In our midst – the dangers of evangelical antisemitism: Analysis

Roughly three hundred organizations in Israel are dedicated to converting Jews to a belief in Jesus.

By Don Uslan,

“Anti-Semitism.” We are almost numb to the word.

Volumes of books, news and social media, headlines and talking heads have informed us about the Oldest Hatred. For me, simply put, anti-Semitism is the effort to prevent Jews from being Jews, in whatever shape or form we come in. Prevention of Jewish peoplehood and Jewish identity by intimidation, exclusion, physical violence, politically correct speech, threats of death, murder and by confusion and seduction.

“Confusion and Seduction”?

Two movements provide a contrast in anti-Semitism: the freeing of Jews from the Soviet Union and the converting of Jews in Israel.

I recently had the honor of attending the launch of Pamela Braun Cohen’s new book, “Hidden Heroes” – the story of the most successful modern movement to free Jews. Because of this movement, millions of Jews were able to leave the former Soviet Union, and many made aliya to Israel.

That evening, moving stories were told by an eminent former refusenik and “Prisoner of Zion” who described how Soviet Jewish refuseniks for decades collaborated with what they termed “housewives and students” (Jewish mothers to burgeoning campus radicals) in the West to gain freedom from the virulent anti-Semitism of the Soviet State. And they succeeded.

Jews, amateurs and novices in activism, from across the religious and political spectrum in the free world lobbied politicians, wrote letters, protested, made innumerable trips to the Soviet Union at their own expense, and were chased by the KGB. Back then, Jews were all mishpuha– family. And family, regardless of the differences, protect each other.

Activists smuggled in medications, holy books, letters of support, made effective use of the media, conducted clandestine phone calls at all hours to provide moral support and assistance and to exchange information. Refuseniks had been stalked, threatened, fired, jailed in the gulag, imprisoned to hard labor, beaten and isolated. All were ultimately freed because of the selfless effort of thousands who rallied to the cause  determined to save… us. Jews.

The long threat of Soviet efforts to destroy Jewish people and culture for over 70 years was toppled by sheer will, determination, compassion, volunteerism and the belief in doing what is “right.”

The lengthy effort by the Soviets over 70 years to eliminate Jews and crush our beliefs failed. Anti-Semitism was overcome. By heroic people.

The relentless campaign of over  2,000 years to eliminate Jews and our beliefs by Christianity has not failed. Anti-Semitism is alive and well here in Israel.

Not your ancestor’s anti-Semitism

This is not your ancestor’s anti-Semitism of expulsion, pogroms, hatred and murder. It has now morphed into a modern public relations movement under the guise of well-funded evangelical Christian missionaries posing as ordinary or “messianic” Jews.

During the 1970s, following the Six Day War, efforts by fundamentalist Christians to convert Jews to a belief in Jesus expanded from the United States to Israel. All the trappings of traditional Christianity had been cleverly removed. Covert missionaries to Israel have adopted a traditional Jewish presentation of ḥaredi garb and mimicked traditions and a very close approximation of a pious Jew emerged.

According to one former missionary who became a Jew and works as an educator, Christian anti-Semitism has morphed. There is a new degree of sophistication employed today:

“They are data mining Jewish sources to substantiate their ‘proofs.’ The missionary message to the Jews is an appealing universal one. You can have the best of both worlds. You can marry a non-Jew, eat what you like, celebrate as you wish, and be free of rabbinic influences, who are the agents of oppression.”

The price of accepting political and financial support by community, political and religious leaders is turning a blind eye to missionizing Jews in Israel. The blackmailed threat: if we in Israel establish red lines and boundaries to inhibit, restrict or prevent missionizing (aka “freedom of religion”), we’ll lose evangelical Christian political support (“I control 70 million evangelical Christians who will do what I say!” said one entrenched messianic Christian leader in Israel) and the financing we (apparently) desperately need goes—poof! And many good and conscientious Jewish leaders will lose their parnassa, the funding of their livelihood.

And, for this, we will relinquish our “prime directive”: to save a life, a Jewish life. A Jewish community. A Jewish soul.

