'Weird and wonderful'

Interview | Writer Zev Chafets explores the controversial love-hate relationship between Jews and evangelicals

Issue: "Ideal Idol," June 2, 2007

Zev Chafets, born and raised in Michigan, moved to Israel in 1967 and became director of Israel's Government Press Office, then returned to the United States in 2000. He is the author of A Match Made in Heaven: American Jews, Christian Zionists, and One Man's Exploration of the Weird and Wonderful Judeo-Evangelical Alliance (HarperCollins, 2007).

Although he is an agnostic, Chafets told the Los Angeles Times recently that in the war against terror, "I'd rather be in a bomb shelter-or a foxhole-with Jerry Falwell than with Jerry Seinfeld." With the death of one of Israel's major Christian backers, how is the Israel-evangelical relationship likely to develop in the post-Falwell era?

WORLD: I've met your wife Lisa Beyer, a non-Jewish Time editor who was the chief of that magazine's Jerusalem Bureau, so I have a sense of why you'd want to explore an alliance that you call (in your new book's subtitle) the "weird and wonderful" Jewish-Protestant alliance. Could you explain a bit about your background?

We see you’ve been enjoying the content on our exclusive member website. Ready to get unlimited access to all of WORLD’s member content?
Get your risk-free, 30-Day FREE Trial Membership right now.
(Don’t worry. It only takes a sec—and you don’t have to give us payment information right now.)

Get your risk-free, 30-Day FREE Trial Membership right now.

CHAFETS: There weren't many Jews where I grew up. I took it for granted that America was a Christian country; certainly in its culture, history, and general outlook. I was fascinated by Christians, especially "exotic" types (the Reform temple I was raised in wasn't very different from mainline Protestant churches).

When I was in college, I spent my junior year at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and I discovered I liked being in the majority. It was liberating; Israel is the only country in the world where Jews can be gentiles.

I worked for Prime Minister Menachem Begin near the start of the evangelical-Israeli relationship. I never felt threatened by it-on the contrary, I very much appreciated the support.

After more than 30 years in Israel, I returned to the United States with my wife, Lisa. Back among liberal American Jews, I was shocked by how deeply they disapproved of evangelical Christians, especially George W. Bush. Their bigotry made me curious; I wanted to see for myself.

WORLD: I like your description of going to Lisa's home town, Lafayette, La., and meeting her born-again father: "As we settled down in his living room I pointed to a picture of the Western Wall in Jerusalem . . ." What's the rest of the story?

CHAFETS: Lisa's dad didn't know she and I were thinking about getting married. In fact, this meeting was designed to break the news. So, looking for some common ground, I pointed to the picture and said, "Jerusalem. That's my home town."

Lisa's dad said, "Am I right in thinking you're a Jewish fella?"

I paused a second, thinking about all the movies I had seen in which evangelical Southerners are xenophobes and Jew-haters. Finally I said, "Yes sir, I'm Jewish."

He looked at me and said. "It is my belief that the Jewish people are God's chosen people."

And I replied: "In that case, I've got some good news for you about your future grandchildren."

WORLD: The historical background you provide is fascinating: You contend that "a lot of evangelicals were more clear-sighted" than "mainstream Jewish leaders" in 1939 concerning the need for "the U.S. government to take special measures to save the Jews of Europe." How so?

CHAFETS: Some evangelical Christians saw Hitler very clearly as a manifestation of evil, and understood that he intended to murder the Jews of Europe.

Articles predicting this appeared in evangelical magazines, and there were some efforts to mobilize on behalf of the Jews.

Not all evangelicals were engaged in this way. But they stand out because of the deep denial of the Jewish intelligentsia and the Jewish community. The New York Times, owned by the German Jewish Sulzberger family, made a conscious editorial decision to play down the "Jewish" aspect of Hitler's regime, and barely mentioned the Holocaust during World War II. Most "leaders" of the Jewish community also stayed silent; they didn't want to rock the boat, or to embarrass President Roosevelt, whom they overwhelmingly supported.

WORLD: You note that "in the real world, Muslim fascists, not evangelical Christians, are the enemy" of Jews. You also point out that Israelis generally are happy for evangelical support, but many American Jews would rather "go it alone" than rely on conservative Christians. Why, and what are some of the consequences of that thinking?

CHAFETS: Israelis, both on the Jewish right and the secular left, are overwhelmingly happy to have evangelical support. Much of the world-for reasons of Islamic solidarity, traditional European dislike of Jews, or "progressive" political correctness- is hostile to Israel. Nowhere is that clearer than in the UN, which is obsessed with the crimes-real and imagined-of the Jewish state.


You must be a WORLD member to post comments.

    Keep Reading


    Troubling ties

    Under the Clinton State Department, influence from big money…