November 5, 2004
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Jewish Voice for Peace.
Massad responds to the intimidation of Columbia University
(Electronic Intifada) Another academic attacked for failing to tow the party line
Collaborator (Direct e-mail) How peace activists reinforce the structure of occupation
Born-agains for Sharon (Salon.com)
The increasingly open alliance between fundamentalist Christians and Israel
[JPN Commentary: Joseph Massad is professor of Modern Arab Politics and Intellectual History
at Columbia University. He is also on the editorial board of The Journal of Palestine Studies. A
campaign aimed at silencing him, as well as other academics who are vocal in their opposition to
Israeli policies, has been going on for some years.
Recently, he has been the target of a film "Columbia Unbecoming", which charges that in
addition to being an Anti-Semite he has been engaging in intimidating students who disagree with his
Joseph Massad is a staunch anti-Zionist. While I don't claim to have read everything he
has written, all of the articles I have read were nothing short of excellent, and - unless one
equates anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism - I never detected a hint of anti-Semitic attitudes in any
of them. Regarding the charge of intimidating students: In an article which was published in
the Jewish weekly "The Forward", a number of his students who were interviewed testified that they
were able to voice "pro Israeli" views in his classes without any censorship or retaliation on his
part. -- RG]
Joseph Massad responds to the intimidation of Columbia University
By Joseph Massad
The Electronic Intifada
3 November 2004
The recent controversy elicited by the propaganda film "Columbia Unbecoming," a film funded and
produced by a Boston-based pro-Israel organization, is the latest salvo in a campaign of
intimidation of Jewish and non-Jewish professors who criticize Israel. This witch-hunt aims to
stifle pluralism, academic freedom, and the freedom of expression on university campuses in order to
ensure that only one opinion is permitted, that of uncritical support for the State of Israel.
Columbia University, the Department of Middle East and Asian Languages and Cultures, and I
personally, have been the target of this intensified campaign for over three years. Pro-Israel
groups are pressuring the university to abandon proper academic procedure in evaluating scholarship,
and want to force the university to silence all critical opinions. Such silencing, the university
has refused to do so far, despite mounting intimidation tactics by these anti-democratic and
The major strategy that these pro-Israel groups use is one that equates criticism of Israel with
anti-Semitism. But the claim that criticism of Israel is an expression of anti-Semitism presupposes
that Israeli actions are "Jewish" actions and that all Jews, whether Israelis or non-Israelis (and
the majority of world Jews are not Israelis), are responsible for all Israeli actions and that they
all have the same opinion of Israel. But this is utter anti-Semitic nonsense. Jews, whether in
America, Europe, Israel, Russia, or Argentina, are, like all other groups, not uniform in their
political or social opinions. There are many Israeli Jews who are critical of Israel just as there
are American Jews who criticize Israeli policy. I have always made a distinction between Jews,
Israelis, and Zionists in my writings and my lectures. It is those who want to claim that Jews,
Israelis, and Zionists are one group (and that they think exactly alike) who are the anti-Semites.
Israel in fact has no legal, moral, or political basis to represent world Jews (ten million strong)
who never elected it to that position and who refuse to move to that country. Unlike the pro-Israel
groups, I do not think that Israeli actions are "Jewish" actions or that they reflect the will of
the Jewish people worldwide! All those pro-Israeli propagandists who want to reduce the Jewish
people to the State of Israel are the anti-Semites who want to eliminate the existing pluralism
among Jews. The majority of Israel's supporters in the United States are, in fact, not Jews but
Christian fundamentalist anti-Semites who seek to convert Jews. They constitute a quarter of the
American electorate and are the most powerful anti-Semitic group worldwide. The reason why the
pro-Israel groups do not fight them is because these anti-Semites are pro-Israel. Therefore, it is
not anti-Semitism that offends pro-Israel groups; what offends them is anti-Israel criticism. In
fact, Israel and the US groups supporting it have long received financial and political support from
This is not to say that some anti-Zionists may not also be anti-Semitic. Some are, and I have
denounced them in my writings and lectures. But the test of their anti-Semitism is not whether they
like or hate Israel. The test of anti-Semitism is anti-Jewish hatred, not anti-Israel criticism. In
my forthcoming book, The Persistence of the Palestinian Question, I link the Jewish Question to the
Palestinian Question and conclude that both questions persist because anti-Semitism persists. To
resolve the Palestinian and the Jewish Questions, our task is to fight anti-Semitism in any guise,
whether in its pro-Israel or anti-Israel guise, and not to defend the reprehensible policies of the
racist Israeli government.
