeLay’s give no quarter Mideast philosophy which outhawks even the Bush Administration’s policy. Within Israel, they support the hardline settler movement.
When you say that “they” are pro-Palestinian,” here you are confusing mainline Protestant denominations with evangelicals. There are NO evangelicals I’m aware of who are pro-Palestinian or pro-divestment.
Chrisitianity is not a monolith as far as the ME is concerned. But the evangelical movement, I’m afraid is a monolith & this is very dangerous for the prospect for peace in the ME.
peter stark says
I note on the “Give” website that investigates charities that Rabbi Eckstein takes down $350,000 annually. At $350 per Jew, that would repatriate 1,000 Jews a year.
Now THAT’S charity of the right kind.
Moreover, why on earth does a rabbi earn such high salary?
Does he think he’s an Endodontist?
Richard Silverstein says
Thanks for that information, Peter. I couldn’t find the link to the Give website (do you mean “iGive”?). At any rate, Forbes.com lists the good rabbi’s 2004 salary as a cool $381,500! Witnessing to the evangelicals is quite lucrative!
Joe Zias says
It’s a holiday here in Israel, Succot or what the Christians call the Feast of Tabernacles and as usual the press here is running in English large ads for Eckstein, under the guise that he and his organization are raising money for the poor. The same press reported that last year his salary was nearly one million dollars, not bad for someone using the blind, the lame and the halt to further his own interests. Sounds more like ‘pimping’ off the poor and the Bible that helping the poor. For those concerned with this Jim Baker style of living, go to Guidestar to see where all those funds are going.
Evan Kim says
You can’t exactly say Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein is a bad guy. He does help a lot of people. He probably earns most of his salary from his TV show Journey to Zion, where he teaches Christians about the Jewish roots of their faith and how Jews feel about certain subjects.
Richard Silverstein says
Oh, but I can & I do.
Peter Stark says
Remember, if the good rabbi is listed at making $380,000
he probably makes four times that….and has all his expenses paid by his outfit to boot.
Just saw this guy’s infomercial, so I figured I’d google him to see what other Jews are saying about him.
One thing I’m struck by is the fact that racism and bigotry apparently don’t factor in to the liberal argument against Israel, but they do factor in to the conservative argument for Israel. Go figure.