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Jerusalem, Israel

A ‘Gut Punch’

In the name and the spirit of the Prince of Peace, Jesus our Lord.”

Thus did Robert Jeffress, the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, end his opening prayer at the dedication of the new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem.

Did Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu and Jews in the audience respond with “Amen?”

Oh, let us not forget Pastor Jeffress is the same man who also has told the world that “you can’t be saved by being a Jew” and that Judaism, Mormonism and Hinduism lead their followers to an eternity in hell.

This is the man who got star billing at the opening ceremonies of a new U.S. embassy in the Jewish state.

It almost leaves one speechless.

It wasn’t too long ago that Jews charged that the only reason that Evangelicals supported Israel was because it was part of a master plan to convert Jews to Christianity.

Now, they are honored guests at the embassy’s opening ceremonies and bless the State of Israel in the name of Jesus Christ.

True, there is little consistency in politics when it involves principle. Hypocrisy gave birth to the observation that politics makes strange bedfellows. But this?

The politics of this turn of events, of course, are all too evident. Netanyahu has decided to throw his lot in with the Evangelicals, the same group that gave the Bible an entirely new meaning when they supported a morally bankrupt president in exchange for charter schools, anti-abortion policies, tax cuts and access to the White House.

Evangelicals concluded that God would understand. There are a lot of sinners in the Bible as well. As one Orthodox Jew supporter of Trump told me, King David sinned with Bathsheba.

Presumably, Netanyahu crunched the numbers and decided he will take the backing of some 600 million Evangelicals in the world and risk the anger of registered U.S. Democrats that total about 70 million, and not all of them are “liberals.”

After all is said and done, politics is a game of numbers in democracies.

The prime minister surely also knew the move of the U.S. embassy from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem would alienate many in the diaspora. But that did not seem to concern him either, despite his continued assurance that he values the relationship between Israeli Jews and the Jews in the U.S.

The sad part in all of this is that, stripped of emotion, the embassy move amounts to no more than symbolism without any political benefit. It does not make Israel safer nor does it help the so-called peace process.

The embassy move also isolated Israel even more worldwide. Of 82 countries that have consulates in Israel, only 33 attended the ceremonies.

The recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital by the Trump administration is a different matter. It took the item “off the table” in future talks because all parties know Israel will never surrender Jerusalem. The administration understood that the issue of borders, thankfully not defined by Trump, must be decided by the two opposing parties.

The man in charge of the embassy event, David M. Friedman, American ambassador to Israel, brushed aside the not-too-subtle anti-Semitism of Rev. Jeffress, stating that Evangelicals “support Israel with much greater fervor and devotion than many in the Jewish community.

“You’re running a country; you need friends; you need alliances; you need to protect your people,” he said.

According to Pastor Jeffress, we can thank him from hell.

The liberal Israeli newspaper Haaretz called the ceremonies a “gut punch for most American Jews.” Actually, it was — or should be — a gut punch for all Jews.

If the participation of Pastor Jeffress were not enough, the closing prayer was delivered by the Rev. John C. Hagee, a televangelist and founder of Christians United for Israel, who has said the Holocaust — with Hitler “the hunter” — was part of God’s plan to return Jews to Israel.

Rev. Hagee’s incendiary comments became public in the 2008 presidential campaign and, unlike Trump and Netanyahu, the Republican candidate John McCain rejected Hagee’s endorsement, stating that he found the remarks “offensive and indefensible” and “I repudiate them.”

Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential candidate in 2012, labeled Pastor Jeffress a “religious bigot,” to which the pastor replied:

“Historic Christianity has taught for 2,000 years that salvation is through faith in Christ alone. The fact that I, along with tens of millions of Evangelical Christians around the world, continue to espouse that belief, is neither bigoted nor newsworthy.”

Doesn’t sound like much of an apology or “clarification.” Seems more like a substantiation of his beliefs.

Can politics get any stranger or distasteful?

All of this makes one wonder whether the pope would invite a rabbi to ceremonies at the Vatican with the recital of the Shema.

Berl Falbaum

Berl Falbaum

Berl Falbaum, of West Bloomfield, is a veteran journalist and author.

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