I am now being targeted because of my public writings and statements through the charge that I am
allegedly intolerant in the classroom, a charge based on statements made by people who were never my
students, except in one case, which I will address momentarily. Let me first state that I have
intimidated no one. In fact, Tomy Schoenfeld, the Israeli soldier who appears in the film and is
cited by the New York Sun, has never been my student and has never taken a class with me, as he
himself informed The Jewish Week. I have never met him. As for Noah Liben, who appears in the film
according to newspaper accounts (I have not seen the film), he was indeed a student in my
Palestinian and Israeli Politics and Societies course in the spring of 2001. Noah seems to have
forgotten the incident he cites. During a lecture about Israeli state racism against Asian and
African Jews, Noah defended these practices on the basis that Asian and African Jews were
underdeveloped and lacked Jewish culture, which the Ashkenazi State operatives were teaching them.
When I explained to him that, as the assigned readings clarified, these were racist policies, he
insisted that these Jews needed to be modernized and the Ashkenazim were helping them by civilizing
them. Many students gasped. He asked me if I understood his point. I informed him that I did not.
Noah seems not to have done his reading during the week on gender and Zionism. One of the assigned
readings by Israeli scholar and feminist Simona Sharoni spoke of how in Hebrew the word "zayin"
means both penis and weapon in a discussion of Israeli militarized masculinity. Noah, seemingly not
having read the assigned material, mistook the pronunciation of "zayin" as "Zion," pronounced in
Hebrew "tziyon." As for his spurious claim that I said that "Jews in Nazi Germany were not
physically abused or harassed until Kristallnacht in November 1938," Noah must not have been
listening carefully. During the discussion of Nazi Germany, we addressed the racist ideology of
Nazism, the Nuremberg Laws enacted in 1934, and the institutionalized racism and violence against
all facets of Jewish life, all of which preceded the extermination of European Jews. This
information was also available to Noah in his readings, had he chosen to consult them. Moreover, the
lie that the film propagates claiming that I would equate Israel with Nazi Germany is abhorrent. I
have never made such a reprehensible equation.
I remember having a friendly rapport with Noah (as I do with all my students). He would drop off
newspaper articles in my mailbox, come to my office hours, and greet me on the street often. He
never informed me or acted in a way that showed intimidation. Indeed, he would write me E-mails,
even after he stopped being my student, to argue with me about Israel. I have kept our
correspondence. On March 10, 2002, a year after he took a class with me, Noah wrote me an E-mail
chastising me for having invited an Israeli speaker to class the year before when he was in
attendance. It turned out that Noah's memory failed him again, as he mistook the speaker I had
invited for another Israeli scholar. After a long diatribe, Noah excoriated me: "How can you bring
such a phony to speak to your class??" I am not sure if his misplaced reproach was indicative of an
intimidated student or one who felt comfortable enough to rebuke his professor!
I am dedicated to all my students, many of whom are Jewish. Neither Columbia University nor I have
ever received a complaint from any student claiming intimidation or any such nonsense. Students at
Columbia have many venues of lodging complaints, whether with the student deans and assistant deans,
school deans and assistant deans, department chairmen, departmental directors of undergraduate
studies, the ombudsman's office, the provost, the president, and the professors themselves. No such
complaint was ever filed. Many of my Jewish and non-Jewish students (including my Arab students)
differ with me in all sorts of ways, whether on politics or on philosophy or theory. This is exactly
what teaching and learning are about, how to articulate differences and understand other
perspectives while acquiring knowledge, how to analyze one's own perspective and those of others,
how to interrogate the basis of an opinion.
Columbia University is home to the most prestigious Center for Israel and Jewish Studies in the
country. Columbia has six endowed chairs in Jewish Studies (ranging from religion to Yiddish to
Hebrew literature, among others). In addition, a seventh chair in Israel Studies is now being
established after pro-Israel groups launched a vicious campaign against the only chair in modern
Arab Studies that Columbia established two years ago, demanding "balance"! Columbia does not have a
Center for Arab Studies, let alone a Center for Palestine studies. The Department of Middle East and
Asian Languages and Cultures encompasses the study of over one billion South Asians, over 300
million Arabs, tens of millions of Turks, of Iranians, of Kurds, of Armenians, and of six million
Israelis, five million of whom are Jewish. To study these varied populations and cultures, MEALAC
has three full time professors who cover Israel and Hebrew, four full time professors to cover the
Arab World, and two full-time professors who cover South Asia. One need not do complicated
mathematics to see who is overrepresented and who is not, if the question is indeed a demographic
Moreover, the class that this propaganda machine is targeting, my Palestinian and Israeli Politics
and Societies course, is one of a number of courses offered at Columbia that cover the
Palestinian/Israeli conflict. All the others have an Israel-friendly perspective, including Naomi
Weinberger's "Conflict Resolution in the Middle East," Michael Stanislawski's "History of the State
of Israel, 1948-Present" and a course offered in my own department by my colleague Dan Miron,
"Zionism: A Cultural Perspective." My course, which is critical of Zionism and Palestinian
nationalism, is in fact an elective course which no student is forced to take.
