David Brog, the Jewish executive director of Christians United for Israel, used his best lawyerly skills this week at San Francisco’s Congregation Emanul-El to defend his fiercely pro-Israel organization.
The Harvard Law School graduate anticipated Jewish skepticism about the Christian group, most of whose members are evangelicals, and sought to persuade those attending his Sept. 7 lecture that CUFI does not have a hidden Jewish agenda.
With 3 million members, CUFI bills itself the largest pro-Israel organization in the U.S. But because San Antonio-based Pentecostal preacher John Hagee, who has a history of inflammatory theological statements about Jews, started the organization, some in the Jewish community have doubted CUFI’s motives.
“I concluded Christians support Israel for the most noble of motives,” Brog told those attending his talk, which was sponsored by Emanu-El.
Brog did not use his time to address current events in the Middle East. Rather he sought to reassure his audience that the conservative evangelical Christians who dominate CUFI have the best interests of Israel and the Jewish people at heart.
“At a time of resurgent anti-Semitism on the far right and the far left,” he said, “here are millions of people who choose to stand by the persecuted, hated Jewish people and with the demonized Jewish state.”
Citing centuries of Christian oppression and anti-Semitism, Brog said he understands doubts about a Christian group that professes love for Jews. He offered up a theology lesson to explain CUFI’s position.
“For 2,000 years, the dominant Christian theology was replacement theology,” he said, referring to the concept that the Christian Church replaced the Jews as God’s chosen people. “We became Christ-killers. It was a door through which generations of anti-Semites walked.”
At a time of resurgent anti-Semitism on the far right and the far left, here are millions of people who choose to stand by the persecuted, hated Jewish people and with the demonized Jewish state.
He noted that the evangelical movement, which interprets the Bible literally, rejects replacement theology. When the Bible refers to Israel, Brog said, evangelical Christians believe it means actual Jews. And when Genesis 12:3 states “I will bless them that bless [Israel] and curse him that curses” it, they believe that, too.
Mainline Protestant churches, such as the Presbyterians, have not altogether rejected replacement theology, he said, and these are the denominations that now have pondered divestment from Israel.
Brog invited the audience to ask tough questions, and they did not disappoint him. One attendee wondered whether CUFI leaders were simply trying to lure Jews back to Israel to speed up the prophesied Armageddon and Second Coming of Jesus.
Referring to “the ‘A’ word,” Brog replied that evangelicals do not believe they have any control over the timing of Jesus’s return to Earth.
“Christian support for Israel is best analogized by Orthodox Jewish support for Israel,” he said. “It starts with the Bible, but it does not end with the Bible. Their sense of history is spiked by communal guilt. They have an enormous debt of gratitude to the Jewish people, a debt that has not been paid.”
He also countered a questioner who wondered whether CUFI hopes to convert Jews to Christianity, by saying that CUFI members know Jews better than other Christians and are thus more sensitive to Jewish aversion to proselytizing. He noted that Hagee once joked that if converting Jews was his mission, he has been a miserable failure.
Another questioner, who identified herself as politically progressive, wanted to know why CUFI had once made a donation to Im Tirzu, a fringe far-right Israeli organization that ran a 2010 ad depicting a garish caricature of New Israel Fund executive director Naomi Chazan.
Brog said CUFI never made a donation; it was made through John Hagee Ministries before Hagee knew much about Im Tirzu, which he had been led to believe was a garden-variety pro-Zionist group. “Then he found out they took out this ad,” Brog said. ”There was not one dime given after that.”
Meanwhile, about 15 protesters, organized by the Jewish anti-occupation group IfNotNow, gathered outside the synagogue before the lecture. They carried signs that read, “Anti-Semites don’t make good allies,” “Moral Jews reject CUFI” and “End the occupation.”
“We felt CUFI was being elevated by having [Brog] on the bimah,” said IfNotNow member Katie Simpson of San Francisco. “[CUFI] is not aligned with the Jewish values we grew up with. We want to talk about the occupation, what it is doing to the Palestinians and what it is doing to us as a Jewish community.”
Brog knew of their presence and early in his talk said he wished the protesters had come inside for dialogue. (Half a dozen security personnel ringing the sanctuary promised that the proceedings would remain civil, in any case.)
At the end of his presentation, Brog responded to a questioner who wanted to know whether in his 11 years with CUFI, members had ever personally proselytized him.
“Twice,” he said. “And both times by Jews who converted to Christianity.”