In his e-mail, Rabbi Lerner said he “invited eight rabbis, two nationally respected leaders of the Muslim world, several ministers and activists in the Christian world, several professors, and leaders in the Network of Spiritual Progressives and in Beyt Tikkun Synagogue, as well as Mitchell Plitnick, the national director of Jewish Voices for Peace, and one of the founders of Brit Tzedeck ve’Shalom.” Four Reform rabbis declined the invitation, he wrote, citing political differences.
Most of the hour-long meeting between Carter and the group, and a later one-on-one meeting between Carter and Rabbi Lerner, was spent discussing the fallout from Carter’s book. The rabbi said some critics were won over, and some asked Carter how they could help him spread his message.
Rabbi Lerner, who strongly advocates a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, generally supports the book’s thesis — that inequities between Jews and Arabs on the West Bank hamper peace efforts — but said he is not without disagreements, which he expressed in the meeting.
“It’s a mistake to use the term apartheid,” Rabbi Lerner said Tuesday. “It’s incendiary and really has the opposite effect to what he wanted, which is to have a serious discussion about Israel.”
Rabbi Lerner also faulted the book as lacking historical context. “It was a big mistake not to focus on the role that Arab states played before the creation of the state in relation to keeping Jews out of Palestine in the ‘30s and ‘40s when Jews were being murdered in Europe. They played a significant role in convincing Britain to impose a blockade … They had incurred a moral guilt that needed repentance. The failure to discuss that was in my mind a significant failure of the book.”
Further, Rabbi Lerner said Carter should have scrutinized Arab rejection of the 1947 Partition Plan and “didn’t give adequate attention” to the fears of modern Israelis generated by terror attacks.
Another important topic of discussion was the relationship of Christian Zionists (particularly right-wing ones who belong to conservative churches) to Israel and Jews. Apparently Carter, who is a Southern Baptist, is trying to get his denomination to be more open to criticism of Israel while at the same time affirming Judaism as a legitimate path to God, so that Jews need not convert to Christianity in order to be saved. Both of these strike me as a tall orde, especially the latter, since the Southern Baptists support such groups as Jews for Jesus, whose goal is to convert Jews.
“Carter described his efforts to counter the extreme right-wing Christian Zionists, and his efforts to help the Baptists understand that the real way to be allies to the Jews is not by giving unconditional support to the current government of the State of Israel,” Rabbi Lerner announced in an e-mail to supporters after the meeting. He said the comments were on the record, taped and would appear, in part, in Tikkun this summer.
In a phone interview from California, the rabbi said Carter, a devout Southern Baptist, “has been involved and continues to be involved in theological debate within the American Baptists on the issue of how best to serve Jewish interests …
“He pointed out the strong connections between Christian Zionism and the desire to push the Jews eventually toward converting to Christianity or burning in hell. He pointed out that the Christian Zionist view is part of that general theology that essentially views the Jews as an obstacle, not as friends, but temporarily views the Jews as friends in the process of bringing back Jesus and at that point having all of us convert .”
I am also very concerned when evangelicals hold to a theology that leads to their looking forward an end of days scenario where Jews will return to Israel only to be slaughtered on a massive scale by enemies led by Russia, and a remnant will become Christians. This does seem to be the basis for the support that some evangelicals give to Jews and Israel - because we play a crucial role in their end-time plans.
On the other hand, I have also met other evangelicals who seem much less apocalyptic in their thinking, who are curious about Jews, are interested in learning more about Judaism, and support Israel as the state of the Jewish people. (See Liza's account of her recent trip to the U.S. where she encountered an enthusiastic evangelical supporter of Israel). I think it's really a mixed bag, but that it is important for the Jewish community to be careful with whom we ally ourselves. I don't think it should be done on a one-issue basis (only support for Israel), but we should consider carefully a range of issues, including social and political issues here in the United States as well.