Let us briefly review these claims of intimidation. Not only have the students (all but Noah have
not even taken my courses) not used a single university venue to articulate their alleged
grievances, they are now sponsored by a private political organization with huge funds that produced
and funded a film about them, screened it to the major US media and to the top brass of the Columbia
administration. Last Wednesday, the film was screened in Israel to a government minister and to
participants at a conference on anti-Semitism. The film has still not been released to the public
here and is used as a sort of secret evidence in a military trial. The film has also been used to
trump up a national campaign with the aid of a New York Congressman to get me fired. All this power
of intimidation is being exercised not by a professor against students, but by political
organizations who use students against a junior non-tenured faculty member. A senior departmental
colleague of mine, Dan Miron, who votes on my promotion and tenure, has recently expressed open
support for this campaign of intimidation based on hearsay. Indeed with this campaign against me
going into its fourth year, I chose under the duress of coercion and intimidation not to teach my
course this year. It is my academic freedom that has been circumscribed. But not only mine. The
Columbia courses that remain are all taught from an Israel-friendly angle.
The aim of the David Project propaganda film is to undermine our academic freedom, our freedom of
speech, and Columbia's tradition of openness and pluralism. It is in reaction to this witch-hunt
that 718 international scholars and students signed a letter defending me against intimidation and
sent it to President Bollinger, with hundreds more sending separate letters, while over 1400 people
from all walks of life are signing an online petition supporting me and academic freedom. Academics
and students from around the world recognize that the message of this propaganda film is to suppress
pluralism at Columbia and at all American universities so that one and only one opinion be allowed
on campuses, the opinion of defending Israel uncritically. I need not remind anyone that this is a
slippery slope, for the same pressures could be applied to faculty who have been critical of U.S.
foreign policy, in Iraq for example, on the grounds that such critiques are unpatriotic. Surely we
all agree that while the University can hardly defend any one political position on any current
question, it must defend the need for debate and critical consideration of all such questions,
whether in public fora or in the classroom. Anything less would be the beginning of the death of
[JPN Commentary: In addition to activism in the New Profile movement focused on achieving
change within Jewish Israeli society, Dorothy Naor dedicates huge amounts of time to a variety of
protest and humanitarian actions in the West Bank -- from the camp at Masha in protest of the
separation wall through olive harvesting through securing permits for Palestinians in need of
medical treatment in Israel, whom she then drives to the hospital herself or provides with carpools.
Dorothy, a retired teacher with a PhD in English Literature, is in her seventies, a grandmother of
eight. As part of her work with New Profile she acts as the main contributor to an alternative
information service, an email list forwarding or providing information from a variety of alternative
as well as mainstream sources on events in the Occupied Territories, anti-militarist analyses and
Dorothy's essay below reflects on the paradoxical double bind often encountered in
anti-occupation activism. While attempting to resist and alleviate oppression, activists are forced
to negotiate the very rules and authorities that implement this oppression. The very act of
resisting the system is co-opted, in effect extending its reach. For many activists this is a very
real, very painful issue, further compounding the constantly lurking sense of being trapped,
powerless. About a decade ago, doing human rights work in Gaza, I wrote: "we are Jewish Israelis,
answerable only to the laws that hold only for the rulers here. These we don't break. We stretch
them a little when we try to offer a couple of their protective measures to people for whom they
were never meant, and probably won't serve. But the freedom we feel ourselves exercising in fact
consists of deciding to obey and apply these laws and rules. ... my liberty or strength come of
crossing. Back and forth. As if I were subject to neither community while I am actually subject to
This recognition of our own complicity as activists is both depressing and enraging. However,
an awareness that each of us, personally, is a player within the power structure is, in my view,
vital to effective resistance. Human rights and anti-oppression activism can provide activists with
a seductive sense of heroism and generate patronizing attitudes. An awareness of the complex
positioning of such activism can temper these tendencies and nurture more careful,
context-sensitive and egalitarian practices. Therefore, as sad as they may be, Dorothy Naor's
insights make a crucial contribution to continued resistance. RM]
I, a Collaborator
By Dorothy Naor
The realization has recently begun to weigh heavily on me that in almost all my acts regarding
the occupation of the Palestinian Territories I collaborate with the powers to be. Of course my
collaboration is wholly involuntary. But it nonetheless is. Almost all of our humanitarian and
political intentions and acts depend on abiding by the rules, which is another way to say that we kow-tow
to the IOF. This applies alike to situations that are planned in advance (e.g., the intention to
help with the olive harvest in the OPTs) and to emergency situations (e.g., as when Palestinians
stuck at a check point request help to get them through).
We have no option but to request help from the IOF, and by requesting we unwillingly cooperate
with its and the government's rules of the game. We thereby involuntarily assist the government and
the military to perform the occupation and to perpetuate it, and in this sense I very much realize
that--like it or not--I collaborate.
