Last month, 1,200 Jewish leaders “rose to their feet and applauded enthusiastically” for former President George W. Bush as he addressed the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, according to the Jewish newspaper The Algemeiner.
But the same Jewish leaders sounded a different tune when they discovered that Bush was planning to speak at a fundraiser in November for the Messianic Jewish Bible Institute. Anti-Defamation League director Abraham Foxman was “disappointed,” and Rabbi David Wolpe, who was named by Newsweek as America’s most influential rabbi, called the news “infuriating.”
“What is so bothersome about the group President Bush has chosen to address is that to speak of Jews for Jesus makes as much sense as saying Christians for Muhammad,” Wolpe told Jewish Daily Forward. “The sudden rise of ‘Messianic Jews’ owes more to a clever way of misleading untutored Jews than to making theological sense. It should not receive the imprimatur of a former President of the United States.”
Susan Perlman, Associate Executive Director of Jews for Jesus, agreed with Wolpe that “when a notable leader like former President Bush speaks at an event like [the MJBI fundraiser], it gives legitimacy…to who we are. And that would be disturbing to some Jewish leaders who would like us to be perceived as illegitimate.”
But Perlman dismissed the comparison to “Christians for Muhammad.” She acknowledged it was a good sound bite but insisted that Jews for Jesus is “not a contradiction in terms. All the first followers of Jesus were Jews. The New Testament was written by Jews, and the message of the gospel was first brought to the Jews.”
Tevi Troy, an Orthodox Jew and a former liaison to the Jewish community for President Bush, told CNN he was more concerned with the results of a new Pew survey that a full third of American Jews identified their religious affiliation as “none.” Although Troy admitted to being disappointed by Bush’s actions, he concluded that “Judaism has other problems … bigger problems.”
The Pew survey also showed that 34 percent of American Jews affirmed that you can be Jewish and believe in Jesus.
Media coverage of the MJBI fundraiser portrayed MJBI as having a cultish obsession regarding Christ’s return. MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow chastised Bush for “trying to convert Jews to Christianity so we can have the second coming of Christ and therefore the Apocalypse.” Yet a look at the group’s Statement of Faith on the website reveals standard evangelical doctrine on the matter.
Regarding the controversy, MJBI chairman Jonathan Bernis simply said, “The idea seems to be that it is somehow intolerant for Jewish believers in Jesus to share their convictions with other Jews. The real intolerance is coming from those who apparently think that no Jewish person should ever be exposed to the claims of the most famous Jew who ever lived.”