This is not about “freedom of religion.” This is about… anti-Semitism.

How is this anti-Semitism?

Because evangelical missionaries are attempting to prevent Jews from being… Jews, the Jewish people (in all our various hues and shapes). In our land. It’s not the more than 2,000-year-old history of exclusion, ridicule, violence and death. It’s the modern, “kinder” version of redefining Jews and Jewish belief. This is the dark side of the inter-religious good-will effort called the “Judeo-Christian ethic” and the “Judeo-Christian tradition” that attempts to theologically fuse together Christianity with our Torah. A new, harmonious definition of Jews and Christians, a blending, a promise of simplicity and happiness with Yeshua (Jesus). “You can still be a Jew, a completed Jew… Jesus was a Jew! A rabbi!!”

Israel is different

In the United States, the gut level revulsion to Christian missionizing is deeply ingrained in our DNA, for the United States was founded as a Christian nation. Our  radar is finely tuned to know and accept normative Christians and suspect missionizing Christians. No American Jewish community would knowingly allow messianics to be legitimized by taking part in community or organizational structures. There’s a general consensus that they are not part of the normative Jewish community.

Israel is different. The native Israelis with whom I’ve discussed evangelical missionizing are stunned, shocked, in disbelief, and have no frame of reference to even begin to understand the phenomenon. “This is the first I’ve heard of it!” “No one has tried to missionize me. They wouldn’t dare!” “I talked to an orthodox rabbi, and he says you’re blowing this out of proportion, and he teaches them (the evangelicals) Talmud!”

We are proud, secure and confident Israelis, not freiers (suckers); we are able to withstand any physical or technological threat. And, for an individual Israeli secure in his or her identity, this is correct: they wouldn’t dare. Who could they be hurting? But vulnerable individuals and communities in Israel are fair game. After all, if the government has no problem with evangelicals, what do I have to be afraid of? If big name rabbis and leaders have no problem, why should I be fearful?

There are roughly three hundred organizations within Israel that are dedicated to converting Jews to a belief in Jesus, to Christianity. Two hundred online organizations and sites are dedicated to converting Israeli Jews. There have been 30,000 successful conversions within Israel. And many, many more on the way. That’s who they are hurting. Vulnerable Jews and Israelis. And, unfortunately, these powerful U.S. evangelical groups with large coffers are being enabled by many Jewish leaders who derive financial support, at a price, from missionary organizations. At the same time, these missionaries are causing suspicion and mistrust in communities and towards legitimate gerrim (converts).

This is not the “Free Soviet Jewry” movement in a foreign land. This is mostly native Israelis beguiled by sweet talk and friendship, financial inducement, sophisticated overt and covert individuals and organizations trained specifically in missionizing to The Jews. In our land! And yet, no public outcry. No awareness. No passionate irate response to this threat to our identity, the integrity of our faith and our Jewish home, the sanctuary of Jews.

The Jews of Trauma (and make no mistake about it… Israel is full of Jews of Trauma) who appear to have no energy or interest in another battle for our identity and freedom to be… ourselves. Israeli life is challenging and dramatic. It takes a special social filter to attempt to function from day to day. Why go looking for more trouble that isn’t apparent?

Who’s dealing with this?

A few dozen impassioned volunteer educators, rabbis, missionary awareness consultants and their organizations in the United States and Israel are trying to bring awareness to this modern form of spiritual anti-Semitism which threatens our very soul, with thus far limited success. Pitted against multi-million-dollar international organizations of 600 million evangelical Christians, 70 million in the United States, supporting very effective missionary activities in Israel. David and Goliath redux.

And this time in the long 2,000-year history of Christian anti-Semitism, we, the victims, are contributing to our own harm. Perhaps we can again emulate the “Hidden Heroes” of the movement to save Soviet Jews. They did it because it was right.

We all need to be “Hidden Heroes” again. The Soviet Jews did not want to be forcibly stripped of their identity and consumed by the Soviet State. Israeli Jews do not want to be absorbed into  Christianity, in its duplicitous attempt at also destroying our identity.  Our very essence is at stake.