It's a catch 22 situation. If we don't play by IOF rules we are prevented by the IOF from helping
the Palestinians and of expressing solidarity with them. Of course there are also means of civil
disobedience, and the possibilities of appealing to the high court. These acts are not
collaboration. But the ways in which we activists daily involuntarily collaborate are many, too
How do I collaborate?
Let me count the ways.
I. The Olive harvest
When I harvest olives for a family that has received insufficient permits to allow them to
harvest their trees by themselves, I, by making up for those who were not given permits, collaborate
with the military and perpetuate Israel's occupation of the Palestinian Territories.
When I agree to to harvesting olives in certain areas only, because of military restrictions on
where the Palestinians may harvest, I collaborate with the military and help perpetuate the
When I agree to harvest olives on the days that the military has designated for a given village,
I collaborate with the military and perpetuate the occupation.
II. SOS calls
When I phone the so-called Civil Administration to request help to release someone being held
hours at a checkpoint, or when I phone them to request finding and releasing a 12 year-old
Palestinian boy whom soldiers have detained, or when I phone to request letting an ambulance through
post haste, I collaborate with the military and perpetuate the occupation.
When I request the Civil Administration to issue a permit for a desperately ill person to go to
an Israeli hospital for care that she/he cannot receive in the OPTs, I collaborate with the military
and perpetuate the occupation.
When I request a permit to a hospital in east Jerusalem for a father whose 2 year-old daughter is
to undergo kidney surgery, and am denied because the Central Security Service has declared the
father "barred," and then, even after various attempts to get the permit, nevertheless fail to
produce it, I collaborate with the military and perpetuate the occupation by letting it keep him
from his child's hospital bed.
When I phone the Civil Administration at 1:00 AM to report that the army has entered a village,
ordered all the inhabitants (old, young, ill, well) out of their homes in pouring rain, and is
throwing their belongings outside into the rain, and after reporting this am told by the woman's
voice at the other end of the phone, "What do you want? This is normal" and I quietly declare rather
than yell at her, that it's not in the least normal, I collaborate with the military and perpetuate
When, after an hour of arguing with soldiers barring my way into a Palestinian village, I give up
trying to get to my destination, and return home instead, I collaborate with the army and perpetuate
III. Road blocks and check points
When I accept the reality of road blocks and check points, I collaborate with the army and
perpetuate the occupation.
IV. The Apartheid Wall
When I go to a Palestinian village to protest the theft of land, the uprooting of dunams of
trees, the destruction of land for the sake of building a wall that will not only rob the villagers
of their trees and land but will also enclose them in a ghetto, and then run from the bulldozers and
soldiers when they begin shooting tear gas at us, and at the end of the day go home, I collaborate
with the military and perpetuate the occupation, because construction of the wall goes on.
[JPN Commentary: There is an enormous social base in the US, well beyond any elements of the
Jewish community, supporting the Israeli right. Evangelical Christians number well over
one-quarter of the US population. Their anti-Semitic theology is consistent with the most
extreme positions of the messianic settlers. Evangelicals have been strong supporters of Ariel
Sharon (and other right winger Israeli leaders going back to Menachem Begin). They have
developed great political clout in the Bush administration, but will remain a potent force, no
matter who wins the presidency. -- JB]
Born-agains for Sharon
Savvy salesman Rabbi Eckstein has convinced evangelicals to support Israel -- and he's
hobnobbing with the likes of Pat Robertson and Ralph Reed. But what will he do if Kerry wins?
By Max Blumenthal
Oct. 30, 2004 | For some 7 million evangelicals at 25,000 churches worldwide, Oct. 17
was the third Annual Day of Prayer and Solidarity with Israel. For President Bush's Southeastern
regional campaign coordinator, Ralph Reed, and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's liaison to the
U.S. evangelical community, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, the event was their latest attempt to rally
Bush's base to the side of Sharon. To help make their point, Eckstein and Reed summoned 21 of
Israel's diplomatic representatives in the U.S. to the pulpits of some of America's leading
In Atlanta, at the Mount Paran Baptist Church, to which Reed belongs, Israel's consul general to the
Southeast, Shmuel Ben-Shmuel, shared the stage with Pastor David Cooper, author of the bestseller
"Apocalypse." Meanwhile, Israel's ambassador to the United States, Danny Ayalon, traveled to
Colorado Springs, Colo., to pay a visit to New Life Church and its senior pastor, Ted Haggard,
president of the National Association of Evangelicals and a star in the glowing documentary about
Bush, "Faith in the White House."
Eckstein was confident the Annual Day of Prayer event would keep pro-Israel pressure on Bush. "Over
30 percent of the evangelical respondents to an online survey we conducted last week said support
for Israel was their number one factor in electing a president, and another 61 percent identified
Israel as an important factor in their choice," he stated in a press release six days prior to the
event. "This confirms what our experience tells us -- evangelical support for Israel hasn't
diminished one bit. If anything, it's stronger than ever." Though evangelicals undoubtedly will vote
overwhelmingly for Bush, the irony is that Jews in America, who support Israel for a different set
of reasons than the evangelicals targeted by Eckstein do, are expected to vote overwhelmingly for
Evangelical support for Israel has increased dramatically in the past four years even as the
country's international reputation has suffered as a result of Sharon's repressive, unilateral
policies. To most evangelicals, Israel is "covenant land," a place granted to the Jews in God's
covenant with Abraham; to many, Israel also represents the eventual landing pad for the Second
Coming of the Messiah. While this scenario is not exactly friendly to Jews -- according to
premillennial theology, once biblical Israel is fully resettled and Christ returns, Jews must accept
him or perish -- evangelicals' theological interest in Israel renders them fervently opposed to any
territorial concessions to the Palestinians and, thus, the natural allies of Sharon and his rightist
Rabbi Eckstein seems to have reached the apex of his lonely, 25-year-long quest to cultivate
America's evangelical community as Israel's financial lifeline and most ardent lobbying bloc. Once a
pariah among his peers, he has gained influence through savvy salesmanship, building his
International Fellowship for Christians and Jews into a philanthropic powerhouse that donates tens
of millions of dollars to Israel annually. In the process, he has forged close relationships with
popular right-wing evangelical leaders such as Pat Robertson and Gary Bauer, as well as White House
neoconservatives like Elliott Abrams, who is in charge of Middle East policy on the National
Security Council. Together, Eckstein and his allies have played an instrumental role in pressuring
the Bush administration to abandon the so-called road map to peace and defend Sharon's ham-handed
handling of the occupation unconditionally.
I met with Eckstein in August at the IFCJ offices, which occupy an entire floor of a building in
Chicago's Loop. Inside his office, Eckstein reclined behind a desk, looking out over the city's
breathtaking skyline. Husky and youthful at 53, he looked more like a pro athlete than an Orthodox
rabbi. (Think legendary Buffalo Bills quarterback Jim Kelly with a yarmulke.) He lives in Israel,
where he serves as an informal advisor to Sharon, and was in Chicago to attend to business and visit
During our meeting and an hourlong phone conversation the month before, Eckstein spoke glowingly
about the Christian-Zionist alliance he has brokered. "With evangelicals, I haven't had to change
opinions like I do with the [liberal] National Council of Churches. All I have to do is tap into
their abiding love for Israel," he told me. "Since 9/11 and since the intifada, the Jewish community
has become much more pragmatic; they feel Israel's survival is at stake, and they've recognized the
one group that stands with us boldly and proudly is this evangelical group."
Eckstein found his calling in 1977 when he was director of inter-religious affairs for the
Anti-Defamation League. When some neo-Nazis planned a provocative march in Skokie, Ill., a heavily
Jewish community with numerous Holocaust survivors, the ADL sent him to Chicago to marshal Christian
opposition to the march. Eckstein soon found himself in Wheaton, Ill., the epicenter of the mounting
evangelical movement. It was during a meeting with the director of Wheaton College's Bible study
program and the dean of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School that Eckstein had his epiphany about the
role of evangelicals.
"The Jewish community was very frightened by this phenomenon of the rising Christian right, but I
came to know that evangelicals are not bogeymen; they are simply a group of serious people who felt
the pendulum had swung too far to the left and that what was needed was to return to the
By 1983, Eckstein had formed the IFCJ and become a fixture at National Religious Broadcasters
conferences, where he promoted tourism to the Holy Land and solicited donations for his
organization. "When I started out 25 years ago, there was nobody in the field. I went to my first
NRB convention and I was the only Jew there, and I went for 15 years straight," Eckstein recalled.
"What I participated in spawning has kind of caught on ... Now there are 10 to 15 booths at NRB
conferences selling Israeli or Jewish stuff and lots of Jews in yarmulkes walking around."
Five years later, Eckstein was in New York helping maverick Republican presidential primary
candidate Pat Robertson "mitigate Jewish opposition" to his campaign -- and cultivating him and his
legion of followers as supporters of Israel. In 1986, Robertson had compared non-Christians to
termites deserving of "godly fumigation"; he later asserted, in the book "The New World Order," that
communism was "the brainchild of German-Jewish intellectuals." But while Robertson may not be
particularly fond of secular Jewish liberals, he has always been an ardent Christian Zionist who, in
his preaching and pulp-prophecy books, refers to the Jewish presence in Jerusalem and Israel's
victory in the 1967 war as miracles presaging the Second Coming.
In 1994, when the ADL issued a scathing report blasting fundamentalist evangelicals, and Robertson's
Christian Coalition in particular, as a grave threat to Jewish life, Eckstein leaped to defend his
allies. He convened a meeting in Washington between evangelical and Jewish leaders, and convinced
the ADL's director, Abe Foxman, to invite Robertson's master tactician, Reed, to issue a call for
reconciliation at ADL's annual conference. And in a 1995 address broadcast nationally by C-Span,
Reed reassured the ADL of the Christian Coalition's commitment to a pluralistic society, recounted a
moving visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem and issued a call for Jews and
evangelicals to "move from confrontation to cooperation." According to Eckstein, "Reed made a
The following year, Eckstein capitalized on his successes by forming the Center for Christian and
Jewish Values in Washington. Co-chaired by Orthodox Jewish Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., and
evangelical Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., the now-defunct center, according to Eckstein, "brought
together disparate groups to find common ground on issues of shared concern." While Eckstein did
bring people of different faiths under one roof, their ideological leanings were mostly uniform. The
center was made up almost entirely of right-wing evangelicals like then Family Research Council
director Bauer, Southern Baptist Convention executive director Richard Land and the dean of
Robertson's Regent University's school of government, Kay James. (James is now director of the
Office of Personnel Management under Bush.) Also involved were neoconservatives such as Abrams,
William Kristol and William Bennett. The center was essentially a command post for the culture war.
Despite its pantheon of influential conservatives, however, the center produced little more than a
flurry of symbolic resolutions calling for religious freedom in the Third World, more education for
what Eckstein termed "non-abortion" and a moment of silence as an alternative to school prayer. The
center also served as the platform for Lieberman, Bennett and Brownback's censorship crusade, which
ultimately amounted to a few blustery editorials blasting Hollywood's "mental poison" and a failed
bill in 1997 that would have mandated that TV manufacturers install "V-chips" allowing parents to
block offensive programming.
While the center's culture warriors soldiered on, Eckstein shifted his focus to filling the IFCJ's
coffers. By 1999, he had settled in Israel and was cruising the Holy Land in a van with his own film
crew to produce a line of fundraising videos custom-tailored to evangelical tastes. In one of the
videos, "Guardians of Israel," Eckstein appears amid scenes of heart-wrenching poverty, staring
directly into the camera like Mister Rogers' long-lost brother, his hand on the shoulder of one
destitute Israeli or another, pleading for Christian money. "If you don't hear this woman's tears,
you're not human," Eckstein says in "Guardians of Israel," while standing above a sobbing woman in
Nazareth. In another of Ekstein's videos, "On Wings of Eagles," a narrator, soliciting money for his
immigration program for Russian Jews, informs viewers, "Just $350 can save one Jew."
After viewing one of these videos in 2000, the ADL's Foxman accused Ekstein of "schnorring from
non-Jews to help Jews." However, what may seem like shameless pandering to Eckstein's critics is, in
fact, effective salesmanship to those familiar with the insular evangelical culture. When Eckstein
looks into the camera with tears welling in his eyes and declares, "I couldn't face God if I didn't
open up to you, Christians" -- a phrase few Jews could imagine themselves uttering -- he is
appealing to the confessional tradition that stresses God's transformative power. It is the same
tradition that prompts President Bush to say, "There is only one reason I am in the Oval Office and
not in a bar. I found faith."
Eckstein's uncanny ability to penetrate evangelical culture has fed a perception among his
detractors that he is really a "Jew for Jesus." One of Eckstein's most strident critics, Jerusalem
City Councilor Mina Fenton, has enlisted a group of high-profile rabbis in a campaign to in effect
excommunicate him. Fenton points as proof of Eckstein's crypto-Christianity to his fictional novel,
"The Journey Home," loosely based on his friendship with evangelical pastor Jamie Buckingham. In the
book, Eckstein writes, "While I still don't believe in Jesus as the Christ as Jamie does, and view
him instead as a Jew who brought salvation to the gentiles, in some respects, that is exactly what I
have become -- a Jew for Jesus."
In an interview with the Israeli daily Ha'aretz, Fenton accused Eckstein's IFCJ of trying to "create
a situation of dependency [of Israel on evangelical funding], so that they can control us. They pour
money galore into welfare, absorption, aliyah [Jewish immigration to Israel], and education and find
our weak points." Fenton also believes that by pumping so much evangelical money into Israel,
Eckstein is helping to further evangelicals' apocalyptic "end times" agenda.
That charge has dogged Eckstein throughout his career in spite of his best efforts to defuse it. In
2003, he commissioned the Tarrance Group to conduct a poll of evangelicals' attitudes on Israel.
While a majority of respondents cited a literal belief in Genesis 12:3 -- "he who blesses Israel
shall be blessed" -- as their primary reason for supporting Israel, a minority, albeit a large one
at 28 percent, cited "reasons related to the End Times." Even though the Tarrance Group is run by
veteran GOP operative Ed Goeas, who has collaborated with Reed on numerous campaigns, Eckstein feels
vindicated by the poll.
"The media portrays [evangelicals] as premillennialists who do this [support Israel] to get all the
Jews to Israel, ... [so] those who don't accept Jesus will be killed. It's just hogwash. If
anything, it's about Genesis 12:3," said Eckstein.
Eckstein's close associate Bauer echoed his opinion. "Among Christians, there's just a fundamental
religious idea that the Jews are God's people and the land of Israel is covenant land that God
granted them. Beyond that, what drives Christian support for Israel is that Christians tend to see
U.S. foreign policy in very moral terms," Bauer told me. "We believe Israel and the U.S. are facing
the same types of totalitarian forces, and we as two countries that share the same values should
stand against that."
Away from the media's critical eye, however, Eckstein has struck an altogether different tone. In
"On Wings of Eagles," as montages of former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin and Palestinian
leader Yasser Arafat shaking hands in Oslo in 1994 and the crumbling Twin Towers flash across the
screen to an ominous soundtrack, a narrator intones, "The mosaic of events we see happening today is
like a gigantic jigsaw puzzle with the pieces beginning to form the exact picture foretold by the
prophets." Next Eckstein appears standing on a mountaintop somewhere in Israel, and, before
launching into a pitch for donations, says, "You can see the pieces of the puzzle that are coming
together." Is he insinuating that with so many "end times" prophecies in the headlines, evangelical
support for Israel is all the more urgent? It's unclear what else he could mean.
However controversial Eckstein's fundraising techniques may be, they are working. His videos enjoy
widespread viewership on Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network and through paid spots on local
networks across America's heartland. Eckstein has even organized aggressive fundraising campaigns in
countries like Mexico and El Salvador, where nearly half of the population lives below the poverty
line. With nearly 350,000 donors, the IFCJ was able to dole out a whopping $20 million to 250 social
welfare projects in Israel last year, including an armored, mobile dental clinic that provides
services to Jewish settlers in the occupied territories. Today, the IFCJ is the second largest
nongovernmental donor to Israel, next only to the quasi-governmental Jewish Agency for Israel.
By building the IFCJ into a such a powerful philanthropic force, Eckstein has mollified erstwhile
critics like Foxman. "I'm popular now because we give away money and that has helped leverage this
whole issue [evangelical support for Israel] to give it legitimacy in the Jewish community,"
Eckstein said proudly. As a testament to Eckstein's success, in 2002 Foxman took out full-page ads
in major U.S. papers, reprinting a pro-Israel Op-Ed written by Reed, then chairman of the Georgia
When Sharon and Bush came to power in 2000, they began a cozy relationship that has become iconic of
the evangelical-Likudnik marriage Eckstein helped broker. With Eckstein as his advisor, Sharon has
courted the support of evangelicals more aggressively than most of his predecessors. In the fall of
2002, for instance, Sharon told a crowd of 3,000 evangelical tourists in Jerusalem, "I tell you now,
we love you. We love all of you!"
That same year, he invited Bauer to Jerusalem for a private meeting with his Cabinet. "I was given a
great deal of access and a number of briefings on the various issues they're facing," Bauer told me.
"In my meeting, ... I attempted to explain that they had a much broader base of support in the U.S.
than perhaps they realized and they should be sensitive to the fact that more Americans than they
think regard Israel as a natural ally." To help make his point, Bauer gave Sharon a letter of
support signed by leading evangelicals like Charles Colson, Jerry Falwell and Focus on the Family
president James Dobson.
As for Bush's friendly relations with Sharon, Brent Scowcroft, national security advisor for the
first President Bush, told the Financial Times this month, "I think Sharon just has [Bush] wrapped
around his little finger." Yet Bush is complaisant not only to Sharon but also to his own domestic
base. After all, over the past four years, Eckstein and his evangelical allies have waged a fierce
lobbying blitz to pressure Bush against participating in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process that
every American president since Jimmy Carter has engaged in.
Their campaign gained momentum at the National Rally in Solidarity with Israel in April 2002 on
Washington's Mall, which was attended by over 100,000. While popular figures like author Elie Wiesel
and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani issued fiery denunciations of Palestinian terror, the most
boisterous applause of the day was reserved for evangelical radio host Janet Parshall, who boomed,
"We will never give up the Golan. We will never divide Jerusalem." None of the rally's Jewish
speakers was nearly as strident; in fact, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, a prominent
neoconservative, was booed for referring to the daily suffering endured by Palestinians under
occupation. The rally coincided with the initiation of Reed and Eckstein's Day of Prayer and
Solidarity with Israel, which mobilized 17,000 evangelical churches to pray for Israel that October.
With a number of close associates now working in the White House, Eckstein and company leveraged
their grass-roots muscle into high-level access. In July 2003, Eckstein brought 20 leading
fundamentalist evangelicals to the White House for "a quiet meeting" with National Security Advisor
Condoleezza Rice and Middle East advisor Abrams. There, delegation members stated their fervent
opposition to the Israeli-Palestinian road map while Rice explained the administration's sympathy
for their position. Rice "talked about her religiousness and how her father was a Baptist minister,"
Eckstein recalled. "And she explained the administration's position: It's Bush's faith that prompts
him to take some of his major positions. I think that's what's so attractive about Bush to people,"
Eckstein added. "You can become relativistic, but what's needed is black and white."
Alhough Eckstein says his meeting with Rice marked the first time leaders of the Christian right had
met with a high-level White House official on Israel policy, it wasn't the last. As Rick Perlstein
of the Village Voice reported, in March Abrams met with leaders of a self-identified "theocratical"
lobbying group, the Apostolic Congress, to allay their concerns about Bush's pending endorsement of
Sharon's Gaza pullout plan. And evangelical leaders like late Religious Roundtable director Ed
McAteer have reportedly held numerous off-the-record meetings on policy toward Israel with White
House public liaison Tim Goeglein, who was the spokesman for Bauer's 2000 presidential campaign.
Curiously, Eckstein refused to tell me who was among the delegation he brought to the White House,
though he did mention that Bauer was pointedly uninvited as punishment for running against Bush in
the 2000 Republican presidential primaries and attacking him as insufficiently conservative. Yet
lack of direct access hasn't prevented the wily Bauer from influencing White House policy on Israel.
When the Bush administration criticized Israel's botched assassination of Hamas leader Abdel Aziz
Rantisi in June 2003, Bauer e-mailed an alert to 100,000 followers calling for pro-Israel pressure
on the White House. "We inundated the White House with e-mails and faxes arguing that Israel had the
same right to defend itself as we did. In very short order, the tone of the White House changed
dramatically, and I believe it was the reaction of Christian conservatives in favor of Israel that
changed the tone," Bauer said. And when Israel did kill Rantisi in April, the White House issued the
now boilerplate statement of support for Israel's "right to defend herself."
Bauer's influence earned him the keynote address at the 2003 annual convention of pro-Israel
lobbying powerhouse AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee), where he says he was
interrupted 12 times by standing ovations. Bauer has also played a leading role in lobbying on
behalf of Israeli settler groups (he refused to say which ones) against both the road map and
Sharon's Gaza pullout plan. "Off and on over the years I have met with various groups in the West
Bank, and they've come to the U.S. I've given them my best read on what the lay of the land is in
Washington and how they might be more effective in getting their message out here," Bauer said. "I
oppose ethnic cleansing, and the idea that the West Bank or Gaza should be a Jew-free zone is deeply
offensive," he added.
Bauer, unlike Eckstein, who is beholden to Sharon and his Gaza policy, has little to lose and
everything to gain by working with Israel's most reactionary elements. Through his political action
committee, the Campaign for Working Families, Bauer is aggressively soliciting donations from
conservative Christians for the Bush campaign while plugging the latest version of the GOP's
anti-Kerry "flip-flop" attack on his group's Web site. Bauer ostensibly hopes that by backing Bush,
he can heal the wounds his 2000 primary run opened and, if Bush wins, earn back his place at the
Although Eckstein says he's a registered Democrat, he has converted to Bush's side and is urging
other Jews to join him. "I personally think the Jewish community and America should vote for Bush
because I think he will be stronger on terrorism. And anything less than a full confrontation [with
terrorists] has the potential, God forbid, to spell the end of Western civilization as we know it,"
Eckstein said. "I, like many Jews, support John Kerry's domestic agenda, and that's why I think many
Jews are struggling with this choice in a big way."
Whether or not Jews have struggled with their choice, most are supporting Kerry. A nonpartisan poll
taken by the American Jewish Committee in September showed 69 percent of Jews supporting Kerry,
compared with 24 percent for Bush. The poll's other findings reveal strong Jewish opposition to
Bush's policies on social issues, but overwhelming support for further dismantling of Jewish
settlements in the occupied territories, an issue Kerry has studiously avoided and Bush has refused
to press with Sharon.
Another factor in Jewish support for Kerry is his unabashedly pro-Israel platform. To reinforce
Kerry's message, his campaign in July released a policy paper, "Strengthening Israel's Security and
Bolstering the US-Israel Special Relationship," stating positions on the Gaza pullout and Israel's
separation wall that are identical to Bush's.
But if Kerry is elected, members of the Christian-Zionist lobby should not expect any backslaps from
the new president. With Bush back in Crawford, Texas, Eckstein and company's White House soul mates
would have to return to their think-tank fellowships and academic jobs, severely compromising the
influence and access the lobby has worked for over two decades to attain.
Already, Bauer is grumbling, "I would be happy if Kerry was overall pro-Israel, but I would have to
caution that before the race got going in earnest, Senator Kerry repeatedly said where the president
failed in not having a balanced approach in the Middle East. A balanced approach is the last thing I
Max Blumenthal is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles.
Jewish Peace News Editors:
Sarah Anne Minkin
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